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Canon PowerShot SX40 HS Review

Performance & Photo Quality

The PowerShot SX40 is definitely not the fastest super zoom camera out there, especially if you've used the Panasonic FZ47 or FZ150 (I can't comment on the Sony HX100V, since I haven't used it). Overall camera operation is a bit sluggish, and autofocus speeds are not as good as they could be, especially for action shooters. The table below summarizes the SX40's performance:

Timing Measured Performance How it Compares
Startup 1.2 sec Above Average
Autofocus
(Normal light)
0.3 - 0.5 sec (wide-angle)
0.6 - 1.2 sec (telephoto)
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
(Flash on)
3 seconds Average

Again, while it's not terrible by any means, Canon needs to up their game in the autofocus department.

Now is also the time where I talk about burst mode performance. 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. High Speed Burst HQ uses Auto ISO, and since the LCD is blacked out during shooting, so compose your photo well!

Here's the PowerShot SX40's real world burst mode performance:

Image quality Continuous Continuous AF High-Speed Burst HQ
Large/Fine JPEG Unlimited @ 2.5 fps Unlimited @ 0.8 fps 8 shots @ 10.0 fps
Tested with a Panasonic Class 10 SDHC card

As you can see, you can keep shooting until your memory card fills up when using the regular Continuous modes. The burst rate isn't spectacular, but it's still fast enough for taking action shots of the kids.

Ready to find out about how the PowerShot SX40's photo quality measures up? I know I am!

The PowerShot SX40 produced an excellent photo of our standard macro test subject. Colors are nice and saturated, even under our studio lamps, which often confuse the white balance system on cameras I review. The subject has a nice smooth appearance to it, but you'll never call it "soft". I don't see much in the line of noise here, though if you look really hard, you may spot some mild detail smudging in the shadows.

The SX40's minimum focus distance jumps all over the place. At full wide-angle, it's 0 cm -- that's right, you can have your subject right up against the lens. Once you zoom in a bit, the distance rises to 30 cm. Once you're halfway through the zoom range, the distance increases to 50 cm, then 70 cm, before finally jumping around between 1 and 2 meters as you head toward the 840 mm mark.

The night test shot turned out fairly well, though there's room for improvement. The camera took in plenty of light, though highlight clipping can be found in several places. The buildings are fairly sharp, though you'll see some noise in low contrast areas. There is also some cyan-colored fringing near bright light sources, though using a smaller aperture will probably clear that up. Like the PowerShot S100 that I just reviewed, the SX40 will lock the ISO at 100 when using shutter speeds of 1 second or slower. While this makes sense from a noise point-of-view, it's still an unwanted restriction -- especially in the manual modes. That same restriction prevents me from doing the night ISO test, so you'll have to wait for the studio ISO test in a moment.

The PowerShot SX40 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 (which typically does not work). The second part of the removal system is a digital system (which needs to be turned on in the Flash Control menu), which tries to get rid of whatever shows up in a photo. Much to my surprise, the SX40's two-pronged redeye removal system did the job, with no redeye to be found! Naturally, your results may vary.

Despite it's incredible 24 - 840 mm range, the PowerShot SX40's lens shows remarkably little barrel distortion at its wide-angle end. Corner blurring was minimal, and vignetting (dark corners) did not seem to be an issue, either.

Now it's time for our studio ISO test, which you can compare against other cameras I've reviewed recently (FZ150, anyone?). Keep in mind that you're only seeing a tiny part of the test scene below -- so view the full size images, too! And with that, let's journey from ISO 100 - 3200 on the SX40.


ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

Everything is very clean through ISO 400. At ISO 800 you pick up some noise, but it's still usable for midsize and large prints. Things start to get a bit fuzzy at ISO 1600, so I'd make this your stopping point, and save it for small prints. I'd pass on ISO 3200 if I were you. The PowerShot SX40 definitely beats its predecessor at higher ISOs, which you can see if you jump back to the SX30 review and compare the test shots.

Wondering how the SX40 compares to Panasonic's FZ150 at high ISOs? Here's your answer:

ISO 1600

Canon PowerShot SX40 HS

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150
 
ISO 3200

Canon PowerShot SX40 HS

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150

There's no doubt that the SX40's photos have a softer appearance than those from the FZ150, but they also have more vivid color, and less color noise. It's a tough call, but I'd give the edge to the Canon at ISO 1600 and 3200. That said, the Lumix DMC-FZ150 does support RAW, which allows you to tweak noise reduction and color, so you can do better than what you see in the JPEGs above.

Overall, the PowerShot SX40's photo quality was very good. Exposures were accurate, though the camera loves to clip highlights (see examples). My advice about that is to turn on i-Contrast (and set the ISO to 200, so it can do its thing), which will reduce some of that. Colors are nice and vivid, and images have the "smooth" look that is a trademark of Canon cameras. You will spot some shadow noise and mild detail smudging at ISO 100, but it's fairly minor. You can shoot at ISO 400 or even ISO 800 with confidence on the SX40, which is nice to see on this "high sensitivity" camera. Purple fringing levels were low in most situations.

Don't take my word for all of this, though. Take a look at our photo gallery, maybe printing a few of the pictures, and then you can decide if the SX40's photo quality meets your expectations!

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