Originally Posted: May 5, 2009
Last Updated: September 14, 2009
The PowerShot SX1 ($599) takes the PowerShot SX10 super zoom camera and turns it into a "hybrid", capable of recording movies in Full HD (1920 x 1080). As you'd expect, sound is recorded in stereo, with full access to both the optical zoom and image stabilizer. The secret lies in the sensor: the SX1 uses a CMOS sensor, instead of the more traditional CCD found in the SX10. Another benefit of the CMOS sensor is faster continuous shooting: the SX1 is capable of taking photos at 4 frames/second, compared to 1.4 fps on the SX10. Though it has nothing to do with the sensor, the SX1 also sports a larger (and widescreen) LCD than the SX10.
What hasn't changed? The PowerShot SX1 has the same 20X wide zoom lens, image stabilizer, manual controls (more or less), rotating LCD, and hot shoe as the SX10.
The chart below highlights all the major differences between these two Canon super zooms:
So there you have the main differences between the $399 PowerShot SX10 and the $599 PowerShot SX1. You might have noticed that 1) the SX1 costs $200 more and 2) the SX1 is actually worse than the SX10 in a few areas.
The PowerShot SX1 faces tough competition from Sony's new Cyber-shot DSC-HX1. To find out how those two compare, and see if the SX1 is worth the extra money compared to the SX10, keep reading -- our review starts right now!
Since the cameras are so similar, portions of the PowerShot SX10 review will be reused here.
What's in the Box?
The PowerShot SX1 IS has a good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
- The 10.0 effective Megapixel PowerShot SX1 IS digital camera
- Four AA alkaline batteries
- Lens cap
- Lens hood
- Wireless remote control
- Neck strap
- USB cable
- A/V cable
- CD-ROM featuring Canon Digital Camera Solution
- 304 page camera manual (printed)
Canon doesn't include a memory card with the SX1, nor is there any memory built in. That means that you'll need to supply your own. The SX1 supports numerous types of media, includes SD, SDHC, MMC, MMCplus, and HC MMCplus cards (I'd stick with the first two). If you're going to be taking a lot of movies, then I'd recommend a Class 6, 4GB SDHC card at the very least.
Like its predecessors, the SX1 uses AA batteries for power. You'll find four alkaline batteries in the box with the camera, which will quickly end up in your recycling bin. To save money and the environment, I highly recommend picking up NiMH batteries (2500 mAh or better) plus a fast charger. Here's what kind of battery life you'll get out of the camera when you're using those:
All of the cameras on the above list feature zoom lens of 18X and above, plus image stabilization of some kind. About half have HD movie modes, though only the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1's comes close to the one on the PowerShot SX1. Despite being a lot worse than its cheaper sibling, the PowerShot SX1 still manages to post better-than-average battery life numbers.
About 50% of the cameras in the above table use AA batteries, which is something I always like to see. They're cheaper than their proprietary counterparts, and if your rechargeable die, alkaline AAs can be found anywhere in the world.
Canon includes a lens cap with the PowerShot SX1, but they seem to have forgotten to include a retaining strap! While the cap stays on securely, you can't just let it "hang around" when you take it off. You can clip it to the neck strap, or just stuff it in your pocket.
Two nice things you'll also find in the box include a lens hood and a wireless remote control. The lens hood is great for shooting outdoors, but don't forget to take it off when you're using the flash. The remote control isn't even an option on the SX1's sibling, the PowerShot SX10.
Seeing how they're almost identical, it should come as no surprise that the PowerShot SX1 and SX10 support the same accessories. Here's a quick list of them:
Unlike earlier models in Canon's PowerShot S-series, the SX1 and SX10 don't support lens accessories -- at least, not officially.
CameraWindow in Mac OS X
Canon includes version 39.1 of their Digital Camera Solution Disk with the PowerShot SX1. The first part of the software suite that you'll probably encounter is Camera Window (pictured above), which is used to download photos from your camera.
ImageBrowser in Mac OS X
Once that's done you'll find yourself in either ImageBrowser or ZoomBrowser, which are for Mac and Windows respectively. The Browser software lets you view, organize, e-mail, and print your photos. If you categorized any photos on the camera (more on this later), then this information is transferred into the Browser software.
Double-click on a JPEG image and you'll bring up the photo in its own window. Editing functions include trimming, redeye removal, and the ability to adjust levels, color, brightness, sharpness, and the tone curve. There's also an auto adjustment feature, for those who don't mess with all those controls.
Despite the SX1's fancy mode, the only editing you can do with the bundled software is trim unwanted footage off the beginning or end of a clip.
While the Browser software can view RAW images that you've taken with the PowerShot SX1, it cannot edit or convert them. For that, you'll want to use the next product.
Digital Photo Professional in Mac OS X
That product is none other than Digital Photo Professional 3.6, which is also included with Canon's digital SLRs. The main screen isn't too much different from Image/ZoomBrowser, with your choice of three thumbnail sizes, plus a thumbnail w/shooting data screen. The batch processing tool lets you quickly resize and rename a large number of photos.
RAW editing in DPP
The RAW editing tools in DPP are quite robust. DPP lets you tweak exposure, the tone curve, highlight and shadow detail, color tone and saturation, white balance, and sharpness. You can also adjust the amount of noise reduction being applied, for both luminance and chrominance noise.
Don't know what the big deal is about RAW? RAW images contain unprocessed image data direct from the camera's sensor. Thus, you can adjust settings like white balance and exposure without damaging the original image, so it's almost like taking the photo again. The downside is the large file size, fewer shots in continuous shooting mode, and the need to post-process each image on your computer before you can turn it into a more common format like JPEG.
