Canon PowerShot SX10 IS design and controls
The Canon PowerShot SX10 IS shares very similar styling to its predecessor, the S5 IS, and like most super-zooms, is designed like a miniature DSLR with a defined viewfinder head, large grip and protruding lens barrel. The big difference of course is the SX10 IS houses nothing less than a 20x optical zoom range, while most DSLR kits offer just 3x ranges. We’ve pictured it below alongside its major rival, Panasonic’s Lumix DMC FZ28 which sports an 18x optical zoom range, and the Canon EOS 450D / Rebel XSi, a typical DSLR fitted with its 3x kit lens.
Measuring 124x88x87mm, the SX10 IS is actually slightly larger than its predecessor in every axis: 7mm wider, 8mm taller and 9mm thicker. It’s also 6mm wider and 13mm taller than Panasonic’s FZ28, although 2mm thinner. While the photos above and below illustrate how the Canon super-zoom is a little larger than the Panasonic, they don’t reveal their surprising difference in weight. The FZ28 weighs 417g with its battery compared to the 680g of the SX10 IS when fitted with four typical AA batteries. A set of four AAs is certainly heavier than the lithium ion pack of the FZ28, but there’s still 190g difference on the bodies alone. Indeed the SX10 IS operational weight is only 20g lighter than Canon’s own EOS 1000D / XS DSLR complete with its battery and (admittedly 3x) kit lens.
It’s actually quite surprising how much heavier the SX10 IS feels in practice than the FZ28, with the Panasonic feeling relatively empty in comparison. Some may prefer the extra heft of the Canon and the confidence it instils, while others would see the relatively light weight of the FZ28 as a key advantage. We strongly recommend picking up both – with their batteries fitted – to see for yourself.
The Canon may be comfortably heavier, but the build quality of the two models is roughly the same. Both share similar plastic exteriors with good joins and no creaking or flexing to worry about, but Canon’s flagship PowerShot G10 ultimately feels slightly tougher.
Viewed from above, the SX10 IS features a slightly larger grip than the FZ28 – indeed it’s roughly the same size as that on the EOS 1000D / XS or EOS 450D / XSi DSLRs. This along with a bulge on the rear for your thumb allows you to grip the SX10 IS very comfortably and securely, although it could have been that much classier coated with the mottled rubber finish of the FZ28 or 450D / XSi’s grips.
The SX10 IS shares a number of controls in common with its predecessor, including the same shutter release / zoom rocker and the same Command mode dial. The latter offers exactly the same modes as before: Auto, PASM, a single Custom mode, Stitch-Assist, Movie, four popular scene presets, and a SCN position which access a further eight presets plus a 3200 ISO option and Canon’s colour swap and colour accent modes. Like its predecessor, the SX10 IS offers complete manual control over both the aperture and shutter, and we have full details in the next section below.
Unlike most digital cameras, you don’t need to switch to movie mode and press the shutter release to start filming. Like its predecessor, the SX10 IS features a dedicated record button on the back for video. This allows the SX10 IS to start recording video at any time regardless of the mode you’re currently using. Conversely, when you’re recording video, you can press the shutter release at any time to take a still image – albeit temporarily interrupting the video. As before, this essentially renders the movie mode position on the Command dial redundant, but it does reinforce the camera’s superior video recording capabilities.
Beyond the Command dial, shutter release, zoom rocker and record button though, the rest of the controls on the right side of the camera have been relocated or redesigned. Instead of a dial to switch the camera between record and play with an Off button in the middle, there’s now a single power button on the top surface and a Play button below it on the rear. Below this, exposure compensation now gets its own button, and below that is one to select the AF frame area.
The exposure compensation button doubles as an AE lock, but only if you’re half-pressing the shutter release at the same time. The controls are positioned so it’s easy to get your finger and thumb in the right places, but it takes a little practice to get the different pressures right and not accidentally take a photo as you push in the compensation button.
The four-way rocker which used to be perched on the thumb rest of the S5 IS has now been replaced by one of Canon’s thumb wheels lower down with a cross-key arrangement in the middle. At first glance, the wheel appears similar to that on the PowerShot G10 and IXUS 870IS / SD 880IS, but all three models in fact employ different designs.
