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The entry-level Canon PowerShot A490 is based around a ten megapixel, 1/2.3"-type CCD image sensor coupled to a 3.3x optical zoom lens that offers focal lengths ranging from a rather tight 37mm wide angle to a 122mm telephoto. Maximum aperture varies from f/3.0 to f/5.8 across the zoom range. Images on the Canon A490 must be framed and reviewed on its 2.5-inch LCD panel, as there's no true optical viewfinder on this camera. The A490's display has a resolution of 115,000 dots (~38,000 pixels, with three dots per pixel).

The Canon A490's sensor allows sensitivities ranging from ISO 80 to ISO 1,600 equivalents. Exposures are determined using Evaluative, Center-weighted Average or Spot metering, and direct control of shutter speed or aperture isn't possible on this camera. 2.0EV of exposure compensation is available, in 1/3EV increments. Seven white balance modes are available on the Canon A490 - Auto, Manual, or five presets. The PowerShot A490's built-in flash strobe has a range of just 9.8 feet at wide angle, dropping to 6.6 feet at telephoto, and recharges in around ten seconds.

As well as still images, the A490 can capture video clips at VGA resolution or below. The Canon PowerShot A490 stores images on SD / SDHC / SDXC / MMC / MMC Plus / HC MMC Plus cards, and draws power from two AA alkaline batteries. Battery life is rated at 150 shots on a charge, to CIPA testing standards. Connectivity options include USB 2.0 high-speed data and NTSC / PAL standard definition video.

As compared to its sibling the PowerShot A495, Canon's A490 lacks a couple of scene modes and a Face Self-Timer capture mode, and has 5-point Face AiAF autofocusing versus 9-point.

The Canon PowerShot A490 is available in the US market from late February 2010, priced at around $110.