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Canon PowerShot SX20 IS Gordon Laing, October 2009

Canon PowerShot SX20 IS intro

Canon’s PowerShot SX20 IS is a 12.1 Megapixel super-zoom camera with a 20x optically-stabilised lens and 2.5in flip-out screen. Announced in August 2009, it comes one year after its predecessor, the massively popular SX10 IS. Canon’s not messed too much with a winning formula and kept the body, lens, screen and AA battery power of the SX10 IS, but enhanced them with a few key upgrades.

Most obviously (and inevitably) Canon has increased the resolution from 10.0 to 12.1 Megapixels. Much more importantly, the movie mode now boasts a 720p HD option, and there’s also an HDMI port so you can watch both video and stills in high quality on an HDTV.

The SX20 IS has also become more cunning in its auto mode, employing scene detection which along with recognising people and close-ups, can additionally discern between different lighting conditions, and even if the subject is in motion. Making operation even easier, the SX20 IS also now features Hints and Tips which explain what different settings will do if required. And for those who like to know exactly when a photo was taken without consulting the file attributes, a new Date Stamp can optionally imprint the information in the corner of your images.

These new features enhance what was already one of the best super-zoom cameras on the market. The headline 20x optical zoom range remains extremely flexible, delivering coverage equivalent to 28-560mm with effective image stabilisation.

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You can start recording video at any time by simply pressing the big red button on the rear, zoom the lens while filming, and capture decent quality stereo sound.

The 2.5in screen may sound a little small compared to the latest cameras, but like its predecessor it’s fully articulated, allowing you to compose with ease at high or low angles – not to mention flipping it round for self-portraits or back on itself for protection.  

As before there’s also a flash hotshoe on top of the camera which can accommodate any of Canon’s Speedlite range, and even control recent models through the menu system. Speaking of the menus, the SX20’s various options have been also been redesigned and simplified.

There’s still full manual control over exposure with Program, Manual, Aperture and Shutter Priority modes, along with a selection of scene presets and one of Canon’s thumb wheels to allow quick and easy adjustments.

The earlier PowerShot SX10 IS was justifiably a best-seller, not to mention one of our Best Buys, so by equipping it with HD video and an HDMI port, along with the other enhancements mentioned above, Canon’s produced an even more compelling prospect. But its arch rival from Panasonic has also received an update in the form of the latest Lumix FZ38 / FZ35, with both models sporting 12 Megapixels, HD movies with stereo sound, and powerful super-zoom ranges.

In our full review we’ll pitch the SX20 IS directly against the FZ38 / FZ35, comparing every aspect from design and build to still and video quality. We’ll also throw-in a DSLR to see how their image quality measures-up. We’ll additionally discuss how its features compare against its stable-mate, the PowerShot SX1 IS, which boasts Full HD 1080p video and fast 4fps continuous shooting.

So if you’re in the market for a super-zoom camera, you’ve come to the right place! Read-on to find out if Canon’s SX20 IS is the right model for you, and be sure to check out our video tour for a demonstration of its highlights.

Testing notes

Following our convention of using default factory and best quality JPEG settings to test cameras unless otherwise stated, the PowerShot SX20 IS was set Large Fine quality, Auto White Balance, Evaluative Metering and with 'My Colours' switched off (the default setting for contrast, saturation and sharpening).

Many thanks to Queenstown Cameras for the loan of an additional SX20 IS during our tests. If you're in Queenstown, New Zealand, and need any photographic equipment or prints, head on over to their store on Camp Street.

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All words, images, videos and layout, copyright 2005-2017 Gordon Laing. May not be used without permission.

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