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Canon PowerShot SX200 IS Review

Look and Feel

The PowerShot SX200 is a more "upscale" version of the SX100 and SX110 that came before it. It has a compact (by ultra zoom standards) body made almost entirely of metal, and it feels very solid. The only weak spot is the somewhat flimsy door over the battery/memory card compartment. The camera is easy to hold, with a nice spot for your right thumb, and easy access to the most commonly used controls. The SX200's flash pops up automatically when you turn the camera on (and stays there), but Canon thoughtfully left room for your fingers right behind it.


Image courtesy of Canon USA

The SX200 is available in three colors: blue, red, and good ol' black.

Now, here's how the PowerShot SX200 IS compares to other compact ultra zooms in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot SX110 IS 4.4 x 2.8 x 1.8 in. 22.2 cu in. 245 g
Canon PowerShot SX200 IS 4.1 x 2.4 x 1.5 in. 14.8 cu in. 220 g
Fuji FinePix S1500 4.1 x 2.9 x 2.7 in. 32.1 cu in. 324 g
Olympus Stylus 9000 3.8 x 2.4 x 1.2 in. 10.9 cu in. 185 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 4.1 x 2.4 x 1.3 in. 12.8 cu in. 206 g
Samsung HZ15W 4.1 x 2.4 x 1.5 in. 14.8 cu in. 219 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H20 4.3 x 2.8 x 1.9 in. 22.9 cu in. 250 g

First things first: the SX200 is considerably smaller than its predecessor. In the group as a whole, the SX200 is right in the middle of the pack. The Fuji FinePix S1500 is the largest of the bunch, due to its more traditional SLR-style design.

Alright, enough numbers, let's start our tour of the PowerShot SX200 now!

Front of the Canon PowerShot SX200 IS

The lens on the PowerShot SX200 is both wider and more powerful than the one on the SX110 that came before it. This F3.4-5.3, 12X zoom lens has a focal range of 5 - 60 mm, which is equivalent to 28 - 336 mm. The maximum aperture range is a bit slower than on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3, but not by too much. The SX200's lens is not threaded, so conversion lenses and filters are not supported.

Inside the lens is Canon's optical image stabilization system. Sensors inside the camera detect the tiny movements of your hands (known as "camera shake") that can blur your photos, especially in low light, or at the telephoto end of the lens. The camera shifts one of the lens elements to compensate for this movement, allowing for a higher likelihood of a sharp photo. Image stabilization can't freeze a moving subject, and it won't allow for multi-second handheld exposures (the laws of physics still apply), but it will give you sharp photos at shutter speeds that would be otherwise unusable. Want proof? Have a look at these:


Image stabilization off


Image stabilization on

I took both of the photos you see above at a shutter speed of 1/8th of a second, from about two feet away. As you can see, the image stabilization system did its job! You can also use image stabilization in movie mode, as you can see in this brief video clip.

To the upper-right of the lens is the PowerShot SX200's flash, which pops up when the camera is turned on, and retracts when it's turned off. While I'd prefer to pop it up manually, at least the flash stays out of the way of your fingers. You can tell that the flash isn't going to be very powerful just be looking at it, and sure enough, the numbers back up that assumption. The working range of the flash is 0.5 - 3.0 m at wide-angle and 1.0 - 2.0 m at telephoto (both at Auto ISO). Should you require more flash power, you can pick up the external slave flash that I mentioned back in the accessory section of the review.

To the upper-left of the lens is the AF-assist lamp, which the camera uses as a focusing aid in low light situations. This same lamp is also used for redeye reduction, and it blinks as the self-timer counts down, as well.

Just below the AF-assist lamp is a pinhole-sized speaker -- no stereo sound recording here!

Back of the Canon PowerShot SX200 IS

The main event on the back of the SX200 is its 3-inch LCD display. Unlike on the Panasonic TZ5 and ZS3 -- which have 460,000 pixel LCDs -- the screen on the SX200 has a "standard" resolution of 230,000 pixels. Even so, I didn't find sharpness to be an issue, at all. The screen has very good outdoor visibility, and in low light, the screen brightens automatically, so you can still see what you're trying to take a picture of.

As you can probably tell, there's no optical or electronic viewfinder on the PowerShot SX200. Most people these days don't seem to miss having a viewfinder, but if you require one, you'll have to buy a larger ultra zoom camera.

Now let's move onto the controls located to the right of the LCD. Thankfully, there aren't too many.

The top-most buttons are the customizable Direct Print and playback mode buttons. In record mode, you can customize the function of the Direct Print button (I'll list the options later in the review) -- by default, it does nothing. If you're connected to a photo printer, you can press the button to print the photo that's displayed on the LCD.

Below those buttons is the camera's combination four-way controller and scroll wheel. The wheel portion can be used for menu navigation, adjusting manual settings, and quickly moving through photos in playback mode. The four-way controller can do many of the same things, and it also lets you adjust the following:

  • Up - Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, in 1/3EV increments)
  • Down - Self-timer (Off, 2 or 10 sec, face timer, custom timer) + Delete photo
  • Left - Focus (Auto, macro, super macro, manual)
  • Right - Flash (Auto, flash on, slow synchro, flash off)
  • Center - Function menu + Set

There's much to talk about before we can continue the tour. First up are those two unique self-timer options. The face self-timer option lets you be included in a photo, without having to run while the self-timer counts down. The camera will simply wait until another face is detected, and it will take a series of three photos two seconds later. The custom self-timer option lets you select both the delay and the number of photos taken -- a very uncommon feature.


