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DCRP Review: Canon PowerShot SX100 IS  
   

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: January 16, 2008
Last updated: January 3, 2012

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The Canon PowerShot SX100 IS ($299) is a compact, low-cost ultra zoom camera. It offers many of the features found on the PowerShot S5 IS (see our review), for $100 less. The main differences between the SX100 and the S5 are with regard to lens power (10X vs 12X), LCD style (fixed vs. rotating), and size (the SX100 is considerably smaller and lighter). Both of the cameras have 8 Megapixel CCDs, optical image stabilization, full manual controls, and a VGA movie mode.

The PowerShot S-series cameras have been some of my favorite ultra zoom cameras on the market. Will the SX100 fare just as well? Find out now, our review starts right now!

What's in the Box?

The PowerShot SX100 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 8.0 effective Megapixel PowerShot SX100 IS digital camera
  • 16MB Secure Digital memory card
  • Two AA alkaline batteries
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Canon Digital Camera Solution
  • 225 page camera manual (printed)

Canon includes a 16MB SD memory card with the SX100, which won't hold too many photos (three at the highest quality setting, to be exact). Thus, you'll want to buy a larger card right away, unless you have one laying around somewhere. The SX100 supports SD, SDHC, MMC, MMCplus, and HC MMCplus memory cards, and whichever format you get (I'd stick to SD and SDHC myself), a 1GB card is a good size to start with. It's worth spending a little extra on a high speed card, though there's no need to go overboard.

The SX100 uses two AA batteries for power. Canon includes alkalines in the box, which will quickly end up in your trash can. I'd recommend picking up a four-pack of NiMH rechargeables (2500 mAh is good) plus a fast charger -- it'll save you money, and won't dump piles of batteries into landfills. Here's what kind of battery life you can expect out of the SX100:

Camera Battery life, LCD on
(CIPA standard)
Battery used
Canon PowerShot S5 IS * 450 shots 4 x 2500 mAh NiMH
Canon PowerShot SX100 IS * 400 shots 2 x 2500 mAh NiMH
Fuji FinePix S700 500 shots 4 x 2500 mAh NIMH
Kodak EasyShare Z812 IS * 275 shots KLIC-8000
Nikon Coolpix S10 * 300 shots EN-EL5
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8 * 380 shots CGR-S006
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 * 270 shots CGA-S007
Sanyo Xacti VPC-HD2 180 shots DB-L40
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H3 * 330 shots NP-BG1

* Has image stabilization

Battery life numbers are provided by the manufacturer

Despite using half the number of batteries, the SX100's battery life numbers are just 10% below those of its big brother, the PowerShot S5. In the group as a whole, the SX100's battery life is about 15% above average.

I'm a big fan of camera's that use AA batteries. Rechargeable AAs are cheaper than their proprietary counterparts, and you can use off-the-shelf batteries when your rechargeables die. As you can see from the chart above, there are several ultra zooms in this class that use AAs.

Canon PowerShot SX100 in the hand*

There's a built-in lens cover on the SX100, so there's no clunky lens cap to deal with.

Unlike its more expensive sibling, there are just a handful of accessories available for the PowerShot SX100. In the power department, Canon offers an AC adapter (priced from $32) and a NiMH battery kit (priced from $40). There's also an external slave flash available (priced from $95), which attaches via the tripod mount and fires when the onboard flash does. And that's about it -- no conversion lenses here!


CameraWindow in Mac OS X

Canon recently gave their bundled software a bit of a refresh, with the ImageBrowser (Mac) and ZoomBrowser (Windows) products now up to version 6. The Mac version is now Universal, so it runs at full speed on Intel-based Macs.

The first part of the Browser software that you'll probably encounter is Camera Window (pictured above), and you'll use it to download photos from your camera.


ImageBrowser in Mac OS X

Once that's done you'll find yourself in either ImageBrowser or ZoomBrowser, depending on your computer. Here you can view, organize, e-mail, and print your photos. If you categorized any photos on the camera (more on this later) then that information is transferred over to the Browser software.


