Canon PowerShot SX210 IS Review

Look and Feel

The PowerShot SX210 is a sleek-looking camera that straddles the line between compact and midsize. The camera is made almost entirely of metal, and it's well built, though I was disappointed to find that Canon used a plastic tripod mount here. The SX200 was a bit of an ergonomic mess, and things have only slightly improved on the SX210. There's still a pop-up flash that opens when you turn on the camera and takes up the spot where you'd normally put the fingers of your left hand. The good news is that, unlike on the SX200, you can manually close the flash if you're not going to use it. As for your right hand, I found that my thumb rested on both the mode dial and the four-way controller, which could lead to accidental setting changes. I wasn't enthused with the tiny zoom controller on the top of the camera, either. This is one of those cameras that you'll want to try before you buy it.

The SX210 (right) barely resembles its predecessor. Photos (courtesy of Canon USA) are not to scale.

From a design perspective, the SX210 bares little resemblance to the SX200 that came before it, but that's fine with me. Aside from the change in shape, the biggest difference most people will notice is the new widescreen LCD on the SX210. More on that later.

Photos courtesy of Canon USA

The PowerShot SX210 is available in three colors, including black, gold, and a rather "bold" purple.

Let's see how the SX210 compares to other compact ultra zooms in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot SX210 IS 4.3 x 2.3 x 1.3 in. 12.9 cu in. 188 g
Casio Exilim EX-FH100 4.1 x 2.5 x 1.2 in. 12.3 cu in. 181 g
Fuji FinePix F80EXR 3.9 x 2.3 x 1.1 in. 9.9 cu in. 183 g
Nikon Coolpix S8000 4.1 x 2.3 x 1.1 in. 10.4 cu in. 183 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 4.1 x 2.4 x 1.3 in. 12.8 cu in. 196 g
Ricoh CX3 4.0 x 2.3 x 1.2 in. 11 cu in. 185 g
Samsung HZ30W 4.2 x 2.4 x 1.1 in. 11.1 cu in. 211 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V 4.1 x 2.4 x 1.2 in. 11.8 cu in. 170 g

The PowerShot SX210 just edges out the Panasonic ZS7 as the largest camera in this group. It's about average in terms of weight. As you saw in the table at the beginning of the review, the SX210 is both smaller and lighter than its predecessor.

Let's begin our tour of the camera now, shall we?

Front of the Canon PowerShot S90

The PowerShot SX210 uses a new 14X optical zoom lens, up from 12X on the SX200. This lens has a maximum aperture of F3.1 at wide-angle and F5.9 at telephoto -- not super fast, but comparable or better than most cameras in this class. The focal length of the lens is 5 - 70 mm, which is equivalent to 28 - 392 mm. That should cover virtually every shooting situation you might encounter. As you might imagine, the lens is not threaded, so conversion lenses are not supported.

Like nearly all of Canon's cameras, the SX210 features an optical image stabilization system. Sensors inside the camera detect the tiny movements of your hands that can blur your photos, especially at the telephoto end of the lens, or in low light. The camera shifts one of the lens elements to compensate for this motion, which increases the likelihood of a sharp photo. Image stabilizers don't work miracles, though. They can't freeze a moving subject, nor will they let you get away with multi-second handheld exposures. That said, IS systems are way better than nothing at all!

Want to see the SX210's image stabilizer in action? Have a look at these photos:

Image stabilization off

Image stabilization on

Both of the photos above were taken at a shutter speed of 1/4 second. As you can see, the shot with image stabilization turned on is much sharper than the one without. You can also use image stabilization in movie mode -- in fact, there are two modes to choose from. There's standard continuous IS as well as something called dynamic IS, which is for strong camera shake, such as when you're in a moving car taking video of something. While I don't have a comparison of standard versus dynamic IS, I can show you the difference between standard IS and using nothing at all -- have a look at this video clip to see for yourself.

To the upper-right of the lens is the camera's flash, which pops up when the camera is turned on, and thankfully can be put back down if you don't want to use it (you can also just block it from rising in the first place). The flash is on the weak side, with a working range of 0.8 - 3.5 m at wide-angle, and 1.0 - 2.0 m at telephoto. The SX210 supports an external flash (the HF-DC1), but it's a slave flash, that simply fires when the onboard flash does (it does not communicate with the camera in any way).