PhotoStitch in Mac OS X
The last part of the Canon software suite that I want to mention is PhotoStitch. As you can see, this allows you to combine multiple photos into a single panoramic image. It's very easy to use, and the results can be impressive. While using the SX1's Stitch Assist feature isn't required to make panoramas, it does help you line things up correctly, so there are no "seams" in the final product.
Since someone is bound to ask: the PowerShot SX1 cannot be controlled from your computer, at least not with Canon software.
Canon includes an in-depth manual with the PowerShot SX1 IS. It's certainly not the most user-friendly manual out there (expect lots of "notes" on each page), but it should answer any question that you may have about the camera. There are separate manuals included for the software bundle as well as for direct printing.
Look and Feel
The PowerShot SX1 is a midsize super zoom camera. It's made of a mixture of plastic and metal, and it feels pretty solid. I found the camera easy to hold, thanks to the large right hand grip. I did find that I sometimes bumped into the three buttons that are located dangerously close to the thumb rest on the back of the camera. While the most important camera controls are easy to reach, the SX1 suffers from "button clutter", requiring you to search around for the right thing to push. The buttons near the thumb rest are also a little smaller than I would've liked.
The PowerShot SX1 is nearly identical to the SX10 in terms of design, with the main differences being the remote control receiver on the front of the SX1, and the larger, widescreen LCD on its back.
Now, here's a look at how the PowerShot SX1 compares to other super zoom cameras, in terms of size and weight:
The PowerShot SX1 is the second largest camera in the group, with only the giant Kodak EasyShare Z980 ahead of it. The SX1 is the heavier of the two cameras, which isn't too surprising, as its built a whole lot better. The SX1 is larger and heavier than the PowerShot SX10.
Alright, let's begin our tour of the camera now, beginning with the front.
The PowerShot SX1 IS has the exact same F2.8-5.7, 20X optical zoom as the SX10. The lens has a focal range of 5 - 100 mm, which is equivalent to an impressive 28 - 560 mm. Do note that if you're shooting in 16:9 mode, the focal range is 29 - 580 mm. The lens uses an ultrasonic focusing motor, which allows for nearly silent lens movements in movie mode. While Canon doesn't sell any lens accessories for the SX1, the lens is threaded. I've seen reports of people using 52 mm filters successfully, and Lensmate makes a more elaborate adapter for using 58 mm filters.
As I mentioned, the PowerShot SX1 has an optical image stabilization system, a feature that is almost a requirement on a super zoom camera. Tiny movements of your hands can shake the camera enough to blur your photos, especially at the telephoto end of the lens. Sensors inside the camera detect this motion, and the camera shifts one of the lens elements to compensate for it. Now, this won't freeze a moving subject (you'll need to boost the shutter speed to do that) and it won't allow for multi-second handheld photos, but it will let you get sharp photos at shutter speeds that would be blurry otherwise. Want to see some proof? Have a look:
Image stabilization off
Image stabilization on
Both of the photos you see above were taken with a shutter speed of 1/4 second -- pretty hard to handhold. Without mage stabilization, the photos is blurry, but with it turned on, it's sharp as a tack. You can also use image stabilization in movie mode, and you can see how well it works in this brief sample movie.
Directly above the lens is the SX1's pop-up flash, which is released manually. For some unknown reason, the flash here is a bit weaker than the one on the SX10, with a working range of 0.5 - 4.8 m at wide-angle and 1.0 - 2.6 m at telephoto (at Auto ISO). Despite this drop, the SX1's flash is still quite powerful. If you need even more flash power and a lower likelihood of redeye, then you can attach an external flash to the hot shoe you'll see in a moment.
What are those two circles on the front of the camera for? The one on the left side is the receiver for the included wireless remote control. The one on the right is the AF-assist lamp, which is used as as focusing aid in low light situations. This lamp is also used for redeye reduction, and for providing a visual countdown for the self-timer.
You'll find a flip-out, rotating 2.8" widescreen LCD on the PowerShot SX1 IS, compared to a traditional 2.5" screen on the SX10. It's not surprising that this is a 16:9 LCD, given that this camera is designed to record HD movies. Shooting still photos is a bit awkward, as there's black borders on both sides of the screen (unless you're in 16:9 mode, of course).
A rotating LCD may seem a bit gimmicky at first, but once you've tried one, it's hard to go back. It makes it so much easier to shoot from unusual angles. It's great for product shots (like the ones you see in my reviews) where the camera is below you, and it makes shooting over the heads of the people in front of you a breeze. The LCD can rotate 270 degrees, from facing your subject all the way around to facing the floor. It can also sit in a the more traditional position (shown below), or be closed entirely.
Here's the back of the PowerShot SX1 IS, with the LCD in its traditional position. The screen has the same resolution as the one on the PowerShot SX10: 230,000 pixels. As you'd expect, everything on the screen is nice and sharp. Outdoor visibility was pretty good, and in low light the screen brightens automatically, so you can still see your subject (though they'll appear grainy).
Directly above the LCD is the camera's electronic viewfinder, or EVF. An EVF is essentially a tiny LCD display that takes the place of (but doesn't surpass) an optical viewfinder. It shares the same 100% field-of-view as the main LCD, and there's no parallax error to deal with. The EVF on the SX1 is a step down from the one on the SX10, despite the price difference. The resolution is just 148,000 pixels, compared to 235,000 on the SX10 -- and you'll notice. The SX1's viewfinder is also about 10% smaller than the one on the SX10.
