Canon PowerShot SX230 HS verdict
The Canon PowerShot SX230 HS is a 12.1 Megapixel pocket super-zoom with a 14x stabilised range and a 3in screen with a 16:9 aspect ratio. The HS suffix stands for High Sensitivity, providing enhanced low light performance using a back-illuminated CMOS sensor.
With fully automatic operation featuring scene recognition and face detection as well as full manual and semi auto exposure modes, the SX230 HS will appeal across the spectrum, but is likely to attract more ambitious and capable photographers looking for advanced features in a compact super-zoom format.
The 16:9 screen makes the PowerShot SX230 HS ideally suited to movie making and the move up to 1080p24 full HD resolution will delight movie makers looking for professional quality in a compact camera at comparatively low cost.
Though its full resolution continuous shooting performance falls short of its competitors, the SX230 HS can reach in excess of 6fps at reduced resolution and also has a composite Handheld Night Scene mode to add to it's already impressive low-light capabilities with sensitivities up to 3200 ISO. A GPS receiver in the SX230 HS tags photos with your location, and if that's not for you, the PowerShot SX220 HS, released concurrently (in Europe only) is the same model without the GPS. Finally it has all the Canon extras that, depending on your view, either enhance and add to the fun of taking photos, or get in the way of the serious stuff - Creative filters, Movie digest, Super slow motion movie mode, and smart shutter.
Compared to Sony Cyber-shot HX9V
The Sony Cyber-shot HX9V is going to provide the Canon PowerShot SX230 HS with tough competition. Similarly priced, it outdoes the SX230 HS in a couple of key respects.
First, there's the zoom range: at 16x the Cyber-shot HX9V's range is broader, but crucially, starts at a super-wide 24mm compared with the SX230's 28mm. Then there's the sensor resolution: at 16 Megapixels the Cyber-shot produces bigger pictures for large screen display and big prints you can also crop to provide an effectively longer telephoto. Ordinarily I'd qualify this by pointing out the quality compromise involved, but the Cybershot HX9V actually matched the quality of the PowerShot SX230 HS in our outdoor resolution test at the lowest sensitivity. It couldn't match the SX230 HS for low light high ISO performance though.
While the Cyber-shot HX9V's screen has more dots than the SX230's, that's less significant than the proportions - the HX9V's 4:3 screen is better suited to stills, the SX230 HS's is better for HD movie recording. And those who are interested in a pocket super-zoom more for movies than stills might prefer the SX230 HS for its 1080p24 top quality mode, but the HX9V's 1080p50 mode, though it might lack the 'film' look, doesn't fall short in terms of quality.
The PowerShot SX230 HS is smaller, lighter and prettier, but its battery doesn't last as long. It has neat slow motion and miniature movie modes and some clever creative filters against the Cyber-Shot HX9V's full resolution hi speed continuous shooting and outstanding panoramic modes. But in terms of headline features most people are likely to be swayed on the basis of zoom range and screen proportions versus image quality and low light performance.
See our upcoming Sony Cyber-shot HX9V review for more details.
Compared to Panasonic Lumix TZ20 / ZS10
Like the Cyber-shot HX9V the hugely popular Panasonic Lumix TZ20 / ZS10 has a 16x optical zoom with a 24mm super-wide angle that provides a wider field of view than the PowerShot SX230 HS's 28mm. The Lumix is similar in appearance to the Sony Cyber-shot HX9V, slightly bigger and a little heavier than the PowerShot SX230 HS and not as stylish.
Like the PowerShot SX230 HS, the Lumix TZ20 / ZS10 uses a MOS sensor. But the 14 Megapixel sensor in the Lumix TZ20 / ZS10 is no match for the PowerShot SX230 HS's 12.1 Megapixel sensor in terms of overall image quality or high ISO noise performance. One thing it can do that the PowerShot SX320 HS can't though is fast full resolution burst shooting at 10fps. It also has a composite Handheld Night Shot mode.
