Canon PowerShot SX260 HS Review
The Canon PowerShot SX260 HS camera is a new travel-zoom camera that replaces the SX230 HS model. There’s a longer 20x, 25-500mm optical zoom lens with a built-in 4-stop image stabilizer and Intelligent IS technology, 12.1 megapixel back-illuminated CMOS sensor, 3 inch LCD screen with 460k-dot resolution, DIGIC 5 image processing engine, full 1080p HD Movie Mode with stereo sound and an HDMI output, and a Smart Auto mode with Scene Detection Technology and an Easy mode for beginners. The Canon SX260 HS also offers built-in GPS with included Map Utility software and GPS logger function (the only difference between the SX260 and cheaper SX240 model), a full range of manual exposure modes for more experienced photographers, fast 10.3fps burst shooting at full 12 megapixel resolution, Face Identification, a range of Creative Filters and a 240fps Super Slow Motion Movie mode. The Canon PowerShot SX260 is priced at £329 / $349.99 / €379.00 and is available in silver, black, red or green.
Ease of Use
At first glance the new Canon PowerShot SX260 HS looks almost exactly the same as its SX230 HS predecessor, but design-wise and operationally it's not quite a perfect match. The build quality of the SX260 HS is the usual solid mixture of plastic and metal, with the camera feeling sturdy enough to withstand the odd drop or knock. Slightly curved edges and corners make it appear less boxy and rectangular than it actually is, and while the SX260 HS is noticeably bigger and especially wider than your average compact, it still just about fits into your pocket and is reasonably light too at 231g with the memory card and battery inserted.
This modest additional bulk feels like a fair compromise given the amazing 20x built-in zoom power, although the lens does extend an ungainly 2-inches from the body when using the maximum 500mm equivalent telephoto setting. Still, having the equivalent of a 25-500mm zoom lens in such a relatively small body is no mean feat, although perhaps inevitably the maximum apertures at either end of the range are pretty slow (f/3.5 and f/6.8 respectively). We suspect that most users won't notice that detail, however, instead attracted by the ability to capture everything from ultra-wide-angle landscapes to up cloase and personal action shots. Helping to steady the camera is a new handgrip on the front, which was absent on the SX230 model. Used in conjunction with the effective image stabilisation system which automatically prevents blur by matching the optical Image Stabilizer to the scene from 7 different modes, this most vertical bar helps to ensure that most of your shots in good light are sharp, whatever the focal length. Completing the front of the SX260 HS is a small window for a self timer/AF assist lamp positioned to the top left of the lens.
On top of the camera next to the large shutter release button which has just the right amount of 'give' to enable users to determine a definite halfway point when pressed and encircling the shutter release button is a responsive rocker switch for operating the zoom - a nudge to the right zooming in, to the left zooming out. Alongside is the built-in GPS system, the main difference between the SX260 HS and the cheaper SX240 HS model. The GPS is set to off as a default and to enable it, you have to go into the main menu, go to Settings and scroll down to the GPS Settings sub menu. It's worth noting that GPS should't be used in every country, so if you're travelling abroad you should check with that country's regulations to make sure you're OK doing it. The improved GPS Logger function charts your journey for up to 48 hours on a single battery charge, and you can view your progress on the included Map Utility software. The GPS system does have trouble locking onto a sattelite indoors or in a built-up urban area, but we found that it worked reliably outside even with cloud cover.
The Map Utility software for uploading the pictures to Google Maps is included along with the manual disc in the box. You can easy install all items or custom install just the ones you want to. It's relatively easy to find out how to view your pictures on the map, the main problem we had was how to navigate away from the My Pictures folder that the software defaults to, so that we could get to our dedicated folder storing the Canon pictures. The ones that have GPS information have a small satellite icon in the top corner. The readings are extremely accurate - we would say to within a few metres.
Also located on top of the SX260 HS are the small pop-up flash unit, holes for the stereo sound and microphone, and a relocated and recessed on/off button, which is a little unresponsive to use but at least ensures that the camera won't be turned on inadvertently.
