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Canon Powershot SX110 IS - Digital Camera Review
Review Date: 14/12/2008
Rating: Highly Recommended
Author: Joshua Waller
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Introduction: Announced on the 26th of August 2008, almost exactly 1 year after the Canon Powershot SX100 IS, the SX110 IS is Canon's pocket zoom 10x optical zoom with image stabilisation, and features a new 3.0" screen, VGA video recording, a 9 megapixel sensor, and a more compact body small enough to fit into most pockets. The SX110 IS is available from around £165 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 compact for the amount of optical zoom and measures approx. 110.6 x 70.4 x 44.7 mm (excluding protrusions), and weighs approx. 245g. excluding battery and memory card.

Canon have this to say about the camera:

"Canon today strengthens its PowerShot range of digital cameras with the addition of a new SX “Super Zoom” model: the 9 Megapixel PowerShot SX110 IS, which replaces the popular SX100 IS. Featuring a 10x optical zoom with optical Image Stabilizer – featuring a 35mm film equivalent focal length of 36-360mm - plus a 3.0” LCD – the PowerShot SX110 IS delivers outstanding telephoto reach in an even more compact and lightweight body."

You can find more information on their website.

The Camera: a visual tour: (Photos of the camera taken with the Ricoh R10)


Front / side view - camera off.


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


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

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


Size comparison.


Size comparison.

Specifications / Features:

  • 9.0 Megapixels CCD Sensor
  • 3.0" wide-view LCD screen, 230,000 pixels
  • Face Detection AF/AE/FE/WB and Face Select & Track (updated)
  • Motion Detection Technology
  • 20 shooting modes including Manual, and My Colors
  • 10x optical zoom - 36 - 360mm equivalent, f/2.8 - f/4.3
  • Optical Image Stabilizer
  • DIGIC III and iSAPS
  • User-friendly control dial
  • Smooth VGA movies + LP (30fps)
  • HD Output : Yes (HD AV Output - Component)
  • Red-Eye Reduction: Yes
  • 1cm Macro mode
  • ISO 1600 (ISO3200 in Scene mode)
  • Scenes: Auto, Program AE, Shutter priority AE, Aperture priority AE, Manual, Easy, Portrait, Landscape, Night Snapshot, Kids & Pets, Indoor, Special Scene (Night Scene, Sunset, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Aquarium, ISO 3200¹), Movie
  • Histogram available: In playback and record
  • Exposure bracketing: 3 shots upto +/- 1 ev
  • Optical viewfinder: No
  • Manual WB: Yes

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 (for example the Lowepro Apex 30AW), a large memory card and some high power rechargable AA batteries are recommended.

Menu system: The menu system is logical and fairly straightforward. If you are familiar with the way Canon menus work then you can use any Canon camera. The function button gives (along with the other buttons on the back of the camera) quick access to the most commonly used options with just one press of the button, and the menu button works as it should providing access to options that you rarely need to change (such as flash compensation). The playback menu gives you some useful features such as slideshow, re-size, red-eye correction, sound memo, and the usual print options.

Picture Size / Quality: The camera lets you choose the image size (9m, 6m, 4m, 2m, VGA, 2m with date, Widescreen), aspect ratio (4:3, or Widescreen), and how much compression is applied to the images (Superfine, Fine, Normal). 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 compression to fit more pictures in memory. There is a very good choice of image sizes, compression options, and some choice regarding aspect ratios - it's just missing a 3:2 aspect ratio mode.


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

Battery usage: Battery life is rated at 400 shots with 2500 mAh Ni-Mh rechargable batteries, or 140 shots with Alkalines according to CIPA standards. I was able to take over 200 shots before the batteries went flat when I was using Alkaline batteries.

Memory cards: 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, or 2GB SD cards and 4GB SDHC cards. Listed below are links to memory cards that will work with the Canon Powershot SX110 IS:

Find the latest prices for SD memory cards at Amazon.co.uk: 1gb (1000mb): £2, 2gb (2000mb): £4, 4gb (4000mb SDHC): £6, 8gb (8000mb SDHC): £10, 16gb (16000mb SDHC): £35
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 2.5 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). The flash recharge time was very slow only allowing a shot to be taken every 5 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.


Back - 3" screen, print, play, face detection focus, exposure compensation, 4-way controller / scroll wheel, func/set, display, and menu buttons.

Ease of use: The camera is easy to use, especially in the AUTO mode (or new Easy mode) and has a number of scene modes that helps get good shots. The controls on the back of the camera are quite straightforward and the new layout of buttons is an improvement over the SX100. 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 SX110 IS Sample Photo Gallery!

Inside:

Heather and Flower (ISO200) 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 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 is generally a bad thing - it fragments detail, and gives a grainy effect over the image. With digital cameras noise can be a real problem as it is often made out of blue, red or green dots. As the ISO setting increases, pictures tend to have more noise and is most noticeable in darker areas. 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 and 3200 at 2M in Special Scene).

