A new Canon super-zoom digicam with a stabilised 35x zoom lens, full manual controls and 720p HD movie recording.The PowerShot SX30 IS replaces the year-old SX20 IS at the top of Canon's super-zoom line-up but is $120 cheaper than its predecessor was at launch. Its 35x zoom lens is a significant step-up from the predecessor's 20x zoom and resolution has been increased from 12.1 to 14.1 megapixels. Otherwise, most of the differences between the two cameras are more cosmetic than functional. . . [more]
The PowerShot SX30 IS replaces the year-old SX20 IS at the top of Canon's super-zoom line-up but is $120 cheaper than its predecessor was at launch. Its 35x zoom lens is a significant step-up from the predecessor's 20x zoom and resolution has been increased from 12.1 to 14.1 megapixels. Otherwise, most of the differences between the two cameras are more cosmetic than functional.
With its SLR-like styling and large hand-grip, the SX30 IS could appeal to photo enthusiasts who want a cheaper, more compact camera for travelling. Family photographers with children involved in sport could find it great for everyday use. It may also appeal to wildlife photographers looking for a light, all-in-one camera.
Like its predecessors, the SX30 IS is large and chunky for a compact digicam. Its black plastic body is solidly constructed and marginally smaller and lighter than the SX20 IS thanks to the replacement of the four AA batteries by a compact, rechargeable lithium-ion battery. At 122.9 x 92.4 x 107.7 mm it's close to the dimensions of a smaller, entry-level DSLR camera (which may be preferable if high image quality is more important than the convenience of a long-zoom digicam).
Front view of the PowerShot SX30 IS with the lens at 4.3mm. (Source: Canon.)
The grip is slightly squarer than the earlier model, placing the shutter button on the top panel instead of between the top and front of the camera. The zoom lever still surrounds the shutter button as on previous models. The dual microphone grilles have been tucked up under the flash mounting, where you're unlikely to cover them with a fingertip.
Rear view of the PowerShot SX30 IS showing the vari-angle monitor. (Source: Canon.)
The monitor display in Func. mode showing resolution settings.
Changes to the rear panel are small and insignificant. The LCD monitor is slightly larger but its resolution remains at 230,000 dots, which is low for a modern advanced camera. The buttons on the top right corner are aligned vertically, rather than in an arc but access the same functions.
The top panel of the PowerShot SX30 IS with the zoom lens fully extended.
The layout of the top panel is also unchanged from previous models in the SX series. A second Custom memory mode has been added to the mode dial, which is now tighter and less likely to be re-set accidentally. The hot shoe on the flash housing has a new cover that integrates it more closely into the camera body.
The EVF appears to be similar to the previous model's, although with slightly lower resolution, although whether you'd notice much difference is debatable. It's slightly granular but reasonably bright and has the advantage of displaying the same information as the monitor display.
There's no button for switching between the monitor and EVF. Instead, the camera automatically selects the monitor when the LCD faces out and the EVF when the monitor faces in. If you want to use the EVF when the monitor is turned out you must toggle it on with the Display button.
Superficially, the 4.3-150.5mm f/2.7-5.8 zoom lens is similar to the zooms on previous models. Comprising 13 elements in 10 groups, it includes one Hi-UD element and one UD element to reduce chromatic aberration while enabling a compact design, in a similar fashion to Canon's professional broadcast lenses. A double-sided aspherical element is also included.
The lens retracts into the camera body when power is switched off and extends 60 mm when zoomed in to the 150.5 mm setting (the equivalent of 840mm in 35mm format). Eight focal length settings in 35mm equivalents are stamped on the inner (extending) barrel.
As in previous SX-series models, autofocusing and zoomign are driven by the same ultrasonic motor (USM) and voice coil (VCM) motor technologies as Canon's DSLR lenses. A Zoom Framing Assist function makes it easier for photographers to re-acquire a subject at high zoom ratios. Pressing the relevant button zooms out to a pre-set position and shows the original frame as a rectangle superimposed on the scene. Once the subject is re-framed within this rectangle, the photographer can release the button to zoom back in again.
Canon claims the optical image stabilisation system in the SX30 IS can reduce potential camera shake by up to 4.5 f-stops. It uses gyro detectors to pick up camera movements and send them to a single-chip IS controller, which can discriminate between hand-shake and intentional camera movements. This controller adjusts an element in the lens to re-direct the light rays and counteract the detected camera shift.