The wheel on the SX10 IS is stepless and completely smooth to turn, compared to the discreet steps felt on the wheels of the other models as you turn them. There’s style differences too, with the G10’s wheel sporting a wider 23mm diameter and a wide surround with small cross keys in the middle. The IXUS 870IS / SD 880IS has a narrow raised ridge to its 19mm wheel, with most of the interior occupied by a tilting disc for the cross-key controls. The SX10 IS’s wheel measures 20mm, has a similar raised edge to the IXUS / ELPH, but the entire disc is pushed up, down, left or right to double-up as cross-keys.
The theory’s the same though. Depending on the mode at the time, a spin of the wheel could adjust the aperture, shutter, exposure compensation or manual focus distance, select a scene preset, or scroll through either menu options or images in playback. While we ultimately preferred the clicking feedback on the dials of other Canon models, the SX10 IS still offers quick and tactile control over various options, and it’s a lot easier to do this than prodding the tiny joystick on the Panasonic cameras.
Pushing up, down, left or right on the edge of the wheel will set the SX10 IS’s manual focus, drive mode, macro mode and ISO sensitivity respectively, while pressing the FUNC / SET button in the middle either confirms an action or fires-up the superimposed Function menu for quick access to various settings – see further details below.
Canon PowerShot SX10 IS exposure and metering
The Canon PowerShot SX10 IS offers shutter speeds from 1/3200 to 15 seconds, along with 9 apertures from f2.8 to f8 (when zoomed-out), and you have complete control over both settings in its Manual, Aperture or Shutter Priority modes. Exposure bracketing is also available, but fairly basic with three frames up to 2EV apart.
Like many non-DSLRs, there’s some restrictions concerning the faster shutter speeds with certain apertures. With the lens zoomed-out, the fastest shutter speed of 1/3200 is only available at f8. Between f4 and f7.1, the fastest speed drops to 1/2500, while at f3.2 to f3.5 it’s 1/2000. Finally at the maximum aperture of 2.8, the fastest shutter speed becomes 1/1600.
The Panasonic FZ28 suffers from similar restrictions, only offering its maximum shutter speed of 1/2000 at the minimum aperture of f8. At the maximum f2.8 aperture, the FZ28 offers a fastest shutter speed of 1/1000. In its favour though, the FZ28 boasts a slowest shutter speed of 60 seconds to the Canon’s 15, which could swing it for fans of long exposures. Then again as mentioned above, we greatly preferred the thumb wheel to adjust exposure values on the Canon than Panasonic’s fiddly joystick. Canon also makes better use of graphics to indicate the alterations which we’ll describe in more detail below.
If you prefer an easier life for exposure, the SX10 IS has Program AE and Auto modes, along with 12 scene presets and Canon’s Colour Accent and Colour Swap; like other Canon compacts, the Colour modes allow you to select a colour and either change it to something different (such as turning a red London bus green) or make it the only colour in an otherwise black and white image (like the girl with the red balloon in Schindler’s List).
The various automatic modes work well in practice, although Canon has resisted the temptation to offer intelligent scene recognition on any of its 2008 range, unlike Panasonic which offers it throughout including on the FZ28. It’s not that big a deal when you’re talking about a higher-end product like the SX10 IS, but once you’ve used Panasonic’s Intelligent Auto mode, you wish all auto modes were as good.
Finally, the SX10 IS offers three main metering modes: Evaluative, Centre Weighted and Spot; the latter can be locked to either the central AE point or a selected AF frame in FlexiZone mode. We used Evaluative for all our test shots in Program mode and like other compacts in Canon’s 2008 range, found few occasions when we wanted or needed to intervene with compensation.
Canon PowerShot SX10 IS flash
The Canon PowerShot SX10 IS has a built-in flash that must be manually lifted open to operate. Once open, the flash can be set to Forced-on or Auto; if you don’t want it to fire, simply push it back down again.
A dedicated flash control menu offers flash compensation between +/-2EV, rear curtain and slow sync options along with red-eye correction. If face detection AF is enabled, the face brightness is also evaluated before firing the flash.
Like its predecessor, one of the SX10 IS’s highlights is a fully-functional flash hotshoe which can be used to mount an external Speedlite 220EX, 430EX II or 580EX II. With the 430EX II or 580EX II mounted, the flash control menu switches to external control, offering the same options as Canon’s latest DSLRs.
