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DCRP Review: Canon PowerShot A590 IS  

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: April 4, 2008
Last Updated: January 24, 2009

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The Canon PowerShot A590 IS is a entry-level camera that doesn't skimp on features. It offers a 4X optical zoom, image stabilization, a 2.5" LCD display, full manual controls, and a VGA movie mode. Not a bad deal for a camera selling for around $160!

Canon has a ton of models in their A-series lineup, and the chart below will show you what differentiates one from another:

Feature PowerShot A470 PowerShot A580 PowerShot A590 IS PowerShot A720 IS PowerShot A650 IS
Street price
(at time of posting)
$122 $140 $172 $184 $320
Resolution 7.1 MP 8.0 MP 8.0 MP 8.0 MP 12.1 MP
Optical zoom 3.4X 4X 4X 6X 6X
Lens max. aperture F3.0 - F5.8 F2.6 - F5.5 F2.6 - F5.5 F2.8 - F4.8 F2.8 - F4.8
Focal length (35 mm equiv.) 38 - 132 mm 35 - 140 mm 35 - 140 mm 35 - 210 mm 35 - 210 mm
Image stabilization No No Yes Yes Yes
LCD size 2.5" 2.5" 2.5" 2.5" 2.5"
LCD resolution 115,000 pixels 115,000 pixels 115,000 pixels 115,000 pixels 173,000 pixels
Rotating LCD No No No No Yes
Optical viewfinder No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Manual controls No No Yes Yes Yes
Movie resolution (frame rate) 640 x 480 (20 fps) 640 x 480 (20 fps) 640 x 480 (20 fps) 640 x 480 (30 fps) 640 x 480 (30 fps)
Supports conversion lenses No No Yes Yes Yes
Supports underwater case No No No Yes Yes
Supports Remote Capture No No No No No
Battery used 2 x AA 2 x AA 2 x AA 2 x AA 4 x AA
Battery life with 2500 mAh batteries (CIPA standard) 400 shots 500 shots 450 shots 400 shots 500 shots

Hopefully that helped clear up any confusion you may have about the A590 and its siblings.

I've always been a big fan of Canon's A-series cameras. Will the PowerShot A590 IS continue that tradition? Find out now in our review!


What's in the Box?

The PowerShot A590 IS has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 8.0 effective Megapixel PowerShot A590 IS digital camera
  • 32MB MMCplus memory card
  • Two AA alkaline batteries
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Canon Digital Camera Solution
  • 209 page camera manual (printed)

Canon is really the only camera manufacturer still bundling a memory card with their cameras -- everyone else just builds a paltry amount of memory into the camera itself. They include a 32MB Secure Digital card with the PowerShot A590, which holds eight photos at the highest image quality setting. That means that you'll want to buy a larger memory card right away, unless you already have one. The A590 supports numerous types of flash memory, including SD, SDHC, MMC, MMCplus, and HC MMCplus. I'd stick with the first two, as they're the most readily available, and more likely to be compatible with card readers, printers, etc -- and go for one 1GB in size. While it's worth spending a little extra for for a high speed card, there's no need to go overboard with a 300X ultra ultra extreme card.

Like most of the cameras in the A-series, the PowerShot A590 uses two AA batteries for power. The alkalines that come in the box will quickly find their way into the trash (or better yet, the recycling bin), so you'll want to pick up a four pack of NiMH rechargeables and a fast charger right away. Once you've got those installed, here's what kind of battery life you'll get out of the camera:

Camera Battery life, LCD on
(CIPA standard)
Battery used
Canon PowerShot A570 IS * 400 shots 2 x 2500 mAh NiMH
Canon PowerShot A590 IS * 450 shots 2 x 2500 mAh NiMH
Fuji FinePix J50 150 shots NP-40N
GE A835 400 shots 2 x 2500 mAh NiMH
HP Photosmart Mz67 260 shots 2 x unknown NiMH
Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS * 250 shots KLIC-8000
Nikon Coolpix S600 * 190 shots EN-EL10
Olympus FE-310 N/A N/A
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ8 * 470 shots 2 x 2600 mAh NiMH
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W130 * 370 shots NP-BG1

* Has image stabilization

Battery life numbers are provided by the manufacturer

The PowerShot A590 is just shy of the top spot for battery life in this class (when equipped with decent NiMH batteries, that is). It offers a roughly 10% improvement over its predecessor, as well.

