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DCRP Review: Canon PowerShot TX1  
   

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: April 2, 2007
Last Updated: January 3, 2012

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The PowerShot TX1 ($499) represents somewhat of a departure for Canon. It's really their first true hybrid product, offering both advanced still and video recording capabilities in one camera. It's also a bit of a gamble, for two reasons. First, it's expensive -- nearly $200 more than the PowerShot S3 IS. Also, similar hybrids such as the Sony Cyber-shot M-series and Pentax MX4 were less than successful.

So what makes the TX1 interesting? Here's the short list:

  • A 10X optical zoom lens in a very small package
  • Optical image stabilization
  • DIGIC III image processor
  • Flip-out, rotating 1.8" LCD display
  • Advanced movie recording features: 720p, stereo sound, zoom capability
  • Component video output
  • In-camera redeye reduction (finally)

As I mentioned, the TX1 is one expensive camera. At $500, the camera is the most expensive ultra zoom camera on the market. Is it worth the price, or will the TX1 join the ranks of the Sony M1/M2 and Pentax MX4 as failed hybrid cameras? Find out now in our review!

What's in the Box?

The PowerShot TX1 has an above average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 7.1 effective Megapixel PowerShot TX1 camera
  • 32MB MMCplus memory card
  • NB-4L lithium-ion rechargeable battery
  • Battery charger
  • Faux leather wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • Component video cable
  • A/V output cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Canon Digital Camera Solution
  • 32 page basic + 161 page advanced + 84 page software manuals (both printed)

Canon includes a 32MB MMCplus memory card with the TX1. I've never seen an MMCplus card before -- it looks like an SD card, but with more contacts. These cards currently top out at 4GB, as far as I know. Naturally, the TX1 is also compatible with the more familiar SD, SDHC, and MMC formats. If you're mostly shooting still images then I'd suggest a high speed 1GB card as a good starter size. If you're doing lots of 720p movies then I would go for something like a 4GB SDHC card.

The PowerShot TX1 uses the very familiar NB-4L lithium-ion rechargeable battery for power. This battery packs 2.8 Wh of energy into its slim case, which isn't much. Here's a look at how the TX1's battery life numbers compare with those from other reasonably compact ultra zooms:

Camera Battery life, LCD on
(CIPA standard)
Battery used
Canon PowerShot S3 IS * 550 shots 4 x 2500 mAh NiMH
Canon PowerShot TX1 * 160 shots NB-4L
Casio Exilim EX-V7 * 240 shots NP-50
Fuji FinePix S700 500 shots 4 x 2500 mAh NiMH
GE X1 * 600 shots 4 x 2500 mAh NiMH
Kodak EasyShare V610 135 shots KLIC-7001
Nikon Coolpix S10 * 300 shots EN-EL5
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 * 270 shots CGA-S007
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H7 * 300 shots NP-BG1

* Has optical image stabilization

Battery life numbers are provided by the manufacturer

It's hard to have a battery life comparison when most of the competition is so much larger than the TX1, and thus uses more powerful batteries. If you look at the four compact models on the list (TX1, V610, S10, TZ3) you will see that the TX1's battery life falls well below average.

With that in mind, I recommend picking up a spare battery. Like all proprietary batteries, the NB-4L is expensive (priced from $34), and you can't use an off-the-shelf battery when it dies. That said, there's no way Canon was going to fit AAs into this camera.

When it's time to recharge the NB-4L, just pop it into the included CB-2LV charger. This is my favorite type of charger -- it plugs right into the wall. It takes just ninety minutes to fully charge the battery.

As you can see, Canon built a lens cover into the PowerShot TX1. You can also tell just how small it is: it's like a chunky Digital ELPH.


Cable city

One of the "big features" on the TX1 is its component video output support. If you've got an HDTV then you can enjoy your photos and movies at resolutions up to 1080i. Movies you've recorded at the 720p setting look very nice. You will have to connect both sets of cables to the TV (save for the yellow composite cable), since the component cables only carry video.

The PowerShot TX1 is pretty light on accessories compared to other ultra zooms, which isn't terribly surprising considering its design. You can buy an external slave flash (priced from $91), which attaches to the tripod mount and fires when the onboard flash does. The only other thing is an AC adapter (priced from $47), for powering the camera without draining the battery.


ImageBrowser (Mac OS X)

Canon includes version 30 of their Digital Camera Solution software package with the PowerShot TX1. The main applications are the ImageBrowser/ZoomBrowser "twins" that come with all PowerShot models. ImageBrowser is for the Mac, while ZoomBrowser is for Windows PCs. The Mac version is not Universal, so it doesn't run as fast as it could on Intel-based Macs.

