Canon PowerShot SX210 IS Review

Using the Canon PowerShot SX210 IS

Record Mode

The PowerShot SX210 extends its lens, pops up its flash, and prepares for shooting in about 1.5 seconds, which is about average.

Anybody seen a histogram?

Autofocus speeds were also average. At the wide end of the lens, the camera locked focus in 0.3 - 0.6 seconds, with telephoto times between 0.6 and 1.0 seconds (and sometimes a bit longer). Low light focusing is a bit slow, but it is accurate. You'll wait for a little over a second for the SX210 to lock focus in those situations.

I couldn't detect any shutter lag at faster shutter speeds, though there was a tiny bit of at at slower speeds.

Shot-to-shot speeds weren't great either, with delays of about 2.5 seconds without the flash, and 4 seconds with it.

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 size and quality choices available on the camera:

Resolution Quality File Size # images on 4GB card (optional)
4320 x 3240
Fine 3.5 MB 1058
Normal 1.7 MB 2194
Wide (16:9)
4320 x 2432
Fine 2.6 MB 1403
Normal 1.3 MB 2873
Medium 1
3456 x 2592
Fine 2.2 MB 1652
Normal 1.1 MB 3352
Medium 2
2592 x 1944
Fine 1.4 MB 2681
Normal 695 KB 5247
Medium 3
1600 x 1200
Fine 558 KB 6352
Normal 278 KB 12069
640 x 480
Fine 150 KB 20116
Normal 84 KB 30174

As you can see, you can fit a ton of photos on a 4GB card! Unfortunately, the PowerShot SX210 IS does not support the RAW image format.

Alright, let's move onto the menu system now!

The camera has the standard Canon menu system. It's attractive, easy-to-navigate, and features descriptions of most items (if you want). Keeping in mind that not all of these menu options are available in the auto and scene modes, here's the full list:

  • AF frame (Face detect, center) - see below
  • AF frame size (Normal, small) - select the size of the focus point in center AF mode
  • Digital zoom (Standard, off, 1.7X, 2.1X) - see below
  • AF-point zoom (on/off) - enlarges the focus point or the detected faces when you halfway press the shutter release
  • Servo AF (on/off) - camera focuses even with shutter release halfway-pressed, useful for tracking a moving subject
  • Continuous AF (on/off) - whether the camera is focusing even without the shutter release pressed; lowers focus times, at the expense of battery life
  • AF-assist beam (on/off)
  • MF-point zoom (on/off) - enlarges the center of the frame in manual focus mode
  • Safety MF (on/off) - activate autofocus momentarily when using manual focus by halfway-pressing the shutter release button
  • Flash settings
    • 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 a photo is taken
    • Redeye reduction lamp (on/off) - uses the AF-assist lamp to shrink your subject's pupils to reduce the risk of redeye
    • 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
  • 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) - puts up a warning screen if someone in your photo had their eyes closed
  • Display overlay (Off, grid lines, 3:2 guide, both)
  • IS mode (Continuous, dynamic, shoot only, panning, off) - see below
  • Date stamp (Off, date, date & time)
  • Set movie button (Record movie, face select, ISO speed, white balance, custom white balance, Servo AF, Digital Teleconverter, redeye correction, i-Contrast, display overlay, display off, not assigned)

Hard to see here, but the camera has detected four of the six faces

There are two autofocus modes on the PowerShot SX210. The first, face detect, will find up to nine faces in the scene, and will make sure they are properly focused and exposed. Canon cameras don't seem to like my test scene very much -- the camera is very "jumpy" when it comes to detecting faces. It typically found three or four faces, and should do better in the real world. If the camera cannot find any faces, it will go to center AF, which is the other AF mode on the camera. While there is a multi-point AF system on the camera, it's only available in the automatic shooting modes, and you cannot turn it on or off.

The camera has a number of digital zoom options, all of which can reduce the quality of your photo if you use too much of it. However, if you're willing to lower the resolution a bit, you can safely use the standard digital zoom setting without reducing image quality, as long as you stop zooming at the right time (the camera will warn you). At the Medium 2 (5 Megapixel) setting you can get 23X of total zoom without a loss of quality, while at Medium 3 (2 Megapixel) you get a whopping 38X.

The SX210 has the now familiar i-Contrast feature that's been on Canon PowerShots for a while now. This is supposed to brighten shadow areas of your photos, though most of the time, the difference is very subtle. If you do take a photo that could use some brightening, you can also use this feature in playback mode.

