Canon PowerShot SX10 IS verdict
Canon’s PowerShot SX10 IS builds upon the already compelling S5 IS to deliver one of the best super-zoom cameras on the market. Canon’s kept the SLR-styled body of its predecessor with its decent grip, fully articulated 2.5in screen, manual control, AA battery power and external flash hotshoe, but switched the 12x optical zoom a much more powerful 20x range which starts wider and ends longer.
This new focal range transforms your experience with the SX10 IS over the earlier S5 IS. An extra 128mm on the telephoto end allows you to get even closer to distant subjects, but it’s the new 28mm wide angle that makes the biggest difference. It simply captures a much larger field of view than the 36mm of its predecessor, which is ideal whether you’re taking photos of expansive landscapes, large buildings, cramped interiors or big group shots. Admittedly, Panasonic has offered a similar range since the FZ18 announced over a year earlier, and Olympus launched its 20x SP-570UZ in January 2008, but it’s good to finally see Canon catch-up on the super-zoom stakes.
Highly effective image stabilisation also makes the lens usable under a variety of conditions – in our tests we managed to handhold the SX10 IS when fully zoomed-in at shutter speeds as slow as 1/25, corresponding to over four stops of compensation. The autofocus performance was also good in our tests, quickly snapping into place with little hunting under reasonable light.
The lens isn’t perfect though. Like its predecessor, we noticed coloured fringing towards the corners throughout the range when shooting subjects with high contrast. It’s not a deal-breaker, but revealing to note Panasonic’s FZ28 (and its predecessor the FZ18) impressively manage to avoid this issue; you can see examples comparing them on our results pages.
The SX10 IS’s 2 Megapixel boost in resolution records more detail than its predecessor in technical tests, but there’s not a significant difference in terms of real life detail. Noise levels are roughly the same at each sensitivity when viewed at 100%, which means you’ll be wanting to stick to 80 and 100 ISO for the best results. Even then, there’s a sprinkling of fine textures if you’re looking closely, and when increased to 200 ISO and beyond, there’s a steady decrease in fine detail. This is in line with most compacts these days though and you can see examples in our High ISO Noise Results page.
At first glance the camera may appear externally similar to the S5 IS, but look closer and Canon’s made a number of changes. The rear controls have been redesigned, most notably with a thumb wheel taking pride of place. This offers quick and tactile adjustments to a number of settings, but its smooth step-free operation gives less feedback than the clicks on other Canon wheels.
The camera remains powered by four AA batteries, but thankfully Canon’s relocated the SD memory card slot from the battery compartment to its own area on the side of the body.
The screen remains the same size at 2.5in and still fully articulated, allowing you to compose comfortably at any angle. Canon’s slightly increased the screen resolution to 230k pixels, but in use it doesn’t look as good as those on some of its better 2008 models. Obviously it’s a trade-off, and while the 3in 460k screen of the G10 looks amazing in comparison, it’s firmly fixed in position. So ultimately while the SX10 IS’s screen looks a little small and less punchy than the best panels on the market today, its fully-articulated nature is preferred to a fixed design.
Video recording was a highlight on the earlier S5 IS, with some unique features that are inherited on the new SX10 IS. Most importantly, you can operate the optical zoom while filming, and the USM motor which powers the operation is virtually silent. Like its predecessor, a pair of decent microphones deliver stereo sound and very respectable quality. There’s also a dedicated button on the rear of the camera to start recording video regardless of the shooting mode.
All these were however present on the S5 IS, and with this latest generation, Canon’s not made any significant changes to the video facilities. As such there’s sadly no High Definition recording on the SX10 IS – that’s reserved for the higher-end SX1 IS version. The only real difference is the codec with the DIGIC 4 processor in the SX10 IS employing the H.264 compressor with a QuickTime MOV wrapper. H.264 is more efficient than the Motion JPEG codec used previously by Canon, and allows the SX10 IS’s movies to consume around 30% less space while maintaining the same quality. They look as good as any standard definition modes we’ve seen, but again it’s a pity there’s no HD or even widescreen video on the SX10 IS, especially as Panasonic’s offered them for over a year.
DIGIC 4 does bring other benefits to the SX10 IS though, including improved face detection (plus a neat self-timer which waits for a new face to appear before taking the shot), an i-Contrast option which adjusts the dynamic range of images (see Features page) and a new Servo AF mode which tracks motion while the shutter release is half-pressed. In use Servo AF effectively did its job, but was let down by the camera’s meagre 1.4fps continuous shooting rate – or 0.7fps with autofocus – which rules it out for capturing fast action sequences.
Finally, it’s good to find the same degree of manual control as its predecessor, along with a flash hotshoe which allows you to mount external Speedlites, but sadly there’s still no RAW mode. For that you’ll need Canon’s PowerShot G10, or of course Panasonic’s FZ28. Which brings us to our comparison with its rival models.
Compared to Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28
Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-FZ28 is one of the biggest rivals for the SX10 IS. Both cameras share 10 Megapixel resolution, optically-stabilised super-zooms with wide angle coverage, full manual control and DSLR-styled bodies, but beyond these, there’s pros and cons to each model.