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 9 megapixel Pansonic Lumix TZ5, and 14.7 megapixel Canon Digital IXUS 980 IS.

Canon Powershot SX110 IS (9mp) Panasonic Lumix TZ5 (9mp) Canon Digital IXUS 980 IS (14.7mp)

ISO Noise Test Photos - Flash is off. Canon Powershot SX110 IS on the left, Pansonic Lumix TZ5 in the middle, Canon Digital IXUS 980 IS on the right. Any tonal difference is due to white balance or lighting / metering differences.

Canon Powershot SX110 IS (9mp) Panasonic Lumix TZ5 (9mp) Canon Digital IXUS 980 IS (14.7mp)
 
ISO80 - NA ISO80 - NA ISO80 - Actual Pixels
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
ISO3200 - Actual Pixels (2mp) ISO3200 - High sensitivity mode. (3mp) ISO3200 - Actual Pixels (2mp)

Noise results: The 9 megapixel Canon Powershot SX110 IS has the highest noise, but also the sharpest images, with ISO800 and 1600 particularly noisy. The 9 megapixel Panasonic Lumix TZ5 has less noise, but still shows a lot of noise at ISO800 and above. The Canon Digital IXUS 980 IS has low noise (particularly for a 14.7 megapixel camera), and the pictures are quire clean pictures, with an impressively smooth ISO3200 mode (albeit at 2mp) - these impressive results could be due to the IXUS 980 using the new Canon DIGIC 4 image processor, while the SX110 uses the older DIGIC 3 processor.

Image Stabilisation: The camera features real image stabilisation, called IS. This feature helps reduce image blur due to low light or long zoom photography. Examples showing this feature switched on and off can be seen below.

IS Off
ISO200, 1/4
IS on
ISO200, 1/4
Thumb Thumb
Actual Pixels 100% Actual Pixels 100%

With image stabilisation switched on the images are much sharper and clearer, and are much more likely to come out blur free, especially in low light, when using the zoom or when using slow shutter speeds.

Outside:

Liverpool shops (ISO80, Vivid) Spain (ISO80, Exposure -2/3)

Outside: The camera has quite rich, saturated colours, switching to Vivid and setting exposure compensation to -1/3 or -2/3 bumps up the saturation further. 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 (ISO80)

The camera can take maco photos with the subject only 1cm away from the lens! Colour and detail is excellent and there appears to be low noise at ISO100 and below. 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.

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. (8.5/10)

Everything else (the camera as a whole): The camera is available in black or silver and has a newer, less bulky, compact body considering the 10x optical zoom lens. The camera has a very good 3.0" screen, viewable from extreme angles. 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, and an improvement over the SX100.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. It would be nice is the next model had a wide-angle lens, and HD video. (9/10)

Value for Money: The Canon Powershot SX110 IS from around £165, is very good value for money, as one of the cheapest new Canon cameras with manual controls, priced competitively with the nearest competitors the Panasonic Lumix TZ5, the Panasonic offers a wide angle 10x optical zoom lens, and is available for around £180. Other cameras worth considering include the Ricoh R10. (9/10) See more digital camera reviews sorted by megapixels here.

Summary: The Canon Powershot SX100 IS was almost the perfect pocket camera - it had almost everything you might possibly want from a camera, and managed to just fit in your pocket! The SX110 IS improves on the SX100 with higher resolution, smaller less bulky body, new 3" screen, and better layout of controls, all for roughly the same price. Unfortunately the camera is still missing a wide angle lens, HD video, suffers from purple fringing, and high noise. Apart from these issues, image quality is generally very good, with excellent detail, sharpness, colour, and saturation - as long as you stick to the lower ISO settings. The optical image stabilisation helps in low light - and the 10x optical zoom lens allows you to zoom into the subject. Given the excellent value for money this camera provides, and the abundance of features suitable for beginners and experts, I'd highly recommend this camera!

Canon Powershot SX110 IS Rating: Highly Recommended (8.8/10)
Available for £165 - or Get the best price below!

What I like:

  • Excellent image quality - very sharp results (as long as you stick to the lower ISO settings)
  • Good 10x optical zoom range
  • Optical image stabilisation helps with zoom and low light
  • Very good 3" screen,
  • Comfortable, compact, solid black body
  • Orientation sensor
  • Good battery life
  • Focus assist light
  • Excellent macro mode
  • Good value for money
  • Full manual controls
  • Generally Quick performance...

What I don't like:

  • But slow flash recharge time
  • Higher than average chromatic aberations and purple fringing
  • More noise than I would like to see (albeit with excellent detail)
  • Video mode could be better (it's not HD, and doesn't allow optical zoom)
  • Some vignetting when using the full 10x optical zoom

Additional Test Images are viewable in the Canon Powershot SX110 IS Sample Photo Gallery.

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