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Canon Powershot A590 IS - Digital Camera Review
Review Date: 28/06/2008
Rating: Recommended
Author: Stephen Waller
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Introduction: Announced early 2008, the Canon Powershot A590 IS is one of Canon's new compact A series digital cameras with image stabilisation. It features a 4x optical zoom lens, a 2.5" LCD screen, VGA video recording, a 8 megapixel sensor and face detection focus. The Canon Powershot A590 IS is available from around £113 which is very good value for money. The camera is enclosed in a robust two tone metallic grey finished body. The camera measures approx. 94.3 x 64.7 x 40.8mm (excluding protrusions), and weighs approx. 175g. excluding battery and memory card.

Canon have this to say about the camera:

"Expand your creativity with the PowerShot A590 IS. Experiment with full manual control and a range of optional lens accessories, while a host of clever Canon technologies give your snapshots the edge."

You can find more information on their website.

The Camera: a visual tour: (Photos of the camera taken with the Canon Powershot SX100 IS)

Front / side view - camera off, AV / USB right.

Front view - camera on, microphone, focus assist lamp, viewfinder, flash.

Top - on/off, mode dial, zoom control, shutter release.

Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax PC-550 35mm film camera - a medium/compact sized 35mm film camera.

Size comparison.

Size comparison.

Size compared to Sony Cybershot W130.

Specifications / Features:

  • 8.0 Megapixels
  • 4x zoom with optical Image Stabilizer
  • Motion Detection Technology
  • Face Detection Technology
  • Red-Eye Correction
  • 2.5" LCD and OVF
  • 19 Shooting Modes and My Colours
  • VGA and LP movies
  • Range of accessories
  • Scenes: Portrait, Landscape, Night Snapshot, Kids & Pets, Indoor, Special Scene (Night Scene, Sunset, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Aquarium)
  • Histogram available: Only in playback
  • Optical viewfinder: Yes
  • Manual WB: Yes

Box Contents:

  • Digital Camera
  • Wrist Strap
  • 2 AA alkaline batteries
  • AV Cable
  • USB Cable
  • 32mb SD Memory card
  • Software CD ROM
  • Basic Printed Manual

Average box contents - a larger memory card would be nice, as would a case. A case, and a large memory card is recommended.

Menu system: The menu system is logical and fairly straightforward. Once you get used to the way Canon menus work then you can use any Canon camera. The function button gives (along with the buttons on the back of the camera) quick access to the most commonly used options with just one press of the button, and the menu button works as it should providing access to options that you rarely need to change (such as flash compensation). The playback menu gives you some useful features such as slideshow, red-eye correction, sound memo, and the usual print options but doesn't allow much in camera editing of pictures.

Picture Size / Quality: The camera lets you choose the image size (8m, 5m, 3m, 2m, VGA, 6mp Widescreen), aspect ratio (4:3, or 6mp Widescreen), and how much compression is applied to the images (Superfine, Fine, Normal). Higher quality images take a large amount of memory, so a high capacity memory card is definitely recommended, unless you're prepared to sacrifice image size or compression to fit more pictures in memory. There is a very good choice of image sizes, compression options, and some choice regarding aspect ratios - it's just missing a 3:2 aspect ratio mode.

Bottom - plastic tripod mount, battery and SD memory card compartment.

Battery usage: Battery life is rated at approx. 200 shots (with supplied alkaline batteries) and approx. 450 shots (with optional Canon NB-3AH batteries) according to CIPA standards. I was able to take 1300 shots (yes 4Gb) with 2500 mAh rechargeables, though this was predominantly using continuous shooting mode. Battery life will be dependent on the kind of use you make of the camera. As the camera uses AA batteries, carrying spares, or finding replacements in an emergency should not be a problem.

