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Canon Powershot SX210 IS
14.1MP | 28-336mm (14X) ZOOM | $299/£260

Successor to the SX200IS, the Canon Powershot SX210 IS combines what might loosely be termed IXUS-inspired styling, with more conventional Powershot ergonomics. A metal body shell and semi-matte finish set it apart from Canon's lower-end offerings, and its stabilized 14x optical zoom is one of the most powerful in this group.

There are a couple of ergonomic differences between the SX210 and its predecessor, but they are minor. The exposure mode dial has moved from the top of the camera to the back, effectively forming a thumbrest. The lens zoom has been changed from a ring around the shutter release to a small rocker switch just to its left, and a small, IXUS-style dial/4-way switch to the right of the LCD screen serves to scroll through and select settings. With these exceptions, the SX210 is a near-clone of its predecessor.

Like the other models in this group test the SX210 IS doesn't have an eye-level viewfinder, relying solely on its 3.0 inch LCD screen for framing.

  • 14.1 effective Megapixels
  • 28-392mm equiv lens with optical stabilization
  • 720p HD video and HDMI connection
  • 3.0 inch LCD with 230,000 dot resolution
  • ISO sensitivity up to 1600
  • 12 shooting modes, 11 Scene Modes
  • Program, Shutter-Priority, Aperture-Priority and Manual Exposure Mode
  • DIGIC 4 Processor
  • HDMI connection
  • Print/Share button for easy printing and upload to PC/Mac
  • Built-in Eye-Fi support
  • Optional accessories available, including Selphy Photo Printer
  • Battery life: 260 shots (CIPA standard)

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Overview

The SX210 IS can't rival one of Canon's IXUS series for compactness, but despite its wide zoom range, it is impressively small, albeit fairly heavy in comparison to some of the other cameras in this test. Overall handling is refined and well-balanced, although it is a shame that the SX210 IS doesn't feature any kind of handgrip. It's not a big deal, but it does mean that the camera has a tendency to slip slightly when used one-handed.

The SX210 IS offers a good selection of external controls, including a four-way controller with surrounding dial which gives you direct access to exposure compensation, flash, self-timer and focus settings. For all other frequently used shooting parameters there is the FUNC menu so that there's hardly ever any need to dive into the shooting menu.

The change of position of the exposure mode dial is a little odd (and in our opinion unnecessary) but it does at least provide a raised area which, by virtue of its position, serves as a thumbrest. It may seem foolhardy to position a major control point right where your thumb rests, but fortunately Canon has made the dial stiff enough that it is almost impossible to change settings by accident. The downside is that this extra stiffness also makes it hard to rotate on purpose, and we would have preferred to see a lock - rather than dumb friction - employed for this purpose.

One slightly annoying detail is the camera's flash. Just like its predecessor the SX200 IS, it is raised automatically when the camera is switched on whether you actually need it or not. This is annoying, and depending on how you hold the camera, it might even get in the way of handling. You soon get used to forcing it back down every time the camera is turned on (which wasn't possible with the SX200 IS) but it's irritating, and frankly, we're surprised that such undesirable behavior has survived into a second generation product.

Canon has kept its user interface pretty consistent over time and also across its range of compact cameras. There have been a few tweaks here and there but anyone that has ever used a Powershot model before will feel immediately at home with the SX210 IS. Why Canon's designers felt the need to meddle with the perfectly sensible zoom lever found on the previous generation SX200 IS though, we have no idea. The SX210's tiny zoom rocker switch is stiff, and too small to be used comfortably. Another frustration is Canon's decision to put a 16:9 format screen on a 4:3 format camera. What this means is that the SX210 IS's menus are presented in glorious widescreen, but in shooting (and review) modes, images occupy the center of the screen area, with a significant area of 'dead space' to either side. It's hardly a major problem, but it does give the constant impression of shooting in the wrong aspect ratio.

Key Features

The old SX200 IS had an unusual - but fairly effective - 'wedge' shape which gave it the semblance of a handgrip. The SX210 IS doesn't. The 14x zoom is controlled using a small rocker switch to the left of the shutter release.
You'll find the usual controls on the the SX210's top: On/Off button, shutter button and zoom rocker.
The camera's rear controls should look fairly familiar to you if you've ever used a Canon Powershot before. There's a combined four-way controller / scroll wheel which gives you direct access to exposure compensation, focus, flash and self-timer settings (although these are unlabelled). It's also used to navigate the user interface.

Above & below are buttons for play, DISP, Menu and Direct Printing.

