The camera has a 16-megapixel sensor and a modest 5X zoom lens that offers a wide angle (28 mm) for shooting broad landscapes or in tight quarters. The features are well designed for beginning photographers. On the back panel, the top position on the four-way control launches Auto mode so you don't have to navigate a menu. Pressing this position again returns you to the previously selected shooting mode, such as Portrait or Live View Control mode. This latter mode is worth mentioning because it is one of the few places you can make manual adjustments to settings and use your artistic eye. In Live View Control, you are given three parameters to adjust: dark to light, neutral to vivid, and cool to warm. This offers beginners an introduction to creative photography versus relying solely on, say, the Snow scene mode.
The help system has a dedicated button on the back panel. It is well designed and will help beginning photographers understand the camera settings and shooting modes. It also includes photography tips for improving your shots. Also on the four-way control is the Eco position, which shortens the amount of time the LCD will remain on in shooting mode if the camera is idle (2 seconds). According to the camera's specs, this increases battery life on the rechargeable Li-ion from an unimpressive 220 shots to a more respectable 300 shots.
In addition to the convenience of having Auto mode at a button press, the flash setting is associated with the shooting mode, rather than being a global setting. In some situations this is very handy if you choose to try a shot with and without the flash. Rather than having to change the flash setting, having the flash turned off for one of the two modes gives you a simple one-button change of the flash mode.
That said, the PowerShot A2600 is outfitted with a modest flash. It is not very powerful: At wide angle it has a range of less than 10 feet (and less than 7 feet at telephoto). The flash is small and does not scatter a lot of light, though it will do the job in close range. This camera's light sensitivity is also modest by today's standards. You can adjust it manually from ISO 100 to 1600 in Program mode. However, cranking up the ISO is likely to introduce a fair amount of digital noise. Even at modest settings, my shots suffered from the unattractive digital artifacts - in one case at only ISO 200 in a well lit indoor setting at daytime. See the examples on the Samples page.
The zoom lens offers a basic 5X magnification, and it performs best at wide angle. In particular, I like how most of my macro shots looked, offering a shallow depth of field that accentuated my subject, such as a flower (see IMG_0049 and IMG_0177 on the Samples page). The camera can focus as close as 1.2 inches, so you can get really close to small subjects and get a good shot. The lens performed less well at telephoto - edges started to look fuzzy at mid telephoto, and at full 5X magnification the loss of detail was obvious (see images 0180 through 0182 on the Samples page). These were taken with Auto mode, and while the wide angle shot was taken at ISO 160, the camera resorted to ISO 400 and ISO 800 on the next two shots, despite it being mid afternoon, which likely also contributed to the less than stellar results.
There are 16 shooting modes, which cover the basics and leave out the frills. Familiar scene modes like Fisheye and Toy Camera are included, as well as effects such as Super Vivid and Posterized. The most interesting shooting mode is Digital IS, in which the camera takes multiple shots and then combines them to reduce blurriness. This is intended for when you're hand holding the camera and shooting in low light. Because you are taking multiple frames, it requires that you only photograph still objects and no moving subjects. In my test shots I wasn't thoroughly convinced that the composite offered a big improvement, though I did see a few small details that looked sharper. However, because I was shooting in low light, the high ISO setting contributed to an amount of digital noise that was more obtrusive than the mildly sharpened detail was impressive. It's still best to use a tripod.
The 3-inch LCD does its job. At 230,000 dots, its resolution will not make anyone say "wow" at the details or vividly saturated colors. But it's adequately bright for framing your shots, though its highly reflective protective window can make it difficult to see in bright sunlight. The viewing angle of the screen is good, but for one exception: Tilting it downward dims the image at roughly 45 degrees. Oddly, this doesn't happen when tilting it in any other direction. And, in my book, aiming downward is the most important angle (especially if you're short) because that's how you'll tilt the camera when holding it overhead to get a shot.
You don't get a full manual mode with this camera, nor aperture- or shutter-priority mode. Program mode offers as much control as you can have offer camera settings, such as exposure compensation, ISO, etc. But for a beginner's camera you still get a handful of features you can enable and/or adjust, such as continuous auto focus, intelligent contrast correction, and auto focus point zoom (which blows up the AF point on the LCD). The camera is quick to start up and the auto focus can lock onto a subject in roughly half a second. Also, there is face detection AF for use in portraits, and there's a face self-timer mode than begins a countdown when a new face enters the picture.
This camera is true to the definition of point-and-shoot in that it's not well geared for action photography. It takes almost two seconds in between shots in burst mode, which averages out to a paltry 0.6 frames per second. Using the flash, which is specified to take up to 10 seconds to recharge, slowed this time down to 2.9 seconds in my testing (or, just 0.4fps). There is one cheat, however: You can use burst in Low-Light mode, which will speed up things to 3.2fps, but the camera captures only 4-megapixel files in this mode, versus full-resolution 16-megapixel files in regular burst mode.
Bottom line - This compact camera offers beginners an affordable introduction to photography with its well designed help system. But subpar image quality and slow burst shooting make it suitable only for basic snapshots and for those who aren't looking to grow with their camera. With a street price of about $150 USD, this camera is will suited for most any budget.
Visitors of Steves can visit the stores below for real-time pricing and availability. You can also find hot, soon to expire online offers on a variety of cameras and accessories at our very own Camera Deals page.