Canon PowerShot SX30 IS Review

Using the Canon PowerShot SX30 IS

Record Mode

It takes just 1.2 seconds to the SX30 to extend its lens and prepare for shooting. That's pretty quick by super zoom standards.

A live histogram is available when composing photos. The rectangle displays the recording area for movies.

Autofocus speeds were decent, though other cameras (from Panasonic, especially) do better. At the wide end of the lens you'll want from 0.3 - 0.5 seconds to the camera to lock focus. With the lens at full telephoto, expect to wait from 0.6 - 1.0 seconds for focus lock, and possibly a bit longer. This made taking photos of the Blue Angels (a few of which are in the gallery) challenging. Low light focusing took around a second, and it was accurate on most occasions (just be sure not to block the AF-assist lamp with your fingers).

Shutter lag wasn't an issue at faster shutter speeds, though I noticed a tiny bit of it at slower shutter speeds (where you should really be using a tripod or the flash, anyway).

Shot-to-shot delays were about two seconds without the flash, and three seconds with it.

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 let's take a look at the image size and quality options on the PowerShot SX30 IS:

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # images on 4GB card (optional)
3648 x 2736
Fine 3.5 MB 1058
Normal 1.7 MB 2194
Widescreen (16:9)
3744 x 2104
Fine 2.0 MB 1856
Normal 968 KB 3771
Medium 1
3072 x 2304
Fine 1.9 MB 1978
Normal 902 KB 4022
Medium 2
1600 x 1200
Fine 558 KB 6352
Normal 278 KB 12069
640 x 480
Fine 150 KB 20116
Normal 84 KB 30174

The PowerShot SX30 doesn't support the RAW image format, unfortunately.

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

When "Hints & Tips" is turned on in the setup menu, the camera will show a brief description of the highlighted menu option

The PowerShot SX30 uses the standard 2010 Canon menu system. It's attractive, easy to navigate, and features "hints & tips" that describe each option. When you're taking pictures, the menu is divided into three tabs, covering shooting, setup, and "My Menu" options. Keeping in mind that not all of these are available in each shooting mode, here's the full list:

Shooting Menu

  • AF frame (FlexiZone, center, face detect) - see below
  • 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) - camera focuses even when you're not touching the shutter release button; reduces 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 (the focus point button works, as well)
  • 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)
    • 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 (Off, auto) - see below
  • Spot AE point (Center, AF point) - whether the spot meter is linked to the AF point
  • Safety shift (on/off) - camera will adjust the shutter speed or aperture as needed to obtain a proper exposure when in the priority modes
  • Movie audio
    • Mic level (Auto, manual)
    • Level - if you chose the manual option
    • Wind filter (on/off) - reduces wind noise when recording movies outdoors
  • 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
  • Custom display settings - you can have two sets of these (for the LCD and EVF separately), which you toggle by pressing the Display button
    • Shooting info (on/off)
    • Grid lines (on/off)
    • 3:2 guide (on/off)
    • Histogram (on/off)
  • Reverse display (on/off) - properly orientates the view on the LCD when it's "flipped over"
  • IS mode (Continuous, shoot only, panning, off) - see below
  • Frame Assist display area (Small, medium, large) - how much the lens "backs away" when you press this button
  • Date stamp (Off, date, date & time)
  • Set Shortcut button (Not assigned, i-Contrast, white balance, custom WB, My Colors, bracketing, drive mode, flash exposure compensation/output, metering, image size/quality, movie quality, servo AF, redeye correction, AF lock, AE lock, digital teleconverter, LCD off) - define what this button does
  • Save settings - save your favorite camera settings to the custom spots on the mode dial

Setup 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 (1-3)
    • Operation sound (1-3)
    • Self-timer sound (1-3)
    • Shutter sound (1-3)
  • Hints & Tips (on/off) - gives you a description of menu items, as shown above
  • LCD brightness (1-5) - stores this for the EVF and LCD separately
  • 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)
  • Language
  • Reset all - back to defaults

