The A490's third generation DIGIC III processor (Canon's more expensive digital cameras feature DIGIC IV processors) combines most primary camera functions (image interpolation and processing, auto exposure, White Balance, JPEG compression, gain control, and power management) on one chip - which improves operational efficiency and makes for quick startup/processing and near real time shutter response.
While the A490 isn't the fastest digicam in its class, it is quick enough to capture the "decisive moment" in this shot of an exuberant young prize winner on the midway at the Kentucky State Fair.
The PowerShot A490 comes in on the low side of average for its class, speed-wise. The A490's boot up cycle (power on to the first image capture) is about 2.0 seconds. Shot-to-shot times averaged out to around 2.0 seconds between shots. The A490's built-in flash recycles in about 5.0 to 6.0 seconds (after a full-power discharge). The A490 can move its 3.3x zoom from the wide-angle end of its range to full telephoto in less than 2 seconds. AF speed is dependably quick in all but the most difficult lighting, typically less than half a second. Shutter lag shouldn't be a problem since shutter fire is essentially real time with pre-focus and (according to Canon) about 1/10th of a second from scratch.
Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)
|Casio Exilim EX-S7||0.01|
|Sony Cyber-shot S2100||0.02|
|Pentax Optio I-10||0.02|
|Canon PowerShot A490||0.03|
AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)
|Casio Exilim EX-S7||0.16|
|Canon PowerShot A490||0.57|
|Pentax Optio I-10||0.63|
|Sony Cyber-shot S2100||0.68|
|Pentax Optio I-10||4||1.1 fps
|Sony Cyber-shot S2100||∞||1.0 fps
|Canon PowerShot A490||∞||0.9 fps
|Casio Exilim EX-S7||∞||0.4 fps
*Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera's fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). "Frames" notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.
Canon's designers had to pinch pennies to create a digital camera that could be sold for a C-note. One of the most obvious ways to economize was to use on hand components from earlier models - the A490 features Canon's older 5-point TTL Contrast Detection system rather than the newer 9-point TTL Contrast Detection system featured on more expensive Canon digicams. Users can opt for either Center AF or Face Detection AF. In low light a focus assist beam helps illuminate the subject for more accurate focusing.
The A490's on-board multi mode flash provides a minimal selection of artificial lighting options, including Off, On (fill flash), Auto (fires when needed), and Slow Synchro. Canon claims the maximum flash range is a bit less than 10 feet (3 meters) which appears to be a fairly accurate claim - based on my very limited flash use.
The A490 is powered by two alkaline, NiMH, or lithium AA cells. Battery life will depend on the type of batteries used. I rarely keep track of the number of exposures shot before the batteries go dead, but I'd guess a "real world" power duration assessment (with OTC alkalines) is something like 150 to 180 exposures. Long life Lithiums and re-chargeable NiMH cells offer additional power options.
The A490 saves images to SD, SDHC, & SDXC memory media.
The A490 sports the same f/3.0-5.8, 6.6-21.6mm (37-122mm equivalent) 3.3x zoom that graced its predecessor. When the camera is powered up the zoom extends automatically and when the camera is powered down the zoom is fully retracted into the camera body and a built-in iris style lens cover closes to protect the front element. Zooming is fairly smooth and operation is relatively quiet. The A490's zoom displays some corner softness, but center sharpness and detail capture are surprisingly good - especially for such an inexpensive camera.
Barrel distortion (at the wide-angle end of the zoom range) is essentially non-existent and that's especially impressive since barrel distortion (straight lines bow out) is a common fault with tiny super complex digicam zooms. Pincushion distortion (straight lines bow inward) is essentially invisible at the telephoto end of the zoom. Chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is very well controlled, but noticeable in high contrast color transition areas. Overall, the A490's zoom is surprisingly good for an entry-level digicam.
Image stabilization (IS) has become almost ubiquitous these days, but the A490 doesn't feature IS - not really a surprising economy in a camera that costs $100. Indoors, the A490, is pretty slow - factor in the lack of IS and many natural light (no flash) shots in dim lighting are going to come out blurry. Since the A490 is primarily an outdoor camera I don't consider the lack of IS to be a major shortcoming - especially in a camera this cheap.
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