As you may know, I'm a big fan of cameras that use AA batteries. They're cheaper than their proprietary counterparts, and you can use off-the-shelf alkaline batteries when your rechargeables die. All of the cameras in Canon's A-series use AAs (hence the name, I'm guessing).

Canon PowerShot A590 in the hand

The PowerShot A590 has a built-in lens cover, so there's no clunky lens cap to deal with.

Just because it's entry-level, it doesn't mean that the PowerShot A590 can't have a lot of accessories. Have a look:

Accessory Model # Price Why you want it
Wide-angle lens WC-DC52 From $70 Brings the wide end of the lens down by 0.7X to 24.5 mm; requires conversion lens adapter
Telephoto lens TC-DC52A From $88 Boosts the telephoto end of the focal range by 1.75X to 245 mm; requires conversion lens adapter
Close-up lens 250D (52 mm) From $71 Reduces the minimum focus distance when you're not at the wide end of the lens; requires conversion lens adapter
Conversion lens adapter LA-DC52G From $24 Required for conversion lenses; threaded for 52 mm accessories as well
External slave flash HF-DC1 From $90 Boosts flash range and reduces redeye; fires when the onboard flash does
AC adapter ACK800 From $32 Power the camera without wasting your batteries
Rechargeable battery kit CBK4-300 From $40 Includes four 2500 mAh batteries and a charger

The chart illustrates why I've long been a fan of the A-series cameras: they're very expandable. The one thing not supported here is an underwater case -- Canon offered one for the A590's predecessor, the PowerShot A570 IS.

CameraWindow in Mac OS X

Canon includes version 33 of their Digital Camera Solution Disk with the PowerShot A590. The first part of the Browser software that you'll probably encounter is Camera Window (pictured above), and you'll use it to download photos from your camera.

ImageBrowser in Mac OS X

Once that's done you'll find yourself in either ImageBrowser or ZoomBrowser, for Mac and Windows respectively. The Mac version is Universal, allowing it to run at full speed on Intel-based systems. The Browser twins let you view, organize, e-mail, and print your photos. If you categorized any photos on the camera (more on this later) then that information is transferred over to the Browser software.

ImageBrowser edit window in Mac OS X

Double-click on a thumbnail and you'll bring up the edit window. Editing functions include trimming, redeye removal, and the ability to adjust levels, color, brightness, sharpness, and the tone curve. There's also an auto adjustment option for those who want a quick fix.

PhotoStitch in Mac OS X

A separate program called PhotoStitch can combine photos you've taken side-by-side into a single panorama. The A590 doesn't have the Stitch Assist feature that you'll find on many other Canon cameras, but that doesn't mean that you can't take panoramas -- just make sure each photo overlaps a bit with the previous one.

Canon includes several manuals with the A590, and thankfully, they're all printed. For the camera you'll get a thick manual which covers the basics for the first 38 pages or so, and then goes into detail for another 170. While it's not the most user-friendly manual out there, it'll answer any question you may have about the A590. There are separated manuals available for the Canon software package and for direct printing via PictBridge.

Look and Feel

The PowerShot A590 IS looks more-or-less like its predecessor, with just a few cosmetic changes, mainly on the back of the camera. Although it's a plastic camera, it doesn't feel cheap like many entry-level cameras do. The camera can be operated with one hand, with the important controls in the right places. Canon left a spot for your thumb, so it doesn't rest on a button or dial.

Now, here's a look at how the PowerShot A590 compares to other cameras in its class in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot A570 IS 3.5 x 2.5 x 1.7 in. 14.9 cu in. 175 g
Canon PowerShot A590 IS 3.7 x 2.6 x 1.6 in. 15.4 cu in. 175 g
Fujifilm FinePix J50 3.8 x 2.2 x 0.9 in. 7.5 cu in. 141 g
GE A835 3.6 x 2.3 x 1.1 in. 9.1 cu in. 133 g
HP Photosmart Mz67 3.9 x 2.5 x 1.7 in. 16.6 cu in. 220 g
Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS 3.5 x 2.5 x 1.5 in. 13.1 cu in. 164 g
Nikon Coolpix S600 3.5 x 2.1 x 0.9 in. 6.6 cu in. 130 g
Olympus FE-310 3.7 x 2.4 x 1.2 in. 10.7 cu in. 140 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ8 3.8 x 2.4 x 1.3 in. 11.9 cu in. 141 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W130 3.5 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 7.2 cu in. 123 g

I'm not quite sure why, but the PowerShot A590 is just a bit larger than its predecessor. In the group as a whole, the A590 is on the large end of the spectrum. It's definitely not a "jeans pocket" sort of camera, but it'll still travel comfortably in a small camera bag or jacket pocket.

