Canon PowerShot SX1 IS Review

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor

Originally Posted: May 5, 2009

Last Updated: September 14, 2009

The PowerShot SX1 ($599) takes the PowerShot SX10 super zoom camera and turns it into a "hybrid", capable of recording movies in Full HD (1920 x 1080). As you'd expect, sound is recorded in stereo, with full access to both the optical zoom and image stabilizer. The secret lies in the sensor: the SX1 uses a CMOS sensor, instead of the more traditional CCD found in the SX10. Another benefit of the CMOS sensor is faster continuous shooting: the SX1 is capable of taking photos at 4 frames/second, compared to 1.4 fps on the SX10. Though it has nothing to do with the sensor, the SX1 also sports a larger (and widescreen) LCD than the SX10.

What hasn't changed? The PowerShot SX1 has the same 20X wide zoom lens, image stabilizer, manual controls (more or less), rotating LCD, and hot shoe as the SX10.

The chart below highlights all the major differences between these two Canon super zooms:

Feature PowerShot SX10 IS PowerShot SX1 IS
Street price (when review was posted) $373 $595
Sensor size/type 1/2.3" CCD 1/2.3" CMOS
LCD size, style 2.5", rotating 2.8", rotating, widescreen
LCD resolution 230,000 pixels 230,000 pixels
EVF size 0.44" 0.40"
EVF resolution 235,000 pixels 148,000 pixels
Shutter speed range 15 - 1/3200 sec 15 - 1/3200 sec *
Flash range (Auto ISO) 0.5 - 5.2 m (W)
1.0 - 2.8 m (T)
0.5 - 4.8 m (W)
1.0 - 2.6 m (T)
RAW format support No Yes
Continuous shooting rate 1.4 fps 4.0 fps
Movie mode max resolution 640 x 480 1920 x 1080
Movie mode max recording time
(at highest resolution)
45 mins 12 mins
Wireless remote support No Yes
HDMI output No Yes
Battery life (CIPA standard, with four 2500 mAh NiMH batteries) 600 shots 420 shots
Dimensions (W x H x D) 4.9 x 3.5 x 3.4 in. 5.0 x 3.5 x 3.5 in.
Weight 560 g 585 g
* Shutter speeds below 1 second are only available in long shutter mode

So there you have the main differences between the $399 PowerShot SX10 and the $599 PowerShot SX1. You might have noticed that 1) the SX1 costs $200 more and 2) the SX1 is actually worse than the SX10 in a few areas.

The PowerShot SX1 faces tough competition from Sony's new Cyber-shot DSC-HX1. To find out how those two compare, and see if the SX1 is worth the extra money compared to the SX10, keep reading -- our review starts right now!

Since the cameras are so similar, portions of the PowerShot SX10 review will be reused here.

What's in the Box?

The PowerShot SX1 IS has a good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 10.0 effective Megapixel PowerShot SX1 IS digital camera
  • Four AA alkaline batteries
  • Lens cap
  • Lens hood
  • Wireless remote control
  • Neck strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Canon Digital Camera Solution
  • 304 page camera manual (printed)

Canon doesn't include a memory card with the SX1, nor is there any memory built in. That means that you'll need to supply your own. The SX1 supports numerous types of media, includes SD, SDHC, MMC, MMCplus, and HC MMCplus cards (I'd stick with the first two). If you're going to be taking a lot of movies, then I'd recommend a Class 6, 4GB SDHC card at the very least.

Like its predecessors, the SX1 uses AA batteries for power. You'll find four alkaline batteries in the box with the camera, which will quickly end up in your recycling bin. To save money and the environment, I highly recommend picking up NiMH batteries (2500 mAh or better) plus a fast charger. Here's what kind of battery life you'll get out of the camera when you're using those:

Camera Battery life, LCD on
(CIPA standard)
Battery used
Canon PowerShot SX1 IS * 420 shots 4 x 2500 mAh NiMH
Canon PowerShot SX10 IS 600 shots 4 x 2500 mAh NiMH
Casio Exilim EX-FH20 * 430 shots 4 x 2500 mAh NiMH
Kodak EasyShare Z980 * 400 shots 4 x 2100 mAh NiMH
Nikon Coolpix P90 200 shots EN-EL5
Olympus SP-590UZ 340 shots 4 x AA alkaline
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28 460 shots CGR-S006
Pentax X70 * 170 shots D-LI92
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 * 390 shots NP-FH50

* HD movie mode

Battery life numbers are provided by the camera manufacturers

All of the cameras on the above list feature zoom lens of 18X and above, plus image stabilization of some kind. About half have HD movie modes, though only the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1's comes close to the one on the PowerShot SX1. Despite being a lot worse than its cheaper sibling, the PowerShot SX1 still manages to post better-than-average battery life numbers.

