Canon PowerShot SX200 IS Review

Using the Canon PowerShot SX200 IS

Record Mode

It takes just 1.2 seconds for the PowerShot SX200 to extend its lens, pop up its flash, and prepare for shooting. That's pretty darn quick.

There's no histogram to be found on the SX200

Autofocus performance is good, but not spectacular. Focus times at wide-angle range from 0.2 - 0.4 seconds, with telephoto delays ranging from 0.6 - 1.0 seconds. Low light focusing was fairly quick and accurate, with focus times staying under a second most of the time. Do note that the camera does not support multi-point autofocus: it's face detection or center-point only.

Shutter lag wasn't an issue, even at the slow shutter speeds were it sometimes occurs.

After you take a photo, you'll wait 1.5 seconds before you can take another. If you're using the flash, the wait goes up to four seconds, which is on the slow side. The SX200 offers a "focus check" feature, which enlarges the face of focus point in the photo that you just took.

You can delete a picture after you've taken it by pressing down on the four-way controller.

Now, here's a look at the image quality options on the PowerShot SX200. Long-time Canon users will notice that there are now only two image quality settings to choose from at each resolution!

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # images on 2GB card (optional)
4000 x 3000
Fine 3.0 MB 626
Normal 1.4 MB 1280
Widescreen (16:9)
4000 x 2248
Fine 2.3 MB 830
Normal 1.1 MB 1707
Medium 1
3264 x 2448
Fine 2.0 MB 930
Normal 980 KB 1920
Medium 2
2592 x 1944
Fine 1.4 MB 1365
Normal 695 KB 2672
Medium 3
1600 x 1200
Fine 558 KB 3235
Normal 278 KB 6146
640 x 480
Fine 150 KB 10245
Normal 84 KB 15368

The PowerShot SX200 doesn't support the RAW or TIFF image formats. There's no more "postcard" resolution to deal with, either -- you can now print the date on photos taken at any resolution.

Images are named IMG_xxxx.JPG, where x = 0001 - 9999. The file numbering is maintained even if you erase your memory card.

Now, onto the menus!

Like the Function Menu I told you about earlier, the SX200's main menu has also been redesigned, and it looks quite nice. Keeping in mind that not all of these will be available in every shooting mode, here's the full list of options in the shooting menu:

  • AF frame (Face detect, center) - see below
  • AF frame size (Normal, small) - for use with center-point AF
  • Servo AF (on/off) - see below
  • AF mode (Single, continuous) - see below
  • Digital zoom (Off, 1.5X, 2.0X, Standard) - see below
  • AF-point zoom (on/off) - enlarges the focus point or the selected faces when you halfway-press the shutter release
  • AF-assist beam (on/off)
  • MF-point zoom (on/off) - enlarges the center of the frame in manual focus mode
  • Safety MF (on/off) - allows you to press the shutter release halfway to activate autofocus momentarily when using manual focus
  • 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
    • Redeye correction (on/off) - digital redeye removal, as the photo is taken
    • Redeye reduction lamp (on/off) - attempts to shrink your subject's pupils to reduce redeye
    • Safety FE (on/off) - whether the camera adjusts the shutter speed or aperture to avoid overexposure when using the flash
  • i-Contrast (Off, auto) - see below
  • Safety shift (on/off) - camera will adjust the shutter speed or aperture as needed to obtain a proper exposure when in the priority modes
  • 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
  • Blink detection (on/off) - see below
  • Display overlay (Off, grid lines, 3:2 guide, both)
  • IS mode (Continuous, shoot only, panning, off) - see below
  • Date stamp (Off, date, date & time)
  • Set Direct Print button (Off, face select, ISO, white balance, custom WB, redeye correction, digital teleconverter, i-Contrast, grid lines, display off) - define what this button does

Face detection

The PowerShot SX200 IS has two focus modes: Face Detection and Center AF. Strangely, the usual Canon AiAF option is not available. The center-point AF option should be obvious; you can select between normal and small-sized focus points in that mode. Face detection will find up to nine faces in the frame, making sure they're properly focused and exposed. You can use the "face select" feature to choose a face in the frame to track as they move around the frame. While the camera had little trouble finding faces in our test scene, it seemed very "jumpy", constantly selecting and deselecting faces. It typically locked onto two or three faces in this test scene, though I have a feeling it could do a better job in the real world.

What the blink detection screen looks like; simulated image courtesy of Canon USA

Tied into the face detection system is Canon's new blink detection feature. If you have this feature on and you take a picture of a person whose eyes are closed, the camera will display a warning screen. There's no digital effect to open their eyes -- at least not yet.

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 Servo AF feature here, which will track a moving subject as they move around the frame -- perfect for action shots.

A quick note about the digital zoom feature on the SX200: Canon calls the 1.5X and 2.0X 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, at the expense of image quality. 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 1600 x 1200 (good enough for a 4 x 6 inch print), you can achieve a whopping 30X total zoom using this feature!

Another new feature on the PowerShot SX200 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

The best way I found to illustrate this feature is to meter the sky, which underexposes the foreground. Here you can see that i-Contrast brightens up the trees and ground quite nicely. If you meter on the darker areas of the frame, don't expect i-Contrast to do much with the clipped highlights in the sky.

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.