Powered down, the SX210 IS is a fairly compact package but, unsurprisingly for a 14x zoom, in use the lens extends quite a bit at full zoom (the longest within this group test).
The SX210 IS's pop-up flash has a modest range of 3.2 meters using Auto-ISO. Annoyingly though it always pops up when the camera is switched on, even when its services are not required.
The FUNC menu gives you quick access to frequently used camera settings such as ISO and white balance, and more advanced options, like flash exposure compensation.
The SX210 IS offers full manual control. You use the dial around the four-way-controller to change aperture/shutter speed and change between the two by pressing the (unlabelled) exposure compensation button. Towards the wide end of the zoom aperture control is fairly fine-grained, but at 392mm (equivalent), the choice of available apertures drops to 3.

Image quality and performance

The Powershot SX210 IS is a curious mixture of elegant refinement and rough edges. Startup time is very fast, as is AF, and the lens zooms quickly and quietly with enough steps that it doesn't feel like you're jumping between focal lengths. Image review is similarly prompt, and shot to shot time is short, at approximately one second in single frame shooting mode. In continuous shooting mode, the SX210 IS can manage approximately one frame every 2 seconds (~0.5fps), which whilst hardly fast, isn't bad given the size of the 14MP files that the camera is writing to the SD card.

As we've come to expect from Canon compact cameras, the SX210's focusing system is very capable, and in most situations it acquires focus quickly and accurately. Face detection works well, too, and isn't easily fooled by your subject's movement, or choice of eyewear. Although the Canon doesn't produce the best image quality of this group when viewed at 100% (as you can see from the various samples throughout this test), it is more than capable of satisfying the requirements of small to medium sized prints, and of course web use. We'd question whether many people really need to blow images up to larger than letter size, and assuming that you don't, you'll probably be completely oblivious to its faults.

Arguably the most important things to consider about a compact camera's performance are the consistency and accuracy of its metering, white balance, and AF systems, and the Canon performs very well in all of these respects. A slight tendency to overexpose in bright contrasty conditions is mildly annoying from a critical image quality point of view, but it does at least ensure that prints made straight from the camera are bright and punchy.

Our main concerns with the SX210 IS are actually ergonomic. As a picture taking tool, it's a fine camera, although at close to $350 it isn't cheap, and it faces strong competition from feature-rich competitors like the Samsung HZ35W and Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7, both of which offer a 24mm equivalent wideangle.

For small prints and screen viewing/web use the Canon delivers in spades, and crucially, exposure and white balance are very reliable. Pixel level detail is masked by a slight haziness at all focal lengths, but it's only noticeable at 100% on screen.

Summary

The Canon Powershot SX210 IS is a solid, well-specified compact digital camera with a very versatile lens, and as such, like most of the cameras on this test, it makes an ideal companion when on vacation, or out and about with family or friends. The core features are well-implemented and the camera's key systems, like AF, WB and metering, are accurate and reliable. Our main frustrations with the SX210 IS are sub-par image quality when examined at 100% compared to the competition, and some strange and unwelcome ergonomic quirks that detract from the generally fluid handling. The tiny zoom rocker switch gets very annoying very quickly, as does the automatically popped-up-whether-you-like-it-or-not flash.

At 392mm, the Canon offers the best telephoto performance of any camera in this group test, but as you can see from some of the comparison photographs elsewhere in this review, its 28mm wideangle setting is significantly less wide than the 24mm equivalent coverage offered by some of its competitors. Arguably, extra telephoto reach is less useful than greater wideangle coverage, and for this reason - plus the Canon's relatively high cost - we'd be tempted to look elsewhere.

  • We like: Large screen, decent image quality at low ISO settings, fast and responsive operation, reliable metering, AF and WB.

  • We don't like: Annoying pop-up flash, poor use of screen real estate in shooting/review modes, poor detail capture at high ISO settings, fiddly zoom control.
Canon PowerShot SX210 IS
Category: Travel Zoom Compact Camera
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Features
Exposure and focus accuracy
Image quality (jpeg)
Flash performance
Low light / high ISO performance
Optics
Performance (speed)
Movie / video mode
Value
PoorExcellent
Good for
Point-and-shoot photographers that don't need to make large prints
Not so good for
More critical users, and anyone on a budget.
Overall score
68%
The Canon Powershot SX210IS is a very capable camera let down by soft images and a fussy interface. That said, for the point-and-shoot user looking for decent quality 6x4in prints wanting to create a web gallery, it's fine.
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