Originally Posted: December 18, 2011
Last Updated: December 7, 2012
The Canon PowerShot SX40 HS ($429) is a super zoom camera with one of the most powerful lenses on the market. This 35X zoom lens has an incredible focal range of 24 - 840 mm, which should cover every possible shooting situation that you'll run into.
|At full wide-angle (24 mm), Alcatraz is just a spot on the horizon||At full telephoto (840 mm), you're up close and personal with "The Rock"|
The SX40 is the follow-up to the PowerShot SX30, from which it borrows the lens, design, and feature set (mostly). One of the big differences between the two is that where the SX30 used a CCD sensor, the SX40 uses CMOS. This new "high sensitivity" 12.1 Megapixel CMOS sensor, combined with a new DIGIC 5 image processor, allows the SX40 to take shoot at over 10 frames/second, and record Full HD video.
So what else separates the SX30 and SX40 HS? It's chart time!
As you can see, the SX40 HS is better than the SX30 in just about every respect. The only thing that appears to be "worse" is the resolution -- but in reality, dropping down to 12 Megapixel is probably a good thing (we'll see later, in the photo tests).
The PowerShot SX40 faces tough competition, especially from Panasonic and Sony. Read on to find out how it fares in our tests!
What's in the Box?
The PowerShot SX40's bundle is typical of what you'll find from Canon. Inside the box, you'll find the following:
- The 12.1 effective Megapixel PowerShot SX40 HS digital camera
- NB-10L lithium-ion rechargeable battery
- Battery charger
- Lens cap w/retaining strap
- Neck strap
- Case for hot shoe cover
- USB cable
- CD-ROM featuring Canon Digital Camera Solution and camera/software manuals
- 34 page Quick Start Guide (printed) + full manual on CD-ROM
Unlike nearly all camera manufacturers, Canon does not build internal memory into their cameras. Therefore, you'll need to buy a memory card right away, unless you have one sitting around already. The PowerShot SX40 supports SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards, and I'd recommend picking up a 4GB card if you'll be mostly taking stills, and 8GB or 16GB if recording Full HD video is a priority. A high speed card -- Class 6 or higher -- is recommended for maximum performance.
The SX40 HS uses the brand spankin' new NB-10L lithium-ion battery. This battery stores less energy than the battery used by the SX30 (6.8 vs. 7.8 Wh), but Canon somehow managed to slightly improve battery life on the SX40. Here's how the SX40 compares to other super zooms in the battery life department:
The PowerShot SX40's battery life is just about average in this group of super zoom cameras. Those of you who remember earlier Canon ultra zoom cameras will recall that they always used AA batteries -- that changed on the SX30. If you want a camera that uses AAs, there are two choices listed above. Buying an extra NB-10L battery for your SX40 will set you back just shy of $60.
When it's time to recharge the NB-10L, just pop it into this remarkably curvy (by Canon standards) battery charger. It plugs right into the wall (in the U.S., at least) and takes 100 minutes to top off the battery.
There are a couple of accessories available for the PowerShot SX40, which include:
That's a pretty good selection! For those who were hoping for conversion lenses to take the zoom up to 40X+: you're out of luck.
Canon has one of the nicest software bundles out there. You'll first encounter CameraWindow, which will download photos from the camera onto your Mac or PC. The main photo organizing suite is called ZoomBrowser in Windows and ImageBrowser on Macs. The software lets you e-mail or print photos, upload videos to YouTube, and do some editing, as well. Available photo editing features include trimming, redeye removal, level/tone curve adjustment, and color tuning. While the Browser software can view RAW files, it cannot edit them -- see below for another option. Movie editing tools in Image/ZoomBrowser include trimming and frame grabs.
Also included is something called PhotoStitch. This software can take photos that you've lined up using the Stitch Assist feature on the camera, and combine them into a single panoramic image, with very little effort on your part.
Canon certainly is keeping up with the current trends regarding documentation, by providing as little printed material as possible. Inside the box is a leaflet that'll teach you basic camera operation. If you want more details, you'll have to load up the full manual, which is in PDF format on an included CD-ROM. The quality of the manuals is average: they explain everything well enough, but they could be a lot more user-friendly. Instructions for the bundled software are found on the same disc.
