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Canon PowerShot SX30 IS Review

How Does it Compare?

With their PowerShot SX30 IS, Canon has created a super zoom camera with a focal range that a few years ago seemed impossible. But somehow they managed to stuff a 35X, 24 - 840 mm lens into a midsize body, though not without some compromises in the image quality department. The SX30 is feature-packed, takes good (but not great) photos when the ISO is low, is quite customizable, and features an impressive HD movie mode. The weak spots mostly relate to image quality. Photos start off a bit soft and noisy, and things go downhill rapidly once you hit ISO 400. The camera also has strong purple fringing, highlight clipping, and vignetting at times. I can't say I'm a fan of the switch to a proprietary battery, either. All-in-all, the PowerShot SX30 is a capable camera whose over-the-top specs keep it from greatness.

The PowerShot SX30 is a fairly large, SLR-styled super zoom camera. The body is made of a mixture of metal and plastic, and it feels solid in your hands. Controls were generally good, though the control dial on the back of the camera rotates too freely -- it really needs to be more "notchy". The right hand grip is a bit slippery, as well. The highlight of the camera is undoubtedly its F2.7-5.8, 35X optical zoom lens, with a focal length of 24 - 840 mm. If that doesn't cover every shooting situation you'll ever be in, then I don't know what to tell you. The camera has a solid image stabilization system that works for both stills and movies, though you may still want to have a tripod nearby when the lens is at full telephoto, as the camera's high ISO performance is nothing to write home about. On the back of the camera is the traditional flip-out, rotating LCD display that has been on all of Canon's SX-series cameras. This 2.7" screen offers good outdoor and low light visibility. There's also an electronic viewfinder of average quality available. The only other thing to mention here is the SX30's hot shoe, which allows for more flash power, less redeye, and wireless lighting capability.

The SX30 IS has a nice set of features, especially for point-and-shoot fans. You've got a Smart Auto mode, which will select one of 28 scene modes automatically. You can also pick a scene mode yourself, and it is in the scene menu where you'll find the handy Smart Shutter feature, which offers handy smile, wink, and face self-timers. Other notable features include i-Contrast for brightening shadows, and Stitch Assist for setting up panoramic photos. While the SX30 also has manual controls, enthusiasts may miss things like white balance fine-tuning and RAW support. What you will find, however, are the usual controls for shutter speed, aperture, white balance, and focus. The SX30 also has two spots on the mode dial for your favorite camera settings, a shortcut button, and a customizable menu. Another big feature on the SX30 is its HD movie mode, which allows you to record up to 20 minutes of 720p video with stereo sound. You can zoom in and out to your heart's content while you're recording, with the lens moving smoothly and silently. The image stabilizer is available, as well.

Camera performance is a mixed bag. The PowerShot SX30 IS starts up quickly, taking 1.2 seconds to prepare for shooting. Autofocus speeds are average, with focusing times ranging from 0.3 to 1.0 seconds depending on the focal length. Low light focusing took around a second, and was accurate on most occasions. Shutter lag was only really noticeable at very slow shutter speeds. Shot-to-shot delays were 2 to 3 seconds, depending on whether you're using the flash. The SX30's continuous shooting mode is about average as well, taking an unlimited number of photos at 1.4 frames/second. One change for the worse on the SX30 is the switch from AA to proprietary lithium-ion batteries. Where the old SX20 could take 600 shots per charge using $12 NiMH batteries, the SX30's $40 battery will last for only 370 shots before needing a charge. As a result, the SX30's numbers are just average for its class.

Probably the most disappointing thing about the SX30 is its photo quality. The good news is that exposure is accurate and colors were vibrant, even in the studio. The bad news is that the camera exhibits strong purple fringing, highlight clipping, and vignetting (the latter only at the telephoto end of the lens). Photos also get noisy quickly, with everything above ISO 400 looking pretty bad. I think the combination of the small 14 Megapixel sensor with the huge lens really compromises photo quality on this camera. Redeye was also an issue, and even the digital removal tools couldn't get rid of it, at least in my testing. Most of those things won't bother the 4 x 6 inch print crowd, but those making larger prints or viewing photos on their computer screens will surely notice.

The only other things I want to mention are that there's no memory card or built-in memory included, and that you can't access the memory card slot when the camera is on a tripod. And I'm definitely not a fan of the whole "put the manual on a CD-ROM" thing that's been going on the SX30 and other cameras lately!

The PowerShot SX30 IS is a super zoom camera with a very ambitious spec sheet. Nobody's put a lens this big in a compact camera before, and as you've seen in this review, bigger isn't always better. The SX30 is certainly a capable camera for travel and everyday shots (as long as you're keeping the ISO low), and for nice-looking HD movies. If you'll be taking a lot of low light photos or taking pictures of sporting events, I'd probably look at something else, as the camera is too noisy and too slow to focus for those situations (respectively). In conclusion, the SX30 is worth your consideration, though I'd take a close look at the competition before buying it.

What I liked:

  • Decent photo quality at low ISOs
  • Huge 35X, 24 - 840 mm zoom lens in a midsize, well-designed body
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Flip-out, rotating 2.7" LCD display, with good outdoor and low light visibility
  • Many manual controls
  • Smart Auto mode picks one of twenty-eight scene modes for you
  • Customizable menu, buttons, and spots on mode dial
  • i-Contrast feature brightens shadows
  • Handy custom, face, wink, and smile self-timers
  • Hot shoe for external flash
  • Records movies at 720p (30 fps) with stereo sound, use of optical zoom and image stabilizer; also features manual audio level adjustment and wind cut filter
  • HDMI output

What I didn't care for:

  • Photos can have strong highlight clipping and purple fringing
  • Images a bit noisy at base ISO, get worse quickly once you reach ISO 400
  • Vignetting at telephoto end of lens
  • Control dial on back of camera spins freely, needs to be more "notchy"
  • AF performance a bit too slow for capturing action
  • RAW support would've been nice
  • Cannot adjust exposure compensation, white balance, or ISO in auto modes (though this is not unusual)
  • Switch to proprietary battery reduces battery life, increases cost
  • No memory card included; can't access memory card slot while using a tripod
  • Full manual on CD-ROM

Some other super zoom cameras worth considering include the Fuji FinePix HS10, Kodak EasyShare Z981, Leica V-LUX 2, Nikon Coolpix P100, Olympus SP-800UZ, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ40 and DMC-FZ100, Pentax X90, Samsung HZ50W, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local camera or electronics store to try out the PowerShot SX30 IS 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.