Although most of the cameras I review are high-end models costing £200 and over, in these financially difficult times not everyone wants to spend that much money on a digital camera. It is possible to get a digital camera for as little as £70, but at that price point most of them are badly made models from no-name brands that frankly aren't worth buying. However there are some entry-level models from well-know brands that are about the same price, and some of them are actually pretty good. A couple of months ago I took a look at the excellent Panasonic FS62, a basic model featuring a 10MP sensor, 4x zoom lens and image stabilisation, all for around £95, but there are even cheaper examples. Today I'm taking a look at Canon's most basic model, the PowerShot A490, which is currently selling for around £80.
Of course that sort of money doesn't buy a lot of luxuries, and the A490's specification is a bit sparse. It has a 10MP 7.9mm (1/ 2.3-inch) CCD sensor, a small f/3.0-5.8 3x zoom lens equivalent to 27-122mm, and no image stabilisation. The 2.5-inch monitor has a resolution of only 115k dots, and while it does have a good angle of view and is quite bright, it lacks Canon's usual anti-glare coating. The A490 is a simple, cheap and easy-to-use snapshot camera and as such it has very few features. It offers only automatic shooting, a few scene modes and a video mode limited to VGA resolution with mono audio. Back about five years ago most digital cameras were like this, but today it does look like a bit of a throwback.
The body is made of plastic and it is rather round and chunky, measuring 93.5 x 61.7 x 30.6mm, although it is quite light for its size, weighing just 175g including batteries and memory card. The build quality is reasonable, but the body does creak a bit if squeezed, and the battery hatch has a plastic hinge that feels a bit fragile. The shape of the body is a simple rounded wedge shape, wider at the right-hand end, and it is quite comfortable to hold. The control layout is sensible, with the rear controls consisting of three buttons, a small D-pad and a rocker-switch zoom control. The buttons do feel a bit cheap and clunky compared to the slick handling of Canon's more expensive models, especially the rather horrible zoom control, but they are at least clearly labelled and large enough to avoid being fiddly.