ImageBrowser edit window in Mac OS X

Double-click on a thumbnail and you'll bring up the edit 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 option for those who want a quick fix.


RemoteCapture Task in Mac OS X

But wait, there's more. The SX100 can be controlled from your Mac or PC over a USB connection, using the RemoteCapture Task build into the Browser software. You can operate nearly all of the camera's features from your PC, and when you take a photo, the image is saved onto your hard drive. An interval (time lapse) mode is available here as well.

My only complaint about RemoteCapture is hidden it is. In older version of CameraWindow it was one click away -- now you have to dig for it on your hard drive.


PhotoStitch in Mac OS X

A totally separate program called PhotoStitch can, well, stitch together separate photos into one giant panorama. The interface is simple, the process takes minutes, and the results are impressive, as you can see. You can use the SX100's Stitch Assist feature to line up the photos side-by-side with just the right amount of overlap.

The documentation for the PowerShot SX100 comes in several parts. For camera operation, there's a detailed 225 page printed manual included. It may not be the most user friendly manual out there, but it'll certainly answer any question you may have. There are also separate manuals for Direct Printing as well as for the bundled software.

Look and Feel

The PowerShot SX100 IS is a compact ultra zoom camera made of a mixture of plastic and metal. It's fairly well put together for its price, though I'm never a fan of plastic tripod mounts. The camera is easy to hold and operate with one hand, though it felt a lot more stable if I used both hands. Canon didn't go overboard with buttons on the SX100, so it's easy to figure out without having to read the manual first.

Now, here's a look at how the SX100 compares with the other cameras in its class in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot S5 IS 4.6 x 3.2 x 3.1 in. 45.6 cu in. 450 g
Canon PowerShot SX100 IS 4.3 x 2.8 x 1.8 in. 21.7 cu in. 265 g
Fujifilm FinePix S700 4.2 x 3.0 x 3.2 in. 40.3 cu in. 306 g
Kodak EasyShare Z812 IS 4.3 x 2.9 x 3.0 in. 37.4 cu in. 330 g
Nikon Coolpix S10 4.4 x 2.9 x 1.6 in. 20.4 cu in. 220 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8 4.4 x 2.8 x 3.1 in. 38.2 cu in. 310 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 4.2 x 2.4 x 1.5 in. 15.1 cu in. 232 g
Sanyo Xacti VPC-HD2 3.1 x 4.7 x 1.4 in. 20.4 cu in. 210 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H3 4.2 x 2.7 x 1.9 in. 21.5 cu in. 264 g

The PowerShot SX100 is right in the middle of the pack in terms of size and weight. While it's not what I'd call a jeans pocket kind of camera, it will fit into a jacket pocket or small camera case with ease.

Let's start our tour of the camera now, beginning (as we always do) with the front.

Front of the Canon PowerShot SX100 IS

The PowerShot SX100 features an F2.8-4.3, 10X optical zoom lens. The focal length of the lens is 6 - 60 mm, which is equivalent to 36 - 360 mm. Since Canon doesn't offer any conversion lenses for the SX100, you're stuck with that focal range (I don't think most people will mind).

In the middle of the lens is Canon's optical image stabilization system. Tiny movements of your hands can cause "camera shake", which can blur your photos, especially in low light or at the telephoto end of the lens. Sensors inside the camera detect this shaking, and a lens element is shifted to compensate for it. It won't work miracles, of course: it can't freeze a moving subject, nor will it allow for multi-second handheld exposures. It will, however, let you use slower shutter speeds than you could on an unstabilized camera.

Want to see how well the OIS system works? Check these out:


Image stabilization on


Image stabilization off

Both of the above photos were taken at a shutter speed of 1/5 of a second. As you can see, Canon's OIS system did its job, producing a much sharper photo. Naturally, the OIS feature can be used in movie mode as well. If you want to see how it does there, then have a look at this short sample movie.

