Canon PowerShot SX10 IS
At a Glance
Canon has created a versatile, go-anywhere point-and-shoot with the $400, 10-megapixel PowerShot SX10 IS. The marquee feature here is a 20X optical zoom--a zoom range equalled only by the Olympus SP-570 UZ--that translates, in the film world, from an awesome 28mm wide-angle to a 560mm telephoto lens; the SX10 covers landscapes, portraits, and stealthy nature shots in one chunky little block of a camera.
No, it won't fit in your pocket, but the SX10 is lightweight. It also has a wonderful swiveling and foldable LCD that's as handy for grabbing shots from unusual angles as it is for shooting video. Inverting the LCD panel and folding it shut is also a fantastic way to protect your screen.
The bulk of the camera comes from its grip, which makes for a secure hold and functions as a battery compartment. In an unusual move, Canon elected to power this model with four AA batteries instead of a rechargeable battery, a choice that may please some and irritate others.
However, the AA batteries do the trick when it comes to battery life. The SX10 IS fired off 425 shots in our PC World Test Center evaluations. That was good enough for a Superior battery-life rating, a shot count bested only by the Olympus SP-570 UZ, the Casio Exilim Pro EX-F1, and the Fujifilm FinePix S8100fd.
The layout on the back is somewhat minimalist, with a function dial covering most menu options. The top of the SX10 has a second function dial--large, readable, and sturdy--plus a flash/microphone control button and, of course, the shutter and zoom combo. The camera has a built-in flash, but, as an added bonus, it also has a hot shoe. Operating some of the camera's dual-function buttons and the menu dial can be a bit confusing, so I recommend spot-checking the manual for the features you plan to use before you go out for an afternoon of shooting.
Settings on the function dial include aperture and shutter priority, auto and manual, a programmable mode, several scene modes, and video. You also turn on image stabilization via the dial; enabling it is highly recommended, especially when you're using that 20X optical zoom. The thumbwheel dial on the back of the camera accesses manual focus and exposure, as well as white balance control, ISO, and image quality. However, I found the wheel finicky; its response is unpredictable because no "click-stops" are built into the dial. Often I would scroll back and forth for far too long, trying to land where I wanted. A similar wheel was implemented on Canon's G10, but with stops, making its operation far less irritating.
Otherwise, the SX10 performed very well in the field. Its focus was quick and responsive, and its lens makes zooming delightfully smooth and silent. I found good, sharp results from my tests at either end of the focal length. Macro shots of flowers looked tack-sharp, and when I zoomed in to the max, I saw very little aberration around the suspension cables in photos I took of the Golden Gate Bridge. The camera performed equally well with wide-angle landscapes, but sometimes it erred toward overexposing highlights. However, a change in metering options (when I used spot metering, for example) helped with that problem.
Alas, this camera has no RAW mode to provide you with extra latitude when you're touching up your photos. Noise entered the picture at ISO 400 and progressively worsened at the camera's maximum ISO of 1600. However, in reasonable light, I found some shots at ISO 800 were acceptable, without too much color noise.
Image quality earned an overall rating of Good in our subjective tests, but it fell short of the quality we've seen on other Canon cameras. Color accuracy and exposure levels were both weak spots, but the SX10 IS did fare well in terms of image sharpness and lack of distortion.
I also shot some high-quality video with the SX10 IS; the grip and rotating LCD made it easy to use as a camcorder. It also has stereo audio recording. I was a bit disappointed that it didn't offer HD quality: 640 by 480 pixels at 30 frames per second is its finest setting. But the SX10 handled the balance of zooming and focusing very well, producing better videos than I've shot on more-compact cameras. As I've come to expect, video quality shot indoors was not the best: plenty of noise, but quite comparable to what I've seen on other point-and-shoot cameras.
Overall, the SX10 IS should appeal to plenty of enthusiasts for its reliable, high-quality performance and its laudable ability to mimic a video camera with its swivel screen, not to mention its advanced controls. This is a very competent camera and a good value considering its feature set.