Canon PowerShot SX30 IS Review
Look and Feel
The PowerShot SX30 is a fairly large, SLR-styled super zoom camera. I got a kick out of the little "bump" on the front of the camera, to the lower-right of the lens barrel -- it looks like where a lens release or DOF preview button might be on a D-SLR. The body is made of a mix of metal and plastic, and feels well put together. The grip is good-sized, though feels a bit slippery when you're holding it. Thankfully, the lens provides something sturdy to hang on to. Button placement was good, though the three buttons at the far right of the backside of the camera can be easily confused. I can't say I'm a fan of the free-spinning control wheel next to those buttons, either -- it needs to be more "notchy" (the PowerShot S90 had the same problem, which was corrected on the S95).
With that out of the way, let's take a look at how the PowerShot SX30 compares to other super zooms in terms of size and weight:
The PowerShot SX30 is the second largest and heaviest camera in the group. The winner (if there is such a thing) is none other than the Fuji FinePix HS10, which is larger than some digital SLRs! The SX30 certainly won't fit in any pockets, but it does travel well enough over your shoulder or in a case.
I bet you're just itching to take a tour of the SX30! So am I, so let's get going.
The obvious highlight of the PowerShot SX30 is its massive 35X optical zoom lens. This F2.7-5.8 lens has a focal range of 4.3 - 150.5 mm, which is equivalent to an incredible 24 - 840 mm. I think that pretty much covers every possible shooting scenario! The lens uses an ultrasonic motor, which allows it to move silently while recording a movie. While the lens is threaded, you will need to buy the adapter I mentioned earlier if you want to use filters.
Above you can see the incredible zoom range of the SX30's lens. At wide-angle, Alcatraz is barely recognizable. But press the zoom lever all the way and you've literally moved miles closer, with a close-up view of the main building and water tower (and some heat distortion). Most impressive!
It's a foregone conclusion that you'll need some heavy duty image stabilization on a lens this long. The SX30 uses a lens-shift IS system to combat camera shake, which is caused by the natural movements of your hands (it won't do anything about moving subjects, though). In movie mode the camera shifts into "dynamic mode", which enhances the effect of the IS system, which is especially handy if you're really bouncing around. Let's see what the SX30's image stabilizer can do, first with still photos:
Image stabilization off
Image stabilization on
Each of the photos you see above were taken at a shutter speed of 1/3 second. As you can plainly see, the photo taken with image stabilization (shooting only mode) is noticeably sharper. Being a camera with a strong video component, it should not come as a surprise that you can also use the IS system in movie mode. This brief video clip shows how well it works.
Directly above the lens is the SX30's pop-up flash, which is released manually. The working range of the flash is 0.5 - 5.8 m at wide-angle and 1.4 - 2.8 m at telephoto (at Auto ISO), both of which are respectable. Should you require more flash power and a reduced chance of redeye, then you'll want to attach an external flash to the hot shoe that I'll show you in a little bit.
They're hard to see, but in-between the flash and the lens are the SX30's stereo microphones. The only other thing to see on the front of the camera is the AF-assist lamp, locating to the upper-right of the lens. The camera uses this lamp as a focusing aid in low light situations. It's also used to reduce redeye and serve as a visual countdown for the various self-timers on the camera.
This back-angled view of the PowerShot SX30 IS shows off its 2.7", rotating LCD display. Rotating LCDs may seem like a gimmick, but once you use one, it's hard to go back to anything else. These screens allow you to easily hold the camera above your head, or take low level photos of kids and pets. The screen can also be put in the "traditional" position (shown below) or closed entirely.
Here's the back of the PowerShot SX30, with the 2.7" LCD in the traditional position. The screen has 230,000 pixels -- typical for a camera in this class -- and sharpness is about what you'd expect. Outdoor visibility was good, and in low light the screen "gains up" automatically, so you can still see what you're trying to take a photo.
