Canon’s PowerShot SX1 IS is a 10 Megapixel super-zoom camera with a 20x optically-stabilised lens and a 2.8in flip-out screen. Announced in September 2008 alongside the SX10 IS, both cameras jointly replace the best-selling PowerShot S5 IS. The SX1 IS was delayed to the North American market, but eventually released in March 2009 to coincide with a firmware update which equipped the camera with RAW recording facilities.
The PowerShot SX1 IS and SX10 IS share a great deal in common including the same lens, body, and sensor resolution. The main difference is the sensor technology itself, with the SX1 IS becoming Canon’s first non-DSLR to feature a CMOS sensor, which allows it to shoot full resolution images at a much faster continuous speed of 4fps while additionally offering movie recording in the Full HD 1080p format. In contrast, the SX10 IS with its conventional CCD sensor shoots at 1.4fps and records movies at a maximum VGA resolution of 640×480 pixels.
In addition, the SX1 IS swaps the 4:3 shaped screen and viewfinder of the SX10 IS for 16:9 widescreen versions, sports an HDMI port for connecting to HDTVs, and comes supplied with an IR remote for triggering the shutter or controlling playback. Models running firmware 220.127.116.11 onwards also offer RAW recording facilities, and older versions can be updated.
Beyond the sensor type (with its impact on continuous shooting and movies), HDMI port, RAW support, remote control, and the wider screen and viewfinder though, both cameras are essentially the same. The 36-432mm 12x range of the earlier S5 IS has now been replaced with a 28-560mm range that equips the SX1 IS and SX10 IS with both wider and longer coverage. Like S5 IS though, the new zoom employs one of Canon’s quiet USM motors which offers two speeds, the slower of which is virtually inaudible – this in turn allows Canon to enable the optical zoom while filming video.
Both new PowerShots inherit the stereo microphones of the S5 IS along with a dedicated button on the rear to start recording video regardless of the mode you’re in. The image processor has however been updated to the latest DIGIC 4, which on both new models employs the efficient H.264 codec and Quicktime Movie format.
DIGIC 4 also brings improved face detection, a self-timer option which exploits face detection to wait for the photographer to enter the frame, a new Servo AF mode, and i-Contrast which can boost shadow areas in images.
As before images can be composed using an electronic viewfinder or a fully-articulated monitor which can flip and twist to any angle. New to the SX1 IS and SX10 IS over its predecessor though is one of Canon’s thumb wheels on the rear for quick and easy adjustments and scrolling through menus or images in playback.
The earlier PowerShot S5 IS was already a very popular camera, so by almost doubling its optical range to include both wide angle and longer telephoto coverage, the new models promise even more. The SX1 IS then goes beyond what’s offered by the SX10 IS to additionally boast fast continuous shooting, HD movies, RAW recording and an HDMI port.
These are impressive enhancements over what was already a powerful counterpart, but the big questions are how well they work in practice and whether it’s worth spending the extra. The competition haven’t stood still either, and while the new PowerShots feature longer zoom ranges than the earlier S5 IS and Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-FZ28, both Nikon and Olympus out-gun them with 24x and 26x ranges on the SP-590UZ and P90 respectively.
Find out how the PowerShot SX1 IS measures-up, testing its features, performance and optical quality, while directly comparing its images and noise levels against the PowerShot SX10 IS, along with a DSLR for good measure.
So to find out whether it’s worth spending the extra on Canon’s SX1 IS, or if its new CMOS sensor comes with compromises, read on. As always, you can also see a demonstration of the highlights in our Canon PowerShot SX1 IS video tour.
Following our convention of using default factory and best quality JPEG settings to test cameras unless otherwise stated, the PowerShot SX1 IS was set Large SuperFine quality, Auto White Balance, Evaluative Metering and with ‘My Colours’ switched off (the default setting for contrast, saturation and sharpening).
In June 2009, we updated this review with details and results for firmware update which enables RAW recording.
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