Canon PowerShot SX160 IS Review

October 5, 2012 | Matt Grayson | Rating star Rating star Rating star Rating star


The Canon PowerShot SX160 is a portable high-zoom digital compact camera. It features a 16 megapixel sensor, 16x optical zoom which is image stabilised, manual modes for controlling shutter-speed and aperture, digital effects and it takes AA batteries. Priced at around £140 / $229.99, the Canon PowerShot SX160 IS is available in Red, Black and White.

Ease of Use

It's easy to dismiss the Canon PowerShot SX160 IS without closer inspection but doing so is definitely worth it. The large lens on the front and raised central area of the top plate give it a bridge camera look. The lens is a 16x optical zoom with image stabiliser built in. The price will dictate a standard lens with no special elements for low dispersion or chromatic aberration correction. Hardly a pocketable camera, the lens sticks out by a good centimetre from the main body. It makes the Canon PowerShot SX160 difficult to carry around discreetly. The most comfortable way is by hanging it round your neck with an additional neck strap that isn't included in the box.

On the top plate, the Canon PowerShot SX160 houses a pop-up flash in the raised area towards the middle. It's activated by pressing the black button just above the screen. A large command dial sits just to the right of the flash and it might not be the first time that a command dial has been included on a camera of this price but we still think it's pretty swell of Canon to include it. There are 10 options ranging from full manual mode to fully automated where the camera stops shy of taking the picture for you.

As well as Manual (M) mode, there's also Aperture-priority (Av – Aperture Value), Shutter-priority (Tv – Time Value) and Program (P) modes. These allow you to take more control over your photography. It's a “Kodak” philosophy about bringing photography within reach of everyone which is great. It means you don't have to spend a fortune on a camera to learn more about photography. The aperture range is limited from f/3.5 – f/8 while the shutter speed range is 15sec to 1/3200sec.

Canon PowerShot SX160 IS Canon PowerShot SX160 IS
Front Rear

There are a few cool features on the Command dial that will do everything for you too. The Live button is an easier way of controlling the exposure features of the Canon PowerShot SX160. Pressing the Set button brings up three sliders that have different values: Light/Dark, Vivid/Neutral and Warm/Cool. By adjusting the sliders, you can alter the look of the picture. This is great for if you know what you want to do but you're not quite sure how to achieve it yet. The icon that looks like the Death Star orbiting Yavin to find the Rebel base gives access to the digital filters. These filters include Miniature, Toy camera, Monochrome, Super vivid, Poster effect and Fish-eye. There's nothing new in these effects, which is a shame but Canon aren't going to use a low spec camera to test new tech.

The large 3 inch screen dominates the rear of the Canon PowerShot SX160 with a quarter of the back left for buttons and dials. Still, Canon have managed to make the buttons bigger and easier to find. The navigation pad acts as a wheel for speedier navigation through the menus. There's a direct video button and surprisingly, a direct ISO button.

Canon PowerShot SX160 IS Canon PowerShot SX160 IS

Pop-up Flash

The outside of the Canon PowerShot SX160 feels a bit plasticky and despite its size, it's very light suggesting plastic insides too.  For those of you with larger hands, the camera is an ideal size to hold and shoot with. Because of the larger area of space available, there's more room to put bigger buttons on without making it all look cramped. In fact, there's still space for a decent sized thumb rest.

The cover for the HDMI and USB ports is made of plastic instead of rubber – which is great. It only clips in though with no locking system. The battery door does have a lock on it which is good for two reasons: First, the Canon PowerShot SX160 takes AA batteries and they operate by being forced in against springs to keep them in place; Secondly, because of this pressure the door can and will pop open at the slightest knock. A lock on it prevents this from happening so is a wise decision.

There are two main menus to use when taking pictures. Arguably, the one you'll use most is the Function menu. It's accessed by pressing the button in the middle of the wheel on the back of the camera. Interestingly, it changes depending on the mode it's in. In manual modes such as P, Av, Tv or M the menu is wider with features such as white-balance, colours, flash compensation, metering and compression. Auto is more simple with only three options for aspect ratio, file size and video quality. Live mode also only has three modes which we mentioned earlier.

Canon PowerShot SX160 IS Canon PowerShot SX160 IS
Front Top

The main menu is more extensive and holds modes that, once changed, will generally stay that way for a while. There are two tabs  for shooting options and general set-up options. There are various autofocus modes, flash settings, playback options as well as in-camera help for shooting successfully. For example, the camera can have grid lines switched on which show a noughts and crosses (Tic Tac Toe) board on the screen. Placing horizons, gate posts, sign posts etc on the lines or subjects of interest on the intersections creates more appealing photographs as this obeys a photographic law called the Rule of Thirds. Along with the grid lines, there's also a feature called i-Contrast. This feature increases the dynamic range of the picture to create a more balanced exposure. This is generally named HDR (High Dynamic Range) but it's not as strong as that.

