At a beauty pageant the SX100 IS probably wouldn't make it into the final 12; Canon took a rather 'form follows function' approach when designing their first budget superzoom compact camera. That's not necessarily a bad thing; build quality and materials have been adopted from Canon's popular A series, which has established itself as a reliable user-friendly range of cameras. Externally curves are the predominant shapes on the SX100 IS; hard edges can't be found anywhere on the body. Its dimensions and weight make it a camera more suitable for being carried in a bag rather than your shirt pocket. Having said that, for a 10x zoom it is pretty compact.
The control layout is usually pretty consistent throughout the Canon range and the designers haven't changed their ways this time around. This is no bad thing, as the Canon interface is one of the most intuitive we have come across - though in this model the number of external controls is surprisingly small considering the camera's comprehensive set of features. All everyday shooting functions can be accessed via the excellent FUNC menu - and Canon has even managed to integrate a dedicated ISO button (something still missing from the A series cameras). Luckily the function of the otherwise rather pointless print button can now be customized, you can choose between White Balance, Digital Zoom and a few more options.
The SX100 IS has also inherited a cut-down version of the G9's rotating controller/jog-dial combination, once you've got used to its operation you'll find it very useful for browsing menus and images, it really speeds things up. Although the SX100 IS has a lot more plastic than the more upmarket Powershots, it feels well constructed and solid.
In your hand
The SX100 IS is quite significantly larger and heavier than your typical stylish super-slim compact but nonetheless (or rather because of that) it handles very well. The grip, which houses the batteries, is a very helpful feature, the camera always feels stable in your hands. The shutter button and zoom lever are perfectly positioned too, operation with one hand is not a problem at all.
No revolutionary innovations to be found here; Canon has stuck to the formula that is well known from the the A-series and has only added a few modifications here and there. Anybody who has used a more recent Canon compact camera before won't find any surprises when they pick up the SX100 IS.
The top of the camera is home to the main power button, mode dial and shutter release (in the middle of the circular zoom rocker). Like the A series models, the shutter release has a nice positive feel and a distinct 'half press' point.
The 10x zoom's design is apparently 'based on the proven lens configuration of the Powershot S5 IS' 12x lens (according to Canon). It covers a 35mm equivalent range of 36-360mm - we'd love it to start a little wider, but you can't have everything. The maximum aperture ranges from f/2.8 at wide angle to f/4.3 at the tele end. Lens based image stabilization helps to steady your shot at the long end of the zoom.
The built-in flash is a flip-up type and has a range of up to 3.0m (W) or 2.0m (T).
The card and two AA batteries sit under a hinged door on the base of the camera. The SX100 IS is compatible with the SDHC standard and comes with a 16MB card. Alkaline Batteries provide power for approximately 140 shots. This number increases to 400 when using NiMH batteries (CIPA standard).
Connections for the optional AC adapter, USB 2.0 and the A/V interface are hidden underneath a plastic flap on the right side of the camera.
The rear controls should be familiar to anyone who has used a Powershot before; the four-way controller (which now rotates) is located in the centre. It has direct-access buttons for focus, flash, ISO, drive mode, self-timer and the Func menu. Above sits the play button and at the bottom you'll find the exposure compensation button which doubles as a delete button in play mode.
Uncharacteristically for a Canon Powershot there is also a row of buttons underneath the screen. From left to right: The print button (the function of which luckily can be customized), the face selector button, the display button (which controls the amount of information shown on screen) and the Menu button.
The SX100 IS has a bright 2.5-inch screen with a wide viewing angle. It has a, for this screen size, a pretty average resolution of 172,000 pixels (a sure fire indication of the camera's budget positioning). The screen is bright and contrasty (and has a good refresh rate). LCD brightness can be adjusted in the menu although in direct sunlight you'd sometimes wish the SX100 had an optical viewfinder as well.