My Menu

You can put up to five of your favorite shooting menu items here

The SX30 detected three faces in our test scene

There are three autofocus modes on the camera. The FlexiZone mode lets you select anywhere in the frame (save for a margin around the edges) on which to focus. The center-point AF mode does just as it sounds (you typically won't get this option if FlexiZone is available). For either of those, you can select the size of the focus point (small or normal), as I showed you earlier. Naturally, the SX30 has face detection as well, with the ability to find up to nine faces in the frame, making sure they're properly focused and exposed. You can also select a face in the scene that you want to "track" as they move around the scene. Like other Canon cameras of late, the SX30 was really "jumpy" while I tried to test the face detection feature, rapidly cycling between faces. It typically found about half of the six faces in the scene. I think that real world results will be better. By the way, if the camera can't find any faces, it will switch to center-point AF automatically.

I want to quickly mention the camera's digital zoom options. There are two preset "digital teleconverters", as well as a "go crazy" standard mode. All of these can degrade the quality of your photo. However, if you're willing to drop the resolution, the "Safety Zoom" feature allows you to use digital zoom without any loss in quality. For example, lowering the resolution to 7 Megapixel gives you 44X of total zoom, while the 2 Megapixel setting allows for a whopping 95X of total zoom power!

The PowerShot SX30 IS has the same i-Contrast feature as most other Canon cameras, though it's not as adjustable as on, say, the G12. Here you can choose between off or auto, and that's about it. The feature is designed to brighten underexposed areas of your photo. Let's see it in action:

i-Contrast off (default)
View Full Size Image
Auto i-Constrast
View Full Size Image

As you can see, i-Contrast did a nice job of brightening up the darker areas of the photo, though image noise increases as a result. One thing it does not address is highlight clipping -- it's too bad that the SX30 doesn't have the HDR feature found on the PowerShot G12 and S95.

The last thing I want to mention are those three IS modes. 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.

Enough about menus, let's talk photo quality now!

The PowerShot SX30 IS did a fine job with our macro test subject. The colors are nice and saturated, and there's no noticeable color cast, which can often occur with my studio lamps. The subject is slightly soft, and there's a tiny bit of noise, but neither are bad enough to warrant negative marks.

The SX30 has the closest macro focusing distance that's physically possible: 0 cm, at the full wide-angle end of the lens. Once you start to zoom, the distance rises to 30 cm, finally ending up at 1.4 m at the full telephoto position.

The night scene is good, though I see some room for improvement. The buildings are well exposed, as you'd expect on a camera with manual control over shutter speed. The buildings are sharp across the frame. I do see some pretty strong highlight clipping, and occasional cyan-colored fringing. There's a bit of noise as well, though I'm not entirely surprised, given that this is a 14 Megapixel camera with a tiny CCD.

Now, let's use that same night scene to see how the SX30 performed at higher sensitivities:

ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

There's very little difference between the first two photos. At ISO 200 you start to see some detail loss -- notice how the corners of the US Bank building are starting to fade away. There's more detail loss and some "sparkly" noise at ISO 400, so I wouldn't go any higher than this in low light, and I'd save this one for small prints only. Noise and noise reduction continue to increase at ISO 800 and 1600, and both of these should be avoided in low light situations.

I'll have examples of how the SX30 performs in normal lighting in a moment.

There's very little barrel distortion at the wide end of the SX30's 24 - 840 mm zoom lens. While the lens didn't have much in the line of corner blurriness, there is noticeable vignetting at the telephoto end of the lens (see any of the Blue Angels photos in the gallery to see what I mean).

The PowerShot SX30 takes a two-pronged approach to redeye removal. You can have it use its AF-assist lamp to shrink the size of your subject's pupils, and the camera can also digitally remove any redeye that survives that. Unfortunately, neither method completely removed "the red" from my test photo, and using the tool in playback mode didn't help. Your mileage may vary, of course, but don't be surprised to see at least some redeye in your people pictures.

