DCRP

Canon PowerShot SX260 HS Review

Performance & Photo Quality

As with other recent Canon cameras, performance is about average on the SX260 HS. The area in which it disappointed the most was in terms of low light focusing (especially at the telephoto end of the lens). Not because it was slow, but because the SX260 often refused to lock focus in those situations. If you think you'll be shooting tele shots in low light, you may want to consider another camera.

The table that follows summarizes the SX260's performance:

Timing Measured Performance How it Compares

Startup

1.2 sec Above Average
Autofocus
(Wide-angle)
0.3 - 0.6 secs Average
Autofocus
(Telephoto)
~ 1.0 sec Average
Autofocus
(Low light)
~ 1.0 sec Average
Shutter lag Barely noticeable at slow shutter speeds Average
Shot-to-shot
(flash off)
~ 2 secs Average
Shot-to-shot
(with flash)
~ 3 secs Average

Another performance-related area to discuss is with regard to the SX260's burst modes. There are three modes to choose from: continuous, continuous AF, and high-speed burst HQ (mentioned earlier). The difference between the first two can be found in the name: one locks focus on the first shot, while the other refocuses every time. The high-speed mode is only for JPEGs, with the ISO locked at the Auto setting. The LCD is blacked out while shooting, as well, which makes tracking a moving subject a bit difficult (to say the least).

Here's the kind of performance you can expect from the SX260 in burst mode:

Image quality Continuous Continuous AF High-Speed Burst HQ
Large/Fine JPEG Unlimited @ 2.2 fps Unlimited @ 0.8 fps 10 shots @ 10.5 fps
Tested with a SanDisk Class 10 SDHC card

All-in-all, a pretty good performance for the SX260. If they could keep the LCD active during the High-Speed Burst, then the SX260 would be quite a tool for sports photography. Alas, you'll need to shoot at 2.2 fps if you want to follow the action on the screen.

Alright, now let's see how the PowerShot SX260 handled our usual photo tests!

Please note: the majority of the test and sample photos in this review were accidentally taken at the "normal" image quality setting. This may have resulted in a small drop in image quality. I apologize for the error.

Our usual macro test photo turned out nicely. The only real issues here is a slight "fuzzy" appearance and blacks that aren't as, well, "black" as I would like. Otherwise, color accuracy is solid, and plenty of detail was captured.

The minimum focus distance in macro mode is 5 cm at wide-angle and 1 m at telephoto.

Our night test scene turned out fairly well, with the biggest issue being strong highlight clipping in places. The camera took in plenty of light, as you'd expect on a camera with manual exposure controls. You can take long exposures using the Smart Auto mode as well, and the SX260 can detect whether you're using a tripod and adjust the settings appropriately. Noise levels are fairly low here, though you will spot some cyan and purple fringing in places.

The SX260 has the same "fixed ISO" annoyance as the PowerShot S100 that I reviewed a few months ago. Simply put, if you take the shutter speed below 1 second, the ISO is fixed at 100. This makes a lot of sense for keeping noise levels down, but it seems unnecessary, especially in the manual exposure modes. It's due to this restriction that I can't show you how the camera performs at high ISOs in low light, so you'll have to survive on the studio test a bit paragraphs down.


Straight out of the camera


After redeye removal in playback mode

The PowerShot SX260 HS tries to eliminate redeye in two ways. First, it'll fire the AF-assist lamp a second or two before the photo is taken, with the goal of shrinking your subject's pupils. I've found that this rarely works. The second part of the removal system is a digital system (which needs to be turned on in the Flash Settings menu), which tries to get rid of whatever shows up in a photo. Even with both of those turned on, I still got pretty strong redeye. I went into playback mode and used the removal tool there, which took care of the problem. While your results may vary, odds are that redeye will be an issue on the PowerShot SX260 HS.

There's not a whole lot of barrel distortion on the SX260's lens at wide-angle. That's because Canon is digitally correcting for it (as most cameras do) when you take the photo. Corner blurring was very mild, and vignetting (dark corners) didn't seem to be an issue, either.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, it's time for our studio test scene. Since this scene is always taken under the same lighting, you can compare the results with other cameras that I've reviewed over the years (Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20, anyone?). Keep in mind that the crops below only show a small portion of the total image, so view the full size images, as well! Here we go:


ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

While there's no really obvious noise at ISO 100 and 200, they do have a bit of a "fuzzy" appearance to them. While you start to see some actual grain-style noise at ISO 400, it's still very low. Details start to get fuzzy at ISO 800, but it's still good enough for small and perhaps midsize prints. When we get to ISO 1600 you can see that details are getting eaten away, so I'd pass on this setting unless you're really desperate. I'd avoid the ISO 3200 setting altogether.

Since the SX260 doesn't support the RAW format, I can't run a test to see if you can extract more detail from the photos. My guess is that you could, if RAW was supported.

A lot of people are probably wondering how the PowerShot SX260 compares to other GPS-equipped ultra zooms. With that in mind, I grabbed the ISO 800 photos from the Nikon Coolpix S9300 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20, and compared them to the SX260. Do note that I reduced the resolution of the other two cameras in order to match that of the SX260.

ISO 800

Canon PowerShot SX260 HS

Nikon Coolpix S9300 (downsized)

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20 (downsized)

Even with the advantage of being downsized, the Nikon's image quality just doesn't hold up against the SX260, and I've found the same to be true even at ISO 100. The Panasonic is a bit closer, but I think the SX260 retains a bit more detail here. If you view these images at full size, the difference becomes even more glaring -- despite its sort of fuzzy appearance, the SX260 still captures a bit more detail than these two competitors.

Overall, the PowerShot SX260's image quality is good for a compact ultra zoom, but not fantastic. While exposures were accurate on most occasions, the camera seems to enjoy clipping highlights, though the i-Contrast feature may reduce that a bit. Colors look good -- no complaints there. Photos are a bit on the soft side, with a "fuzzy" appearance that I've mentioned several times in this section. Noise levels are reasonable at low ISOs, and clean enough at higher sensitivities that you can still get a 4 x 6 inch print at ISO 800 and maybe even 1600. Purple fringing was a problem at times, but not to the point where I'm going to knock points off of the SX260's score.

There are two photo galleries available for the SX260. There's our standard gallery, where I went for the best possible image quality. I also have a Disneyland gallery, where I did whatever it took to get the shot -- so expect a lot of high sensitivity photos there. Browse through the galleries -- maybe printing a few of the photos if possible -- and then decide if the SX260's photo quality meets your needs!

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