The Lumix TZ20 / ZS10's screen measures 3 inches diagonally and, like the SX230 HS, has 460k dots, but the Lumix screen is 4:3 proportioned and more importantly it's a touch screen. The Lumix TZ20 / ZS10 can still be operated mainly using the physical controls but the touch screen is useful for focusing, zooming and even shooting.
Both cameras have GPS, but the Lumix TZ20 / ZS10's is a more sophisticated inmplementation with a database of more than a million place names that can tell you the name of your location as opposed to the SX230 HS's lat and long co-ordinates. Panasonic pretty much invented the travel-zoom and though the SX230 HS beats it hands down on image quality, the Lumix TZ20 / ZS10's superior zoom range and GPS database, combined with faster full resolution continuous shooting is likely to retain it the top spot for now.
See our Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ20 / ZS10 review for more details.
Compared to Nikon COOLPIX S9100
If the most important thing in a travel-zoom is, well, the zoom, then the Nikon COOLPIX S9100 has a clear advantage over the Canon PowerShot SX230 IS. Its 18x optical zoom with a range of 25 - 450mm comfortably outreaches the PowerShot SX230 HS at either end of the range. Nikon's sensor shift image stabilisation has never been the equal of Canon's Lens shift system, though, and that pulls it back a little in the SX230 HS's favour.
Both cameras share the same 12.1 megapixel sensor resolution and both use CMOS sensors, both also offer similar video options (in fact the Nikon has a wider range of slow motion settings) though the COOLPIX S9100's 4:3 screen is better suited to composing stills.
A major difference beween the two models is that the COOLPIX is more of a consumer model, it lacks the manual and semi auto exposure modes of the PowerShot SX230 HS and will therefore appeal less to enthusiasts. On the plus side this makes it a lot simpler to operate, though the PowerShot SX230 HS Easy mode emulates the S9100's simplicity without sacrificing advanced features for those who want them.
The COOLPIX S9100 lacks a GPS receiver, so if you're looking for a compact to take on your travels and record positional data with your photos and video, that rules it out - unless of course you geo-tag with a separate GPS receiver. Finally, the COOLPIX S9100 looks and feels just a little bit budget. Appearences aren't everything, though, and a lot is down to personal preferences so, as always, I'd recommend you try these models out before making a purchasing decision.
See our upcoming Nikon COOLPIX S9100 review for more details.
Canon PowerShot SX230 HS verdict
It's hard not to like the Canon PowerShot SX230 HS. It's slim, light and, for a travel zoom with a 14x optical range, amazingly compact as well as stylish. Canon's downward step from a 14.1 to 12.1 Megapixel sensor might be seen as a bit of a gamble, but it's paid off: in our real life resolution and low light high ISO sensitivity tests the Powershot SX230 HS beat its closest rivals in the travel zoom market by a clear margin with visibly superior image quality.
There are a few niggles. The lens suffers from chromatic aberration (or perhaps more fairly, the camera doesn't correct fringing), the flash annoyingly pops up when it doesn't need to, the GPS was inconsistent and the battery life could be better. More significantly, while it seems churlish to complain about the flexibility of a 14x, 28-392mm zoom, the fact is the PowerShot SX230 HS is now out-gunned by its rivals, particularly at the wide end, where a wider 24mm equivalent is becoming commonplace. Such super-wide angle coverage can really help when faced by an expansive landscape, large building or big group shot, or at times when you simply can't step back any further. These downsides prevent the SX230 HS from earning our highest rating.
But on the plus side, the SX230 HS offers an excellent range of shooting modes, great video features, a lot of fun unique stuff like Creative filters and smart shutter features, and the best quality images of any pocket super-zoom in its class. If you can live with the fact that it lacks the super wide angle view and fast shooting modes of its competitors, then it has a lot going for it.
Great image quality - best of peer group.
1080p24 HD video.
Good low light performance.
Wide-end of zoom 'only' delivers 28mm.
Flash pops up unnecessarily.
Poor battery life.
Chromatic aberration (colour fringing).
(relative to 2011 compacts)
17 / 20
18 / 20
16 / 20
16 / 20
16 / 20