After you download photos via the CameraWindow application, you'll end up with the screen above, which has a standard-issue thumbnail view. Photos can be organized, printed, and e-mailed from this screen.

Double-click on a thumbnail and you'll bring up the edit window. Editing functions include trimming, redeye removal, and the ability to adjust levels, color, brightness, sharpness, and the tone curve.


ImageBrowser - MovieEdit Task (Mac OS X)

One of the big features on the TX1 is its movie mode, and part of the Canon software package is ready for the job. The MovieEdit task lets you edit videos, complete with transitions, effects, text overlays, and much more. Perhaps the most important feature is the ability to downsize the videos, which makes them easier to share with friends via e-mail or your website.


PhotoStitch (Mac OS X)

A separate program called PhotoStitch can, well, stitch together separate photos into one giant panorama. The interface is simple, the process takes minutes, and the results are impressive, as you can see. You can use the TX1's StitchAssist feature to line up the photos side-by-side with just the right amount of overlap.

The TX1's documentation comes in several parts. You get a basic manual to get you up and running, and an advanced manual for more complex camera features. There are also separate manuals for the bundled software and for direct printing (via PictBridge). While the manuals aren't what I'd call pleasure reading, they will answer any question that may come up about the camera.

Look and Feel

The PowerShot TX1 is an ultra compact metal camera that looks more like a vertically-oriented camcorder than anything. While its build quality is very good for the most part, there are a few cheap-feeling plastic parts, most notably the door over the battery compartment.

Ergonomics are not the TX1's strong point. I feel that the camera may actually be too small, as the controls are tiny, cluttered, and poorly placed. Holding it the proper way (with your fingers near the important buttons) is not comfortable, and I ended up putting my other hand on the LCD to stabilize it better (which sort of defeats the purpose of having a small camera). The four-way controller is way too small, and it makes navigating menus very frustrating, as it's hard to push it in the direction you intended. And -- this is kind of embarrassing -- it took me a few minutes to find the power button, which is off by itself on one side of the camera.

The bottom line here, and I can't stress this enough, is to try out the PowerShot TX1 in person before you buy it.


Comparing the TX1 and its arch rival (the Panasonic Lumix TZ3) is a little weird, due to the TX1's unusual design

Now, here's a look at how the TX1 compares with some of the competition in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot S3 IS 4.6 x 3.1 x 3.0 in. 42.8 cu in. 410 g
Canon PowerShot TX1 3.5 x 2.4 x 1.1 in. 9.2 cu in. 221 g
Casio Exilim EX-V7 3.8 x 2.4 x 1.0 in. 9.1 cu in. 150 g
Fujifilm FinePix S700 4.2 x 3.0 x 3.2 in. 40.3 cu in. 306 g
Kodak EasyShare V610 4.4 x 2.2 x 0.9 in. 8.7 cu in. 160 g
Nikon Coolpix S10 4.4 x 2.9 x 1.6 in. 20.4 cu in. 220 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 4.2 x 2.4 x 1.5 in. 15.1 cu in. 232 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H7 4.3 x 3.3 x 3.4 in. 48.2 cu in. 375 g

It's not quite the smallest ultra zoom on the market (the Kodak EasyShare V610 wins that award), but the PowerShot TX1 is still way smaller than most of the competition.


The TX1 is like a Digital ELPH that ate too much for dessert

Ready to tour this unique camera now? Me too.

Probably the most impressive feature on the PowerShot TX1 is its lens. Not because it's a great lens, but mostly for the sheer feat of shoe-horning a 10X zoom into such a tiny body. When the camera is powered on, the lens extends maybe 3/4" out of the body and stays there -- everything else moves internally. The lens isn't terribly fast (F3.5 - F5.6), but that's one of the tradeoffs of having such a compact big zoom lens. The focal range of the lens is 6.5 - 65 mm, which is equivalent to 39 - 390 mm. Yeah, that's not much of a wide end. As you might expect, you cannot attach conversion lenses to the TX1.

Inside the lens is Canon's optical image stabilization. Tiny movements of your hands create what is informally called "camera shake". This shake can blur your photos, especially in low light or on long telephoto shots. Sensors inside the camera detect this motion, and one of the lens elements is shifted to compensate. Now it won't work miracles (no handheld 1 second exposures) and it won't stop a moving subject, but it will allow you to use slower shutter speeds than you could otherwise. Want an example?


Image stabilization off


Image stabilization on

Both of the above shots were taken at 1/8 second, which will typically result in a blurry picture. And what do you know, it does! That is, unless you turn on image stabilization, which gives you a nice sharp photo. If you want another demo of the OIS system, check out this short sample movie.

