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Canon PowerShot SX10 IS Review

How Does it Compare?

When a 12X or even 15X zoom lens just isn't enough, Canon offers their new PowerShot SX10 IS. It offers a whopping 20X zoom lens (with a really nice 28 - 560 mm range), along with a 10 Megapixel CCD, full manual controls, hot shoe, rotating LCD display, and VGA movie mode. Photo quality is generally very good, as long as you don't let the ISO wander too high (most notably in low light situations). Most of my complaints fit into the "well, it would be nice if it had..." category. I wish it had an HD movie mode, a larger LCD, and RAW support. But, taken as it comes, the PowerShot SX10 is a very good choice for those looking for a super zoom camera.

From a distance, the PowerShot SX10 IS doesn't look much different than its predecessor, the PowerShot S5. Get it in your hands and you'll find that the SX10 is a larger, heavier, and better built camera than the S5. It's made of a mix of plastic and metal, and feels pretty solid. It's easy to hold, though one must be careful not to block the AF-assist lamp with their left hand. At the heart of the SX10 is its F2.8-5.7, 28 - 560 mm zoom lens (that's 20X total zoom power). This lens lets you have your cake and eat it too: wide-angle and super telephoto. You'd have to buy several expensive D-SLR lenses to match what the SX10 is able to offer in a much smaller package. Inside the lens is Canon's effective optical image stabilization system, which reduces the risk of blurry photos, while also smoothing out your video recordings. On the back of the camera is a 2.5" LCD display that can flip out to the side and rotate 270 degrees. The screen is definitely on the small side these days, though it would be hard for Canon to shoehorn anything larger onto the camera (without making it even bigger than it already is). The LCD -- along with the SX10's electronic viewfinder -- is sharp, and has good outdoor and low light visibility. Like its predecessor, the PowerShot SX10 supports an external flash. However, it doesn't support conversion lenses or filters like the S5 that came before it.

The PowerShot SX10 IS offers features for the point-and-shooter as well as the enthusiast. If you just want to point the camera at your subject and press the shutter release, then the camera's auto and scene modes should suit you just fine (though I'd pass on the ISO 3200 mode). Naturally, the SX10 offers a face detection feature (which works fairly well), plus a unique face self-timer feature, which waits for one more face to enter the frame before the photo is taken. If you're seeking manual controls, the SX10 has pretty much everything, ranging from exposure to focus to white balance. You can also bracket for exposure and focus. About the only things missing are white balance fine-tuning / bracketing and support for the RAW image format. The SX10 continues to have one of the best movie modes on the market, but I really wish it was HD. You can record movies at 640 x 480 (30 fps) with stereo sound and use of both the optical zoom and image stabilizer. The microphone level is adjustable, and you can turn on a wind filter if need be. Since Canon now uses the efficient H.264 codec, you can now record around 45 minutes of continuous video, up from 32 minutes on the PowerShot S5.

Camera performance was very good in most respects. The SX10 starts up in 1.2 seconds -- remarkably quick for a camera with a pretty big lens to extend. Focus times range from 0.2 seconds in the best case scenarios to around a second in the worst. Low light focusing was hit-or-miss: it was usually pretty responsive, but the camera couldn't lock focus more often than I would've liked. Shutter lag was not a problem, and shot-to-shot delays were minimal -- even when using the flash. The SX10 won't win any awards for its continuous shooting speed, but you can take an unlimited number of photos at 1.4 frames/second. The SX10 uses AA batteries (which I like), and when equipped with four 2500 mAh NiMH cells it lasts longer than all of the competition.

I've written something similar to this for the last few Canon reviews, and here it is again: keep the light levels up and the ISO sensitivity down, and you'll get very nice results from the PowerShot SX10. Photos are well exposed (though there is occasional highlight clipping), with vivid, accurate color. Sharpness is right in the middle of the spectrum -- not too sharp, not too soft. In good light, you'll see noise reduction artifacting right away (if you look hard enough), though it doesn't actually become a major problem until ISO 800. In low light things go downhill a lot quicker: I wouldn't plan on using anything above ISO 400 unless you're really desperate. Purple fringing levels were moderate on this super zoom camera, and the camera's digital redeye removal does a good job -- assuming that it finds your eyes in the first place.

All things considered, the PowerShot SX10 is a very good super zoom camera, and a worthy successor to the PowerShot S5. Sure, it could do a few things better, but even so, the PowerShot SX10 is one of the best big zoom cameras you can find.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality (in good light)
  • Whopping 20X optical zoom lens, with a 28 - 560 mm range
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Generally snappy performance
  • Flip-out, rotating 2.5" LCD display; good low light visibility
  • Full manual controls, with plenty of scene modes too
  • Hot shoe for external flash
  • Customizable menu, button, and spot on mode dial
  • Great movie mode allows for up to 45 mins of continuous recording at 640 x 480 (30 fps) with stereo sound, optical zoom and image stabilizer use, and more
  • Super macro mode lets you be 0 cm away from your subject
  • Redeye (usually) not a problem thanks to automatic removal tool
  • Good face detection (with subject tracking) and handy face self-timer features
  • Elaborate playback mode
  • Best-in-class battery life; uses AA batteries

What I didn't care for:

  • Noise reduction visible at ISO 80; noticeable detail loss above ISO 200 in low light, ISO 400 in good light
  • Occasional purple fringing
  • Low light focusing could be better
  • Doesn't support filters and conversion lenses like its predecessor
  • Easy to block AF-assist lamp with fingers; scroll wheel movement seems inconsistent
  • I wish it had: HD movie mode, RAW image support, larger LCD
  • Petty stuff: No bundled memory card, no lens cap retaining strap

Some other super zoom cameras worth looking at include the Casio Exilim EX-FH20, Fuji FinePix S8100fd, Kodak EasyShare Z1015 IS, Nikon Coolpix P80, Olympus SP-570UZ, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H50.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the PowerShot SX10 IS and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

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If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.