Directly above the lens is the SX100's pop-up flash, which is raised manually. The flash is fairly weak, with a working range of 0.5 - 3.0 m at wide-angle and 0.5 - 2.0 m at telephoto (at Auto ISO). By comparison, the PowerShot S5's numbers are 0.5 - 5.2 m and 0.9 - 4.0 m, respectively. If you want more flash power, you can purchase the external slave flash that I mentioned in the accessories section. Being a slave flash, it doesn't integrate with the camera in any way -- it merely fires when the onboard flash does.

To the upper-right of the lens you'll find the camera's AF-assist lamp, which the SX100 uses this as a focusing aid in low light situations. This lamp is also used for redeye reduction and as a visual countdown for the self-timer. On the opposite side of the lens is the SX100's microphone.

Back of the Canon PowerShot SX100 IS

The main thing to see on the back of the PowerShot SX100 is its 2.5" LCD display. Unlike on its big brother (the S5), the LCD is fixed, and cannot rotate. The 173,000 pixel resolution of the LCD isn't as high as on some ultra zooms, but it's better than what you'll find on most of Canon's other entry level cameras. I thought that screen was quite sharp, myself. Outdoor visibility was good, and the screen was easy to see in low light as well, since it "gains up" automatically in those situations.

As you probably noticed, there's no viewfinder (optical or electronic) to be found on the SX100. Whether this is a problem depends on you. Some people require them, while others won't even notice that it's absence.

Below the LCD are four buttons, and they do the following:

  • Print/Share - see below
  • Face detection (on/off) - see below
  • Display - toggles what's on the LCD
  • Menu

The Print/Share button serves multiple purposes. In record mode it can be used for Auto ISO boost (a handy feature I'll tell you about later), or assigned to certain camera functions (which I'll list in the menu section of the review). When connected to a computer, you can press it to transfer photos to your computer. Finally, if you're attached to a printer, this button will let you print the current photo.


Manually selecting a face

The button with the face on it is part of the SX100's face detection system. Press it and you can manually select what face the camera locks onto. Pressing the Display button will count how many faces are detected in the scene. I'll have more on face detection in the menu section of the review.

Let's jump over to the right side of the LCD now. First up we have the playback and exposure compensation / delete photo buttons. The exposure compensation range is the usual -2EV to +2EV, in 1/3EV increments.

In between those buttons is the SX100's four-way controller, which can move in the usual up/down/left/right directions, and be rotated as well. The controller is large, and easy to operate. The wheel is used for adjusting manual settings, moving between photos, and navigating the menu system. In addition to all that, the controller can also be used to quickly adjust these settings:

  • Up - ISO (Auto, Hi Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600)
  • Down - Drive (Single-shot, continuous, AF continuous, 2 or 10 sec self-timer, custom self-timer)
  • Left - Focus mode (Normal, macro, manual)
  • Right - Flash setting (Auto, flash on)
  • Center - Function menu + Set

There are two auto ISO modes on the SX100, and the difference is that the "hi" one uses higher sensitivities. I'd avoid this one if possible, as photos can be pretty noisy at the highest ISO settings.

The SX100 offers two continuous shooting modes, both of which allow you to keep shooting until your memory card (high speed, preferably) fills up. In regular continuous mode, the camera kept firing away at 1.3 frames/second. Continuous AF mode is considerably slower (shooting at 0.8 frames/second), as the camera refocuses before each shot. If you're in manual focus mode, there's a Continuous LV (live view) mode, which is essentially the same as Continuous AF mode.


Manual focus (center-frame enlargement not shown)

Turn on manual focus, and you'll use the control wheel to set the focus distance. The center of the frame is enlarged on the LCD, and a guide showing the current focus distance is also displayed.

