Steve's Conclusion

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Steve's SnapShot
canon_a490_450.jpg
  • 10-Megapixel Imaging Sensor
  • 2.5-Inch LCD Screen
  • 3.3x Optical zoom lens: 37-122mm (35mm equivalent)
  • Smart Auto mode
  • Face Detection
  • AA-type Battery power source
  • SD/SDHC memory card compatible
  • Video Capture

Pros
  • Excellent image quality
  • Powerful Built-in flash
  • Decent SD Video capture
  • Smart Auto shooting mode
  • Incredibly easy to use
Cons
  • Low-Resolution 2.5-Inch LCD
  • 640x480 max video resolution (No HD)
  • Slow shooting performance
Timing Test Results
  • Power up to first image captured = 2.2 seconds
  • Shutter lag when prefocused  = /10 of a second
  • Shutter lag with autofocus = approx. 6/10 of a second
  • Shot to shot delay wo/flash = 2.0 seconds
  • Shot to shot delay w/flash = 6.0 seconds
  • Sequential burst =  1.0fps
  • Sequential burst w/flash = 0.29fps
Bottom Line
The Canon PowerShot A490 is a compact, entry-level model featuring excellent image quality and a decent set of features for anyone on a budget.
Pick This Up If...
You are looking for an affordable compact digicam with excellent image quality that is easy enough for anyone to pick up and start shooting with.

Canon's new PowerShot A490 is a compact digicam that is being released in February of 2010. Featuring a 10-Megapixel imaging sensor, DIGIC III image processor, 2.5-inch LCD screen and an auto scene selection mode, "Smart Auto", this is an entry-level camera that is loaded with features at a very affordable price. This camera is easy enough for anyone in the home or office to pick up and start shooting with, even if they have no previous experience with a digital camera.

Canon's Smart Auto mode will automatically choose the correct "scene" mode for your current shooting situation. This provides much better looking images than a standard Auto shooting mode. The PowerShot A490 chooses its scene mode based on 13 predefined shooting situations to make sure it has the right settings for your situation.

With the same body shape as the A480 and looking identical to the A495, the A490 is a little thicker than most compact cameras on the market today, which makes it very easy to hold and operate with just one hand. The buttons on the back are a little small but clearly marked and easy to use. Canon's FUNC. menu and shooting menu makes changing the camera's settings quick and easy. Framing and viewing your images takes place on the camera's 2.5-inch, 115,000 dot LCD screen. This screen has a lower resolution which makes the image look very grainy in low-light. In bright lighting or direct sunlight the LCD can be difficult to see. 

Performance from the PowerShot A490 is Ok for an entry-level camera. From the time you press the power button, the camera takes 2.2 seconds before it can capture its first image. The camera's shutter lag is approx. 1/10 of a second when the camera is pre-focused and is 6/10 of a second when allowing the autofocus to work. When shooting without the flash, the camera's shot-to-shot delay is 2 seconds, but jumps to 6 seconds when the flash has to charge and fire for each image. Using the camera's continuous shooting mode, we were able to capture 10 images in 10.1 seconds, approx. 1fps, when shooting without the flash and 10 images in 34.1 (0.29fps) seconds while firing with each shot. All of our tests were completed using Patriot 2Gb memory card, Sony 2500mAh rechargeable Ni-MH batteries, Program mode, ISO Auto, Flash off and all other settings at the factory defaults unless noted otherwise. All times may vary depending on lighting, camera settings, media, etc.

While shooting outdoors, the A490 provided us with some very good images, however there were some photos where struggled a bit with the tough, snowy conditions. For the most part, the A490 did an excellent job with exposure, while producing crisp images with vivid colors. Our Golden Dragon and cannon shots show the instances where the camera struggled. The cannon image is washed out and not as clear and sharp as the other images, while the Golden Dragon image shows the camera's struggles with exposure thanks to the mounds of snow in the image. We also see some very noticeable instances of chromatic aberrations in high contrast areas of this image. The A490's 3.3x optical zoom lens allows the user to capture descent landscape shots with the 37mm (35mm equivalent) wide end of the zoom. However indoor shooting will be limited. On the 122mm telephoto end, you do not have the ability to get extremely close to a distant subject, but the zoom is great for framing purposes, such as singling out an individual from a group or eliminating unwanted objects from the edges of your images.

Our indoor images show similar results to our outdoor samples. Overall the images are sharp from edge to edge, with good exposures and colors. There are some issues again in high contrast areas, where you can see the aberrations around the bright squares of the color chart. At the lower ISO settings, we have no problem seeing the finer details in the image, such as the stitching in the flag. ISO 80 - 400 are clear enough to produce excellent results when prints are made, however, at ISO 400 some of the finer details have disappeared. Shots taken above ISO 400 start to become soft, but for a camera in this price range, the ISO settings perform very well throughout. 

Assisting with your low-light images is the A490's surprisingly powerful built-in flash. Our M&M man flash shot is well exposed from 5-feet away, mid-telephoto at ISO 80. Compact digicams usually do not have enough power in the built-in flash to shoot that far at the camera's lowest ISO setting. On the other end, the flash is also controlled very well when shooting incredibly close to an object in macro mode. This performance helps to make up for the flash's slow recharge time.

Portrait photography is a snap thanks to Canon's Portrait shooting mode with Face Detection technology. The camera quickly detects any faces within the frame and does a good job of following it, as long as it stays within the frame and facing the camera. The camera produces excellent exposures based on these faces, making sure that your subjects are the focal point of your images. While shooting without the Red-Eye reduction flash, we did see some slight red-eye in our people photos.

Movie mode allows you to capture video with sound at resolutions of 640x480 or 320x240 at either 15fps or 30fps. These settings are perfect for home videos or quick uploads to the internet. The video quality is descent, with the videos being a little dark and showing some noise, but playback is fairly smooth. The camera's 3.3x optical zoom in not available during recording, but it can be set beforehand. Audio recorded from the A490's built-in microphone is full of background noises, as the mic is very sensitive and will pick up any sounds that are close to the camera. While recording you might not notice these sounds, but trying to stay away from furnaces, A/C units or out of the wind will help greatly.

Powering the A490 are two standard AA-type batteries. While completing our tests, we were able to capture just under 150 images and videos without having to worry about the batteries running low. During our testing we used two, Sony 2500mAh Ni-MH rechargeable batteries, which according to Canon should be able to produce 400 images on a single charge (CIPA). If you prefer to use alkaline batteries or are in a bind and need to pick some up while shooting, you should be able to get approx. 150 images with them.

Bottom Line - Canon's PowerShot A490 is a compact, entry-level digicam that will not disappoint with it's image quality. Featuring a 10-Megapixel imaging sensor, 3.3x optical zoom lens, Digic III imaging processor and Face Detection software, this is a great camera for anyone that is looking to take pictures of family and friends, but does not need high-performance with a big price tag. With a MSRP of US $109.99, this is a great entry-level model, perfect for someone looking for their first digital camera. You may also want to look at the Canon PowerShot A495, which is an almost identical camera that features a few more options like the Face Detection Self-Timer shooting mode for $129.99.

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.