Canon A580 Overview
by Mike Pasini
Review Date: 05/06/08
Designed for the beginner who wants a little more zoom than the typical 3x zoom entry-level camera provides, the Canon PowerShot A580 offers a 4x lens with fully automatic or semi-automatic settings, as well as 16 easily selectable shooting modes.
The Canon PowerShot A580 has an eight megapixel CCD imager coupled with a Canon-branded 4x optical zoom lens. Images are framed on the 115,000 pixel 2.5-inch LCD display, or using the optical viewfinder. Photos and movies are stored on SD / MMC cards, including the newer SDHC, MMC+ and HC MMC+ types. The PowerShot A580 does not contain internal storage memory, but a 32MB MMC+ card is included in the product bundle. The A580 derives its power from two AA batteries, with single-use alkalines included.
The Canon A580's revised Face Detection system can track, focus on, and optimize exposure on up to nine human faces in a scene, or can lock onto one face. White balance is also improved in this mode. The Canon A580's new Motion Detection technology watches for motion and adjusts focus, exposure, and ISO to make sure that subjects don't suffer from motion blur; something it can apply from frame to frame, retaining information from previous frames.
A new Automatic Red-Eye Correction feature also removes red-eye after capture, and more stubborn red-eye can be stamped out in Playback.
The Canon A580 will be available only in silver, priced at about US$150. Shipping began in March 2008.
Canon A580 User Report
by Mike Pasini
It may not indulge in this season's fashionable colors, but the Canon PowerShot A580 does pack a DIGIC III image processor inside its comfortable silver shell with chrome highlights. That means the Canon A580 can do some tricks other inexpensive digicams can't. Face and motion detection are just two.
We'll explore those, but we won't lose sight of the real reason you buy a camera in the first place: image quality. The Canon A580 doesn't play the megapixel game, offering instead a solid eight megapixels of resolution rather than dabble in double digit sensors. But that brings some good news about noise.
There's no manual mode on this A-Series PowerShot but there isn't much range in the apertures to justify it. There are, on the other hand, a healthy selection of Scene modes, the most common of which are on the Mode dial itself. More to the point, though, it offers an Easy mode that only lets you turn off Auto Flash.
The Canon A580 is well suited to everyone from children to grandparents, but that doesn't mean it has no frills or firepower. Let's take a closer look.
Look and Feel. The Canon A580 inherits the basic A-Series body design. It's not your sleek little credit card camera, but its bulk is sculpted to fit your hand and give you a nice grip around the AA battery compartment. Those batteries add some heft, a good thing in a small camera.
The Canon A580 is dominated on the front, by the large protruding lens below the flash in the top right corner. The top panel holds the large Shutter button of the Canon A580 surrounded by a Zoom ring, the large Mode dial hanging slightly over the back edge, and the small Power button. The back control layout is also typical of the A-Series with an optical viewfinder above the 2.5-inch LCD and the essential controls on the right. The bottom of the Canon A580 has the battery/memory card compartment and a plastic tripod socket.
Find the Power button to turn the camera on in whatever mode the Mode switch is set (Record or Playback). In Record mode you'll be set to the mode indicated by a raised pointer near the Mode dial. PowerShot Manual (Auto with options), Auto (green mode) or Easy are the basics, with several popular Scene modes, a Scene mode for more Scene modes, and finally Movie mode, all on the dial.
The Menu button in the bottom left corner of the back panel only has two tabs: Record options and Setup options. Pressing the Function button takes you to whatever options your mode permits. The arrow keys offer the usual functions: Up is ISO, Right is Flash modes, Down is the Self-timer, and Left is Macro mode. In Playback, Up is Rotate and Down is Trash (Playback functions are labeled in blue). Besides the Menu button, there's a Display button to cycle through the information displays on the LCD and a Transfer button to send images to a printer or computer.
The Canon A580 has both an optical viewfinder and an LCD. The LCD shows you almost exactly what the camera is going to capture, but it's a low resolution LCD with just 115,000 pixels. It can be hard to see in sunlight with its reflective surface. That's when you turn to the optical viewfinder, but it only shows you about 80 percent, which is typical. There is no diopter adjustment for eyeglass wearers but there are a couple of status LEDs for flash and focus to the right of the optical viewfinder so you can tell when the camera is ready to fire.
The lens has a 4x optical zoom range, a just a little more than the 3x zooms common on inexpensive digicams. And it has a nice range from 35 to 140mm. That will get the whole room in at a birthday party and still give you some flexibility when shooting tourist shots. The 35mm wide-angle setting does exhibit noticeable barrel distortion of 0.9 percent, but at telephoto it's an almost undetectable 0.04 percent pincushion.