When you press the Function/Set button in the center of the four-way controller you'll open up the Function menu. It has these options:

  • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, custom) - see below
  • My Colors (Off, vivid, neutral, sepia, black & white, custom color) - see below
  • Flash exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments) + Flash output (1/3, 2/3, full) - the latter is only available in the manual modes
  • Metering mode (Evaluative, center-weighted, spot)
  • Image compression (see chart later in review)
  • Recording pixels (see chart later in review)

The SX100, like all Canon cameras, lets you use a custom white balance setting. Simply point the camera at a white or gray card, press a button, and you should be able to get accurate color, even in unusual lighting.

I only want to mention one of those My Colors options: custom color. This lets you adjust contrast, saturation, and sharpness, on a scale of 1 to 5. The SX100 does not have the Color Accent and Color Swap features found on some other Canon cameras.

And that's it for the back of the camera!

Top of the Canon PowerShot SX100 IS

The first thing to see on the top of the SX100 is the speaker. Moving to the right, we find the power and shutter release buttons, the zoom controller, and the mode dial. The mode dial has the following options:

Option Function
Auto mode Fully automatic, most camera settings locked up
Program mode Automatic shooting, but with access to all menu options
Shutter priority (Tv) mode You choose shutter speed and the camera picks the aperture. Shutter speed range is 15 - 1/2000 sec; do note that the fastest shutter speeds are only available at small apertures
Aperture priority (Av) mode You choose the aperture and the camera picks an appropriate shutter speed. Range is F2.8 - F8.0
Full manual (M) mode Choose both the shutter speed and aperture yourself; same ranges as above
Movie mode More on this later
Stitch Assist Helps you line up panoramic photos, left-to-right or vice versa
Special Scene (SCN) mode You choose the situation and the camera uses the appropriate settings. Choose from night scene, foliage, beach, aquarium, indoor, snow, and fireworks
Kids & Pets More scene modes
Night snapshot
Landscape
Portrait

As you can see, the PowerShot SX100 has a full set of manual exposure controls. If you don't want to bother with those, then you'll find plenty of point-and-shoot modes as well.

The SX100's zoom controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in just under two seconds. I counted twenty three steps in the camera's 10X zoom range. I like how Canon displays the current focus range on the LCD, just under the "zoom meter".

Side of the Canon PowerShot SX100 IS

The only thing to see here is the slot for the "watch battery" that allows the camera to remember its settings when turned off.

Side of the Canon PowerShot SX100 IS

On the other side of the camera you'll find the I/O ports, which are protected by a plastic cover. The ports here include A/V out, USB, and DC-in (for the optional AC adapter). The SX100 supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard, so data transfers to your computer will be snappy.

The lens is at the full telephoto position in this photo.

Bottom of the Canon PowerShot SX100 IS

On the bottom of the PowerShot SX100 is a plastic tripod mount, the memory card slot, and the battery compartment. The battery/memory card compartment is protected by a reinforced plastic door with a lock mechanism. As you can probably tell, you won't be able to swap memory cards while the camera is on a tripod.

Using the Canon PowerShot SX100 IS

Record Mode

It takes around 1.4 seconds for the PowerShot SX100 to extend its lens and prepare for shooting. That's not bad at all.


There's no live histogram on the SX100

Focus times were very good. In the best case scenarios (wide-angle, lots of light), the SX100 took between 0.2 and 0.4 seconds to lock focus. Telephoto focus times were longer, though they rarely exceeded one second. Low light focusing was very good, though be sure not to block the beam from the AF-assist lamp -- I found it pretty easy to do that.

I did not find shutter lag to be a problem, even at the slower shutter speeds at which it can occur.

Shot-to-shot delays were about 1.5 seconds without the flash, and 3-4 seconds with it (a bit slow there).

You can delete a picture after you've taken it by pressing the delete photo (exposure compensation) button on the back of the camera.