Let's tour the PowerShot A590 now, starting with the front of the camera.

Front of the Canon PowerShot A590 IS

The PowerShot A590 IS appears to have the same F2.6-5.5, 4X optical zoom lens as its predecessor. The focal range of the lens is 5.8 - 23.2 mm, which is equivalent to 35 - 140 mm. You can expand this range in either direction by picking up the conversion lenses I mentioned earlier. The lens itself isn't threaded, but you can remove that ring around it and then attach the optional conversion lens adapter to get access to the conversion lenses and 52 mm filters.

Inside the lens is Canon's optical image stabilizer, which helps to reduce the effects of "camera shake". This phenomenon is caused by tiny movements of your hands, which can blur your photos, especially when the shutter speed isn't fast enough. Sensors inside the A590 detect this motion, and one of the lens elements is shifted to compensate for it. It won't let you take handheld multi-second exposures, nor will it stop a moving subject, but it will let you use slower shutter speeds than you could otherwise. Want proof? Have a look at this:

Image stabilization off

Image stabilization on

Both of those photos were taken at a shutter speed of just 1/5 sec. As you can see, the image stabilization system did the job, producing a much sharper photo. The IS system can also be used to smooth out your movies too, as you can see in this brief video clip.

You'll find the A590's built-in flash to the upper-left of the lens. The flash's strength is just okay, with a working range of 0.3 - 3.5 m at wide-angle, and 0.3 - 2.2 m at telephoto (both at Auto ISO). If you want more flash power, you can pick up the external slave flash I mentioned in the previous section.

Next to the flash is the optical viewfinder, with the AF-assist lamp to the left of that. The AF-assist lamp is used as a focusing aid in low light situations. It will also blink while the self-timer is counting down.

The last thing to see here is the microphone, which is to the upper-left of the lens.

The PowerShot A590 has the same 2.5" LCD display as the A570 before it. While the screen is good-sized, the 115,000 pixel resolution leaves something to be desired. If you look closely you'll probably notice the "dots" on the screen, so it may be worth checking out the camera in person if possible. Outdoor visibility was good, but not great -- you can see your subjects fairly well, but I've seen better. Low light viewing was excellent, as the screen brightens automatically in those situations.

Above the LCD is an average-sized optical viewfinder, a feature which you won't find on too many entry-level cameras these days. There's no diopter correction feature, so those of you with less-than-perfect vision won't be able to focus what you're looking at.

Moving over to the upper-right of the photo, we find the speaker, with the playback/record switch next to that.

Below those we have the four-way controller, which is surrounded by four buttons. Those buttons are for:

  • Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, in 1/3 increments) + Delete photo
  • Print/Share
  • Display - toggles what's on the LCD
  • Menu

When you're connected to a computer or printer, the blue light on the Print/Share button will light up. For computers, you can transfer images (in various ways) and even set the desktop background of your PC, right from the camera. If you're connected to a PictBridge-enabled printer, the button is used to start printing (you can set the print settings using the menu). In record mode this button can have various functions assigned to it, and I'll list those for you later in the review.

Now onto the four-way controller, which is used for menu navigation, as well as:

  • Up - Flash setting (Auto, on, off) + Jump (quickly move through photos in playback mode)
  • Down - Focus (Auto, macro, manual) - see below
  • Center - Function / Set

Manual focus (center frame enlargement not shown)

One of the many manual controls on the A590 is for focus. When this feature is activated, you'll use the four-way controller to set the focus distance. A guide on the LCD shows the current focus distance, and the center of the frame is enlarged so you can confirm that your subject is properly focused.

