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Canon Digital IXUS 95 IS / PowerShot SD1200 IS Ken McMahon, November 2009

Canon PowerShot SX120 IS verdict

The Canon PowerShot SX120 IS is a 10 Megapixel budget super-zoom with a 10x image stabilised optical zoom lens and a 3in screen. It's broadly similar to its popular predecessor, the SX110 IS, but adds one Megapixel to the resolution along with other features like Scene recognition and Face self-timer, both courtesy of Canon's latest DIGIC 4 processor.

Its 10x optical zoom allows you to get close to the action with a 360mm (35mm equivalent) maximum range. A maximum aperture of f2.8-4.3 and effective optical image stabilisation allow you to make the most of this even in poor light. At the wide angle end of the range though, the SX120 IS isn't such a hot prospect and at the widest focal length of 36mm (35mm equivalent) you'll often find yourself with your back to the wall - to be fair though, its arch rival the Sony H20 is no better in this regard (indeed a little worse), and to enjoy true wide angle coverage on a super-zoom camera you'll need to spend more.

The SX120 IS provides a wide range of exposure control settings making it a suitable choice for casual snappers as well as those with more serious photographic ambitions. At one end of the scale it offers Easy and Program AE modes with fully automatic exposure control, scene recognition and improved face recognition to produce great results in almost any situation.

And with proper semi and fully Manual exposure modes, the SX120 IS has plenty to offer those who want more control over picture taking. It even offers manual focusing. But with no HD video (nor the ability to optically zoom while filming), the SX120 IS won't make the cut for anyone who wants their stills camera to double-up as a fully featured camcorder. Again for HD video in a super-zoom camera, you'll need to either go for the rival Sony H20 or spend more on one of the other models listed below.

Compared to Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H20


Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-H20 is the biggest rival for the PowerShot SX120 IS and both models have much in common, including 10 Megapixel resolution, 10x optically-stabilised zooms and 3in screens. The Cyber-shot is smaller and lighter than the PowerShot, but lacks an integral lens cap. Both have built-in flashes, but the Cyber-shot's pops up automatically when required in Auto modes whereas you have to manually extend the PowerShot's flash

While both cameras suffer from limited wide angle performance (the Cyber-shot is marginally worse than the PowerShot SX120 in this respect with a 38mm equivalent maximum wide angle) the Sony slightly outreaches the Canon camera with a maximum equivalent zoom of 380mm. In practice though, there's not much in it.

The Cyber-shot outscores the PowerShot on video performance though, offering a 720p HD option and a zoom that you can use while recording. In our tests the Cyber-shot H20 produced better quality images that the PowerShot, with finer image detail, but performed less well when it came to shooting in low light at High ISO settings.

In terms of shooting modes and exposure control the PowerShot has the edge, with semi automatic exposure modes, and manual focussing.

Other differences between the cameras include power supply (AA on the Canon vs proprietary Lithium-Ion), media type (SD vs Memory Stick DUO) and connector type (standard USB vs proprietary connector), but these are fairly minor issues. Where it counts, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H20 has more to offer - it's lighter and more compact than the SX120 IS, has a longer zoom range, better quality images and better video features. Look out for our review of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H20 coming soon.

Compared to Canon PowerShot SX200 IS

Canon’s PowerShot SX200 IS costs around 50% more than the SX120 IS, but is a smaller and better-featured alternative for anyone looking for a super-zoom camera. Most obviously the SX200 IS is more compact, and better-able to squeeze into a pocket, albeit with slightly less to grip onto as a consequence.

The zoom range is 12x to the SX120 IS’s 10x, and importantly starts at a wider equivalent of 28mm, and ending only slightly shorter at 336mm. It also has two extra Megapixels in its favour.

The 3in / 230k screen is the same size and resolution, and both models also share full manual control over exposures. The SX200 IS does however have two more ace-cards up its sleeve in the form of HD movies recording in the 720p format and an HDMI port for making HD slideshows on a compatible HDTV; annoyingly though you still can’t optically zoom while filming.

But with a wider zoom, HD video, two extra Megapixels, and an HDMI port in a more pocketable form factor, the PowerShot SX200 IS certainly gives you a lot of extra features for its 50% higher price tag. If you can stretch beyond the price of the SX120 IS, it’s certainly worth considering, but also check out the Panasonic below. See our Canon powerShot SX200 IS review for more details.

Compared to Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ7 / ZS3

Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-TZ7 / ZS3 also costs around 50% more than the SX120 IS, but like the SX200 IS above, you get quite a bit more for your money. Again, most obviously the Panasonic is more compact, and better-able to squeeze into a pocket, albeit with slightly less to grip onto as a consequence.

The zoom range is 12x to the SX120 IS’s 10x, and importantly starts at a much wider equivalent of 25mm. It may top-out at ‘only’ 300mm, but that’s still plenty for most people, and many would prefer having the much wider end of the scale. Again like the SX200 IS, it also features two extra Megapixels.

The screen size is also the same at 3in, although Panasonic’s trumped both Canon models with a more detailed 460k panel, which makes images look much more detailed in playback. Like the SX200 IS, you also get HD video and an HDMI port, although this time you can optically zoom while filming and Panasonic even gives you the choice of two encoding formats: one for easier editing, and one for longer recording times.

The Lumix TZ7 / ZS3 may cost more than the SX120 IS, but you’re getting a lot of compact for your money. It may be lacking full manual exposure control, but the much wider lens, HD video with zooming, HDMI port and two extra Megapixels are valuable benefits. If you can afford to spend more, it’s well worth having. Check out our Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ7 / ZS3 review for more details.

Also consider

While we're in the process of up-selling, don't forget to consider Canon's PowerShot SX20 IS and Panansonic's Lumix DMC-FZ35 / FZ38, which for their higher budgets bring you up to double the focal range with wide angle coverage too, HD video with zooming, and in the case of the Canon, a flip-out screen and flash hotshoe. See our Canon PowerShot SX20 IS review and Panansonic Lumix DMC-FZ35 / FZ38 review for more details.

Canon PowerShot SX120 IS final verdict

The Canon PowerShot SX120 IS builds on the success of its predecessor to deliver a decent range of features and a long zoom range in an affordable and fairly compact body that's well-styled and comfortable to use. With a range of exposure options from 'Easy' to full Manual, it will suit novices and experienced photographers alike.

If you're looking for a budget compact with a long zoom and accessible Manual controls, the SX120 IS represents excellent value for money. Existing SX110 IS owners won't feel a burning desire to upgrade, but it's a good buy for new price-conscious shoppers, particularly if you're a fan of Canon's functional exposure modes and easy menu system. Do compare closely with Sony's H20 though, and the models above if you have a little more to spend. The SX120 IS offers a big zoom at a very low price, but spending 50% extra will get you many more capabilities.

Good points
Good low light performance.
Uses broadly available AA batteries.
Integral lens cover.
Full Manual control over exposures.

Bad points
Poor wide angle coverage (36mm equiv).
Flash needs to be manually raised.
Noisy zoom motor.
No HD video nor optical zoom when filming.


(relative to 2009 compacts)

Build quality:
Image quality:


16 / 20
17 / 20
15 / 20
16 / 20
16 / 20



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