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Conclusion - Pros

  • Good resolution, good edge-to-edge sharpness at most settings
  • Surprisingly good output quality at lower ISO settings
  • Very compact design and superb build quality
  • Big 10x (39-390mm equivalent) zoom range in a very small camera
  • Much improved on-screen information (shutter speed, aperture, ISO)
  • Effective image stabilization
  • Generally fast performance
  • Reliable exposure, good color, good white balance in most situations
  • External ISO controls and customizable shortcut button
  • Fairly comprehensive feature set
  • Purple fringing well controlled
  • 'HDTV' 720p movies and 1080i video output (though see below)
  • Smooth, clean, artefact-free movies with zooming and stereo sound (though see below)
  • Separate movie button means no changing modes to capture clips
  • Articulated screen
  • Good balance of noise reduction and detail retention at higher ISO settings (though see below)
  • Super macro mode

Conclusion - Cons

  • Vertical design and control placement have a serious effect on handling
  • Would be nicer if the lens started a little wider than 39mm equivalent
  • Very difficult to hold for vertically-orientated shots
  • Almost impossible to start/stop movies or zoom without jerking the camera
  • Noisy at ISO 400 and up, ISO 800-1600 of very limited use
  • Focus tends to hunt at long end of zoom in anything but perfect light
  • 50cm closest focus distance at wide end of zoom is annoying
  • Movie files huge (thanks to M-JPEG format) - you're gonna need a lot of big cards
  • 1280 x 720 movies soft - don't really look like true 'HDTV' clips
  • No digital HDTV output (i.e. HDMI)
  • Movies noisy in low light
  • Some highlight clipping in very contrasty scenes
  • Screen (1.8-inch) very small by today's standards
  • Weak flash, long recycle times
  • Poor battery life and flimsy battery door

Overall conclusion

I have to confess I'm struggling to know who Canon is really aiming the TX1 at; it seems slightly confused as to what its primary function actually is. One the one hand it is, technically, the cheapest 'HDTV' camcorder on the market, and one that is obviously designed to take on the likes of Sanyo's Exacti HD2 and Panasonic's SDR-150 - both of which offer SD recording at HD resolutions, both of which are more expensive, and both of which have received lukewarm reviews, to put it mildly. On the other hand the use of M-JPEG for movies means that if you want to shoot even half an hour of footage you're going to need a pocketful of fast, large SD cards. And though the movie quality is excellent you're getting nothing like the resolution you could expect from a decent dedicated DV camcorder.

Where the TX1 beats all camcorders is the quality of its stills, which we were genuinely surprised to see where for the most part sharp, detailed and every bit as good as most other 7MP ultra-compacts, with the added bonus of a big 10x zoom. It's got a good range of features and - unlike the majority of Ixus/Elph models it has excellent on-screen information (including shutter speed and aperture); it even tells you which ISO setting the Auto ISO is going to use. Like most - no, all - compact cameras you're really going to want to stick to ISO 200 or lower for any important shots you're likely to want to print larger than 5x7 inches, and you only really get the best results at ISO 80, but the effective image stabilization means this is less of an issue unless you're shooting in very low light. In fact the TX1 is not a camera that likes low light at all - noise is an issue at higher ISO settings, the lens isn't very fast (F3.5-5.6), the flash is weak and the focus system starts to struggle.

My problem with the TX1 is that its vertical design makes handling awkward. For one thing the 'pistol grip' design is somewhat compromised by the flat, smooth minimalist styling, which has nothing to grip and which - along with the slightly awkward positioning of the controls - means you can only really shoot stable movies holding the camera in one hand. Shooting stills is even more awkward, with your fingers struggling to find somewhere to sit without blocking the lens and the shutter release way too far forward. You often hear photographers talking about cameras that are so transparent and intuitive in use that they are 'an extension of your hand' Using the TX1 is not a seamless marriage of man and machine; its design seems to take almost perverse pleasure in making the picture taking process as awkward as possible.

After using the TX1 daily for a few weeks I did get more used to it, but still found myself searching for the shutter release every time I went to take a shot. I dreaded my wife handing the camera to someone and saying 'hey take a picture of us together' as it inevitably ended up with us standing with slowly-drooping fixed smiles as we waited for them to work out how to actually take a picture.

And yet I did grow to like the TX1 - or least the idea behind it. It's quite an achievement to squeeze so much functionality into something genuinely pocketable, and it is a lovely 'thing'; well made, fast and surprisingly capable. I loved the fact that I could switch so seamlessly from shooting stills to capturing high quality movie clips (putting aside the 'is it really 'HD' or not' argument; VGA is plenty big enough for me), I liked the overall responsiveness and I liked the fact that I could hang it off my wrist all day without getting arm ache.

But ultimately I personally couldn't get on with the vertical design and idiosyncratic handling, I missed shots because by the time I'd turned it on, flipped the screen out and positioned my fingers correctly the moment was lost. But I guess the real killer for me is that I want a camera to be a camera first and a camcorder second, and anything that makes shooting in vertical (portrait) orientation so damned awkward is never going to find a permanent home chez moi.

As a walk around camera with better-than-average movie capabilities and a big zoom the TX1 has a lot to recommend it, and it's important to stress that handling is to a fairly large extent a personal thing, so I wouldn't write it off completely. Just don't buy it thinking it's a replacement for a 'proper' HD camcorder and be aware that the ergonomics are, well, unusual.

I'd really, really recommend going to a store and trying it for yourself before committing; this is a cool, fun gadget with surprisingly good image quality, but for me it's not a camera I found easy to live with - especially not at the best part of $500. I'd personally forget the movie stuff, save my self $150 and go for a Panasonic TZ3, which might not be as cute but has a more useful zoom range and handles like a proper camera. There is undoubtedly a market for this kind of product, but I think Canon needs to go back to the drawing board before it launches the TX2.

Detail Rating (out of 10)
Build quality 9.0
Ergonomics & handling 5.0
Features 8.5
Image quality 7.5
Optics 7.5
Performance (speed) 8.0
Value 7.0

Recommended (but only just)

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