Start up time of the Canon PowerShot SX160 is a fraction slower than we've seen in cameras around the same price range. It's such a tiny amount that it wouldn't even be noticed in the real world. We usually get an average tine of around 2.5 seconds from switching the camera on, to focusing and taking a picture. The opening sequence of having to look at the Canon logo is what takes time. The opening logo can be removed and it does shave the time down by a little but not enough to be on par with other cameras.

The Canon PowerShot SX160 has two burst drive modes; one continuous shooting mode and one that also tracks a moving subject and stays focused on it. Both run at the same rate but we used the former so that it didn't slow down to realign focusing. We only managed to get five images in a 10 second period which is slow. It works out at around half an image a second, or one every two seconds. Buffering is fast after that. The pictures were all stored on the card after 13 seconds had elapsed.

Canon PowerShot SX160 IS Canon PowerShot SX160 IS
Memory Card Slot Battery Compartment

There are several playback options; that is, how you want to view them. Pressing the Disp. Button will cycle through them. There are two for normal photographers who simply want to point and shoot. One shows no information while the other shows some basic shooting info such as the date, resolution and file number. For more advanced users, you can bring up more detailed information such as the ISO, aperture, shutter speed, file size and even a histogram. Pressing the button again is for pixel peepers that want to make sure the picture is sharp.

The Playback menu has been changed into a sharing platform on digital compact cameras these days and the SX160 is no exception. There's a slide-show option, Favourites and Photobook set-up. If you want to edit after, you can add i-Contrast or My Colours. More traditional options include Red-eye correction, cropping and resizing. There are also various print options in a separate tab as well as the set-up menu seen in the shooting main menu.

Because of the AA battery usage, there's little in the box of the Canon PowerShot SX160. Aside from the camera, there's two AA batteries to get you started, a wrist strap and the software CD with associated booklets such as the Quick Start Guide. On the CD is a full camera operating manual as well as Solutions v.119.0, Canon's basic editing and tagging program.

Image Quality

All images were taken at full resolution on the highest quality setting unless otherwise stated. File sizes range from 4.5Mb to 9Mb in size in Superfine quality.


At normal viewing distances, the noise performance of the Canon PowerShot SX160 IS looks good. Magnify to 100% and there's slight issues that can be seen in darker areas of images. Edge definition doesn't look as sharp as it could be and while there's no colour noise showing, there appears to be traces of salt and pepper noise. By ISO 200, noise is already showing through as slight amounts of green colouring. This is seen more detailed at full size magnification but slight casts of colour in particular areas can be seen too. As the stages start to increase, the noise to signal ratio closes and noise becomes even more evident. At ISO 400 there are artefacts visible and colour noise is starting to come through more forcefully.

ISO 800 and 1600 show a lot of noise and the image detail starts to suffer at the top setting. Mercifully, Canon have capped the ISO at 1600 on the SX160 – possibly another nod to the 160 designation along with the 16 megapixel resolution and 16x optical zoom. At ISO 1600, edge detail is still present but it would definitely go if there was another higher ISO 3200 option.

There are 5 ISO settings available on the Canon PowerShot SX160 IS. Here are some 100% crops which show the noise levels for each ISO setting.

ISO 100 (100% Crop)

ISO 200 (100% Crop)


ISO 400 (100% Crop)

ISO 800 (100% Crop)


ISO 1600 (100% Crop)


Focal Range

The focal length of the Canon PowerShot SX160 IS is 16x optical which gives a 28-448mm equivalent in 35mm terms. If you're not sure what that means; if you had a full-frame digital camera or a film camera that takes standard 35mm film, the zoom would be 28-448mm. As the sensor is much smaller than 35mm, it works in a different way. The actual zoom range is 5.0-80.0mm and the 35mm equivalent is found by up-scaling.




Pictures from the Canon PowerShot SX160 IS are sharp enough without the need for additional help from an editing suite. Our sample shots sharpened in Adobe Photoshop CS4 looked worse afterwards.

Original (100% Crop)

Sharpened (100% Crop)


Chromatic Aberrations

We managed to find traces of chromatic aberration in areas that had a high contrast and definite edge. We did see evidence of it in bokeh areas too but couldn't confirm that it wasn't simply lens flare. It mostly appears at the edges of the frame as is usually the case. The best example of CA is the brickwork that shows purple and green lines on opposing sides of the bricks.