You'll see this screen when the SX1 is connected to your computer
Just to the left of the electronic viewfinder are the Print/Share and widescreen buttons. In record mode, the Print/Share button can be used for the handy Auto ISO Shift feature, or you can re-map it to an entirely different function (more on that later). The Auto ISO Shift feature will illuminate the Print/Share button if the camera thinks that a photo you're about to take will be blurry. Simply press the Print/Share button, and the camera will boost the ISO sensitivity high enough to ensure a sharp photo. If you're connected to a Mac or PC, you can use this button to select which photos are transferred over. When you're hooked into a PictBridge-enabled printer, a press of this button will print the current photo.
The widescreen button changes the aspect ratio to 16:9, which allows you to take HD stills and movies. Do note that the resolution for still images drops to 8 Megapixel when you press this button.
On the opposite side of the viewfinder is the SX1's dedicated movie recording button. Press it once to start recording, and again to stop. While there's a spot dedicated to movies on the mode dial, though you don't need to be in it to record a clip. I'll have a lot more on movies later in the review.
Continuing to the right, we find three buttons, which neither well placed nor well labeled. These buttons are for the following:
- Playback mode
- Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, in 1/3EV increments) + Jump (through photos in playback mode)
- Focus point selection (more later) + Delete photo
Moving downward now, we find the SX1's combination scroll wheel and four-way controller. The dial is used for many things, including navigating menus, quickly skimming through photos you've taken, and adjusting manual exposure settings. I wish it had some tactile feedback -- you just kind of keep rotating it until something happens. The four-way controller can be used for many of the same things, and it also does the following:
- Up - Manual focus (on/off)
- Down - Drive (Single-shot, continuous, continuous AF, face self-timer, self-timer, wireless delay) - see below
- Left - Macro (Off, macro, super macro) - more on this later in the review
- Right - ISO (Auto, Hi Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600)
- Center - Function menu (see below) + Set
Manual focus mode (center-frame enlargement not shown)
The manual focus feature lets you use the scroll wheel to set the focus distance yourself. A guide showing the focus distance is displayed on the right side of the LCD, and the center of the frame is enlarged, as well.
Now it's time to talk about the continuous shooting and self-timer options on the PowerShot SX1 IS. There are three continuous modes on the SX1: regular continuous mode locks the focus and exposure when the first shot is taken; continuous AF refocuses before each shot, allowing you to recompose if you wish; continuous LV (only available when using manual focus or fireworks mode) locks the focus at the first shot, but lets recompose as you're shooting. Here's how the SX1 performed:
Those numbers are very good for a compact camera, though I have no idea why it took more RAW+JPEG shots than RAW alone. The SX1 doesn't stop shooting after it does a burst -- it just slows down. The LCD blacks out for a fraction of a second between each shot, though you should be able to track a moving subject. Do note that you'll need a high speed SD or SDHC card in order to get the most out of the SX1's continuous shooting modes.
Customizing drive settings
The SX1 has a pretty elaborate self-timer feature. You can select from the usual two or ten second delays, or you can jump into custom mode and select how long you want to wait, and how many photos are taken. But wait, there's more -- the face self-timer feature will wait until a new face enters the scene, and then it will take anywhere from 1 to 10 photos. This allows the photographer to make it into the picture without having to make a run for it.
I want to make a quick mention of the ISO settings on the PowerShot SX1 -- more specifically, the two Auto options. The difference between Auto and Hi Auto is that the latter will use higher sensitivities. If you're using the Hi Auto mode, be warned that photos may be quite noisy, especially in low light situations. I'll have a lot more on the camera's ISO performance later in the review.
Pressing the center button on the four-way controller options up the Function menu, which has these options:
- White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, flash, custom) - see below
- My Colors (Off, vivid, neutral, sepia, black & white, positive film, lighter skin tone, darker skin tone, vivid blue, vivid green, vivid red, custom color) - see below
- Bracketing (Off, exposure, focus) - see below
- Flash compensation/output (-2EV to +2EV or 1/3, 2/3, Full) - choices depend on shooting mode
- Metering mode (Evaluative, center-weighted, spot)
- Movie resolution (1920 x 1080, 640 x 480, 320 x 240) - these options will depend on your aspect ratio
- Still resolution (see chart later in review)
- Still quality (see chart later in review)
The PowerShot SX1's custom white balance option lets you use a white or gray card, for accurate color in any lighting. This will come in handy when you're shooting in unusual lighting conditions, as I do for many of the test shots later in the review.
Sharpness is one of the settings you can adjust with the Custom Color option
The My Colors feature should be self-explanatory, save for the custom option. This one lets you manually adjust contrast, sharpness, saturation, as well as red/green/blue/skin tone levels.
The SX1 allows you to bracket for both exposure and focus. In both cases, the the camera takes three shots in a row, with each shot having a different exposure or focus distance. For exposure, the interval between each shot can be set in 1/3-stop increments. For focusing, the increment is a more generic "small, medium, or large".
The last two items on the back of the PowerShot SX1 are the DIsplay and Menu buttons. The former toggles what's shown on the LCD (and switches between the LCD and EVF), while the latter does exactly as it sounds.
Before I start talking about the buttons and dials on the top of the PowerShot SX1, I want to point out that the focal length is shown on the lens. The focal lengths listed on it are 28, 85, 135, 200, 300, 400, and 560.