Function menu

By pressing the center button on the four-way controller, you'll open up the Function menu. This menu has the following options:

  • ISO speed (Auto, High ISO Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600) - see below
  • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, custom) - see below
  • Drive (Single-shot, continuous, 2 or 10 sec self-timer, custom self-timer)
  • My Colors (Off, vivid, neutral, sepia, black & white, custom color) - see below
  • Flash compensation (-2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments) + flash output (minimum, medium, maximum) - this last item is only available in manual mode
  • Metering mode (Evaluative, center-weighted, spot)
  • Compression (see chart later in review)
  • Resolution (see chart later in review)

As with all of Canon's recent cameras, there are two Auto ISO modes to choose from on the PowerShot A590. The difference is that the High ISO Auto mode will boost the sensitivity higher than the regular Auto mode. This lets you use a faster shutter speed, which will result in sharper photos. The catch is that your photos will contain a lot more noise. I'll have more on the camera's ISO performance later in the review.

The A590's custom white balance option lets you use a white or gray card, for accurate color in any lighting. This will come in handy when you're shooting in unusual lighting conditions, like I do in many of the test shots later in the review.

The PowerShot A590 has a pretty nice continuous shooting mode. It allows you to keep shooting at 1.5 frames/second until the memory card is full. Do note that you'll need a high speed card in order to pull this off. The LCD keeps up with the action, so you shouldn't have any trouble following a moving subject. The other item of note in the Drive menu is the custom self-timer. This allows you to select how many shots are taken, and how long of a delay there is before the shutter releases.

The PowerShot A590 has a stripped down version of Canon's My Colors feature. You can make your photos more vivid or neutral, take a picture in black and white or sepia, or manually adjust the sharpness/contrast/saturation. The color swap and color accent options seen on some other Canon cameras are not available on the A590.

And that's it for the back of the PowerShot A590!

Top of the Canon PowerShot A590 IS

Let's move on to the top of the camera now. First up is the power button, which has the mode dial next to it. The options on the mode dial include:

Option Function
Movie mode More on this later
Special Scene mode Some of the more obscure scene modes. Pick the situation and the camera uses the appropriate settings. Choose from night scene, foliage, beach, aquarium, sunset, snow, and fireworks.
Indoor More commonly used scene modes, with dedicated spots on the dial
Kids & Pets
Night Snapshot
Easy mode Completely automatic, only thing you can adjust is flash on/off
Auto mode Fully automatic, most camera settings locked up
Program mode Still automatic, but with full menu access
Shutter priority (Tv) mode You set the shutter speed and the camera chooses the appropriate aperture. Select from a range of 15 - 1/2000 sec. Do note that the fastest shutter speeds are only available at the smallest apertures.
Aperture priority (Av) mode Just the opposite: you choose the aperture, and the camera picks the proper shutter speed. Aperture range is F2.6 - F8.0.
Full Manual (M) mode You select both the shutter speed and aperture. Same ranges as above.

As you can see, you've got a full set of manual controls, plus numerous scene modes (I wish there was a sports mode, though). This lets you start out "easy", and work your way up to more advanced photography when you're ready. Speaking of easy, the A590 has a new "easy mode", which is as point-and-shoot as you can get -- there's no menu access at all.

The only other thing to see on the top of the camera is the shutter release button, which has the zoom controller wrapped around it. The controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in about 1.7 seconds. I counted just eight steps in the A590's 4X zoom range. One annoying thing about this camera (as well as a few other Canons) is that there's no indication on the LCD of the current zoom setting.

Side of the Canon PowerShot A590 IS

On this side of the camera you'll find its I/O ports, which are protected by a rubber cover. The ports include A/V out, USB, and DC-in (for the optional AC adapter). Like all of Canon's cameras, the A590 IS supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard, for fast data transfer to your Mac or PC.

Side of the Canon PowerShot A590 IS

There's nothing to see on the other side of the camera. The lens is at full telephoto here.

Bottom of the Canon PowerShot A590 IS

On the bottom of the camera you'll find the battery and memory card compartment, plus a plastic tripod mount (boo!). The door covering this compartment is of decent quality. The tripod mount is far away enough from the compartment door to allow you to access the memory card slot while using a tripod.

