Editors' note: Several of the design, features, and shooting options are identical between the Canon PowerShot A1200 and the PowerShot A3300 IS we reviewed earlier, so readers of the earlier review may experience some deja vu when reading the same sections below.
Canon all but abandoned optical viewfinders on its PowerShot cameras; the high-end G12 was the only one. That changed at CES 2011, though, with the announcement of the Canon PowerShot A1200, an entry-level point-and-shoot with a real-image zoom viewfinder.
Along with the viewfinder, this budget-friendly 12-megapixel compact is powered by AA-size batteries, has a large selection of shooting options, uses an f2.8 28mm-equivalent wide-angle lens with a 4x zoom, and captures 720 HD-resolution movie clips. About the only thing missing is optical image stabilization, but you can counteract hand shake by using the viewfinder.
Like most cameras in its price range, though, the A1200 is slow, so I wouldn't recommend it for regularly shooting active kids and pets. It also isn't great at higher ISO sensitivities, so low-light photos without a flash aren't the greatest. Still, given the cost, they're hardly disappointing.
|Key specs||Canon PowerShot A1200|
|Dimensions (WHD)||3.8x2.5x1.2 inches|
|Weight (with battery and media)||6.5 ounces|
|Megapixels, image sensor size, type||12 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch CCD|
|LCD size, resolution/viewfinder||2.7-inch LCD, 230K dots/Yes, optical|
|Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length)||4x, f2.8-5.9, 28-112mm (35mm equivalent)|
|File format (still/video)||JPEG/H.264 (.MOV)|
|Highest resolution size (still/video)||4,000x3,000 pixels/ 1,280x720 at 24fps|
|Image stabilization type||Digital|
|Battery type, CIPA rated life||AA-size batteries (2), 200 shots (alkaline)|
|Battery charged in camera||No|
|Storage media||SD/SDHC/SDXC Memory Card, MultiMediaCard, MMCplus Card, HC MMCplus Card|
|Bundled software||ZoomBrowser EX 6.7/PhotoStitch 3.1 (Windows); CameraWindow DC 8.4 transfer utility; ImageBrowser 6.7/PhotoStitch 3.2 (Mac)|
For its sub-$110 price, the A1200 is capable of turning out some excellent photos. But like most compacts, this really depends on how much light you have--the more, the better. At and below ISO 200, photos have great color and generally look sharp with good detail. At ISO 400, a sensitivity regularly used for shooting indoors without flash, photos get softer-looking, but noise and noise suppression are well balanced making 4x6 prints possible. There is a noticeable increase in noise at ISO 800 resulting in faint yellow blotches, and colors start getting slightly washed out. They're still pleasing enough for Web use at small sizes, though. However, everything that happens at ISO 800 increases at 1,600; use it for when you absolutely need to control motion blur and don't have a enough light or can't use the flash. Basically, this camera is great with a lot of light and very good indoors with bright lighting and/or a flash, but I wouldn't recommend it for regularly shooting in low-light conditions.
There is slight barrel distortion at the wide end of the A1200's lens and maybe a hint of it with the lens in telephoto, too. Center sharpness is very good, and though it softens a touch as you move out, it was still remarkably consistent edge to edge and in the corners compared with other budget cameras I've tested. Also, there was very little fringing in high-contrast areas of photos.
Color performance is excellent from the A1200: bright, vivid, and accurate. Exposure is also very good. Highlights will blow out on occasion. The auto white balance indoors is a little warm, but otherwise it's good and you can always take advantage of the presets or manual white balance if you're not happy with the results.
Video quality is on par with a basic HD pocket video camera; it's good enough for Web use and nondiscriminating TV viewing. Panning the camera will create judder that's typical of the video from most compact cameras, and you'll notice motion trailing on fast-moving subjects. The zoom lens does not function while recording, but you do have a digital zoom; I suggest not using it as the results are not pleasant.
|General shooting options||Canon PowerShot A1200|
|ISO sensitivity (full resolution)||Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,600|
|White balance||Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Custom|
|Recording modes||Program, Live View Control, Auto, Easy, SCN, Creative Filters, Discreet, Movie|
|Focus modes||Normal AF (Face, Tracking, Center), Macro, Infinity|
|Macro||1.2 inches (Wide)|
|Metering modes||Evaluative, Center-weighted average, Spot|
|Color effects||Vivid, Neutral, Sepia, Black & White, Custom (contrast, sharpness, and saturation)|
|Burst mode shot limit (full resolution)||Unlimited continuous|
Shooting modes are geared for point-and-shoot use, so no semimanual or full manual modes. The most control you get over settings is in Program mode, letting you select things like white balance, ISO, and metering. It's also the only mode with access to the camera's My Color options like Vivid and Sepia, as well as a Custom option with adjustments for contrast, sharpness, and saturation. On the other hand, you have the new Live View Control mode, which enables you to adjust brightness, color, and tone with onscreen sliders and see what the photo will look like as you make the changes.