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Canon Powershot SX100 IS - Digital Camera Review
Review Date: 30/03/2008
Rating: Highly Recommended
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Introduction: Announced on the 22nd of August 2007, the Canon Powershot SX100 IS is Canon's pocket zoom 10x optical zoom with image stabilisation, a 2.5" screen, VGA video recording, an 8 megapixel sensor, and it's compact enough to fit into most pockets. The SX100 IS is available from around £149 which makes it great value for money. The camera is enclosed in a plastic body and is available in black or silver. The camera is the compact for the amount of optical zoom and measures approx. 108.7 x 71.4 x 46.7 mm (excluding protrusions), and weighs approx. 266g. excluding battery and memory card.

Canon have this to say about the camera:

"Get in on the action with a 10x zoom lens. PowerShot SX100 IS keeps your subject in focus with Face Detection and optical Image Stabilizer. Clear, simple controls are easy and flexible for the whole family. Face Detection Technology ensures superb people shots by automatically setting optimum focus, exposure and flash. Face Select and Track lets you choose your primary subject from up to 35 identified faces. Red-Eye Correction in playback keeps eyes looking natural."

You can find more information on their website.

The Camera: a visual tour: (Photos of the camera taken with the Nikon D40x)


Front / side view - camera off.


Front view - camera on, microphone, focus assist lamp.


Back - 2.5" screen, print, face detection focus, display, menu, play, 4-way controller / spin wheel, func/set, and exposure compensation buttons.


Top: Flash, on/off, Zoom control, shutter release mode dial, side: DC in, AV out, USB.


Manual Pop-up flash.


Bottom - lockable AA battery and SD memory card compartment, plastic tripod mount.

Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax PC-550 35mm film camera - a medium/compact sized 35mm film camera.


Size comparison.

Specifications / Features:

  • 10x optical zoom - 36 - 360mm equivalent, f/2.8 - f/4.3
  • Optical Image Stabilizer
  • 8.0 Megapixels
  • DIGIC III and iSAPS
  • Face Detection Technology with Face Selector button
  • 2.5" wide-view LCD screen, 172,000 pixels
  • 18 shooting modes including Manual, and My Colors
  • User-friendly control dial
  • ISO 1600 and optional high-power flash
  • Smooth VGA movies (30fps)
  • 1cm Macro mode

Box Contents:

  • Digital Camera
  • Wrist Strap
  • 2 AA Alkaline Batteries
  • AV Cable
  • USB Cable
  • 16mb / 32mb SD Memory card (depending on location)
  • Software CD ROM
  • Printed Manual

Average box contents - a larger memory card would be nice, as would a neck strap. A decent case, a large memory card and some high power rechargable AA batteries are recommended.

Battery usage: Battery life is rated at 400 shots with 2500 mAh Ni-Mh rechargable batteries according to CIPA standards. I was able to take around 310 shots before the batteries went flat when I was using 2500mah batteries, and around 80 shots when using Alkaline batteries.

Camera Operation and Options: The camera mode is selected using the top dial. This allows the choice of: Auto, P, Tv (shutter priority), Av (aperture-priority), M (Manual), Video, Panoramic Stitch Assist, Scene (Indoor, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Aquarium, Night scene), Kids and Pets, Night snapshot, Landscape, and Portrait.

Photo mode/menus:

Photo mode, function menu (rollover) Photo / Record Menu

Screen / LCD display in photo mode: (shown above) The screen resolution with 172,000 pixels is average, but the screen is clear and colours are good. In the display is - shutter speed, aperture setting, ISO, focus area, shots remaining, surrounded by camera settings. You can quickly change ISO, Focus, Flash, Shooting mode, and Exposure using the buttons on the back.

Optical Viewfinder: There is no optical viewfinder.

Function Menu: Pressing the Function button brings up an overlay of some of the most commonly used options, such as: White balance, My Colours (Vivid, Custom (Contrast, Sharpness, Saturation), etc), Flash +/-, Exposure mode, Image Quality, Image Size.

Photo / Record Menu: AF Frame (Center, Face Detect), AF Frame Size (Normal, Small), Digital Zoom (Off, Standard, 1.6x, 2.0x), Slow Synchro, Red-eye, Safety FE, Self-timer (delay, shots), Auto ISO shift (Off, On, Print button), MF-Point Zoom, Safety MF, AF mode (Single, Continuous), AF Assist beam, Review, Review info (Off, detailed, focus check), Display overview (Off, Grid lines, 3:2 Guide, Both), IS mode (Off, Continuous, Shoot only, Panning), Set print button (can be set to: None, WB, Custom WB, Digital Tele-converter, Display overview, Display off).

Face Detection Focus Features: I felt the need to detail this, because there seem to be a huge number of new Face Detection focus features on this camera, some of them may actually be useful!