Chromatic Aberrations 1 (100% Crop)

Chromatic Aberrations 2 (100% Crop)


Chromatic Aberrations 2 (100% Crop)



Close focusing of the Canon PowerShot SX160 IS is 1cm which is great. We couldn't get it that close, more like around 1.5 – 2cm. Centre sharpness is excellent but fall off happens very quickly with what looks like chromatic aberration appearing closer to the centre of the frame.


Macro (100% Crop)


The flash of the Canon PowerShot SX160 IS is sat over the centre of the camera and is a pop-up variety. The button to activate it is just above the screen. The black button makes it look like a traditional viewfinder. At wide-angle there's traces of vignetting at the corners of the frame. Using flash exacerbates the vignette instead of eradicating it. At full zoom, the flash is a more even spread.

Flash Off - Wide Angle (28mm)

Flash On - Wide Angle (28mm)

ISO 64 ISO 64

Flash Off - Telephoto (448mm)

Flash On - Telephoto (448mm)

ISO 64 ISO 64

After pressing the flash options button on the navigation wheel, you can press menu and a separate flash menu appears with four options: Flash exposure compensation, Red-eye correction, Red-eye lamp and Safety FE. We tested portraits with flash using the correction and lamp on their own and together. However, we didn't get any red-eye even with them both off so we couldn't test it's effectiveness.

Flash On

Flash On (100% Crop)

Red-eye Reduction

Red-eye Reduction (100% Crop)


There are three options available on the Canon PowerShot SX160 IS to get night shots. The night scene will take away all control from you to get a balanced exposure at whatever cost. In our test shot taken just before sunrise, the camera pushed the ISO to 1600 giving a noisy result even with the aperture at f/3.5 and using a slow 1/20sec shutter speed.

We switched to program to control the ISO and got a more noiseless picture but the exposure was longer at just under a second. We also tried the Tv option. We ran an exposure for 15 seconds which looked balanced on the screen of the camera but is actually over exposed. Still, it gives an example of exactly what you can do with the SX160.

Night Scene

Night Scene (100% Crop)


Night Program

Night Program (100% Crop)


Night Shutter-priority

Night Shutter-priority (100% Crop)

Sample Images

This is a selection of sample images from the Canon PowerShot SX160 IS camera, which were all taken using the 16 megapixel Fine JPEG setting. The thumbnails below link to the full-sized versions, which have not been altered in any way.

Sample Movie & Video

This is a sample movie at the quality setting of 1280x720 pixels at 30 frames per second. Please note that this 35 second movie is 88.8Mb in size.

Product Images

Canon PowerShot SX160 IS

Front of the Camera

Canon PowerShot SX160 IS

Front of the Camera / Lens Extended

Canon PowerShot SX160 IS

Isometric View

Canon PowerShot SX160 IS

Isometric View

Canon PowerShot SX160 IS

Front of the Camera / Flash Raised

Canon PowerShot SX160 IS

Rear of the Camera

Canon PowerShot SX160 IS

Rear of the Camera / Turned On

Canon PowerShot SX160 IS

Rear of the Camera / Function Menu

Canon PowerShot SX160 IS

Rear of the Camera / Effects Menu


Canon PowerShot SX160 IS

Rear of the Camera / ISO Menu

Canon PowerShot SX160 IS
Rear of the Camera / Creative Menu
Canon PowerShot SX160 IS
Rear of the Camera / Main Menu
Canon PowerShot SX160 IS
Rear of the Camera / Main Menu
Canon PowerShot SX160 IS
Top of the Camera
Canon PowerShot SX160 IS
Side of the Camera
Canon PowerShot SX160 IS
Side of the Camera
Canon PowerShot SX160 IS
Front of the Camera
Canon PowerShot SX160 IS
Front of the Camera
Canon PowerShot SX160 IS
Memory Card Slot
Canon PowerShot SX160 IS
Battery Compartment


If you're used to pocket-sized cameras that you can slip away when not in use then the Canon PowerShot SX160 IS is going to be a big surprise to you. It has to be held all the time, hung around your neck or put in a bag. To that end, the SX160 is uncomfortable but if you're ok with that then it's not. The grip is big enough to hold the camera steadily with one hand without being obtrusive.

The batteries we received for the test were unopened when we started but they ran out halfway through the test. On a day of testing, we use a camera more than what an average day of use would be so we expect premature battery dumping, but we were surprised when they ran out quite this quickly. Therein lies the problem with AA batteries in digital cameras and it's likely that this could start up a debate about the uses of AA batteries. So here it is: they're more readily available in a shop on holiday or in a remote village when out hiking etc. We would still advise to get a pack of four Eneloops or similar.

