Canon PowerShot SX110 IS Review
Review Date: October 6th 2008
Author: Gavin Stoker
The Canon PowerShot SX110 IS is a new 9 megapixel digital camera featuring a 10x zoom lens with optical image stabilizer. Successor to the SX100 model, the Canon SX110 IS is the second camera in the SX ultra-zoom series, with the lens covering a versatile focal length of 36-360mm. Other standout features of the SX110 IS include a larger 3 inch LCD screen, DIGIC III image processor, and Face Detection complete with Face Selector button and new Face Select & Track mode. The SX110 IS has 20 shooting modes including the new Easy Mode for complete beginners and full manual control for more experienced photographers, various My Colors settings, a high ISO setting of 1600. It can shoot 30fps VGA movies with a Long Play mode and is powered by readily available AA batteries. At £239 / $299.99, the new Canon PowerShot SX110 IS is signficantly cheaper than its predecessor, but is it also a better camera? Gavin Stoker found out if the Canon Powershot SX110 IS lives up to its billing of affordable family super zoom.
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Ease of Use
Using and reviewing Canon's latest update of the PowerShot range in the 10x optical zoom, nine megapixel SX110 IS feels like meeting a friend you haven't seen for a while. It's tentative at first but you quickly fall into the same old groove again. In the case of the SX110 IS, this is conveyed by fingers and thumbs instinctively prodding controls and instantly finding the desired results. This 'motor memory' is doubtless due to the fact that we reviewed the SX110's predecessor, the 8-megapixel 10x zoom SX100 IS, in November 2007, and, additional million pixel boost aside, outwardly little appears to have changed at first glance. There's the same tactile control layout with reasonably large buttons and dials to intentionally keep things family friendly, plus that identical optically stabilized zoom range equivalent to 36 to 360mm in 35mm terms.
Though like its forebear the SX110 IS is chunky compared with the average point and shoot, it is smaller than the typical super zoom or bridge camera pitched at enthusiasts. There are no higher end features here such as a hotshoe for additional flash merely one of the pop up variety while power is provided again by two bog standard alkaline AA batteries that slot into the base of the handgrip, as does the 32MB SD card supplied in the box. While these features are indicative of a budget model (the £239 UK suggested asking price for the SX110 IS in fact being neither cheap nor expensive but thankfully £60 less than the SX100 on launch), so too is the mainly plastic build, though it's handily disguised by a matt black finish. Those two AAs also add weight and, as we found with the SX100, generally the model feels substantial when gripped in the palm.
Like the first time around, the front of the camera is dominated by that behemoth of a lens, the majority of which is hidden flush to the body when not in use, rapidly extending (in a couple of seconds) to maximum wideangle with a press of the slightly recessed but clearly labeled lozenge-shaped on/off button up top. On initial inspection the front of the SX110 and SX100 are identical, but look closer and you'll see the upper ridge that houses the pop up flash has a gentler curve this time around. So too the grip to the left is flatter, while the gun metal grey detailing and chrome edging is now uniformly matt black and the edging straighter, visually suggesting a slight contraction of proportions. Where its predecessor had two tiny pin pricks indicating the built-in microphone nestling top left of the lens, the SX110 has three narrow slits. Over to the right hand side of the lens we find the same rounded window housing the AF assist/self-timer lamp as found on the earlier SX100.
While the above changes are largely cosmetic, when it comes to more practical considerations there's a more important omission. As on its predecessor there's no optical viewfinder or EVF the space instead occupied by the built-in flash. There's no hotshoe for supplementary flash either, as you'd typically find on a 'proper' bridge model. But then this is a general purpose snapper aimed at the average guy in the street, not exclusively the photo enthusiast. Continuing around the slight curve of the handgrip we find a re-design of the loop for attaching the supplied wrist strap, which this time is less pronounced, and pull open rather than slide open plastic cover for the AV out, DC in and USB ports. Happily the cover is less flimsy than that of its predecessor.
The top of the camera is likewise not exactly a violent departure from its predecessor. The SX110 has the exact same user-friendly control grouping as the SX100 namely a shooting mode wheel, on/off button and shutter release button encircled by a zoom lever but their design has been again refined. The mode dial has sunk further into the body so that it's almost flush with the top. Fortunately the dial itself has enough of a ridged surround for the user to be able to turn it decisively with their thumb, and there's a cutaway portion at the camera back to allow access. It feels stiffer and more solid this time around too so you're highly unlikely to shoot past the setting you want in the heat of the moment.