Directly above the lens is the built-in flash. The flash strength is -- to be blunt -- terrible. The working range is 0.5 - 2.0 m at wide-angle and 1.0 - 1.2 m at telephoto, both at Auto ISO. The flash range on the Panasonic Lumix TZ3 is considerably better. If you want more flash power on this camera you'll want to pick up the slave flash that I described in the previous section.

Right next to the flash is the AF-assist lamp, which also serves as the visual countdown for the self-timer and as the redeye reduction lamp. The AF-assist lamp is used by the camera as a focusing aid in low light.

Over on the LCD portion of the camera you'll find the stereo microphone. Yes, like the PowerShot S3, this camera records 44 kHz stereo sound. There's even a wind filter for shooting when it's breezy outside.

Another one of the hallmark features on the PowerShot TX1 is its flip-out, rotating LCD display. The LCD can rotate 270 degrees, from pointing at the floor all the way around to pointing at your subject. When the screen is flipped around, the view on it does as well (so everything's still right side up). The LCD can be flush against the body for playing back your photos, and naturally you can close it altogether.

I'm a big fan of rotating LCDs. They let you shoot over the heads of those in front of you, or take ground level shots without having to actually be on the ground.

Here's the back of the TX1, with the LCD in the "traditional" position. After reviewing cameras with big LCDs for so long, I was disappointed that the one on the TX1 is only 1.8 inches in size. Obviously, Canon couldn't put a larger one on without increasing the size of the camera (which would be fine with me). On a larger LCD I'd complain about the 115,000 pixel resolution of the TX1's screen, but here it is more than adequate. Outdoor visibility was average, while low light viewing was excellent, as the screen brightens automatically when the lights go down.

As you've probably noticed by now, there is no optical viewfinder on the PowerShot TX1. In fact, there's no room for one. This will bother some folks, while others won't care. In other words, it's up to you whether this is a big deal or not.

Moving now to the top portion of the camera body, we find two buttons plus the tiny four-way controller that I complained about earlier. The buttons include Display (toggles the info shown on the LCD) and Menu (which does just as it sounds). The four-way controller is used for menu navigation as well as:

  • Up - ISO (Auto, Hi Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600) + Jump (quickly move ahead in playback mode)
  • Down - Drive (Single-shot, continuous, continuous AF, self-timer [2 or 10 sec, custom]) + Delete photo
  • Left - Focus mode (AF, macro, infinity)
  • Right - Flash setting (Auto, on, off)
  • Center - Function Menu / Set

The TX1 has two ISO modes: regular Auto and Hi Auto. As you might have guessed, one will push the sensitivity higher than the other. I'll have more on this subject later in the review. I would only use the Hi Auto mode if you know that you'll be making small prints of the photo.

There are two continuous shooting modes to choose from on the PowerShot TX1. The regular one will keep taking photos at around 2 frames/second until your high speed memory card is full. That's pretty nice. The other continuous mode, continuous AF, will refocus before each shot, which slows the burst rate dramatically -- to 1.1 frames/second. Whichever mode you choose, the LCD keeps up with the action, with no blackouts.


Function menu

By pressing the center button on the four-way controller (which is more difficult than it sounds), you'll open up the Function menu. This menu has the following options:

  • Manual mode (Manual, super macro, color accent, color swap, stitch assist) - only displayed with mode dial at the M position
  • Special scene mode (Portrait, night snapshot, indoor, foliage, snow, beach, aquarium) - only displayed with mode dial at the SCN position
  • Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments)
  • Long shutter mode (1 - 15 sec)
  • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, custom) - see below
  • My Colors (Off, vivid, neutral, sepia, black & white, positive film, lighter skin tones, darker skin tones, vivid blue, vivid green, vivid red, custom color) - see below
  • Aspect ratio (4:3, 16:9)
  • Compression (see chart later in review)
  • Resolution (see chart later in review)

Set the mode dial to the "M" position and you'll unlock that manual mode submenu. The super macro mode lets you basically have the lens up against your subject -- but more on that later. Color Accent records your photo in black & white, except for the color you select. Color Swap does just as it sounds -- you swap one color for another. There are additional color options in the My Colors menu. Buried in there you'll find the custom color option, which allows you to adjust contrast, sharpness, saturation, plus red/green/blue and skin tone levels. The Stitch Assist feature helps you line up photos side-by-side for later stitching into a single panoramic shot.

The TX1 has a custom white balance mode, which lets you use a white or gray card for perfect color in any lighting. This will come in handy when you're shooting in unusual lighting condition, like I do in many of the test shots later in the review. This, along with the long shutter speed option, are the only manual controls on the camera.

The PowerShot TX1 is the first Canon camera to have an aspect ratio menu. Switching to 16:9 allows you to shoot both widescreen photos and movies (in 720p no less).