Directly above the LCD is the SX30's electronic viewfinder. An EVF is a tiny LCD that you view as if it was an optical viewfinder, though the real thing is a lot sharper and brighter. The EVF shows the same things as the main LCD (save for image playback), which means you get 100% coverage and no parallax error. Canon does not publish the size of this particular EVF, but I believe it's the same as it was on the SX20 -- 0.44". The viewfinder has 202,000 pixels, and sharpness was just okay. This seems to be one of those field sequential EVFs, so you may see a slight "rainbow effect" when you pan the camera or blink. It didn't bother me nearly as much as the EVF on the Sony SLT-A55 that I just reviewed, though. You can adjust the focus of the EVF by using the diopter correction knob on its right side.
To the left of the viewfinder is the shortcut button, which is customizable. By default it doesn't do anything, and later in the review I'll tell you what options can be assigned to it. If you're hooked into a photo printer, pressing this button will print the selected image(s).
On the opposite side you'll find the dedicated movie recording button. Press it once to start recording and again to stop -- simple as that. I'll have more on the camera's movie mode later in the review.
Continuing to the right, we find these three buttons:
- Zoom framing assist + Jump (in playback mode)
- Playback mode
- AF frame selector + Delete photo
The Zoom framing assist button is something I came to rely on when using the SX30's lens at its limits. If you're zoomed in all the way, it doesn't take much movement to lose track of your subject. That's where this button comes in. Hold it down, and the camera zooms out a bit so you can locate your subject. Once you've recomposed, let go of the button and the camera will return the zoom to its previous position.
FlexiZone AF in action
The AF frame selector button is used to select the area in the frame on which you wish to focus (when using FlexiZone AF, of course). You can also adjust the size of the focus point, as you can see above.
The next thing to see on the tour is the SX30's combination four-way controller and control dial. The dial is used for many things, including navigating menus, quickly flipping through photos you've taken, and adjusting manual exposure settings. As I mentioned earlier, this dial turns way too easily, make it hard to precisely make adjustments. The four-way controller can be used for many of the same things, and it also does the following:
- Up - Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments)
- Down - Self-timer (Off, 2 or 10 sec, custom) - see below
- Left - Focus (Normal, macro, manual) - see below
- Right - ISO sensitivity (Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600)
- Center - Function menu (see below) + Set
Like many other Canon cameras, the SX30 has a customizable self-timer. You can set both the delay (0-30 secs) and the number of shots (1-10) that will be taken. There are some other cool self-timer features that I'll tell you about a little later.
Manual focus mode (center-frame enlargement not shown)
The manual focus feature lets you use the control dial to set the focus distance yourself. A guide showing the focus distance is displayed on the right side of the LCD, and the center of the frame is enlarged, as well. You can get an "assist" from the autofocus system by pressing the focus point button.
Pressing the center button on the four-way controller options up the Function menu, which has these options:
- White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, flash, custom) - the last option lets you use a white or gray card, for accurate color in unusual lighting
- My Colors (Off, vivid, neutral, sepia, black & white, positive film, lighter skin tone, darker skin tone, vivid blue, vivid green, vivid red, custom color)
- Bracketing (Off, exposure, focus)
- Drive mode (Single-shot, continuous, continuous AF)
- Flash compensation/output (-2EV to +2EV or 1/3, 2/3, Full) - choices depend on shooting mode
- Metering mode (Evaluative, center-weighted, spot)
- Image size / quality (see chart later in review)
- Movie size (1280 x 720, 640 x 480, 320 x 240)
The My Colors feature should be self-explanatory, save for perhaps the custom option. This one lets you manually adjust contrast, sharpness, saturation, as well as red/green/blue/skin tone levels. I would've liked to have a noise reduction option here, as well.
The SX30 has the ability to bracket for both exposure and focus. For exposure, the camera takes three photos in a row, each with a different exposure value. The interval between each shot can be as little as 1/3EV or as much as 2EV. Focus bracketing is something that you can use in manual focus mode. The camera also takes three shots in a row: one at the selected focus position, a second a little closer, and a third a little further away. You can adjust how large the interval between each shot is, though it's not specific (just small, medium, or large).
