Canon PowerShot SX10 IS Review
Review Date: November 17th 2008
Author: Gavin Stoker
The new PowerShot SX10 IS camera represents Canon's first foray into the world of the 20x super-zoom, offering a lens equivalent to a massive 28-560mm focal length. Everything from wide-angle landscapes and group portraits at the wide end to unobtrusive candid snaps and wildlife shots at the telephoto can be covered with ease by the SX10. As you'd expect, Canon have included image stabilisation to help ensure that the majority of your shots are sharp, plus there are Ultrasonic Motor (USM) and Voice Coil Motor (VCM) technologies that promise fast, accurate and quiet zooming and focusing. The 10 megapixel PowerShot SX10 IS also features Canons new DIGIC 4 processor, full manual control over both aperture and shutter speed, a 2.5 vari-angle LCD II and an electronic viewfinder. Priced at £359.99 / 469.99 / $399.99, Gavin Stoker discovered if the Canon PowerShot SX10 IS can compete with the likes of the Olympus SP-570UZ and Casio EX-FH20.
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Ease of Use
Following on from last year's chunky S5 model for, at the time of writing, some £50 less (a UK SRP of just £359), the new DSLR-styled 10-megapixel Canon PowerShot SX10 IS looks like even more of an attractive proposition. Especially when you consider the fact that this latest offering boats a 20x image stabilized optical zoom rather than the S5's 12x, providing a broad 35mm equivalent focal range of 28mm to 560mm, and making it a direct challenge to the likes of the Olympus SP-570UZ and Casio's newer EX-FH20. Continuous shooting of up to four frames per second may not sound great next to the FH20's 40fps, but Canon delivers such speed at the maximum image resolution.
As with its forebear, the SX10 IS features built-to-last hard plastic bodywork with a larger than average grip offered, its size partly due to the four alkaline AA batteries required for power slotting into its base. While this contributes to overall weight as well as a feeling of solidity (at 560g), a matt black finish lends an overall air of sophistication, a point of difference being the metallic silver grey encircling the shutter button and left hand side of the grip (if the camera is viewed lens on). If you're looking for a camera that will slot into a jacket pocket, however, think again. The SX10 IS' dimensions are not much more compact than an entry level DSLR, so it's case of attaching the provided strap for over-the-shoulder portability, or investing in a dedicated camera bag to protect it from the elements and prying eyes when out taking photographs.
There's no full hard copy manual provided out of the box here, just a very rudimentary getting started pamphlet, with the full manual on CD. While the latter is fine if you're chained to a PC, when you're outside shooting and can't track down the setting you want, not having a manual to hand to quickly flick through is a right royal irritant. More positively, like the Olympus SP-570UZ (and unlike Casio's EX-FH20), a hotshoe for an accessory flash is offered in addition to the built-in raised variety, plus a flip out and twist (or in Canon parlance 'vari angle') 2.5-inch LCD screen at the rear. This monitor tilts forward through 180° and backwards through 90° in order to achieve those otherwise awkward angle shots when users can't quite get their eyes level with its electronic viewfinder, such as when shooting low to the ground or over the heads of a crowd.
As touched on earlier, the Canon SX10 IS offers a huge zoom range that's not only much more portable and cheaper when compared with its equivalent on a DSLR but, Nikon D90 and Canon EOS 5D Mark II aside, also has the advantage of being able to shoot video clips. Here though the video resolution is still a disappointingly standard 640x480 pixels at 30fps, rather than a more 'future proof' Full HD 1920x1080 pixels. In its favour it does boast stereo sound courtesy of microphones positioned either side of its lens, plus a dedicated button at the rear that activates the video feature whichever shooting mode you're in. Marked by a red dot that universally signifies a record button, this falls readily under the user's thumb at the rear of the camera.
So is the SX10 IS one of the better 'jack of all trades' digicams, or is something essential missing? Let's begin with an overview of the SX10 IS' control layout, its handling, operation and responsiveness, touching on where it differs in terms of the previous model and existing competition where relevant. Looking down on the camera you're presented with a fairly busy but well-spaced smattering of well-labeled and sufficiently large buttons and dials. These run in an L-shape from the dual-use flash and voice memo button at the far left (that if held down on start up mutes the camera's operational sounds), across the familiar DSLR-like hump housing the electronic viewfinder, built-in flash and hotshoe, to a shooting dial on the other side featuring no less than 13 user selectable modes. On our review sample the mode dial felt a little loose, with the result that we placed the unit into our camera bag with one mode selected, and on several occasions found it had been accidentally jogged onto another when we retrieved it.
The aforementioned shooting modes range from full auto, through program, shutter priority, aperture priority and manual to a user-attributable custom setting and, as you twist the physical dial, a virtual version appears in the top right hand corner of the rear screen if it's in operation, or in the EVF above if it's not, so you don't need to take your eyes off the subject. This is handy, as we found the camera sometimes confused by busy scenes, so being able to re-compose a couple of times without missing the shot is a bonus. Further, this time pre-optimised modes include dedicated settings for shooting portraits, landscapes, night snapshot, sports mode, a grouped selection of scene modes, including the familiar likes of a dedicated fireworks setting among others, plus a stitch assist mode to help with shooting a sequence of shots for compositing together later as a single panorama. The final mode on the dial is that for capturing movie clips.