Below the four-way controller is the rather unusual zoom controller. Push up to zoom in, and down to zoom out. There are basically three zoom speeds: low (only available in movie mode), medium, and fast. The time it takes to traverse the 10X zoom ranges from 4 seconds at low speed to 2.8 seconds at medium speed to 1.5 seconds at high speed. There are plenty of stops along the way, as well. Quick taps of the zoom controller can move the lens very precisely.

Under the zoom controller is the dedicated movie recording button. Press it once to start recording, and again to stop. You can take a still photo while recording your movie by pressing the shutter release button that you'll see in a sec.

So what's behind that plastic door at the bottom of the photo? Let's take a look:

Well what do you know, it's the memory card slot! This slot supports SD, SDHC, MMC, and MMCplus formats. The plastic door that covers it is of average quality.

And here we are on the top of the PowerShot TX1. As you can see, that stainless steel really attracts fingerprints. The only things to see here are the shutter release and Print/Share buttons.

When you're connected to a computer or Pictbridge-enabled photo printer, the Print/Share button lights up. Pressing it when connected to a PC brings up the menu you see above, which allows you to transfer photos and even set the desktop background. When hooked into a printer, it will start printing the current photo. When you're not attached to either of those, you can have the Print/Share button perform a function that you define in the menu (more on that later).

Here's one side of the camera, with the LCD in the closed position. The only new things to see here are the power button and the speaker. The stereo microphone is at the bottom of the photo, on the LCD.

On the other side of the camera you'll find the mode dial, which has just four options: playback, auto record, manual record, and scene. The manual record mode doesn't really give you any manual controls (save for white balance and long shutter speed) -- it just unlocks all the menu options.

The lens is at the full telephoto position here, which is the place as it is at full wide-angle. Nothing ever protrudes any further out from the camera than what you see here.

On the bottom of the camera you'll find a metal tripod mount, the battery compartment, and the I/O ports. The plastic door over the battery compartment is very flimsy and feels like it could easily bust off -- really a shame considering this camera's price tag. The I/O ports have a rubber cover protecting them, and they include A/V out, component video out, and USB. The TX1 supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard, for fast photo and video transfer to your PC.

The included NB-4L battery can be seen at right.

Using the Canon PowerShot TX1

Record Mode

It takes a little over 1.3 seconds for the TX1 to extend its lens and "boot up" before you can take a picture. That's not too shabby.


No histograms here (and none expected)

Autofocus speeds were about average. At the wide end of the lens (and in good light), focus times ranged from 0.2 to 0.4 seconds. Things are slower at the telephoto end of the lens, but not terrible either: focus was usually locked in under a second. Low light focusing was excellent thanks to the TX1's AF-assist lamp.

I did not find shutter lag to be a problem, even at the slower shutter speeds at which it can occur.

Shot-to-shot speeds were excellent, with a delay of about one second between shots.

You can delete a picture as it's been saved to the memory card by pressing "down" on the four-way controller.

Now, here's a look at the image size and quality choices available on the camera:

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # Images on 32MB card
(included)
# images on 1GB card (optional)
Large
3072 x 2304
Superfine 3.0 MB 9 312
Fine 1.9 MB 15 502
Normal 902 KB 33 1040
Wide (16:9)
3072 x 1728
Superfine 2.3 MB 12 414
Fine 1.4 MB 21 670
Normal 678 KB 43 1372
Middle 1
2592 x 1944
Superfine 2.4 MB 11 380
Fine 1.5 MB 21 678
Normal 695 KB 42 1342
Middle 2
2048 x 1536
Superfine 1.6 MB 18 590
Fine 893 KB 33 1058
Normal 445 KB 66 2082
Middle 3
1600 x 1200
Superfine 1002 KB 30 942
Fine 558 KB 53 1678
Normal 278 KB 102 3180
Small
640 x 480
Superfine 249 KB 114 3554
Fine 150 KB 177 5494
Normal 84 KB 278 8634

The TX1 doesn't support the RAW or TIFF image formats, nor would I expect it to.

Images are named IMG_xxxx.JPG, where x = 0001 - 9999. The file numbering is maintained even if you replace and/or format memory cards.

Now, onto the menus!

