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Canon Powershot SX100 IS Review

8 Megapixels8 MegapixelsUltra-Zoom: At least 10X optical zoom.Ultra-Zoom: At least 10X optical zoom.Stabilization: Compensates for tiny involuntary movements of the camera.Stabilization: Compensates for tiny involuntary movements of the camera.VGA Video: 640 x 480 or more but less than 1280 x 720.VGA Video: 640 x 480 or more but less than 1280 x 720.Manual Controls: Both fully-manual (M) and semi-automatic modes (T and V).Manual Controls: Both fully-manual (M) and semi-automatic modes (T and V).Custom White-Balance: Specifies exactly what should be white to the camera.Custom White-Balance: Specifies exactly what should be white to the camera.Action Photography: Shutter speeds of 1/1500 or more.Action Photography: Shutter speeds of 1/1500 or more.Night Photography: Reaches shutter-speeds longer than 4 seconds.Night Photography: Reaches shutter-speeds longer than 4 seconds.Spot MeteringSpot MeteringRuns on standard AA batteriesRuns on standard AA batteriesAccepts Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC) and SD memory.Accepts Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC) and SD memory.Neocamera detailed reviewNeocamera detailed reviewDiscontinued: No longer produced by the manufacturer. May still be in stock or found used.Discontinued: No longer produced by the manufacturer. May still be in stock or found used.

Introduction

The Canon Powershot SX100 IS packs an impressive feature set that includes a wide range of ISO, full-manual controls, manual focus, custom white-balance, exposure lock, choice of metering patterns and use of standard AA batteries. Among, compact ultra-zoom cameras, this is the only one with all these features. More features of this digital camera include a VGA movie mode, macro (1cm) & face-detect focus, built-in flash with red-eye reduction and slow-sync, single & continuous AF and multiple self-timers.

Canon SX100

The Canon SX100 is the first compact ultra-zoom digital camera from Canon. With a 10X stabilized optical zoom lens in a body that is less than 2" thick, this digital camera has an appealing form-factor that is shared with very few other cameras.

Canon SX100
Key Features
8 Megapixels sensor
10X Optical zoom lens with optical image stabilization equivalent to 36-360mm, F2.8/4.3-F8
ISO Sensitivity from 80 to 1600
Shutter-speeds from 1/2500s to 15s
Program, Aperture-Priority, Shutter-Priority and Manual exposure modes
Automatic white-balance, 5 white-balance presetsDaylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent High and custom white-balance
Evaluative, center-weighed and spot metering
Normal, Macro and Manual focus
Auto-exposure-lock (AEL)
Exposure compensation, -2..+2 EV, 1/3 EV steps
Flash compensation, -2..+2 EV, 1/3 EV steps
Manual flash control, 3 levels
Customizable self-timer with 2s and 10s presets
640x480 30 FPS Movie mode
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Suitability - What is it good for?

Canon SX100

With its standard 36-360mm zoom range and full manual-controls, the Canon Powershot SX100 is suitable for general photography with a preference for far away and macro subjects rather than large and close by ones like architecture and indoor scenery. Although both night and action photography are possible given the shutter-speed and ISO ranges available, performance will be the limiting factor at both extremes.

Usability - How easy is it to use?

Ergonomically, the SX100 has a design which combines a smooth and comfortable hand-grip with enough space to rest the thumb against the camera's back. Buttons and dials are all easily accessible with little shift from the standard two-handed holding position. There are dedicated buttons for image playback and exposure compensation. While both these buttons are easy to activate, it would make much more sense if their positions were swapped so that exposure-compensation would be easier to reach while shooting.

Canon SX100

The 4-way controller, which also rotates, gives direct access to ISO, focus, flash and drive modes. The rotating aspect is extremely useful while in manual or semi-automatic modes, plus it also allows faster menu navigation. The problem with this combined 4-way and rotating-wheel controller is that is very easy to accidentally activate the feature which you are not trying to use. During our review period, it frequently happened to activate one of the 4-way options while rotating the dial to change aperture or shutter-speeds.

The camera's 2.5" LCD features 172K pixels which make it quite sharp. Visibility is average in bright light with a good refresh rate. Under low light, the LCD gains up very well, although the refresh rate takes a dip. There are 4 buttons located below the LCD. This placement is very good because, when holding the camera with two hands, the left thumb can reach them quite comfortably. One of these buttons, labeled with the direct-print icon, is actually customizable, thus making it immensely more useful than its default purpose.