Now, here's a look at the image size and quality choices available on the camera:

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # Images on 16MB card
(included)
# images on 1GB card (optional)
Large
3264 x 2448
Superfine 3.4 MB 3 278
Fine 2.0 MB 6 462
Normal 980 KB 13 958
Wide (16:9)
3264 x 1832
Superfine 2.5 MB 5 366
Fine 1.5 MB 8 614
Normal 736 KB 18 1284
Middle 1
2592 x 1944
Superfine 2.4 MB 5 380
Fine 1.4 MB 9 678
Normal 695 KB 19 1342
Middle 2
2048 x 1536
Superfine 1.6 MB 8 590
Fine 893 KB 15 1058
Normal 445 KB 30 2082
Middle 3
1600 x 1200
Superfine 1.0 MB 13 942
Fine 558 KB 24 1678
Normal 278 KB 47 3180
Small
640 x 480
Superfine 249 KB 52 3554
Fine 150 KB 81 5494
Normal 84 KB 128 8634

And now you see why I recommend buying a larger memory card -- the included card can't hold much. There's another image size known as "postcard" that I didn't list in the table. It's the same as Middle 2, and the only way you can use the date stamp function.

The SX100 does not support the RAW image format, nor does its big brother, the PowerShot S5.

Images are named IMG_xxxx.JPG, where x = 0001 - 9999. The file numbering is maintained even if you replace and/or format memory cards.

Now, onto the menus!

The SX100 uses the standard Canon menu system. It's attractive and easy-to-use, with no confusing icons or abbreviations. You can use both the four-way controller and the scroll wheel to navigate the menu system. And now, keeping in mind that some of these options may not be available in all shooting modes, here's the full list of record menu options:

  • AF frame (Face Detect, Center) - see below
  • AF frame size (Normal, small) - see below
  • Digital Zoom (Off, 1.6X, 2.0X, Standard) - see below
  • Slow synchro (on/off)
  • Flash adjust (Auto, manual) - in manual mode you can adjust the strength [Av/Tv shooting modes only]
  • Redeye reduction (on/off)
  • Safety FE (on/off) - whether the camera adjusts the shutter speed and/or aperture in Av/Tv mode to avoid flash over/underexposure
  • Self-timer - set up the handy custom self-timer
    • Delay (0-10, 15, 20, 30 secs)
    • Shots (1-10)
  • Safety shift (on/off) - camera will adjust the shutter speed or aperture as needed to obtain a proper exposure when in Av/Tv mode
  • Auto ISO Shift (Print/Share button, on, off) - see below
  • MF-Point Zoom (on/off) - enlarges the center of the frame in manual focus mode
  • AF mode (Continuous, single) - see below
  • AF-assist beam (on/off)
  • Review (Off, 2-10 seconds, hold) - post-shot review
  • Review info (Off, detailed, focus check) - see below
  • Display overlay (Off, gridlines, 3:2 guide, both)
  • Date stamp (Off, date, date & time) - this is only available at the "postcard" resolution!
  • Set Shortcut button (Off, white balance, custom WB, digital teleconverter, gridlines, display off) - define what this button does


The SX100 locked onto all six faces

Lots to talk about before we move on. I'll start with the AF frame options. There are only two of them: face detection and center-point -- no AiAF (multi-point) to be found here, which is surprising and disappointing at the same time. I touched on the face detection feature a bit earlier, but here are a few more details. The SX100 can locate up to nine faces in the frame, making sure they're both in focus and properly exposed. You can manually select a face (described earlier), or just like the camera go at it. Canon's FD system is one of the best I've seen, having no trouble locking onto all six faces in our test scene.


The two focus point sizes on the SX100

The AF frame size lets you adjust the size of the center focus point -- regular or small are the choices, as you can see above. I don't know why Canon bothered with this one, seeing how there's no AiAF or FlexiZone focus on the camera.