Before taking the photo - it can show you how many people were detected in the photo. After taking the photo - you can check that all people were in focus - rollover for the zoomed view.

Because I don't have this many friends, I've used a photo of people from the internet. 16 faces detected out of 17 isn't bad - on another try I was able to get the camera to detect all 17 faces! Wow, that's progress for you, how did we ever manage to take photos without face detection focus? ;) Personally, I see little real benefit in Face Detection focus, however being able to check the focus of people after you've taken the photo is a clever idea, and the playback face checker view mode could be a useful feature for quickly checking that all your subjects are in focus, especially if you're lucky enough to have so many friends, or if you regularly take group photos!

Playback:

Playback - rollover for detail Playback - scrollwheel

Playback (Review) mode options: Scrolling through the photos is very quick. The zoom is quick. There are numerous views available, zooming out will get you a 9 thumb view. Pressing the display button you get a normal view, with basic information, one screen of more detailed information (EXIF information including highlight over-exposure), and a face detection zoom view. When zooming in you can set an area to zoom into, and then scroll through the photos with that area magnified by using the scroll wheel.

Playback menu Setup menu

Playback menu: Auto play, red-eye correction, resize, sound memo, protect, rotate, erase all, transfer order, transition.

Print menu: Print, Select images and quantity, select all images, clear all selections, print settings.

Setup Menu: Mute, Volume, Start up image, LCD brightness, Power saving, Date / Time, Format, File numbering, Create folder, Auto rotate, Distance units, Lens retract, Language, Video system, Print method, Reset all.

Picture Size / Quality: The camera takes the following size pictures, and the following number of pictures will fit onto the 16mb of provided memory,

Size
Number of Photos Stored / Quality
Superfine
Fine
Normal
L 7mp (3264x2448)
3
6
13
Wide 16:9 (3264x1832)
5
8
18
M1 5mp (2592x1944)
5
9
19
M2 3mp (2048x1536)
8
15
30
M3 2mp (1600x1200)
13
24 (Postcard)
47
S VGA (640x480)
52
81
128

As shown in the table above, higher quality images take a large amount of memory, so a high capacity memory card is definitely recommended, unless you're prepared to sacrifice image size or use higher compression options to fit more pictures in memory. There is a very good choice of image sizes and compression options.

A large memory card is relatively cheap, and highly recommended, I would recommend at a bare minimum a 1gb memory card, if you intend to take JPEG images, and preferably a 2gb memory card, or larger. The larger the memory card, the more photos you will be able to take. If you are likely to go on holiday then the largest memory card you can afford would definitely be worth investing in, as you don't always know when you will next be at a computer. You can use SD or SDHC memory cards - I tend to use Sandisk Ultra II Plus USB SD memory cards as these let you plug the memory card straight into a USB socket making it easy to transfer images onto any computer, they are available as 1GB SD cards, or 2GB SD cards. Listed below are links to memory cards that will work with the Canon Powershot SX100 IS:

Find the latest prices for SD memory cards at Amazon.co.uk: 512mb: £2, 1gb (1000mb): £2, 2gb (2000mb): £2, 4gb (4000mb SDHC): £18 (with USB reader)
Need more help deciding what memory card to buy? Have a look at our guide to digital camera memory cards or our article what size memory card should I buy?

Speed: The camera is fairly quick to switch on and take photos, from off, to taking a photo in 2.3 seconds. Focusing seemed fairly quick, except in very low light when the flash-assist is used - this takes a little longer to focus depending on the subject. The playback mode is also very quick. The camera shutter response seemed instant when pre-focused responding in 0.1 seconds or less - and shot to shot time was fairly quick, with a delay of around 2.0 seconds between shots without flash (with review off shot to shot time was slightly quicker). The flash recharge time was very slow only allowing a shot to be taken every 6 seconds, although it was available in the continuous shooting mode, with a more reasonable shot to shot time of around 2 seconds. The cameras menus seemed quick. Continuous shooting is average, at roughly 1.3fps for multiple shots at the highest resolution, dependant on card technology used.

Ease of use: The camera is easy to use, especially in the AUTO mode and has a number of scene modes that helps get good shots. The controls on the back of the camera are quite straightforward. The menus are responsive and are also easy to use, and the options are big enough and easy enough to see clearly, although built in help would have been nice. The modes are fairly easy to access, mainly thanks to the large screen, and a lot of the options can be accessed using the buttons on the back. It's easy to see when photos are in focus, and the image stabilisation means that more of your shots will be sharp.

