Canon PowerShot SX10 IS Review

Using the Canon PowerShot SX10 IS

Record Mode

It takes just 1.2 seconds for the PowerShot SX10 to extend its lens and prepare for shooting. That's very good for a camera with a big lens.

A live histogram is available in record mode

Focusing performance was very good. At wide-angle (and good light), the SX10 typically took between 0.2 - 0.4 seconds to lock focus. Telephoto focus times ranged from 0.6 - 1.0 seconds, and rarely a little bit longer. The SX10 turned in a mixed performance in terms of low light focusing. Sometimes it locked just fine, other times you'd get the dreaded "yellow box", which means that it couldn't focus (though at least it was quick in doing so). You also need to watch your left hand, as it's fairly easy to block the AF-assist lamp.

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

You'll wait roughly 1.5 seconds between shots if you're not using the flash, and between 2-3 seconds if you are. If you have the focus check feature turned on, the focus point or selected faces will be enlarged on the LCD or EVF.

You can delete a picture after you've taken it by pressing the delete photo (focus point) button on the back of the camera.

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

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # images on 2GB card (optional)
3648 x 2736
Super fine 4.2 MB 448
Fine 2.5 MB 749
Normal 1.2 MB 1536
Widescreen (16:9)
3648 x 2048
Super fine 3.2 MB 596
Fine 1.9 MB 1007
Normal 918 KB 2048
Medium 1
2816 x 2112
Super fine 2.7 MB 714
Fine 1.6 MB 1181
Normal 780 KB 2363
Medium 2
2272 x 1704
Super fine 2.0 MB 960
Fine 1.1 MB 1707
Normal 556 KB 3235
Medium 3
1600 x 1200
Super fine 1002 KB 1862
Fine 558 KB 3235
Normal 278 KB 6146
640 x 480
Super fine 249 KB 6830
Fine 150 KB 10245
Normal 84 KB 15368

Much to the dismay of many of you, the PowerShot SX10 does not support the RAW image format (though I'm sure you'll be able to add it via the CHDK hack at some point).

Unlike most of Canon's other models, the SX10 does not have the "postcard" resolution, which allowed you to print the date on your photos. Thus, if you want the date on your photos, you'll have to add it on your computer.

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 SX10 has the standard Canon menu system, though the customizable My Menu is a new addition. It's attractive, responsive, and easy to navigate. The menu is divided into four tabs: Shooting, Setup, My Camera, and My Menu. Keeping in mind that not all of these options are available in every shooting mode, here's the full list of items in the first tab:

  • AF Frame (FlexiZone, Face Detect, Center) - last option is only available in Auto or Scene mode; see below for more
  • AF-point zoom (on/off) - enlarges the focus point or the selected faces
  • Servo AF (on/off) - see below
  • AF mode (Single, continuous) - see below
  • Digital Zoom (Off, 1.4X, 2.3X, Standard) - see below
  • Flash control
    • Flash mode (Auto, manual) - the latter lets you adjust the flash strength; only available in the manual shooting modes
    • Flash exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, in 1/3EV increments)
    • Flash output (Minimum, medium, maximum) - only available with flash mode set to manual
    • Shutter sync (1st-curtain, 2nd-curtain)
    • Slow synchro (on/off)
    • Redeye correction (on/off) - digital redeye removal, as the photo is taken
    • Redeye reduction lamp (on/off) - a little extra help
    • Safety FE (on/off) - whether the camera adjusts the shutter speed or aperture to avoid overexposure when using the flash
  • i-Contrast (Auto, off) - see below
  • Drive settings
    • Face self-timer (1 - 10 shots)
    • Self-timer (2 or 10 secs, custom)
    • Custom delay (0-10, 15, 20, 30 secs)
    • Custom shots (1-10)
  • Spot AE point (Center, AF point) - what area of the frame is metered when in spot metering mode
  • Safety shift (on/off) - camera will adjust the shutter speed or aperture as needed to obtain a proper exposure when in the priority modes
  • Auto ISO Shift (on/off) - discussed earlier
  • MF-Point zoom (on/off) - enlarges the center of the frame in manual focus mode
  • Safety MF (on/off) - allows you to press the focus point button to activate autofocus momentarily when using manual focus
  • AF-assist beam (on/off)
  • Review (Off, 2-10 seconds, hold) - post-shot review
  • Review info (Off, detailed, focus check) - detailed shows you shooting data and a histogram; focus check enlarges the focus point or faces
  • Save original (on/off) - for the My Colors feature
  • Reverse display (on/off) - whether the image on the LCD is flipped when the screen is rotated
  • Auto category (on/off) - photos are automatically categorized based on the scene mode they were taken in; more on this later
  • IS mode (Continuous, shoot only, panning, off) - see below
  • Custom display settings - you can have two sets of these for both the LCD and EVF:
    • Shooting info (on/off)
    • Grid lines (on/off)
    • 3:2 guide (on/off)
    • Histogram (on/off)
  • Set Shortcut button (Off, metering, white balance, custom WB, redeye correction, digital teleconverter, i-Contrast, AE lock, AF lock, display off) - define what this button does
  • Save settings - save your favorite camera settings to the "C" position on the mode dial
FlexiZone AF lets you position the focus point anywhere in the frame (save for a margin around the edges) You can also adjust the size of the focus point