I only had one issue with the body. The battery/card compartment was awkward to both open and close. A little practice may go a long way, but you have to push the spring-loaded lock to toward the front then slide the cover toward the right of the camera to open it. And it took some muscle to flatten it so you could slide it closed.
Interface. Canon's menu system is hierarchical. The Menu button takes you to setup options like formatting the card and setting the clock as well as camera options like setting how long a just-snapped image is displayed or which autofocus option to use. Options that might change from one situation to another are on the Function menu, brought up with the FUNC/Set button. This menu lets you adjust image size, white balance and exposure compensation. Shooting options that are likely to change from shot to shot have their own buttons, including ISO, Macro mode, Flash mode, and the Self-timer.
Canon seems to delight in moving those last functions around from camera to camera. Flash modes on the Canon A720 IS, for example, are on the Up button but on the Canon A580 you'll find them on the Right button. Exposure compensation has a button of its own on the A720 IS but the A580 puts it in the Function/Set menus (although it's the default selection) and gives you an ISO button instead.
That shell game is a weakness in what is, essentially, a sound concept. Camera settings can indeed be organized into a useful hierarchy (you aren't going to set the clock every shot but you might want to change EV).
But is it an important weakness or one of those things you have to be a reviewer to be annoyed by? I recommend studying the control layout to make sure things you want to use are actually available at a touch. EV, for example, is very important to the way I shoot. It isn't on a dedicated button on the A580, but since a press of the Function/Set button takes me right there, that works for me. If it didn't, I'd look for a camera that was friendlier to my shooting habits. However, it could be that Canon has determined it's more important for people to be able to set the ISO speed. We'll see as more new Canons come out.
Modes. I was indeed disappointed to see that the Canon A580 does not offer a true manual mode. A-Series cameras have always had high-end features at a great price in a rangefinder-like style that should appeal to people who are interested in learning more about photography.
But there's a real push by Canon this year to make less expensive PowerShots. And the Canon A580 is quite a bargain even if it doesn't have all the tools we've come to expect.
What do you get? You get 10 options for Record mode on the Mode Dial. There are three Auto options, one Movie mode, five Scene modes and a Scene option for more Scene modes, which Canon calls Special Scenes.
The three Auto options are Manual, Auto, and Easy.
Manual gives you the most control of the camera, although shutter speed and aperture are not accessible. You do get access to white balance, exposure compensation, and My Colors. You can select a specific ISO.
Auto (the green mode) simplifies things a bit. You can only change image size and quality from the Function menu and your ISO choices are only Auto or Hi (you know, High).
Easy is even more constrained, controlling everything except whether the flash fires automatically or is disabled. The Function and Menu buttons don't respond (not even with a beep) in Easy mode.
The major Scene modes on the Mode dial are Portrait, Landscape, Night Snapshot, Kids & Pets, and Indoor.
The Special Scene modes (under the SCN setting on the dial) are Foliage, Snow, Beach, Sunset, Fireworks, Night Scene, and Aquarium.
Finally, the Mode dial offers a Movie mode. You can record standard video (no High Definition) at 640x480 and 20 fps (a bit below the broadcast standard of 24 fps). It also offers a 640x480, 20 fps LP mode (presumably with greater compression) and a 320x240 at 30 fps. A compact mode offers 160x120 at 15 fps, too. Digital zoom is available in standard modes (not compact) but you can only zoom in digitally from your starting composition; optical zoom is unavailable.
While the Canon A580 doesn't have a widescreen Movie mode, it does offer a 16:9 aspect ratio for stills. That will fill your HDTV screen very nicely in landscape mode.
Macro mode is another off-the-dial option that adds a new dimension to your shooting. On the Canon A580, you can get as close as two inches in wide angle and 12 inches in telephoto, capturing an image area as small as 2 x 1.5 inches.
Special Features. The Canon A580 enjoys some interesting technology, inherited from its stablemates. This inheritance is based on the power of the DIGIC III image processor, which can be found in every current Canon from this entry-level model through the EOS digital SLR line.
One of the more impressive applications of this power is Canon's motion detection technology. The DIGIC III observes whether or not your subject is in motion and how much it is moving. If, for example, you're shooting a landscape which has nowhere to go, the Canon A580 selects a lower ISO to optimize image quality. If you're focused on a hyperactive infant, it can crank up the Canon A580's ISO to use a faster shutter speed and avoid blur. You don't have to do anything to activate this feature, either. It's what Auto is all about.
