BUILD AND DESIGN
The metal-clad polycarbonate bodied A490 is actually a rather plain looking little digicam. Canon's bargain priced little A490 is like a 21st century version of the Kodak "Brownie" box camera popular during the early decades of the last century. The A490 is a boxy utilitarian digital camera that won't turn any heads or launch any trends - that's because the A490 is all about practicality and usability. The A490 is about the same size as a classic Altoids tin. Like the "Brownie" the A490 was designed to provide consumers with an inexpensive camera that has the ability to easily and dependably capture high quality images.
The A490 (which replaces the A480) is a chunky, but still pocketable digicam which features 10 megapixel resolution, a 3.3x (37-122mm equivalent) optical zoom, a 2.5-inch LCD, the same AiAF 9-point auto focus system with advanced face detection technology found in more expensive Canon digicams, and the third generation DIGIC III processor rather than the newer DIGIC IV processor found on Canon's more expensive models.
Ergonomics and Controls
The auto-exposure only A490's user interface is uncomplicated with reasonably sized and (for the most part) clearly marked buttons. The control array is classic Canon - meaning everything will be familiar to anyone who has ever used a PowerShot camera. The Mode button makes it easy to select the appropriate shooting mode and the Compass Switch (four-way controller) and FUNC button provide direct access to the camera's most commonly changed/adjusted features including white balance, sensitivity, metering, flash settings, and macro mode.
I had one complaint with the A480's controls - the exposure compensation function was part of the func menu, rather than having a dedicated position on the compass switch like most of its siblings. I wanted the exposure compensation function moved from the func menu back to a dedicated spot on the compass switch. Canon did that, making minor exposure adjustments (incrementally lightening or darkening images) much easier. Now I have a new complaint - the A490's shutter button is nearly flush with the camera body and constructed of identical material - meaning it is the same color and texture as the top of the camera - not at all easy to find by touch. I never did get used to the A490's shutter button and I actually missed my timing on a couple of shots because I had to look every time to make sure I had my finger on the shutter button.
Menus and Modes
The PowerShot A490's menu system is remarkably simple and very easy to navigate. Push the dedicated menu button (located under the compass switch) and the "Camera and Setup" sub-menus appear. The A490 utilizes the same basic auto exposure only image capture system as many of its siblings - here's a breakdown:
Interestingly, like its predecessor, the A490 doesn't provide either a Landscape or Action/Sports scene mode.
Like many current P&S digicams, the A490 eschews an optical viewfinder. The A490 relies on the same 2.5-inch 115,000 pixel TFT LCD that graced its predecessor for framing/composition, captured image review, and menu navigation chores. The A490's LCD screen is relatively bright, hue accurate, fairly fluid, and automatically boosts gain in dim/low light. Images on the A490's LCD screen are a bit coarse, but it is sharp enough for most compositional and captured image review chores.
The A490's display provides all the info the camera's target audience is likely to need and the user-enabled LCD grid-line display is a nice (and for me) very useful touch. LCD screens are subject to fade in the glare of bright outdoor light and the A490's screen seems (like its predecessor) to be especially susceptible to glare and fade.
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