Memory cards: A large memory card is relatively cheap, and highly recommended, I would recommend at a bare minimum a 1gb memory card, if you intend to take fine JPEG images, and preferably a 2gb memory card, or larger. The larger the memory card, the more photos you will be able to take. If you are likely to go on holiday then the largest memory card you can afford would definitely be worth investing in, as you don't always know when you will next be at a computer. You can use SD or SDHC memory cards - I tend to use Sandisk Ultra II Plus USB SD memory cards as these let you plug the memory card straight into a USB socket making it easy to transfer images onto any computer, they are available as 1GB SD cards, or 2GB SD cards. Listed below are links to memory cards that will work with the Canon Powershot A590 IS:

Find the latest prices for SD memory cards at Amazon.co.uk: 1gb (1000mb): £2, 2gb (2000mb): £5, 4gb (4000mb SDHC): £10
Need more help deciding what memory card to buy? Have a look at our guide to digital camera memory cards or our article what size memory card should I buy?

Speed: The camera can take its first photo from 'off' in approx 1.3 seconds (without flash), which is very quick. Focusing seemed very quick too, and even in very low light when it uses flash-assist it takes only a little longer. The camera shutter response seemed instant when pre-focused, responding in 0.1 seconds or less - and shot to shot time was fairly quick, with a delay of around 1.8 seconds without flash (and review off). The flash recharge time was quite quick allowing a shot to be taken every 3.4 seconds, flash is also available in the continuous shooting mode, with a good shot to shot time of around 1 seconds for up to 20 shots. Continuous shooting is reasonable with a fast memory card, at roughly 1.5fps at all resolution until the card is full. The playback and menus are also very quick.

Back - 2.5" LCD screen, mode dial, speaker, play / shoot, exposure compensation, print, 4-way controller, function / set button, display, menu.

Ease of use: The camera is easy to use, especially in the AUTO mode and has a number of scene modes that help get good results. The controls on the back of the camera are quite straightforward. The menus are responsive and are also easy to use, and the options are big enough and easy enough to see clearly, although built in help would have been nice. The scene modes are easy to access, mainly thanks to the large display, and a lot of the options can be accessed using the buttons on the back. It's easy to see when photos are in focus, and the image stabilisation means that more of your shots will be sharp.

Ergonomics and Buttons: (Feel, placement, labels, etc) The layout and size of the buttons and controls are good, with the most commonly used options reachable with your right thumb. The zoom control and shutter release also work well. I thought the camera felt very good ergonomically, as it feels solid and well built and the battery compartment bulge provides a good hand grip. It will also fit very easily into pockets.

Image Quality: Here are some real world sample photos taken in various settings, (such as Inside, Outside, Macro) to demonstrate the image quality and also show different features of the camera. Larger versions of these, plus more photos are available in the Canon Powershot A590 IS Sample Photo Gallery!


Heather and Flower (ISO200) Flash photo (ISO200)

Inside: The camera has very good colour - It took a good "Heather and Flower" photo - there is no red-eye in the photo. On wide angle, the flash falls of in the top corners, and the rest of the image appears slightly overexposed . Otherwise it is very good, coping well with group photos, and for the most part red-eye is quite low. On AUTO ISO, the ISO setting was kept quite low in these photos (ISO200), however noise was noticeable. Better results are possible by using a lower ISO setting, especially with subjects close to the camera. The camera did a good job at focusing even in low-light where the focus assist lamp kicks in. Colour is quite richly saturated, though lacking in contrast however this can be improved using My Colours "Vivid" or "Custom Colour" setting.

ISO Noise Test: Noise is generally a bad thing - it fragments detail, and gives a grainy effect over the image. With digital cameras noise can be a real problem as it is often made out of blue, red or green dots. As the ISO setting increases, pictures tend to have more noise and is most noticeable in darker areas. The camera has an Automatic mode for ISO levels (ranging from ISO 80 - ISO1600), and manual ISO settings (ISO: 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600).

Below you'll find the noise test image, plus actual pixel crops, viewable at 100%, from the image taken at different ISO settings, compared with the 8 megapixel Sony Cybershot W130, and 12 megapixel Fujifilm FinePix F100fd.