Now, onto the buttons. The one on the left controls the flash setting, and let's you add a "voice caption" to a photo you've taken (in playback mode). The flash options are simple: auto or fill flash (the other options are in the record menu).
In the center of the photo is the PowerShot SX1's hot shoe. For best results, you'll want to attach one of the Canon Speedlites I mentioned back in the accessory discussion, as they will sync up with the camera's metering system. You can also adjust settings using the SX1's menu system with Canon's newest Speedlites. If you're using one of the higher end Canon Speedlites (or the Speedlite Transmitter), they can be used to control other flashes wirelessly. For those of you using a non-Canon flash, you'll probably have to set flash exposure manually. The SX1 can sync as fast as 1/250 second with an external flash.
Next to the hot shoe is the mode dial, which has these options:
The PowerShot SX1 offers both automatic and manual exposure modes. One thing I want to point out right away is that you do not have access to the full range of shutter speeds in Tv and M mode: the slowest you can go is one second. If you want to go slower, you need to use the long shutter scene modes which, of course, locks up most of the camera settings. This restriction makes little to no sense; the $400 PowerShot SX10 can do long exposures in any shooting mode, so why not the $600 SX1?
Speaking of scene modes, I should tell you about a few of them. The SX1's Stitch Assist feature isn't as fancy as some other panorama shooting features these days (the Sony HX1's is most impressive), but it still makes composing side-by-side photos a lot easier than nothing at all. As its name implies, the ISO 3200 mode boosts the sensitivity to 3200, while cutting the resolution to 2 Megapixel. The resulting images are... unimpressive, to say the least. Thus, I'd pass on this mode if I were you. The Color Accent and Swap options are part of the overall My Colors feature. Color Accent lets you select a color to "keep", while everything else in the photo is turned to black and white. Color swap does just as it sounds: you swap one color in a photo for another.
Just to the right of the mode dial is the power button, which has an orange light that illuminates when the camera is turned on. Above that is the shutter release button, which has the zoom controller wrapped around it. The zoom controller is two-speed -- the harder you press it, the faster the lens moves. At full speed, the lens moves from 28 - 560 mm in just 1.3 seconds. There are over thirty-six steps available in the 20X zoom range.
And that's it for the top of the PowerShot SX1 IS!
The only thing to see on this side of the SX1 is its speaker. The lens is at the full wide-angle position here.
On the other side of the camera you'll find its numerous I/O ports, as well as its memory card slot (which is protected by a door of decent quality). The I/O ports, all of which are under plastic covers, include USB, A/V out, HDMI, and DC-in (for optional AC adapter). As you'd expect, the SX1 supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard.
The lens is at the full telephoto position here.
On the bottom of the camera is a metal tripod mount, plus the battery compartment. The door over the battery compartment is fairly sturdy, and has a locking mechanism. As you can see, the PowerShot SX1 uses four AA batteries.
Using the Canon PowerShot SX1 IS
It takes just 1.2 seconds for the PowerShot SX1 to extend its lens and prepare for shooting. For a camera with such a large lens, that's great. Heck, even if it had a 3X zoom, that time would still be impressive.
A live histogram is available in record mode
Autofocus performance was very good for the most part. In the best case scenario (wide-angle, good lighting), the camera locked focus in 0.2 - 0.4 seconds. At the telephoto end of the lens, focus times were between 0.6 - 1.0 seconds. Low light focusing was fairly good. Usually the camera locked quickly, but it seems to give up trying rather quickly. I found it pretty easy to block the AF-assist lamp with my left hand, so keep that in mind.
I did not find shutter lag to be a problem, even at the slower shutter speeds at which it can often occur. If you have the focus check feature turned on, the focus point or selected faces will be enlarged on the LCD or EVF after you take a photo.
If you're not using the flash, shot-to-shot delays range from 1 second for JPEGs to 2-2.5 seconds for RAW or RAW+JPEG. If you're using the flash, you'll wait for nearly four seconds, regardless of the image quality setting. Yeah, that's kind of slow.
You can delete a picture after you've taken it by pressing the delete photo button on the back of the camera.
Now, here's a look at the numerous image size and quality choices available on the PowerShot SX1:
When it was first announced in Europe and Japan, the PowerShot SX1 did not support the RAW format. When it came to the US, Canon released a firmware upgrade that added this valuable feature. You can take a RAW image alone, or along with a fine quality JPEG. I explained the benefits of the RAW format earlier in the review.
Images are named IMG_xxxx.JPG, where x = 0001 - 9999. The file numbering is maintained even if you erase your memory card.
Now, onto the menus!