A quick note about the SX100's digital zoom features now. Canon calls the 1.6X and 2.0X options a "digital teleconverter" -- it's basically just fixed digital zoom. The Standard option is what you'll find on every camera. 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 get a total of 20X zoom without any loss in image quality.

The Auto ISO Shift feature, which has been on Canon's other models for a while now, is a handy one. If the camera thinks that a photo will be blurry, you can press the Print/Share button (which will be lit up) to boost the ISO to a setting that will result in a sharp photo. You can also have this feature work automatically, if you desire. Keep in mind that this can add a lot of noise to your photos, so use it wisely.

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.


Reviewing faces using the focus check feature

The Review Info option lets you choose what information is shown on the LCD after you take a photo. You can have it just show the picture, display shooting data and a histogram, or perform a "focus check". If you did use face detection, focus check will show you each of the faces, and you can move from one face to another by pressing the "face button" on the back of the camera. This feature is also available in playback mode.

There's also a setup menu, which is available in both the record and playback mode menus. The options here include:

  • Mute (on/off) - quickly turn off the camera's beeps and blips
  • Volume
    • 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)
  • Startup image (on/off)
  • LCD brightness (-7 to +7, 1-step increments)
  • Power saving
    • Auto power down (on/off)
    • Display off (10, 20, 30 sec, 1-3 min
  • Date/time
  • 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
  • Language
  • Video system (NTSC, PAL)
  • Print Method (Auto, PictBridge)
  • Reset all - back to defaults

Well enough about menus, let's do photo tests now.

The SX100 did a very nice job with our standard macro test subject. The colors are really vivid, especially the reds. The subject has the "smooth" look that is a trademark of Canon's cameras. Even with that, plenty of detail is still captured.

The minimum focus distance in macro mode is just 1 cm, which almost puts your subject up against the lens. Do note that macro mode is only available for the first half of the focal range.

The PowerShot SX100 did a good job with the night scene test, as well. There was some fog creeping in over Treasure Island that night, so the image is slightly washed out. The camera has captured plenty of detail here, with all the buildings looking nice and sharp. There is some noise and noise reduction artifacting to be found, but it's reasonable given the resolution of the camera. Purple fringing was not a problem.

There are two ISO tests in this review. The first one uses the night scene above, so you can see what noise levels look at high ISOs in low light. Here we go:


ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

As you might expect, there isn't a whole lot of difference between the ISO 80 and 100 shots. Noise reduction starts to eat away at details in the ISO 200 shot, though a small or midsize print is still possible at this setting. There's a fair amount of detail lost at ISO 400, so I'd avoid using this setting unless you're really desperate. The ISO 800 and 1600 photos are not usable, in my opinion.

We'll see how the SX100 performs in better lighting in a bit.

There's fairly mild barrel distortion at the wide end of the SX100's 10X zoom lens. While the chart shows some slight vignetting (dark corners), I didn't find this to be a problem in my real world photos. Something else that wasn't an issue: corner blurriness.

The SX100 has quite the redeye problem, even with the redeye reduction feature turned on. The good news is that there's a tool in playback mode to remove it, like so:

Much better. Now if I could just get Canon to make this feature run automatically...

And now it's time for ISO test number two, which is shot in my "studio". You can compare this test with those in other reviews on this site. While the crops below give you a quick view of the differences at the various ISO sensitivities, it's a good idea to view the full-size images as well. And with that...


ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

The ISO 80 and 100 shots are both very clean. That's still the case at ISO 200, though you can start to see the effects of noise reduction appearing in a few places. The noise reduction gets more obvious at ISO 400, though a small to midsize print is still very possible here. At ISO 800 we get a drop in color saturation and noticeable detail loss. I'd save this one for desperation. The ISO 1600 option has too much detail loss to be usable.