Lots to talk about before we move on. First up, the AF frame options. FlexiZone lets you use the four-way controller to select the area in the frame on which to focus -- which comes in handy when the camera is on a tripod. In the automatic shooting modes, a center-point focus mode is also available. For either of these two modes, you can set the size of the focus point(s) to "regular" or small.

Face detection

Naturally, the PowerShot SX10 supports face detection. The camera can locate up to nine faces in the frame, making sure they are properly focused and exposed. Like on the PowerShot G10, the face detection system here seems a little "jumpy" -- I don't know if it's my test scene or what, but the detected faces would blink on and off. It does detect faces very well, however. The SX10 allows you to select a face and then track that person as they move around the frame, which works, as long as they keep looking toward the camera.

There are two AF modes to choose from on the camera. Single AF focuses only when you halfway press the shutter release button. In continuous AF mode, the camera is focusing constantly, which means less waiting when it's time to actually take a photo. The downside is that continuous AF puts an extra strain on your battery.

There's also a new Servo AF feature, normally found on digital SLRs. This will track a moving subject as they move around the frame -- perfect for action shots.

The PowerShot SX10's has Canon's recently updated digital zoom feature. Canon calls the 1.4X and 2.3X options a "digital teleconverter" -- it's basically just fixed digital zoom. The Standard option is what you'll find on every camera - you can select whatever amount of digital zoom that you want. The 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 more of it. At the M3 (1600 x 1200) picture size, you can achieve a whopping 46X total zoom using this feature!

Another new feature on the PowerShot SX10 is called i-Contrast This feature attempts to brighten dark areas of a photo, and it's turned off by default. You can also use after-the-fact in playback mode, if you wish. Here's a good example of this feature in action:

i-Contrast off
View Full Size Image
i-Contrast on
View Full Size Image

As you can see, the shadow areas of the image are a lot brighter with i-Contrast turned on. It's almost a little too contrasty for my taste, and I noticed that some highlights that were okay in the original image were clipped in the i-Contrast photo. Noise levels will increase if this feature is used, as well. I'd recommend using it on a case-by-case basis.

The Auto Category feature assigns one of the standard photo categories (people, scenery, events) to a photo based on what scene mode you used to take the picture. You can edit these -- or manually assign a category -- in playback mode.

What are those three IS modes all about? Continuous mode activates the OIS system as soon as you halfway press the shutter release, which helps you compose the photo without camera shake. The "shoot only" option doesn't turn it on until the photo is actually taken, which improves the performance of the OIS system. The panning mode only stabilizes up and down motion, and you'll want to use this while tracking a moving subject horizontally. You can also turn the whole thing off, which is advisable if you're using a tripod.