Using the Canon PowerShot A590 IS

Record Mode

It takes just 1.2 seconds for the A590 to power up and prepare for shooting. That's pretty good for a camera with an extending lens.

No live histogram on the A590

Focus speeds were pretty quick on the PowerShot A590. At the wide end of the lens, you can expect to wait between 0.2 and 0.4 seconds to lock focus. At the telephoto end you'll wait around double that, though focus times usually stayed under one second. Low light focusing was very good, thanks to the A590's AF-assist lamp.

I did not find shutter lag to be a problem, even at the slower shutter speeds at which it can occur.

Shot-to-shot delays were minor, as long as you're not using the flash. In those situations, you'll wait around 1.5 seconds before you can take another picture. With the flash on, that delay ranges from 3 to 4 seconds.

You can delete the photo you just took by pressing the delete photo (exposure compensation) button on the back of the camera.

Now, here's a look at the image size and quality choices available on the PowerShot A590:

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # Images on 32MB card
# images on 1GB card (optional)
3264 x 2448
Superfine 3.4 MB 8 278
Fine 2.0 MB 14 462
Normal 980 KB 30 958
Wide (16:9)
3264 x 1832
Superfine 2.5 MB 11 366
Fine 1.5 MB 19 614
Normal 736 KB 41 1284
Middle 1
2592 x 1944
Superfine 2.4 MB 11 380
Fine 1.5 MB 21 678
Normal 695 KB 42 1342
Middle 2
2048 x 1536
Superfine 1.6 MB 18 590
Fine 893 KB 33 1058
Normal 445 KB 66 2082
Middle 3
1600 x 1200
Superfine 1002 KB 30 942
Fine 558 KB 53 1678
Normal 278 KB 102 3180
640 x 480
Superfine 249 KB 114 3554
Fine 150 KB 177 5494
Normal 84 KB 278 8634

There's one more image size on the A590 that I didn't list in that chart, and it's called "date stamp". As its name implies, this is the resolution you want to use for printing the date on your photo -- in fact, it's the only way you can do so. Do note that you can't adjust the quality in this mode -- it's fixed at fine.

The A590 doesn't support the RAW or TIFF image formats, nor would I expect it to.

Images are named IMG_xxxx.JPG, where x = 0001 - 9999. The file numbering is maintained even if you replace and/or format memory cards.

Now, onto the menus!

The A590 uses the standard Canon menu system. It's attractive, responsive, and easy-to-use. Keep in mind that some of these options are not available in the auto or scene modes, and that the menu is not accessible at all in easy mode. That said, he re's the complete list of items in the record menu:

  • AF frame (Face Detect, AiAF, Center) - see below
  • AF-point zoom (on/off) - see below
  • Digital Zoom (Off, 1.6X, 2.0X, Standard) - see below
  • Flash settings
    • Flash mode (Auto/manual) - this option is only available in Av and M mode, and it lets you adjust the flash output below
    • Flash exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments)
    • Flash output (Minimum, medium, maximum) - only available when flash mode is set to manual
    • Redeye correction (on/off) - whether the redeye reduction tool is used automatically when you take a flash photo
    • Redeye lamp (on/off) - whether the AF-assist lamp is used to prevent redeye
    • Safety FE (on/off) - whether the camera automatically adjusts the shutter speed or aperture to avoid overexposure when taking a flash shot
  • MF-Point Zoom (on/off) - enlarges the center of the frame in manual focus mode
  • Safety MF (on/off) - whether the autofocus system is still available after manually focusing
  • AF-assist beam (on/off)
  • Review (Off, 2-10 seconds, hold) - post-shot review
  • Review info (Off, detailed, focus check) - see below
  • Auto category (on/off) - whether photos taken in certain scene modes have a category assigned automatically
  • Display overlay (Off, gridlines, 3:2 guide, both)
  • IS mode (Continuous, shoot only, panning, off) - see below
  • Set Print/Share button (Off, face detection, ISO, white balance, custom WB, redeye correction, digital teleconverter, gridlines, display off) - define what this button does

The camera locked onto all six faces

There are three focus modes on the PowerShot A590. The first one is Face Detect, a feature which you'll find on nearly all cameras in 2008. The camera will detect up to nine faces in the frame, making sure that the exposure and white balance is correct for each. Canon's face detection system is one of the best out there -- it easily found all six faces in our test scenes. The other focus modes include AiAF (9-point) and center-point.

