Canon is in the process of rolling out a trio of new “A” series digicams that sell by the container load…and we mean tons. These point-and-shoots run on AA batteries so you’ll never run out of juice—as long as there’s a 24-hour drug store around. Beyond the ubiquitous power source, they’re cheap. The new 7-megapixel PowerShot A470 is only $129 USD, the 8MP A580 costs $149 USD while the one we’re testing is $179 USD. This 8MP camera has a 4x zoom, true optical image stabilization, Face Detection and manual controls for less than $180. Pretty startling stuff. Still even with the low price the camera has to perform in order for it to be a great deal. With that in mind it was time to test this 2008 model out…
Features and Design
The compact A590 IS stands apart from the other PowerShots because of its distinctive charcoal gray body. It’s a welcome change from a sea of silver digicams and it has some nice accents. The front is a bit too cluttered with icons and decals for my taste but it’s far from a beast.
The camera measures 3.71 x 2.55 x 1.61 (WHD, in inches) and tips the scales at 6.17 ounces naked. Add the clothes of two AA batteries and the memory card and you’re at 7.8 ounces. With this size you can easily slip it into a jacket pocket and it won’t weigh you down (my 80-gig iPod weighs 7.2 ounces with case, for comparison).
On the front you’ll find a 4x zoom with lens-based optical image stabilization. It’s great seeing this feature drifting down to lower-priced cameras since it really helps eliminate image blur. The zoom is rated 35-140mm in 35mm terms which is a bit disappointing since I like wider-angle zooms for group shots and landscapes (see the SD870 IS review with its 28mm opening focal length for details). The camera does have a converter ring that lets you add optional lenses in case you want to widen your horizons; a telephoto is available too. You’ll also find the mic, AF Assist lamp, flash and viewfinder porthole.
The top is fairly plain with a small on/off button, a mode dial and the shutter button that’s surrounded by the wide/tele control. The shutter/zoom is within easy reach and sits atop the pistol grip that holds the AA batteries. It doesn’t feel like a D-SLR but the grip is comfortable, helping you keep the camera steady and is good for one-handed shooting although I recommend using both since OIS isn’t a total god send. The mode dial is your main control and there are many options beyond plain Auto. You have quick access to popular scene modes like Portrait, Landscape, Night Portrait, Kids/Pets, Indoor and SCN (there are seven other options here). The camera goes beyond the basics offering P (Program), Aperture- and Shutter-Priority as well as Manual to adjust the aperture and shutter speed. If this seems overwhelming, there’s an Easy Mode (with a heart icon) that prevents you from making any changes other than flash output and adjusting the zoom. Taken all together, this is a good grouping for beginners and those who want to try their hand at some manual tweaks. You’ll also find a movie mode that’s 640 x 480 at only 20 frames per second versus 30 fps for almost everyone else. Canon should really bump this up since even the older PowerShot A720 IS and A650 IS have it. Why companies take such shortcuts still befuddles me.
The rear of the camera is dominated by a 2.5-inch LCD screen rated a so-so 115K pixels. Even though it’s not 230K of better digicams, it holds up fairly well in bright sunshine although there’s a lot of smearing in low-light situations. Moving indoors and out, I really didn’t have to adjust the LCD via the menu. If the LCD gets too annoying, just put your eye to the viewfinder, then fire away. It’s not as much fun as framing images with the LCD monitor but it helps out in a pinch.
To the right of the screen is a four-way controller with center Function/Set button. Tap one point of the controller and you can adjust the flash, hit another and you can get into Macro mode. Four other button help you delete files, adjust the display (grid lines are available), another for the main menu and the last is Direct Transfer to download images. On the top right is the speaker and a switch to move between record and playback.