Sony Cybershot W130 (8mp) Canon Powershot A590 IS (8mp) Fujifilm FinePix F100fd (12mp)

ISO Noise Test Photos - Flash is off. Sony Cybershot W130 on the left, Canon Powershot A590 IS in the middle, Fujifilm FinePix F100fd on the right. Any tonal difference is due to white balance or lighting / metering differences.

Sony Cybershot W130 (8mp) Canon Powershot A590 IS (8mp) Fujifilm FinePix F100fd (12mp)
ISO64 - NA ISO80 - Actual Pixels ISO80 - Actual Pixels
ISO100 - Actual Pixels ISO100 - Actual Pixels ISO100 - Actual Pixels (1s, Nightmode)
ISO200 - Actual Pixels ISO200 - Actual Pixels ISO200 - Actual Pixels
ISO400 - Actual Pixels ISO400 - Actual Pixels ISO400 - Actual Pixels
ISO800 - Actual Pixels ISO800 - Actual Pixels ISO800 - Actual Pixels
ISO1600 - Actual Pixels ISO1600 - Actual Pixels ISO1600 - Actual Pixels
ISO3200 - Actual Pixels ISO3200 - NA ISO3200 - Actual Pixels

Noise results: The Sony features lower noise than the Canon, and has useable images upto ISO400 / ISO 800 - after this images lack colour and noise can dramatically reduce detail in the images. The Canon has the highest noise of the three, however images are useable upto ISO400 and tend to keep good detail - after this noise is excessive and detail is lost. The Fuji has some of the smoothest images and has useable images upto ISO800 - after this images lose colour and noise dramatically reduces detail in the images, especially at ISO3200. It's worth noting that the F100fd often had to use a higher ISO setting to match the other camera's shutter speed, for example, where the Canon would shoot at 1/8th shutter speed at ISO400, the F100fd would have to be set to ISO800 to match the shutter speed.

Image Stabilisation: These cameras all feature real image stabilisation, such as optical image stabilisation in the Sony W130, and Canon A590, and anti-shake sensor in the Fuji F100fd. This feature helps reduce image blur due to low light or long zoom photography. Examples showing this feature switched on and off can be seen below.

Sony Cybershot W130 (8mp)
ISO400, 1/10
Canon Powershot A590 IS (8mp)
ISO400, 1/8
Fujifilm FinePix F100fd (12mp)
ISO800, 1/6.5
Image stabilisation off Image stabilisation off Image stabilisation off
Image stabilisation on Image stabilisation on Image stabilisation on

With image stabilisation switched on the images are much sharper and clearer, and is much more likely to come out blur free, especially in low light, when using the zoom or when using slow shutter speeds. All camera's systems appear to work well, and it's good to see that this feature is becoming the norm with digital cameras.


Liverpool shops (ISO80) Poppy macro (ISO80)

Outside: The camera has quite rich, saturated colours. There was very good detail, and the camera took a number of very pleasing images outside, with good contrast, and very little chromatic aberrations or purple fringing. In general 'normal' quality jpeg artifacts are not easily seen, however areas with strong contrasts benefit from use of the highest quality setting.

Zoom: This lens provides a 4x optical zoom starting at 35mm equivalent which is great for 'normal' everyday photography, zooming to 105mm. I've included examples below to show what the zoom is capable of. An example of digital zoom can be seen as well. Digital Zoom basically takes a crop of the centre of the frame and enlarges the image, degrading image quality, and is therefore best avoided.

Wide-angle 4x optical Zoom Full optical and digital zoom

Exposure: The photos of the clock tower are exposed well with detail in the dark areas as well as the lighter areas - exposure in other photos was generally very good. Vignetting was not noticed in these photos. It can be useful to under expose images with bright backgrounds (eg; sky) with use of exposure compensation.

Lens noise and zoom: The lens makes some noise, and gives you seven steps between wide and telephoto - this gives average control over how you frame your subject.

Other Image Quality issues: Purple fringing / Chromatic aberration were slight, as was focus fall off towards the corners. There is some Barreling at wide angle though pin cushioning was barely noticeable at full zoom.

