Originally Posted: November 21, 2010
Last Updated: December 12, 2011
The Canon PowerShot SX30 IS ($429) is currently the "big gun" in the super zoom camera world. Packing a whopping 35X optical zoom lens (covering a focal range of 24 - 840 mm), the SX30 can be used in virtually any shooting situation that may arise. Other features include optical image stabilization (naturally), a rotating 2.7" LCD, a hot shoe, manual and automatic controls, and a 720p movie recording with stereo sound and use of the optical zoom.
The SX30 replaces the popular PowerShot SX20, and I put together this chart to help differentiate the two:
So, in addition to getting a huge bump in zoom power, the SX30 also got more Megapixels (not surprising), a larger LCD, and slightly faster continuous shooting. Something that I'm not a huge fan of is the switch from AA to a proprietary li-ion battery. Not only are li-ion batteries more expensive than AAs (including rechargeables) -- the battery life is a lot worse, too.
Is the PowerShot SX30 a top choice for folks who just can't get enough zoom? Find out now in our review!
What's in the Box?
The PowerShot SX30 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
- The 14.1 effective Megapixel PowerShot SX30 digital camera
- NB-7L lithium-ion battery
- Battery charger
- Lens cap w/retaining strap
- Neck strap
- Case for hot shoe cover
- USB cable
- A/V cable
- CD-ROM featuring Canon Digital Camera Solution
- 35 page basic manual (printed) + full manual on CD-ROM
The PowerShot SX30 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. The SX30 supports a long list of flash memory formats, including SD, SDHC, SDXC, MMC, MMCplus, and HC MMCplus media, though I'd stick with the first three if I were you. If you're sticking with still photos, then a 2GB or 4GB card is probably adequate. If you'll be taking a lot of movies, I'd probably go for 4GB or 8GB. It's worth spending a bit more for a high speed card (Class 6 or faster), especially for movie recording.
One of the big changes on the SX30 is the switch from four AA to a single lithium-ion battery. I can't say I'm a big fan of this, for reasons you'll see below. The SX30 uses the sane NB-7L battery as recent PowerShot G-series models, and it packs a healthy 7.8 Wh of energy. Here's how that translates into battery life:
If the PowerShot SX30 still relied on AA batteries, it would've been the top camera in the above table. The switch to rechargeable lithium-ion has dropped the SX30 down to just average in this group of super zooms.
The other things to note about lithium-ion batteries is that they cost a lot more than their AA equivalents (even rechargeables), with a spare NB-7L setting you back at least $40. In addition, should your rechargeable run out of juice, you can't pick up something off-the-shelf as you could with an AA-based camera. If you want an ultra or super zoom camera that uses AA's, there are really only two models out there: the Fuji and Kodak listed above.
When it's time to charge the NB-7L, just pop it into the included charger. The charger plugs directly into the wall, and takes approximately 140 minutes to fully charge the battery.
The SX30 includes a lens cap with retaining strap to protect that giant 35X lens.
The PowerShot SX30 has a pretty standard set of accessories for a super zoom camera. That means no conversion lenses, sorry! Here's the full list:
So there you have the accessories -- let's move onto software now, shall we?
Camera Window in Mac OS X
Canon includes version 70 of their Digital Camera Solution Disk with the PowerShot SX30. 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, and adjust a few camera settings (startup screen, sounds, theme).
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.
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 SX30'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.
Things have gone downhill in the documentation department. While the PowerShot G11 had a thick, printed manual in the box, all you'll find with the SX30 is a 35 page "getting started" guide. The full manual is now in PDF format on an included CD-ROM. While I don't like digital manuals for any camera, it's especially disappointing when the product costs $500. The manual itself is quite detailed, though it's not what I'd consider user-friendly. Documentation for the software bundle is installed onto your Mac or PC.
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.
Using the Canon PowerShot SX30 IS
It takes just 1.2 seconds to the SX30 to extend its lens and prepare for shooting. That's pretty quick by super zoom standards.
A live histogram is available when composing photos. The rectangle displays the recording area for movies.
Autofocus speeds were decent, though other cameras (from Panasonic, especially) do better. At the wide end of the lens you'll want from 0.3 - 0.5 seconds to the camera to lock focus. With the lens at full telephoto, expect to wait from 0.6 - 1.0 seconds for focus lock, and possibly a bit longer. This made taking photos of the Blue Angels (a few of which are in the gallery) challenging. Low light focusing took around a second, and it was accurate on most occasions (just be sure not to block the AF-assist lamp with your fingers).
Shutter lag wasn't an issue at faster shutter speeds, though I noticed a tiny bit of it at slower shutter speeds (where you should really be using a tripod or the flash, anyway).
