Canon Powershot SX10 IS
10.0MP | 28-560mm (20X) ZOOM | $350/£260
The SX10 IS is the latest in a long line of popular big zoom cameras that goes right back to the PowerShot S1 IS back in 2004. The new model builds on its successor (the S5 IS) with a slight physical redesign and a fairly extensive beefing up of features that adds more megapixels, a much bigger zoom range, increased screen and viewfinder resolutions and a wealth of minor spec updates. The old 'S' range has now been incorporated into the 'SX' range, previously home to Canon's more compact long zoom models (such as the recent SX110 IS).
Canon also offer a near-twin of the SX10 IS, called the SX1 IS. The two cameras are virtually indistinguishable from the outside, but there's an important difference inside: the SX1 is based around a CMOS sensor to enable HD video and faster shooting (which also makes the SX-1 considerably more expensive). The SX10 IS uses the CCD technology that is much more common in this size of camera.
- 10 effective Megapixels
- 28-560mm equiv lens with 20x optical zoom and 4x digital zoom
- 2.5 inch LCD with 230,000 dots resolution
- Electronic Viewfinder with 100% Field of View
- Optical Image Stabilizer
- ISO sensitivity up to 3200
- Hot shoe for external flashguns
- 15 shooting modes, 11 Scene Modes including Movie Snap Mode
- Program, Shutter-Priority, Aperture-Priority and Manual Exposure Mode
- DIGIC IV Processor for enhanced Face Detection and Intelligent Contrast Correction
- Print/Share button with ID Photo and Movie Print option
- Optional accessories available, including Selphy Photo Printer
- Battery life: Alkaline 340 shots, NiMH 600 shots
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The SX10 is the largest and heaviest camera in this test, helping give it the kind of feel and presence that many of its rivals are lacking. It also offers a great many external controls, including those on the top right-hand corner that are (no-doubt intentionally) reminiscent of Canon's entry-level Rebel DSLRs. The SX10 is also unique in this group by offering a screen that hinges out and rotates to offer a greater variety of shooting positions. However, the size and weight of the SX10 do mean that it isn't much more portable than a small DSLR (though, of course, the versatility of its lens is still a big plus).
The SX10 behaves pretty much like every other Canon compact, despite having more bells and whistles than most. The two-tier menu structure that offers frequently-changed settings on the 'Func' menu and more fundamental parameters in the main menu works as well here as on the company's simplest model. The advantage of being one of the largest cameras in the test is that the SX10 also has the most substantial grip, making it easy to hold firmly (it's arguably better in larger hands than Canon's Rebels).
Image quality and performance
Overall the SX10 IS is one of the the best performing cameras in this comparison, and Canon's new Digic 4 processor is clearly doing a good job. The shutter lag is hardly noticeable and shot-to-shot times were, at just under two seconds, amongst the fastest in this group. As you'd expect they increase slightly when using the flash (2.9 sec or 3.2 sec with anti red-eye activated). The flash recycling time can increase significantly though as the camera's AA batteries get weaker. Despite its enormous zoom range, the SX10 is the fastest camera to get ready after you press the power button; it only takes 1.5 seconds before you can take your first image. The zoom operates swiftly when you operate the zoom lever (there are two speeds) and image browsing and magnification in review mode don't give any reason to complain either.
The only point of slight criticism is the AF. At approximately 0.3 sec it works very well at wide angle and in good light, but as light levels drop things get a little slower. At the tele end of the zoom AF speed is approximately 0.6 sec but things can take longer when the focus starts hunting in lower light levels; when the light gets really dim the AF gives up completely (though to be fair this is the longest telephoto in the group).
The image quality is, overall, pretty impressive, with consistently good color, metering and focus, meaning you really can just point, shoot and expect good results. There's some pretty strong chromatic aberration creating colored fringes on high-contrast edges in many of its shots, but they'd only be visible in large prints if you went looking for them. Low contrast detail can become a bit smeared, even at the lowest ISO setting (which can look a bit odd as the camera applies quite a high level of sharpening), but it's only a problem if you crop and enlarge regions of a photograph - which shouldn't be necessary with a lens this long - or take a magnifying glass to your prints.
Flash exposures are generally good, the redeye reduction works perfectly and high ISO performance is far from the worst here, with ISO 400 perfectly usable for standard print sizes (none of the cameras in this group produces output at ISO 800 or higher that bears close scrutiny). As noted, the SX10 IS has perhaps the best image stabilization in the group despite having the longest telephoto lens.
We'll look at the SX10's movie mode in more detail in our full review, but - like its predecessors - the quality is excellent, and the great news is that Canon has finally dropped motion JPEG .AVI files, moving to a far more efficient H.264 MPEG format. It's not over-compressed either, meaning you don't get nasty artifacts despite the files being a little more card-friendly (around 1.3MB per second compared to 2.0 MB/s for the S5 IS movie files).
You can zoom whilst filming and the image stabilizer works well, you can apply special effects to the movies and there are rudimentary in-camera editing controls - and you can snap a full resolution still in the middle of a movie. On the downside the focus tends to hunt at the long end of the zoom (during movies) and you don't get anything approaching 'HD' quality - the SX10 IS only offers VGA (640x480) movie capture: you'll need the SX1 if you're looking for something with higher definition.
The PowerShot SX10 IS builds on the successful formula established by its predecessors, offering SLR-like styling, extensive manual controls and a solid build that makes most of its competitors feel like toys in comparison. It's a relatively subtle evolution of the S5 IS, and Canon hasn't exactly broken new ground here, but it has addressed several of the key concerns we had with the SX10's predecessor (the lack of a wideangle lens, annoying SD card slot in the base, mediocre electronic viewfinder), and the result is a camera that ups the ante in this competitive sector of the market.
It has the longest telephoto range in the group, it's the only one with an articulated screen and it has by far the biggest, best, electronic viewfinder. Image quality doesn't vary a great deal in this group but the SX10 IS is certainly one of the best, with excellent metering, bright but natural color and good edge to edge detail across the zoom range at lower ISO settings. Like all the cameras here the high ISO output is considerably less impressive, though it is one of the better performers at ISO 400-800. If you can live with the size and weight (this is a noticeably bigger and heavier camera than most in the group) and accept that you're never going to get great results at high ISO settings with a camera like this using current technology, the SX10 IS must be near the top of your shortlist.
- We like: Extensive feature list, large viewfinder and articulated screen, good image quality at lower ISO settings, very reliable metering, focus, flash, white balance, build quality, effective image stabilization, big zoom range, great value for money
- We don't like: Chromatic aberration (fringing), focus slows down in low light, lens quite slow at long end (F5.7)