The PowerShot TX1 uses the standard Canon menu system. It's attractive, responsive, and easy to navigate. Here's the full list of items in the record menu:

  • Face detect AF (on/off) - see below
  • Digital Zoom (Off, 1.5X, 1.9X, Standard) - see below
  • Slow synchro (on/off)
  • Redeye reduction (on/off) - uses the redeye reduction lamp to reduce this annoyance
  • Custom self-timer - a very handy feature
    • Delay (0-10, 15, 20, 30 secs)
    • Number of shots (1 - 10)
  • Light metering (Multi-segment, center-weighted, spot)
  • Auto ISO shift (on/off) - see below
  • AF mode (Single, continuous) - see below
  • AF-assist beam (on/off)
  • Review (Off, 2-10 seconds, hold) - post-shot review
  • Save original (on/off) - whether an unretouched copy of a photo taken in My Colors mode is saved
  • Reverse display (on/off) - whether the image on the LCD is flipped when you turn the LCD all the way around
  • Auto category (on/off) - puts photos into categories based on your shooting mode; more on this later
  • Display overlay (Off, gridlines, 3:2 guide, both)
  • IS mode (Off, continuous, shoot only, panning) - see below
  • Set Print/Share button (Off, exposure compensation, white balance, custom WB, digital tele-converter, display overlay, LCD off, play sound effect [huh?]) - redefine what this button does
The camera has detected three faces When I pressed the shutter release halfway, it locked focus on four of them

One of the big gimmicks in 2007 is "Face Detection". I can't say that I've ever had problems taking photos of people before this feature existed, but apparently it was a big one, since plenty of new cameras have it. The camera will locate up to three faces when you're framing the shot, and can lock focus and exposure onto up to nine of them when you halfway press the shutter release. If it can't find any faces, it will switch back to regular 9-point AiAF mode. For what it's worth, I have found Canon's FD system to be better than most of the other ones out there.

The TX1 supports Canon's "new" digital zoom feature. Canon calls the 1.5X and 1.9X options a "digital tele-converter" -- it's basically just fixed digital zoom. The Standard option is what you'll find on every camera. The TX1's Safety Zoom feature warns you when you pass the point where image quality is degraded. When you're shooting at the highest resolution that starts as soon as digital zoom kicks in, but if you're using a lower resolution you can use it for a little while before that happens (e.g. you can go up to 19X total zoom at the M3 resolution). This feature can be found on other cameras (Sony calls it Smart Zoom; Panasonic: Extended Optical Zoom), and you can do the same thing in your favorite photo editor as well.

Auto ISO shift is a rather interesting feature. If you halfway press the shutter release button and get the flashing red "shake warning" that you can see in the right face detection sample, you can press the blinking Print/Share button, and the camera will choose an ISO that will result in a sharp photo. Of course, pressing the Print/Share button while simultaneously holding down the shutter release isn't easy -- it requires two hands.

There are two autofocus modes on the camera. Single AF is your standard "press the shutter release halfway and the camera will lock focus" feature. Continuous AF mode is always trying to focus, even when you're not touching the shutter release. This means faster focus times (and movies that stay in focus), but less battery life.

There are three image stabilization modes to choose from on the TX1. Continuous IS starts stabilizing the image as soon as you halfway-press the shutter release. This lets you compose your photo without any shaking. For more effective image stabilization you'll want to use the "shoot only" mode, which activates the OIS system when the photo is actually taken. The panning mode only stabilizes up and down motion, which you'll want to use when you're tracking a subject moving from side to side. You can also turn the whole thing off, which is advisable when shooting on a tripod.

The setup tab in the menu has the following items:

  • Mute (on/off) - turns off all the beeps
  • Volume
    • Startup volume (Off, 1-5)
    • Operation volume (Off, 1-5)
    • Self-timer volume (Off, 1-5)
    • Shutter volume (Off, 1-5)
    • Playback volume (Off, 1-5)
  • Audio
    • Mic level (Auto, manual)
    • Level (-40 to 0 dB) - for use in manual mode
    • Wind filter (on/off)
  • LCD brightness (-7 to +7 in 1-step increments)
  • Power saving
    • Auto power down (on/off)
    • Display off (10, 20, 30 sec, 1-3 min)
  • Time zone (Home/world)
  • Date/time (set)
  • Clock display (0-10, 20, 30 secs, 1-3 mins) - you can use the camera as a watch, if you want
  • Card format
  • File number reset (on/off) - maintain file numbering
  • Create folder
    • Create new folder - on the memory card
    • Auto create (Off, daily, weekly, monthly) - this new features will automatically create new folders on the memory card at set intervals
  • Auto rotate (on/off) - camera will automatically rotate portrait photos on the LCD
  • Distance units (m/cm, ft/in) - for the focus range which is shown on the LCD
  • Lens retract (1 min, 0 secs) - how quickly the lens retracts when you switch to playback mode
  • Language
  • Video system (NTSC, PAL)
  • Print Method (Auto, PictBridge)
  • Reset all - back to defaults

Well enough about menus, let's do photo tests now.

The PowerShot TX1 did a fine job with our macro test subject. While a bit "warm", the colors are accurate and saturated. The image has the "smooth" appearance that we have come to expect from Canon cameras.