There's also a setup menu, which is available in both the record and playback mode menus:

  • Mute (on/off) - quickly turn off the camera's beeps and blips
  • 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) - if you selected manual above
    • Wind filter (on/off)
  • LCD/EVF brightness (Normal, bright) - each is adjustable separately
  • Power saving
    • Auto power down (on/off)
    • Display off (10, 20, 30 sec, 1-3 min)
  • Time zone (Home, world)
  • Date/time
  • Clock display (0-5, 10, 20, 30 secs, 1, 2, 3 mins) - hold down the Func/Set button while turning on the camera and the SX10 becomes an expensive clock
  • Card format
  • File numbering (Continuous, auto reset)
  • 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)
  • 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

The next tab in the menu system, My Camera, allows you to customize the startup screen, beeps, and phony shutter sounds that your camera makes.

The last tab in the menu is called My Menu, and it's been lifted straight from Canon's digital SLRs. You can select what items you want here, and whether the camera goes to this menu (instead of the record menu) when you press the Menu button.

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

I have no complaints about how the PowerShot SX10 handled our macro test subject. Colors are both accurate and saturated, and the camera has the smooth look that's a trademark of Canon's cameras (though plenty of detail is captured). I don't see any noise or noise reduction artifacting here, nor would I expect to.

There are two macro modes at your disposal on the SX10. The regular macro mode is limited to focal lengths between 28 and 85 mm, and you can get as close to your subject as 10 and 40 cm, respectively. If you need to get closer, switch on super macro mode, which reduces the distance to 0 cm -- that's right, zero. Do note that the lens is fixed at full wide-angle when using super macro mode.

The night shot also turned out pretty well. Bringing in enough light for a proper exposure is easy, as the camera offers full control over shutter speed. The buildings are nice and sharp here, though you will find some noise reduction artifacting here and there, though it won't keep you from making a large print. Purple fringing levels were low. Oh, and for those who are wondering, that's a plane in the sky in the full size image, not a UFO.

Let's use that same scene to see how the PowerShot SX10 performed at higher sensitivities in low light:

ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

The ISO 100 shot is just a tad bit noisier than the one at ISO 80. Noise reduction becomes a lot more noticeable at ISO 200, reducing your max print size down to midsize. Details really start to disappear at ISO 400, and I wouldn't take the SX10 any higher in these situations. The ISO 800 and 1600 photos have too much detail loss to be usable.

Look for a "normal lighting" ISO test in a moment.

There's mild-to-moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the PowerShot SX10's 20X zoom lens. As usual, this photo gives you a good illustrate of the effect of barrel distortion. I didn't find vignetting (dark corners) or corner blurriness to be a problem on this camera.

Canon has taken a two-pronged approach to redeye removal on the SX10. You can have it use the AF-assist lamp to shrink the size of your subject's pupils (which isn't new), and you can also have the camera digitally remove any redeye that it finds (this is new). The first time I took the test shot, the camera couldn't find any eyes in the photo, so there was redeye. I took it again, and this time the digital redeye removal did the job. Therefore, if this happens to you, either take the photo again, or just use the removal tool in playback mode.

Now it's time for our second ISO test, which is taken in the studio. Thus, it's comparable between cameras I've reviewed over the years. While the crops below give you a quick idea as to the noise performance at each sensitivity, I highly recommend viewing the full size images as well. Here we go:

ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

The ISO 80 and 100 photos are both very clean, with the ISO 200 shot showing just a tiny bit of noise. You start to see a bit of detail loss at ISO 400, but you should be able to make a midsize or large print without a problem. Things continue to worsen at ISO 800, where details are soft and fuzzy. I wouldn't take things any higher than this in good lighting. The ISO 1600 shot is pretty noisy, and should be used in desperate circumstances only.

