Operation and controls

Evolution rather than revolution is Canon's credo when it comes to development of compact camera user interfaces. If you've used a Canon Powershot recently most of the control elements will be familar to you. Having said that, Canon's human-machine-interface designers have included a couple of novelties in the control layout of the SX100 IS. The row of buttons underneath the screen has not been seen on a Powershot in this form before (there is also a brand new dedicated face selector button for picking the 'main face' in an image when using face detection) and the SX100 IS has inherited a simplified version of the combined jog-dial/four-way-controller combination from Canon's flagship compact camera, the G9.

The user interfaces on recent Canon compacts have always been amongst the most user friendly and intuitive in their class and the SX100 IS is no exception. Considering the large amount of features available on the SX100 IS the external controls are comparatively minimal but the excellent design of the FUNC menu means a number of crucial settings such as White Balance or Flash compensation are never more than a couple of button presses away. ISO, drive mode and exposure compensation even get their own dedicated buttons, plus you can customise the function of the (otherwise rather useless) print button.

One setting that we'd like to see included in the Func menu is the AF mode. If you want to switch between continuous and single AF you have to dive deep into the menus which can be slightly annoying if you change over a lot.

Rear of camera

Nothing earth-shattering new on the rear view of the SX100 IS. Most Canon users will find themselves in fairly familiar territory. From the top we've got the play/record mode switch. You can also start the camera in play mode by pressing this button. The jog-dial/four-way controller serves for menu navigation and provides access to the ISO, focus, flash, drive and self-timer settings. Below the wheel you can find the exposure compensation button (also used to switch between aperture and shutter speed settings in manual mode and as a delete button in playback mode). The direct print button (customizable), the new face selector button (for selecting and tracking faces in face detection mode) and the display and menu buttons have been placed underneath the 2.5 inch screen.

Top of camera

The SX100 IS' top plate has been designed in a very minimalist way. As you can see, the top of the camera is home to only the main power switch, the mode dial and zoom control/ shutter release unit.

Controls & Menus

Canon's on-screen display and menu structure has - despite minor modifications here and there - remained fairly consistent across camera ranges and generations, it is admirably intuitive and understandable. Even first time Canon users will find their way around the settings pretty quickly. The SX100 IS has also a decent smattering of external buttons, allowing for quicker access to the most crucial settings (ISO, focus, drive mode; white balance can be programmed onto the print direct button).

Pressing the DISP button cycles between two preview settings; preview image only (with information on exposure compensation and IS mode only) and - as shown above - full information. There's plenty of information displayed around the edges of the frame. Note that the amount of information displayed will depend which mode you are shooting in. There is also an optional grid, which can help keep things straight. Half press the shutter and the camera will set the focus and exposure, indicating the center focus point (or chosen face in face detect mode - there is no AiAF on the SX100 IS), plus the shutter speed and aperture chosen by the AE (auto exposure) system. If the shutter speed is too slow you will also see a camera-shake warning.
Users of previous PowerShots will be perfectly at home with the record mode FUNC menu, which offers fast access to a wide range of controls over shooting and image parameters including metering, white balance, MyColors, flash compensation and file size and quality. The SX100 IS has now a dedicated ISO button (on the four way controller) which allows for quick access to this important setting.
In shutter and aperture priority modes the setting is changed using the jog-dial. In manual exposure mode the +/- button toggles the setting changed by the left/right arrow keys between the shutter speed and aperture. Half press the shutter and the display shows how far you are from the metered exposure as an EV value. Record mode menu allows you to change everything from AF mode to digital zoom and red-eye reduction. It is also here where you'll find the options for image stabilization.
In a rather smart move Canon has made the direct print button customizable, you can use it to either change white balance, set the custom wihite balance, use the digital tele-converter, display the grid or switch the display off. The setup menu - accessible in both record and playback modes - offers control over various camera-related parameters, including power management, file numbering, date and time and card formatting.
The play menu offers the usual range of options, including protecting, rotating and deleting images, plus a sound recorder. One of the three alternative play mode views includes a histogram display and exposure information.
In play mode there is also an option for viewing thumbnails (3x3). Saved images can be magnified up to 10x by using the zoom lever.
In review mode there is a display option which shows you an enlarged version of the focus area. If the SX100 IS is set to Face Detection focus and exposure will be optimized for a detected face. If there is more than one face in the frame you can select and track the 'main face' using the face selector button.
Face detection also works in review mode. You can chose faces using the face selector button and zoom in to check the focus. The SX 100 IS has Canon's now standard Print menu, which simplifies the direct print process (something I must confess I've rarely used on any camera).