Shot-to-shot delays were about two seconds without the flash, and three seconds with it.
You can delete a picture after you've taken it by pressing the delete photo (focus point) button on the back of the camera.
Now let's take a look at the image size and quality options on the PowerShot SX30 IS:
The PowerShot SX30 doesn't support the RAW image format, unfortunately.
Alright, let's move onto the menu system now!
When "Hints & Tips" is turned on in the setup menu, the camera will show a brief description of the highlighted menu option
The PowerShot SX30 uses the standard 2010 Canon menu system. It's attractive, easy to navigate, and features "hints & tips" that describe each option. When you're taking pictures, the menu is divided into three tabs, covering shooting, setup, and "My Menu" options. Keeping in mind that not all of these are available in each shooting mode, here's the full list:
You can put up to five of your favorite shooting menu items here
The SX30 detected three faces in our test scene
There are three autofocus modes on the camera. The FlexiZone mode lets you select anywhere in the frame (save for a margin around the edges) on which to focus. The center-point AF mode does just as it sounds (you typically won't get this option if FlexiZone is available). For either of those, you can select the size of the focus point (small or normal), as I showed you earlier. Naturally, the SX30 has face detection as well, with the ability to find up to nine faces in the frame, making sure they're properly focused and exposed. You can also select a face in the scene that you want to "track" as they move around the scene. Like other Canon cameras of late, the SX30 was really "jumpy" while I tried to test the face detection feature, rapidly cycling between faces. It typically found about half of the six faces in the scene. I think that real world results will be better. By the way, if the camera can't find any faces, it will switch to center-point AF automatically.
I want to quickly mention the camera's digital zoom options. There are two preset "digital teleconverters", as well as a "go crazy" standard mode. All of these can degrade the quality of your photo. However, if you're willing to drop the resolution, the "Safety Zoom" feature allows you to use digital zoom without any loss in quality. For example, lowering the resolution to 7 Megapixel gives you 44X of total zoom, while the 2 Megapixel setting allows for a whopping 95X of total zoom power!
The PowerShot SX30 IS has the same i-Contrast feature as most other Canon cameras, though it's not as adjustable as on, say, the G12. Here you can choose between off or auto, and that's about it. The feature is designed to brighten underexposed areas of your photo. Let's see it in action:
|i-Contrast off (default)
View Full Size Image
View Full Size Image
As you can see, i-Contrast did a nice job of brightening up the darker areas of the photo, though image noise increases as a result. One thing it does not address is highlight clipping -- it's too bad that the SX30 doesn't have the HDR feature found on the PowerShot G12 and S95.
The last thing I want to mention are those three IS modes. Continuous mode activates the OIS system as soon as you halfway press the shutter release, which helps you compose the photo without camera shake. The "shoot only" option doesn't turn it on until the photo is actually taken, which improves the performance of the OIS system. The panning mode only stabilizes up and down motion, and you'll want to use this while tracking a moving subject horizontally. You can also turn the whole thing off, which is advisable if you're using a tripod.
Enough about menus, let's talk photo quality now!
The PowerShot SX30 IS did a fine job with our macro test subject. The colors are nice and saturated, and there's no noticeable color cast, which can often occur with my studio lamps. The subject is slightly soft, and there's a tiny bit of noise, but neither are bad enough to warrant negative marks.
The SX30 has the closest macro focusing distance that's physically possible: 0 cm, at the full wide-angle end of the lens. Once you start to zoom, the distance rises to 30 cm, finally ending up at 1.4 m at the full telephoto position.
The night scene is good, though I see some room for improvement. The buildings are well exposed, as you'd expect on a camera with manual control over shutter speed. The buildings are sharp across the frame. I do see some pretty strong highlight clipping, and occasional cyan-colored fringing. There's a bit of noise as well, though I'm not entirely surprised, given that this is a 14 Megapixel camera with a tiny CCD.
Now, let's use that same night scene to see how the SX30 performed at higher sensitivities:
There's very little difference between the first two photos. At ISO 200 you start to see some detail loss -- notice how the corners of the US Bank building are starting to fade away. There's more detail loss and some "sparkly" noise at ISO 400, so I wouldn't go any higher than this in low light, and I'd save this one for small prints only. Noise and noise reduction continue to increase at ISO 800 and 1600, and both of these should be avoided in low light situations.
I'll have examples of how the SX30 performs in normal lighting in a moment.
There's very little barrel distortion at the wide end of the SX30's 24 - 840 mm zoom lens. While the lens didn't have much in the line of corner blurriness, there is noticeable vignetting at the telephoto end of the lens (see any of the Blue Angels photos in the gallery to see what I mean).