The PowerShot SX1 has the standard Canon menu system, though the customizable My Menu is a nice addition. The menus are attractive, responsive, and easy to navigate. The menu is divided into four tabs: Shooting, Setup, My Camera, and My Menu. Keeping in mind that not all of these options are available in every shooting mode, here's the full list of items in the first tab:
- AF Frame (FlexiZone, Face Detect, Center) - last option is only available in Auto or Scene mode; see below for more
- AF-point zoom (on/off) - enlarges the focus point or the selected faces
- Servo AF (on/off) - see below
- AF mode (Single, continuous) - see below
- Digital Zoom (Off, 2.0X, 2.3X, Standard) - see below
- Flash control
- Flash mode (Auto, manual) - the latter lets you adjust the flash strength; only available in the manual shooting modes
- Flash exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, in 1/3EV increments)
- Flash output (Minimum, medium, maximum) - only available with flash mode set to manual
- Shutter sync (1st-curtain, 2nd-curtain)
- Slow synchro (on/off)
- Redeye correction (on/off) - digital redeye removal, as the photo is taken
- Redeye reduction lamp (on/off) - a little extra help
- Safety FE (on/off) - whether the camera adjusts the shutter speed or aperture to avoid overexposure when using the flash
- i-Contrast (Auto, off) - see below
- Drive settings
- Face self-timer (1 - 10 shots)
- Self-timer (2 or 10 secs, custom)
- Custom delay (0-10, 15, 20, 30 secs)
- Custom shots (1-10)
- Wireless delay (0, 2, 10 secs)
- Spot AE point (Center, AF point) - what area of the frame is metered when in spot metering mode
- Safety shift (on/off) - camera will adjust the shutter speed or aperture as needed to obtain a proper exposure when in the priority modes
- Auto ISO Shift (on/off) - discussed earlier
- MF-Point zoom (on/off) - enlarges the center of the frame in manual focus mode
- Safety MF (on/off) - allows you to press the focus point button to activate autofocus momentarily when using manual focus
- AF-assist beam (on/off)
- Review (Off, 2-10 seconds, hold) - post-shot review
- Review info (Off, detailed, focus check) - detailed shows you shooting data and a histogram; focus check enlarges the focus point or faces
- Record RAW+JPEG (on/off)
- Save original (on/off) - for the My Colors feature
- Reverse display (on/off) - whether the image on the LCD is flipped when the screen is rotated
- Auto category (on/off) - photos are automatically categorized based on the scene mode they were taken in; more on this later
- IS mode (Continuous, shoot only, panning, off) - see below
- Custom display settings - you can have two sets of these for both the LCD and EVF:
- Shooting info (on/off)
- Grid lines (on/off)
- 3:2 guide (on/off)
- Histogram (on/off)
- Set Shortcut button (Off, metering, white balance, custom WB, redeye correction, digital teleconverter, i-Contrast, AE lock, AF lock, display off) - define what this button does
- Save settings - save your favorite camera settings to the "C" position on the mode dial
|FlexiZone AF lets you position the focus point anywhere in the frame (save for a margin around the edges)||You can also adjust the size of the focus point|
Lots to talk about before we move on. First up, the AF frame options. FlexiZone lets you use the four-way controller to select the area in the frame on which to focus -- which comes in handy when the camera is on a tripod. In the automatic shooting modes, a center-point focus mode is also available. For either of these two modes, you can set the size of the focus point(s) to "regular" or "small".
The camera locked onto three of the six faces
As you'd expect, the PowerShot SX1 has face detection. The camera can find up to nine faces in the frame, making sure that focus, exposure, and white balance are accurate. You can also select a face to "track" as they move around the frame. Recent Canon models have seemed very "jumpy" in my test of this feature, and the SX1 is no exception. In the real world it performs very well, so I think the camera just doesn't like my test setup. Don't forget that the SX1 also has the face detection self-timer feature, which waits until a new face is detected before taking a photo.
There are two AF modes to choose from on the camera. Single AF focuses only when you halfway press the shutter release button. In continuous AF mode, the camera is focusing constantly, which means less waiting when it's time to actually take a photo. The downside is that continuous AF puts an extra strain on your battery. There's also a new Servo AF feature, which will track a moving subject as they move around the frame -- perfect for action shots.
The PowerShot SX1's has Canon's recently updated digital zoom feature. The 2.0X and 2.3X options (which depend on your aspect ratio) are what Canon calls a "digital teleconverter" -- it's just a fixed digital zoom. The Standard option is what you'll find on every camera - you can select whatever amount of digital zoom that you want. The Safety Zoom feature warns you when you pass the point where image quality is degraded. When you're shooting at the highest resolution that starts as soon as digital zoom kicks in, but if you're using a lower resolution you can more of it. At the M3 (1600 x 1200) picture size, you can achieve a whopping 46X total zoom using this feature!
Another new feature on the PowerShot SX1 is called i-Contrast This feature attempts to brighten dark areas of a photo, and it's turned off by default. The example above illustrates the feature in-action -- the difference is pretty noticeable in this case. If you didn't use it in record mode, you can also apply i-Contrast in playback mode.
The Auto Category feature assigns one of the standard photo categories (people, scenery, events) to a photo based on what scene mode you used to take the picture. You can edit these -- or manually assign a category -- in playback mode.
What are those three IS modes all about? Continuous mode activates the OIS system as soon as you halfway press the shutter release, which helps you compose the photo without camera shake. The "shoot only" option doesn't turn it on until the photo is actually taken, which improves the performance of the OIS system. The panning mode only stabilizes up and down motion, and you'll want to use this while tracking a moving subject horizontally. You can also turn the whole thing off, which is advisable if you're using a tripod.