Face detection technology gets a boost from the DIGIC III, too. Besides finding faces in the scene to set focus and set exposure, it now adjusts white balance to optimize skin tones and can track a single face in a scene, too.
Even red-eye correction profits from the Canon A580's DIGIC III processor, using face detection technology to recognize and remove any red-eye before the image is saved to your card.
The DIGIC III brings a new scene recognition technology with it based on an internal database of thousands of images that inform focus speed, accuracy, exposure, and white balance.
These advances aren't just limited to Record mode, though. The Image Inspection Tool in Playback mode is a good example of what the DIGIC III can do after the shot has been captured. Press the Display button until Focus Check appears and the LCD displays a thumbnail of your image in the top left and a crop in the bottom right. It also displays colored frames to indicate face detection (gray), focus (white), and the crop (orange). Using the Zoom lever you can magnify the crop and using the arrow keys you can navigate the crop over the whole image to inspect any detail.
You can jump from face to face just by pressing the Function button, making it easy to see whose eyes were closed or who didn't smile in that group shot. Pretty advanced for an entry-level camera.
Storage and Battery. The Canon A580 is powered by two AA batteries. It comes with a pair of alkalines, but they won't last long. We recommend a set of Ni-MH rechargeable batteries, the latest of which can hold most of their charge for quite a while. See our review of the Eneloop AAs for details.
Canon reports about 220 shots using alkalines and 500 with Ni-MH batteries or about 540 minutes playback time with alkalines and 660 with Ni-MH using CIPA testing standards.
An AC adapter is also available.
Images are stored on SD size cards and the Canon A580 supports the high capacity SDHC format as well as the inexpensive MMC and HC MMC Plus formats. There is no built-in memory storage, however.
You can fit about 35 Superfine Large images on a 128-MB card, which will also record about one minute, 36 seconds of video at the highest quality. So look into a 2GB card at least, for longer movies and longer outings.
Performance. So how does the inexpensive Canon A580 model compare to the rest of the digicams on the shelf?
It has a surprisingly quick startup time for a camera with an protruding lens, taking just 1.4 seconds and rating above average. Shutdown was only a bit slower, rating average, at 1.6 seconds.
In the critical shutter lag category, the Canon A580's combined wide angle/telephoto shutter lag was average for its class at 0.89 seconds. But its prefocus lag (in which you hold down the shutter button halfway before taking the shot) was an above average 0.057 second.
Cycle time, at just under two seconds, was about average. Continuous mode was a bit sluggish though, at just over one frame per second at maximum quality.
Flash cycling was a bit slow at 10.8 seconds, below average. In our Indoor tests, we bumped exposure up +1.3 EV to get a good flash exposure. At ISO 100, the flash reached about 10 feet at wide angle and 7 feet at telephoto. The manufacturer's flash range, however reached 11 feet at wide angle using ISO 250 and 7.2 feet at telephoto using ISO 200. Some cameras require quite a bit more ISO to reach that far.
Download speed was pretty quick at 3,743 Kb/s, thanks to the USB 2.0 Hi-Speed port on the camera. That was a pleasant surprise at this price level.
At 2.5 inches, the LCD size ranks average, but that's a pretty good achievement on an inexpensive digicam where small LCDs are typical cost-saving moves. Bravo to Canon for putting a large LCD on the A580.
Optical zoom, too, ranks average at 4x but that is also a good achievement at this level where 3x zooms are common.
Finally, the Canon A580's 7.94 ounces fully loaded is lighter than most. It won't sag in your pocket but it's substantial enough to stay still when you press the Shutter button.
Image Quality. All that's very nice indeed, but how about image quality? The pictures, after all, are what you're left with long after the party's over. And you don't want to apologize for the camera that took them.
Our studio tests tell the story, and my gallery shots elaborate on it.
In the Still Life shot at ISO 100, you can see very good detail and color throughout. The Canon A580 shines in capturing shadow detail. Take a look at how clearly the dark mosaic pattern on the Hellas wine vinegar bottle stands out. That often isn't detectable.
Highlights, however, suffer a flaw I noticed on many of my gallery shots. The Samuel Smith label to the right of the wine vinegar bottle shows the flare or blooming off the white label into the dark background. You can see this on any of the white objects in the image. It lightens the type on the proportional scale and bleeds into the dark coffee cup from the otherwise nicely captured detail of the white linen it sits on. In the gallery shots, you can see this in the difficult hydrant shot.