The card slot on the side panel of the SX20 IS has been moved back into the battery compartment in the SX30 IS, its place being taken by the USB and HDMI connectors, which lie under a rubber cover. The NB-7L rechargeable lithium-ion battery is CIPA rated for approximately 400 shots/charge when the EVF is used for shot composition or 370 shots/charge with the monitor.
The user manual for the SX30 IS is only supplied in electronic format on the software CD so if you need to refer to it you must have a computer handy. A brief ‘Getting Started' guide in print form is provided, but it will only be relevant to total novices who shoot only with the Full Auto mode.
Sensor and Image Processing
The sensor used in the SX30 IS is a standard 1/2.3-inch type (6.16 x 4.62 mm) CCD chip with a total of 14.5 million photosites and an effective resolution of 14.1 megapixels. It's coupled to a DiG!C 4 image processor, which manages all the camera's primary functions and underpins the automated shooting modes.
Unlike its predecessor, the SX30 IS's normal sensitivity settings range from ISO 80 to ISO 1600. Whereas the highest setting on the SX20 IS, ISO 3200, was only available as a Scene pre-set, the new model features a Low Light pre-set that records at ISO 2500 but reduces resolution to 1600 x 1200 pixels.
In line with the SX series, the SX30 IS can only record still images as JPEGs. Five sizes and two compression ratios are provided, including an option to shoot widescreen pictures with a 16:9 aspect ratio. Typical image sizes are shown in the table below
4320 x 3240
M1 (Medium 1)
3072 x 2304
M2 (Medium 2)
1600 x 1200
640 x 480
3744 x 2104
Like the SX20 IS, the SX30 IS can record High Definition (1280x720) movies at 30 frames/second with stereo sound. Use of the H.264 video compression standard provides good video quality while providing relatively long recording times. Typical recording capacities are shown in the table below.
Capacity with 4GB memory card
Max. recording time
1280 x 720 pixels
20 minutes 43 seconds
29 minutes 59 seconds
640 x 480 pixels
43 minutes 43 seconds
320 x 240 pixels
1 hour 58 minutes 19 seconds
The prominent Movie button on the rear panel lets you start and stop movie recording from any shooting mode. You can use the optical zoom while recording video clips and autofocusing will continues while video is being captured. The camera will also adjust exposure levels and white balance, if required. Face detection also engages automatically.
You can capture still images while shooting a video clip by simply pressing the shutter button. Focus and exposure will be adjusted, although no beep will sound to indicate the shot is in focus. The shutter sound and black screen that marks the still capture is recorded in the video clip.
Like previous models, the SX30 IS provides a number of settings to assist novice users. The Smart Auto mode uses scene detection technology that analyses subject brightness, contrast, colour and distance and selects an appropriate scene type from 28 pre-sets in the camera.
Scene presets are also individually selectable with the mode dial including Portrait, Landscape and Sports modes plus a Scene sub-menu with settings for Low Light, Beach, Foliage, Snow and Fireworks. You can apply special effects like Super Vivid and Poster Effect to shots as they are recorded and replicate Fish-eye and Miniature effects.
The distortion in the Fish-eye effect is adjustable across three levels ranging between fairly mild and quite emphatic. The Miniature setting lets you select a narrow band in the image to render in-focus while the remainder of the scene is blurred. The SX30 IS also supports that regular Color Accent, Colour Swap and Stitch Assist functions.
Face Detection AF and AE is supported and you can set the camera to release the shutter when a smile or wink is detected. The Wink Self-timer will release the shutter roughly two seconds after a wink is detected. The Face Self-timer fires the shutter about two seconds after a new face is detected in the frame. The regular two- and ten-second delays are also provided.
Focus tracking is enabled by switching the Servo AF function on in the main menu and the camera will adjust both focus and exposure as it tracks moving subjects.
Four image stabiliser modes are supported. Continuous works all the time and includes an automatic Dynamic IS mode that has been adapted from Canon's camcorders and counteracts the effects of the photographer's movements. It is useful when you want to shoot movies while walking and when panning to follow action.
You can also select Shoot Only and have stabilisation take effect only when the shutter button is pressed. The Panning setting is designed for panning while shooting stills. Stabilisation can also be switched off if you're using a tripod to steady the camera.
Flash exposures are also automatically controlled using focusing distance and scene information. At close distances subject reflectivity is taken into account to avoid over-exposure. Users can also adjust flash output by +/- 2EV in 1/3EV steps.