Now let's talk about the continuous shooting modes on the PowerShot SX30 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 (for manual focus and fireworks mode only). In regular continuous mode, the camera will take an unlimited number of photos at 1.4 frames/second, which is about average for this class (unless you're talking about CMOS-based cameras). Both the Continuous AV and LV modes can take photos at 0.6 fps until your memory card fills up. The LCD does lag behind the action a bit, which makes tracking a moving subject a bit more difficult that one would like.
Getting back to the tour now: the last two items on the back of the camera are the Display and Menu buttons. The Display button switches between the LCD and EVF, and also selects what information is shown on each. The menu button does exactly as you'd expect.
Now we're onto the top of the PowerShot SX30 IS. The first thing to see here is the flash button, located at the left side of the photo. This doesn't release the flash (you have to raise it manually), but it does switch between auto, fill flash, and slow synchro modes.
At the center of the photo is the hot shoe, which is normally protected by a rather elaborate rubber cover. You'll get the best results by using a Canon flash, such as the 270EX, 430 EX II, or 580 EX II, as they'll sync with the camera's TTL metering system. You can also adjust the flash's settings using the camera's menu system, which is pretty handy. If you've got the 580 EX II or ST-E2 transmitter attached, you'll be able to use to control other flashes wirelessly. If you're not using a Canon flash, you'll probably have to adjust the settings on both the flash and camera manually. The maximum x-sync speed is 1/250 sec.
Next up is the SX30's mode dial, which has these options:
As you can see, the PowerShot SX30 offers a full set of manual controls, plus the ability to save two sets of camera settings to the custom spots on the mode dial.
If you don't want to deal with manual controls, just throw the camera into Smart Auto mode. The SX30 will pick one of twenty-eight scene modes for you, and it can even detect when the camera's on a tripod, adjusting the settings appropriately. Face detection and subject tracking are also available in this mode. Do note that you can't adjust basic settings such as exposure compensation, white balance, or ISO sensitivity in this mode.
If you want to pick your own scene mode, there are several to choose from. The most interesting to me is Smart Shutter, which takes advantage of the camera's face and smile detection system, which can do some pretty neat tricks. The first is smile detection, which will take a photo of your subject or subjects as soon as one of them smiles. You can select how many photos are taken before the smile detection feature is turned off. Next up is the wink self-timer, which I believe is a Canon exclusive. Compose the shot, turn on the self-timer, and when someone "winks" at the camera, it'll take a photo two seconds later. The last Smart Shutter feature is face self-timer, which will wait until a new face appears in the scene (presumably that of the photographer), and then take a picture.
The next group of scene modes are all special effects. The Color Accent and Color Swap features have been around for several years, but they're still worth a mention. Color accent lets you select a color in the image that you want to "keep", while the rest of the photo is changed to black and white. Color swap does just as it sounds-- you swap one color for another. The fisheye effect should be self-explanatory, while the miniature effect blurs the image, except for a selected area (which can be horizontal or vertical), making things like cars look like toys. The SX30 also has the requisite low light mode, which lowers the resolution to 2 Megapixel and boosts the ISO as high as 6400 -- but I don't recommend using it.
The final scene mode I want to mention is Stitch Assist, which lets you overlap photos side-by-side for later stitching into a single panoramic image using the PhotoStitch software that came bundled with the camera.
Just to the right of the mode dial is the power button. Above that you'll find the shutter release button, which has the zoom controller wrapped around it. The lens can move at variable speeds, based on how much pressure you apply to the zoom controller. At full speed, you'll make it from 24 to 840 mm in just 2.3 seconds. I counted over fifty stops in the camera's 35X zoom range.
The only thing to see here is the SX30's speaker (plus another glimpse of the flash button). The lens is at the wide-angle position in this photo.
On this side of the camera we have its I/O ports, which are kept under a plastic cover. The ports here include HDMI and USB + A/V output (one combined port for both of those).
If you're using the optional AC adapter, you'll thread the power cable through that little hole above the battery compartment.
As you might have guessed, the lens is at full telephoto here. It's huge!
On the bottom of the SX30 you'll find a metal tripod mount (hidden from view here), plus the battery/memory card compartment. The door that covers this compartment is reinforced, and fairly sturdy. You will not be able to access the memory card or battery while the camera is on a tripod.
The included NB-7L battery can be seen at right.