This is a camera that grows on you: once you've seen the stunning images it can produce, you'll forgive it almost anything
Crisp and sharp images
Multi-functional controls are over-complex
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If the emperor bought a digital camera to go with his set of new clothes, it would certainly be a 10-megapixel model. Few 'advances' in photography have raised so many problems as the leap from 7MP and 8MP sensors to 10MP.
Instead of giving sharper detail and more flexibility, the addition of millions of pixels to tiny CCDs has often exacerbated simmering problems of digital noise and increased processing time, or revealed previously unnoticed problems with budget lenses.
In the case of the A20, it's all about shooting speed - or rather, the lack of it. Press down on the silver shutter release and the A20 chugs slowly into life. Shutter delay, including focusing time, is over a second, but the pain really kicks in after images have been captured.
The A20 takes seven seconds to process and save a full resolution, full-quality 10MP file, during which time you can't shoot again, change modes, access the menu or even zoom the lens.
Bizarrely, if you switch into Continuous shooting mode, things get even worse: at full speed, the A20 shoots just a single frame every ten seconds! This sluggishness is a shame, as the A20 is an attractive piece of kit. It's compact, well made and fits nicely into one hand.
The all-metal case feels solid and the simple controls are sensibly laid out. The 2.5-inch display is sharp but could be brighter and has an annoying habit of freezing up momentarily while that lazy autofocus is locking on. The A20's interface is generally good.
The menu pad gives fast access to focus, drive, flash and mode settings, and a re- programmable green button is perfect for altering the features you use most often, from image size and quality to ISO and sharpness/ saturation tweaks.
However, the limitations of having multi-functional keys are brought home when you enter Shutter Priority or Manual exposure modes. Here you have to use the menu pad just so, and it's too easy to accidentally re-select the main mode menu or find yourself pressing fruitlessly on the shutter just because you haven't hit OK.
One handy addition to the A20 is a good Anti-shake mode, which has its own preview button on top. Pressing this doesn't actually activate the mode (you do that in the menu), it just shows how steady it might look when it's active. The Anti-shake is a CCD-shifting mechanism and seems to work well - leave it on all the time for maximum benefit.
The much-hyped Face Priority AF works some, even most, of the time, but keep an eye on what it's chosen to focus on, as any round, pale things tend to confuse it. Although it's almost unbearably sluggish, this 10MP camera doesn't suffer badly from noise. From ISO 64 to 400, colours are silky smooth and shadows solid. It starts breaking up at ISO 800 but only at ISO 1600 does splotchy chroma noise become a real issue.
The A20's images are totally crisp and sharp in a way that few compacts - and especially few 10MP compacts - can achieve. Exposure is bright and well judged, although there's a clear trace of purple fringing at the (not especially) wide-angle lens setting.
Even when you can't see to frame in dark conditions, the A20's autofocus doesn't let you down. The flash needs a jot more power but near- and mid-range flash shots are beautifully sharp and balanced. When we first picked up the A20, we hated it. It felt slow and its multi-functional controls were over-complex to use.
But this is a camera that grows on you: once you've seen the stunning images it can produce, you'll forgive it almost anything. Perhaps the real story here isn't how slow the A20 is, but instead how almost every other 10MP compact out there rushes to produce images that just don't stand up.
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