Adjacent to the shooting mode dial is a recessed but plenty big enough on/off button that glows orange when the camera is activated, and on the forward slope of the grip itself we find a main shutter release button encircled by a rocker switch for controlling the whopping zoom. Press the power button and the responsive SX10 IS primes itself for an initial shot in just over a second, the zoom barrel extending to maximum wideangle setting and the rear 230k-dot LCD, or 235k-dot EVF, bursting into life for composing the image. Unlike rivals, there's no obvious EVF/LCD button for switching between the two as the camera's default, this task falls to the display button. Instead the camera can be set up so if the LCD screen is facing into the body upon power up, the EVF automatically bursts into life. Alternatively, if the screen is facing out at the user, then it provides the method of shot composition.
As you'd expect from an enthusiast model, shutter delay is imperceptible and committing of full resolution images to memory takes less than a second at highest resolution so no complaints as far as operational speed is concerned. Sound-tracked by a low mechanical whirr the zoom is also very responsive, so much so that determining an exact point in its range can be tricky, though, unusually, markings detailing incremental steps throughout its range are etched onto the top of the lens barrel. You can tab through these in baby steps with a gentle nudge of the lever. As indicated on the lens barrel, an Ultra Sonic Motor (USM) ensures your zoom transitions are commendably smooth and jerk free. Given the Canon's relative bulk, it feels the most natural to hold the camera with both hands, and fortunately there is enough of a ridge to the left, when viewing the camera from the rear, and at the back by the hinge for the LCD, for the user to do so without inadvertently smearing the screen with thumbprints.
Moving to the back of the SX10 IS then, and top left of the LCD is a direct print button that will be familiar to users of the Canon PowerShot range that doubles up in shooting mode as a user assignable short cut key to the likes of red eye reduction or auto exposure lock. Adjacent to this we have the rubber eye relief for the electronic viewfinder, just set back from a partly recessed dioptric adjustment wheel, while on the right hand side of the EVF we find the aforementioned record button for shooting video clips. Luckily, the full extent of the optical zoom can be deployed when filming, and coupled with the stereo sound, this means that, while no match for a dedicated camcorder, video clips look better than expected from your average compact.
Top right of the camera back are a trio of buttons set into the back of the curved grip whereby they fall immediately under the thumb. The top one is self evidently for image playback, its positioning meaning you can quickly check the results of a capture while your finger remains hovering over the shutter release button for the next possible shot. A press of the next one down brings up an exposure compensation slider (+/- 2EV), or, if alternatively the user is still in playback mode, allows a sequence of images to be 'jumped' to find the one you're looking for more rapidly in this age of ever larger card capacities, search criteria determined either by a number of images, categories or folders. The bottom and last of the three smaller buttons is for deleting images when in playback mode, or when in capture mode, lets the user move the otherwise central AF point to another portion of the screen. This is effected in conjunction with the four-way control pad with central 'function set' button and fiddly scroll wheel that encircles it just below.
At four points around this pad are, at 12 o'clock, a means of determining manual focus. Press this and you're presented with a distance slider on the right hand side of the screen and an enlarged central portion of the image so focus can be more accurately determined. The rather over sensitive scroll wheel is used for moving through the available range. At three o'clock is a setting for adjusting ISO here a range that moves from ISO80 through ISO1600 while at six o'clock is a means of switching from single to continuous shooting or choosing one of the available self timer options. Moving around to nine o'clock we find a close up mode with either macro or super macro settings possible.
Press the function/set button at its centre when in any of the capture modes, and an L-shaped toolbar that will be familiar to Canon users appears on the screen, offering pull out toolbars with further options from the range when you come to rest on a particular setting. In auto mode, only resolution/image size for stills and video is highlighted from the range, whereas if you move into one of the more creative PASM modes and press the button again, you can choose from any of the now fully accessible options. These include being able to adjust white balance, select from the familiar Canon 'My colors' modes of which we preferred the 'vivid' setting for added visual punch the chance to bracket exposures or focus, tweak the intensity of the flash, plus switch between evaluative, centre weighted and spot metering.
Beneath this control pad and wheel are two more familiarly marked buttons, this time for image display and menu. With subsequent presses the former turns the display on off, or calls up a nine zone compositional grid with live histogram. A press of 'menu' meanwhile provides the user with the ability to select from four separate folders the first containing a comprehensive list of shooting options, the second being the fairly generic set up menu, the third a rather superfluous list of start up images and sound peculiar to the Canon range, and the fourth for accessing user-defined My Menu settings. Again the PowerShot SX10 IS is as quick and responsive as you could hope for as you tab though and effect the various options. While it is capable of shooting JPEG stills and standard definition video however, one thing the SX 10 IS omits that the competing 20x zoom Olympus SP-570UZ and Canon EX-FH20 both include albeit for slightly higher manufacturer recommended prices is RAW capture. Is this an issue? Depending on requirements, only you know for sure.
While the left hand side of the camera, if still viewing it from the back, features a built-in speaker and catch for attaching the provided strap, the right hand (grip) side is slightly busier, featuring a dedicated slot for an SD or SDHC card protected by sliding cover near the base, above which is a plastic flap covering its USB port, and a further flap hiding DC in and AV out ports. None of these covers feel as flimsy as on competing models, and reinforce the view of the SX10 IS as a solid contender. Flipping the camera upside down you find a familiar screw thread for a tripod at its base, and slightly stiff (and so awkward) sliding cover for the battery compartment that houses the four AAs needed for power.
As with the familiar-looking and featured S5, anyone used to handling a budget DSLR will find the SX10 IS reasonably easy to use, sharing familiarities in its control layout. Anyone upgrading from a point-and-shoot compact will be faced with an initial learning curve, but once you've got used to the operational quirks you'll soon be confidently shooting candids and close ups thanks to the creative flexibility that long lens affords. But do the images themselves match the camera's relative level of sophistication? Let's find out...
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