Originally Posted: April 23, 2010
Last Updated: October 24, 2010
The Canon PowerShot SX210 IS ($349) is a fairly compact camera that packs a 14X optical zoom lens, optical image stabilization, a widescreen LCD display, both point-and-shoot and manual controls, and HD movie recording. It's the follow-up to the PowerShot SX200, a camera I wasn't particularly fond of. The table below compares the SX200 and SX210:
As you can see, both the resolution and optical zoom got bumped up on the SX210. The camera's movie mode has also been enhanced, with improve image stabilization, stereo sound recording, and yes, use of the optical zoom. The SX210 also sports a widescreen LCD display, though it's really only useful when recording movies.
The compact ultra zoom space has grown considerably over the last year, with virtually every manufacturer offering a camera in this category. Will the PowerShot SX210 find itself at the top of the heap? Keep reading, our review starts right now!
What's in the Box?
The PowerShot SX210 IS has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
- The 14.1 effective Megapixel PowerShot SX210 IS digital camera
- NB-5L lithium-ion battery
- Battery charger
- Wrist strap
- USB cable
- A/V cable
- CD-ROM featuring Canon Digital Camera Solution
- 35 page basic manual (printed) + full manual (on CD-ROM)
The PowerShot SX210 IS does not come with a memory card, nor does it have any built-in memory. That means that you'll need to buy a memory card right away, unless you happen to have one sitting around already (very possible). The SX210 supports a million types of memory card, including SD, SDHC, SDXC, MMC, MMCplus, and HC MMCplus. My advice is to stick with SDHC or the new high capacity SDXC cards. I'd recommend picking up a 4GB card to start with, and perhaps larger if you'll be recording a lot of movies. Spending the extra dollars on a fast card (Class 4 or higher) is probably a good idea.
The SX210 uses the NB-5L lithium-ion battery, which has been used on several generations of Canon PowerShots. This battery contains 4.1 Wh of energy, which is average for a compact camera. Let's see how that translates into battery life:
The first thing I should mention is that the battery life on the SX210 is a bit worse than that of its predecessor. In the compact ultra zoom group as a whole, the PowerShot SX210 is about 15% below average.
Naturally, I have to mention the usual caveats about the proprietary batteries used by the SX210 and all the other cameras in the above table. Number one, they're expensive, with a spare NB-5L setting you back at least $35. Second, when the NB-5L runs out of juice, you can't grab some AAs off the shelf to get you through the rest of the day. You don't really have any options, though, as all compact ultra zooms are the same way.
When it's battery charging time, just pop the NB-5L into the included charger. This is my favorite kind of charger -- it plugs right into the wall (though in some countries you'll need a power cable). You can expect to wait about 125 minutes to fully charge the battery.
As with nearly all compact cameras, you'll find a built-in lens cover on the PowerShot SX210, so there's no clumsy lens cap to deal with.
The list of accessories that are available for the SX210 is a short one. Here they are:
I told you it was a short list! One accessory that was available on the SX200 but not its successor is an underwater case.
CameraWindow in Mac OS X
Canon includes version 64 of their Digital Camera Solution Disk with the PowerShot SX210 IS (the version numbers seem to go up by ten every year). The first part of the software suite that you'll probably encounter is Camera Window (pictured above), which you'll use to transfer images to your computer, organize photos on the camera (meaning delete or protect), upload videos to YouTube (I have no idea why the software says "images"), and adjust a few camera settings (startup screen, sounds, theme) as well.
ImageBrowser in Mac OS X
After you've transferred photos to your computer, you'll find yourself in either ImageBrowser or ZoomBrowser, which are for Mac and Windows respectively. The Browser software lets you view, organize, e-mail, and print your photos. If you categorized any photos on the camera (more on this later), then this information is transferred into the Browser software.
Editing in ImageBrowser
Double-click on a thumbnail and you'll bring up the edit window. Editing functions include trimming, redeye removal, plus 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.
As for movie editing, you can grab a still frame from the video, or remove unwanted footage from the beginning or end. The software warns that it can only trim videos in 1 second increments, for some reason.