Next up is the setup tab, which can be found in both the shooting and playback menus. The options here include:
- Mute (on/off) - quickly turn off the camera's beeps and blips
- Startup volume (Off, 1-5)
- Operation volume (Off, 1-5)
- Self-timer volume (Off, 1-5)
- Shutter volume (Off, 1-5)
- Playback volume (Off, 1-5)
- Mic level (Auto, manual)
- Level (-40 to 0 dB) - if you selected manual above
- Wind filter (on/off)
- LCD/EVF brightness (Normal, bright) - you can adjust each separately
- Power saving
- Auto power down (on/off)
- Display off (10, 20, 30 sec, 1-3 min)
- Time zone (Home, world)
- Clock display (0-5, 10, 20, 30 secs, 1, 2, 3 mins) - hold down the Func/Set button while turning on the camera and the SX1 becomes an expensive clock
- Card format
- File numbering (Continuous, auto reset)
- Create folder
- Create new folder - on the memory card
- Auto create (Off, daily, weekly, monthly) - this new features will automatically create new folders on the memory card at set intervals
- Auto rotate (on/off) - camera will automatically rotate portrait photos on the LCD
- Distance units (m/cm, ft/in)
- Lens retract (1 min, 0 secs) - how quickly the lens retracts when you switch to playback mode
- Video system (NTSC, PAL)
- Print Method (Auto, PictBridge)
- Reset all - back to defaults
The next tab in the menu system, My Camera, allows you to customize the startup screen, beeps, and fake shutter sounds that your camera makes.
The last tab in the menu is called My Menu, and it's been lifted straight from Canon's digital SLRs. You can select your favorite menu items, sort them as needed, and select whether this is now the default menu for the camera.
Well enough about menus, let's do photo tests now.
The PowerShot SX1 did an excellent job with our standard macro test shot. The colors are spot-on -- the camera had no trouble with our studio lamps. The figurine is nice and sharp, and plenty of detail is captured. I don't see any noise here, though the "face" seems just a little fuzzy -- noise reduction perhaps?
There are two macro modes at your disposal on the SX1. The regular macro mode is limited to focal lengths between 28 and 85 mm, and you can get as close to your subject as 10 and 50 cm, respectively. If you need to get closer, switch on super macro mode, which reduces the distance to 0 cm -- that's right, zero. Do note that the lens is fixed at full wide-angle when using super macro mode.
I was in for a big surprise when I took the night test shots. As I normally do, I put the SX1 into shutter priority mode in order to take a long exposure. No matter what I tried, I couldn't use a shutter speed slower than 1 second. When I got home I found out that you can't go any slower than that, unless you use the long shutter scene mode, which lets you use shutter speeds up to 15 seconds. I have no idea what Canon was thinking by doing this on a $600 camera.
Anyhow, I went back out another night and took the photo using the long shutter mode. The camera won't let you adjust the ISO sensitivity, but thankfully it chose ISO 80 for this photo. The camera brought in enough light, and the highlight clipping is fairly minor. The color is a bit redder than I would've liked, though not by much. Overall, sharpness is good, though you can see noise reduction eating away at some fine details here and there. Purple fringing levels were low.
Since I can't control the ISO and shutter speed at the same time, I could not perform the low light ISO test. Look for the studio ISO test in a moment.
There's mild-to-moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the PowerShot SX1's 20X zoom lens. As usual, this photo gives you a good illustrate of the effect of barrel distortion. I didn't find vignetting (dark corners) or corner blurriness to be a problem on this camera.
Canon has taken two approaches to redeye removal on the SX1. You can have it use the AF-assist lamp to shrink the size of your subject's pupils (which isn't new), and you can also have the camera digitally remove any redeye that it finds (this is fairly new). As you can see, there's absolutely zero redeye in the photo, which is always nice. If some red eyes do slip past this system, you can try to remove it yourself by using the tool in playback mode.
Here's our main ISO test, which is taken in our studio. Since the lighting is consistent, you can compare these images with others that I've taken over the years. While the crops below give you a quick idea about noise levels at each ISO setting, I highly recommend viewing the full size images as well. And with that, here we go:
The first two crops are very clean, with just a tiny bit of noise reduction artifacting and purple fringing to be found (and you have to look closely). You start to lose a little bit more detail at ISO 200, though this shouldn't keep you from making a midsize or large print at this setting. This trend continues at ISO 400, reducing print sizes a bit. Things start to go south at ISO 800, so I'd save this setting for desperation only. If you do use ISO 800, shoot RAW -- more on that below. The ISO 1600 shot is quite soft and fuzzy, so I'd recommend avoiding it.
I've got a couple of comparisons for you, beginning with a look at RAW vs JPEG image quality:
RAW -> JPEG (DPP)
RAW -> JPEG + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
RAW -> JPEG (DPP)
RAW -> JPEG + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
As is usually the case, you can get some detail back in your photos by shooting RAW. There's less of the grainy noise in the RAW images, and they clean up fairly well with noise reduction software. If you're going to be making large prints at the higher ISO settings, then it's worth considering RAW. The one place where it didn't really make a difference was at the ISO 1600 sensitivity.
Next, I want to compare the PowerShot SX1 and SX10. Just to remind you, the SX1 uses a CMOS sensor, while the SX10 uses a CCD.
There's no clear winner in this comparison. At ISO 400, I think the PowerShot SX10 is just a tad bit cleaner than the SX1. The opposite is true at ISO 800 -- the SX1 has less-noticeable noise reduction artifacting.
The final comparison is between the PowerShot SX1 and its closest competitor, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1. Below is just a selection of the full "test scene battle" that I recently performed -- you can see the whole thing here.
I think the PowerShot SX1 comes out on top in this comparison. The Canon shots have less visible noise, though one could argue that they have less detail, as well. Color is a lot better on the SX1, as the color saturation drops once the DMC-HX1 reaches ISO 400.
