Camera Comparo — Canon A640 and A620

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This post by WildSnow.com blogger  

As many of you know I’m a big fan of the Canon A600 series compact digicams. I love that they work with AA batteries, have a fold-out LCD, and are durable. Also, their slightly larger than average form is easier to work with gloved hands — handling a smaller digicam in winter conditions can be like trying to juggle cough drops in a 50 mph wind.

Canon cameras for backcountry skiing.
Canon A620 behind and new A640 in front, note larger LCD and color change. Terrific cameras for backcountry skiing.

Of course anything can be improved, so when our A620 model was upgraded with the A630 and A640, I was eager to try the latest. So I picked up an A640 a few weeks ago at Wal-Mart (I like buying cameras at Wally World as they can easily be returned if defective or lacking in features, which happens frequently with all the crazy digi-junk out there, especially when used to shoot backcountry skiing.)

The must-have for me is the 640′s larger LCD (2.5 inches diagonal instead of 2 inches). Fitting this into the same camera body as the 620 required protruding the LCD hinge, making the 640 about 5 millimeters larger in the long (left/right) dimension. The LCD also makes the camera 6 tenths of an ounce (10 grams) heavier than the 620, and reduces battery life a bit. For me these tradeoffs are worth it. The larger LCD is much easier to use for manual focus setups, easier to read in bright light, and way easier to use if your close vision is iffy like mine. As for battery life, while slightly reduced it is still excellent and can easily be managed by judicious use of the LCD. (As always, for winter mountaineering and backcountry skiing I suggest using lithium AA cells in this camera.)

Canon’s new 600 models come in two flavors, the only significant differences being color (630 is silver, 640 black) and that the A640 will make a 10 megapixel image, while the A630 is limited to 8 megapixel (MP). Reality is the sensor in these camera models (it’s the same sensor in both) is maxed out at about 8 megapixel, and I’ve been told that ramping it up to 10 is little different than starting with an 8 MP image in Photoshop and upsizing to 10 MP. I’m not sure I entirely believe that, but fact is that 8 MP is large enough for just about anything, even some full magazine pages and certainly a half page, so save the hundred or so bucks and buy the 630 if you’re not making a god out of megapixels and don’t mind a silver camera. I’m actually doing most of my shooting with the 640 set to 8 MP (more photos on card, less downsizing for web) and am very happy with the results.

I don’t necessarily buy cameras for the color of the housing, but I’ve never liked silver as it’s immediately invisible when dropped in powder snow, and more obtrusive when trying to take stealth shots. So I like getting back in black with my camera, which is one of the reasons why this upgrade was attractive.

The other must-have for me with this upgrade is the 630/640 model’s 800 ISO, one stop above the A620′s 400 ISO. In reality 400 ISO is still not hot enough for fluid indoor shooting without flash, while 800 is getting up there in the region where you can get creative. High ISO shots with these cameras do have noticeable noise, but this can add an artistic feel or even be removed with noise reduction software.

What else? The 630/640 flash is MUCH more even than the 620, yielding near professional results compared to the hot-spot coverage of the 620. It’s still a small built-in flash so don’t expect miracles, but indeed amazingly good. The new models continue the incredible feature set that Canon A600 series cameras are known for, including full manual mode and a movie mode that is good fun provided you have a beefy memory card or a spare. Interestingly the “custom colors” gimmick is now eliminated from the mode dial, though still available from the menu. Good riddance. A few more features are upgraded, but essentially the 620 and 630/640 are pretty much the same camera.

Bummers:

The lens cover is still the sliding leafs that come out of the lens housing when you turn the camera off. Many people have had these malfunction (they stick while opening). Nudging with a finger fixes them when they stick, but I was hoping to see this weak point eliminated entirely from the otherwise bomber camera. Lack of an automatic “action sports” mode is still surprising, given this is such an easy thing to include in a camera’s software (it simply optimizes for higher shutter speed). Solution is to use TV mode, which is still auto but allows you to pick a fixed shutter speed (usually 500 or above to shoot action sports). Using TV requires an extra few steps and thoughts, but works. The memory card is now located in the battery compartment on the bottom of the camera. This is annoying if you frequently remove the card to place in a reader, and incredibly frustrating if you’re working on a tripod and need to remove the card (I do that quite a bit in the studio), otherwise a minor detail.

The one glitch I’ve experienced with the A640 is that sometimes after opening the battery compartment it doesn’t close completely and the camera won’t turn on. A firm press with the fingers seats the cover and solves the problem, but I’m hoping this doesn’t get worse.

Lastly in terms of bummers, the A600 series cameras don’t save images in non-loss format such as TIF or RAW, which is truly strange but can be worked around by setting the camera to save the highest quality JPEG possible, watching the ISO so you don’t get too much noise, and converting images to a non-loss format before doing any work on them.

Above problems are minor. In all, I’m very happy with this upgrade and look forward to thousands of images!

Excellent technical review here.

Comments

3 Responses to “Camera Comparo — Canon A640 and A620”

  1. frank February 8th, 2007 11:03 am

    What an odd coincidence that you would blog this subject, Lou.

    I’ve had the 620 for just a few months now, and think that it is an awesome camera. When my girlfriend lost her 610 a couple of weeks ago, we struck a deal- she’s buying my 620 and I am upgrading to the 640. So, it was nice to see what somebody like yourself who gets far more technical with their cameras thinks about the differences. Mine shipped just a couple of days ago, so I should get to start playing with it soon.

  2. Matus February 8th, 2007 11:14 am

    Yes, I agree that Canons are among the best cams for the outdoors – I have A530 a small cam, however, the pictures are beautiful and the features sufficient. Could be faster. Perfect for MTB or skiing because it is little so there is no hesitation whether to take it or not like with larger cameras.

  3. Robert Payne March 6th, 2007 6:46 pm

    Ha! Funny! I have a 620 as well and love it. But what I am really looking forward to is a nice, sturdy compact camcorder that shoots high res images as well. That way I don’t have to carry both when I am in the backcountry or at the resort.

    Nice blog btw!

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Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information opinion website and e magazine. Lou's passion for the past 45 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about backcountry skiing and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free back country news and information here, and tons of Randonnee rando telemark info.

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