- No image stabilisation, slow autofocus
- Limited shooting options
- No 720p video
- Review Price: £80.00
- 10-megapixel sensor
- 3x optical zoom
- 150-shot battery life
- up to 640x480 pixel video capture
- Plastic construction
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.
Usually at this point in the review I take a look at a few of the camera’s stand-out features, but in the case of the A490 there’s not really much to talk about. It has only four shooting modes, selected by the bottom left button on the rear panel. These are full auto, program auto, scene mode and video mode. In full auto only image size and compression can be adjusted, but in program auto there are a few more options. The A490 has Canon’s usual side-bar menu, although it hasn’t been honoured with the nice new flashy one from the higher-spec models, with its gradient tones and partial transparency. Instead the A490 has a re-coloured version of the menu system from the previous generation of cameras, adding to its feeling of being a bit of a throwback.
ISO, white balance and colour tone can be adjusted, and there is a limited manual adjustment of contrast, saturation and sharpness available. The camera has three light metering options (evaluative, centre-weighted and spot), and a choice of either centre-zone AF or the somewhat idiosyncratic AiAF system, something which has now been dropped from higher-end models. The eleven scene mode programs are pretty standard stuff, with options including portrait, night snapshot, kids and pets, foliage, and a low-light setting that reduces the resolution to two megapixels.
The A490’s video recording mode is also nothing special. It can shoot in 640 x 480 resolution or 320 x 240 resolution, both at 30fps, with mono audio recorded via an on-board microphone. As usual the optical zoom cannot be used while recording, but up to 4x digital zoom is available. Movies are recorded in AVI Motion JPEG format, so they should play back on most computers, but it has to be said that the picture and sound quality isn’t brilliant.
There are even fewer options in playback mode, although at least it offers the ability to rotate and re-size, and has automatic red-eye correction. Images can be displayed as a slide show, with a choice of either fade or slide transitions and adjustable play time for each image, but that’s about it.
The A490’s overall performance isn’t too bad for a budget compact. It starts up in a little under two seconds, which is fairly brisk, and shuts down again in about two and a half. Its shot-to-shot time in single shot mode is a bit slow at approximately three seconds, which in continuous shooting mode it can manage a shot every 1.8 seconds, but it can at least keep it up indefinitely.
The autofocus system is a bit slow by Canon’s usual standard, often taking over a second to lock on, and the shutter will fire before focus is confirmed, which means that it’s quite easy to take out-of-focus shots if you’re a bit too quick on the trigger. Even more surprisingly for a Canon camera low light focusing is very poor. It is slow, and often won’t achieve focus in light that’s bright enough to read a restaurant menu by. The AF assist lamp is pretty feeble and only has a useful range of about a metre and a half.
Battery duration obviously depends on the type of AA batteries used, but Canon claims approximately 150 shots using standard alkaline batteries, and the performance of my review sample seems to bear this out.
Overall image quality is actually surprisingly poor. The lens is reasonably sharp from corner to corner, but it does produce significant wide-angle distortion and there is also noticeable chromatic aberration towards the corners of the frame. The level of detail recorded is surprisingly low even for a 10MP camera. Colour rendition is very vivid to the point of garishness, and which dynamic range is actually pretty good it does still have a tendency to burn out highlights. Image noise isn’t quite as well handled as most of Canon’s other cameras either. There is visible noise from 200 ISO upward, although colour rendition remains fairly consistent until the maximum of 1600 ISO.
The Canon PowerShot A490 is a cheap camera for those on a tight budget who still want the prestigious brand name, but its overall build quality, performance and image quality don’t really compare to Canon’s more expensive models. There are much better cameras available for just £20 more.
”Over the next few pages we show a range of test shots. On this page the full size image at the minimum and maximum ISO settings have been reduced to let you see the full image, and a series of full resolution crops have taken from original images at a range of ISO settings to show the overall image quality. These pictures were taken indoors using shaded natural light. ”
This is the full frame at minimum ISO.
Image quality at 80 ISO is pretty good.
There is a trace of colour mottling even at 100 ISO.
Noise is clearly visible at 200 ISO.
Noise reduction has removed some of the chromatic noise at 400 ISO, but the image still have luminance noise.
Noise reduction has reduce image quality at 800 ISO.
Image quality is quite poor at the maximum 1600 ISO.
This is the full frame at 1600 ISO.
”A range of general test shots are shown over the next two pages. In some cases, the full size image has been reduced for bandwidth purposes, and a crop taken from the original full resolution image has been placed below it to show the overall image quality. ”
Here’s the usual detail test shot of the West Window of Exeter Cathedral, for you to compare with other cameras. See below for a full res crop, or click for the full sized image. The downloadable file is approximately 4.2MB.
The level of detail is pretty poor compared to other 10MP models.
The lens produces visible distortion at wide angle.
Centre sharpness is actually pretty good.
Corner sharpness isn’t too bad either, but there is some chromatic aberration.
”Here are some general test shots to help evaluate the camera’s overall image quality, including dynamic range, colour rendition and the zoom range of the lens. Some pictures may be clicked to download the full size original image.”’
The wide angle end is equivalent to 37mm.
The telephoto end is equivalent to 122mm.
Dynamic range isn’t too shabby, but the highlights are still burned out.
Colour rendition is a bit garish.
Score in detail
Image Quality 7
Build Quality 7
|Optical Zoom (Times)
|Auto Flash, Flash ON, Flash OFF, Red-eye Reduction
|Video (max res/format)
|640 x 480