Canon SX100

The Canon Powershot SX100 IS's sleek curves reveal a modern elegance and a feeling that there is something missing from this digital camera. Indeed, neither a viewfinder nor a flash disrupts the SX100's smooth design. A relatively weak flash is actually hidden behind the silver Canon logo. This does have two advantages. One, keeping the flash closed automatically ensures that it will never fire. Two, raising the flash gives it a greater distance from the lens which reduces the probability of red-eye and lens obstruction. As for a viewfinder, the Canon SX100 does not have one. This is clearly a compromise aimed at keeping this ultra-zoom compact and affordable: a EVF would add cost and bulk to the camera, while an optical tunnel would be impractical for such a zoom range.

Canon SX100

Performance - How well does it take pictures?

The type of camera that combines a powerful zoom and a compact body must, apparently, compromise on image quality to a certain point. The image quality of the SX100 represents this compromise with both strong and weak points. Overall, image quality is reasonable but far from top-notch, specially compared to the Canon A-series of compact cameras which sport 3X to 6X zoom lenses.

Exposure is good and highly consistent. This digital camera produces bright results in most situations and requires less positive exposure compensation than most when faced with bright scenes. This is ideal for direct printing but occasionally clips highlights.

Colors from the Canon SX100 are generally accurate and well saturated without appearing over-saturated. White-balance is not perfect, but clearly better than average. Even automatic white-balance handled incandescent light sources better than most digital cameras. A slight bluish color-cast was noticed for snow-covered landscape under overcast sky.

Canon Powershot SX100 IS

Image noise is clearly this digital camera's weak point. At all ISO settings, even the lowest, noise is evident and definitely above average. This high noise causes a very noticeable loss of fine details in most images. ISO 80 to 200 are quite usable under most conditions but noise creeps up fast starting at ISO 400. By ISO 800, only the smallest print sizes can be recommended. The ISO 1600 setting produces useless results.

The big selling point of the Canon Powershot SX100 IS, its compact 10X zoom lens, is quite an achievement. Sharpness is solid with rather good edge-to-edge consistency. In our evaluation unit, there was softness only in the upper-left corner which may be a quality control problem since we have not seen this in images from other SX100 reviews.

Canon Powershot SX100 IS

Optical distortion are quite low for such a zoom range. At the normal focus range, a slight barrel distortion is visible at wide-angle. Similarly to most lens, this increases in macro mode. Chromatic aberrations are a bit higher than average but nothing terrible. The built in stabilization seems quite effective.

Canon Powershot SX100 IS - Battery Compartment

The SX100 holds its own well when it comes to speed. All controls are responsive, there is very little shutter-lag and shot-to-shot speed is quite good. Focusing is speedy in bright light and slower-but-decent in low light. The playback mode is extremely fast with nearly instant zooming and image browsing (except when using the rotating dial which purposefully slows down browsing to shot a useless animation). Startup and shutdown are average. The only slow aspects of the Canon SX100 are the continuous-drive and flash recycling time. This compact camera also performs very well in terms of battery-life using only 2 standard AA batteries.

Conclusion

Let's get the only serious problem out of the way: The Canon Powershot SX100 IS has a very noisy sensor that destroys details even at low ISO. No doubt about it, this bad for large prints and low-light shooting.

Nearly every other aspect of the SX100 in terms of quality, performance and feature set is impressive. Of the few compact ultra-zoom digital cameras around, this is the most feature rich. Having 10X optical zoom with built-in stabilization, full-manual controls, custom white-balance and the convenient use of AA batteries is presently unique.

Keeping this in mind, one must decide if this feature set is worth the high image noise. For the user who shares his images through the web and makes mostly small prints, the SX100 can be very appealing. Those who regularly make medium and large prints should settle for a larger camera.

Good
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By on 2008/02/13
2

Canon SX100 IS Facts

Compact digital camera
8 Megapixels Travel ZoomISO 80-1600
10X Optical ZoomShutter 1/2500-15s
Built-in StabilizationFull manual controls
1.3 FPS Drive, Unlimited ImagesCustom white-balance
640x480 @ 30 FPS Video RecordingSpot-Metering
2.5" LCD 172K PixelsStandard AA
Secure Digital High Capacity
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