About 50% of the cameras in the above table use AA batteries, which is something I always like to see. They're cheaper than their proprietary counterparts, and if your rechargeable die, alkaline AAs can be found anywhere in the world.

Canon PowerShot SX1 in the hand

Canon includes a lens cap with the PowerShot SX1, but they seem to have forgotten to include a retaining strap! While the cap stays on securely, you can't just let it "hang around" when you take it off. You can clip it to the neck strap, or just stuff it in your pocket.

PowerShot SX1 with lens hood

Two nice things you'll also find in the box include a lens hood and a wireless remote control. The lens hood is great for shooting outdoors, but don't forget to take it off when you're using the flash. The remote control isn't even an option on the SX1's sibling, the PowerShot SX10.

Seeing how they're almost identical, it should come as no surprise that the PowerShot SX1 and SX10 support the same accessories. Here's a quick list of them:

Accessory Model # Price * Why you want it
External flash 220EX
430EX II
580EX II

From $122
From $160
From $269
From $405

Boost flash range and reduce redeye; you can use most third party flashes as well, though these sync with the camera
Speedlite Transmitter ST-E2 From $219 Lets you control two separate groups of external flashes, wirelessly
Battery/charger kit CBK4-300 From $40 Includes four 2500 mAh NiMH batteries and a charger
AC adapter CA-PS700 From $41 Power the camera without wasting your batteries
HDMI cable HTC-100 From $47 You can get these for about a tenth of the price elsewhere
Deluxe soft case PSC-4000 From $31 Protect your camera from the elements
* Prices were accurate when review was published

Unlike earlier models in Canon's PowerShot S-series, the SX1 and SX10 don't support lens accessories -- at least, not officially.

CameraWindow in Mac OS X

Canon includes version 39.1 of their Digital Camera Solution Disk with the PowerShot SX1. The first part of the software suite that you'll probably encounter is Camera Window (pictured above), which is used to download photos from your camera.

ImageBrowser in Mac OS X

Once that's done 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.

Double-click on a JPEG image and you'll bring up the photo in its own window. Editing functions include trimming, redeye removal, and the ability to adjust levels, color, brightness, sharpness, and the tone curve. There's also an auto adjustment feature, for those who don't mess with all those controls.

Despite the SX1's fancy mode, the only editing you can do with the bundled software is trim unwanted footage off the beginning or end of a clip.

While the Browser software can view RAW images that you've taken with the PowerShot SX1, it cannot edit or convert them. For that, you'll want to use the next product.

Digital Photo Professional in Mac OS X

That product is none other than Digital Photo Professional 3.6, which is also included with Canon's digital SLRs. The main screen isn't too much different from Image/ZoomBrowser, with your choice of three thumbnail sizes, plus a thumbnail w/shooting data screen. The batch processing tool lets you quickly resize and rename a large number of photos.

RAW editing in DPP

The RAW editing tools in DPP are quite robust. DPP lets you tweak exposure, the tone curve, highlight and shadow detail, color tone and saturation, white balance, and sharpness. You can also adjust the amount of noise reduction being applied, for both luminance and chrominance noise.

Don't know what the big deal is about RAW? RAW images contain unprocessed image data direct from the camera's sensor. Thus, you can adjust settings like white balance and exposure without damaging the original image, so it's almost like taking the photo again. The downside is the large file size, fewer shots in continuous shooting mode, and the need to post-process each image on your computer before you can turn it into a more common format like JPEG.

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 very easy to use, and the results can be impressive. While using the SX1'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.

Since someone is bound to ask: the PowerShot SX1 cannot be controlled from your computer, at least not with Canon software.

Canon includes an in-depth manual with the PowerShot SX1 IS. It's certainly not the most user-friendly manual out there (expect lots of "notes" on each page), but it should answer any question that you may have about the camera. There are separate manuals included for the software bundle as well as for direct printing.