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Canon PowerShot SX260 HS Review

Conclusion

The Canon PowerShot SX260 is a travel zoom camera that packs a 20X zoom lens into a compact and stylish package. The lens is probably the highlight of the camera, with an impressive range of 25 - 500 mm. As with other cameras in this class, the lens is on the slow side, especially at full telephoto. Naturally, the SX260 has an optical image stabilization system, complete with a dynamic mode for movies and powered mode for telephoto shots. The camera will pick the right IS mode for the situation, so you can focus on your subject instead of adjusting camera settings. On the back of the camera you'll find a standard-issue 3-inch LCD. The screen is plenty sharp, with 461,000 pixels, and it offers good outdoor and low light visibility. The SX260's built-in flash isn't terribly powerful, though Canon does offer an external slave flash if you don't mind carrying that around too. The only other accessory of note is an underwater housing.

The PowerShot SX260 has both automatic and manual controls, though enthusiasts may be a bit frustrated with a few things. The SX260 has more point-and-shoot modes than any camera I can remember. Want a locked down, foolproof shooting experience? Then use Easy mode. If you want the camera to pick one of 58 scene modes for you, then use Smart Auto mode. Those who want a short video clip recorded before each still can opt for Movie Digest mode, while special effects lovers can set the mode dial to Creative Filters. And that's not even counting all of the camera's scene modes! If you want manual controls, the SX260 has a decent set of them, including those for exposure, white balance, and focus. Unfortunately, the SX260 lacks doesn't support the RAW format, any kind of bracketing, or white balance fine-tuning. It also (annoyingly) locks the ISO at 100 when you drop the shutter speed below one second. The SX260 can shoot Full HD video with stereo sound and use of the optical zoom and image stabilizer. The frame rate is 24 fps, which some (myself included) may find to be a bit choppy. Video recording is a totally point-and-shoot experience on the SX260, with no manual controls to be found. And let's not forget the SX260's built-in GPS. It doesn't do anything fancy (like know what landmark you're standing in front of), but it gets the job done, at least outside of big cities.

Camera performance is average is most respects. The SX260 powers up and is ready to take pictures in 1.2 seconds (with its start screen turned off), which is pretty good. Autofocus performance is really where the SX260 (and most Canon cameras these days) lag behind the competition. While it's not horrible by any means, if you've used any recent Nikon, Panasonic, or Sony camera, the SX260 just feels sluggish. I also had more "can't focus" errors than I would've expected while shooting in low light. Shutter lag and shot-to-shot times were both average. The PowerShot SX260 has two burst modes, both of which are at full resolution. The standard one will keep firing away at 2.2 frames/sec until your memory card fills up, while the high speed one takes a quick burst of ten shots at over 10 frames/second. The problem with the high speed burst mode is that the LCD is blacked out during shooting. While the SX260's battery life is better than that of its predecessor, it's still below average for the compact ultra zoom category.

While not perfect by any means, the PowerShot SX260's photo quality is better than average in its class, and should serve its target audience well. Exposures were accurate in most situation, though like most compact cameras, the SX260 will clip highlights. Turning on the i-Contrast feature should help reduce that a bit. Colors were nice and vibrant, with no funny color casts. Images are a bit soft, with a sort-of fuzzy look to them. That said, details remain relatively intact until you get to around ISO 800, where the SX260 performs better than similar cameras from Nikon and Panasonic. You will almost certainly encounter redeye on the SX260, and you can correct it by using the removal tool in playback mode (if the two preventative measures failed). Something you won't be able to fix (at least on the camera) is purple fringing, though it's fairy mild.

All things considered, the PowerShot SX260 HS is a solid choice for those looking for a travel zoom camera. It's not particularly fast (especially in the AF department), nor is it loaded with bells and whistles like landmark databases. The bottom line is that the SX260 gets the job done in nearly all situations, and produces photos of higher quality than competitive models. The only people whom I'd hesitate to recommend the camera to are those who do a lot of low light shooting, as the autofocus system seemed to struggle in those situations. If you do most of your picture taking in daylight, then I think you'll be pleased with what the PowerShot SX260 can offer.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality for the compact ultra zoom category
  • Packs a 20X, 25 - 500 mm lens into a compact and stylish body
  • Optical image stabilization; camera will select the appropriate IS mode for the situation
  • High resolution 3-inch LCD with very good outdoor and low light visibility
  • Built-in GPS doesn't have a lot of bells and whistles, but gets the job done
  • Good set of manual controls
  • Smart Auto mode picks one of 58 scene modes for you; plenty of other point-and-shoot modes to choose from
  • Tons of scene modes and Creative Filters
  • Decent burst mode for this category
  • Cool face, smile, and wink self-timers
  • Records Full HD (1080/24p) video with stereo sound, use of optical zoom and image stabilizer
  • Optional underwater case

What I didn't care for:

  • Photos a bit soft and fuzzy
  • Some highlight clipping and purple fringing (try using i-Contrast to reduce the former)
  • Redeye a problem (though it can be removed in playback mode)
  • Autofocus performance lags behind the competition; camera struggled to focus in low light at times
  • ISO locked at 100 at shutter speeds below 1 second
  • Enthusiasts will bemoan lack of RAW support, bracketing, white balance fine-tuning, and a live histogram
  • Videos are a bit choppy due to 24 fps frame rate; no manual controls available
  • Below average battery life
  • Can't access memory card slot while using a tripod
  • Full manual on CD-ROM

Some other travel zoom cameras worth considering include the Fuji FinePix F770EXR, Nikon Coolpix S9300, Olympus SZ-31MR iHS (which lacks GPS), Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX20V.

As always, I recommend heading to your local camera or electronics store to try out the PowerShot SX260 HS 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.