A peek at our high resolution Multi Target shot shows some chromatic aberration in the corners typical of most zoom lenses. It also shows (in the middle) excellent sharpness to 1,400 lines horizontally and 1,300 vertically where we usually see 1,200 lines.
Our noise tests show the typical pattern of good detail and color up to ISO 400, but deteriorating detail after that. In my doll shots, I used Auto Hi for the ISO 800 shot and manually set ISO to 1,600 for the second shot, which clearly loses color in comparison. But both shots show more detail than I usually capture in the dim light of that corner of the basement.
The dim light of the doll shots is not something you'd expect to be able to use a camera in without its flash. But outside under cloudy skies, you expect the best results. The macro shot of the Lillies of the Valley is a good example. Apart from the blooming highlight problem, the color is excellent and even the background is nicely blurred.
Unfortunately the red front door with the sun address sign above it is a disaster. It wasn't a highly reflective subject and was shot on an overcast day, but it's completely washed out. Most disturbing is that we shot this in Easy mode, where the camera should have been doing all the work. It didn't do much better in full sun, either, with my Tilden statue in which the highlights are gone (take a look at the boot).
On the other hand, I liked my macro shot of a Bluetooth adapter very much. I really enjoyed Macro mode on the Canon A580. But as our tests show, there's a significant amount of blurring in the corners in Macro mode.
One last disappointment was digital zoom. The detail in my digital zoom shots from Twin Peaks really seemed to fall apart, more so than most.
Appraisal. Canon's inexpensive A Series PowerShot still packs a DIGIC III, providing some very advanced features. It's Easy mode makes it no problem to hand off but it does lack any manual control. Image quality was generally good, capturing natural color with excellent detail. But we did find it hard to hang onto highlights even under overcast skies. Overall quality, however, exceeded our expectations for an 8-megapixel camera that retails for under $150.
Canon A580 Basic Features
- 8 megapixel 1/2.5-inch type CCD sensor
- 4x optical zoom (35-140mm 35mm equivalent)
- 4x digital zoom
- Optical viewfinder
- 2.5-inch LCD with 115,000 pixels
- ISO sensitivity from 80 to 1,600
- Shutter speeds from 15 to 1/2,000 seconds
- Aperture from f/2.6 to f/5.5
- SDHC / SD memory card support
- Self timer with 2 or 10 second delay
- Powered by two AA batteries
Canon A580 Special Features
- New Easy Mode simplifies operation
- Enhanced face detection sets focus, exposure, flash, and white balance
- DIGIC III image processor
- Motion detection reduces blur by calculating subject movement and then setting exposure and ISO
- ISO settings include Auto, High ISO and manual settings from 80 to 1,600
- White Balance settings include Auto, Preset (Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H), Custom
- Record modes include Camera M, Auto, Easy, Portrait, Landscape, Special Scene (Foliage, Snow, Beach, Sunset, Fireworks, Night Scene, Aquarium), Indoor, Kids & Pets, Night Snapshot, and Movie
- Photo Effects include My Colors, Vivid, Neutral, Sepia, Black & White, and Custom
- USB 2.0 Hi Speed interface
In the Box
The Canon PowerShot A580 ships with the following items in the box:
- PowerShot A580 body
- Two AA alkaline batteries
- 32MB MMC Plus Card (MMC-32MH)
- Wrist strap (WS-800)
- Digital Camera Solution CD-ROM
- USB cable (IFC-400PCU)
- AV cable (AVC-DC300)
- Large capacity SDHC/SD memory card. These days, 2GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity.
- Small camera case like Canon's Deluxe Soft Case PSC-85 for outdoor and in-bag protection
- Canon AC Adapter Kit (ACK800)
- Canon High-Power Flash (HF-DC1)
Canon A580 Conclusion
No entry-level bargain camera is going to score highly on our comprehensive tests, but the Canon PowerShot A580 proved to be pretty scrappy. Thanks to its DIGIC III processor, its performance was nothing to sneeze at. And the same imaging engine gave it some very helpful tools like motion detection and face detection that Canon has harnessed in unique and interesting ways.
The main disappointment was in how the A580 handled highlights under a variety of situations. There was noticeable blooming at the edges of any white object. Corner softness was a bit high at wide angle, too. But, as I said, you've got to expect some issues.
Other cameras at less than $150, however, have worse problems, which is enough to make the A580 a Dave's Picks in the Budget category.