PhotoStitch in Mac OS X
The last part of the Canon software suite that I want to mention is PhotoStitch. As you can see, this allows you to combine multiple photos into a single panoramic image. It's super easy to use, and the results can be impressive. While using the camera's Stitch Assist feature isn't required to make panoramas, it does help you line things up correctly, so there are no "seams" in the final product.
Longtime readers of the DCRP could probably hear my cries of "noooooo" when I opened the SX210's packaging and found only a thin "basic manual". That's right, the full manual is only available in digital format on an included CD-ROM. The basic manual is enough to get you up and running, but that's about it -- you'll almost certainly need to load up the real thing at some point. The manual is very detailed, though not terribly user-friendly, save for the helpful "what do you want to do" section, which is (ironically) in the full manual. Documentation for the software bundle is installed onto your computer.
Look and Feel
The PowerShot SX210 is a sleek-looking camera that straddles the line between compact and midsize. The camera is made almost entirely of metal, and it's well built, though I was disappointed to find that Canon used a plastic tripod mount here. The SX200 was a bit of an ergonomic mess, and things have only slightly improved on the SX210. There's still a pop-up flash that opens when you turn on the camera and takes up the spot where you'd normally put the fingers of your left hand. The good news is that, unlike on the SX200, you can manually close the flash if you're not going to use it. As for your right hand, I found that my thumb rested on both the mode dial and the four-way controller, which could lead to accidental setting changes. I wasn't enthused with the tiny zoom controller on the top of the camera, either. This is one of those cameras that you'll want to try before you buy it.
|The SX210 (right) barely resembles its predecessor. Photos (courtesy of Canon USA) are not to scale.|
From a design perspective, the SX210 bares little resemblance to the SX200 that came before it, but that's fine with me. Aside from the change in shape, the biggest difference most people will notice is the new widescreen LCD on the SX210. More on that later.
Photos courtesy of Canon USA
The PowerShot SX210 is available in three colors, including black, gold, and a rather "bold" purple.
Let's see how the SX210 compares to other compact ultra zooms in terms of size and weight:
The PowerShot SX210 just edges out the Panasonic ZS7 as the largest camera in this group. It's about average in terms of weight. As you saw in the table at the beginning of the review, the SX210 is both smaller and lighter than its predecessor.
Let's begin our tour of the camera now, shall we?
The PowerShot SX210 uses a new 14X optical zoom lens, up from 12X on the SX200. This lens has a maximum aperture of F3.1 at wide-angle and F5.9 at telephoto -- not super fast, but comparable or better than most cameras in this class. The focal length of the lens is 5 - 70 mm, which is equivalent to 28 - 392 mm. That should cover virtually every shooting situation you might encounter. As you might imagine, the lens is not threaded, so conversion lenses are not supported.
Like nearly all of Canon's cameras, the SX210 features an optical image stabilization system. Sensors inside the camera detect the tiny movements of your hands that can blur your photos, especially at the telephoto end of the lens, or in low light. The camera shifts one of the lens elements to compensate for this motion, which increases the likelihood of a sharp photo. Image stabilizers don't work miracles, though. They can't freeze a moving subject, nor will they let you get away with multi-second handheld exposures. That said, IS systems are way better than nothing at all!
Want to see the SX210's image stabilizer in action? Have a look at these photos:
Image stabilization off
Image stabilization on
Both of the photos above were taken at a shutter speed of 1/4 second. As you can see, the shot with image stabilization turned on is much sharper than the one without. You can also use image stabilization in movie mode -- in fact, there are two modes to choose from. There's standard continuous IS as well as something called dynamic IS, which is for strong camera shake, such as when you're in a moving car taking video of something. While I don't have a comparison of standard versus dynamic IS, I can show you the difference between standard IS and using nothing at all -- have a look at this video clip to see for yourself.
To the upper-right of the lens is the camera's flash, which pops up when the camera is turned on, and thankfully can be put back down if you don't want to use it (you can also just block it from rising in the first place). The flash is on the weak side, with a working range of 0.8 - 3.5 m at wide-angle, and 1.0 - 2.0 m at telephoto. The SX210 supports an external flash (the HF-DC1), but it's a slave flash, that simply fires when the onboard flash does (it does not communicate with the camera in any way).