Overall, the PowerShot SX1 IS produces very good quality photos in most situations.The camera may use a CMOS sensor, but that doesn't mean that you get D-SLR image quality. Exposure was generally very good, though like most compact cameras, the SX1 is prone to highlight clipping (in fact, it may be a little worse than the SX10). I've got no complaints about color -- everything looks great in that respect. Sharpness is right where I like it -- not too soft, not too sharp. You will find noise in your photos, even at ISO 80. This noise is usually found in areas of low contrast, or in shadows, and it takes on a grainy or speckled appearance. This noise increases fairly quickly once you leave the base ISO, so keep that in mind if you'll be making a lot of large prints. Something else that I noticed is that the SX1 has a noticeable purple fringing problem, worse than on its twin, the PowerShot SX10.
Don't just take my word for all this. Have a look at our photo gallery, and maybe print a photo or two if you can. Then you should be able to decide if the PowerShot SX1's photo quality meets your expectations.
The biggest feature on the PowerShot SX1 is its Full HD movie mode. The camera can record video at 1920 x 1080 at 30 frames/second, with stereo sound. You can keep recording until you hit the 4GB file size limit which, as you might imagine, arrives quickly (in about twelve minutes). You'll need a fast, large memory card to shoot at this resolution, as the camera is writing 5MB of data every second. Canon recommends a Class 6 SDHC card for best results.
You can adjust the mic level and turn on a wind filter in movie mode
The SX1 lets you use the optical zoom while you're recording a movie, and the lens' ultrasonic motor allows it to move silently. The image stabilizer is also available, as you'd expect. The camera lets you adjust the microphone level, and you can turn on a wind filter if you're shooting outdoors.
Don't need HD video? Then switch the aspect ratio back to 4:3 and you'll find the usual 640 x 480 and 320 x 240 options (both record at 30 fps). The maximum recording time for these modes is 45 minutes and 1 hour, respectively.
The SX1 is capable of taking a still photo while recording a movie. Do note that the movie will pause briefly while the still photo is recorded to the memory card.
The camera uses the efficient H.264 codec, inside a QuickTime wrapper.
Here's a real-world sample movie for you, which I recorded at 1920 x 1080. The original file is enormous, weighing in at over 137MB, so I posted a much easier-to-view 720p version as well. Things start out a little shaky (since the cable car is quite a distance away), but things smooth out as it gets closer. Enjoy!
The PowerShot SX1 IS has a very nice playback mode. Basic features include slideshows, image protection, DPOF print marking, voice captions, thumbnail view, and zoom & scroll. This last feature will enlarge the image by as much as ten times, and let you move around. You can use the scroll wheel on the back of the camera to move from image to image, while keeping the zoom and scroll setting intact (though this would be easier if the dial was "clickier"). You can also use the Focus Check feature here, which enlarges the focus point or the faces that were detected in the photo.
Photos can be rotated, resized, and cropped right on the camera. You can apply most of the My Colors feature to your photos, as well. If there's any redeye in your photos, you'll find a tool to remove it here. You can also use the i-Contrast feature to brighten up the dark areas of your photos, with a choice of Auto, Low, Medium, or High settings.
The sole movie editing tool on the SX1 allows you to trim unwanted footage off the beginning or end of a clip.
Setting a category for a photo
Photos that were taken in certain scene modes are automatically categorized, but if you want to do it manually, just use the My Category option. Your selection is transferred to your computer along with the photo.
|Moving through photos with the scroll wheel...||... and the Jump button|
There are several ways to move through photos on the camera. Naturally, you can just press left or right on the four-way controller. You can also turn the scroll wheel, which gives you the screen you see on the above-left. Another option is to use the Jump feature, which lets you move ahead by date, category, file type (still or movie), or in groups of 10 or 100 photos.
Even the camera's photo deletion feature is nice. You can remove photos one at a time or all at once (of course), or by date, category, folder, or range (e.g. photos 5-9).
Sound recording tool
You can also use the SX1 to record audio clips, and that tool is located in the playback menu. You can record up to two hours of continuous audio, with three quality settings to choose from.
By default you won't get much information about your photo while in playback mode. But press the Display button and you'll get more info, including a histogram.
The SX1 moves through images at an decent clip, with a delay of around 1 second between each one (complete with fancy transitions). Like most of Canon's cameras, when you rotate the camera 90 degrees, the photo on the LCD rotates too.
How Does it Compare?
The Canon PowerShot SX1 isn't just a super zoom digital camera -- it's also a video camera capable of recording Full HD video. In the past, hybrid cameras have been just so-so, but the PowerShot SX1 takes good quality stills and very nice HD movies. Add in a rotating LCD, manual controls, snappy performance, and lots of point-and-shoot features, and you end up with a hybrid camera that's done the right way. The SX1 isn't perfect, though: it's expensive, with a low resolution EVF, bizarre manual exposure options, and images that have a bit too much purple fringing for my taste. If you need a camera capable of taking HD movies, then the PowerShot SX1 is worth a look. If you want a capable super zoom camera with a more conventional movie mode, then you can save $200 by purchasing the PowerShot SX10 instead.
The PowerShot SX1 is a fairly large and somewhat heavy super zoom camera. It's made of a mix of metal and plastic, and it feel solid in your hands. The camera is easy to hold, thanks to a large right hand grip. Be sure to keep an eye on your left hand, though, as you can block the AF-assist lamp easily. The SX1 is a bit intimidating in terms of controls: it has a lot of buttons, some of which aren't labeled terribly well. While I like having a scroll wheel on the back of the camera, the one on the SX1 needs to give you more feedback -- it's far too easy to blow past the option you wanted to select, since the dial doesn't "click". The main event on the SX1 is its 20X optical zoom lens, which is the same as the one on the PowerShot SX10. This lens has an impressive 28 - 560 mm focal range, which covers just about any shooting situation you might encounter. Inside the lens is Canon's reliable optical image stabilization system, which does a good job at reducing the effects of camera shake in stills and movies. On the back of the camera is a flip-out, rotating 2.8" widescreen LCD. The screen is sharp, and offers good visibility both outdoors and in low light. One thing that did not impress was the SX1's electronic viewfinder, which is both smaller and lower resolution than the one on the SX10. Isn't it supposed to be the other way around? The PowerShot SX1 includes a lens hood and remote control, and you can add an external flash to its hot shoe, if you wish.