We wonder whether the designers - knowing that the lens had to be stuck out quite so much to incorporate the zoom - designed the rest of the Canon PowerShot SX160 IS to look like a prosumer/compact system camera. It works nicely by squatting the flash over the lens to look like a viewfinder and even putting the flash pop-up button on the back to look like an optical viewfinder from a distance.

Given the Canon PowerShot SX160 IS's low cost, the corners have to be cut somewhere and we think it's in the build quality. The camera doesn't feel as solid as it could although there are some nuggets in there such as the lockable battery door and better port cover. The buttons feel firm and the dials aren't too slack or flimsy.

Image quality is great on the SX160. We really enjoyed using it and - naturally - got some excellent photographs with it. Pictures are sharp, colourful and (at low ISO) noise free. The 1cm macro mode is great although the image drop-off isn't so hot.

The Canon PowerShot SX160 is a low cost, big zoom point and shooter that will have an option or mode for pretty much anything that a photographer can throw at it. We say photographer because with the manual controls, that's exactly what you become. If you've ever thought about getting into photography but don't have the money or are unsure if you'll enjoy it, a camera like this is perfect because it offers the possibility to advance your knowledge without a massive outlay. If you do become passionate about it, welcome to the club.

4 stars

Ratings (out of 5)
Design 3.5
Features 4
Ease-of-use 4.5
Image quality 4
Value for money 4.5



Type 1/2.3 type CCD
Effective Pixels Approx. 16.0M
Colour Filter Type Primary Colour


Type DIGIC 4 with iSAPS technology


Focal Length 5.0 – 80.0 mm (35 mm equivalent: 28 – 448 mm)
Zoom Optical 16x
ZoomPlus 32x
Digital Approx. 4x (with Digital Tele-Converter Approx. 1.6x or 2.0x and Safety Zoom¹). Combined Approx. 64x
Maximum f/number f/3.5 – f/5.9
Construction 11 elements in 9 groups (1 UD lens, 1 double-sided aspherical lens)
Image Stabilisation Yes (lens shift-type), 3.5-stop. Intelligent IS


Type TTL
AF System/ Points Face Detection, 1-point AF (fixed to centre)
AF Modes Continuous, Servo AF/AE¹, Tracking AF
AF Point Selection Size (Normal, Small)
AF Lock On/Off Selectable
AF Assist Beam Yes
Manual Focus Yes
Closest Focusing Distance 1 cm (W) from front of lens in macro


Metering modes Evaluative (linked to Face Detection AF frame), Centre-weighted average, Spot (Centre)
AE Lock On/Off Selectable
Exposure Compensation +/- 2 EV in 1/3 stop increments.
Enhanced i-Contrast for automatic dynamic range correction
ISO sensitivity* AUTO, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600


Speed 1 – 1/3200 sec. (factory default)
15 – 1/3200 sec. (total range – varies by shooting mode)


Type TTL
Settings Auto (including Face Detection WB), Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Custom


Monitor 7.5 cm (3.0”) TFT, Approx. 230,000 dots
Coverage Approx. 100%
Brightness Adjustable to one of five levels. Quick-bright LCD


Modes Auto, Manual Flash On / Off, Slow Synchro
Slow Sync Speed Fastest speed 1/2000 sec.
Red-Eye Reduction Yes
Flash Exposure Compensation +/- 2 EV in 1/3 stop increments. Face Detection FE. Safety FE.
Flash Exposure Lock Yes
Manual Power Adjustment 3 levels with internal flash
Built-in Flash Range 50 cm – 3.0 m (W) / 60 cm – 2.0 m (T)
External Flash Canon High Power Flash HF-DC1,
Canon High Power Flash HF-DC2


Modes Smart Auto (32 scenes detected), Program AE, Shutter priority AE, Aperture priority AE, Manual, Live View Control, SCN (Portrait, FaceSelf-Timer, Low Light (4.0MP), Snow, Fireworks), Creative Filters (Fish-eye Effect, Miniature Effect, Toy Camera Effect, Monochrome, Super Vivid, Poster Effect), Discreet, Movie
Modes in Movie Smart Auto (21 scenes detected), Standard, iFrame Movie, Program AE, Portrait, Snow, Fireworks, Miniature Effect, Monochrome, Super Vivid, Poster Effect
Photo Effects My Colors (My Colors Off, Vivid, Neutral, Sepia, Black & White, Positive Film, Lighter Skin Tone, Darker Skin Tone, Vivid Blue, Vivid Green, Vivid Red, Custom Color)
Drive modes Single, Continuous, Continuous with AF, Self-Timer
Continuous Shooting Approx. 0.8 shots/sec. with AF: Approx. 0.5 shots/sec. LV: Approx. 0.6 shots/sec.(until memory card becomes full)¹²


