Canon PowerShot SX30 IS Review

October 11, 2010 | Mark Goldstein |


The Canon PowerShot SX30 IS is a brand new super-zoom camera sporting an incredible 35x zoom lens equivalent to a focal length of 24-840mm. The lens construction comprises multiple special lens elements including an Ultra-low Dispersion (UD) element as well as a Hi-UD element, compensating for light aberrations while maintaining high image quality across the entire zoom range. Also onboard is a 4.5-stop image stabilisation system and Ultrasonic Motor (USM) and Voice Coil Motor (VCM) technologies that promise fast, accurate and quiet zooming and focusing. Replacing the previous SX20 model, the 14 megapixel SX30IS also features full manual controls, 720p HD movie recording with a dedicated record button, stereo sound and a HDMI port, a 2.7 inch vari-angle LCD screen, an electronic viewfinder and a flash hot shoe. The Canon PowerShot SX30 IS is available in black priced at £449.00 / €549.00 / $429.99.

Ease of Use

Following on from last year's SX20 model, at launch the SX30 IS officially costs slightly more than its predecessor. This is a DSLR-styled compact camera with the world's longest lens, an incredibly versatile 35x image stabilized optical zoom, providing a broad 35mm equivalent focal range of 24mm to 840mm, and making it a direct challenger to the likes of the Fujifilm FinePix HS10, Panasonic DMC-FZ45, Samsung WB5000, Olympus SP-590UZ and the Casio EX-FH25. It's new higher price-tag also means that the SX30 is competing against entry-level DSLRs and the new breed of compact system cameras.

The SX30 IS features built-to-last hard plastic bodywork with a large hand-grip, although it's not as big as the SX20's thanks to the replacement of that camera's four AA batteries with a more conventional lithium-ion battery. The overall weight of 600g adds a definite feeling of solidity, while the matt black finish lends an overall air of sophistication. If you're looking for a camera that will slot into a jacket pocket, however, think again. At 122.9 x 92.4 x 107.7mm the SX30 IS' dimensions are not much more compact than an entry-level DSLR, so it's a case of attaching the provided strap for over-the-shoulder portability, or investing in a dedicated camera bag to protect it from the elements and prying eyes when out taking photographs.

There's no full hard copy manual provided out of the box, just a very rudimentary getting started pamphlet, with the full manual on CD. While the latter is fine if you're chained to a PC, when you're outside shooting and can't track down the setting you want, not having a manual to hand to quickly flick through is a real pain. The Hints & Tips feature incorporated within the user interface partly makes up for the this, providing short descriptions of key functions, but it's obviously not as in-depth as the full manual. More positively a hotshoe for an accessory flash is offered in addition to the built-in raised variety, plus a flip out and twist (or in Canon parlance 'vari angle') 2.7-inch LCD screen at the rear, slightly bigger than the SX20's. This monitor tilts forward through 180° and backwards through 90° in order to achieve those otherwise awkward angle shots when users can't quite get their eyes level with its electronic viewfinder, such as when shooting low to the ground or over the heads of a crowd.

Canon PowerShotSX30 IS Canon PowerShotSX30 IS
Front Rear

As touched on earlier, the Canon SX30 IS offers a frankly incredible zoom range that's much more portable and cheaper when compared with its equivalent on a DSLR. With 24mm available at the wide-angle end and 840mm at the other, the SX30 IS truly is a one-stop-shop for all your photography needs. The massive focal range is backed up by respectably bright apertures of f/2.7 and f/5.8 at either end, while the 4.5-stop image stabilisation system is better than many Canon pro lenses. An optional lens filter adapter allows the attachment of 67mm filters such as the Canon PL-C B 67mm polarizer filter.

