Cosmetically the SX1 IS is very similar to the S5 IS, with the two obvious differences being the new larger LCD and the new lens (which is both larger in diameter and extends out farther at the longest zoom setting). The SX1 IS is slightly heavier and larger all round, but despite these increases, external construction is still mostly plastic with the hot-shoe, tripod mount, and a part of the lens barrel the only bits of metal. The deep hand grip and larger lens makes the SX1 IS feel even more 'miniature SLR' in design than its predecessor. This impression has been reinforced by moving the buttons around so that the camera is easier to control with one hand, along with the addition of the rear scroll wheel (a feature on many EOS SLR cameras) and the darker finish. Overall the build feels solid despite the plastic construction, with the one exception of the hand grip which flexes a little under pressure.
We criticized the S5 IS for having a control layout that wasn't as intuitive as it could have been. This has improved on the SX1 IS, with the buttons now grouped (mostly) in a logical layout. One example of this is the new rear multi-controller, which provides direct access to the most used photographic controls, with the center FUNC button giving access to those which don't have a dedicated external control button. In the menus the multi controller is also used for navigation.
Most of the buttons on the camera are slightly recessed so that they're not easy to accidentally press (with the exception of the new multi controller on the back), and the top mode dial is satisfyingly 'clicky'. While there are settings that you will have to delve into the menu system to configure, for the most part the SX1 IS looks and operates more like a real camera than a computer with a lens bolted onto the front.
In your hand
The handgrip is very good, with all the important image parameter controls situated around the right side of the camera for easy one handed use. Even though the construction is almost all plastic, the camera feels solid, and weighting is helped by situating the batteries in the hand grip. And despite being one of the heaviest cameras in its class, the SX1 IS is well balanced in your hand and comfortable to use for long periods of time.
The SX1 IS takes four standard AA batteries - NiMH are recommended and what we used for this test. No batteries are supplied with the camera. The battery door (like that of the S5 IS) is very difficult to operate - harder to close than to open. The good thing is that the SD card slot is no longer in the same compartment, so you won't need to operate the door as much.
Here is the new placement for the SD card compartment - back to where it was on the S3 IS. You are able to remove the card while the camera is on a tripod, and the door is spring loaded so is quite easy to open and close.
The SX1 IS features an 0.4 inch EVF with 148,000 pixels of resolution, and a 16:9 aspect ratio. While this better then the 115,000 pixels and 0.33 inch of the S5 IS, it's not as nice as the 0.44 inch, 235,000 pixel, 4:3 one from the SX10 IS (which is cheaper). The EVF in the SX1 IS is certainly usable, but the one in the SX10 IS is noticeably better.
The new rear LCD of the SX1 IS is improved from that on the S5 IS, with larger size (2.8 inches up from 2.5) and slightly higher resolution (230K pixels up from 207K), but most strikingly a 16:9 aspect ratio. The refresh rate is fairly high and color and contrast are good, but there is a problem, shared with the EVF, of image ghosting with fast moving subjects or when panning quickly.
The articulated design of the LCD swings out through 180 degrees and swivels through 270 degrees allowing you to shoot from up high, down low, and any other position you manage to contort yourself into. It also means you can 'flip' the screen (so the LCD face is flush against the back of the camera), protecting the screen when the SX1 IS is in your bag.
The shutter release and zoom rocker design is essentially unchanged from the S5 IS. The shutter release is big but the half press position for focusing is not well defined and feels soft and spongy - there are other superzooms with better release feel. Lens zooming can be sped up if you push the zoom rocker all the way or you can tap the rocker for fine adjustments. The Zoom rocker also controls playback magnification (and activates thumbnails).
The built in flash on the SX1 IS is a fairly powerful unit, but has a quite slow recycle rate. It does not pop up but instead you have to lift it up yourself in the same way as the S5 IS. There are two modes for the flash: in the auto mode the camera will decide if flash is needed - so lifting up the flash will necessarily turn the flash on; in the manual mode the flash will fire anytime it is lifted up. Lifting up the flash (if set to manual flash mode) will disable continuous shooting.
The flash hot-shoe has been retained from the S5 IS allowing you to use any of the Canon Speedlites and other hot-shoe accessories, as well as use the camera with studio flash.
The SX1 IS arrives with a new lens (also used in the SX10 IS). It starts at 28mm at the wide end and extends to 560mm at the long end, making it a 20x zoom (impressive enough, but surpassed by the latest round of 24x and 26x superzooms). The lens features optical image stabilization (IS) which will help to keep images sharp on the long end of the zoom range. The USM-powered zooming action is silent unless used at full speed.
The lens extends by around 21mm (0.8 inches) when powered up at 28 mm, and extends to 55mm (2.2 inches) at full 560mm zoom. Zoom settings with actual focal length and 35mm equiv are conveniently marked on the top of the lens barrel. While Canon does not officially support filters, it is possible to put a 52mm filter on the front of the lens.
The USB (2.0 high speed), and HDMI port are located on the side of the camera under a plastic cover, which does not like to stay open.
Just next to the thumb rest are the new locations for the playback button, exposure compensation / image rotation button and focus select / delete button. Being a shooting priority camera, the SX1 IS does not have a dedicated playback mode.
Under a plastic cover is the new location for the AV out connect and the DC in connector. Like the cover for the USB and HDMI connectors, this one will snap back into place when released.
Gone is the multi controller of the S5 IS, replaced with the combo controller you see here: with manual focus select, macro mode, ISO selector, drive mode and function/set button in the middle. The problem with this new controller is the scroll wheel which is so soft and unresponsive it is almost unusable. Fortunately the whole control cluster still acts as a D-pad in the menus, but the wheel is the only option for selecting aperture and shutter speed in TV, AV and M mode.
The new ON/OFF button lights up fluorescent orange in shooting mode, and green in playback mode. It is situated next to the main control dial which is essentially unchanged. There are a few new scene modes available, but these are hidden behind the SCN setting on the dial.
The direct print button can be programmed to any one of 10 functions though the menu (2 more then the S5 IS). The aspect ratio button switches between 4:3 and 16:9 modes. 4:3 mode is the native format for the camera, but video resolution is limited to 640x480. 16:9 mode locks video into HD (1080p) mode and reduces stills resolution to 8MP max, as well as reducing the field of view of the lens slightly (to 29-580mm).
The tripod socket continues to be not aligned with the center of the lens. While this is par for the course in this category of cameras, it is still annoying, especially considering Canon provides a panorama assist mode on this camera.
A bayonet hood is included with the SX1 IS. It does not click into place very positively, meaning that it can easily work its way loose or off in your bag, or when you take the camera out of your bag. At the wide end any rotation from the correct position will cause vignetting in images.