The camera's design essentially remains the same, with only a few changes. It's a slightly smaller and lighter--12.4 ounces with CompactFlash card and four AA batteries--package than its predecessor. Canon tweaked a few items, such as putting the Set and Menu buttons below the 1.8-inch LCD. It's not the most convenient placement, but given the three additional dedicated buttons (Function; display and print/share; and a four-way controller and a record/playback slider), there's no room elsewhere. And though this model's flip-and-twist, 1.8-inch LCD is a hair larger (by 0.3 inch) than the A80's, it's still on the small size relative to other cameras' 2-inch LCDs. But we gladly trade off size for swivel.
We have a few small design gripes. The power button is slightly recessed from the top of the camera and set a little toward the center, so it takes a little of a stretch and a search to turn on the camera. We'd also like the grip to be just a little bigger for a firmer handhold. And finally, the plastic CompactFlash slot cover is a bit flimsy and clumsy to open.
Yet those complaints pale in the face of the Canon PowerShot A95's other attributes, such as its well-rounded feature set and excellent image quality. Snapshooters will feel comfortable with the Auto, Program AE, and scene modes, as well as the one-touch print/share function, while more-experienced users will gravitate toward the aperture-priority, shutter-priority, and manual exposure options. Drilling deeper, you'll find selectable ISO, custom white balance, sharpening adjustments, and other features for more in-depth tweaking. Though it provides a mere 3X, 38mm-to-114mm (35mm equivalent) optical zoom, the A95 accepts the same lens adapter and add-on lenses as the A80.
Canon improves the nine-point autofocus system with FlexiZone, the company's market-speak for user-selectable focus points. This is particularly helpful when your subject is off-center; just move the focus point, and you're set. On the other hand, sometimes it's faster to focus off-center, recompose, and shoot. Also new to the A95 is ID photo printing, which eliminates the need to have passport pictures taken elsewhere. But its limited movie capabilities--it can handle only 30 seconds of VGA-quality video--fall short of many competitors'.
Like its predecessor, the A95 delivers excellent photo quality. On CNET's test shots, the PowerShot produced well-exposed images, rendered colors relatively accurately--though a bit cooler than we usually expect--and nicely saturated. As usual for Canon, the A95's auto white balance failed miserably under our difficult tungsten lights. Noise was minimal at ISO 50, though it was higher than usual at ISO 100, and there was only occasional purple fringing along high-contrast edges. We did notice some flash falloff in the corners of macro images, but it was generally minor.
Though it performs respectably, the last-generation Digic chip in the A95 struggles to hold its own compared to better-optimized competitors. In most cases, we were able to grab the first shot in a little more than 3 seconds from power-on. Shot-to-shot times ranged between 2 to 3 seconds, the latter with flash, with shutter lag averaging around 1 second. Two continuous-shooting modes let us snap up to 14 pictures at a rate of about 1.5fps; go into Fast mode, and you'll get a continuous, unlimited capture at 2.2fps.
If you're willing to forgo cutting-edge performance in exchange for a strong set of features and excellent photo quality, then the Canon PowerShot A95 should make it onto your short list.