Here's that second ISO test I promised, this one taken in the warm confines of our studio. Since the lighting is consistent, you can compare these results between cameras I've reviewed over the years. While the crops below give you a quick idea as to the noise levels at each sensitivity, I highly recommend viewing the full size images as well. Let's begin:

ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

The first three crops look nearly identical, with very slight increases in noise as the sensitivity rises. Noise becomes more noticeable at ISO 400, and there's a drop in color saturation, as well. In most cases, I'd stop here, unless you're really desperate, in which case ISO 800 is still usable (for small prints). The ISO 1600 image is quite noisy, so I'd pass on it.

Overall, the PowerShot SX30's photo quality is good, but not great. Exposure was generally spot-on, which is a nice change from other cameras I've reviewed recently. It shouldn't be a huge surprise that this high resolution, small-sensored camera has issues with highlight clipping, but I'll point it out anyway. Like I said before, it's a shame that the HDR feature from the PowerShot G12 and S95 didn't make it to the SX30. Colors were pleasant, and the camera handled unusual lighting conditions with ease. Images are a tad on the soft side, and noise is visible (but not too bad) at the lowest ISOs. In general, though, the PowerShot SX30 is not a camera you want to take above ISO 400 unless you're really desperate. The biggest problems on the camera are vignetting (dark corners) at the telephoto end of the lens, and purple fringing that can be strong at times. There's not a whole lot you can do about either of those, unfortunately. The 4 x 6 crowd won't be bothered by most of these things (save for the vignetting), but when viewing the images at 100% on your computer screen, you'll certainly notice.

Don't just take my word for all of this. though. Have a look at our photo gallery, perhaps printing a few pictures, and then decide if the PowerShot SX30's image quality meets your needs.

Movie Mode

The PowerShot SX30 IS has an excellent movie mode. You can record videos at 1280 x 720 (30 fps) with stereo sound until the file size reaches 4GB, which takes about twenty minutes. If you want longer movies, you can drop the resolution down to 640 x 480 (43 min time limit) or 320 x 240 (1 hr limit), both of which retain the 30 fps frame rate.

The SX30 lets you use the optical zoom lens as much as you'd like while you're recording a movie. The ultrasonic motor combined with slower-than-normal lens movement allows you to zoom smoothly and quietly. The image stabilizer is also available. Should you want to take a still photo while recording, just press the shutter release (though recording will pause while this occurs).

The camera offers manual control over the microphone level, and there's a wind screen as well, which is handy when shooting outdoors. If you're looking to adjust exposure manually, you're out of luck, though.

There are three special effect movie modes: miniature, Color Swap, and Color Accent. The former works in the same way as it does for stills, except that 1) movies are silent and 2) you can select a playback speed of 5X, 10X, or 20X. The Color Swap and Color Accent features were explained earlier.

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

I have two sample movies for you today, both involving things that ride on tracks. The street car video shows the use of the zoom, while the focal length was fixed for the Amtrak movie. Enjoy!

Click to play movie (26.7 MB, 1280 x 720, 30 fps, QuickTime/H.264 format)

Click to play movie (41.9 MB, 1280 x 720, 30 fps, QuickTime/H.264 format)

Playback Mode

The PowerShot SX30 has a pretty nice playback mode. Basic features include slideshows (complete with transitions), image protection, favorite-tagging, DPOF print marking, thumbnail view, and playback zoom. This last feature will enlarge the image by as much as ten times, and then 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 by pressing the Display button, which will enlarge the focus point or the faces that were detected in the photo.

Filtering photos by date using the Jump feature Smart Shuffle

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 lets you move through your photos a lot quicker. Another option is to use the filtered playback (jump) feature, which lets you show photos by date, category, file type, whether they're a favorite, and you can move forward or backward by 10 or 100 photos, as well. A new addition to the PowerShot SX30 is the Smart Shuffle feature, which shows four photos which are somehow related to the one currently selected (I don't really see the point of this feature).

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. The SX30 has the ability to assign a category to a photo, and in many cases, it's done automatically, based on the scene mode that was used.

The only video editing feature is a useful one -- a trimming tool to remove unwanted footage from the beginning or end of a clip.

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

The PowerShot SX30 IS moves from one photo to another without delay.