Though the Canon PowerShot A530 is a modest 5-megapixel step down from its 6-megapixel sibling, the PowerShot A540, it still has almost all of the same handy features. Unfortunately, it lacks the zippy performance and the large LCD that help elevate the A540 above the crowd.
The PowerShot A530's plastic body feels pretty solid and measures 3.6 by 2.5 by 1.7 inches. As on many not-quite-pocketable digital cameras, the AA batteries reside within a comfortable grip on the A530's right side. The camera's 1.8-inch LCD is smaller than most--far smaller than the 2.5-inch screen on the A540--with a low resolution of just 77,000 pixels. Fortunately, the tiny LCD leaves enough room for an optical viewfinder and a relatively comfortable button layout. You traverse the easy-to-navigate menu system with the big, circular D-pad; additional menu, display, print, and delete buttons encircle the main pad. A standard mode dial on the top of the camera sets the A530's various shot modes. The zoom works via a jog dial surrounding the shutter release; it can be a little bit awkward to operate, but the rest of the layout is pretty well done.
The Canon PowerShot A530 incorporates the same 35mm-to-140mm (35mm equivalent) 4X zoom lens as the A540--with the same slow maximum aperture of f/5.5 at the telephoto end. The combination of 1/2,000-second-to-15-second shutter speeds and sensitivity as high as ISO 800 gives you some latitude with low-light shooting, though the results may disappoint you. In addition to a useful selection of common scene presets, such as low-light, portrait, and sports, the A530 includes Canon's Color Swap and Color Accent modes. These allow you to isolate a specific color in each shot; the camera can then either change or maintain the color while converting the rest of the image to monochrome. The A530 can also record VGA movies at 30fps.
Speed is really the A530's weakness. After a start-up time of 2.1 seconds--pretty typical for cameras in this class--and a brisk 0.5-second shutter lag in good light, the lag increases to a full second with the lights turned low. The A530 requires a painful 2.8 seconds between nonflash shots and a full 6 seconds between shots with flash. Even its continuous shooting proved surprisingly slow, averaging about 1.8fps compared to the A540's 2.3fps.
Photos fared better, although here too the A530 had a few problems. At low ISO-sensitivity settings, the camera produced very strong images with little noise, accurate color and exposure, and a low incidence of chromatic aberration. By ISO 400, the noise became quite apparent; beyond that, photos reached the better-than-nothing stage.
The Canon PowerShot A530 is a decent, inexpensive digital camera that produces very pretty images in well-lit environments, and its various controls and features make it appealing to amateur photographers on a budget. However, if you can stretch your budget just a little farther, the A540 will reward you with better performance and a nice, big 2.5-inch LCD.