There are two macro modes on the TX1. The standard macro mode, which works only for the first third of the focal range, has a minimum focus distance of 10 cm, which isn't all that great. For real close-ups you'll want to use super macro mode, which locks the lens at the wide end, and lets you basically have your subject pressed up against the lens (the official focus distance is 0 cm).

The night scene turned out nicely as well. For long exposures like this you'll need to use either a scene mode or the long shutter speed feature. The camera took in plenty of light, the buildings are sharp, and purple fringing is minimal. Noise levels are reasonable considering the resolution of the camera.

There are two ISO tests in this review. The first one uses the night scene above, so you can see how noise levels look at high ISOs in low light. Since I can't select shutter speeds faster than 1 second, the test stops at ISO 400. The studio ISO test later in the review will show the whole range. Here we go:


ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200


ISO 400

There's not much of a difference between the ISO 80 and 100 shots in terms of noise. Things get worse quickly, though, with noticeable loss of detail at ISO 200. At ISO 400 things are quite bad, and I would not recommend using this setting (or anything higher for that matter) in low light situations.

In a moment you'll see that the PowerShot TX1 does a lot better in the noise department in better lighting.

There's moderate barrel distortion at the wide-angle end of the TX1's 10X zoom lens. This tends to make straight lines curved, as you can see in this shot. While vignetting (dark corners) was not a problem, I did spot some corner blurring on a few occasions.

I knew there would be a redeye problem as soon as I saw how close the lens and flash were on the TX1. And sure enough, it's bad. But wait -- I do have some good news. Canon has included a redeye removal tool in playback mode which can rid you of this annoyance.

Okay, so it's not perfect (white eyes, anyone?), but it's better than the original.

As always, your experiences with redeye will vary, but odds are that you'll be dealing with it frequently on this compact camera.

And now it's time for ISO test number two, which is shot in my "studio". You can compare this test with those in other reviews on this site. While the crops below give you a quick view of the differences at the various ISO sensitivities, it's a good idea to view the full-size images as well. And with that...


ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200


ISO 400


ISO 800

ISO 1600

As you'd expect, there's not much of a difference between the first three crops. At ISO 400 some grain starts to show up, reducing your print size a bit. ISO 800 is fairly noisy and you'll be making small prints only at that setting. ISO 1600 is a mess, with tons of noise and reduced color saturation -- avoid if possible.

Overall, the photos produced by the PowerShot TX1 are of very good quality. They are typically well-exposed, with pleasing, saturated colors, and Canon's trademark smooth appearance. Noise levels are low below ISO 400, though you start to see the effects of noise reduction kicking in at ISO 200 (example), which reduces your output size a bit. While purple fringing made a few appearances in my real world photos, it wasn't what I would consider a problem.

Now, take a look at our extensive TX1 photo gallery, and maybe print a few of the photos if you can. Then and only then can you decide if the TX1's photo quality meets your expectations.

Movie Mode

The last of the big features on the PowerShot TX1 is its movie mode. While most cameras are still stuck at 640 x 480, Canon has blown them all away by supporting 720p recording on the TX1. For those who aren't hip with HD jargon, that's 1280 x 720 widescreen video at 30 frames/second (though true 720p is 60 fps). Sound is recorded in stereo at a higher sampling rate than normal (44 kHz), and there's a wind filter for shooting outdoors. Did I mention that you can use both the optical zoom lens and image stabilizer while you're filming?

Wipe off the drool -- it's time for a dose of reality. While those specs are fantastic, the camera limits your recording time to just under fourteen minutes of continuous video in 720p mode. While that limit is due to a 4GB file size limit, the underlying reason for this is Canon's use of the OpenDML JPEG codec. OpenDML JPEG (also known as M-JPEG) is basically a bunch of JPEGs strung together into a movie, which is very inefficient, leading to enormous file sizes. Every second of 720p video takes up over 4.4MB on your memory card -- thus, you'd fill up a 1GB card in 3.5 minutes. Canon could've used a more modern and efficient codec such as H.264 or DiVX, but they chose not to. The official line from Canon is something to the tune of "you can grab high quality stills from any frame of the movie", though the cynic in me thinks it has more to do with their not wanting to pay licensing fees.

So how do you take longer movies? If you want to stick with 720p, you can use the LP (long play) mode, which doubles recording time, though there will be a loss of video quality to go along with that. There are two 640 x 480 modes, one "regular" and one long play, with a 1GB card holding 7.5 and 15 minutes of video, respectively. If you don't mind an even lower resolution, you can record at 320 x 240 at either 30 or 60 frames/second.

By the way, a high speed memory card is required for continuous video recording at the highest resolutions.