Ergonomics and Buttons: (Feel, placement, labels, etc) The layout of the buttons and controls are good, with the most commonly used options reachable with your right hand. The zoom control and shutter release is good. The scrolling wheel has multiple functions and in play mode is used to compare magnified sections of one image with the previous or next, making it simple to decide which shot is the one with least camera shake (much like the scroll wheel that's been common on DSLR for several years). I thought the camera felt very good ergonomically, with a good sized hand grip, however there is no rubber grip at the front or back of the camera. The camera feels like a solid, robust and well built camera that is easy to hold despite the small size, and fits easily into pockets.

Image Quality: Here are some real world sample photos taken in various settings, such as Inside, Outside, Macro, to demonstrate the quality of pictures taken and also show different features of the camera. Larger versions of these photos, plus more photos are available in the Canon Powershot SX100 IS Sample Photo Gallery!

Inside:

Heather and Flower (ISO80) Flash photo (ISO200)

Inside: The camera has very good colour - It took a good "Heather and Flower" photo - there is no red-eye in the photo. It has a very good flash, and copes well with group photos, however there was some red-eye in some group photos, but for the most part red-eye was quite low. On AUTO ISO, the ISO setting was kept quite low in these photos (ISO200), however noise was noticable, and better results may be possible by using a lower ISO setting, especially if the subject is close to the camera. The camera did a good job at focusing even in low-light. There is an focus assist lamp to help focus. Colour is richly saturated. Photos taken on "Vivid" setting - this produces high saturation, and good contrast levels, on the normal setting images were less colourful and seemed to lack contrast. This can all be customised to your tastes.

ISO Noise Test: Noise: Noise is generally a bad thing - it removes detail, and gives a grainy effect over the image. With digital cameras noise can be a real problem as digital camera noise is often made out of blue, red or green dots. As the ISO setting increases, pictures tend to have more noise. Noise is most noticeable in dark areas of photos. The camera has an Automatic mode for ISO levels (ranging from ISO 80 - ISO1600), and manual ISO settings (ISO: 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600).

Below you'll find the noise test image, plus actual pixel crops, viewable at 100%, from the image taken at different ISO settings, compared with the 8 megapixel Fujifilm FinePix F40fd and 8 megapixel Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18.

Fujifilm FinePix F40fd (8mp) Canon SX100 (8mp, Auto WB) Panasonic Lumix FZ18 (8mp, AWB)

ISO Noise Test Photos - Flash is off. Fujifilm FinePix F40fd on the left, Canon Powershot SX100 in the middle, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18 on the right. Any tonal difference is due to white balance or lighting / metering differences.

Fujifilm FinePix F40fd (8mp) Canon SX100 (8mp, Auto WB) Panasonic Lumix FZ18 (8mp)
 
ISO80 - N/A ISO80 - Actual Pixels ISO80 - NA
ISO100 - Actual Pixels ISO100 - Actual Pixels ISO100 - Actual Pixels
ISO200 - Actual Pixels ISO200 - Actual Pixels ISO200 - Actual Pixels
ISO400 - Actual Pixels ISO400 - Actual Pixels ISO400 - Actual Pixels
ISO800 - Actual Pixels ISO800 - Actual Pixels ISO800 - Actual Pixels
ISO1600 - Actual Pixels ISO1600 - Actual Pixels ISO1600 - Actual Pixels

Noise results: The Canon Powershot SX100 IS has relatively low noise upto ISO200. ISO400 produces acceptable results, and ISO800 and higher is probably best left unused unless absolutely necessary. Compared with the other two cameras, noise does appear much more noticable, however, when compared to the Panasonix FZ18, you can see that the SX100 retains more detail even when the ISO setting is increased. However neither the Canon or the Panasonic perform as well as the Fujifilm, which manages to produce low noise images right up to ISO800 with very good detail.

Image Stabilisation: The camera features optical image stabilisation...

Outside:

Liverpool shops (ISO80) SuperLambBanana (ISO80)

Outside: The camera has quite rich, saturated colours. There was very good detail, and the camera took a number of very pleasing images outside, with good contrast, but there was often chromatic aberations and purple fringing, especially in areas of high contrast on sunny days. In general 'normal' quality jpeg artefacts are not easily seen, however areas with strong contrasts benefit from use of the highest quality setting.

Zoom: This lens provides a 10x optical zoom starting at 36mm equivalent which is great for 'normal' everyday photography, zooming to 360mm allowing photos of distant objects. I've included examples below to show what the zoom is capable of. An example of digital zoom can be seen in the photo gallery. Digital Zoom basically takes a crop of the centre of the frame and enlarges the image, degrading image quality, and is therefore best avoided.

Wide-angle 3x Optical Zoom 10x Optical zoom

Exposure: The photos of the clock tower are exposed well with detail in the dark areas as well as the lighter areas - exposure in other photos was generally very good. Purple fringing was noticed in some of these photos. Vignetting was not noticed in these photos but was occassionally noticed when using the full 10x optical zoom. It can be useful to under expose images with bright backgrounds (eg; sky) with use of exposure compensation, as some of the clouds in these photos are slightly over-exposed.

