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Canon PowerShot SX280 HS Gordon Laing, May 2013
 
 

Canon PowerShot SX280 HS verdict

The PowerShot SX280 HS is Canon's pocket super-zoom for 2013. It shares the same 12 Megapixel resolution and 20x (25-500mm equivalent) range as its predecessor, the SX260 HS, along with essentially the same body, controls, screen and GPS. New to the SX280 HS though are built-in Wifi and Canon's latest DIGIC 6 processor which offers 1080p at 60fps and supposedly lower noise levels than before. The cheaper SX270 HS, available in some regions, is identical other than not having the GPS and Wifi capabilities.

Viewed in isolation, the SX280 HS is a good, solid super-zoom camera which handles well and delivers pretty good photo and video quality. The 20x lens range covers a huge range of situations, allowing you to capture an expansive landscape or large building at one moment before zooming-in to concentrate on fine, distant details. The optical quality is pretty good throughout the range and the enhanced five-axis stabilization does a great job at ironing out the wobbles. I don't have the steadiest hands, yet managed to handhold shots with the SX280 HS at 500mm equivalent at 1/13 and in some cases even 1/6. Meanwhile the stabilization works a treat for video, again allowing you to comfortably handhold pans at the maximum focal length with respectable results.

The broad range of exposure modes confidently deal with varied conditions in Auto or unlock full manual control if you prefer. The new Wifi capability lets you transfer images quickly and easily from the camera to another camera, a computer, smartphone, printer or onto the internet to selected sharing services. It also allows you to easily update the GPS assistance data for quicker acquisition of satellites. Speaking of the GPS, there's no frills, but it does what it says on the tin, generally locking-onto a signal within 15 seconds and subsequently embedding location data to images.

   
   
Panasonic Lumix ZS20 TZ30 review


Compared to the competition, the biggest difference would appear to be the resolution with Canon sticking with a sensible 12 Megapixels, while Panasonic and Sony push ever-onward with 18 and 20 Megapixels. The lower resolution of the Canon would imply superior image quality with lower noise than its rivals, and in my tests that certainly was the case, although the difference is a lot more subtle than you may think. Yes the SX280 HS delivers cleaner images than, say, the Panasonic ZS30 / TZ40, but only at higher sensitivities and you have to look pretty closely to see it. If you generally view your images on-screen at less than 100% or make prints smaller than 10x8in, you'd be hard pushed to spot much if any difference between them.

So if two similarly-shaped cameras share similar zoom ranges, image quality, video capabilities, exposure modes, along with having built-in Wifi and GPS, you'd think there wouldn't be much to choose between them. Superficially this would appear to describe the SX280 HS and its big rival the Lumix ZS30 / TZ40, which would lead you to compare the price, discover the Canon was cheaper and go for that instead. But there's much more to this story which only becomes apparent when you shoot for any length of time with both models side-by-side.

There's a number of limitations or annoyances with the SX280 HS which when viewed in isolation may not be deal breakers, but next to the ZS30 / TZ40 begin to add up to a significant difference.

I'll start with the screen. Both cameras feature 3in screens, but the ZS30 / TZ40's is touch-sensitive. Now you may not think this is a big deal, but believe me it makes a huge difference when it comes to focusing for stills or video. You simply tap anywhere on the screen of the ZS30 / TZ40 and the camera will focus on it, whereas on the SX280 HS you cant even move the single AF area mode with buttons: it just sits there in the middle of the frame, forcing you to move, lock and recompose in many situations.

Then there's the GPS. Both cameras will record the position on your files, but Panasonic's ZS30 / TZ40 goes one step further by cross-referencing it against an internal database to display the actual name of the thing you're looking at on-screen, or plot your position on a built-in map.

Moving onto the Wifi, both cameras let you wirelessly transfer images to a variety of devices and services, but Panasonic additionally offers free software to remote control the camera with your phone, and features NFC for easier Wifi connections with compatible devices.