The SX30 IS also offers the advantage over some models of being able to shoot video clips. Although it still falls short of full HD 1920x1080 pixel video, the 720p HD video quality is more than adequate for most users and situations. It boasts stereo sound courtesy of microphones positioned either side of its lens, plus a dedicated button at the rear that activates the video feature whichever shooting mode you're in. Marked by a red dot that universally signifies a record button, this falls readily under the user's thumb at the rear of the camera. You can also take advantage of the 35x zoom during recording and also use some of the creative filters, such as Miniature and and Colour Swap, to spice up your footage.

While it is capable of shooting JPEG stills and high definition video however, one thing the SX30 IS still omits that several competing super-zoom cameras include is RAW capture, which really would have made this an appealing proposition for current DSLR owners looking for a second camera.

Canon PowerShotSX30 IS Canon PowerShotSX30 IS
Front Side

Looking down on the SX30 IS, you're presented with a fairly busy but well-spaced smattering of clearly labeled and sufficiently large buttons and dials. These run in an L-shape from the lozenge-shaped flash button at the far left, across the familiar DSLR-like hump housing the electronic viewfinder, built-in flash and hotshoe (complete with plastic cover), to a shooting dial on the other side featuring no less than 12 user selectable modes. Canon have improved the feel of the mode dial so that it no longer accidentally moves into another position when placed inside a pocket or bag.

The aforementioned shooting modes range from full Auto, through Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority and Manual to to user-attributable custom settings – and, as you twist the physical dial, a virtual version appears in the top right hand corner of the rear screen if it's in operation, or in the EVF above if it's not, so you don't need to take your eyes off the subject. This is handy as being able to re-compose a couple of times without missing the shot is a bonus. Further, the pre-optimised modes also include dedicated settings for shooting portraits, landscapes, night snapshot, sports mode, a grouped selection of scene modes, including the familiar likes of a dedicated fireworks setting among others, a stitch assist mode to help with shooting a sequence of shots for compositing together later as a single panorama, and four new 'creative modes', Fish-eye, Miniature, Poster and Super Vivid. The final mode on the dial is for capturing movie clips.

Adjacent to the shooting mode dial is the on/off button, and on the forward slope of the grip itself we find the shutter release button encircled by a rocker switch for controlling the whopping zoom. Press the power button and the responsive SX30 IS primes itself for an initial shot in just over a second, the zoom barrel extending to maximum wideangle setting and the rear 230k-dot LCD, or 202k-dot EVF, bursting into life for composing the image. Unlike rivals, there's no obvious EVF/LCD button for switching between the two – as the camera's default, this task falls to the display button. Instead the camera can be set up so if the LCD screen is facing into the body upon power up, the EVF automatically bursts into life. Alternatively, if the screen is facing out at the user, then it provides that method of shot composition.

As you'd expect from an enthusiast model, shutter delay is imperceptible and committing of full resolution images to memory takes less than a second at the 14 megapixel highest resolution– so no complaints as far as operational speed is concerned. Sound-tracked by a low mechanical whirr the zoom is also very responsive, so much so that determining an exact point in its range can be tricky, though, unusually, markings detailing incremental steps throughout its range are etched onto the top of the lens barrel. You can tab through these in baby steps with a gentle nudge of the lever. An Ultra Sonic Motor (USM) ensures your zoom transitions are commendably smooth and jerk free. Given the Canon's relative bulk, it feels most natural to hold the camera with both hands, and fortunately there is enough of a ridge to the left, when viewing the camera from the rear, and at the back by the hinge for the LCD, for the user to do so without inadvertently smearing the screen with thumbprints.

Canon PowerShotSX30 IS Canon PowerShotSX30 IS
Flip-out LCD Screen Top

Moving to the back of the SX30 IS, top left of the LCD is a direct print button that will be familiar to users of the Canon PowerShot range. This more helpfully doubles up in shooting mode as a user assignable shortcut key to the likes of red-eye reduction or auto exposure lock. Adjacent to this is a rubber eye relief for the electronic viewfinder, just set back from a partly recessed dioptric adjustment wheel, while on the right hand side of the EVF we find the aforementioned one-touch record button for shooting video clips. Luckily, the full extent of the optical zoom can be deployed when filming, and coupled with the stereo sound, this means that, while no match for a dedicated camcorder, video clips look better than expected from your average compact.

