The Canon Powershot A530 is what I would call a compact digital camera. It will just fit into a shirt or pants pocket at 3.56 x 2.52 x 1.70 in (90.4 x 64.0 x 43.2 mm) and 6.00 oz (170 g). Add about an ounce and a half to this for the batteries. It captures images at several resolutions, up to 5MP, has the familiar Canon PIC-mode selection wheel, and a 1.8 in TFT color LCD. It sports a 5.8 - 23.2 mm lens with a variable aperture range of f/2.6 - f/5.5. This is 35 - 140 mm in 35mm equivalence.
The A530 is very similar to its slightly more expensive sibling, the Canon Powershot A540. In fact, it shares the same User Guide with the A540. The A540 bumps up the specs a bit with a 6 megapixel sensor, 2.5 inch LCD, aperture and shutter priority modes.
IN THE BOX
CONTROLS AND LAYOUT
The menu button provides access to the Record, Play, Print, Set Up, and My Camera menus. These menus provide access to the camera settings that stay more or less consistent across all shooting modes. One such preference that is worthy of special mention is one called "Grid Lines" under the Record menu. Turning this on superimposes grid lines onto the LCD in a 3 x 3 pattern. This can be very useful for checking horizontal and vertical composition and for helping to reinforce the "rule of thirds". I would have liked to have had these in the viewfinder display as well.
In the center of the 4-way "joystick" or d-pad is a button labeled FUNC SET. Pressing this brings up a very intuitive menu of the more commonly changed settings, such as: ISO Speed, White Balance, Drive Mode, Metering Mode, and Recording Pixels (Capture size), and Flash Compensation. This is a much more efficient way to make changes to these settings quickly. The focus modes and flash modes are easily accessible by using the down and up directions, respectively, on the d-pad.
The camera feels comfortable in the hand; it has a built-in grip that places the shutter release and zoom control directly under the index finger. The lens is mounted in a raised area; however, the lens fully retracts into this when the camera is powered off. Also on the front of the camera: flash, optical viewfinder port, microphone, and focus assist lamp.
On the top of the body is the On/Off button, the Mode dial, shutter button, and zoom control. The zoom control is conveniently co-located with the shutter release button.
The back of this camera is quite busy. In addition to the Menu button and D-Pad/FUNC SET button previous mentioned, there is the LCD screen, a button that controls xposure compensation and single image erase, a Print button, a Display button, a apeaker, and a Mode switch to select camera or playback mode.
The ports for the cables are behind a plastic flap that clips down on the left side of the camera.
The batteries and SD/MMC memory card are inserted into the bottom of the camera. There is also a CR1220 battery to maintain settings when the main batteries are removed.
The PowerShot A530 captures 5.0MP images on a 1/2.5 in CCD. The images may be viewed on the 1.8 in TFT color LCD with approximately 77,000 pixels of resolution. There is also an optical viewfinder and an option to turn off the LCD viewfinder as well.
Images can be captured at resolutions of: 2592 x 1944 (Large), 2048 x 1536 (Medium 1), 1,600 x 1,200 (Medium 2), and 640 x 480. A Postcard with Date Imprint mode captures images at 1600 x 1200 and a Widescreen mode captures images of 2592 x 1456 pixels. There are three settings for quality: SuperFine, Fine, and Normal. Movies can be captured at 640 x 480 at 10 fps and at 320 x 240 at 20 fps. Additionally, there is a compact mode for movies that will capture up to 3 minutes at 160 x 120 at 15 fps.
The PowerShot A530 lens has a focal length range of 5.8mm -- 23.2 mm (35mm equivalent of 35mm -- 140mm), giving the camera a 4x optical zoom. The lens has an aperture range of f/2.6 - f/5.5. The digital zoom, which cannot be used when the LCD is turned off, combines with the optical zoom to provide up to 16X for stills and 8.1X for standard movies.
The A530 accepts both SD and MMC memory cards. The included 16MB card is rather small in this day. Cards with capacities of 256MB, 512MB, and larger are available.
There are 9 shooting modes available on the A530, Aperture and Shutter priority are only available on the A540. In the "Green Zone" of Auto mode, the camera automatically selects settings. This mode is ideal for novice users or for general snapshot use. The "Creative Zone" on the A530 includes "P" and "M" modes. In "P" mode, the camera selects both the aperture and the shutter speed to match the brightness of the subject. "M" mode, manual, is a bit of a disappointment as the values that can be set are dependent upon the zoom setting. The "Image Zone" includes the special icons for Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene, Stitch Assist, and Movies as well as 9 more specialized predefined settings under SCN (Special Scene). These include Night snapshot, Kids and Pets, Indoor, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Color accent, and Color swap.
PERFORMANCE AND USABILITY
I mounted the Canon Powershot A530 on a tripod and took a series of pictures of a Macbeth ColorChecker in consistent outdoor light, varying the ISO setting throughout the range of possible values, which are ISO 80, 100, 200, 400, and 800. The lowest ISO settings produced the least digital noise (grain) and most accurate color rendition; however, slow ISO settings are not generally recommended without a tripod, bright sunlight, or flash. The digital noise (grain) was noticeable at ISO 400 and pronounced at ISO 800. For most, the ISO 100 or ISO 200 settings will produce pleasing images, using ISO 400 in low-light situations.
ISO 80 (view medium image) (view large image)
ISO 100 (view medium image) (view large image)
ISO 200 (view medium image) (view large image)
ISO 400 (view medium image) (view large image)
ISO 800 (view medium image) (view large image)
At the wide end of the zoom range, the PowerShot A530 exhibits barrel distortion and some darkening of the corners which is fairly typical of small digital zoom cameras.
The Special Scene settings (SCN) on the Mode Dial are very useful and may be thought of as custom programmed modes, specifically tailored for the conditions for which they were designed. While similar results may be obtained with exposure compensation and selective use of aperture and shutter, these are already taken into consideration by the programming of these SCN programs. A much simpler approach. Further, I found that the SCN modes often produced better images in those specific situations than the general programmed mode (P on the Mode Dial) did.
The Canon Powershot A530 is a capable digital camera with a respectable zoom range. It is a good choice for a traveler both in size and power source as AA/LR6 batteries are readily available almost anywhere. Canon's choice of the SD/MMC memory card format is also a pleasant standardization.
Pros: Handling, Extensive Menu Options, Optical Viewfinder
Cons: Smallish LCD screen, Manual Mode Limitations
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