The shooting mode dial is also where you'll find the camera's scene modes, some of which again mirror the kind of selections you'll find on the latest consumer DSLRs and Micro Four Thirds hybrids. Further hand holding is provided by the Smart Shutter scene mode which as it sounds allows the shutter to be controlled with a smile or a wink, increasing the overall user-friendly feel and handy for when you want to include yourself in the picture. The shooting mode dial also provides access access to the creative effects mode, which contains 9 different looks including the popular perspective warping fisheye, miniature and toy camera options, and the interesting Movie Digest mode, which captures up to 4 seconds of the action before a still shot is taken, then joins all the clips together from the same day into a single VGA movie, which creates a time-lapse movie overview.
Of course when you're given fun new tools such as the above effects, the overwhelming temptation is to go crazy with them. Certainly the tilt and shift lens-like 'miniature effect' that transforms friends and colleagues into the equivalent of toy soldiers is hard to resist. Plus, with a press of the 'display' button on the SX260 HS's back plate followed by a toggle of the zoom switch on the top plate, users can go one further and precisely control the width of the portion of the image that is sharply in focus, leaving the rest artistically blurred. A live preview of each one is handily shown on screen so you don't even have to take a picture to see what the results of each effect will be.
Unfortunately such effects cannot also be used when recording movies, though users do have access to the 'My Colors' settings, including colour swap and colour accent for anyone wanting to experiment something visually different from the norm, even if the results do at times resemble an early 1990's grunge rock video. Smart Auto is deployed in movie mode, though, with the camera referencing 21 different presets to find the most appropriate.
Perhaps most usefully, the full extent of the 20x optical zoom can also be deployed when shooting movies, its ultra quiet transition meaning that the built-in microphone doesn't pick up operational buzzes, the usual reason for manufacturers disabling the zoom. Focus is automatically adjusted as the user zooms in or out, which, with no alternative manual adjustment ring, means the footage can go soft for a moment or two before the camera locks on target. Canon states that Dynamic Image Stabilisation also kicks in when shooting video to ensure smooth tracking shots, of use when filming whilst walking for example. The SX260 HS records 1920x1080p Full HD movies at 24fps with stereo sound, making it one of the few compact cameras currently on the market to offer such good quality, while the new Intelligent IS system helps to keep footage steady.
Changing modes and features on the SX260 HS is a simple task thanks to a friendly user interface (UI) and straightforward menu system. Of the two menus, arguably the one you will use the most is the Function menu, activated by the Func/Set button in the middle of the four-way navigation pad. This gives you quick access to the most used functions of the camera, and everything is labelled clearly so you can understand what is what - the same goes for the Main menu system too.
Ensuring swiftness of operation, Canon has included a Digic V processor as found within its more grown up DSLRs. Otherwise the PowerShot SX260 HS incorporates technology very similar to its other current non-super zoom IXUS and PowerShot compacts. As previously touched on, it features Smart Auto with Scene Detection Technology whereby the camera compares subjects with no less than 58 on-board variables and selects the most appropriate for optimum results. Also making an appearance here are shadow detail enhancing i-Contrast, Smart Flash Exposure which adjusts flash levels according to prevailing conditions, plus Face Detection technology which can recognize up to a whopping 35 faces in a frame, whilst Face Self Timer allows you as photographer to join them before the shutter fires.
The SX260 HS sports a built-in flash of the pop up variety, positioned to one side of the lens which lessens the chance of red eye (with automatic red eye correction software further built-in as a belt and braces approach and selectable via the shooting menu folder). Thankfully Canon have seen the light and finally stopped the flash from automatically popping up when the camera is initially switched on, as on the SX260's predecessors. This was inevitably more than slightly irritating if you did't actually intend to use it, with the only option being to press it down to return it to its dormant state.