Over on the other side of the lens is the camera's AF-assist lamp, which the camera uses as a focusing aid in low light situations. This lamp is also used to reduce redeye, and to serve as a visual countdown for the self-timer.
The first thing you'll undoubtedly notice on the back of the camera is its widescreen LCD display. While an LCD with this aspect ratio is very handy for recording HD movies, it's not so great when taking still photos, as they're captured at a 4:3 ratio. What that means is that you'll have black bars on both sides of the screen when you're taking stills at standard aspect ratios. Canon does include a high resolution widescreen image size which you could use, however.
As for the quality of the LCD, it's good but nothing spectacular. The resolution is your standard 230,000 pixels, and outdoor visibility was average. The camera does better in low light, providing a bright (but grainy) view of the scene.
As you can see, there's no optical viewfinder. In fact, none of the cameras in this class have one. I figure that the typical SX210 buyer won't even notice.
At the top-right of the above photo is the camera's mode dial. The mode dial is fairly "stiff", which is a good thing, since this prevents your thumb from accidentally turning it. The dial is almost completely packed with options, both point-and-shoot and manual, which include:
That's quite a collection of shooting modes! The first thing to mention is the SX210's Smart Auto mode. This mode will automatically select a scene mode for you, with the ability to detect for faces, backlighting, sunsets, or when the camera is on a tripod. If you want to pick a scene mode yourself, you'll find that the most popular options have their own spots on the mode dial.
Some more unique, special effect scene modes are under the SCN option. Some of the notable options there include:
- Smart Shutter - actually three modes in one, this offers Smile Detection, plus wink and face self-timers. Each of these modes will take anywhere from one to ten photos, and the camera can be triggered by a person smiling, a person winking (I did you not), or a new person entering the scene (presumably that's the photographer).
- Low light - lowers the resolution to Medium and boosts the ISO as high as 6400. While not horrible, there's only so much you can do with photos taken in this mode.
- Color accent - You select a color to "keep", while the rest of the image is turned into black and white
- Color swap - Pick a color and swap it with another
- Miniature effect - a special effect which makes objects in a selected area of the frame look unusually small
- Stitch Assist - helps you line up photos left-to-right or right-to-left, for later stitching into a single image
As for manual controls, you've got the full set of exposure settings that can be adjusted, including shutter speed and aperture. One thing you won't find here is a custom spot on the mode dial, which would be used to store your favorite camera settings.
Underneath the mode dial is the dedicated movie recording button, which is also used for printing photos when you're hooked up to a printer. You can start recording movies in any shooting mode by pressing this red-colored button, and again to stop. The button next door to that is for entering playback mode.
Under that is the four-way controller / control wheel combination, which I don't like for two reasons. First off, it's small and easy to bump accidentally with your thumb. Second, the controller does several other functions, but you'd never know it, since Canon didn't put any labels on it. If you slightly press the dial in any direction it'll give you a hint, but labels would've been a lot more helpful.
Anyhow, the controller / dial combo is used for adjusting manual exposure settings, navigating menus, playing back photos you've taken, and also these surprises:
- Up - Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, in 1/3EV increments)
- Down - Self-timer (2 or 10 secs, custom) + Delete photo
- Left - Focus (Normal, macro, manual)
- Right - Flash (Auto, flash on, slow synchro, flash off)
- Center - Function menu + Set/OK
The custom self-timer is the last of the three unique timer features on the SX210. This option lets you select both the delay before the first shot, and the total number of photos taken.
Manual focus (center frame enlargement not shown)
The manual focus option allows you to set the focus distance yourself, using the control dial. A guide showing the current focus distance is displayed on the LCD, and the center of the frame is enlarged, so you can make sure you're properly focused.
