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Canon PowerShot SX200 IS Review

How Does it Compare?

The Canon PowerShot SX200 IS is a very capable and compact ultra zoom camera. It offers very good photo quality, a 28 - 336 mm lens, a nice combination of automatic and manual controls, a large LCD, and a HD movie mode. It's not perfect though; it has a weak, slow-to-charge flash, battery life is below average, and you can't zoom while recording a movie mode. Despite that, the PowerShot SX200 is a good choice for a travel camera, and it earns my recommendation.

It's pretty obvious from the design of the PowerShot SX200 what camera it's going after: the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5. The SX200 has a compact body (by ultra zoom standards, at least), made almost entirely of metal. The camera is a bit unusual in that its flash pops up automatically when the camera is turned on, not closing until it's powered off. Thankfully, Canon designed the SX200 in such a way that the flash doesn't block your fingers, so it's easy to hold the camera. The flash is quite weak, however. Canon didn't go overboard with controls, either -- you can figure out the SX200 without having to read the manual first. The highlight of the camera is probably its F3.4-5.3, 12X optical zoom lens. The range of the lens is 28 - 336 mm, which should cover nearly any shooting situation that may come up in your travels. The SX200 has Canon's optical image stabilization system, which effectively reduces blur in still photos, and "shake" in your videos. On the back of the camera is a sharp 3-inch LCD display, with very good outdoor and low light visibility. Like all of the compact ultra zooms, the SX200 does not have an optical or electronic viewfinder.

The PowerShot SX200 IS offers a nice combination of features, for both beginners and more advanced users. If you just want to point and shoot, then flip the mode dial to Auto mode. The camera will automatically select a scene mode for you and detect and focus on any faces in the scene. Too complex? Then there's an "easy" mode that lets you control whether the flash is on or off, and that's it. The camera's menu system is all new, with a more attractive, animated design, and helpful descriptions of the items in the Function menus. Other handy point-and-shoot features include automatic redeye removal, panoramic shooting assistance, and blink detection that seems to work pretty well. The SX200's playback mode is quite nice, as well. For the enthusiast, you'll find a full set of manual controls, covering exposure, white balance, and focus. The only things missing are Program Shift, bulb mode, and support for the RAW image format. Something else that's not on the camera that I found a bit odd was a multi-point autofocus mode: it's face detection or center-point, and that's it. While it's doesn't have the best movie mode in its class, the SX200 can certainly hold its own. You can record up to thirty minutes of continuous 720p video (that's 1280 x 720 at 30 fps) with sound. While the image stabilizer is available during recording, the optical zoom is not.

Camera performance is good overall, though there's room for improvement in some areas. The PowerShot SX200 is super-quick at startup time, taking just 1.2 seconds to extend the lens and raise its flash. Focus times are average, ranging from 0.2 - 0.4 seconds at wide-angle to 0.6 - 1.0 seconds at telephoto. In low light, the camera focused accurately and fairly quickly. I didn't find shutter lag to be a problem, and shot-to-shot delays are brief, if you're not using the flash. If you are using the flash, expect a four second wait between shots, which is a little longer than I'd like. The SX200 won't win any awards for its continuous shooting mode: you can take an unlimited number of photos at a sluggish 1 frame/second. Battery life was below average for the group, and quite a bit worse than its predecessor (the PowerShot SX110).

Photo quality was very good in most respects. The SX200 took photos that were well-exposed, though (like most of its peers) it is prone to highlight clipping. Colors were accurate and vibrant, and subjects have the "smooth" appearance that is a Canon trademark. While Canon cameras got a bit noisier when the DIGIC 4 processor arrived, you can still get very nice results when light levels are good. In good light, you can make mid-to-large-sized prints through ISO 400. In low light, you'll want to keep the ISO at 200 or below for best results. Purple fringing will pop up here and there, though it's never horrible. While I spotted some occasional vignetting, it wasn't nearly frequent enough to be considered a problem. The SX200's two-pronged redeye removal system proved effective in my tests.

Overall, the PowerShot SX200 is a good choice for those who want a lot of zoom power in a portable (not to mention stylish) package. I haven't reviewed the SX200's main competitor (the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3) just yet, so I can't tell you which one is better. The ZS3 has a nicer movie mode and slightly better battery life, but it lacks the manual controls of the SX200. It also has two million fewer pixels, though I don't think anyone will notice. Regardless of how well the ZS3 performs, the PowerShot SX200 is still a solid camera, and one that i can recommend.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality (in good light)
  • 12X optical zoom with a nice 28 - 336 mm range
  • Compact body for an ultra zoom; stylish and well-designed
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Sharp 3-inch LCD display with very good outdoor and light light visibility
  • Full manual controls
  • Auto mode will pick a scene mode for you; plenty of other scenes can be selected manually
  • Can record HD movies at 1280 x 720 at 30 fps using H.264 codec
  • Fast startup, menu operation, and playback speeds
  • Face detection (with subject tracking), face self-timer, blink detection, and redeye removal features all work well
  • i-Contrast feature brightens shadows effectively, in record and playback mode
  • Elaborate playback mode
  • HDMI output

What I didn't care for:

  • Noise reduction causes detail loss above ISO 200 in low light, ISO 400 in good light
  • Tends to clip highlights; some purple fringing, as well
  • Anemic, slow-to-charge flash
  • Optical zoom not usable in movie mode
  • No multi-point autofocus or live histogram available
  • Below average battery life
  • Continuous shooting mode on the slow side
  • No optical or electronic viewfinder
  • No memory card or built-in memory included

Some other compact ultra zooms to consider include the Fuji FinePix S1500 (larger than the others, due to its SLR design, but still relatively small), Kodak EasyShare Z915, Olympus Stylus 9000, Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3, Samsung HZ15W, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H20.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the PowerShot SX200 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.