As expected, in the absence of any modest integral memory - something with which Canon has quietly stopped bothering with of late as resolutions have grown higher - captured pictures and movie clips are written to optional SD, SDHC or even higher capacity (up to 2TB) SDXC cards. As regards video, the ability is also provided for Eye-Fi transfer and the camcorder-like direct upload of videos to YouTube to keep the younger members of the family happy.
The SX260 HS powers up in just over a second, rear LCD bursting into life and zoom extending to maximum wideangle setting so the camera is ready for action. With a half press of the shutter release button the camera takes a further second to determine focus and exposure, AF point/s highlighted in green with the customary beep of confirmation that focus and exposure has been determined and the user is free to pursue the shot. Go on to fire the shutter and a full resolution 12 megapixel image is committed to memory in a couple of seconds, the screen briefly blanking out before returning to the real-time scene before the lens. The amount of time the captured image appears on screen as a means of review can be altered via the menu folders.
The SX260 HS features an excellent 3-inch, 460k dot resolution widescreen format LCD at the rear that displays a 4:3 image ratio as its default setting. That's unless one is shooting HD movies with stereo sound, whereby the picture is automatically relayed in 16:9 ratio to more closely ape how it would appear when viewed on a desktop PC, or a flat panel TV. The excellent High-speed Burst mode shoots at a fast rate of 10.3fps at full 12 megapixel resolution, one of the major benefits of the Digic 5 processor, while the Super Slow Motion Movie mode offers a great way to dramatically slow down fast-moving subjects, shooting at either 240fps at 320x240 pixel resolution or 120fps at 640x480 pixels.
|Memory Card Slot||Battery Compartment|
With approximately four fifths of the Canon's backplate taken up with the elongated widescreen format LCD, its operational controls are shunted over to the far right. Starting at the top, we have the penny-sized shooting mode dial with its ridged edge enabling a more definite purchase and nicely solid feel. This rigidity ensures it clicks into place for each setting in such a way that it is hard to accidentally slip from one option to another when fetching the camera out of a pocket or camera bag.
Below the shooting mode dial are the one-touch video record button, and next to it the identically sized replay/playback button. These two self-explanatory controls sit above the command/dial scroll wheel. It's here that alterations can be made to flash settings, as well as those for self timer, auto, close up (to 5cm from a subject) or manual focus, plus exposure compensation (+/- 2EV). In manual focus mode a distance slider appears at the right of the screen, adjustable with a swivel of the scroll wheel (so it's a bit fiddly), rather than more intuitively tabbing up or down. Any changes to the status quo are naturally effected with a press of the central function/set button as previously described. The Self-timer button doubles up as a Delete button when playing back your images, instantly fixing another of our major criticisms of the prexious SX230 model, which amazingly didn't have a dedicated Delete button and took no less than six button presses to bin an image.
The bottom pairing of buttons on the SX260 HS' back meanwhile are for the self explanatory 'display' and 'menu'; press the former and on-screen shooting information is either turned off or summoned up. Via the menu screens, users can also activate compositional grid lines or opt to present an image with grey bars cropping the default 4:3 presented ratio to a 3:2 ratio equivalent if so desired. Subsequently a press of the 'menu' button itself brings up two folders - the first containing the shooting menu - it's here users can activate the likes of the iContrast setting - the second the standard set up menu.
The right hand flank of the camera - if continuing to view it from the back - is where you'll find HDMI connectivity under a plastic port cover attached via a rather flimsy rubber catch. This is the port allowing the camera to be hooked up to a flat panel TV once you've purchased the relevant cable, and is presented adjacent to a second more traditional AV/USB out port. Under this compartment there's a plastic lug for attaching the wrist strap provided in the box. Underneath a side open catch and door at the base of the SX260 HS there's another dual compartment, with a slot for media card plus the provided rechargeable battery, good for a so-so 230 shots from a full charge, 20 more than its predecessor, but only if you don't use the GPS features which rather drastically reduces the battery life to between 100-150 shots.
That concludes our tour of the Canon PowerShot SX260 HS' features and controls - next we'll take a close look at its image quality.