Most obviously the FZ28 has a slightly shorter optical zoom range of 18x, although as seen on our Features page, this doesn’t make a significant difference in practice – and more importantly, in-camera processing allows the FZ28 to avoid the coloured fringing seen towards the corners in many of the Canon’s images. It’s also worth noting the maximum aperture of the FZ28 when zoomed-into 486mm is a brighter f4.4, compared to f5.7 of the SX10 IS from 460-560mm. Unlike the SX10 IS, the FZ28 also features RAW recording facilities, automatic scene recognition, a longer maximum exposure of 60 seconds, and some usable burst options, albeit either with a limited buffer or at a reduced resolution. The FZ28 additionally offers HD movies in the 720p format along with optional Component output to HDTVs, and some will prefer its rechargeable Lithium Ion battery pack to the AAs of the SX10 IS.
The FZ28 is also a smaller and considerably lighter camera, weighing 417g with its battery compared to the 680g of the SX10 IS when fitted with four typical AA batteries. It additionally sports a slightly larger – albeit fixed – 2.7in screen which looks more vibrant in use. Finally, depending on the shop, the price of the FZ28 is 10 to 25% cheaper than the Canon.
In its favour, the SX10 IS has a slightly longer zoom range, a fully-articulated screen which allows comfortable composition at any angle, a flash hotshoe for mounting external Speedlites, and movies with stereo sound along with more efficient compression. Both cameras may have full manual control, but spinning the large thumb wheel of the Canon is ergonomically superior to prodding the tiny joystick on the Panasonic. Finally, the Canon may be larger and heavier, but many will prefer its heft, along with the convenience of picking up spare batteries almost anywhere. It’s a small point, but the SX10 IS’s lens cap also won’t prevent the lens from extending, and its lens hood is more portable.
It really is a case of swings and roundabouts though, with neither model taking an obvious lead. Both are superb superzooms, so when choosing between them, it’s crucial to be honest with yourself about which features are most important to you. See our Panasonic Lumix DMC FZ28 review for more details.
Compared to Canon PowerShot SX1 IS
Canon’s PowerShot SX1 IS was launched alongside the SX10 IS and is identical other than a slightly larger 2.8in widescreen monitor and a CMOS sensor in place of the CCD in the SX10 IS. This makes it the first non-DSLR from Canon to sport a CMOS sensor and equips the SX1 IS with three major advantages over the SX10 IS.
First is the ability to shoot high definition video in the full 1080P format. Second is the ability to shoot full resolution images at a much quicker continuous rate of 4fps. Third is an HDMI port for connecting to HDTVs. These upgrades are the icing on the cake of a camera that still sports 10 Megapixel resolution, a fully articulated screen, a flash hotshoe and of course that enormous 20x optically stabilised zoom lens. With 1080P, 4fps and HDMI, the SX1 IS also manages to trump the video, continuous shooting and HD output of the FZ28.
All this makes the SX1 IS one of the most desirable super-zooms on the market, but there’s two downsides: first, the SX1 IS is comfortably more expensive than the SX10 IS. At the time of writing, the SX1 IS was priced approximately 50% higher than its CCD-equipped counterpart. Secondly, Canon has made no announcement to sell the SX1 IS in North America, which will undoubtedly infuriate many people.
We would be very surprised if the SX1 IS (or some variation) isn’t released in the USA during early 2009, but in the meantime, it is being sold pretty much everywhere else, including the UK. So for readers in the US, we’ve included our Price-checking service for UK vendors selling the SX1 IS in case you’d like to import one or have it sent to friends or family for collection during a vacation. Amazon UK may also be a good bet, and if it’s any consolation to US readers, the US Dollar is strong against UK Sterling at the time of writing.
So the ultimate question you have to ask yourself is whether it’s worth paying the extra for HD movie recording and quick continuous shooting. We’ll find out how both perform in our forthcoming SX1 IS review, where we’ll also get a chance to compare noise levels with the new CMOS sensor.
Two other super-zooms worth considering are the 20x Olympus SP-570UZ and the 15x Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H50 – click the links for their current US pricing. Both are strongly based around previous models we’ve reviewed at Cameralabs, but with inevitable boosts in resolution, and in the case of the Olympus, a longer 20x optical range.
Canon PowerShot SX10 IS final verdict
Canon’s PowerShot SX10 IS is a great choice for anyone in the market for a super-zoom camera. It delivers a massive 20x range with quick AF and highly effective stabilisation, a fully articulated monitor, flash hotshoe, movies with stereo sound and full manual control. The only downsides are visible fringing in the corners, slow continuous shooting and the lack of RAW recording and HD video – coincidentally the same downsides as its predecessor.
Revealingly each of those downsides is addressed by its arch rival the Panasonic Lumix FZ28. It sports RAW, HD movies in the 720P format, some quick shooting options (albeit with a reduced buffer or at a lower resolution), and manages to avoid coloured fringing, whether down to superior optics, lower sensor blooming, or digital correction. It’s also comfortably lighter and cheaper.
But this doesn’t make the FZ28 the automatic choice. Once again the Canon sports a fully articulated screen, flash hotshoe, a slightly longer zoom range, stereo sound on movies and a heft which some may prefer – not to mention the convenience of AA batteries and arguably superior control ergonomics.
As mentioned above, there’s no clear winner between them, with the choice boiling down to which feature set best-suits your requirements, along with which model looks and feels best in your hands. There’s also the promise of Canon’s higher-end SX1 IS to weigh-up.
Should you ultimately decide on the Canon SX10 IS though, you won’t be disappointed. It delivers a compelling array of features for the money and easily comes Highly Recommended. Just compare it closely against the FZ28 and have a good think about the SX1 IS.
(relative to 2008 super-zooms)
17 / 20
17 / 20
17 / 20
18 / 20
17 / 20