The Canon PowerShot A480 is the cheapest model in Canon's extensive range of compact cameras, but don't let that put you off what is a well-featured and capable product for the money. The A480 is 25% smaller than its predecessor, the PowerShot A470, and offers a simplified button layout, bigger 10 megapixel sensor, a 3.3x optical zoom lens with a focal length of 37-122mm, DIGIC III image processing engine and a 2.5-inch LCD screen. The icing on the proverbial cake is a 1cm Macro mode, 15 different shooting modes, plus Face Detection, Motion Detection and Automatic Red-Eye Correction technologies. Available in silver, red, blue or black for $129.99 / £129.00 / €159.00, we find out if the Canon PowerShot A480 is worth considering in these times of economic turmoil.
Ease of Use
The Canon Powershot A480 certainly won't win any design awards, with a slightly boxy design and "toy-camera" styling. While it won't impress your friends with its looks, the A480 is undeniably a well-made, quite compact digital camera, with an understated metallic blue, silver and black plastic body and excellent overall finish, impressive considering its budget price-tag. It's easily small enough to fit into the palm of your hand, yet still fits in a 3.3x optical zoom lens that offers a versatile focal length of 37-122mm. Weighing 140g without the battery or memory card fitted and measuring 3cms thick when turned off, the A480 is ideally suited to either a trouser pocket or small camera bag.
As with most Canon cameras that we've reviewed before, the Powershot A480 is one of the better models around in terms of build quality when compared to other competitive products. Every aspect has a quality feel with nothing feeling flimsy or ill-thought out. Even the tripod mount is almost centrally located, although it uses a plastic mount rather than metal. The battery compartment also houses the memory card slot, which means that the AA batteries sometimes fall out when changing the memory card as they don't have a catch to keep them in place. Still, this is a fairly minor criticism of a quality product. The A480 even has a small silver hand-grip with room for two fingers, something that more expensive A-series models have omitted, although it is made from a rather smooth and shiny material. Overall the Canon Powershot A480 is well constructed and designed with no obvious signs of corners being cut.
The Canon Powershot A480 has a simple design with few external controls, just 8 in total, which reflects the fact that this is a simple camera in functionality terms which is aimed firmly at the beginner market. Located on top of the A480 are the On/Off button and Shutter button, and on the bottom are the tripod mount and battery compartment, which also houses the SD memory card slot. On the rear of the A480 is the 2.5 inch LCD screen, with a number of controls to the right, including the zoom buttons. You can directly access the various focus and flash options by clicking left and right on the navigation pad, whilst up and down are respectively used to set the ISO speed and timer options. Located underneath the navigation pad are the Mode button, which allows you to select from Auto, Program, Scene and Movie modes, and the Menu button. The various buttons feel a little plasticky but are well-made and easy to operate.
The Function/Set button in the middle of the navigation pad opens a sub-menu, which allows you to set exposure compensation, white balance, colours, metering, continuous shooting, image quality and image size. This system is inherited from the more expensive A-series models and is a good compromise given the size of the camera's LCD screen and therefore the limited space for external controls. All 8 external controls are clearly labeled using industry-standard symbols and terminology. Overall the camera body feels very well-designed and not at all cluttered. The 2.5inch LCD screen has quite a wide viewing angle from left to right, but much less so from top to bottom, for example if you hold the camera above your head. It is visible in all but the brightest of sunlit conditions, although the low pixel count of 115,000 dots is disappointing by today's standards, resulting in a rather grainy display.
If you have never used a digital camera before, or you're upgrading from a more basic model, reading the comprehensive and fairly easy-to-follow manual before you start is a good idea. Unfortunately Canon have chosen to cut costs and only supply the full manual as a PDF on a CD, rather than in printed format (there's just a short printed guide to the camera's basic features). Not much use if you're taking pictures and need to find out what a particular option does. Battery life is a much better proposition at around 200 shots, outperforming the more expensive A1100 and A2100 cameras.
The menu system on the Canon Powershot A480 is extremely straight-forward to use and is accessed by a dedicated button underneath the navigation pad. Quite a lot of the camera's main settings, such as white balance, exposure compensation and ISO speed, are accessed elsewhere, so the main menu system isn't actually that complicated. A row of 2 icons along the top of the LCD screen represents the Camera and Setup sub-menus, with most of the options being the kind that you set once and then forget about. The various options are easy to access and use, especially as only 6 are shown onscreen at one time.