Overall, I was pleased with the photos produced by the PowerShot SX100 IS. They were well-exposed, with bright and vivid colors. Sharpness was right where I like it: not too sharp, not too soft. While noise isn't really a problem until the very highest ISOs, the effects of noise reduction can be seen much earlier -- at ISO 200 in low light, and ISO 400 in normal lighting. You can actually see some artifacting in the sky at ISO 80, though it's barely noticeable. One thing's for sure, though: Canon seems to apply more noise reduction than they used to. Purple fringing popped up here and there, but it was well controlled in most situations.

Don't just take my word for all this, though. Have a look at our photo gallery, and maybe print a few of the pictures if you can. Then you'll be able to decide if the SX100's photo quality meets your expectations.

Movie Mode

The PowerShot SX100 has the standard Canon movie mode. You can record video at 640 x 480 (30 fps) with sound until you run out of memory, or the file size reaches 4GB (which takes 32 minutes). If you want longer movies without lowering the resolution, you can use the new "long play" mode. In this mode, you can record for a full hour before you hit the file size limit.

Another way to extend your recording time is to drop the resolution to 320 x 240 or 160 x 120. The former can record at either 15 or 30 fps, while the latter can only do 15 fps (and for only 3 minutes).

You cannot use the zoom lens during filming -- it will be locked when you start filming. You can, however, use the digital zoom. Naturally, the image stabilizer is available in movie mode.

Movies are saved in AVI format, using the M-JPEG codec.

Here's a sample movie for you, taken at the highest quality setting:


Click to play movie (22.3 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, AVI format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime
.

Playback Mode

The PowerShot SX100 has a very nice playback mode. Basic features include slideshows, image protection, voice captions, thumbnail view (which is nicer than on most cameras since it enlarges the photo you're looking at), and zoom and scroll. This last feature lets you enlarge the picture up to 10X, and then scroll around in the zoomed-in area. When you're zoomed in you can press the Func/Set button and then move from photo to photo at the same magnification setting using the scroll wheel. There's also has a separate print menu lets you tag photos for printing to a PictBridge-enabled photo printer.

In terms of editing features, you can rotate and resize a photo, though you cannot crop it. This is also where you'll find the redeye removal tool that I mentioned in the previous section. Unfortunately, there is no way to edit movies on the camera itself.

Scrolling through images with the scroll wheel The jump menu

You can use the SX100's scroll wheel to quickly breeze through photos. In addition, the jump feature lets you move forward/ backward by 10 or 100 photos, or by date.

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. You can also use the focus check feature that I described earlier.

The SX100 moves between images fairly quickly, with your choice of two transitions. Like with most Canon cameras, when you rotate the camera 90 degrees, the photo on the LCD rotates too.

How Does it Compare?

While it doesn't really stand out in any one area, the Canon PowerShot SX100 IS is a solid, low-priced ultra zoom camera. The SX100 features a 10X zoom lens, optical image stabilization, full manual controls, and a VGA movie mode. Downsides include a weak, slow-charging flash, no multi-point autofocus, and the inability to swap memory cards while the camera is on a tripod. Despite a few flaws, the SX100 is still an impressive camera for the money (around $250), and it's one I can recommend.

The PowerShot SX100 is a compact camera by ultra zoom standards. There are smaller cameras out there (including the TX1 from Canon), but they are a little too small for most people. The SX100 is made of a mix of metal and plastic, and it's well put together. The only design complaints I have are the plastic tripod mount, and the fact that you won't be able to swap memory cards while the camera is on a tripod. Something to watch out for is the AF-assist lamp -- I found it easy to block with your left hand. The camera features a 10X optical zoom lens, with a focal length of 36 - 360 mm. Since the SX100 does not support conversion lenses, you're "stuck" with that range. The SX100's lens has Canon's optical image stabilization system inside it, which helps produce sharp photos at shutter speeds that would be unusable otherwise. On the back of the camera you'll find a 2.5" LCD display with good (but not great) resolution. Both outdoor and low light visibility was excellent. The SX100's pop-up flash isn't terribly powerful, and it takes 3 or 4 seconds to charge, which is a bit sluggish.