The AF-point zoom feature, new to Canon cameras this year, does just as its name implies. In face detection mode, it digitally enlarges the "main" subject (presumably so you can make sure they're smiling), while in center-point mode it enlarges the middle of the frame.

I want to briefly explain the digital zoom options on the PowerShot A590. Canon calls the 1.6X and 2.0X options a "digital tele-converter" -- it's basically just fixed digital zoom. The Standard option is what you'll find on every camera -- it just enlarges the center of the frame digitally. When you use this mode, the camera's Safety Zoom feature warns you when you pass the point where image quality is degraded. When you're shooting at the highest resolution that starts as soon as digital zoom kicks in, but if you're using a lower resolution you can use it for a little while before that happens (e.g. you can go up to 6.4X total zoom at the M2 resolution). You can do the same thing in your favorite photo editor, by the way.

What are those IS modes all about? Continuous IS activates the image stabilizer as soon as you halfway-press the shutter release, which helps you compose your shot without camera shake. Shoot only mode activates the IS system when the photo is actually taken, which is more effective at stopping blur than the previous mode. Panning mode only compensates for up and down motion, and it's name describes when you'd want to use this feature. Finally, you can just shut the whole image stabilization system off, which is a good idea if the camera is on a tripod.

The setup menu can be found in both the record and playback menus. It has these options:

  • Mute (on/off) - turns off all the beeps
  • Volume
    • Startup volume (Off, 1-5)
    • Operation volume (Off, 1-5)
    • Self-timer volume (Off, 1-5)
    • Shutter volume (Off, 1-5)
    • Playback volume (Off, 1-5)
  • Startup image (on/off)
  • Power saving
    • Auto power down (on/off)
    • Display off (10, 20, 30 sec, 1-3 min)
  • Date/time (set)
  • Card format
  • File number reset (on/off) - maintain file numbering
  • Create folder
    • Create new folder - on the memory card
    • Auto create (Off, daily, weekly, monthly) - this new features will automatically create new folders on the memory card at set intervals
  • Auto rotate (on/off) - camera will automatically rotate portrait photos on the LCD
  • Distance units (m/cm, ft/in) - for manual focus
  • Lens retract (1 min, 0 secs) - how quickly the lens retracts when you switch to playback mode
  • Language
  • Video system (NTSC, PAL)
  • Print Method (Auto, PictBridge)
  • Reset all - back to defaults

Well enough about menus, let's do photo tests now.

The PowerShot A590 did a nice job with our macro test subject. There is a slight greenish color cast, telling me that the custom white balance didn't "read" my studio lamps quite right. Aside from that, the colors are nicely saturated, and the subject has the "smooth" look that is a trademark of Canon's digital cameras.

In macro mode, you can get as close to your subject as 5 cm at wide-angle and 30 cm at telephoto -- both fairly average numbers. If you pick up the optional close-up lens, that range drops to 4 - 17 cm, regardless of the focal length.

The A590 did a good (but not spectacular) job with our night scene test. The camera took in plenty of light, as you'd expect from a camera with manual shutter speed control. While there's not much in the line of noise here, you can already see the detail-eating effects of noise reduction -- and this is at ISO 80. There's some fairly strong purple and green fringing here, as well.

Now, let's use that same night scene to illustrate how the A590 IS performs at various ISO sensitivities:

ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

There isn't much of a difference between the ISO 80 and 100 crops, nor would I expect one. Noise reduction munches away at details in the ISO 200 shot, though it's still good enough for a small print. At ISO 400, more traditional noise comes into the picture. There's not a lot of detail left here, so I'd probably avoid using this setting in low light unless you're absolutely desperate. The ISO 800 and 1600 shots are too noisy to be usable for printing.

We'll see if the A590 performs better in normal lighting in a bit.

There's mild to moderate barrel distortion at the wide-angle end of the PowerShot A590's lens. You can see the real world effects of barrel distortion by looking at the building on the right in this photo. I did not find corner blurriness nor vignetting (dark corners) to be a problem.

