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Canon Powershot SX230 HS
12.1MP | 28-392mm (14X) ZOOM | $329/£249

Announced in February this year, the 12MP Canon Powershot SX230 HS is significantly improved over its predecessor the SX210IS. The most obvious difference is a new 12MP BSI CMOS sensor and Digic 4 processor to provide improved image quality in poor light and better performance. The SX210IS offered more pixels, but we weren't all that happy with its low light image quality. The LCD resolution of the SX230 is higher than its predecessor, as is video resolution which has been increased to 1080p at 24fps (up from 720p).

The SX230's body is almost indistinguishable from the SX210's, aside from a new GPS unit that forms a bump on the top of the SX230 where the zoom lever and power button used to sit. As a result, the zoom control is now integrated with the shutter release as a circular lever, and the power button has been moved just to the left of the exposure dial. The SX230 is one of the nicest looking models in the test, retaining the same metal body shell and semi-matte finish as its predecessor.

The SX230 HS's 28-392mm (equivalent) zoom range is the second longest of our test in terms of telephoto reach, but some of the other models trump it on the wide end. Like several of the top competitors in this test, the SX230 has a rear control dial that provides quick access to all primary shooting modes, including a manual mode with aperture and shutter speed control.

  • 12.1 effective Megapixels (BSI-CMO sensor)
  • 28-392mm equiv lens with optical stabilization
  • 1080p HD video and HDMI connection
  • 3.0 inch LCD with 461,000 dot resolution
  • ISO sensitivity up to 3200
  • 13 shooting modes, 11 Scene Modes, 11 Color Modes

Click here for full product information including reader reviews and image samples (opens in new window)

Key Features

Canon has managed to pack a lot of different color, scene, and scenario based shooting modes into the SX230, so much so that it can be a little confusing figuring out where to access everything. As you would expect, the exposure dial is the starting point for quickly choosing most common shooting scenarios, from manual modes like Tv and Av, to scenario-based modes like Portrait and Landscape. Another 8 scenario-based shooting modes like 'Snow', 'Fireworks', and 'High Speed Burst' are accessible via the function menu when the exposure dial is set to 'SCN'.

Also on the exposure dial is a dedicated effects mode, providing access to effects like fisheye, miniature, and toy camera. Lastly, for added creative control, there are 11 color filters the user can apply from the function menu when the exposure dial is set to P, Tv, Av, M, SCN, or Movie mode.

The SX230's rear control dial provides access to all the primary shooting modes. This prevents the user from solely having to use the menu system in many situations. Surprisingly, the dial also offers the best grip on the camera's mostly matte body due to its ridged edges and stiff rotation.
Some users will enjoy the SX230's 'movie digest' mode, which records a few seconds of video before and after each photo you take without interrupting the shooting process. Exposure in movie digest mode is automatic.
With the SX230's GPS feature turned on, GPS data is appended to the metadata of captured images. Additionally, if you turn on the 'GPS logger' you can record a GPS trail connecting all the locations where you took photos in a day. This is active even when the camera is turned off (although it increases battery drain). The GPS info is then viewable in Canon's map utility (pictured).

Although the array of shooting modes might be mostly ignored by many users who simply want a point-and-shoot experience, for the user who wants to have more control, the expansive list of shooting modes and manual settings will be hugely attractive. Even the 'gimmicky' functions like movie digest are fun and depending on the sort of shooting that you do, may have genuine value.

Image quality and performance

In key performance areas like startup time, autofocus, and regular shot-to-shot time, the Canon SX230 is very capable and on par with or faster than the competition. It's maximum frame rate of 3.2 fps in continuous drive mode is slower than the Nikon, Sony, and Panasonic models in this group (although plenty fast enough for most purposes), but in just about every other type of shooting scenario the SX230 is very responsive.

Images from the SX230 are amongst the sharpest and most consistently well-exposed of the cameras in this group test. Both of these images could very easily have been rendered wrongly. The wideangle landscape on the left could easily have exhibited clipped highlights or a dramatically underexposed foreground, but there is detail in both areas. The snowy telephoto shot on the right invites underexposure, but the SX230 HS has done very well to maintain an accurate, pleasant tonal balance.

As far as image quality is concerned, the SX230 turns in a very impressive performance in general. JPEGs are sharp and punchy and look great on the 16:9 format LCD screen, and noise levels are comparatively low even towards the high end of the SX230's ISO sensitivity scale. The only major black mark against the camera is chromatic aberration, which (depending on the subject) can be very noticeable towards the edges of images taken at wide focal lengths. Take a look at the trees on the right of the snowy landscape in the table above for an example.

Typically, with zooms as wide-ranging as those on the cameras in this test, we'd expect to see some corner softness especially at wide focal lengths. At its 28mm (equivalent) setting the SX230 HS does have slightly soft corners, but considering the breadth of its zoom range sharpness is impressively uniform.

The SX230 HS's automatic white balance is generally accurate and consistent, although it tends to deliver somewhat cool images in shaded conditions. As far as dynamic range is concerned, like all the cameras we tested the SX230 is not immune to delivering clipped highlights in some high contrast conditions, but this is rare, and Canon's 'i-Contrast' setting helps to balance shadow and highlight areas without too much penalty in terms of noise.

Image Stabilization

To test image stabilization we shoot a standard test target at the long end of these cameras' zooms, at 1/30sec. We take ten images at each stabilization setting (including 'off') and average the results, expressing performance as a percentage of shots which we judge to be 'very blurred', 'blurred', 'soft' (usable at small print sizes) and 'sharp'.

The Powershot SX230 has three configurable IS settings when turned on, 'Continuous', 'Shoot Only', and 'Panning'. In our experience, setting the IS to 'Shot Only' is inadvisable at full zoom as it is near impossible to frame a shot due to camera shake. However, while in 'Continuous' mode framing becomes much easier, and we have found that we are able to get consistently focused shots in most lighting situations and at full zoom. Bear in mind that our image stabilization test is unusually tough - in normal use, with shutter speeds higher than 1/30sec, the SX230's hit-rate is considerably higher.

The SX230 performed well in our IS testing, coming in 3rd place with over 50% of its shots being perfectly sharp in 'continuous' mode.

Summary

The Canon Powershot SX230 HS is a camera that has a lot going for it, with it's elegant body and consistent performance in key areas like autofocus, zoom, and white balance. In a wide variety of shooting situations, we were able to produce very pleasing photographs without too much hassle, which is the entire point of this class of camera. Even when the going got tough, indoors and at night the Canon continued to produce quality photograph hs.

Many aspects of the SX230's design are intuitive and responsive, but we are surprised that three years on Canon continues to design-in minor annoyances like the popped-up-whether-you-like-it-or-not flash and mostly wasteful 16:9 format LCD screen (full-screen menus look lovely but black vertical bars on either side of the 4:3 live view images just look weird).

Minor niggles aside, the SX230 is clearly a step above many of the cameras in this test in terms of the user experience and image quality. It may not have the widest zoom range or highest-resolution sensor in its class, but in terms of the quality of its output, the SX230 sits towards the top of the list in our group test.

Canon PowerShot SX230 HS
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
General everyday use, especially when travelling
Not so good for
Distortion and chromatic aberration can impact upon image quality in some situations
Overall score
77%
The SX230 HS is one of the best-featured cameras in its class, and came out top in our testing for detail reproduction in both good and poor light. High ISO performance is excellent, but lens distortion and chromatic aberration can be problematic in some shooting situations.

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