This allows you to again adjust flash compensation (albeit with a broader +/-3EV range), set rear curtain and slow sync options along with red-eye correction and wireless control. The maximum sync speed is 1/250.
Support for external flashguns, especially proper Speedlite units, is an impressive feature to have on the SX10 IS and elevates it beyond cheaper models. Indeed it’s one of only three non-DSLRs in Canon’s current lineup to offer the facility – the other two being the flagship PowerShot G10 and the SX1 IS. The SX10 IS and SX1 IS also have an advantage over the G10 when it comes to using external flashes, as their larger grips make holding the camera with a Speedlite mounted much easier. Even large models like the top-end Speedlite 580EX II are relatively easy to accommodate.
Canon PowerShot SX10 IS Viewfinder
Like most super-zoom cameras, the Canon PowerShot SX10 IS is equipped with an electronic viewfinder (EVF) as an alternative means of composition to the main screen on the back. Like other EVFs, you’ll see exactly the same information and graphics as you would on the main screen, including framing guides, the live histogram, shooting details and even the menu pages, along with a 100% view of the image itself.
The EVFs on the SX10 IS and its arch rival the Panasonic FZ28 share the same 201.6k dot resolution, but in use they look quite different. Canon’s used a 0.44in type, which looks much larger than the 0.2in type on the FZ28. Canon’s EVF fills your view, whereas the FZ28 looks like you’re peering down a tunnel.
Since both EVFs share the same detail though, Canon’s larger view suffers from a coarser appearance. While the FZ28’s forms a more cohesive image, you can easily see the viewfinder pixels on the SX10 IS. Again it’s a case of swings and roundabouts though and which is better boils down to your own personal preference. The apparent size of the SX10 IS’s viewfinder is certainly impressive though.
A quick note on battery power – you may think using the EVF will extend your battery life, but Canon estimates a mere 3% more shots compared to exclusively using the screen. The EVF is however easier to use in direct sunlight and also more natural to use when framing at very long focal lengths.
Canon PowerShot SX10 IS Screen and menus
The Canon PowerShot SX10 IS is equipped with a fully articulated 2.5in monitor with 230k pixels. Like its predecessor, this allows you to twist the monitor to almost angle, including facing the subject and back on itself for protection.
This is an undoubted highlight of the SX10 IS, giving you enormous creative flexibility when it comes to shooting at high or low angles, and the mounting itself feels very solid and secure. An articulated screen has also become a rarity in Canon’s range, with only the SX10 IS and it’s CMOS-equipped counterpart the SX1 IS offering the facility.
The screen itself sports a slightly higher resolution than the 207k monitor on its predecessor, but in terms of quality it’s not as impressive as the screens on Canon’s other premium models. It’s lacking the vibrancy, viewing angle and visibility in direct sunlight of models like the IXUS 870IS / SD 880IS and G10, not to mention their larger size, and in the case of the G10, also the higher resolution.
Of course with a fully articulated monitor, the viewing angle becomes less of an issue, but compared side-by-side with these other models, the SX10 IS’s screen just doesn’t have the same impact. So we have mixed feelings here: the articulated nature is fantastic, but the actual quality of the panel is slightly disappointing. Don’t get us wrong – it’s not actually bad, but it just doesn’t look as good as the best models in Canon’s 2008 range, although again none of them flip-out.
Pressing the DISP button while shooting cycles between two viewing modes for the screen, followed by two for the EVF; when the screen is on, the EVF is off and vice versa. If the screen is folded back on itself, the DISP button sensibly only switches between the two EVF modes.
Like the G10, you can use a Custom Display menu to choose what you’d like to see in each of the four modes. You start with a clean view of the image and can choose to add any combination of shooting details, an alignment grid, a live histogram and or 3:2 guides. It’s possible to customise these graphics on the screen and EVF separately.
Also inherited from the G10 is a smart piece of graphic design where the current aperture or shutter are not just shown numerically, but additionally on a scrolling scale which reveals the settings on either side. For example in aperture priority mode, if you select f5.6, you’ll see f4.0 to the left and f8.0 on the right in the graphical scale, with marks for the third-stop increments between them.