Over on the other side of the lens is the camera's AF-assist lamp, which the camera uses as a focusing aid in low light situations. This lamp is also used to reduce redeye, and to serve as a visual countdown for the self-timer.

The first thing you'll undoubtedly notice on the back of the camera is its widescreen LCD display. While an LCD with this aspect ratio is very handy for recording HD movies, it's not so great when taking still photos, as they're captured at a 4:3 ratio. What that means is that you'll have black bars on both sides of the screen when you're taking stills at standard aspect ratios. Canon does include a high resolution widescreen image size which you could use, however.

As for the quality of the LCD, it's good but nothing spectacular. The resolution is your standard 230,000 pixels, and outdoor visibility was average. The camera does better in low light, providing a bright (but grainy) view of the scene.

As you can see, there's no optical viewfinder. In fact, none of the cameras in this class have one. I figure that the typical SX210 buyer won't even notice.

At the top-right of the above photo is the camera's mode dial. The mode dial is fairly "stiff", which is a good thing, since this prevents your thumb from accidentally turning it. The dial is almost completely packed with options, both point-and-shoot and manual, which include:

Option Function
Movie mode I'll talk about this later
Special Scene mode Pick the situation and the camera uses the appropriate settings. Choose from Smart Shutter, low light, color accent, color swap, fisheye effect, miniature effect, beach, foliage, snow, fireworks, Stitch Assist. See below for more.
Indoor The most popular scene modes get dedicated spots on the mode dial
Kids & Pets
Night Snapshot
Easy mode A very basic shooting mode with no selectable options. There aren't even menus.
Auto mode Point-and-shoot, with automatic scene selection. Some menu items are locked up.
Program mode Still point-and-shoot, but with full menu access. A Program Shift option lets you select from various shutter speed / aperture combinations by pressing up on the four-way controller with the shutter release button halfway-pressed.
Shutter priority (Tv) mode You choose shutter speed and the camera picks the aperture. Shutter speed range is 15 - 1/3200 sec.
Aperture priority (Av) mode You choose the aperture and the camera picks an appropriate shutter speed. Range is F3.1 - F8.0.
Full manual (M) mode Choose both the shutter speed and aperture yourself -- same ranges as above

That's quite a collection of shooting modes! The first thing to mention is the SX210's Smart Auto mode. This mode will automatically select a scene mode for you, with the ability to detect for faces, backlighting, sunsets, or when the camera is on a tripod. If you want to pick a scene mode yourself, you'll find that the most popular options have their own spots on the mode dial.

Some more unique, special effect scene modes are under the SCN option. Some of the notable options there include:

  • Smart Shutter - actually three modes in one, this offers Smile Detection, plus wink and face self-timers. Each of these modes will take anywhere from one to ten photos, and the camera can be triggered by a person smiling, a person winking (I did you not), or a new person entering the scene (presumably that's the photographer).
  • Low light - lowers the resolution to Medium and boosts the ISO as high as 6400. While not horrible, there's only so much you can do with photos taken in this mode.
  • Color accent - You select a color to "keep", while the rest of the image is turned into black and white
  • Color swap - Pick a color and swap it with another
  • Miniature effect - a special effect which makes objects in a selected area of the frame look unusually small
  • Stitch Assist - helps you line up photos left-to-right or right-to-left, for later stitching into a single image

As for manual controls, you've got the full set of exposure settings that can be adjusted, including shutter speed and aperture. One thing you won't find here is a custom spot on the mode dial, which would be used to store your favorite camera settings.

Underneath the mode dial is the dedicated movie recording button, which is also used for printing photos when you're hooked up to a printer. You can start recording movies in any shooting mode by pressing this red-colored button, and again to stop. The button next door to that is for entering playback mode.

Under that is the four-way controller / control wheel combination, which I don't like for two reasons. First off, it's small and easy to bump accidentally with your thumb. Second, the controller does several other functions, but you'd never know it, since Canon didn't put any labels on it. If you slightly press the dial in any direction it'll give you a hint, but labels would've been a lot more helpful.