The Canon Powershot A480 offers Auto, Program and a comprehensive range of 15 different scene modes aimed at the user who just wants to point and shoot, making this camera quite well-suited to the beginner. There's no optical anti-shake system, but there is motion detection technology which identifies camera-shake or subject movement and then boosts the ISO to a level (between ISO 80-800) it considers will compensate without hopefully introducing too much noise. This is effectively what rivals would refer to as digital anti-shake. Face Detection is also available as one of the AF Frame options, detecting up to nine faces in a scene and adjusting the focus, exposure, flash settings and white balance to produce better-looking portraits. The Super Macro scene mode is very impressive, allowing you to focus on a subject that is just 1cm from the front of lens at the 37mm focal length.
Memory Card Slot
The start-up time from turning the Canon Powershot A480 on to being ready to take a photo is quite quick at around 1.5 seconds, and it takes about 2 seconds to zoom from the widest focal length to the longest. Focusing is very quick in good light and the camera happily achieves focus indoors or in low-light situations, helped by a powerful focus-assist lamp. The visibility and refresh rate of the 2.5 inch LCD screen are perfectly acceptable, although the low resolution of 115,000 pixels does produce a noticeably grainy image display. It takes about 0.5 second to store an image, allowing you to keep shooting as they are being recorded onto the memory card - there is a very quick LCD blackout between each image. In Continuous mode the camera takes 0.8 frames per second at the highest image quality, which is very slow, although the shooting rate is maintained until your memory card is full. The flash recycle time is a rather slow 4 seconds to recharge between shots - you'd better get used to the "Charging the flash" onscreen message.
Once you have captured a photo, the Canon Powershot A480 has a pretty good range of options when it comes to playing, reviewing and managing your images. You can instantly scroll through the images that you have taken, view up to 9 thumbnails, zoom in and out up to 10x magnification, view slideshows, delete, protect, resize and rotate an image. You can also set the print order and the transfer order. The Red-eye Correction options fixes red eye after you have taken a photo (useful if you forgot to activate it before). The Info Disp. menu option offers four choices - Off, Standard, Detailed and Focus Check. Detailed displays a wealth of information about each picture, including the ISO speed, white balance, shutter speed, aperture, and also a small brightness histogram which is helpful in evaluating the exposure. Focus Check shows the image alongside a small, magnified section, useful for quickly checking the sharpness.
In summary the Canon Powershot A480 is a cheap, well-made, straight-forward compact camera that's particularly suited to the beginner, also offering some useful features found on much more expensive A-series models.
All of the sample images in this Review were taken using the 10 megapixel Fine JPEG setting, which gives an average image size of around 2.5Mb.
The Canon PowerShot A480 produced images of good quality during the review period. The A480 dealt well with chromatic aberrations, with limited purple fringing effects appearing only in high contrast situations. The pop-up flash worked well indoors, with just the slightest hint of red-eye and adequate exposure. The night photograph was good, with the maximum shutter speed of 15 seconds allowing you to capture enough light in most situations. Macro performance is amazing, allowing you to focus as close as 1 cm away from the subject (although it's difficult to get the lighting correct at such a close distance). The images were a little soft straight out of the camera at the default sharpening setting and ideally require further sharpening in an application like Adobe Photoshop, or you can change the in-camera setting if you don't like the default results. Noise is the biggest problem for the Canon PowerShot A480. The 10 megapixel sensor produces noise-free images at ISO 80 and 100, but some limited noise is already starting to appear at ISO 200. ISO 400 exhibits quite visible noise, colour desaturation and loss of fine detail, and ISO 800 and 1600 are even noisier and washed-out.
There are 6 ISO settings available on the Canon Powershot A480. Here are some 100% crops which show the noise levels for each ISO setting:
ISO 80 (100% Crop)
ISO 100 (100% Crop)
ISO 200 (100% Crop)
ISO 400 (100% Crop)
ISO 800 (100% Crop)
ISO 1600 (100% Crop)
Here are two 100% crops which have been Saved as Web - Quality 50 in Photoshop. The right-hand image has had some sharpening applied in Photoshop. The out-of-the camera images are just a little soft at the default setting ideally and benefit from some further sharpening in a program like Adobe Photoshop. You can also change the in-camera sharpening level to suit your tastes via the My Colors menu option.
Original (100% Crop)
Sharpened (100% Crop)
The Canon Powershot A480 handled chromatic aberrations well during the review, with some limited purple fringing present around the edges of objects in certain high-contrast situations, as shown in the example below.
Example 1 (100% Crop)
Example 2 (100% Crop)
The Canon Powershot A480 offers a Macro setting that allows you to focus on a subject that is just 1cm away from the camera when the lens is set to wide-angle. The first image shows how close you can get to the subject (in this case a compact flash card). The second image is a 100% crop.
The flash settings on the Canon Powershot A480 are Auto, Flash On, Slow Synchro, and Flash Off, with Red-eye Correction and Red-Eye Lamp settings available via the Flash Settings main menu option. These shots of a white coloured wall were taken at a distance of 1.5m.