Design & Features
The PowerShot SX40 looks identical to the SX30 that came before it. That makes it a fairly large super zoom with a body made of a mix of plastic and metal. While the camera is easy to hold, with the most important controls within easy reach of your fingers, though I wish the right hand grip was a bit larger. The SX40 has more than its share of buttons, but they're well-labelled. One control I don't like is the scroll wheel, which surrounds the four-way controller. When you rotate it, there are no "stops", so it's hard to make precise adjustments.
As the photo above illustrates, the PowerShot SX40 is a bit of a handful! Here's a chart comparing the size and weight of various super zoom cameras:
As the chart shows, the PowerShot SX40 HS is the largest camera in the group, and is just shy of being the heaviest. It's absolutely not a pocket camera (save for perhaps your jacket), but it travels easily enough over your shoulder or in a camera bag.
Okay, let's start our tour of the PowerShot SX40 HS now. Use the tabs to switch between various views of the camera.
The biggest feature (no pun intended) on the PowerShot SX40 is undoubtedly its 35X 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. It also features an ultrasonic (USM) motor -- something found on Canon's D-SLR lenses -- which allows for silent focusing, which is important when recording movies. While the lens supports filters, you first need to buy the filter adapter (mentioned in the accessory section) in order to use them.
A huge lens that this absolutely needs image stabilization, and the SX40 has a lens-based system that does just that. The image stabilizer reduces the risk of blurry photos, and it'll smooth out your movies as well. Two new features on the SX40 are Intelligent IS (used in Smart Auto mode), which selects the proper IS mode (panning, dynamic, hybrid, tripod) based on the situation. There's also a new "powered" mode, which reduces shake when you're recording movies at the telephoto end of the lens.
Directly above the lens is the pop-up flash, which is released manually. The flash has a slightly better range than the SX30, though that may be due to the different ISO range on the SX40. The working range at Auto ISO is 0.5 - 7.0 m at wide-angle and 1.4 - 3.0 m at telephoto. If you want more flash power, and a reduced chance of redeye, then you can attach an external flash to the hot shoe you'll see in a bit.
The only other items of note on the front of the SX40 include the AF-assist / self-timer lamp over on the right, and the stereo microphones, which are hidden from view here (they're between the flash and the lens).
Here you can see one of the features that have been with Canon's super zoom cameras for a long time: a rotating LCD. This 2.7" display flips out to the side, and can rotate a total of 270 degrees. This allows you to shoot over the heads of people in front of you, or take photos on a tripod without straining your neck. The LCD can also put in the traditional position (shown on the next tab), or closed entirely.
And here is the LCD in the position most people are used to seeing. The LCD isn't very competitive with the best super zoom cameras out there, in terms of both resolution (230,000 pixel) and screen size (2.7"). For example, both the Panasonic FZ150 and Sony HX100V offers 3-inch screens (rotating and tilting, respectively) with resolutions of 460,000 and 921,000 pixels (also respectively). That's not to say that it's a bad screen -- it's still very usable -- it just could be better. Outdoor visibility was decent, and in low light the screen "gains up" nicely, so you can still see your subject.
The other way in which you can compose and review photos is with the SX40's electronic viewfinder. Canon doesn't say how large this viewfinder is, but I tell tell you that it's one of the smallest ones I've used. The resolution of the EVF is 201,000 dots (67,000 pixels), and the screen is a bit grainy and washed out. I think I could see a bit of a rainbow effect, as well. If you want to adjust the focus of the viewfinder, just use the diopter correction knob on its left side.
The button immediately to the left of the EVF is a customizable shortcut button. By default it does nothing, but there are plenty of camera functions you can assign to it. On the opposite side of the EVF is the dedicated movie recording button.
At the far right you can see buttons for Zoom Framing Assist (explained later), entering playback mode, and focus point selection.
Under those we have the four-way controller, with the mushy scroll wheel around it. Both are used for menu navigation, setting adjustment, and photo reviewing. The four-way controller also has direct buttons foe exposure, focus, ISO, and the self-timer.
The last two buttons here are for switching between the LCD and EVF (and toggling what's shown on each) and entering the menu system.
First thing to see here is the flash button, over on the left side near the strap mount. This doesn't pop up the flash (you do that yourself), but it does let you switch the flash mode.