While you're recording a movie, you can take a full resolution still photo by pressing the shutter release button. There's a brief stop in the action, but the movie keeps on going after the image is written to the memory card. Movies can be trimmed down in playback mode, and you can choose to overwrite the original movie, or create a new one.

Displaying native 720p sample movies is not a simple proposition. My 12 second sample movie weighs in at over 51MB, which I can't post for everyone to download. So, what I did was to convert the movie to MPEG-4 format, making sure that the video quality was as close to the original as possible. This results in a much more manageable download for you, and lower bandwidth costs for me.

Here is the first of two sample movies in this review. If you absolutely must download the original AVI file, click here -- and maybe donate a few bucks while it's downloading.


Click to play movie (12.7 MB, 1280 x 720 , 30 fps, MPEG-4 format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime
.

I have another movie for you as well, taken at the more traditional 640 x 480 resolution. This one wasn't converted to MPEG-4, so it's straight out of the camera. The wind filter was turned on here -- though it didn't help all that much.


Click to play movie (16.5 MB, 640 x 480 , 30 fps, AVI format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime
.

Playback Mode

The TX1's playback mode is quite nice. Basic features include slideshows, image protection, image rotation, voice captions, thumbnail view (which is nicer than on most cameras since it enlarges the photo you're looking at), and zoom and scroll. This last feature lets you enlarge the picture up to 10X, and then scroll around in the zoomed-in area. The tiny four-way controller was frequently unresponsive while I was trying to quickly move around in the enlarged image. When you're zoomed in you can press the Func/Set button and then move from photo to photo at the same magnification setting.

I already told you about the effective redeye removal tool that can be found in the playback menu. It's quick and painless to use, and your original image can be saved. Most of the My Colors features can be used in playback mode, save for Color Accent, Color Swap, and Custom Color.


Assigning a category to a photo

The new My Category feature lets you assign photos to any of seven possible categories. If you have Auto Category turned on in the recording menu then this will be done automatically for some of your photos, depending on what scene mode you used to record them. There are three custom categories, though I don't see a way to give them a name instead of the generic "My Category 1". You can select images by their category and display slide shows of them, or delete/protect them.

The Jump feature lets you move forward or back 10 or 100 photos at a time, and you can also go to the first photo in a category or folder. As the screenshot above shows, you can also jump ahead by date using this feature.

In addition to recording stills and videos, the PowerShot TX1 can also be used for recording audio clips. You can record up to two hours of continuous audio at the sampling rate of your choosing, as long as its 11 kHz, 22 kHz, or 44 kHz. Sound is recorded in stereo.

By default you won't get much information about your photo while in playback mode. But press the Display button and you'll get more info, including a histogram.

The PowerShot TX1 moves between images almost instantly, with your choice of two snazzy transitions. Like most of Canon's other cameras, when you rotate the camera 90 degrees, the photo on the LCD rotates too.

How Does it Compare?

The PowerShot TX1 is Canon's first venture into camera/camcorder hybrid territory, and the results are mixed. They've created a camera that's big on style and features, but lacking in terms of ergonomics, flash strength, movie recording times, and battery life. The TX1 also has to overcome another issue, and that's its price. It's hard to justify paying $500 for style, when Canon's own PowerShot S3 and Panasonic's DMC-TZ3 offer many of the same features (and more, in some areas) for $170 less. The TX1 certainly isn't a bad camera -- it's just hard for me to jump up and down about something that isn't quite worth its price premium.

The TX1 is an ultra-compact ultra zoom camera that looks like a cross between a vertically-oriented camcorder and a Digital ELPH. It's small -- too small in my opinion -- and made almost entirely of metal. The one big weak spot on the camera is the plastic door over the battery compartment, which is really flimsy considering the price of the TX1. Holding the camera with one hand feels awkward, and I always found myself putting my left hand onto the LCD to take the strain off of my right. The controls are pretty tiny as well, with the four-way controller being especially difficult to use. Keeping with the "small" theme, the TX1's flash is very weak.

Somehow Canon managed to shoe horn a 10X optical zoom lens into the TX1's compact form factor. This lens starts out at the very telephoto 39 mm, so it's not great for indoor shots. The lens-shift image stabilization system does a good job of countering the effects of camera shake, and it can be used for both stills and movies. The TX1 features a flip-out, rotating 1.8" LCD that feels so small compared to what's on other ultra zooms, but there's really no room for a larger one. Outdoor visibility was average, while low light viewing was excellent. There is no optical viewfinder on the camera.