Top right of the camera back are a trio of buttons set into the back of the curved grip whereby they fall immediately under the thumb. A press of the top one accesses the new and very useful Zoom Framing Assist function. It can be difficult to keep track of your subject when using the long zoom - a quick press of this button retracts the lens to one of three preset zoomed-out positions, allowing you to find the subject and then recompose the shot as the lens quickly extends back to its zoomed position once the button is released. Unfortunately the position of this button makes it easy to inadvertently press, leading to a few missed shots as we wondered why the camera had zoomed out. Alternatively if the user is still in playback mode, it allows a sequence of images to be 'jumped' to find the one you're looking for more rapidly in this age of ever larger card capacities, search criteria determined either by a number of images, categories or folders.

The middle one is self evidently for image playback, its positioning meaning you can quickly check the results of a capture while your finger remains hovering over the shutter release button for the next possible shot. The bottom and last of the three smaller buttons is for deleting images when in playback mode, or when in capture mode, lets the user move the otherwise central AF point to another portion of the screen. This is effected in conjunction with the four-way control pad with central Function / Set button and scroll wheel that encircles it just below.

At four points around this pad are, at 12 o'clock, a means of bringing up an exposure compensation slider (+/- 2EV), at three o'clock is a setting for adjusting ISO – here a range that moves from ISO 80 through ISO 1600 – while at six o'clock is a means of switching from single to continuous shooting or choosing one of the available self timer options. Moving around to nine o'clock we find the Focus mode, with either Macro, Normal or Manual settings possible. Select Manual and you're presented with a distance slider on the right hand side of the screen and an enlarged central portion of the image so focus can be more accurately determined. The rather over sensitive scroll wheel is used for moving through the available range.

Canon PowerShotSX30 IS Canon PowerShotSX30 IS
Memory Card Slot Battery Compartment

Press the Function/Set button at its centre when in any of the capture modes, and an L-shaped toolbar that will be familiar to Canon users appears on the screen, offering pull out toolbars with further options from the range when you come to rest on a particular setting. In auto mode, only resolution/image size for stills and video is highlighted from the range, whereas if you move into one of the more creative PASM modes and press the button again, you can choose from any of the now fully accessible options. These include being able to adjust white balance, select from the familiar Canon 'My colors' modes, the chance to bracket exposures or focus, choose the burst mode, tweak the intensity of the flash, plus switch between evaluative, centre weighted and spot metering, and set the image size and quality.

Beneath this control pad and wheel are two more familiarly marked buttons, this time for image display and menu. With subsequent presses the Disp. button turns the display on off, or calls up a nine zone compositional grid with live histogram. A press of Menu meanwhile provides the user with the ability to select from four separate folders – the first containing a comprehensive list of shooting options, the second being the fairly generic set up menu, the third a rather superfluous list of start up images and sound peculiar to the Canon range, and the fourth for accessing user-defined My Menu settings. Again the PowerShot SX30 IS is as quick and responsive as you could hope for as you tab though and effect the various options.

While the left hand side of the SX30 IS, if still viewing it from the back, features a built-in speaker and catch for attaching the provided strap, the right hand (grip) side is slightly busier, featuring a single plastic flap covering its AV Out / USB port and mini-HDMI port. Flipping the camera upside down you find a familiar metal screw thread for a tripod at its base, and slightly stiff (and so awkward) sliding cover for the compartment that houses the lithium-ion batter needed for power and the SD, SDHC or SDXC cards needed for image storage.

As with the near-identical SX20, anyone used to handling a budget DSLR will find the SX30 IS reasonably easy to use, sharing many familiarities in its control layout. Anyone upgrading from a point-and-shoot compact will be faced with an initial learning curve, but once you've got used to the operational quirks you'll soon be confidently shooting candids and close ups thanks to the creative flexibility that the amazing long lens affords.