Canon PowerShot SX210 IS Review

March 29, 2010 | Gavin Stoker |


The PowerShot SX210 IS camera is the second travel-zoom model from Canon, taking on the likes of the Panasonic DMC-TZ10, Nikon Coolpix S8000 and the Samsung WB550. There's a 14x, 28-392mm optical zoom lens with built-in image stabilizer, 14 megapixel CCD sensor, 3 inch LCD screen, DIGIC 4 image processing engine, 720p HD Movie Mode with stereo sound and an HDMI output, plus Smart Auto mode with Scene Detection Technology and an Easy mode for beginners. The Canon SX210 IS also offers Face Select & Track, FaceSelf-Timer, Smart Shutter and Auto Red-Eye Correction to help you capture better-looking portraits, and there's a full range of manual exposure modes for more experienced photographers looking to take control. The new Canon PowerShot SX200 is priced at $349.99 / £359 and is available in black, purple and gold.

Ease of Use

For the past couple of years Panasonic has been offering reliable compact pocket cameras with big zooms courtesy of its well-received TZ range, more recently joined by Samsung and its WB500/550 and WB650 models. Now Canon is getting in on the 'high zoom' act with the 14.1 megapixel, wide-angle 14x optical zoom PowerShot SX210 IS. Updating the 12MP, 12x SX200 IS, the new Canon is roughly the size of a bar of luxury soap and not to be confused with the simultaneously released IXUS 210. Got that?

This, its manufacturer claims, is a PowerShot any member of the family can use to get closer to the action, with ease of use just as important as the numerically impressive headline spec. Its aim to appeal to a fairly broad user base is reflected in the choice of three body colours. There's black, gold or, um, purple. Allegedly the latter is this season's must have, even if the shade of our review sample had us in mind of a cough sweet.

Apart from the 14MP resolution and 14x zoom, equivalent to 28-392mm in 35mm film terms, the SX210 IS (the 'IS' suffix relating to optical 'image stabilisation', providing the equivalent of four stops compensation) features a 3-inch, 230k 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 1280x720p 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 telly.

'Movies in your pocket' is Canon's marketing mantra, so fittingly enough HDMI output is provided at the side to hook the camera up to your TV, though the relevant cable is extra. Deliberately so says Canon, as selling these add-on 'extras' is how its retailers boost their bottom line.

Even without all the relevant cabling the SX210 IS doesn't come cheap though, retailing in the UK for a suggested £359. Yes, that's much the same outlay that will alternatively snag you a starter digital SLR and kit lens with a bit of shopping around - arguably a better option for your cash if going for just the one 'catch all' family camera. OK, so this big zoom compact isn't aimed at would-be DSLR users, and yes, an equivalent focal range via a dedicated lens for a DSLR would set you back a lot more. But the price still feels £50 too high for what's basically a soup-ed up point and shooter.

Whilst the SX210 IS looks to be from the same mould as its SX200 IS predecessor, design wise and operationally it's not an exact match. The shooting mode wheel has most noticeably moved, from the top plate to a new position top right of the back plate, where it now falls under thumb rather than forefinger. This dial features a plethora of options - 13 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 scene and subject recognizing Smart Auto - the former denoted by a camera with a heart icon that more usually denotes a 'favourites' setting. This disables pretty much everything in terms of user selectable shooting options and so allows for fuss free point and shoot operation.

This 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. As with the latest additions to the Olympus Pen series, here we get access to a diorama effect (which Canon has simplified on the function menu as 'miniature effect'), fast becoming this year's must have on-board feature, plus a perspective warping fisheye option. Further hand holding is provided by a new Smart Shutter mode that 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.

Canon PowerShot SX210 IS Canon PowerShot SX210 IS
Front Rear

Of course when you're given fun new tools such as the above effects, the overwhelming temptation is to go ape 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 Canon'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. You can't yet do that with an Olympus Pen.

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. And, for the first time on a Canon compact, Smart Auto is deployed in movie mode, the camera referencing 18 different presets to find the most appropriate. But perhaps most usefully, the full extent of the 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 image 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.

Build-wise the usual marriage of plastic and metal, the PowerShot SX210 IS feels sturdy enough when gripped in the palm to withstand the odd drop or knock in its inactive state. Curved edges make it appear less boxy and rectangular than it is. And, whilst the camera is bigger than your average compact it's a better fit for any pocket than a Micro Four Thirds hybrid, and lighter too at 215g even with card and battery inserted. Plus the modest additional bulk feels a fair compromise for that built-in zoom power - lens extending some ungainly 2-inches from the body when at maximum 392mm equivalent telephoto setting.