On the left side is the compartment for USB out, DC-in (optional) and A/V out. On the bottom are the plastic tripod mount and compartment for the batteries and SD/SDHC/MMC/MMC+ card slot. The battery cover is a little squirrelly but once you push it into position it snaps closed. Note: this camera is made in Malaysia as globalization marches on. Before you start talking about the loss of jobs in Japan or China realize the camera is 100 bucks less than last year’s comparable model. Complaints about low prices anyone? But I digress…
As always, Canon cameras come with everything you need to get started. With the A590 IS you get a pair of batteries and a 32MB MMC+ card since there is no internal memory. When you think of it, this is really absurd since anyone buying a camera will most likely pick up a 1-gig card since they’re only around 15 clams or they’ll use one they’ve collected over the years. And a set of rechargeable NiMH AAs makes a lot of sense too since those batteries last twice as long as standard alkalines (450 shots versus 200). You also get cables, a wrist strap, in-depth manuals for the camera and for making prints. The CD-ROM has ZoomBrowser EX 6.1, PhotoStitch 3.1, drivers and EOS Utility 1.1a for Windows. Mac fans get ImageBrowser 6.1, PhotoStitch 3.2 and EOS Utility 1.1. There’s never a complaint with Canon’s bundle other than the issues mentioned.
After popping in the AAs and a 2GB SDHC card, it was time to start clicking.
Image Courtesy of Canon
Performance and Use
The PowerShot A590 IS comes to life quickly in less than two seconds as the camera boots up and the lens extends. I initially set the camera to Super Fine resolution (3264 x 2448 pixels) then tried out the Easy mode where you cannot change anything other than the flash on/off and zoom in on your subject. Leaving the land of lazy, Auto was next then on to the many manual options. The camera was set to OIS continuous with the digital zoom off.
I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly the camera focused and saved images to the card. The camera has a 9-point AiAF system that’s very responsive. The A590 IS is rated 1.4 frames per second and my results were very close to that. This is good for an 8MP $179 USD camera. If you want more speed–such as 3 fps–think D-SLR but you’ll pay triple the price. After shooting in Easy and Auto, it was time to tweak in the manual modes. The A590 IS goes a bit deeper than other digicams by offering a wide range of apertures from f/2.6 to f/8, ISO from 80-1600 and shutter speeds from 15 seconds to 1/2000th. You can also adjust white balance and there’s even a custom setting to deal with difficult lighting situations. By comparison, many other point-and-shoots offer limited aperture and shutter speed options. The menu system is basic and fairly intuitive. Newbies will have no problem with this camera and the written owner’s manual answers everything fairly quickly and concisely. After blasting through a variety of shots over the course of a week—indoors and out—it was time to make some prints.
Image Courtesy of Canon
What I saw was fairly predictable. Shots taken outdoors were very solid with accurate colors in the “natural” Canon style I’ve always liked. The camera handled mixed light situations quite well but some detail was lost in shadows. Digital noise was kept under control until you hit ISO 800—which is pretty darn good given the price. I’d definitely try to keep it at ISO 400 and below for a decent 8×10. The optical image stabilization worked very well. I could really see it with still life subjects (a flower arrangement, for example). Images taken with the flash and then with the flash forced off were reasonably close. OIS is a real boon for taking shots in available light and is a feature everyone should look for in their next digicam. Realize it’s not perfect and unless you use a tripod with a cable release there will always be a touch of blur. Face Detection also worked well although I must admit I did like FD with auto red-eye reduction on the Fujifilm F50fd a little better. Still you’ll be happy with these people shots.
Canon has another winner on its hands—this camera will sell by the shipload. At less than $179 USD, the 8MP PowerShot A590IS takes the type of shots casual photographers need captured (landscapes, people and so on) and does the job well. Although there are a few flaws such as a limited high-end video mode and some loss in shadow detail, this digicam does what it’s expected to do with a minimum of fuss and bother. Other camera companies are going to have a tough time competing with this baby.
• Very affordable
• Optical Image Stabilization
• Takes solid, accurate photos
• So-so LCD quality (only 115K pixels)
• Only 20 fps at best video quality
• Would prefer wider-angle lens