Canon Powershot A530 Review
Canon's PowerShot A530 is the 5-megapixel "little brother" to the 6-megapixel A540, and includes many high-quality features such as a 4x optical zoom lens, 1.8-inch LCD display, VGA or QVGA sized movie mode, along with various exposure modes for just about every member of your family. The Auto and pre-programmed Scene modes offer fully automatic operation and will ensure that you capture great images no matter what the conditions are. While the Program AE and Manual modes offer as much control over the exposure process as you can ever want.
As with most PowerShot models, the A530's ergonomics are great. It features the same hybrid metal/polycarbonate body that we saw on last year's "A" series, which is both durable and stylish. While it's not what we consider an "ultra-compact", it is small enough to be tucked away in almost any size pocket, yet large enough to still offer a comfortable feel in your hands. And, the enlarged hand grip makes one handed shooting a "snap!" The onscreen menu system was logically organized and very easy to navigate, allowing for quick changes to camera settings; especially the FUNCtion menu. As usual, controls are well placed and functional, all within the reach of either your thumb of index finger.
One feature that is unique over the typical consumer point-n-shoot, is the Canon 4x optical zoom. This lens offers a bit more versatility in composing your shots over the standard 3x lens. While 1x doesn't seem like much, you'll notice that you'll be able to bring you distant subjects closer and better fill the frame when shooting portraits. Its 35mm-equivalent zoom range is approx. 35-140mm, and favors the telephoto end. We found it provides adequate field of view for most interior or landscape shots, but you'll sometimes find yourself pressed against the wall in small rooms. The lens produced sharp results throughout its zoom range, with average barrel distortion at full wide angle but virtually no pincushioning at the telephoto end. Chromatic aberrations (purple fringing around brightly lit subjects) wasn't much of an issue, with only a bit of purple fringing present in high contrast areas. Unlike the A540, the A530 does not accept any type of optional auxiliary Canon lenses.
Shooting performance was very robust for a consumer model. From power up until the first image was captured measured just 1.8 seconds, and waking the camera from sleep mode to image capture took only 1.1 seconds. Shutter lag, the delay between depressing the shutter button and capturing an image, was less than 1/10 of a second when pre-focused, and only 2/10 of a second including autofocus. When using single drive mode and shooting a sequence of images, the shot to shot delay averaged approx. 1.8 seconds without the flash, but increases dramatically to between 4 - 6 seconds when using the flash, depending on subject distance and battery life.
The A530 also offers a continuous (burst) mode, that Canon claims can capture images at a rate of 2.1fps. I found it was a bit more impressive than their claim to being able to capture 10 images in 3.2 seconds flat; a frame rate of about 3fps. This means you will have no problems when taking burst sequences at your kid's sporting events. A great big thanks to the inclusion of an optical viewfinder, you won't have to deal with the problem of the LCD briefly displaying the last image captured, which makes it difficult to follow moving subjects. all tests were done using a Transcend High-Speed (60x) 512MB SD card, Large/SuperFine image quality, Program AE mode, review off, flash off, and all other settings at default, unless otherwise noted. Times may vary depending on camera settings, lighting conditions, media, etc.
Image quality is one of the most important aspects of a digital camera when considering a purchase, and the A530 won't disappoint. When using its Large SuperFine quality settings, it produces sharp, well exposed images with good color saturation. I noticed very little edge softening and when shooting outdoors the exposure system did very well, capturing beautiful sky detail. Noise levels were very low when using ISO 80 and 100. As the ISO sensitivity increases, so does the noise; a common problem with almost all consumer cameras. Unlike the usual cut off at ISO 400, the A530 (and 540) allow you to use an ISO speed as high as 800. This will allow the use of higher shutter speeds in marginal lighting conditions, which helps reduce the effects of camera shake (blurring.) While noise levels are very noticeable at ISO 400 and 800, I still feel the usefulness of being able to capture images when you just can't use the flash is much more important. Sure you don't want to make large prints with these images, but your typical 4x6's will still be usable.
Indoors it also performs well. Its "Light-guide zoom" flash has a typical range of approx. 11.5 feet at wide angle (ISO Auto.) This unit actually changes the angle of the flash (internally) as the focal length increases or decreases, which helps reduce the effects of red-eye in your people pictures. I found the flash did well when shooting in mid sized rooms, and allowed me to capture very pleasing portraits from about 4 or 5 feet away (using the mid telephoto end of the zoom range.) Just don't expect this thing to illuminate large open room like gymnasiums, chapels, etc. Fortunately, the A530 is compatible with the optional Canon High-Power Flash HF-DC1, which can deliver proper illumination up to approximately 30 feet, at any focal length.
The A530 also features a high-quality movie mode with audio. There are several modes to choose from (Standard, Compact (160x120), Color Accent and Color swap), as well as resolutions of 640x480 or 320x240. The frame rate is fixed for each mode. The A530's ability to use higher than normal ISO speeds, also allows you to capture better quality movies in marginal lighting conditions; although compression artifacts are a bit more noticeable. You can see by taking a look at our Low-Ambient light example on the samples page. Overall, it captured OK movies. The 10fps frame rate of its 640x480 modes gives movies a "slow motion" look to them.
Battery life was surprising when you consider that these models use only two AA-type cells. Canon claims that AA Alkaline batteries will allow you to capture approx. 90 shots (LCD on) and 300 minutes of continuous playback time. We here, at Steve's, highly recommend the use of NiMH cells, and according to Canon, they will allow you to shoot approx. 360 shots (LCD on) and 420 minutes of continuous playback time (the mAh rating of these cells was not specified.) Using a single set of 2500 mAh cells, I was able to capture over 90 shots and several movie clips as well as conduct the rest of our other tests, and the model still has power.
Bottom line - Like its big brother the A540, the PowerShot A530 is an excellent entry-level point-n-shoot model. It continues Canon's tradition of offering outstanding image quality and performance, with helpful and easy to use exposure modes. It is small enough to be tucked away in an average size pocket or handbag, and the durable metal/polycarbonate body is sure to survive the active users lifestyle; or when Mom tosses it into her purse. The only annoyance I found was the flash recharge time and the fact that the LCD goes blank while the flash is charging. With an MSRP of only $229, we feel it offers an awesome value and will make any family, business, or tourist user very happy, whether you're just entering the digital age or upgrading to a newer model. Love this model but want more resolution and a few added features? Be sure to check out our review of the 6-megapixel PowerShot A540, which you can get for only about $70 more.
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