Playback and Software
These are largely unchanged from the previous model. Click HERE to access the SX20 IS review. Unlike Canon's DSLR cameras, the SX-series models do not allow the Fish-eye and Miniature effects to be applied to images in playback mode. However, you can apply i-Contrast and My Colours adjustments.
When you design an extended zoom lens many compromises are required to support a wide range of focal lengths without making the lens too large and heavy. Speed is sacrificed, particularly at longer focal length settings and it can be difficult to produce a lens that is relatively free of aberrations. Taking this into account, Canon's designers have done a pretty good job with the SX30 IS's optics.
Despite a few technical issues (outlined below), we feel most snapshooters would be happy with the quality of the photographs we obtained from the review camera. Image files were generally clean and colour-accurate for most test shots. Exposures were well positioned, although highlight and shadow details were occasionally lost in contrasty shooting conditions.
Images were slightly soft straight out of the camera with the default settings - and there are no in-camera sharpening adjustments so you'll have to rely on post-capture editing (which we found quite effective). This softening was confirmed by Imatest, which revealed substantial undersharpening in all test shots.
Imatest showed resolution to be slightly below expectations for a 14-megapixel camera. It also revealed slight edge softening at shorter focal lengths. We found the lens performed best at the widest aperture (or one stop down) with focal lengths between about 13mm and 50mm. Lack of space in our testing set-up prevented us from measuring the entire zoom range. The graph below shows the results of our tests.
Resolution was highest at ISO 80 and ISO 100 and, not unexpectedly, there was little difference between them. From there a slow decline in resolution began, with a sharp drop at ISO 800 and another at ISO 1600. The graph below shows the results of our Imatest tests.
The first signs of noise appeared at ISO 400 in long exposures. By ISO 800, noise was obvious in long exposures, although barely visible in flash exposures. At ISO 1600, image softening was evident in both long exposures and flash shots. However, on the whole noise was relatively well controlled and not nearly as visible as we commonly see in high-ISO shots from small sensor digicams.
Imatest showed colour accuracy to be generally very good, with only a few colour shifts and well-controlled saturation. Light skin hues were shifted to slightly warmer than natural levels. Slightly larger shifts were seen in cyan and blue hues.
Lateral chromatic aberration was mainly in the ‘low' and ‘moderate' bands with occasional excursions into the ‘severe' band at the ends of the 4.3mm focal length setting. In the graph below, the red line marks the border between ‘negligible' and ‘low' CA, the green line separates ‘low' and ‘moderate' and the pink line marks the edge of the ‘serious' band.
Many test shots showed evidence of purple and green fringing, particularly towards the edges of the frame in shots of high-contrast subjects. Shots taken at wider focal lengths also showed some evidence of edge and corner softening. Whether these issues would concern typical purchasers of this camera is debatable, since they only became obvious when shots were magnified.
Close-up performance was competent, although the camera's ‘zero macro' setting tended to produce even softer images than the normal settings. However, the camera will focus on subjects that almost touch the front element of the lens in this mode - but only at the widest setting. At full zoom extension, the minimum focusing distance is around 1.5 metres.
Barrel distortion was obvious in wide-angle shots but became negligible at a focal length of around 15mm. Very slight pincushioning could be detected at the 50mm focal length setting. Digital zoom shots were sharp and less artefact-affected than we normally see but the limited dynamic range of the sensor tended to compromise highlight areas.
Video quality was slightly better than the SX20 IS, particularly with the VGA and QVGA resolutions. Soundtracks were clean and crisp - provided recordings were made in fairly wind-free conditions.
The auto white balance failed to eliminate the orange cast of incandescent lighting but produced close-to-neutral colours under fluorescent lights. The pre-sets successfully removed the inherent colour casts of both types of lighting, delivering a neutral colour balance. Manual measurement produced similar results.
The review camera handled normal backlighting quite well but it was easy to force the lens to flare at the wide-angle setting, even when the sun was outside of the field of view. Photographers who enjoy taking contre-jour shots may find it useful to invest in the optional LH-DC60 lens hood, which retails for $35.
Overall response times were slightly slower than for the SX20 IS, doubtless because image files are larger. The test camera powered up ready for shooting in approximately 1.1 seconds and shot-to-shot times averaged 1.6 seconds without flash and approximately 2.2 seconds with. On average, it took 3.8 seconds to process each image file.