Pressing the center button on the four-way controller options up the Function menu, which seems to be harder to navigate through than on older Canon models. The options found here include:
- Light metering (Evaluative, center-weighted averaging, 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 power (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments)
- Drive mode (Single-shot, continuous, continuous AF/LV) - see below
- Image size/quality (see chart later in review)
- Movie size (1280 x 720, 640 x 480, 320 x 240) - much more on movies later
Saturation is one of the settings you can adjust with the Custom Color option
The My Colors feature should be self-explanatory, save for the custom color option. This one lets you manually adjust contrast, sharpness, saturation, as well as red/green/blue/skin tone levels.
The SX210 unsurprisingly has a custom white balance option, which lets you use a white or gray card as a reference, for accurate color in unusual lighting.
Now let's get into the continuous shooting mode on the PowerShot SX210 IS. There are three continuous modes on the camera: regular (which locks the focus on the first shot), AF (which refocuses before each shot), and LV (locks focus on first shot, for manual focus and fireworks mode only). Here's what kind of performance you can expect with the SX210's continuous modes:
While the SX210 won't win any awards for speed, it does have the ability to keep shooting until your memory card fills up. The LCD keeps up fairly well with the action, though the slow burst rate makes tracking a fast moving subject a bit difficult.
Returning to the tour now: the last two items on the back of the PowerShot SX210 are the Display and Menu buttons. The Display button toggles the information shown on the LCD, while the Menu button does exactly as it sounds.
Here's the top of the camera, with the flash down. As you can see, when it's up, there's nowhere to put the fingers of your left hand.
At the center of the photo is the camera's stereo microphone, which straddle the speaker. Continuing to the right, we have the power and shutter release buttons, which have the tiny zoom controller in-between them. The zoom controller is variable speed, so the more you press it, the faster the lens moves. At full speed, the lens travels from wide-angle to telephoto in 2.5 seconds, which is nothing spectacular. On the other hand, the 60+ steps in the zoom range is very nice.
There's nothing to see on this side of the camera, though I will point out that the lens is at the wide-angle position.
On the opposite side of the camera you'll find the SX210's I/O ports, which are protected by a plastic cover. The ports here include USB + composite A/V output (one for both) and mini HDMI.
The lens is at full telephoto here, and it's a whopper! It's amazing that it can even fit into the SX210's body when it's retracted.
Our tour ends with a look at the bottom of the PowerShot SX210 IS. Here you'll find a plastic tripod mount (not visible here) and the battery/memory card compartment. The door that covers this compartment is of decent quality, though keep in mind that you won't be able to access it while the camera is on a tripod.
The included NB-5L li-ion battery can be seen at right.
Using the Canon PowerShot SX210 IS
The PowerShot SX210 extends its lens, pops up its flash, and prepares for shooting in about 1.5 seconds, which is about average.
Anybody seen a histogram?
Autofocus speeds were also average. At the wide end of the lens, the camera locked focus in 0.3 - 0.6 seconds, with telephoto times between 0.6 and 1.0 seconds (and sometimes a bit longer). Low light focusing is a bit slow, but it is accurate. You'll wait for a little over a second for the SX210 to lock focus in those situations.
I couldn't detect any shutter lag at faster shutter speeds, though there was a tiny bit of at at slower speeds.
Shot-to-shot speeds weren't great either, with delays of about 2.5 seconds without the flash, and 4 seconds with it.
You can delete a picture after you've taken it by pressing down on the four-way controller.
Now, here's a look at the image size and quality choices available on the camera:
As you can see, you can fit a ton of photos on a 4GB card! Unfortunately, the PowerShot SX210 IS does not support the RAW image format.
Alright, let's move onto the menu system now!
