Canon put substance over style when it designed the PowerShot A590 IS, and in doing so it made a great camera. While the clunky-looking 8-megapixel shooter looks bland when compared with colorful, ultraslim, style-minded cameras, its impressive insides help produce some of the nicest photos you'll shoot for less than $200.
The chunky, practical design gives the A590 IS a functional and easy-to-handle feel at the expense of aesthetics. A large protrusion houses the camera's two AA batteries on the right side of the body and also provides a steady grip. The 2.5-inch LCD screen leaves enough room for an optical viewfinder, a convenient sliding mode switch, and several large, responsive buttons. While it won't slip as easily into a pocket as an ultracompact camera, and won't elicit any impressed gasps from your friends, the A590 IS simply feels comfortable to use.
As with previous PowerShot A-cameras, Canon built the A590 IS around a large, bright, flexible lens. The 35-to-140mm-equivalent, f/2.6-to-f/5.5 lens offers a slightly longer reach and wider aperture than the 3x, f/2.8 lenses found in most compact cameras. It incorporates Canon's Optical Image Stabilization system, which shifts lens elements to help reduce image shake. The camera can also accept conversion lenses with an optional adapter that fits over the base of the original lens. Unfortunately, the adapter retails for about $25, and conversion lenses retail for $100 or more, so outfitting your A590 IS with wide and/or telephoto conversion lenses can cost almost as much as the camera itself.
Skilled photographers will appreciate the camera's myriad controls and options. Like other PowerShot A-series cameras, it offers program, aperture priority, shutter priority, and full-manual exposure control modes. Of course, if you don't want to use any of those features, you can still shoot in the automatic mode, or with the camera's several scene presets. Finally, the camera adds a new "Easy" mode, which further simplifies and automates the interface.
Slow shot-to-shot speed hindered the A590 IS's otherwise very quick performance. After a 1.8-second wait from power-on to first shot, the camera could capture a new picture once every 2.3 seconds with the flash disabled. With the flash turned on, that wait more than doubled to an anguishing 5.2 seconds. Burst mode further disappointed, capturing 9 full-resolution shots in 11.2 seconds for a rate of 0.8 frames per second. On the other hand, its shutter performed admirably, lagging a scant 0.45 seconds with our high-contrast target and an even more impressive 0.7 seconds with our low-contrast target. Whether you shoot in low light or outside on a sunny day, you can expect the camera to grab the shot quickly, and then leave you waiting a few seconds before you can shoot again.