At the center of the photo, under a very difficult to remove rubber cover, is the SX40's hot shoe. The hot shoe works best with Canon flashes, as they'll sync with the camera's metering system. You'll also be able to adjust the flash settings right from the camera menu. If you're using a Canon flash that supports high speed sync, then you should be able to take advantage of that as well. High end flashes (or the ST-E2 transmitter) can also control other flashes wirelessly. Not using a Canon flash? Then you'll probably need to adjust exposure settings manually. Canon does not publish what the maximum x-sync speed is for the SX40.
Continuing to the right, we have the fully loaded mode dial (more on that below) followed by the power and shutter release buttons, with the latter having the zoom controller wrapped around it. The zoom controller is variable speed -- the more you press it, the faster than lens moves. At full speed, you can travel from 24 to 840 mm in 2.3 seconds. I counted over thirty steps in the camera's 35X zoom range.
I should also point out that the lens has focal length markings on it, though you can only see the 24 mm position here.
The only things to see here are the speaker and the flash, which is popped up here.
The lens is at full wide-angle in this photo.
On the right side of the PowerShot SX40 you'll find its I/O ports, which are kept under a rubber cover. The ports here include mini-HDMI as well as USB + A/V output. Keep in mind that Canon does not include a video out cable with the camera, so you'll need to buy one in order to connect to a television.
The lens is at the full 35X position here. You can see that it's a pretty tight fit when the camera retracts the lens back into the body!
On the bottom of the PowerShot SX40 you will find a metal tripod mount (not visible here) plus the battery/memory card compartment. The door that covers this compartment is of average quality. As you can probably tell, you won't be able to get at what's inside the compartment while the camera is on a tripod.
The new NB-10L lithium-ion battery can be seen at right.
Alright, now it's time to talk about the various features on the PowerShot SX40 HS. Let's start with the items that can be found on the mode dial, which include:
The PowerShot SX40 has a nice selection of features for both the beginner and the enthusiast. Those who want a point-and-shoot experience can just set the mode dial to Smart Auto and let the camera do the rest -- It'll select both the scene and IS mode for you.
The SX40 has many of the new bells and whistles introduced on Canon cameras this year, all of which are found in either the Creative Filters and Special Scene modes. One thing that didn't make it for some reason is an HDR mode -- I guess this camera's not considered "high-end" enough for that one. Here are some of the interesting point-and-shoot features:
- Movie Digest: in this mode, the camera will record 2-4 seconds worth of video before every still; the results are compiled into a single video comprised of the days "events"
- Smart Shutter: choose from smile detection, or cool wink and face self-timers; smile detection waits until someone in your photo smiles, and then it'll start taking photos; the wink self-timer takes a photo two seconds after someone in the frame winks at the camera; face self-timer takes a photo 2 seconds after a new person (presumably the photographer) enters the frame
- High-speed Burst HQ: the camera takes eight photos in a row at 10 frames/second; do note that the LCD goes black while shooting is in progress
- Handheld Night Scene: the camera takes several exposures and combines them into a single, blur-free (but potentially noisy) photo
- Stitch Assist: helps you line up photos side-by-side for later stitching into a single panorama (using the bundled software)
A live histogram is available in record mode
Manual controls include those for shutter speed and aperture, as well as white balance and focus. The SX40 can bracket for both exposure and focus, but not for white balance. Speaking of white balance, while you can use a white or gray card for accurate color in mixed lighting, there's no way to fine-tune it. Something else you can't do is adjust the ISO when the shutter speed drops below 1 second. I understand the rationale behind that -- it keeps noise down -- but why restrict it in the manual modes? As with its predecessor, the SX40 HS does not support the RAW image format.
On a more positive note, enthusiasts will also enjoy the custom button, menus, and spots on the mode dial that the SX40 offers.
Before I move into the menu system, I want to mention the Zoom Framing Assist feature. Imagine you're zoomed in tight on a subject. And then you lose track of them. Simply press the Zoom Framing Assist button on the back of the camera -- the camera will zoom out a bit, allowing you to reacquire your subject. When you release the button, the zoom will return to where it previously was. This is definitely a handy feature when shooting moving subjects at a distance.