The PowerShot SX1 has both point-and-shoot and manual controls, though some of the latter are frustrating. For beginners, you'll find an auto mode, plus numerous scene modes. There's a good face detection system, plus a handy face self-timer feature that waits until an extra face enters the frame before taking the photo. The camera also has an effective redeye reduction system. Manual controls are a mixed bag. While the SX1 does provide all the manual exposure modes, the slowest shutter speed you can use in any of them is 1 second. If you want to go slower, you need to use a scene mode (huh?). The camera supports the RAW image format, and Canon includes their capable Digital Photo Professional software to work with those files. The SX1 has a customizable button, menu, and spot on the mode dial.
The feature that separates the PowerShot SX1 from most of the competition is its ability to record Full HD videos. In layman's terms, you can record videos at 1920 x 1080 at 30 frames/second, with stereo sound, and full use of both the optical zoom and image stabilizer. The microphone level can be adjusted manually, and a wind screen is available for shooting outdoors. The video quality is very good, though keep in mind that your per-clip limit is around 12 minutes, and that a high speed (not to mention large) memory card is required. Lower resolution 640 x 480 and 320 x 240 modes are also available.
Camera performance was very good. The PowerShot SX1 is ready to start taking pictures just 1.2 seconds after you hit the power button. Focus times are good, ranging from 0.2 seconds at wide-angle to less than a second at full telephoto. Low light focusing was about average, and again I remind you to make sure that your fingers aren't blocking the AF-assist lamp! Shot-to-shot delays are minimal, even when shooting RAW. The exception comes when you use the flash, which is quite slow to recharge. If you're using it, expect shot-to-shot delays approaching 4 seconds. The SX1 has an impressive continuous shooting mode, due mostly to the use of the CMOS sensor. For JPEGs, you can take about 14 photos at just under 4 frames/second, until the shooting slows down. In RAW mode, you can take 9 photos at a still impressive 1.8 fps. Battery life is above average, and I applaud Canon's use of AA batteries.
While there's definitely room for improvement, overall the PowerShot SX1 took good quality photos. Exposure was consistently accurate, though the SX1 clips highlights, perhaps a little more than its cheaper sibling. Color and sharpness are both satisfying -- no complaints there. The SX1 may have CMOS sensor like Canon's digital SLRs, but don't expect the image quality to be comparable. You'll spot some speckled or grainy noise in low contrast and shadow areas of your photos, even at ISO 80. This increases fairly quickly, though you'll still be able to make 4 x 6 prints through ISO 400 in good light, and ISO 200 in low light. If you don't mind shooting RAW, you may be able to do a little better than that. The SX1 has more purple fringing than most super zoom cameras, though you won't notice unless you're making huge prints, or viewing the photos at 100% on your computer screen. If you've got auto redeye correction turned on, then this nuisance shouldn't be an issue.
If you're looking for a camera that can take high definition videos, then the PowerShot SX1 is absolutely worth checking out. It's not without its issues, but the PowerShot SX1 does most everything very well. If you don't need HD video recording, RAW support, HDMI output, or a remote control, then you can save at least $200 by purchasing the nearly identical PowerShot SX10. It remains to be seen how the SX1 compares to Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-HX1, but I'll be posting that review soon, so keep an eye on the home page for it.
What I liked:
- Very good photo quality (in good light)
- Whopping 20X optical zoom lens, with a 28 - 560 mm range
- Optical image stabilization
- Flip-out, rotating 2.8" widescreen LCD display; good outdoor + low light visibility
- Manual controls (though see below) and plenty of scene modes
- Can record Full HD video, with stereo sound, use of optical zoom and image stabilizer, and more
- Fast startup, focus, shot-to-shot, image playback speeds
- Very good continuous shooting for a compact camera
- RAW format supported
- Hot shoe for external flash
- Customizable menu, button, and spot on mode dial
- Redeye not a problem thanks to automatic removal tool
- Good face detection (with subject tracking) and handy face self-timer features
- Wireless remote and lens hood included
- HDMI output
- Above average battery life; uses AA batteries
What I didn't care for:
- Noise visible at ISO 80 in shadows and low contrast areas; gets worse fairly quickly
- Fairly strong purple fringing; some highlight clipping
- Electronic viewfinder is smaller and lower resolution compared to the SX10
- Slowest shutter speed require use of scene mode, despite manual exposure modes
- Slow-charging flash
- Average low light focusing performance; AF-assist lamp easy to block with fingers
- Scroll wheel needs to provide "feedback"; buttons are cluttered and confusing
- No memory card or lens cap retaining strap included
The PowerShot SX1's closest competitor is the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1. Some other super zoom cameras to consider include the aforementioned Canon PowerShot SX10 IS, Casio Exilim EX-FH20, Kodak EasyShare Z980, Nikon Coolpix P90, Olympus SP-590 Ultra Zoom, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28, and the Pentax X70.
As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the PowerShot SX1 IS and its competitors before you buy!
See how the photos turned out in our gallery!