Lens noise and zoom: The lens makes some noise, and gives you roughly 21 steps between wide and telephoto - this gives good controls over how you frame your subject.

Other Image Quality issues: Purple fringing / Chromatic aberration was occasionally seen particularly in areas with high contrast (for example tree branches against a bright sky). It was slightly higher than average compared to most other compacts, and is something that you should probably be aware of, especially if you take a lot of outdoors shots.

Macro Lens Performance:

Timex Watch Macro Actual Pixels (ISO200)

The camera can take maco photos where the subject is only 1cm away from the lens! Colour and detail is very good, and there appears to be low noise at ISO100 and below, however some is visible in this ISO200 shot. Setting the white balance manually helps achieve better results. The camera can also take macro photos when zoomed in slightly, and will display the minimum focus distance on screen, which is helpful. More examples can be seen in the gallery.

Video mode: The camera features a good video mode - it records VGA videos at 30fps with sound as AVI files. Compared to other digital cameras the Canon can't fit very long videos on the memory card, as it doesn't use very high compression, such as MPEG4. The video mode doesn't let you use the optical zoom whilst recording.

Conclusion

Image Quality: Image quality is very good - with excellent colour, with high levels of saturation, contrast and detail. The only image problems were higher than average noise when the ISO setting is raised above ISO200, and higher than average purple fringing. There was also some red eye in group photos, but overall red-eye was generally quite low. The camera did a good job focusing even in low light thanks to the focus assist lamp, and had a high success rate due to the built in optical image stabilisation. There was some noticable vignetting (darkened corners) when the zoom was fully extended, but normally there was no vignetting, nor did I notice barrel or pincushion distortion. There is a very good range of image sizes, aspect ratio, and a good choice of compression options. Auto white balance and metering seemed to be very good. The camera gives good control over image quality - selecting different picture modes allows you to change the colour mode (Vivid, Neutral etc), saturation, contrast and sharpness. (8/10)

Everything else (the camera as a whole): The camera is available in black or silver and is has a compact and fairly stylish body considering the 10x optical zoom lens. The camera has a very good 2.5" screen. The camera feels well built, and is comfortable to hold. The camera is easy to use, and has quick access to the most commonly used options. The layout of buttons and controls is very good.The camera speed is good, with a good switch on time, quick focusing time, excellent shutter response, quick playback mode, quick menus, although continuous shooting could be quicker and flash recharge time is very slow. The camera has a wide range of features that should suit every person, such as full manual mode, face detection focus, numerous scene modes, good video mode, excellent macro mode, optical image stablisation, a 10x optical zoom lens, etc. The only thing I'd say this camera was missing, is a wide-angle lens. (9/10)

Value for Money: The Canon Powershot SX100 IS from around £149, is great value for money, priced competitively with the nearest competitors the Panasonic Lumix TZ3, and Sony Cybershot DSC-H3, the Panasonic offers a wide angle 10x optical zoom lens, and is available for around £159, and the Sony H3 is available for around £156. (9/10) See more digital camera reviews sorted by megapixels here.

Summary: The Canon Powershot SX100 IS is almost the perfect pocket camera - it has almost everything you might possibly want from a camera, and manages to fit in your pocket! The only thing missing from the features list is a wide angle lens, and the only problems with the camera are to do with image quality. Images do suffer from purple fringing, and noise. Apart from these issues, image quality is generally very good, with good detail, colour, and saturation. This camera has been an excellent companion and has coped extremely well in a wide variety of situations - the optical image stabilisation helping in low light - and the 10x optical zoom lens allowing me to zoom into the subject. Despite my reservations about Face Detection Focus, I've actually found the feature useful - for quickly checking whether the subject is smiling and not blinking! Given the excellent value for money this camera provides, and the almost endless features, I'd highly recommend this camera!

Canon Powershot SX100 IS Rating: Highly Recommended (8.6/10)
Available for £149 - or Get the best price below!

What I like:

  • Very good image quality
  • Good 10x optical zoom range
  • Optical image stabilisation helps with zoom and low light
  • Very good 2.5" screen,
  • Comfortable, compact, solid black body
  • Orientation sensor
  • Good battery life
  • Focus assist light
  • Excellent macro mode
  • Good value for money
  • Generally Quick performance...

What I don't like:

  • Slow flash recharge time
  • High chromatic aberations and purple fringing
  • More noise than I would like to see
  • Some vignetting when using the full 10x optical zoom

Additional Test Images are viewable in the Canon Powershot SX100 IS Sample Photo Gallery.

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