The camera has the standard Canon menu system. It's attractive, easy-to-navigate, and features descriptions of most items (if you want). Keeping in mind that not all of these menu options are available in the auto and scene modes, here's the full list:
- AF frame (Face detect, center) - see below
- AF frame size (Normal, small) - select the size of the focus point in center AF mode
- Digital zoom (Standard, off, 1.7X, 2.1X) - see below
- AF-point zoom (on/off) - enlarges the focus point or the detected faces when you halfway press the shutter release
- Servo AF (on/off) - camera focuses even with shutter release halfway-pressed, useful for tracking a moving subject
- Continuous AF (on/off) - whether the camera is focusing even without the shutter release pressed; lowers focus times, at the expense of battery life
- AF-assist beam (on/off)
- MF-point zoom (on/off) - enlarges the center of the frame in manual focus mode
- Safety MF (on/off) - activate autofocus momentarily when using manual focus by halfway-pressing the shutter release button
- Flash settings
- Flash mode (Auto, manual) - the latter lets you adjust the flash strength; only available in the manual shooting modes
- Flash exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, in 1/3EV increments)
- Flash output (Minimum, medium, maximum) - only available with flash mode set to manual
- Redeye correction (on/off) - digital redeye removal as a photo is taken
- Redeye reduction lamp (on/off) - uses the AF-assist lamp to shrink your subject's pupils to reduce the risk of redeye
- Safety FE (on/off) - whether the camera adjusts the shutter speed or aperture to avoid overexposure when using the flash
- i-Contrast (Auto, off) - see below
- Safety shift (on/off) - camera will adjust the shutter speed or aperture as needed to obtain a proper exposure when in the priority modes
- Review (Off, 2-10 seconds, hold) - post-shot review
- Review info (Off, detailed, focus check) - detailed shows you shooting data and a histogram; focus check enlarges the focus point or faces
- Blink detection (on/off) - puts up a warning screen if someone in your photo had their eyes closed
- Display overlay (Off, grid lines, 3:2 guide, both)
- IS mode (Continuous, dynamic, shoot only, panning, off) - see below
- Date stamp (Off, date, date & time)
- Set movie button (Record movie, face select, ISO speed, white balance, custom white balance, Servo AF, Digital Teleconverter, redeye correction, i-Contrast, display overlay, display off, not assigned)
Hard to see here, but the camera has detected four of the six faces
There are two autofocus modes on the PowerShot SX210. The first, face detect, will find up to nine faces in the scene, and will make sure they are properly focused and exposed. Canon cameras don't seem to like my test scene very much -- the camera is very "jumpy" when it comes to detecting faces. It typically found three or four faces, and should do better in the real world. If the camera cannot find any faces, it will go to center AF, which is the other AF mode on the camera. While there is a multi-point AF system on the camera, it's only available in the automatic shooting modes, and you cannot turn it on or off.
The camera has a number of digital zoom options, all of which can reduce the quality of your photo if you use too much of it. However, if you're willing to lower the resolution a bit, you can safely use the standard digital zoom setting without reducing image quality, as long as you stop zooming at the right time (the camera will warn you). At the Medium 2 (5 Megapixel) setting you can get 23X of total zoom without a loss of quality, while at Medium 3 (2 Megapixel) you get a whopping 38X.
The SX210 has the now familiar i-Contrast feature that's been on Canon PowerShots for a while now. This is supposed to brighten shadow areas of your photos, though most of the time, the difference is very subtle. If you do take a photo that could use some brightening, you can also use this feature in playback mode.
There are four image stabilization modes to choose from on the camera. Continuous has the system running as soon as you halfway-press the shutter release button. Dynamic is similar, but it provides even stronger shake reduction, but it's only usable in movie mode. The shoot only option doesn't activate IS until you actually take the photo, which results in more effective blur reduction. A panning mode only stabilizes up and down motion, which you'll want if you're tracking a subject from left-to-right, or vice versa. Finally, you can turn the whole IS system off, which is desirable when you're using a tripod.
Now, here's what you'll find in the setup tab of the menu:
- Mute (on/off) - quickly turn off the camera's beeps and blips
- Startup volume (Off, 1-5)
- Operation volume (Off, 1-5)
- Self-timer volume (Off, 1-5)
- Shutter volume (Off, 1-5)
- Sound options
- Startup sound (1, 2)
- Operation sound (1, 2)
- Self-timer sound (1, 2)
- Shutter sound (1, 2)
- Hints & Tips (on/off) - gives you a description of menu items
- LCD brightness (1-5)
- Startup image (Off, 1, 2)
- Card format
- File numbering (Continuous, auto reset)
- Create folder (Monthly, daily)
- Lens retract (0 sec, 1 min) - how quickly the lens retracts when you enter playback mode
- Power saving
- Auto power down (on/off)
- Display off (10, 20, 30 sec, 1-3 min)
- Time zone (Home, world)
- Distance units (m/cm, ft/in)
- Video system (NTSC, PAL)
- Eye-Fi settings
- Eye-fi transmit (Enable/disable)
- Connection info - shows the network you're connected to
- Reset all - back to defaults
Alright, that's all for menus -- let's get into photo quality now, shall we?
