Canon A720 IS Digital Camera

Digital cameras, with light sensors the size of your pinky nail, have spurred the phenomenon of camera as fashion item. Many manufacturers — Canon included — are churning out pocket-size cameras in designer colors, with Wi-Fi connectivity, big screens for showing pictures to your friends.

The pictures from these cameras, frankly, often stink. But their buyers don't terribly mind. They're looking for the snapshot they can post on Facebook or MySpace.

So what do you do if you don't have the four-digit budget for a really serious camera with interchangeable lenses, but you still want to take decent photos — you know, real pictures? That's where Canon's A Series comes in.

The A720 IS is a case in point: 8 megapixels, a 6x zoom lens with macro capability, image stabilization, face detection, and it lets you override the automatic settings when you want.

It does not have a built-in mp3 player, cell phone, address book, Web browser, or key chain. It comes in silver. It's designed for taking pictures.

And they're not bad. Canon is one of the holdouts for an optical viewfinder, useful if you want to hold the camera steady against your forehead, or not have to squint at the LCD screen in bright sunlight.

The camera has a hand grip on the right side, and cleverly runs on AA batteries. If you're far from home and forgot to recharge, you can run into any drugstore for replacements.

Other models in the A series — the A650, 640 and 630, for instance — have a wonderful feature, which is gradually disappearing: the LCD screen is mounted so it can tilt and swivel. Want to take a shot of your cat? Bend down, twist the screen upward and you can shoot at cat's-eye level — for a much more interesting picture.

One last feature: The A Series is for the budget-minded. Street price is around $200, and other models can be had for less.

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