There are four image stabilization modes to choose from on the camera. Continuous has the system running as soon as you halfway-press the shutter release button. Dynamic is similar, but it provides even stronger shake reduction, but it's only usable in movie mode. The shoot only option doesn't activate IS until you actually take the photo, which results in more effective blur reduction. A panning mode only stabilizes up and down motion, which you'll want if you're tracking a subject from left-to-right, or vice versa. Finally, you can turn the whole IS system off, which is desirable when you're using a tripod.

Now, here's what you'll find in the setup tab of the menu:

  • 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, 2)
    • Shutter sound (1, 2)
  • Hints & Tips (on/off) - gives you a description of menu items
  • LCD brightness (1-5)
  • Startup image (Off, 1, 2)
  • Card format
  • File numbering (Continuous, auto reset)
  • Create folder (Monthly, daily)
  • Lens retract (0 sec, 1 min) - how quickly the lens retracts when you enter playback mode
  • Power saving
    • Auto power down (on/off)
    • Display off (10, 20, 30 sec, 1-3 min)
  • Time zone (Home, world)
  • Date/time
  • Distance units (m/cm, ft/in)
  • Video system (NTSC, PAL)
  • Eye-Fi settings
    • Eye-fi transmit (Enable/disable)
    • Connection info - shows the network you're connected to
  • Language
  • Reset all - back to defaults

Alright, that's all for menus -- let's get into photo quality now, shall we?

The PowerShot SX210 produced a pretty nice rendition of our favorite macro subject, though it's on the noisy side. You won't notice the noise unless you view the image at full size, but it's there, and more than I would like to see at the base ISO of 80. On a more positive note, colors are accurate, with the camera's custom white balance setting handling my studio lamps with ease. The subject is quite sharp, as well.

The SX210's macro range is variable. At full wide-angle, it's 5 cm. When you get to around 8X, it's 50 cm. After that, you're up to a full meter.

As you can see, it was a beautiful night for photos of the San Francisco skyline, and the SX210 did well here, at least at low sensitivities. Since it has full manual control over shutter speed, bringing in enough light was no problem. If you're a point-and-shoot user, the camera can select the night scene mode for you, even detecting when you're using a tripod. The buildings are all nice and sharp, though you'll spot some grain-style noise. The noise levels here are comparable to other high resolution compact cameras. There's some highlight clipping here as well, which is expected. One thing I didn't see much of was purple fringing, which is always a good thing.

Now, let's use that same scene to see how the PowerShot SX210 performed at higher ISOs:

ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

The first two crops are very similar, with just a slight increase in that grain-style noise at ISO 100. You start to see some mild detail loss at ISO 200, but the photo is still usable for nearly all situations. The same can't be said for ISO 400, where details start to disappear due to noise and noise reduction, which is why I'd probably keep the ISO at this point or lower, unless you're really desperate. That's because noise and detail loss get worse at ISO 800, and even more so at ISO 1600.

We'll see how the PowerShot SX210 IS fares in better lighting in a moment.

There's mild-to-moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the SX210's 14X zoom lens. You can see what barrel distortion does to real world photos by looking at the building on the right side of this photo. Two things that I didn't think were problematic were corner blurring (which surprised me, to be honest) and vignetting (dark corners).

Straight out of the camera, with both redeye reduction features on

Same photo after using redeye removal tool in playback mode

I had little doubt that the PowerShot SX210 would have a redeye problem, since its lens is so close to the flash. The camera uses the AF-assist lamp to shrink your subject's pupils to reduce the likelihood of this phenomenon, and a digital removal tool tries to get rid of it as the photo is taken. The digital tool didn't do the job when I took the photo, but going into playback mode and using the tool there did the job, as you can see.

Now it's time for the studio ISO test that I promised you. Since the lighting is always the same, you can compare these photos to those taken with other cameras I've reviewed over the years. The closest competitors to the SX210 that I have test photos of would be the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 and Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V, so open those up to do some comparisons. And lastly, be sure to view the full size images and not just the crops!

ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

There's not much to say about the ISO 80 photo -- it's pretty clean. You start to see a bit of that grainy noise creep up and ISO 100 and 200, but levels are low enough not to concern me, at least for this particular photo. Details start to get a little mushy at ISO 400, which reduces your maximum print size to small or medium. The ISO 800 image is pretty soft and noisy, and best saved for small prints. As with the night scene, I wouldn't bother with ISO 1600. Checking the competition, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V and its back-illuminated CMOS sensor definitely outperform both the PowerShot SX210 and the Panasonic ZS7 at ISO 800, though they're all pretty lousy at ISO 1600. The upcoming Fuji FinePix F80EXR will be a camera to watch closely, as its predecessor (the F70EXR) is one of the best low light cameras out there.

Overall, the PowerShot SX210 IS takes very good photos, as long as you keep the ISO toward the low end of the spectrum. Exposures were accurate, and while the camera clips highlights, it's not as bad as other recent compact cameras I've tested. Colors were nice and vivid -- no complaints there. Sharpness was just how I like it. The SX210's weak spots are related to noise and purple fringing. Noise is visible in photos taken at the base ISO of 80, and things get worse as the sensitivity increases. For the most part, this is a grain-style noise that can be removed fairly well with noise reduction software. While there's some detail loss at the lower ISOs, that doesn't really kick into high gear until you pass ISO 400. At that point there's not much you can do to improve the image quality -- here's where a RAW option would've been helpful. The other thing that really stands out is the moderate amount of purple fringing in my real world photos. I've certainly seen worse, but I would certainly expect better in this day and age. Both of these issues I raised won't really bother the 4 x 6 inch print crowd, but those making large prints or viewing images on their computer screens will surely notice.

Don't just take my word for all this, though. Have a look at our photo gallery and judge the PowerShot SX210's photo quality with your own eyes!

Movie Mode

The movie mode has been enhanced nicely on the PowerShot SX210 IS. The resolution and frame rate are the same as on the SX200 -- 1280 x 720 at 30 frames/second -- but now you can use the optical zoom while filming, and sound is recorded in stereo. As before, movie recording stops when the file size reaches 4GB, or the elapsed time reaches 30 minutes (720p) or 1 hour (lower resolutions). At the 720p setting, you'll hit the file size limit after about twenty minutes.

For longer recording times and smaller file sizes, you can lower the resolution to 640 x 480 or 320 x 240, both of which record at 30 frames/second. Whichever resolution you choose, you can record movies by pressing the dedicated button in every shooting mode, and you can use the shutter release button as well when the mode dial is set to movie.

As I mentioned, you can zoom in and out to your heart's content on the SX210. The lens moves slowly and fairly quietly, though the sound of the lens motor may be picked up when there's no ambient noise. The image stabilizer is also available, with your choice of regular or extra-strength dynamic shake reduction.

If you want to play with the color swap or color accent features, you can do them in movie mode as well. One feature I wish the SX210 had is a wind screen, to cut down on noise when filming outdoors.

Movies are saved in QuickTime format, using the efficient H.264 codec.

Here's a different kind of train movie for your sampling pleasure. Be warned: it's a big download. I would rate the video quality as "good, but not great".

Click to play movie (29.9 MB, 1280 x 720, 30 fps, QuickTime/H.264 format)

Playback Mode

The PowerShot SX210 IS has a pretty nice playback mode. Basic features include slideshows (complete with transitions), image protection, DPOF print marking, thumbnail view, and zoom & scroll. While you're zoomed in, you can use the scroll wheel on the back of the camera to move from image to image, while keeping the zoom and location the same. You can also use the Focus Check feature by pressing the Display button, which will enlarge the focus point or the faces that were detected in the photo.

Using i-Contrast to brighten up the church interior

Photos can be rotated, resized, and cropped right on the camera. You can apply all of the My Colors feature to your photos (except for custom), 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 an "edit tool" to trim unwanted footage off of the beginning or end of the clip.

Selecting a category

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 saved in the photo's metadata and transferred over to your computer (though only Canon's software can do anything with it). Photos can also be tagged as favorites, for easy retrieval later.

You can quickly move through photos with the scroll wheel, which is also how you can jump ahead by date

Naturally, you can move from photo to photo by pressing left or right on the four-way controller. You can go faster by using the scroll wheel, and when you stop spinning the dial, you can press up or down to jump ahead by date. The SX210 does not have the dedicated "jump" found on many other Canon cameras.

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

The speed at which the camera moves through photos depends on a few factors. If you're using the left/right buttons on the four-way controller, you'll wait about a second, due to the fancy transitions between each photo. Turn them off in the menu and it'll be instant. Using the scroll wheel is fast as well, though you're viewing smaller thumbnails.