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Canon Powershot SX200 IS
12.1MP | 28-336mm (12X) ZOOM | $330/£270

The SX series of compact superzooms is a relatively new addition to Canon's Powershot range and after the SX100 and SX110 the SX200 is only the third camera in this line (there are also the longer zoom SX1 and SX10 which clearly relate to the older Powershot 'S' series). However, while the SX100 and 110 are, with their relatively simple spec and plastic bodies, located very close to Canon's A-Series of budget cameras the SX200 IS is much more of a premium model. The 12.1 MP sensor and 12x zoom lens which offers a 28mm equiv. wide-angle are wrapped up in a Powershot SD/IXUS style metal body and, in addition to full manual mode, the SX200 IS also offers aperture and shutter speed priority. With the DIGIC 4 imaging processor come Canon's latest little electronic assistants such as scene detection, face detection and intelligent contrast correction.

Like the other models in this group test the SX200 IS doesn't have an eye-level viewfinder, relying solely on its 3.0 inch LCD screen for framing. The camera is available in three colors - metallic red, blue or brown (black in the US).

  • 12.1 effective Megapixels
  • 28-336mm equiv lens with 12x optical zoom and 4x digital zoom
  • 720p HD video and HDMI connection
  • 3.0 inch LCD with 230,000 dot resolution
  • Optical Image Stabilizer
  • ISO sensitivity up to 1600 (+ ISO 3200 scene mode)
  • 15 shooting modes, 11 Scene Modes including Movie Snap Mode
  • Program, Shutter-Priority, Aperture-Priority and Manual Exposure Mode
  • DIGIC 4 Processor for enhanced Face Detection and Intelligent Contrast Correction
  • HDMI connection
  • Print/Share button for easy printing and upload to PC/Mac
  • Optional accessories available, including Selphy Photo Printer
  • Battery life: 280 shots (CIPA standard)

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Overview

The SX200 IS is one of the larger and heavier cameras in this test but the variation in terms of dimensions and weight among our candidates is so small that it won't make much difference when you're out and about. While previous models of the SX1xx series came with the plastic look and feel of Canon's A-series budget cameras, the SX100 features a well-made metal body. The camera's box shape features just a hint of a hand grip which, in combination with the rear thumb rest, contributes to the SX200's well balanced handling.

The camera offers a good selection of external controls including a four-way controller with surrounding dial which gives you access to exposure compensation, flash, self-timer and focus settings. For all other frequently used shooting parameters there is the FUNC menu so that there's hardly ever any need to dive into the shooting menu.

Canon has kept its user interface remarkably consistent over time and also across its range of compact cameras. Having said that the FUNC menu's layout has been revamped for the latest generation of compact cameras and needs some getting used to. We found the old design easier to use. Despite these smaller changes you'll feel at home right from the start with the SX200 if you've used a Powershot in the past.

One slightly annoying detail is the camera's flash. Surprisingly (because we have not seen this on a Canon compact before) it pops out when you switch the camera on and stays out whether you actually need a flash or not. Depending on where you place the fingers of your left hand it's in the way and worsens the camera's otherwise good handling.

Key Features

The SX200 flares-out at the right edge and features a thumb-shaped recess on the rear. But, while this approach looks good, we found the wedge-shaped design was not as comfortable to hold as an undisguised 'grip'. The comparatively pointed right-hand leading corner of the camera may make it difficult to find a perfectly comfy way to hold it.
You'll find the usual controls on the the SX200's top: On/Off button, mode dial and shutter button with zoom rocker.

The camera's rear controls should look fairly familiar to you if you've ever used a Canon Powershot before. There's a combined four-way controller / scroll wheel which gives you direct access to exposure compensation, focus, flash and self-timer settings. It's also used to navigate the user interface.

On top and bottom there are the play, DISP, Menu and direct print buttons.

When switched off the SX200 is a fairly compact package but, unsurprisingly for a 12x zoom, the lens extends quite a bit at full zoom (the longest within this group test).
The SX200's pop-up flash has a range of 3.2 meters using Auto-ISO. Annoyingly it is always up when the camera is switched on, not only when its services are needed.
The FUNC menu gives you quick access to frequently used camera settings such as ISO and white balance. Canon has felt the need to re-work the tried-and-tested FUNC menu design of previous Powershot generations and while some might argue the menu looks 'fresher' now it's actually slightly less intuitive to use.
The SX200 offers full manual control. You use the dial around the four-way-controller to change aperture/shutter speed and change between the two by pressing the exposure compensation button.

Image quality and performance

The Canon is a mixed-bag, in terms of performance. It's the fastest camera to switch on and is second only to the Olympus when it comes to the speed of zooming-in. It's also faster to zoom back out to wide angle than any of the other cameras here. The only area in which the Canon is not amongst the best performers in the group is in its focusing time. At around 1.0 seconds, the Canon is far-and-away the slowest camera to achieve focus in our tests, conducted under moderate indoor lighting. That said, it's the fastest camera to write images to memory, so it doesn't feel slow in use.

The SX200's image quality is, overall, pretty solid, with consistently good color and focus which means most of the time you really can just point, shoot and expect good results. Occasionally though, in bright conditions, the Canon has a tendency to slightly overexpose which can also lead to overcooked highlights. When taking pictures in sunny weather it is therefore recommendable to keep an eye on the exposure and apply some negative exposure compensation where necessary.

The SX200 offers good image detail at base ISO and is almost up with the very best in this comparison. The effects of noise reduction are mildly visible even at the lowest sensitivity setting and smear some low contrast detail. There is also some softness towards the edges. Shadow noise is pretty well under control and while there is some evidence of chromatic aberrations it's only going to be a slight issue in high contrast scenes at the edges of the frame, you'd have to output at a pretty large size to spot it in a print.

Flash exposures are generally good. The redeye reduction works perfectly but when taking flash images in Auto ISO mode the SX200 tends to increase sensitivity quicker than the competition which leads to more image noise, noise reduction and ultimately loss of detail and softer images. You can obviously avoid that by selecting ISO manually, if you make sure the subjects are still within reach of the camera's tiny flash. High ISO performance is average with a lot of noise reduction applied at higher sensitivities resulting in soft output. On the plus side, images are relatively clean and free of chroma noise. ISO 400 is perfectly usable for standard print sizes but at higher sensitivities the SX200's output (like that of all other cameras in this test) does not bear close scrutiny.

Overall the SX200 IS performs pretty well; focus, white balance, color, sharpness are usually spot on and will produce good quality prints. Occasionally though the camera tends to slightly overexpose which also increases the potential for highlight clipping. Some negative exposure correction takes care of this though.

Summary

With the SX200 IS Canon has, compared to its previous compact superzoom cameras, moved towards the premium end of the sector. The camera comes with a nicely made metal body, a large 3.0 inch screen and HD video mode. In good light it produces good image quality along the zoom range but it's not quite on par with the best at higher ISO settings. We found the latest incarnation of Canon's user interface not as easy to use as the predecessors (especially the FUNC menu) and the perpetually popped-out flash can at times be slightly annoying but after some initial adaptation time everything is pretty straightforward.

The SX200 is one of three cameras in this test offering a versatile 12x zoom and all-in-all offers a solid package with a good feature set. It's also one of the more expensive cameras in this comparison though and depending on your photographic requirements you might be able to get better value for money elsewhere.

  • We like: Large screen, good image quality at lower ISO settings, reliable focus, flash exposure, white balance, build quality, 12x zoom range

  • We don't like: Flash always up in shooting-mode, some chromatic aberration (fringing), occasional tendency to overexpose, focus slows down in low light, lens quite slow at long end (F5.3)
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