Then there's the battery. Canon charges its with an external charger, whereas Panasonic charges theirs within the camera over USB. Now I realize these approaches polarize opinions, but there's no denying the convenience of charging or topping-up your camera's battery from a laptop or car - something I did plenty of times with the ZS30 / TZ40, whereas I had to wait to find mains power for the SX280 HS. I should note the battery issue I noticed when switching between stills and movies seems to have been fixed by updating to firmware 1.0.2.0.

Moving onto the various effects, both cameras offer the ubiquitous miniature mode which can be applied to movies, but in a bizarre decision, Canon ignores the video quality you'd previously selected which applies to every other mode and instead uses the photo aspect ratio to determine if the video is standard or high definition. As such, most people will record 4:3 shaped VGA miniature videos, blissfully unaware that changing the aspect ratio to 16:9 for photos will force the camera to encode the miniature video in 720p instead. That's just dumb, and it's worth noting the Panasonic will happily record miniature movies in 1080p too.

Then there's the major disappointment that the latest DIGIC 6 processor still doesn't offer a panorama mode which stitches images together in-camera. C'mon Canon, Sony introduced this year ago and even Panasonic has had it for two generations.

The movie mode's slow motion also hasn't come-on in the past year, so at 120fps, you're still looking at a maximum of VGA resolution as opposed to the ZS30 / TZ40 which now offers 720p at 100fps. I should also mention the zoom motor on the SX280 HS is noisier than the Panasonic.

By now though you'll realize there's a lot of annoyances with the SX280 HS and that the Panasonic ZS30 / TZ40 is not only a better-featured camera, but one that's better thought-out too. But the Panasonic ZS30 / TZ40 is also a more expensive camera, in some regions by a small amount, but in others by a larger amount, so it boils down to your priorities. While some may have read the past few paragraphs with horror, others will not consider them a serious issue. So before I wrap-up, let's take a final look at the competition.

 

Compared to Panasonic Lumix ZS30 / TZ40

 
Panasonic ZS15
 
     
 

Panasonic's Lumix ZS30 / TZ40 is a major rival for the Canon PowerShot SX280 HS, and at first glance they share a great deal in common including much the same body shape, 20x zoom range, exposure modes and screen size, not to mention having built-in GPS and Wifi. The major difference in specification is the resolution: 12 Megapixels on the Canon versus 18 Megapixels on the Panasonic, but while the SX280 HS does indeed manage to deliver slightly lower noise levels, especially at higher sensitivities, there's not as much in it as you'd think. Indeed if you don't view your images at 100% or make big prints on a regular basis, I wouldn't let the sensor resolution sway your choice.

In that case with such a similar feature-set you'd think it would boil down to price, in which case the PowerShot SX280 HS is generally available more cheaply. But as explained in detail above, there's a lot of small differences in operation which can add up to a deal-breaker for some photographers. Just briefly, the ZS30 / TZ40 offers a touch-screen with selectable focusing areas, smartphone-based remote control over Wifi, NFC for easy setup on compatible devices, a database of locations and mapping which work with the built-in GPS, longer battery life and the ability to recharge or topup over USB, a panorama mode, and higher resolution movies for the miniature and slow motion modes.

Does any of that bother you? If the answer's yes, it's well worth spending the extra on the ZS30 / TZ40. If you're not bothered about these differences though, the SX280 HS still gives you a solid 20x pocket superzoom with Wifi and GPS.

See my Panasonic Lumix ZS30 / TZ40 review for more details.

 

Compared to Sony Cyber-shot WX300

 
Panasonic ZS15
 
     
 

Sony is also a major player in the pocket super-zoom market and for 2013 has a dual-pronged approach with the WX300 representing a smaller, lower priced option, leaving the HX50V to go for the glory with its longer 30x zoom range.