If you've read past A-series reviews on this site, then you'll know that redeye has always been a problem with these cameras. Last year, Canon began adding a redeye removal tool in playback mode, which you can use to get rid of this annoyance. On their 2008 models, redeye removal can run automatically (as the shot is taken), and look at the results -- no red to be found!

And now it's time for ISO test number two, which is shot in out studio. You can compare this test with those in other reviews on this site. While the crops below give you a quick view of the differences at the various ISO sensitivities, it's a good idea to view the full-size images as well. And with that...

ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

The first three crops are as smooth as butter -- no noise or noise reduction to be found. There's a bit of both at ISO 400, but not enough to keep you from making midsize or perhaps even large prints at that setting. The ISO 800 shot has a fair amount of noise, though not a lot of detail loss, and I think you could still squeeze out a small print here. The same cannot be said for photos taken at ISO 1600, which have too much noise and detail loss to be useable.

Overall, the photo quality on the PowerShot A590 was excellent. The one exception is in very low light, as the night scene test illustrated. In other situations, you'll get photos with accurate exposure and vivid colors. While photos have that Canon smoothness I mentioned earlier, they're not soft -- quite the opposite, in fact. Noise isn't a problem until you pass ISO 400, though you'll see mild artifacting from noise reduction below that. Purple fringing levels were very mild in my real world photos.

Now, head on over to our photo gallery. Take a look at the full size images, print a few if you can, and then decide if the A590's picture quality meets your expectations!

Movie Mode

The PowerShot A590's movie mode is actually a step backward from the one on the A570. While both cameras record at 640 x 480, the A570 did so at 30 frames/second. On the A590, the frame rate has dropped to 20 fps, which is fairly choppy. If there's any silver lining to be found, it's that recording times are longer than they were on the A570. Recording will still stop after one hour or if the file size reaches 4GB, but now it takes longer to hit the latter (50 minutes at the highest quality setting). You can stretch out VGA recording a bit longer by using the "long play" mode, which also cuts the file size in half.

If you want a better frame rate, you'll have to cut the resolution to 320 x 240. There, you can get the 30 fps rate that the camera should've had at the VGA setting. There's also a 160 x 120 resolution available, though at a very choppy 15 fps. This resolution limits recording time to 3 minutes.

As is usually the case, you cannot use the optical zoom lens while recording your movie clip. You can, however, use the digital zoom. The image stabilizer is active during filming.

Movies are saved in AVI format, using the M-JPEG codec.

Here's a sample movie for you, which I recorded at the highest quality setting.

Click to play movie (10.3 MB, 640 x 480, 20 fps, AVI format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime

Playback Mode

The A590 has a pretty standard playback mode. Basic features include slideshows, image protection, voice captions, thumbnail view, and zoom and scroll. This last feature lets you enlarge the picture up to 10X, and then scroll around in the zoomed-in area. When you're zoomed in you can press the Func/Set button and then use the four-way controller to move from photo to photo at the same magnification setting. The A590 also has a separate print menu that lets you tag photos for printing to a PictBridge-enabled photo printer.

Photos can be rotated and resized right on the camera, though there's no cropping option available. The redeye reduction tool is also available, in case you don't have it set to run automatically.

Categorizing photos

You can assign various categories to your photos. If you have the auto-assign featured turned on, this will be done for you, assuming that you're shooting in one of the supported scene modes. The camera's "jump" feature lets you move through images by 10 or 100 photos at a time, as well as by type (still/movie), category, or date.

The default view in playback mode doesn't show much information about a photo. If you hit the display button you'll get a lot more, though, including a histogram.

The A590 moves between images almost instantly. Like nearly all of Canon's recent cameras, when you rotate the camera 90 degrees, the photo on the LCD rotates too.

How Does it Compare?

As I said at the start of the review, I've long been a fan of Canon's A-series PowerShots. The PowerShot A590 IS remains a very good camera for just about everyone. It's a relatively minor update to its predecessor (the A570), with the main changes being a higher resolution sensor (naturally), auto redeye reduction, and improved battery life. Something that's changed for the worse is the camera's movie mode: the frame rate has dropped from 30 fps on the A570 to 20 fps here. Still, the A590 IS offers a lot of bang for the buck, with its 4X zoom lens, image stabilization, manual controls, and long list of accessories. The only people whom I don't think the A590 is a great match for are those who take a lot of movies and long exposures. For everyone else, I can highly recommend the PowerShot A590 IS.