Macro Lens Performance:

Timex Watch Macro Actual Pixels (ISO80)

The closest the camera lens can get to the subject when taking macro photos is 5cm. Colour and detail is very good, and there appears to be low noise at ISO100 and below. Setting the white balance manually helps achieve better results. The camera can also take macro photos when zoomed in slightly.

Video mode: The cameras has four video modes: (L)640 x 480, 20fps, (LP)640 x 480, 20fps, (M)320 x 240, 30fps, (S)160 x 120, 15fps recording VGA videos with sound as AVI files, and using the optical image stabilisation they appear very smooth and shake free. However, compared to other digital cameras the Canon can't fit very long videos on the memory card, as it doesn't use very high compression, such as MPEG4, and will only fit 16 minutes on a 2gb card, or 30 minutes in 640, 20fps LP mode. Optical zoom is available prior to, and digital zoom whilst recording.


Image Quality: Image quality is good - with excellent colour, with high levels of saturation, contrast and detail. Noise is higher than average compared to the competition, but is low up to ISO400 and detail is good. There was also some red eye in group photos, but overall red-eye was generally quite low. The camera did a good job focusing even in low light thanks to the focus assist lamp, and had a high success rate due to the built in optical image stabilisation. There was no noticeable vignetting (darkened corners) except with wide angle flash (due to limited cover), I noticed slight barrel distortion (at wide angle) and pincushion distortion at full zoom was slight. There is a very good range of image sizes, aspect ratio, and a good choice of compression options. Auto white balance and metering seemed to be very good. The camera gives good control over image quality and by using the 'My Colours' option there is further control of the resulting image. (8/10)

Everything else (the camera as a whole): The camera is available in two tone metallic grey finish and it has a robust body. The camera has a very good 2.5" LCD screen that is visible except in bright sunlight. The camera feels well built, and is comfortable to hold. It is easy to use, and has quick access to the most commonly used options. The layout of buttons and controls is good, and the battery compartment bulge makes a good hand grip. The camera speed is good, with a good switch on time, quick focusing time, excellent shutter response, quick playback mode, quick menus, reasonable continuous shooting, and good flash recharge time. The camera has a wide range of features that should suit most people, such as face detection focus, numerous scene modes, fair video mode, good macro mode, optical image stabilisation. It's a shame this camera doesn't also feature a wide-angle lens. (8.5/10)

Value for Money: The Canon Powershot A590 IS from around £113, is excellent value for money, and is one of the cheapest cameras available with optical image stabilisation, and is cheaper than some of it's nearest rivals, such as the Sony Cybershot W130. (9/10) See more digital camera reviews sorted by megapixels here.

Summary: The Canon Powershot A590 IS is a robust compact camera that provides an impressive 2.5" LCD screen, 8 megapixel sensor, 4x optical zoom lens and image stabilisation. Image quality is generally very good, and although noise is quite high compared to the competition, images are useable up to ISO400 and tend to maintain good detail. The camera's screen works well and battery life is excellent. Overall this is an appealing camera offering excellent value for money, and a number of features that should suit beginners as well as experts. An area where this camera could be seen as lacking is in the lens department, especially as a lot of new cameras now offer a wider angle lens. Canon do have a selection of lens accessories (Tele-converter 1.75x TC-DC52A, Wide-converter 0.7x WC-DC52, Close-up Lens 250D (52mm), Conversion Lens Adapter LA-DC52G) but these will increase the overall cost. If you want a genuinely good camera with a 2.5" LCD, full manual controls, and image stabilization, then this is recommended!

Canon Powershot A590 IS Rating: Recommended (8.5/10)
Available for £113 - or Get the best price below!

What I like:

  • Very good image quality
  • Face detection software
  • Optical image stabilisation helps in low light
  • Good size 2.5" screen
  • Robust body
  • Orientation sensor
  • Excellent battery life
  • Focus assist light
  • Good macro mode
  • Quick performance
  • Full manual controls

What I don't like:

  • Lacks wide angle lens
  • Slightly small icons on mode dial

Additional Test Images are viewable in the Canon Powershot A590 IS Sample Photo Gallery.

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