Two other things that I should cover are manual focus and the custom self-timer. The former lets you use the scroll dial to set the focus distance. The center of the frame is enlarged, and a guide showing the focus distance is shown on the LCD/EVF. The custom self-timer lets you set both the delay and how many shots are taken in the "burst".
Moving onto menus now, I want to start with the SX40's function (shortcut) menu, which is activated by pressing the center button on the four-way controller. Here are the most interesting options you'll find there:
- My Colors: enhance colors or skin tones, take B&W or sepia photos, or manually adjust contrast/sharpness/saturation
- Bracketing: takes three shots in a row, each with a different exposure value or focus distance; focus bracketing is for use with manual focus only
- Drive mode: choose from singe-shot, continuous, or continuous AF; I'll tell you about those last two later in the review
- Still image aspect ratio: choose from 4:3, 16:9, 3:2, 1:1
- Image size: no RAW support here -- just five sizes and two quality levels for JPEGs; a Large/Fine JPEG takes up about 3 MB on your memory card
|Shooting menu, with help info at bottom||Customizable My Menu|
The rest of the shooting-related options that I want to talk about can be found in the PowerShot SX40's main menu. The menus are attractive, easy-to-navigate, and feature "hints & tips" that describe each option. You can also create your own menu, using the My Menu feature. You can put up to five items into your My Menu, and even have the camera go to it automatically when you hit the Menu button.
Some of the notable menu items include:
- AF Frame: choose from Face Detect (finds up to nine faces, and falls back to center-point if none are found), Tracking AF, FlexiZone (select any point in the frame), or center-point; if you're using either of the last two options, you can select the size of the focus point (normal or small)
- Digital zoom: normally I tell people to turn this off, but if you're willing to lower the resolution, you can use it without a reduction in image quality; for example, dropping down to 6 Megapixel gives you 43X of total zoom power
- Servo AF: the camera keeps focusing with the shutter release halfway-pressed, which is helpful for moving subjects
- Continuous AF: the camera is always focusing, even when you're not pressing the shutter release button; will lower battery life, though
- Flash control: you can manually control the flash strength, turn on redeye reduction (see below), and choose the slow sync mode
- Redeye correction: you can use digital redeye correction, a pre-flash, or both
- i-Contrast: improves image contrast by brightening shadows and reducing highlight clipping (see example below)
- Hg lamp correction: removes a greenish tint that may occur when shooting scenes lit by mercury lamps
- Blink detection: the camera will warn you if someone in the frame had their eyes closed
- IS settings: choose from continuous or "shoot only" stabilization, or turn it off entirely; a Powered IS mode is for shooting at full telephoto, and should be turned off when panning or walking
- Zoom Framing Assist display area: choose how far back the zoom goes when you press this button
- Set Shortcut button: choose one of fourteen functions to assign to the shortcut button on the back of the SX40
While the SX40 doesn't have the DR Correction features that were available on the PowerShot S100 that I just reviewed, it still has something helpful, called i-Contrast. This feature will brighten shadows and reduce highlight clipping, though you'll get want to set the ISO to Auto in order to get decent results. Here's what i-Contrast did with our purple fringing tunnel photo:
|i-Contrast off (default)
View Full Size Image
View Full Size Image
You don't even have to view the full size images to see the difference between using i-Contrast or nothing at all. The clipped highlights around both the lamp on the left and the opposite wall are dramatically reduced. If you do view the full size image, you will see a slight increase in noise, which is the trade-off (and a worthy one at that) for getting that detail back. The one thing that i-Contrast didn't do well here is brighten shadows, though 1) I've seen it do that in other scenarios and 2) there's an i-Contrast tool in playback mode which does it well.
The PowerShot SX30 was somewhat of a letdown in the movie department, in that it only recorded 720p video. The switch to CMOS has allowed Canon to bump the SX40 to Full HD, keeping it competitive with other super zooms (more or less). The SX40 can record video at 1920 x 1080 (24 frames/second) with stereo sound for up to 14.5 minutes. That sounds okay, but keep in mind that 24p video is a bit choppy, though most "real" movies are shot at that setting. Also, two of the SX40's biggest competitors (the Panasonic DMC-FZ150 and Sony DSC-HX100V) both record at true 1080/60p.