The PowerShot TX1 basically has the same feature set as the Digital ELPH models, with a few features borrowed from its big brother, the S3 IS. In terms of shooting mode, you'll find that they're all automatic. There are a few scene modes to be found, but Canon didn't go overboard with them like many manufacturers tend to do. The only manual controls are on the camera are for slow shutter speeds and custom white balance, both of which are quite handy. In addition to recording stills and movies (which I'll discuss in a moment), the TX1 can also be an audio recorder, capturing up to 2 hours of high quality sound. The TX1 can also output 1080i video via an included component video cable. It works as advertised, though keep in mind that you'll still need to hook up the regular A/V output cable if you want audio playback.

The feature that is both the most exciting and the most disappointing on the PowerShot TX1 is its movie mode. First, the good news. You can record video at 720p -- that's 1280 x 720 @ 30 frames/second -- with high quality stereo sound, an optional wind filter, and the use of both the optical zoom and the image stabilizer. The movies recorded at this setting look spectacular -- easily the best of any digital camera on the market. And now, the bad news. Since Canon uses an inefficient video codec, you can only record 14 minutes of continuous 720p video -- as that's when you hit the 4GB file size limit. Free space on your memory card disappears at a whopping 4.4 MB/sec in 720p mode, which means not only means do you need a huge memory card for recording video, but also that you'll need to downsize and recompress the videos for sharing with others. There are other resolutions available, including a "long play" 720p mode, which will allow for longer movies.

Camera performance was above average in most areas. The TX1 starts up in about 1.3 seconds and focuses fairly quickly, even at the telephoto end of the lens or in low light. The face detection autofocus feature worked as advertised, and better than most FD systems that I've tested. Shutter lag was not a problem, and shot-to-shot delays were minimal. The TX1's continuous shooting mode was very nice, allowing you to shoot an unlimited number of photos at 2 frames/seconds, assuming that you're using a high speed memory card. Like all Canon cameras, the TX1 supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard, for fast data transfer to your Mac or PC. The one big negative in the performance department is battery life: it's well below average, even in the compact ultra zoom group.

Photo quality was very good for the most part. The TX1 took well-exposed photos with pleasing color and sharpness, and not much purple fringing (for an ultra zoom). Noise levels are low through ISO 400, with higher sensitivities best saved for desperation. You will see also get noise reduction artifacting starting at ISO 200, which smudges details and gives solid colors a "mottled" look. I had no doubt that the camera was going to have redeye problems (and it does), but the removal tool in playback mode did a pretty good job of eliminating this annoyance.

So what are my final thoughts on the PowerShot TX1? As a serious gadget geek, I think it's pretty cool -- flawed, but fun to show off to friends. As someone who is supposed to help people wisely spend their money on a camera, I have a hard time recommending it, when other options are available for much less. If you want an ultra zoom that's really small and stylish with a fancy, memory card gobbling movie mode and don't mind parting with five bills, then the TX1 is worth a look. If huge movies aren't as important to you, then you could save a bundle by looking at something like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 -- a camera that offers many of the same features in a more traditional (but still compact) body. I think the PowerShot TX1 is a good first effort for Canon in the hybrid category, and I'm hoping the next iteration will finally be the camera/camcorder combo we've been waiting for.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality
  • Big zoom in a compact, stylish metal body
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Flip-out, rotating LCD display is visible in low light
  • AF-assist lamp, good low light focusing
  • Top-notch movie mode: super high 720p resolution with stereo sound, wind filter, and use of optical zoom and image stabilizer (but see issues below)
  • Impressive continuous shooting mode
  • Effective redeye reduction tool in playback mode (and you'll need it)
  • Component video output
  • Doubles (triples?) as an audio recorder
  • Capable software package
  • USB 2.0 High Speed support

What I didn't care for:

  • Expensive
  • Camera's small size means lousy ergonomics: tiny controls, uncomfortable to hold, requires two hands for best stability
  • Inefficient video codec means huge movie file sizes and limited recording times (14 mins at 720p setting)
  • Fair amount of noise reduction artifacts at ISO 200
  • Below average battery life
  • Weak flash, lots of redeye (though at least it can be removed now)
  • No optical or electronic viewfinder
  • More manual controls would be nice
  • Cheap plastic door over battery compartment
  • Would've been nice had the lens started at something wider than 39 mm

If it's a compact ultra zoom you want, the only other options are the Casio Exilim EX-V7 (only a 7X zoom), Kodak EasyShare V610 (which I'd avoid), Nikon Coolpix S10, and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3. If you don't mind something a little larger then consider the Canon PowerShot S3 IS, Fuji FinePix S700, GE X1, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H7.

Given its unusual design and awkward handling, I strongly recommend trying the TX1 out in person before you buy it. Once at the store you should also have a look at the competition I just mentioned.

Photo Gallery

See how the photos turned out in our gallery!

Feedback & Discussion

To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.

If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

Want another opinion?

You'll find more reviews of the TX1 at Digital Photography Review, Steve's Digicams, and CNET.