Manual focus (center-frame enlargement not shown)

While I'll cover the SX200's macro abilities later in the review, I do want to touch on manual focus here. In this mode, you'll use the camera's scroll wheel to set the focus distance. A guide showing this distance is displayed on the LCD, and the center of the frame is enlarged, as well.


The newly remodeled Function Menu

Pressing the center button on the four-way controller options up the Function menu, which has a totally new design on the SX200. The options here include:

  • Metering (Evaluative, center-weighted, spot)
  • 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
  • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, custom) - see below
  • ISO speed (Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600)
  • Flash exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, in 1/3EV increments)
  • Drive mode (Single-shot, continuous, AF continuous) - see below
  • Image quality (see chart later in review)
  • Image size (see chart later in review)


Sharpness is one of the settings you can adjust with the Custom Color option

The My Colors feature hasn't changed recently. The only option that needs some explanation is the custom color setting. This lets you manually adjust contrast, sharpness, saturation, as well as red/green/blue/skin tone levels.

The PowerShot SX200'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, like I do in many of the test shots later in the review.

There are three continuous shooting modes to choose from on the PowerShot SX200 IS. Regular continuous locks the focus and exposure after the first shot, continuous AF reevaluates both between every photo, and continuous LV does the same, except in manual focus mode.

In regular continuous mode, the camera can keep shooting at 1 frame/second until your memory card is full. That's pretty slow, and there's a bit of a blackout on the LCD between each shot, as well. If you use the continuous AF or LV mode, expect a frame rate of around 0.6 fps.

The last two buttons on the back of the PowerShot SX200 toggle the information shown on the LCD, and enter the menu system.

Top of the Canon PowerShot SX200 IS

The top view of the SX200 shows how Canon thoughtfully left some room for your fingers behind the flash. On other cameras with a flash in this location, you're usually out of luck. Near the center of the photo you'll find the power button, with the mode dial to its right. The mode dial is packed with options, which include:

Option Function
Movie mode More on this later
Special Scene mode Pick the situation and the camera uses the appropriate settings. Choose from sunset, night scene, fireworks, beach, aquarium, foliage, snow, ISO 3200, color accent, color swap, Stitch Assist
Indoor Most commonly used scene modes
Kids & Pets
Night snapshot
Landscape
Portrait
Easy mode Totally automatic, with a dumbed-down menu system
Auto mode Point-and-shoot, but with normal menus (though many options are locked up) and auto scene selection
Program mode Still point-and-shoot, but with full menu access; there's no Program Shift option available
Shutter priority (Tv) mode You choose shutter speed and the camera picks the aperture. Shutter speed range is 15 - 1/3200 sec
Aperture priority (Av) mode You choose the aperture and the camera picks an appropriate shutter speed. Range is F3.4 - F8.0
Full manual (M) mode Choose both the shutter speed and aperture yourself; same ranges as above

The PowerShot SX200 IS has plenty of automatic shooting options, plus a full set of manual exposure controls.

If you want a totally brainless shooting experience, you can use the "easy mode", which only lets you adjust one thing: whether the flash is on or off. Regular auto mode gives you limited access the camera's menu system, and it also features Canon's brand new Smart Auto mode. Smart Auto mode will pick one of of the following scene modes for you: portrait, portrait w/backlight, night portrait, night scene, sunset, and macro.

If you want to set a scene mode yourself, you can do that too. Some of the notable scene modes include color accent (you select a color to "keep", all the others turn to black and white), color swap (swap one color for another), and Stitch Assist (which helps you line up panoramic photos). One scene mode I'd avoid is ISO 3200, which will produce images that are too small and low quality to do anything with.

The only thing to mention about the manual controls is what's missing: there's no Program Shift feature, nor is there a bulb mode.

To the right of the mode dial is the shutter release button, which has the zoom controller wrapped around it. The controller is variable speed, so the more you press it, the faster the lens moves. At full speed, you can move from wide-angle to telephoto in just 1.5 seconds. I counted over forty steps in the 12X zoom range -- very nice.

Side of the Canon PowerShot SX200 IS

The only thing to see on this side of the camera is the speaker. The lens is at the wide-angle position here.

Side of the Canon PowerShot SX200 IS

The other side of the SX200 is pretty hard to photograph, due to its mirrored surface. Here you'll find the camera's I/O ports, which are kept behind a plastic cover. Let's peel it back and see what we can find. (The lens is at full telephoto here, by the way).

The port on the top is for both USB and A/V output. The one on the bottom is for HDMI, which is what you'll want to use to connect to an HDTV (cable not included).

As you'd expect, the PowerShot SX200 supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard, for fast data transfer to your Mac or PC.

Bottom of the Canon PowerShot SX200

On the bottom of the camera we find a metal tripod mount, as well as the battery and memory card compartment. Whether you'll be able to get at the memory card slot while you're using a tripod depends on what kind you're using (it worked for me). The door over the battery/memory compartment is of average quality.

The included NB-5L lithium-ion battery can be seen at right.

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