This seems to be a common refrain lately, but: if the lighting is good, then you'll get very nice photos out of the PowerShot SX10 IS. They're generally well-exposed, though there's some minor highlight clipping here and there. Colors are pleasing -- they're accurate and quite vivid as well. Sharpness is just how I like it: not too sharp, not too soft. Being a 10 Megapixel camera, it's not surprising that there's going to be some heavy noise reduction going on. You will find the negative effects of noise reduction in fine details, as well as in solid areas of color, such as the sky -- even at ISO 80. It doesn't really hold you back until ISO 400 in low light, and ISO 800 in good light, though. Purple fringing is a fairly common occurrence on ultra zoom cameras, and you'll see it in several of my sample photos, though it never got too bad.

Now, I invite you to have a look at our extensive photo gallery. Browse through the photos, and maybe print a few of them, if you can. Then you should be able to decide if the PowerShot SX10's image quality meets your expectations.

Movie Mode

The PowerShot S5 had a great movie mode, and when the SX10 was announced, I was really hoping that it A) had a high definition mode and B) used a more efficient codec. Only half of my wishes came true. The SX10 uses the much more efficient H.264 codec, but the resolution remains unchanged at 640 x 480, 30 frames/second (the PowerShot SX1, mentioned at the start of the review, offers an HD movie mode). The new codec allows you to record 45 minutes of continuous video at the highest quality setting. Sound is recorded in stereo, and you can manually adjust the mic level and turn on a wind filter if needed.

For smaller file sizes and a longer recording time, you can drop the resolution down to 320 x 240 (the frame rate remains the same).

As with its predecessors, the PowerShot SX10 allows you to use the optical zoom while filming. The ultrasonic lens moves silently, so minimal motor noise is picked up by the microphones. The optical image stabilizer is also available.

The SX10 is capable of taking a still photo while recording a movie. Do note that the movie will pause briefly while the still photo is recorded to the memory card.

I produced two sample movies for this review. One is an action movie (with a little zoom action), the other more of a "still life", if you will. Enjoy:

Click to play movie (14.5 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, QuickTime format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Click to play movie (17.2 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, QuickTime format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The PowerShot SX10 IS has a very nice playback mode. Basic features include slideshows, image protection, DPOF print marking, voice captions, thumbnail view, and zoom & scroll. This last feature will enlarge the image by as much as ten times, and let you move around. You can use the scroll wheel on the back of the camera to move from image to image, while keeping the zoom and scroll setting intact. You can also use the Focus Check feature here, which enlarges the focus point or the faces that were detected in the photo.

Photos can be rotated, resized, and cropped right on the camera. You can apply most of the My Colors feature to your photos, as well. If there's any redeye in your photos, you'll find a tool to remove it here. You can also use the i-Contrast feature to brighten up the dark areas of your photos, with a choice of Auto, Low, Medium, or High settings.

If you're viewing a movie, you can use the Edit tool to trim unwanted footage off of the beginning or end of the clip.

The camera automatically put this one in the events category, since it was taken in Sports mode

Photos that were taken in certain scene modes are automatically categorized, but if you want to do it manually, just use the My Category option. Your selection is transferred to your computer along with the photo.

Moving through photos with the scroll wheel... ... and the Jump button

There are several ways to move through photos on the camera. Naturally, you can just press left or right on the four-way controller. You can also turn the scroll wheel, which gives you the screen you see on the above-left. Another option is to use the Jump feature, which lets you move ahead by date, category, file type (still or movie), or in groups of 10 or 100 photos.

Even the camera's photo deletion feature is nice. You can remove photos one at a time or all at once (of course), or by date, category, folder, or range (e.g. photos 5-9).

Sound recording tool

You can also use the SX10 to record audio clips, and that tool is located in the playback menu. You can record up to two hours of continuous audio, with three quality settings to choose from.

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 SX10 moves through images at an decent clip, with a delay of around 1 second between each one (complete with fancy transitions). Like most of Canon's cameras, when you rotate the camera 90 degrees, the photo on the LCD rotates too.