Ensuring swiftness of operation Canon has included a Digic IV processor as found within its more grown up DSLRs. Otherwise the PowerShot SZX210 IS 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 22 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 SX210 IS sports built-in flash of the pop up variety. Good, as this 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). However, unlike competing models that present said flash when requested, the Canon's flash automatically pops up when the camera is initially switched on, whether you like it or not. This is inevitably slightly irritating if you don't actually intend to use it. Pressing it down and returning it to its dormant state naturally deactivates it, but at times it feels more like you're fighting with the camera than engaging seamlessly with it.

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 card. 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.

Canon PowerShot SX210 IS Canon PowerShot SX210 IS
Side Front

Though it offers a very extensive lens reach for a compact, the front of the SX210 IS is clean and unthreatening. We're provided with a smattering of style despite its plastic-y build by virtue of the different coloured top plate strip that continues down both sides of the camera and thus 'frames' the faceplate like the mantle of a fireplace. Though the slightly off-centre lens positioning inevitably dominates - the full physical extent of it hidden when the camera is in its dormant state - Canon has positioned a small window for a self timer/AF assist lamp to its top left. Top right of the lens, we find a tiny catch for manually activating the pop up flash via a fingernail if required.

The top plate strip is slightly more interesting, the camera's dual microphone set up found here rather than the traditional positioning on the faceplate - presumably so it is slightly further away from any operational noises made by the lens. Dead centre of the left and right microphone/s we find a built in speaker for playing back sound with clips. Looking at the SX210 IS from the rear we find the flash positioned over to the far left and neatly flush with the body when not in use, whilst over to the far right where it naturally falls under the forefinger of the right hand is the shutter release button. Apart from the rear plate shooting mode dial and scroll wheel it's the largest control here and has just the right amount of 'give' to enable users to determine a definite halfway point when pressed.

To the left of the shutter release button, rather than encircling it, is a raised rocker switch for operating the zoom - a nudge to the right zooming in, to the left zooming out - and to the left of this again a lozenge shaped on/off button. Press this and the camera powers up in just over a second, rear LCD bursting into life, zoom extending to maximum wideangle setting and flash popping up nigh simultaneously 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 14MP 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.

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 a penny-sized shooting mode wheel with ridged edge enabling a more definate 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. The 13 strong options here comprise Smart Auto and Easy Auto modes as discussed, plus the creative quartet of Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual shooting settings. For the point and shoot brigade the Canon has further easy access pre-optimised modes for, typically, portrait, landscape and night time photography, along with a kids and pets mode, an indoor/party mode, and collected scene modes setting, with, last on the dial the movie shooting option. That said, users don't have to actually be in movie mode to commence filming - a press of the dedicated recording button lets video capture commence as a handy short cut.

Going back to scene modes for a second, this is where you find the Canon's nifty effects settings. To access these, first press the 'function/set' button in the middle of the scroll wheel/command dial near the camera's base and a familiar (to Canon users) toolbar of options is presented at the left hand side of the LCD. The first option you come to is record mode, and this is where the Smart Shutter, 3.5 megapixel Low Light mode, Colour accent, Colour swap, Fisheye effect, plus Miniature effect also 'live'. Apart from these, users are presented with the rather more common-issue beach, foliage, fireworks and stitch assist panorama settings. By moving up or down the same toolbar the likes of white balance can be manually adjusted, the Canon proprietary 'My Colors' effects turned on or off, and quality settings further adjusted for shooting both stills and video.

Canon PowerShot SX210 IS Canon PowerShot SX210 IS
Memory Card Slot Battery Compartment

Below the shooting mode dial are the aforementioned 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, which, unusually, is free from external markings. Yet give it a press and a virtual dial appears on screen with the formerly hidden settings now revealed. It's here 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.

We'd have liked Canon to have found room for a dedicated delete button here or somewhere else on the camera back. As it is, no less than six button presses are required before a duff shot can be deleted. Such tediousness seems to go against the ease of use ethos deployed elsewhere in the camera's operational arsenal.

The bottom pairing of buttons on the SX210 IS' 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 SX210 IS there's another dual compartment - with a slot for media card plus the provided rechargeable battery, good for a so-so 260 shots from a full charge.

Though it does have a couple of operational quirks - the flash popping up automatically on power up whether you'd previously deactivated it or not, plus the multiple button presses needed to actually delete something - we found the SX210 IS' good points outweighed the bad and that it is, all things considered, fun to use.

Of course, build and handling aside, image quality is ultimately what counts, so we're interested to see how the Canon performs on that count. Is it truly the jack-of-all-trades the SX210 IS is claimed to be, or in providing 14 megapixels from a 1/2.3-type CCD, has its manufacturer stretched specification too far?