With the camera taking a couple of seconds to get going from cold, once again the action of the optical zoom is smooth and steady, though its motions are still sound-tracked by an audible mechanical buzz. More positively, with a half press of the shutter release button the SX110 is lightning fast in determining focus and exposure, while there's no noticeable shutter delay as you go on to take the shot. It's no surprise that operational speed is identical to before: the same DIGIC III processor again features as that found within the SX100 IS.
Starting at regular auto mode and moving clockwise around the mode dial are the more creatively enticing settings of program auto, shutter priority, aperture priority and manual. The chosen mode is also shown as a virtual version on the screen, so you don't need to take your eye off your subject while making adjustments. Continuing clockwise we get a dedicated VGA-quality video mode (with a long play feature plus a further 320x240 pixels alternative), a selection of scene modes (including fireworks, snow, aquarium and an ISO3200 mode), an optimized indoor setting mode, a dedicated children and pets mode, a night scene mode, plus landscape and portrait settings and finally a no frills 'easy mode'. The function-stripping easy mode like the indoor mode is a new addition, while the SX100's dedicated stitch assist mode for panoramic shots has disappeared from the dial.
Guessing that the camera will be used primarily for shooting people, there's again an auto red eye correction feature accessible via a flash settings option ferreted away among the SX110's menu screens. Red eye reduction can also be turned on/off in capture mode by delving into the same menu; like the SX100 it's not included among the options accessed via the dedicated flash switch at the rear, but at least here it's 'on' that handily appears to be the default setting rather than 'off'. The quality of the video though the standard 640x480 pixels resolution is again commendably sharp with 30fps allowing for more realistic motion, and the sound, though mono, is equally respectable. A remaining disappointment is that the 10x optical zoom can't be used when shooting video, though a digital zoom can.
Moving to the back of the camera we find further improvement in the shape of a 3-inch, 230k dot LCD rather than its predecessor's 2.5-inch, 172k dot version. The larger but not noticeably sharper screen does however mean that the four dedicated buttons for activating direct print, face detection, adjusting the display or accessing the main menu that were previously in a row beneath have been squeezed out. The grey back plate that previously surrounded the screen and attendant controls has also gone in favour of a more moulded matt black shell. The direct print button has been miniaturized on the SX110 IS and moved top left of the screen where it now falls readily under the thumb of your left hand. As on its forebear, this button can be assigned custom settings via the main shooting menu folder if so wished.
|Battery Compartment||Memory Card Slot|
The display and menu buttons are also now smaller, and are to be found beneath the rather fiddly four-way control pad-come-command wheel that remains centre right of the LCD. A press of 'menu' in capture mode brings up two folders on screen, one with shooting options and the second with more generic set-up features. A press of 'menu' in playback gives access to both image review plus print selection folders, while the third folder is the same set up menu. If you've used a Canon camera before, the menus will be immediately familiar: their design pretty basic but easy to navigate because of it. Mirroring these two buttons above the command wheel are a dedicated face detection button (on/off) and exposure compensation button (-/+ 2EV).
Playback again has its own button on the camera back, rather than squeezing in among the modes on the top dial. But, in keeping with the other controls, it is now smaller too. That said, none of the shrinking of buttons affected usability; it's more of a visual thing as overall dimensions are nigh-on identical, lending a greater degree of sophistication to the camera design as a whole. As noted in our review of the SX100, when you come to access the options set at four points around the control pad/command wheel it's easy for your thumb to slip round to the adjacent setting. Being pre-aware of its liveliness, this time around it didn't irritate so much.
Ranged around the control dial, which additionally features a function set button at its centre, are a means of accessing ISO speed (Auto, Hi, ISO80 to 1600), flash setting, self timer or continuous shooting, plus macro or manual focus whereby users are presented with an enlarged central portion of the screen to check focus, its distance dialed in using the aforementioned wheel. As you'd expect when up-ending the camera, the base of the SX110 features a screw thread for a tripod and a compartment storing the two AAs and supplied 32MB SD media (bettering the SX100's stingy 16MB), opened by flicking the substantial catch and pressuring it proud of the unit. Closing it is a little awkward however as you have to press down on the two AAs as you're sliding it shut.
So in truth the SX110 IS reveals itself as an upgrade that is more evolutionary than revolutionary. As regards form and function, any improvements are minimal. So that leaves us to examine image quality. Are we looking at a leap forward, a cautious baby step, or even a stumble backwards?
PhotographyBLOG is a member of the DIWA organisation. Our test results for the Canon PowerShot SX110 IS have been submitted to DIWA for comparison with test results for different samples of the same camera model supplied by other DIWA member sites.