Two lower resolutions are also available on the SX40. You can choose from 720p or VGA settings, both of which are recorded at 30 frames/second. Recording will stop after 21 minutes at the 720p setting, and 44 minutes at VGA. The camera also supports Apple's poorly marketed iFrame (720p) codec, which is supposed to be easier to edit on Apple computers (not that H.264 is that challenging to work with).
Naturally, the SX40 lets you use the optical zoom while you're recording a movie, and the zoom moves slowly and quietly. The camera focuses continuously, so everything stays in focus. The image stabilizer is also available, which keeps things shake-free.
Most of the camera's special effects are available while recording movies, including miniature effect. There's also a "super slow motion" mode which records at 120 or 240 fps (though the resolution is lowered to 640 x 480 and 320 x 240, respectively) and plays them back at 30 fps, creating a slow motion effect. There aren't any manual controls in movie mode, though you can adjust the mic level or turn on a wind filter.
While you can take full resolution stills in movie mode, you will capture the camera refocusing, and then recording the image to the memory card, which freezes things for a second or two.
Here's a sample movie for you, taken at the highest quality setting. Since the file is huge (70 MB), I've also provided a smaller 720p version.
Not bad at all, aside from the choppiness!
|Playback menu||Jump menu; those bars at the bottom represent dates|
The PowerShot SX40 has a pretty nice playback mode. Some of the notable features here include:
- Movie Digest playback: I told you about this feature earlier; here's how you view the day's events
- Smart Shuffle: a bizarre feature which shows four photos similar to the one you're viewing
- My Category: assign a category to a photo, which is then transferred over to the "Browser" software; in some shooting modes, the camera does this automatically
- i-Contrast: unlike the one in record mode, this version of i-Contrast actually brightens dark areas of your photo
- Redeye correction: digitally remove this annoyance from a photo
- My Colors: apply most of the options from the My Colors menu (vivid, sepia, black & white, etc) to photos you've already taken
- Jump: move through photos by date, category, file type, whether they're tagged as a favorite, or in groups of 10 or 100
- Erase range of photos: I normally don't mention image deletion features, but the ability to select a range of photos without having to click your way through thumbnails is very handy
Photo editing functions include the ability to rotate, resize, and crop. Movies can have unwanted footage trimmed off of the beginning or end of a clip.
By default, the PowerShot SX40 shows you just basic information about a photo. Press the Display button, though, and you'll get a lot more, including a histogram and a display of clipped highlights.
The SX40 moves through photos without delay, even with the fancy transitions between each image. If you want to really go fast, just spin the dial on the back of the camera. Using the dial also allows you to just to photos taken on a certain date.
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:
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:
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.
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:
Canon PowerShot SX40 HS
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150
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!
The Canon PowerShot SX40 is a fairly large super zoom digital camera. Its body is made of a mix of plastic and metal, and it feels solid in most areas. The camera is easy to hold (though the grip could be larger), and the most important controls are always within easy reach of your fingers. The highlight of the camera is undoubtedly its 35X zoom lens, with an incredible 24 - 840 mm range. You'll need a good image stabilization system with a lens that powerful, and the one on the SX40 never let me down. On the back of the camera you'll find a feature that's been a part of Canon ultra zooms for a long time: a rotating LCD. This LCD is 2.7" is size, but its resolution of 230,000 pixels is disappointing compared to what models from Panasonic, Nikon, and Sony offer. Another way to compose photos is via the SX40's electronic viewfinder, but this too is small and low resolution. The SX40 has a powerful built-in flash that doesn't seem to have a redeye problem, but if you want more power, flexibility, and even wireless control, then you can attach an external flash to the camera's hot shoe.
The SX40 has a fairly standard Canon feature set. The point-and-shoot crowd will find a Smart Auto mode (with auto scene selection), a large selection of scene modes, and numerous "Creative Filters". The menu system -- already easy to work with -- is made even more user-friendly by a Hints & Tips feature. Manual control lovers will have the ability to tweak exposure, white balance, and focus, with two types of bracketing available. The SX40 is quite customizable, with a button, menu, and two spots on the mode dial that can do your bidding. What is the SX40 missing in the manual control department? It doesn't support RAW or white balance fine-tuning, and the ISO is fixed at 100 at slow shutter speeds. A feature that I found handy is i-Contrast, which reduces highlight clipping and brightens shadows (depending on the scene), though you'll want to bump the ISO to 200 (or just use Auto) so it can do its thing. As you might expect, the SX40 also records Full HD video, complete with stereo sound, use of the very quiet optical zoom, and image stabilization. While there aren't any manual exposure controls available, you can adjust the mic level or turn on a wind filter. While the SX40's movie mode is perfectly acceptable, it isn't as impressive as what you'll find on the latest models from Sony and Panasonic, both of which record Full HD video at a buttery smooth 60p, compared to a somewhat choppy 24p here.
