Canon Powershot SX280 HS Review

4.5
May 28, 2013 | Mark Goldstein |

Introduction

The Canon PowerShot SX280 HS is a new travel-zoom camera for 2013, offering a 20x zoom lens and a 12 megapixel back-illuminated image sensor. Other key features of the Canon SX280 include built-in GPS and wi-fi connectivity, a 3 inch LCD screen, full 1080p HD movies with stereo sound, fast 14fps burst shooting, and a full range of manual and automated exposure modes. Read our in-depth Canon PowerShot SX280 HS in-depth review now...

The Canon PowerShot SX280 HS camera is a new travel-zoom camera that replaces the SX260 HS model. The SX280 has a 20x, 25-500mm optical zoom lens with built-in anti-shake system that features an enhanced Dynamic IS video mode with 5-axis stablizer. There’s also a 12.1 megapixel back-illuminated CMOS sensor, 3 inch LCD screen with 460k-dot resolution, DIGIC 6 image processing engine, full 1080p HD Movie Mode at 60fps with stereo sound and an HDMI output, and a Smart Auto mode with Scene Detection Technology and an Easy mode for beginners. The Canon SX280 HS also offers on-board GPS with included Map Utility software and GPS logger function, built-in Wi-Fi connectivity, a full range of manual exposure modes for more experienced photographers, fast 14fps burst shooting at full 12 megapixel resolution, Face Identification, a range of Creative Filters and 120/240fps Super Slow Motion Movies. The Canon PowerShot SX280 is priced at £299 / $329 / €359 and is available in black or red.

Ease of Use

At first glance the new Canon PowerShot SX280 HS looks almost exactly the same as its SX260 HS predecessor, but design-wise and operationally it's not quite a perfect match. The build quality of the SX280 HS is the usual solid mixture of plastic and metal, with the camera feeling sturdy enough to withstand the odd drop or knock. Curved edges and corners make it appear less boxy and rectangular than it actually is, and while the SX280 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 233g with the memory card and battery inserted.

This modest bulk feels like a fair compromise given the 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 close and personal action shots.

Helping to steady the SX280 HS is a prominent handgrip on the front. 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 vertical bar helps to ensure that most of your shots in good light are sharp, whatever the focal length. Completing the front of the SX280 HS is a small window for a self timer/AF assist lamp positioned to the top left of the lens, small holes for the stereo speakers, and a microphone at the bottom-right 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 a hump that houses the built-in GPS system, which is set to off as a default. 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 shouldn'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 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 upgraded GPS system didn't have too much trouble locking onto a sattelite indoors or in a built-up urban area, and 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.

Canon PowerShot SX280 HS Canon PowerShot SX280 HS
Front Rear

More and more digital compact cameras are being produced with wi-fi connectivity, but there's not generally a great deal that can be done with it. Usually, you can only upload your pictures to another device or website. Canon have gone to town though and squeezed every last bit of use from it. For example, you can download Canon CameraWindow app from App Store or Google Play and connect the camera to your phone for wireless control. You can use your phone as a GPS service to geotag your photographs. You can back-up your photos to a website or computer, print directly with a wi-fi enabled printer as well as the previously mentioned uploading to social media.

Also located on top of the SX280 HS are the small pop-up flash unit and a recessed on/off button, which is a little unresponsive to use but at least ensures that the camera won't be turned on inadvertently.

Moving to the rear of the camera, the shooting mode wheel on the top right of the back plate features a plethora of options - 12 in total - with the sort of set-up found on an entry-level DSLR in relation to its mixture of creative manual options, plus point and shoot modes for common subjects. Canon has here thoughtfully included an 'easy mode' in addition to the scene and subject recognizing Smart Auto - the former denoted by a camera with a heart icon that more usually denotes a 'favourites' setting. This mode disables pretty much everything in terms of user selectable shooting options and so allows for fuss-free point and shoot operation suitable for complete beginners. The Live mode takes things one step further in terms of complexity by allowing you to change the camera's key settings via three onscreen sliders - dark to light, neutral to vivid, and cool to warm.

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 SX280 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.

Canon PowerShot SX280 HS Canon PowerShot SX280 HS
Pop-up Flash Side

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 SX280 HS records 1920x1080p Full HD movies at 60/30fps with stereo sound, making it one of the few compact cameras currently on the market to offer such good quality, while the Intelligent IS system helps to keep your footage steady.

Changing modes and features on the SX280 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 VI processor as found within its more grown up DSLRs. Otherwise the PowerShot SX280 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.

Canon PowerShot SX280 HS Canon PowerShot SX280 HS
Front Top

The SX280 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 some of the SX280's predecessors. This was inevitably more than slightly irritating if you didn'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 SX280 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 SX280 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 14fps at full 12 megapixel resolution (although only for 7 frames), one of the major benefits of the new Digic 6 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.

Canon PowerShot SX280 HS Canon PowerShot SX280 HS
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.

The bottom pairing of buttons on the SX280 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 SX280 HS there's another dual compartment, with a slot for media card plus the provided rechargeable battery, good for a so-so 210 shots from a full charge, 20 less 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 SX280 HS' features and controls - next we'll take a close look at its image quality.

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