The PowerShot SX210 produced a pretty nice rendition of our favorite macro subject, though it's on the noisy side. You won't notice the noise unless you view the image at full size, but it's there, and more than I would like to see at the base ISO of 80. On a more positive note, colors are accurate, with the camera's custom white balance setting handling my studio lamps with ease. The subject is quite sharp, as well.
The SX210's macro range is variable. At full wide-angle, it's 5 cm. When you get to around 8X, it's 50 cm. After that, you're up to a full meter.
As you can see, it was a beautiful night for photos of the San Francisco skyline, and the SX210 did well here, at least at low sensitivities. Since it has full manual control over shutter speed, bringing in enough light was no problem. If you're a point-and-shoot user, the camera can select the night scene mode for you, even detecting when you're using a tripod. The buildings are all nice and sharp, though you'll spot some grain-style noise. The noise levels here are comparable to other high resolution compact cameras. There's some highlight clipping here as well, which is expected. One thing I didn't see much of was purple fringing, which is always a good thing.
Now, let's use that same scene to see how the PowerShot SX210 performed at higher ISOs:
The first two crops are very similar, with just a slight increase in that grain-style noise at ISO 100. You start to see some mild detail loss at ISO 200, but the photo is still usable for nearly all situations. The same can't be said for ISO 400, where details start to disappear due to noise and noise reduction, which is why I'd probably keep the ISO at this point or lower, unless you're really desperate. That's because noise and detail loss get worse at ISO 800, and even more so at ISO 1600.
We'll see how the PowerShot SX210 IS fares in better lighting in a moment.
There's mild-to-moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the SX210's 14X zoom lens. You can see what barrel distortion does to real world photos by looking at the building on the right side of this photo. Two things that I didn't think were problematic were corner blurring (which surprised me, to be honest) and vignetting (dark corners).
Straight out of the camera, with both redeye reduction features on
Same photo after using redeye removal tool in playback mode
I had little doubt that the PowerShot SX210 would have a redeye problem, since its lens is so close to the flash. The camera uses the AF-assist lamp to shrink your subject's pupils to reduce the likelihood of this phenomenon, and a digital removal tool tries to get rid of it as the photo is taken. The digital tool didn't do the job when I took the photo, but going into playback mode and using the tool there did the job, as you can see.
Now it's time for the studio ISO test that I promised you. Since the lighting is always the same, you can compare these photos to those taken with other cameras I've reviewed over the years. The closest competitors to the SX210 that I have test photos of would be the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 and Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V, so open those up to do some comparisons. And lastly, be sure to view the full size images and not just the crops!
There's not much to say about the ISO 80 photo -- it's pretty clean. You start to see a bit of that grainy noise creep up and ISO 100 and 200, but levels are low enough not to concern me, at least for this particular photo. Details start to get a little mushy at ISO 400, which reduces your maximum print size to small or medium. The ISO 800 image is pretty soft and noisy, and best saved for small prints. As with the night scene, I wouldn't bother with ISO 1600. Checking the competition, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V and its back-illuminated CMOS sensor definitely outperform both the PowerShot SX210 and the Panasonic ZS7 at ISO 800, though they're all pretty lousy at ISO 1600. The upcoming Fuji FinePix F80EXR will be a camera to watch closely, as its predecessor (the F70EXR) is one of the best low light cameras out there.