The SX100 has a nice set of features, considering its price. There are plenty of scene modes for beginners, plus full manual controls for the enthusiasts out there. While the camera has an impressive face detection feature, I was baffled by the lack of a multi-point (AiAF) autofocus option. One feature found on most of Canon's recent cameras is Auto ISO Shift, which lets you quickly boost the ISO, in order to get a sharp photo. The SX100 has Canon's standard movie movie mode, allowing for up to an hour of continuous VGA quality video. While the optical zoom cannot be operated while you're filming, the image stabilizer is available. One feature on the SX100 is normally reserved for digital SLRs, and that's remote capture from your Mac or PC. Just attach the camera via the USB cable, fire up the RemoteCapture task (if you can find it), and you can then control the camera from the comfort of your desk chair. Since the camera supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard, data transfers to your Mac or PC will be quick.

The PowerShot SX100 was a solid performer in most respects. It starts up in about 1.4 seconds, which is pretty snappy for a camera that has a big lens to extend. Focus times were good, usually hanging around 0.2 - 0.4 seconds, and rarely exceeding one second. Low light focusing was quick and accurate, due in part to the camera's AF-assist lamp. Shutter lag wasn't noticeable, except for a slight delay when using the flash. Speaking of which, shot-to-shot delays are minimal, except when the flash is used, when they jump to around 3 or 4 seconds. While its burst rate is nothing to write home about, the SX100 can take photos at 1.3 frames/second until your memory card is full. The PowerShot SX100's battery life is slightly above average.

Photo quality was very good. The SX100 took well-exposed photos with vivid colors. Sharpness was right about where I like it -- not too soft, not too sharp. Noise isn't really a problem until the highest ISO settings, though noise reduction artifacting is visible a lot sooner. While you can see some evidence of NR at ISO 80 (mostly in the sky), it doesn't really degrade image quality until ISO 200 in low light and ISO 400 in good light. The ISO 800 and 1600 settings are best left alone, as there's quite a bit of detail loss and noise at those sensitivities. While purple fringing popped up here and there, it was kept under control in most situations. The SX100 does have a big problem with redeye, though there is a tool in playback mode that does an effective job of removing it.

With the PowerShot SX100 IS, Canon has produced another solid ultra zoom camera. It's not as impressive as its big brother, the PowerShot S5, but the SX100 costs quite a bit less. As semi-compact, entry-level ultra zooms go, the SX100 is a good one, and definitely worth a look.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality (though see issues below)
  • Good value for the money
  • 10X optical zoom lens with optical image stabilization
  • Fairly sharp 2.5" LCD with good low light and outdoor visibility
  • Full manual controls, plus plenty of scene modes
  • Very good performance in most respects
  • AF-assist lamp, good low light focusing
  • Handy redeye removal, focus check, and Auto ISO Shift features
  • Nice VGA movie mode
  • Supports remote capture from a Mac or PC
  • Uses AA batteries
  • USB 2.0 High Speed support

What I didn't care for:

  • Noticeable detail loss from noise reduction above ISO 200 (in low light) and ISO 400 (in good light); highest sensitivities not usable
  • Redeye a big problem (though you can remove it in playback mode)
  • Weak, slow-to-charge flash
  • No multi-point autofocus
  • No optical or electronic viewfinder
  • Can't swap memory cards while camera is on a tripod; plastic tripod mount
  • Tiny memory card included

Other low cost ultra-zooms to consider include the Fuji FinePix S700, Kodak EasyShare Z812 IS, Nikon Coolpix S10, Olympus SP-560UZ, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8 and DMC-TZ3, Sanyo Xacti VPC-HD2, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H3.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the PowerShot SX100 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

See how the photos turned out in our gallery!

Feedback & Discussion

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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 or technical support.

Want another opinion?

You'll find more reviews of the PowerShot SX100 at Digital Photography Review, Imaging Resource, and CNET.