The PowerShot A590 is a midsize camera made entirely of plastic. Despite that, it feels solid in your hands, with only the plastic tripod mount raising some concern for me. The camera is easy to hold and operate with just one hand, with the important controls right where they should be. The A590 features the same 4X, 35 - 140 mm lens as its predecessor. If you want to expand this range, Canon offers both wide and telephoto conversion lenses. Inside the lens is Canon's optical image stabilizer, which does an effective job of reducing blur due to camera shake. On the back of the camera you'll find a 2.5" LCD display, plus an optical viewfinder (yay!). The LCD's resolution of 115,000 pixels isn't great, but this is an entry-level camera after all. Outdoor LCD visibility was decent, and it was very good in low light situations. The A590 is powered by AA batteries, a feature I always appreciate.

The A590 IS can be enjoyed by both beginners and enthusiasts alike. If you're just starting out, there's a new "easy" mode, which is as point-and-shoot as it gets. There's a regular auto mode (with limited menu access), as well as numerous scene modes, too. Advanced users will appreciate the full set of manual controls on the A590, covering exposure, white balance, and focus. The A590 has the requisite face detection feature, and it works very well. There's also a redeye reduction tool which can be run automatically when you take a photo -- finally! As I mentioned above, the movie mode actually got worse on the A590, due to a drop in the frame rate. I'm guessing that Canon wants people to step up to a more expensive model in order to get 30 fps, which is unfortunate.

Camera performance is very good. The PowerShot A590 is ready to shoot after a 1.2 second delay -- pretty snappy. Focus speeds were very good, even in low light situations. Shutter lag wasn't a problem, and shot-to-shot delays were minimal, except when you're using the flash, which is slow to charge. The camera can shoot continuously at 1.5 frames/second until your (high speed) memory card is full. The A590's battery life is 10% better than its predecessors, and is well above average for its class. The camera supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard, for fast data transfer to a Mac or PC.

Photo quality was excellent, in most situations. The A590 takes well-exposed photos with vivid, accurate colors. Like most of Canon's cameras, images have a "smooth" appearance, while still retaining sharpness. In normal lighting, noise isn't a problem until you pass ISO 400, though noise reduction creeps in sooner (but stays relatively low). The same can't be said for low light situations: images start off with noticeable noise reduction artifacting, and things go downhill rapidly. Purple fringing wasn't a major problem, nor was redeye, as the camera removes it automatically.

I pretty much hit on all the negatives about the A590 in the preceding paragraphs, but here's one more. I really don't like how the camera doesn't display the current zoom setting on the LCD.

If you're looking for a budget camera that takes great pictures, and has all the features you could possibly desire (without too many gimmicks), then the Canon PowerShot A590 IS is absolutely worth a look. The only people that I'd caution are those who take a lot of movies or long exposures -- you might want to find a camera with a 30 fps frame rate and better low light noise performance (respectively) instead.

What I liked:

  • Excellent photo quality in good light
  • Great value for the money
  • Slightly more zoom power than typical cameras in this class
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Snappy performance
  • Very good low light focusing and LCD visibility
  • Full manual controls, plus plenty of scene modes
  • Redeye not a problem, thanks to auto redeye removal tool
  • Well-implemented face detection feature
  • Supports conversion lenses
  • Above average battery life using just two AA batteries
  • USB 2.0 High Speed support

What I didn't care for:

  • Low light photos have too much noise and noise reduction artifacting
  • Movie mode frame rate has dropped to 20 fps since previous model
  • Low LCD resolution
  • Zoom setting not shown on LCD
  • Flash a little slow to charge
  • Plastic tripod mount

Some other cameras in this class worth considering include the Canon PowerShot A720 IS (the next "step up" from the A590), Fuji FinePix J50, GE A835, HP Photosmart Mz67, Kodak EasyShare Z1085 IS, Nikon Coolpix S600, Olympus FE-310, Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ8, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W130.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the PowerShot A590 IS and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

See how the photos turned out in our gallery!

Feedback & Discussion

To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.

If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

Want another opinion?

You'll find other reviews of the PowerShot A590 IS at CNET and Steves Digicams.