Canon PowerShot SX40 HS Review


The Canon PowerShot SX40 is a fairly large super zoom digital camera. Its body is made of a mix of plastic and metal, and it feels solid in most areas. The camera is easy to hold (though the grip could be larger), and the most important controls are always within easy reach of your fingers. The highlight of the camera is undoubtedly its 35X zoom lens, with an incredible 24 - 840 mm range. You'll need a good image stabilization system with a lens that powerful, and the one on the SX40 never let me down. On the back of the camera you'll find a feature that's been a part of Canon ultra zooms for a long time: a rotating LCD. This LCD is 2.7" is size, but its resolution of 230,000 pixels is disappointing compared to what models from Panasonic, Nikon, and Sony offer. Another way to compose photos is via the SX40's electronic viewfinder, but this too is small and low resolution. The SX40 has a powerful built-in flash that doesn't seem to have a redeye problem, but if you want more power, flexibility, and even wireless control, then you can attach an external flash to the camera's hot shoe.

The SX40 has a fairly standard Canon feature set. The point-and-shoot crowd will find a Smart Auto mode (with auto scene selection), a large selection of scene modes, and numerous "Creative Filters". The menu system -- already easy to work with -- is made even more user-friendly by a Hints & Tips feature. Manual control lovers will have the ability to tweak exposure, white balance, and focus, with two types of bracketing available. The SX40 is quite customizable, with a button, menu, and two spots on the mode dial that can do your bidding. What is the SX40 missing in the manual control department? It doesn't support RAW or white balance fine-tuning, and the ISO is fixed at 100 at slow shutter speeds. A feature that I found handy is i-Contrast, which reduces highlight clipping and brightens shadows (depending on the scene), though you'll want to bump the ISO to 200 (or just use Auto) so it can do its thing. As you might expect, the SX40 also records Full HD video, complete with stereo sound, use of the very quiet optical zoom, and image stabilization. While there aren't any manual exposure controls available, you can adjust the mic level or turn on a wind filter. While the SX40's movie mode is perfectly acceptable, it isn't as impressive as what you'll find on the latest models from Sony and Panasonic, both of which record Full HD video at a buttery smooth 60p, compared to a somewhat choppy 24p here.

I can reuse the previous sentence when talking about camera performance, as well. The PowerShot SX40 is average in nearly all respects, and if you've used the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150, it feels downright sluggish. The only areas in which the SX40 performs better-than-average are startup speed (1.2 seconds) and continuous shooting. Autofocus speeds are decent, but I've seen better. Shutter lag was barely noticeable at slow shutter speeds, but you should really be using the flash or a tripod in those situations anyhow. Shot-to-shot delays ranged from 2 seconds without the flash, to around 3 seconds with it. As I mentioned, the camera's burst modes are pretty good. The High-Speed Burst HQ mode fires off eight shots in a row at 10 frames/second, though the LCD is blacked out during shooting. If you want unlimited continuous shooting, you'll be able to fire away at an impressive 2.5 fps. The SX40's battery life is about average for a super zoom camera.

Photo quality, on the other hand, was very good. The only real issue I had with the SX40 was highlight clipping, and that can be greatly reduced by using the i-Contrast feature. Otherwise, exposures were accurate, and colors were very pleasing to the eye. Images have the "smooth" appearance that is somewhat of a Canon trademark. The SX40 keeps noise under control until ISO 800, and you can even get away using ISO 1600 for small prints, which is at least a full stop better than last year's SX30. There weren't any major lens issues (fringing, distortion, or corner blurring), either. Redeye was not an issue, courtesy of the dual removal system that the SX40 uses.

Overall, the Canon PowerShot SX40 HS is a good super zoom camera, but there are better choices out there. In terms of design and features, it's very competitive. Photo quality is a little better than most of the cameras in this class. Where the SX40 lags a bit is in terms of performance, manual controls, and movie mode. The last super zoom camera I reviewed was the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150, which has a less powerful lens, but a better LCD and EVF, much faster autofocus, and 1080/60p video recording with manual controls -- and I have reason to believe that Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-HX100V will also provide strong competition for the SX40. While the PowerShot SX40 is a super zoom camera that is good enough to earn my recommendation, I think you may be best served by considering one of the models I just mentioned.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality, with low noise through ISO 800
  • Incredible 35X, 24 - 840 mm zoom lens
  • Optical image stabilization; camera will select the proper IS mode for you (in Smart Auto mode)
  • Flip-out, rotating 2.7" LCD display offers good outdoor / low light visibility
  • Good selection of manual controls
  • Smart Auto mode picks a scene mode for you; tons of scene modes and Creative Filters
  • i-Contrast feature brightens shadows, reduces highlight clipping (set the ISO to 200 to use)
  • Zoom Framing Assist helps you track moving subjects when you're really zoomed in
  • Redeye not a problem
  • Customizable button, menu, and spots on mode dial
  • Cool face, smile, and wink self-timers
  • Hot shoe for external flash
  • Records Full HD (1080/24p) video with stereo sound, use of (nearly silent) optical zoom and image stabilizer; manual mic level controls, plus a wind filter

What I didn't care for:

  • Strong highlight clipping at times (use i-Contrast to reduce)
  • Not competitive with best super zooms in terms of performance (especially autofocus), LCD/EVF quality, and movie mode
  • EVF is small, not very sharp, and a bit washed out
  • Videos are a bit choppy due to 24 fps frame rate
  • ISO fixed at 100 when shutter speed drops below 1 second
  • Can't access memory card slot while using a tripod
  • Full manual on CD-ROM; no video cable included

Some other super zoom cameras to consider include the Fuji FinePix S4000, Kodak EasyShare Max Z990, Nikon Coolpix P500, Olympus SP-810UZ, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX100V.

As always, I recommend heading to your local camera or electronics store to try out the PowerShot SX40 HS and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Have a look at our photo gallery to see how the PowerShot SX40's image quality looks!

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