Anyhow, the controller / dial combo is used for adjusting manual exposure settings, navigating menus, playing back photos you've taken, and also these surprises:

  • Up - Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, in 1/3EV increments)
  • Down - Self-timer (2 or 10 secs, custom) + Delete photo
  • Left - Focus (Normal, macro, manual)
  • Right - Flash (Auto, flash on, slow synchro, flash off)
  • Center - Function menu + Set/OK

The custom self-timer is the last of the three unique timer features on the SX210. This option lets you select both the delay before the first shot, and the total number of photos taken.

Manual focus (center frame enlargement not shown)

The manual focus option allows you to set the focus distance yourself, using the control dial. A guide showing the current focus distance is displayed on the LCD, and the center of the frame is enlarged, so you can make sure you're properly focused.

Function menu

Pressing the center button on the four-way controller options up the Function menu, which seems to be harder to navigate through than on older Canon models. The options found here include:

  • Light metering (Evaluative, center-weighted averaging, spot)
  • My Colors (Off, vivid, neutral, sepia, black & white, positive film, lighter skin tone, darker skin tone, vivid blue, vivid green, vivid red, custom color) - see below
  • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, custom) - see below
  • ISO speed (Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600)
  • Flash power (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments)
  • Drive mode (Single-shot, continuous, continuous AF/LV) - see below
  • Image size/quality (see chart later in review)
  • Movie size (1280 x 720, 640 x 480, 320 x 240) - much more on movies later

Saturation is one of the settings you can adjust with the Custom Color option

The My Colors feature should be self-explanatory, save for the custom color option. This one lets you manually adjust contrast, sharpness, saturation, as well as red/green/blue/skin tone levels.

The SX210 unsurprisingly has a custom white balance option, which lets you use a white or gray card as a reference, for accurate color in unusual lighting.

Now let's get into the continuous shooting mode on the PowerShot SX210 IS. There are three continuous modes on the camera: regular (which locks the focus on the first shot), AF (which refocuses before each shot), and LV (locks focus on first shot, for manual focus and fireworks mode only). Here's what kind of performance you can expect with the SX210's continuous modes:

Setting Performance
Continuous Unlimited @ 0.8 fps
Continuous AF/LV Unlimited @ 0.5 fps
Tested with a SanDisk Class 4 SDHC card

While the SX210 won't win any awards for speed, it does have the ability to keep shooting until your memory card fills up. The LCD keeps up fairly well with the action, though the slow burst rate makes tracking a fast moving subject a bit difficult.

Returning to the tour now: the last two items on the back of the PowerShot SX210 are the Display and Menu buttons. The Display button toggles the information shown on the LCD, while the Menu button does exactly as it sounds.

Top of the Canon PowerShot S90

Here's the top of the camera, with the flash down. As you can see, when it's up, there's nowhere to put the fingers of your left hand.

At the center of the photo is the camera's stereo microphone, which straddle the speaker. Continuing to the right, we have the power and shutter release buttons, which have the tiny zoom controller in-between them. The zoom controller is variable speed, so the more you press it, the faster the lens moves. At full speed, the lens travels from wide-angle to telephoto in 2.5 seconds, which is nothing spectacular. On the other hand, the 60+ steps in the zoom range is very nice.

Side of the Canon PowerShot S90

There's nothing to see on this side of the camera, though I will point out that the lens is at the wide-angle position.

Side of the Canon PowerShot S90

On the opposite side of the camera you'll find the SX210's I/O ports, which are protected by a plastic cover. The ports here include USB + composite A/V output (one for both) and mini HDMI.

The lens is at full telephoto here, and it's a whopper! It's amazing that it can even fit into the SX210's body when it's retracted.

Bottom of the Canon PowerShot S90

Our tour ends with a look at the bottom of the PowerShot SX210 IS. Here you'll find a plastic tripod mount (not visible here) and the battery/memory card compartment. The door that covers this compartment is of decent quality, though keep in mind that you won't be able to access it while the camera is on a tripod.

The included NB-5L li-ion battery can be seen at right.