Canon PowerShot SX600 HS Review
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Canon’s PowerShot digital cameras have been with us for a scarcely-believable eighteen years, and whilst the SX600 HS isn’t intended to be the new flagship model in the range, it still packs quite a punch. Despite compact 103.8 x 61 x 26mm dimensions, Canon has managed to cram in an 18x zoom lens with a 35mm-equivalent focal length range of 25-450mm. Thankfully lens-shift Image Stabilisation is included too, which combined with the sensor’s maximum ISO 3200 sensitivity should ensure sharp shots at extreme focal lengths and in low light. The Canon PowerShot SX600 HS' sensor itself is a 1/2.3” back-illuminated, high sensitivity CMOS device with 16-million effective pixels and is paired with Canon’s aging but capable DIGIC 4+ image processor. There are plenty of features to play with too, like the Creative Shot mode which captures a standard image plus five stylised variations. Hybrid Auto mode automatically captures a 4-second movie before each shot and combines the stills and video into a montage. You also get Wi-Fi connectivity for wireless images sharing and remote camera control, and all for around £199.99 / $249.99 / €209.00.
Ease of Use
Whilst it may be crammed with tech, first impressions of the Canon PowerShot SX600 HS aren’t particularly inspiring. Where some compacts cameras sport tactile metal casings, Canon saves the luxurious look for its IXUS offerings. Instead this PowerShot has to make do with an all-plastic construction, but it does feel solid well made. A small rubber ridge on the front and a raised section at the rear make the camera surprisingly easy to hold for what is otherwise a sleek shape that’ll slip easily into a pocket or small handbag.
It’s perhaps a little disappointing that you don’t get a touch-sensitive screen, but the standard 3.0” display does the job well. It’s bright with decent contrast and great viewing angles. The 461k-dot resolution is nothing to write home about, but it isn’t a deal-breaker either.
Alongside the screen is a 3-position switch that selects between Auto, Creative Shot and Hybrid Auto modes. For normal shooting you’ll have this set to Auto mode, but switch to Creative Shot mode and the camera shoots six images in a burst. The first is an unmodified photo, but the remaining five are customised by the camera with different aspect ratios and colour effects so you can pick the funkiest version afterwards. Flick the mode switch up to the Hybrid Auto setting and the SX600 HS operates as normal, but rather than just snapping images, it discretely captures an accompanying 4-second video too. The resulting footage and stills are then merged to form a video and photographic montage of your day. It’s a neat trick that’s somewhat similar to the Zoe feature on some HTC smartphones and will either be a love-it or forget-it feature.
Moving down the Canon PowerShot SX600 HS' rear panel we find decent-sized buttons to control playback and video recording, plus a dedicated button to engage the camera’s Wi-Fi mode. Simply install Canon’s CameraWindow app on your mobile device and connect to the SX600 HS’ wireless hotspot and you can wirelessly transfer photos from the camera or control it remotely if you fancy some stealth shooting. The system is slightly laggy, but we found the connection to be stable and image transfers relatively rapid.
Atop the Canon PowerShot SX600 HS is the familiar zoom ring encircling the shutter release. Fortunately the zoom ring has two speed settings, so you can move it a little to make fine focal length adjustments, or give it the full twist for a quick zoom. At the opposite end sits the popup flash. You’ll need to manually eject the flash using a switch alongside, but this does eliminate any chance of the flash going off automatically when you’re not expecting it.
Power up the SX600 HS and it springs into life in a fraction over a second and you’re greeted by a simple – if slightly dated – on screen display. The relatively low screen resolution is most apparent when viewing these icons or the menu, but all the information you need is still easily readable. The menu interface is also simple and quick to navigate, with the Func/Set button displaying most common shooting options together.
When you’re ready to snap a shot, the Canon PowerShot SX600 HS doesn’t waste any time in autofocussing and is quicker to find its mark in low light than you’d expect for a mid-range snapper. The system can get confused when shooting a macro subject which doesn’t occupy much of the frame, but otherwise you can leave the camera in Auto mode safe in the knowledge it’ll focus fast and accurately. On the subject of macro focussing, a 5cm-minimum focus distance is none too shabby, but it’s also no match for many competing cameras boasting 1cm macro modes.
The SX600 HS is also a bit of a speed demon when it comes to continuous shooting. Sure, its 3.9fps capture rate isn’t exactly blistering, but unlike many a compact it won’t throw in the towel after a handful of shots and slow to a snail’s pace. Depending on the speed of your memory card the burst rate will eventually deteriorate, but we found the camera kept on shooting at least 2fps. Drop the recording resolution to 4MP and you can also indulge in a rapid 10.5fps shooting speed. Of course if all this still isn’t fast enough to record the action, there’s always Full HD video capture.
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When you’d like to get creative the Canon PowerShot SX600 HS delivers a modest but useful range of effects. There’s those Creative Shot and Hybrid Auto modes mentioned earlier, but if you delve into the shooting mode menu you’ll also find effects like fish-eye and miniaturisation distortions, plus a ubiquitous toy camera retro look. These are mixed in with regular shooting modes which also includes a useful Smart Shutter function which will automatically snap your shot when the camera detects a smiling face. Switch to the My Colours menu and you can set all shots to be automatically recorded with enhanced colour saturation, sepia tones or in monochrome.
Less funky but no less important is the SX600 HS’ battery life. It’s 290-shot lifespan is on the good side of average, but if you’re set to be away from the charger for some time, activating Eco mode can eek this out to an impressive 430 shots-per-charge. This modest thirst for power is primarily achieved by dimming the display after just a couple of second’s inactivity, and turning it off altogether shortly afterwards. Pressing any button will restore life instantly though. The effect is rather like a start/stop system on a modern car and doesn’t seem to have any downsides, providing you don’t have to wait more than a few seconds to take your shot.