The key word that the designers of the D-590 must have had in mind when figuring it out was "chunky". That's not, however, a bad thing per se, as while it's not the sleekest compact digital we've ever seen, it fits well into the category of pleasantly solid; this is a camera that feels good to carry around and has been designed, above all, to be easy to use in a variety of shooting situations. As such, it recommends itself well to the amateur photographer as well as the semi-pro using it to compose shots for taking on a higher-end unit. The front of the camera contains the power switch, lens cover and a centrally mounted flash, while the top and left hand side of the camera house the capture button and power/memory slots, the rest of the camera's controls sit on the back of the unit. It uses the very familiar cross-shaped selection button layout that so many cameras use (although in the D-590's case, it's in a roughly circular position, wrapping around the unit's inbuilt microphone.
The D-590 is a 4 megapixel camera with a 3x optical zoom (equivalent to 35-105mm on a 35mm camera), supplemented by 4x digital zoom that is by default switched off. As with most digital cameras, there's a short delay between zoom modes that lets you know you're wandering into digital interpolation territory. The unit uses xD Picture cards for photographic storage -- a 16MB card is provided, which won't give you much room to move at the camera's higher resolutions, so budgeting for a larger card would be a sensible move. The D-590 is Pictbridge enabled (we used it to test Olympus' P-10 Digital Photo Printer) and comes with a USB cable for standard PC connectivity, a standard charger that plugs directly into the camera and TV-out cables.
One of the biggest omissions in the D-590 is the optical viewfinder -- there isn't one. That means that anyone pondering it has to work solely with the unit's admittedly impressive 1.8 inch LCD screen. The trade-off there is that there are photography situations -- especially in very bright or very dark environments -- where you're not likely to get a good shot using simply an LCD. Olympus equips the D-590 with an anti-glare LCD screen that does get past part of this problem, but some photographers will no doubt lament the lack of an optical option.
Without a doubt, the D-590 is a camera aimed clearly at the novice photographer, as within just its automatic shot settings we were able to quickly and easily take a number of impressive looking photos. It's not, however, a camera that the cognoscenti should just overlook, as it's also this ease of use -- combined with a fairly robust set of configurable parameters that include 8 "scene" settings (for beach, snow, night photography and so on) and ISO configurations that allow it to be a very capable little camera indeed.
As with most digitals, it's also capable as a video camera, although with the usual caveats -- the video you'll get isn't terribly impressive, and with only a default 16MB xD card, you're not going to shoot anything of epic length. You've only got two resolution choices with video -- 320 x 240 or 160x120.
The D-590's still shooting modes vary in resolution from a top whack of 2272 x 1704 down to a much more sedate 640 x 480, at which point you may as well just be using a mobile phone camera. Shots taken at the better resolutions worked generally well, with a slight tendency towards being a touch dark in places when using the camera's automatic settings.
For its asking price, especially if you're a novice photographer looking for a solid unit that won't stun you with complicated menus and options, the D-590 is a solid and reliable little camera in what is a very competitive marketplace indeed.