The other tab in the menu is for setup options, which include:

  • 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)
  • Sound options
    • Startup sound (1, 2)
    • Operation sound (1, 2)
    • Self-timer sound (1, 20)
    • Shutter sound (1, 2)
  • LCD brightness (1 - 5)
  • Start-up image (None, 1, 2)
  • Hints & Tips (on/off) - describes the options in the Function menu
  • Format (memory card)
  • 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
  • Lens retract (1 min, 0 secs) - how quickly the lens retracts when you switch to playback mode
  • Power saving
    • Auto power down (on/off)
    • Display off (10, 20, 30 sec, 1-3 min)
  • Time zone (Home, world)
  • Date/time (set)
  • Distance units (m/cm, ft/in)
  • Video system (NTSC, PAL)
  • Language
  • Reset all - back to defaults

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

The PowerShot SX200 IS did a fine job with our macro test subject. The colors look great: they're nice and vivid. The subject has the "smooth" look that is a familiar sight on a Canon digital camera. I don't see any signs of noise here, nor would I expect to.

There are two macro modes on the SX200. In regular macro mode, the minimum focus distance is 2 - 50 cm, though you can only use that range between the 1X and 4X positions. If you want to get even closer, you can use the super macro mode. This option reduces the minimum distance to 0 cm, though the lens will be locked at the wide-angle position.

The night scene turned out pretty well also. Seeing how you have full control over the shutter speed, bringing in enough light isn't a problem. The buildings are fairly sharp, though you will see the effects of noise reduction here. In the real world, you probably won't notice this noise unless you're making large-sized prints, at least at this sensitivity. There's a bit of highlight clipping and some cyan-colored fringing as well, but not enough to concern me.

Now, let's use that same night scene to see how the SX200 performed at high ISOs in low light:

ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

There isn't much of a difference between the first two crops, as you'd expect. There's more noise visible at ISO 200, which reduces your maximum print sizes a bit, though a large print isn't out of the question. I'd probably stop at ISO 400 myself, as there's a fair amount of detail loss here. While you could use ISO 800 in emergencies, I wouldn't bother with ISO 1600, as there's just too much detail loss for the photo to be usable.

We'll see how the camera performed in normal lighting in a bit.

There's fairly mild barrel distortion at the end of the SX200's 28 - 336 mm lens. You can get an idea as to what this distortion does in the real world by looking at the building on the right side of this photo. While corner blurring wasn't a problem, I did spot some vignetting (dark corners) in one of my sample photos.

Canon has taken a two-pronged approach to redeye removal on the SX200. You can have it use the redeye reduction lamp to shrink your subject's pupils, have it digitally remove any redeye that the camera finds, or both. As you can see, there's no redeye to be found here. If you have any redeye that slips by the camera's countermeasures, you can also get rid of it using the tool in playback mode.

Now it's time for our second ISO test, which is taken in our studio. Since the lighting is consistent, you can compare this test shot with others I've taken over the years (click here to open the Panasonic DMC-TZ5 review). 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

There's very little difference between the first three crops, with just a bit more noise visible in the ISO 200 image. You can make full size prints of any of these without issue. At ISO 400 there's a bit more "grainy" noise, bringing your print sizes to small or midsize. Things soften up considerably at ISO 800, again making it for desperate circumstances only. I wouldn't touch ISO 1600 with a ten foot pole.

The same things that I've written over the last year about Canon's compact cameras can basically be repeated here. The PowerShot SX200 produces very good quality photos, given that there's enough light. Exposure is generally good, though like most point-and-shoot cameras, it's prone to highlight clipping. Colors looked great -- I have no complaints there. Photos have that trademark Canon smooth look, which I always find quite appealing. Canon seems to use more noise reduction on their DIGIC 4 cameras than they used to, so details are a bit more smudged that PowerShots of years past. Even so, the SX200 still does better than most ultra zoom cameras when it comes to detail retention. Purple fringing levels were low to moderate.

Now, I invite you to have a look at our SX200 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 SX200's photo quality meets your expectations.

Movie Mode

While it's not best-in-class, the PowerShot SX200's movie mode is still a vast improvement over what Canon has offered in the past. The camera can record HD video at 1280 x 720 (720p) at 30 frames/second, with mono sound. Since Canon now uses the efficient H.264 codec, you can record longer movies than you could on PowerShots from a year ago. The maximum recording time at the HD setting is 30 minutes.

If you want smaller movies, you can select from VGA (640 x 480) or QVGA (320 x 240) resolutions. Both retain the 30 frame/second frame rate, and can record continuous video for up to an hour.

One thing that made the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5's movie mode so great was that you could use the optical zoom while you were recording a movie. Unfortunately, that's one feature you won't find on the PowerShot SX200 IS. If you want that on a Canon camera, you'll have to step up to the PowerShot SX1 or SX10 models. You can use the digital zoom, if you want, and the image stabilizer is always available.

While this isn't the most exciting sample movie, it'll have to do for now. If I come up with something better, I'll post it here. Be warned, it's a big download!

Click to play movie (31.9 MB, 1280 x 720, 30 fps, QuickTime format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The PowerShot SX200's playback mode has received a few new bells and whistles compared to the old SX100 and SX110. The basic features are more-or-less the same. You get slideshows (with transitions), image protection, DPOF print marking, thumbnail view (with many sizes to choose from), and zoom and scroll. This last feature lets you enlarge the image by up to 10X, and then move around the image. You can also view faces or the focus point by pressing the Display button a few times.

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 have a movie open, you can trim unwanted footage off of the beginning or end of the clip.

The new playback function menu

Playback options aren't just in the regular menu anymore -- there's now a playback function menu as well. Many of these options are repeats from the main menu, though there's also a "filtered playback" selection, which lets you show photos by date, category, folder, and file type.

Speaking of categories, you can assign a category of your choosing to photos. If you took a photo in certain scene modes, it may already have a category assigned.

Naturally, you can move through photos by pressing left or right on the four-way controller. By rotating the scroll wheel, you can move through them at a much faster clip, and here you can also jump forward or backward by date.

The camera lets you delete photos one at a time, in a group, or all at once.

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 SX200 moves through images at a good clip, with a delay of around half a second 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.