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Conclusion - Pros

  • Good resolution
  • Clean and detailed image output at all zoom settings
  • Very efficient image stabilization
  • Fast, reliable focus (except in low light at longer focal lengths)
  • Reliable exposure
  • Good white balance and accurate color (in daylight)
  • Clear and understandable menu
  • Well designed and intuitive control layout
  • Comprehensive feature set
  • Good range of in-camera tonal and color adjustments
  • Big, fairly bright screen
  • Good balance of noise reduction and detail retention at higher ISO settings
  • Good movie quality
  • Useful zoom range (although no real wide angle)
  • Good value for money
  • Good flash exposure and color accuracy

Conclusion - Cons

  • Noise and noise reduction artefacts showing in fine texture even at low ISO
  • Very slow flash recycling (especially when batteries are weak)
  • Images a bit soft viewed at 100% - benefit from a little sharpening
  • ISO 800 and above only suitable for emergency use
  • Battery life not brilliant (it's useful to always carry a spare set of batteries)
  • Occasional highlight clipping
  • Some purple fringing
  • No real wide-angle

Overall conclusion

The SX100 IS is a bit of a wallflower, both in terms of design and specification. It is not ugly, but it certainly won't turn any heads either, it has a fairly good spec and feature set but nothing that we haven't seen somewhere else before. 'Solid' is probably the best way to describe the performance of this latest addition to the Canon Powershot range. The SX100 IS performs well in (almost) all areas but there is hardly anyhing exceptional about it.

Canon describes the SX100 IS as a camera for all members of the family in its press material and although this is some of the most overused marketing blurb you could possibly come across, there is some truth in it. The SX100 IS' well designed user interface makes it easy to find your way around the camera in a relatively short space of time. The long zoom range of the lens makes the SX100 IS a viable camera for a number of photographic applications, rather than a specialist tool that excels in one particular field. Relatively little distortion at its widest setting means the SX100 IS works well for landscape shots (although the lens could be a little wider) and at 360mm equivalent focal length at the long end of the zoom you can get up close to your kids on the soccer pitch (although the AF might struggle to keep up with them if they're fast runners).

There is no need to discuss image quality in too much detail. Again, it is very 'solid' without being exceptional. Under the usual circumstances (high contrast, brightness) there is some evidence of fringing and in lighting conditions other than bright sunlight noise reduction artefacts are visible in dark parts of the image even at base ISO. Users of the SX100 IS will also inevitably experience some of the highlight clipping that is typical for compact cameras with small sensors. None of these issues are deal-breakers though and it is very unlikely they will have any negative impact on your prints unless you print at sizes larger than A4.

Face Detection is a feature that we have not mentioned a great deal in this review. The reason for that is quite simple. Although Face Detection is the must-have accessory of the season, I am still not certain what it is good for. It works well on the SX100 IS in so far as it detects faces (in record and review mode) as long as they are looking straight at the camera and do not wear any hats or other headgear. The 'Face Selector' button even lets you chose between faces and assign 'main face' status to one of them. However, the difference in image output, compared to focusing on a face using Center AF, is fairly marginal.

The only two points that merit some real criticism have been inherited from Canon's A-Series to which the SX100 IS is closely related. Flash recycling times are frankly a nuisance. It takes too long for the flash to recharge when batteries are new to start with but it gets even worse when battery power is low. In your typical 'social' shooting situation it can be fairly embarassing (and frustrating) having to wait the best part of 10 seconds for the flash to get ready while your subjects are waiting. We found the battery life in general quite disappointing. Always make sure to carry plenty of spare batteries, otherwise you might find yourself stranded 'powerless' and missing out on all those photo opportunities.

The SX100 IS is Canon's first stab at the 'budget' big zoom segment and the engineers have clearly done their homework. The camera delivers good image quality in a compact and solid packaging. The SX100 IS' performance is agile in all shooting situations, thanks to the latest generation of the Canon DIGIC III imaging processor, and the inclusion of comprehensive manual controls and the very efficient image stabilization plus the large clear screen make the SX100 IS a fine photographic tool not only for beginners but also the more advanced photographer with budget constraints.

The most obvious comparison is with the similarly priced Panasonic TZ3, which is smaller, has a much more versatile 28-280mm zoom range and a bigger screen, but which can't quite match the SX100's image quality, particularly at higher ISO settings. Sony's new H3 (which has what can most politely be described as having 'interesting' styling) is another alternative, though as we've not finished reviewing it yet we'll reserve judgement.

In conclusion, the SX100 IS offers reliable image quality, a big zoom range and a good variety of photographic controls in a relatively compact body at a very competitive price. If you don't mind the slow flash recycling times (which somewhat limit the camera's use as a social snapshot tool) the SX100 IS is a perfect piece of equipment for anyone wanting to cover a large variety of photographic situations without breaking the bank or carrying a backpack full of lenses. It offers a well balanced package, value for money and is simply fun to use which earns it our Recommended badge.

Detail Rating (out of 10)
Build quality 7.5
Ergonomics & handling 8.0
Features 8.0
Image quality 8.0
Optics 8.0
Performance (speed) 7.5
Value 8.5

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