The PowerShot SX30 takes a two-pronged approach to redeye removal. You can have it use its AF-assist lamp to shrink the size of your subject's pupils, and the camera can also digitally remove any redeye that survives that. Unfortunately, neither method completely removed "the red" from my test photo, and using the tool in playback mode didn't help. Your mileage may vary, of course, but don't be surprised to see at least some redeye in your people pictures.
Here's that second ISO test I promised, this one taken in the warm confines of our studio. Since the lighting is consistent, you can compare these results between cameras I've reviewed over the years. While the crops below give you a quick idea as to the noise levels at each sensitivity, I highly recommend viewing the full size images as well. Let's begin:
The first three crops look nearly identical, with very slight increases in noise as the sensitivity rises. Noise becomes more noticeable at ISO 400, and there's a drop in color saturation, as well. In most cases, I'd stop here, unless you're really desperate, in which case ISO 800 is still usable (for small prints). The ISO 1600 image is quite noisy, so I'd pass on it.
Overall, the PowerShot SX30's photo quality is good, but not great. Exposure was generally spot-on, which is a nice change from other cameras I've reviewed recently. It shouldn't be a huge surprise that this high resolution, small-sensored camera has issues with highlight clipping, but I'll point it out anyway. Like I said before, it's a shame that the HDR feature from the PowerShot G12 and S95 didn't make it to the SX30. Colors were pleasant, and the camera handled unusual lighting conditions with ease. Images are a tad on the soft side, and noise is visible (but not too bad) at the lowest ISOs. In general, though, the PowerShot SX30 is not a camera you want to take above ISO 400 unless you're really desperate. The biggest problems on the camera are vignetting (dark corners) at the telephoto end of the lens, and purple fringing that can be strong at times. There's not a whole lot you can do about either of those, unfortunately. The 4 x 6 crowd won't be bothered by most of these things (save for the vignetting), but when viewing the images at 100% on your computer screen, you'll certainly notice.
Don't just take my word for all of this. though. Have a look at our photo gallery, perhaps printing a few pictures, and then decide if the PowerShot SX30's image quality meets your needs.
The PowerShot SX30 IS has an excellent movie mode. You can record videos at 1280 x 720 (30 fps) with stereo sound until the file size reaches 4GB, which takes about twenty minutes. If you want longer movies, you can drop the resolution down to 640 x 480 (43 min time limit) or 320 x 240 (1 hr limit), both of which retain the 30 fps frame rate.
The SX30 lets you use the optical zoom lens as much as you'd like while you're recording a movie. The ultrasonic motor combined with slower-than-normal lens movement allows you to zoom smoothly and quietly. The image stabilizer is also available. Should you want to take a still photo while recording, just press the shutter release (though recording will pause while this occurs).
The camera offers manual control over the microphone level, and there's a wind screen as well, which is handy when shooting outdoors. If you're looking to adjust exposure manually, you're out of luck, though.
There are three special effect movie modes: miniature, Color Swap, and Color Accent. The former works in the same way as it does for stills, except that 1) movies are silent and 2) you can select a playback speed of 5X, 10X, or 20X. The Color Swap and Color Accent features were explained earlier.
Movies are saved in QuickTime format, using the efficient H.264 codec.
I have two sample movies for you today, both involving things that ride on tracks. The street car video shows the use of the zoom, while the focal length was fixed for the Amtrak movie. Enjoy!
The PowerShot SX30 has a pretty nice playback mode. Basic features include slideshows (complete with transitions), image protection, favorite-tagging, DPOF print marking, thumbnail view, and playback zoom. This last feature will enlarge the image by as much as ten times, and then let you move around. You can use the scroll wheel on the back of the camera to move from image to image, while keeping the zoom and scroll setting intact. 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.
|Filtering photos by date using the Jump feature||Smart Shuffle|
There are several ways to move through photos on the camera. Naturally, you can just press left or right on the four-way controller. You can also turn the scroll wheel, which lets you move through your photos a lot quicker. Another option is to use the filtered playback (jump) feature, which lets you show photos by date, category, file type, whether they're a favorite, and you can move forward or backward by 10 or 100 photos, as well. A new addition to the PowerShot SX30 is the Smart Shuffle feature, which shows four photos which are somehow related to the one currently selected (I don't really see the point of this feature).
Photos can be rotated, resized, and cropped right on the camera. You can apply most of the My Colors feature to your photos, 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. The SX30 has the ability to assign a category to a photo, and in many cases, it's done automatically, based on the scene mode that was used.
The only video editing feature is a useful one -- a trimming tool to remove unwanted footage from the beginning or end of a clip.
By default, you won't get much information about your photo while in playback mode. But press the Display button and you'll see more, including a histogram.
The PowerShot SX30 IS moves from one photo to another without delay.
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!
See how the photos turned out in our gallery!