This is used to particularly good effect during auto-exposure AE lock, where scales are shown for both the aperture and shutter speed. As you turn the thumb wheel, the scales indicate what alternative shutter and aperture combinations could maintain the desired exposure. So if you locked the exposure with the camera reading, say, f5.6 and 1/60, the scales would show you could alternatively head in one direction for f8 matched with 1/30, or go the other way for f4 matched with 1/120. In practice it’s a very quick and intuitive way to see what exposure options are available.
The PowerShot SX10 IS has also inherited the useful Function menu system of its predecessor and other Canon compacts, providing quick and easy access to common settings. Pressing the FUNC SET button overlays a list of options running vertically down the left side of the screen which you can select using the up and down buttons. The currently selected item reveals its available settings in a horizontal line at the bottom of the screen and you can use the left and right buttons or the thumb wheel to adjust them.
In P, A, S or M Modes for example, the options running vertically consist of White Balance, ‘My Colours’ options, Bracketing (for both exposure and focus), Flash Compensation, Metering, Movie quality and still photo resolution. It’s a really quick and easy way to make adjustments to these settings.
Pressing the MENU button presents four tabs for recording options, setup, custom options and the configurable My Menu.
During Playback, pressing the DISP button cycles between a clean full view, a full view with basic file information, a thumbnail view accompanied by a brightness histogram and full exposure details, and finally a focus confirmation option which shows two thumbnails, one of the entire frame, and a second showing the active focus area enlarged.
This last option comes into its own when you’re viewing photos taken with face detection as it allows you to quickly cycle-through close-ups of people’s faces to check for focus, red eyes or blinking.
Pressing the SX10 IS’s Menu while in playback presents a number of options for adjusting images including a red-eye correction mode. This uses face detection to frame the eyes of the subjects on your photos. You can then choose which frames to apply correction to and also whether you’d like the result to overwrite the original or create a new file.
The SX10 IS also uses its orientation sensor to flip images by 90 degrees during playback if you physically turn the camera. This can be handy for viewing portrait aspect images full-screen. The thumb wheel on the back of the camera can also be used to quickly scroll through thumbnails, although again the smooth stepless motion while turning it provides less tactile feedback than the G10 or IXUS 870IS / SD 880IS.
From the Playback menus you can also access the SX10 IS’s built-in Sound Recorder. Audio is captured in stereo with 16 bit resolution, at sampling rates of 11.025, 22.050 or 44.100 KHz for up to two hours per file. You can also set a wind filter and adjust the recording level for all audio capture. It’s a useful facility for taking spoken notes or even conducting an interview, although slightly odd to find it with the camera set to play rather than record. The sound quality is very good and also exploits the camera’s built-in stereo microphones, although their close proximity to each other and forward-facing positions means you only experience subtle stereo pans.
Canon PowerShot SX10 IS Battery and connectivity
Like its predecessor, the PowerShot SX10 IS is powered by four AA batteries. Canon supplies a set of four disposable Alkalines to get you started, but you’ll want to invest in a decent set of rechargeables if you don’t already own any.
AA batteries of course have pros and cons. On the upside, they’re readily available pretty much anywhere, which is handy if you find yourself out of power in a remote location. On the downside, they’re bigger and heavier than most Lithium Ion packs, and in most cases, you’ll also have to supply your own rechargeables and a charger.
Under CIPA conditions, Canon estimates you’ll get up to 340 shots with the supplied Alkalines or 600 with a set of decent 2500mAh NiMH rechargeables when using the screen; switching to the EVF sees these figures increase to 350 and 620 images respectively. All are a big improvement over the earlier S5 IS which only managed 170 shots with Alkalines or 450 with NiMHs.
As before, the batteries are housed in a compartment underneath the camera and like most models which use AAs, the door which holds them in place requires a little pressure to close it. On the S5 IS this could be problematic as the memory card slot was behind the same door and opening it could result in the batteries falling out.
Now on the SX10 IS we’re pleased to report the SD slot has been moved to its own compartment on the side of the camera, eliminating the battery issue, not to mention allowing you to change the card while the camera’s mounted on a tripod. A considerate upgrade Canon, thanks.
As before, two flaps on the right side of the body protect the camera’s ports, but there’s been a change around. The upper door is home to the DC input and AV output, while a separate door alongside is where you’ll find the USB port. Note unlike the optional Component output of Panasonic’s FZ28, there’s no HD connectivity here, although the higher-end SX1 IS model offers an HDMI port.