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Canon PowerShot SX210 IS Review

How Does it Compare?

The Canon PowerShot SX210 IS is a compact ultra zoom camera that packs a 14 Megapixel CCD, 14X optical zoom lens, 3-inch widescreen LCD display, a full set of auto and manual controls, and a 720p movie mode. It takes good quality still photos (and so-so quality videos) at lower ISOs, and generally does most things as well as most cameras in its class. It does, however, have a rather long list of negatives for a Canon camera, many of which were also present on the PowerShot SX200 that came before it. These include fairly strong purple fringing, a weak flash, no support for the RAW format, sluggish continuous shooting, and below average battery life. The SX210 feels a lot like its two competitors from Panasonic and Sony that I recently reviewed in that it's a camera that I like, but don't love. It's worth checking out, though you should take a close look at other cameras before making a purchase.

The PowerShot SX210 is a sleek, fairly compact camera that comes in black, orange, and a purple that will not go unnoticed. The body is made almost entirely of metal, and it feels quite solid, though thumbs down to Canon for using a plastic tripod mount. Ergonomics aren't the SX210's strong suit. One of the most annoying things on the SX200 was its auto pop-up flash that could not be closed unless the camera was powered off. The flash on the SX210 still opens and closes automatically, but now you can put it down whenever you want, or just block it from rising in the first place. There's not a lot of room for your fingers when you're holding the camera. The flash takes up all the space for your left fingers (when it's up), and you need to be careful where you put your right thumb, as it'll be sitting on buttons and dials. I can't say that I'm a fan of the tiny zoom controller either, though I like all the steps in the zoom range. The SX210 features a 14X zoom lens, with a nice range of 28 - 392 mm. You'll need image stabilization to prevent blurry photos, and the SX210 has an effective system usable for both stills and movies (there's even a "super" stabilization mode for the latter). On the back of the camera is a new widescreen 3-inch LCD, with 230,000 pixels. The screen has average sharpness and outdoor visibility, though it's one of the best when it comes to low light viewing. Having a widescreen LCD is fantastic when you're recording HD movies, but when you're taking still photos, you end up with black bars on either side of the scene, which some may find annoying. Like all cameras in this class, there's no optical viewfinder on the SX210.

The SX210 has a nice set of features for beginners and enthusiasts alike. If you're just starting out with digital cameras, you may want to use the Easy mode, which is completely automatic (no menus, no options, nothing). I figure most people can figure out the Smart Auto mode, which will select a scene mode for you and detect any faces that may be present. The SX210 is smart enough to know when its on a tripod, which allows it to use slower shutter speeds than you'd normally want. The SX210 has a nice set of extra shooting modes, including fisheye and miniature effects, numerous ways to adjust color, and a panorama assistant. In terms of manual controls, you can adjust the shutter speed, aperture, or both. There are also manual focus and white balance options. A bunch of things are missing in this department, though, including a live histogram, any kind of bracketing, and support for the RAW image format.

One of the other major features on the SX210 is its HD movie mode. It allows you to record up to 20 minutes of continuous 720p video (that's 1280 x 720, 30 frames/second) with stereo sound. You can use the optical zoom while you're recording (unlike on the SX200), and the image stabilizer is available, as well. Recording movies is a breeze, thanks to the wide LCD and dedicated movie recording button. The video quality is pretty good, though you probably won't be throwing away your HD camcorder or D-SLR anytime soon.

Camera performance is average (or a bit worse) in most respects. The SX210 takes about 1.5 seconds to extend its lens, pop up the flash, and prepare for shooting, which is average. Autofocus speeds are middle-of-the-road, though the SX210 does focus accurately in low light situations. Shutter lag was only noticeable at slow shutter speeds, and even then, it wasn't much. Shot-to-shot speeds range from 2.5 seconds without the flash to 4 seconds with it, both of which could be quicker. The SX210's continuous shooting mode is nothing to write home about, with a frame rate of 0.8 fps. You can, however, keep shooting until your memory card fills up. Battery life on the SX210 is about 15% below the average for the compact ultra zoom class.

Photo quality is good, as long as you don't let the ISO wander too high. Exposures were typically right-on, and highlight clipping was present, but not as bad as expected. Colors are nice and vivid, and images were quite sharp. Photos are on the noisy side, even at ISO 80, though it's mostly a grain-style noise, rather than detail smudging. You will start to lose details when you get to ISO 400, however, and photos taken at the highest sensitivities are quite soft. In other words, the SX210 isn't a fantastic low light camera. The SX210 also has a surprising amount of purple fringing -- not horrible, but more than I expect to see on a Canon camera in 2010. Something else I had trouble with was redeye, though I was able to remove it in playback mode (why the while-you-shoot removal tool didn't help is beyond me).

I have three last things to mention before I wrap things up. First, the SX210 does not come with a memory card, nor does it have any built-in memory, which is a bit unusual (though not for Canon). Second, you won't be able to access the memory card when the camera is on a tripod. And finally, the full camera manual is only available in digital format on an included CD-ROM.

The PowerShot SX210 IS sounds like quite the travel camera when you look at the specs. It has a compact body, big zoom lens, large LCD, plenty of bells and whistles, and a 720p movie mode. Unfortunately, it also has frustrating ergonomics, a weak flash, average performance (at best), and photo quality that could be better. The PowerShot SX210 isn't a bad camera by any means -- it's just not a great one.

What I liked:

  • Good photo quality at lower ISOs
  • 14X optical zoom in a relatively compact body
  • Optical image stabilization, with an extra-strength "dynamic mode" for movies
  • Widescreen LCD display is great for HD movie recording; good low light visibility
  • Decent set of manual controls
  • Smart Auto mode picks a scene mode for you
  • Unique (and useful) wink and face self-timers
  • Lots of steps in the 28 - 392 mm zoom range
  • Records movies at 720p with stereo sound and use of optical zoom and image stabilizer; dedicated movie button allows recording in any shooting mode
  • HDMI output
  • Good software bundle

What I didn't care for:

  • Photos a bit noisy, even at base ISO; things get soft when you pass ISO 400
  • Strong purple fringing at times
  • Redeye a problem, though it can be removed in-camera
  • Ergonomic annoyances: pop-up flash comes up automatically (but at least you can close it) and takes up valuable finger space; right thumb sits on important controls; tiny zoom controller
  • Performance could be better in many areas: continuous shooting, autofocus speeds, shot-to-shot delays
  • Weak flash
  • No live histogram, bracketing, or RAW support
  • Photos taken at default aspect ratio have black bars on either side on the widescreen LCD
  • Below average battery life
  • No optical viewfinder
  • Plastic tripod mount; can't access memory card when using tripod
  • No memory card or built-in memory included; full manual on CD-ROM

Some other compact ultra zooms worth considering include the Casio Exilim EX-FH100, Fuji FinePix F80EXR, Nikon Coolpix S8000, Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7, Ricoh CX3, Samsung HZ30W, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local camera or electronics store to try out the PowerShot SX210 IS and its competitors before you buy.

Photo Gallery

See how the PowerShot SX210's photos turned out in our 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.