Image Size 4:3 - (L) 4608 x 3456, (M1) 3264 x 2448, (M2) 1600 x 1200, (S) 640 x 480
16:9 - (L) 4608 x 2592, (M1) 3264 x 1832, (M2) 1920 x 1080, (S) 640 x 360
3:2 - (L) 4608 x 3072, (M1) 3264 x 2176, (M2) 1600 x 1064, (S) 640 x 424
1:1 - (L) 3456 x 3456, (M1) 2448 x 2448, (M2) 1200 x 1200, (S) 480 x 480
Resize in playback (M2, S, XS)¹
Compression Superfine, Fine
Movies (HD) 1280 x 720, 25 fps, (L) 640 x 480, 30 fps
Miniature Effect (HD, L) 5fps, 2.5fps, 1.25 fps
iFrame Movie (HD)
Movie Length (HD) Up to 4 GB or 29 min. 59 sec.¹
(L ) Up to 4 GB or 1 hour²


Still Image Type JPEG compression, (Exif 2.3 [Exif Print] compliant) / Design rule for Camera File system, Digital Print Order Format [DPOF] Version 1.1 compliant
Movies MOV [H.264 + Linear PCM (stereo)]


Canon Printers Canon SELPHY Compact Photo Printers and Canon Inkjet Printers supporting PictBridge (ID Photo Print, Fixed Size Print and Movie Print supported on SELPHY CP & ES printers only)
PictBridge Yes


Red-Eye Correction Yes, during shooting and playback
My Camera / My Menu Start-up image and camera sounds customisation
My Category Image tagging feature
Intelligent Orientation Sensor Yes
Histogram Yes
Playback zoom Approx. 2x – 10x
Self Timer Approx. 2 or 10 sec., Custom
Menu Languages English, German, French, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Italian, Greek, Norwegian, Portuguese, Russian, Swedish, Spanish, Ukrainian, Polish, Czech, Hungarian, Turkish, Simplified Chinese, Chinese (traditional), Japanese, Korean, Thai, Arabic, Romanian, Farsi, Hindi, Malay, Indonesian, Vietnamese


Computer Hi-Speed USB (MTP, PTP) dedicated connector (Mini-B compatible)
Other HDMI Mini Connector (HDMI-CEC compatible) A/V output (PAL/NTSC)




PC & Macintosh Windows 7 SP1 / Vista SP2 / XP SP3
Mac OS X v10.6 – 10.7


Browsing & Printing ImageBrowser EX
Other PhotoStitch


Batteries 2x Size-AA Alkaline or Ni-MH Batteries (NB-3AH) (Alkaline batteries supplied)
Battery life Approx.140 shots (with supplied batteries)
Approx. 380 shots (with optional Canon NB-3AH batteries)
Approx. 420 min. playback (with supplied batteries)
Approx. 600 min. playback (with optional Canon NB-3AH batteries)
A/C Power Supply Optional, AC Adapter Kit ACK800


Cases / Straps Soft Case DCC-750
Flash Canon High Power Flash HF-DC1,
Canon High Power Flash HF-DC2
Power Supply & Battery Chargers AC Adapter Kit ACK800, Battery Charger Kit CBK4-300, Ni-MH Batteries NB-3AH


Operating Environment 0 – 40 °C¹, 10 – 90% humidity
Dimensions (WxHxD) 111.0 x 72.5 x 44.1 mm
Weight Approx. 291 g (including battery/batteries and memory card)

Zoom ¹ Depending on the image size selected.
AF Modes ¹ Some settings limit availability.
Continuous Shooting ¹ Under conditions where the flash does not fire.
² Depending on memory card speed / capacity / compression setting.
Image Size ¹ XS is half the length and width of S
Movie Length ¹ The following Speed Class memory cards are required for maximum record time: (HD) 1280 x 720 Speed Class 4 or above. (Full HD) 1920 x 1080 Speed Class 6 or above. (iFrame) 1280 x 720 Speed Class 6 or above.
² Depending on memory card speed / capacity / compression setting.
Operating Environment ¹ 0 – 35 °C when NB4-300 is used.
  • *Standard Output Sensitivity / Recommended Exposure Index.
  • According to ISO 12232:2006 (20th April 2006) which specifies the method for assigning and reporting ISO speed ratings for digital still cameras.
  • All data is based on Canon standard testing methods (according to CIPA Standards) except where indicated.
  • Subject to change without notice.

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