I can reuse the previous sentence when talking about camera performance, as well. The PowerShot SX40 is average in nearly all respects, and if you've used the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150, it feels downright sluggish. The only areas in which the SX40 performs better-than-average are startup speed (1.2 seconds) and continuous shooting. Autofocus speeds are decent, but I've seen better. Shutter lag was barely noticeable at slow shutter speeds, but you should really be using the flash or a tripod in those situations anyhow. Shot-to-shot delays ranged from 2 seconds without the flash, to around 3 seconds with it. As I mentioned, the camera's burst modes are pretty good. The High-Speed Burst HQ mode fires off eight shots in a row at 10 frames/second, though the LCD is blacked out during shooting. If you want unlimited continuous shooting, you'll be able to fire away at an impressive 2.5 fps. The SX40's battery life is about average for a super zoom camera.
Photo quality, on the other hand, was very good. The only real issue I had with the SX40 was highlight clipping, and that can be greatly reduced by using the i-Contrast feature. Otherwise, exposures were accurate, and colors were very pleasing to the eye. Images have the "smooth" appearance that is somewhat of a Canon trademark. The SX40 keeps noise under control until ISO 800, and you can even get away using ISO 1600 for small prints, which is at least a full stop better than last year's SX30. There weren't any major lens issues (fringing, distortion, or corner blurring), either. Redeye was not an issue, courtesy of the dual removal system that the SX40 uses.
Overall, the Canon PowerShot SX40 HS is a good super zoom camera, but there are better choices out there. In terms of design and features, it's very competitive. Photo quality is a little better than most of the cameras in this class. Where the SX40 lags a bit is in terms of performance, manual controls, and movie mode. The last super zoom camera I reviewed was the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150, which has a less powerful lens, but a better LCD and EVF, much faster autofocus, and 1080/60p video recording with manual controls -- and I have reason to believe that Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-HX100V will also provide strong competition for the SX40. While the PowerShot SX40 is a super zoom camera that is good enough to earn my recommendation, I think you may be best served by considering one of the models I just mentioned.
What I liked:
- Very good photo quality, with low noise through ISO 800
- Incredible 35X, 24 - 840 mm zoom lens
- Optical image stabilization; camera will select the proper IS mode for you (in Smart Auto mode)
- Flip-out, rotating 2.7" LCD display offers good outdoor / low light visibility
- Good selection of manual controls
- Smart Auto mode picks a scene mode for you; tons of scene modes and Creative Filters
- i-Contrast feature brightens shadows, reduces highlight clipping (set the ISO to 200 to use)
- Zoom Framing Assist helps you track moving subjects when you're really zoomed in
- Redeye not a problem
- Customizable button, menu, and spots on mode dial
- Cool face, smile, and wink self-timers
- Hot shoe for external flash
- Records Full HD (1080/24p) video with stereo sound, use of (nearly silent) optical zoom and image stabilizer; manual mic level controls, plus a wind filter
What I didn't care for:
- Strong highlight clipping at times (use i-Contrast to reduce)
- Not competitive with best super zooms in terms of performance (especially autofocus), LCD/EVF quality, and movie mode
- EVF is small, not very sharp, and a bit washed out
- Videos are a bit choppy due to 24 fps frame rate
- ISO fixed at 100 when shutter speed drops below 1 second
- Can't access memory card slot while using a tripod
- Full manual on CD-ROM; no video cable included
Some other super zoom cameras to consider include the Fuji FinePix S4000, Kodak EasyShare Max Z990, Nikon Coolpix P500, Olympus SP-810UZ, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX100V.
As always, I recommend heading to your local camera or electronics store to try out the PowerShot SX40 HS and its competitors before you buy!
Have a look at our photo gallery to see how the PowerShot SX40's image quality looks!