Overall, the PowerShot SX210 IS takes very good photos, as long as you keep the ISO toward the low end of the spectrum. Exposures were accurate, and while the camera clips highlights, it's not as bad as other recent compact cameras I've tested. Colors were nice and vivid -- no complaints there. Sharpness was just how I like it. The SX210's weak spots are related to noise and purple fringing. Noise is visible in photos taken at the base ISO of 80, and things get worse as the sensitivity increases. For the most part, this is a grain-style noise that can be removed fairly well with noise reduction software. While there's some detail loss at the lower ISOs, that doesn't really kick into high gear until you pass ISO 400. At that point there's not much you can do to improve the image quality -- here's where a RAW option would've been helpful. The other thing that really stands out is the moderate amount of purple fringing in my real world photos. I've certainly seen worse, but I would certainly expect better in this day and age. Both of these issues I raised won't really bother the 4 x 6 inch print crowd, but those making large prints or viewing images on their computer screens will surely notice.
Don't just take my word for all this, though. Have a look at our photo gallery and judge the PowerShot SX210's photo quality with your own eyes!
The movie mode has been enhanced nicely on the PowerShot SX210 IS. The resolution and frame rate are the same as on the SX200 -- 1280 x 720 at 30 frames/second -- but now you can use the optical zoom while filming, and sound is recorded in stereo. As before, movie recording stops when the file size reaches 4GB, or the elapsed time reaches 30 minutes (720p) or 1 hour (lower resolutions). At the 720p setting, you'll hit the file size limit after about twenty minutes.
For longer recording times and smaller file sizes, you can lower the resolution to 640 x 480 or 320 x 240, both of which record at 30 frames/second. Whichever resolution you choose, you can record movies by pressing the dedicated button in every shooting mode, and you can use the shutter release button as well when the mode dial is set to movie.
As I mentioned, you can zoom in and out to your heart's content on the SX210. The lens moves slowly and fairly quietly, though the sound of the lens motor may be picked up when there's no ambient noise. The image stabilizer is also available, with your choice of regular or extra-strength dynamic shake reduction.
If you want to play with the color swap or color accent features, you can do them in movie mode as well. One feature I wish the SX210 had is a wind screen, to cut down on noise when filming outdoors.
Movies are saved in QuickTime format, using the efficient H.264 codec.
Here's a different kind of train movie for your sampling pleasure. Be warned: it's a big download. I would rate the video quality as "good, but not great".
The PowerShot SX210 IS has a pretty nice playback mode. Basic features include slideshows (complete with transitions), image protection, DPOF print marking, thumbnail view, and zoom & scroll. While you're zoomed in, you can use the scroll wheel on the back of the camera to move from image to image, while keeping the zoom and location the same. You can also use the Focus Check feature by pressing the Display button, which will enlarge the focus point or the faces that were detected in the photo.
Using i-Contrast to brighten up the church interior
Photos can be rotated, resized, and cropped right on the camera. You can apply all of the My Colors feature to your photos (except for custom), as well. If there's any redeye in your photos, you'll find a tool to remove it here. You can also use the i-Contrast feature to brighten up the dark areas of your photos, with a choice of Auto, Low, Medium, or High settings.
If you're viewing a movie, you can use an "edit tool" to trim unwanted footage off of the beginning or end of the clip.
Selecting a category
Photos that were taken in certain scene modes are automatically categorized, but if you want to do it manually, just use the My Category option. Your selection saved in the photo's metadata and transferred over to your computer (though only Canon's software can do anything with it). Photos can also be tagged as favorites, for easy retrieval later.
You can quickly move through photos with the scroll wheel, which is also how you can jump ahead by date
Naturally, you can move from photo to photo by pressing left or right on the four-way controller. You can go faster by using the scroll wheel, and when you stop spinning the dial, you can press up or down to jump ahead by date. The SX210 does not have the dedicated "jump" found on many other Canon cameras.
By default, you won't get much information about your photo while in playback mode. But press the Display button and you'll get a lot more, including a histogram.
The speed at which the camera moves through photos depends on a few factors. If you're using the left/right buttons on the four-way controller, you'll wait about a second, due to the fancy transitions between each photo. Turn them off in the menu and it'll be instant. Using the scroll wheel is fast as well, though you're viewing smaller thumbnails.
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.
See how the PowerShot SX210's photos turned out in our gallery!