Flash Off - Wide Angle (37mm)
Auto Flash - Wide Angle (37mm)
Flash Off - Telephoto (122mm)
Auto Flash - Telephoto (122mm)
And here are some portrait shots. As you can see, both the Flash On setting and the Red-Eye Correction option caused a tiny amount of red-eye.
Flash On (100% Crop)
Red-eye Correction (100% Crop)
The Canon Powershot A480's maximum shutter speed is 15 seconds in the Long Shutter mode, which is good news if you're seriously interested in night photography. The shot below was taken using a shutter speed of 10 seconds at ISO 80. I've included a 100% crop of the image to show what the quality is like. The camera takes the same amount of time again to apply noise reduction, so for example at the 10 second setting the actual exposure takes 20 seconds.
Night Shot (100% Crop)
This is a selection of sample images from the Canon PowerShot A480 camera, which were all taken using the 10 megapixel Fine JPEG setting. The thumbnails below link to the full-sized versions, which have not been altered in any way.
The Canon Powershot A480 is a refreshingly simple, back-to-basics camera that eschews the recent trend of auto-everything modes in favour of a more holistic approach. This isn't the camera for you if you want smile and blink-detection, face recognition and tracking, Intelligent Auto and other hand-holding modes. Instead the A480 offers a relatively simple but proven 9-face-detection system with 5 AF points, or the time-honoured method of a single central AF point combined with a half-press of the shutter button to lock the focus, in combination with the traditional Auto, Program and 15 different scene modes. The lack of an optical stabilisation system is a more regrettable omission, although as this camera's target audience is likely to take most pictures outdoors in bright sunlight, it's not as serious as it sounds in practice.
The Canon Powershot A480's simplicity hasn't been achieved by just stripping the camera of features - indeed, I was surprised at what has been inherited from the more expensive A-series models. Detailed shooting info and a histogram during playback, easy access to ISO speeds, the same intuitive menu system, 1cm super macro mode, and 200 shot battery life are all features that equal or even surpass what the A1100 / A2100 models offer, impressive when you consider they cost twice as much or more than the A480. The same thing can also be said about the build quality - Canon certainly haven't skimped in this department, despite the budget price-tag.
The move to more megapixels - up to 10 from the A470's 7.1 - thankfully hasn't come at the cost of image quality, although the A480 still suffers from less than stellar images in low-light due to obvious noise appearing at ISO 400 and faster. Other key disappointments include the low-resolution LCD screen, an agonizingly slow continuous shooting speed of 0.8fps, and an annoying flash recycle time of around 4 seconds. Disappointingly for UK buyers, the launch price has shot up from £99 to £129, although to be fair to Canon comparable price rises are happening across the industry as Sterling struggles against the Yen.
Overall the Canon Powershot A480 is an easy-to-use and well-balanced camera that produces good photos, making it an excellent choice for the first-time camera buyer. It may even find its way into the pockets of more experienced photographers looking for a straight-forward point-and-shoot that won't break the bank.
Ratings (out of 5)
Value for money
Reviews of the Canon PowerShot A480 from around the web.
The PowerShot A480 is Canon's newest entry-level model, and takes on a new look from its predecessor the A470. Sporting a 10-Megapixel imaging sensor, advanced face detection software, 3.3x optical zoom lens and a 2.5-inch LCD screen; Canon has put together a nice feature set for a camera in this price range. This fully automatic model is incredibly easy to use, even if you have never picked up a digital camera before.
Read the full review »
The Canon PowerShot A480 has a meagre set of controls and a relatively lacklustre 2.5-inch LCD. Despite the plasticky feel of the camera, there are a few thrills, including face-detection auto-focus which is linked with metering and flash exposure as well as white balance. You also get motion detection technology, which senses subject motion and increases the ISO setting for faster shutter speeds. Sadly though, this is the only model on test to lack Canon's optical image-stabiliser system built into the lens.
Read the full review »
Colour Filter Type
DIGIC III with iSAPS technology
6.6 - 21.6 mm (35mm equivalent: 37 – 122mm)
Optical 3.3x. Digital approx. 4x ² (with Digital Tele-Converter approx. 1.4x or 2.3x and Safety Zoom ¹)². Combined approx. 13x
f/3.0 - f/5.8
7 elements in 6 groups (1 aspherical UA element)
AF System/ Points
AiAF (Face Detection / 5-point), 1-point AF (fixed centre)
AF Point Selection
Size (Normal, Small)
Locked when shutter button is pressed half way
AF Assist Beam
Closest Focusing Distance
1cm (W) from front of lens in Super Macro
Evaluative (linked to Face Detection AF frame), Centre-weighted average, Spot (centre)