The WX300 may be pitched as a lower-end camera than the HX series which usually goes up against the Canon SX models, but it still shares a lot in common including essentially the same 20x optical zoom range, 1080p video, a 3in screen and built-in Wifi. Interestingly there's no built-in GPS on the Sony WX300 though, so I presume the camera will be able to exploit the GPS log of a compatible smartphone, and that's something I'll confirm in my upcoming review.

In its favour, the SX280 HS offers a lower resolution sensor which can deliver slightly cleaner results along with a built-in GPS, but on its side, the Sony WX300 squeezes an otherwise similar feature-set into a smaller, lighter body along with offering an auto-panorama mode that's sorely lacking on the Canon.

So the headline feature of the Sony is squeezing its 20x optical zoom range into a camera that's comfortably smaller than its rivals, while also probably coming in cheaper once the prices settle down.

Once again this is an early comparison though which I'll expand and confirm once I have a chance to test the Sony Cyber-shot WX300. Meanwhile if a 20x zoom in your pocket just ain't good enough, then you'll want to look at Sony's flagship Cyber-shot HX50V with its 30x range; again look out for an upcoming review.

 

Canon PowerShot SX280 HS final verdict

The Canon PowerShot SX280 HS is a good, solid super-zoom camera with pretty good control, quality and features. Sticking to 12 Megapixels has allowed Canon to deliver image quality that's a little better than its rivals without missing out on fine details. The optical quality is also respectable and the image stabilization makes the entire 20x range very usable even when panning handheld at the maximum 500mm equivalent focal length.

There's loads of exposure modes from a very capable Auto to full manual control, with a variety of scene presets inbetween. Meanwhile the built-in GPS tags images with your location without any fuss and the Wifi lets you easily transfer images out of the camera to computers, smartphones, printers or onto selected social media services.

Viewed in isolation there's little to complain about other than the single AF area mode which can't be moved around the frame, but shoot side-by-side with rivals like Panasonic's ZS30 / TZ40 and you'll notice a number of small differences which could add up to a decision maker. For instance there's no auto panorama mode, no touch-screen nor selectable AF area, no remote control over Wifi, no slow motion video in HD, and when your battery does run out on the SX280 HS you won't be able to top it up over USB. The ZS30 / TZ40 gives you all that and more including a built-in landmark database and mapping which work with the GPS.

In short the Lumix ZS30 / TZ40 is a better-featured camera that avoids much of the annoyances and limitations of the SX280 HS, but it's also more expensive; in some regions not by a great deal, but the gap can be greater in others. If you think the limitations of the SX280 HS would frustrate you, then I'd definitely recommend you spend the extra on the Panasonic ZS30 / TZ40. But equally there'll be those for whom they're non-issues or things they can happily workaround. For those photographers, the SX280 HS represents a good solid option: a pocket super-zoom with a 20x range, decent image and video quality and the convenience of built-in GPS and Wifi. The limitations and minor annoyances mean it misses out on the top rating awarded to the ZS30 / TZ40, but it remains a recommended option for those who understand what it can and can't do.

Note: when first testing the SX280 HS with firmware 1.0.0.0 the camera suffered from a battery issue where the meter would show very different remaining charge depending on if you were in stills or movie mode. Canon has however delivered an updated version, 1.0.2.0 which in my latest tests seems to have resolved the issue. See the main review page for more details.

 



Good points
Slightly superior image quality to peer group, but not by much.
Broad 20x optical zoom covers every situation in pocket body.
1080p video with zooming, stereo sound and continuous AF.
Built-in GPS and Wifi.
Fast continuous shooting up to 14fps albeit for only seven frames.

Bad points
No touch-screen nor the ability to move the single AF area mode.
No remote control over Wifi, only image transfer.
Convoluted quality selection for miniature videos.
No HD for slow motion video.
Can't recharge battery over USB. Need to use mains charger.




Scores

(relative to 2013 super-zooms)

Build quality:
Image quality:
Handling:
Specification:
Value:

Overall:

18 / 20
17 / 20
15 / 20
15 / 20
18 / 20

83%



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