We measured an average capture lag of 0.5 seconds, which was reduced to 0.15 seconds when shots were pre-focused. The continuous shooting mode recorded 10 shots in 13.3seconds. Image processing appears to be on-the-fly since processing of this burst was completed after roughly four seconds.
Buy this camera if:
- You're looking for an ultra-zoom digicam that can record widescreen high-definition video with stereo sound.
- You want plenty of adjustable controls and effective image stabilisation.
- You'd enjoy taking very close ‘macro' shots.
Don't buy this camera if:
- You want a pocketable camera.
- You prefer shooting raw files as well as JPEGs and RAW+JPEG pairs.
- You need a camera that can record a wide dynamic range in outdoor shots.
Auto white balance with incandescent lighting.
Auto white balance with fluorescent lighting.
4.3mm focal length, ISO 80, 1/636 second at f/4.
150.5mm focal length, ISO 80, 1/501 second at f/5.8.
Close-up; 150.5mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/60 second at f/5.8.
‘Zero macro' mode; 4.3mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/25 second at f/2.7.
ISO 100, 15 second exposure at f/2.8; 6.6mm focal length.
ISO 400, 15 second exposure at f/3.2; 6.6mm focal length.
ISO 800, 15 second exposure at f/4; 6.6mm focal length.
ISO 1600, 15 second exposure at f/5.6; 6.6mm focal length.
Flash exposure; 33.2mm focal length. ISO 80, 1/60 second at f/4.5.
Flash exposure; 33.2mm focal length. ISO 400, 1/60 second at f/4.5.
Flash exposure; 33.2mm focal length. ISO 800, 1/60 second at f/4.5.
Flash exposure; 33.2mm focal length. ISO 1600, 1/60 second at f/4.5.
4.3mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/501 second at f/4.
Coloured fringing in a crop from the above image, enlarged to 100%.
150.5mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/251 second at f/5.8.
Coloured fringing in a crop from the above image, enlarged to 100%.
Normal backlighting. 7.1mm focal length, ISO 400, 1/2004 second at f/8.
Flare: 4.5mm focal length, ISO 80, 1/403 second at f/4.
Skin tones; 150.5mm focal length, ISO 400, 1/1002 second at f/5.8.
14.0mm focal length, ISO 400, 1/1244 second at f/5.6.
28.3mm focal length, ISO 400, 1/1244 second at f/8.
4.3mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/807 second at f/4.
The Fish-eye effect; 7.1mm focal length, ISO 80, 1/1244 second at f/4.
The Miniature effect; 4.3mm focal length, ISO 80, 1/1002 second at f/4.
Still frame from HD video clip, showing the camera's limited dynamic range in contrasty lighting.
Still frame from HD video clip recorded in softer and more even lighting with the lens zoomed in.
Still frame from VGA video clip.
Still frame from QVGA video clip.
Image sensor: 6.16 x 4.62 mm CCD with 14.5 million photosites (14.1 megapixels effective)
Lens: 4.3-150.5mm f/2.7-5.8 zoom lens (24-840mm in 35mm format)
Zoom ratio: 35x optical, 4x digital
Image formats: Stills - JPEG (Exif 2.3); Movies - MOV (H.264/Linear PCM Stereo)
Image Sizes: Stills - 4320 x 3240, 3744 x 2104, 3072 x 2304, 1600 x 1200, 640 x 480; Movies - 1280 x 720, 640 x 480, 320 x 240, all at 30 fps
Shutter speed range: 15 - 1/3200 second
Self-timer: 2 or 10 seconds delay plus Custom and Face self-timer
Image Stabilisation: Lens-shift type
Exposure Compensation: +/- 2EV in 1/3EV steps
Focus system/range: TTL AF with single, continuous, servo AF modes plus manual focus; range 0 cm to infinity; Macro - 0-50 cm
Exposure metering/control: Evaluative, Centre-weighted average, Spot metering
Shooting modes: Auto, P, Tv, Av, M, C1, C2, Portrait, Landscape, Sports, SCN (14 presets), Movie
ISO range: Auto, ISO 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600
White balance: Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent (x2), Flash, Custom
Flash modes/range (ISO auto): Auto, On, Slow synchro, Off; range 0.5 to 5.8 metres
Sequence shooting: 1.3 frames/second in P mode, 3.6 frames/second in Low Light mode
Storage Media: SD, SDHC, SDXC, MMC cards
Viewfinder: 2.7-inch vari-angle colour LCD with wide viewing angle, 230,000 dots
LCD monitor: EVF with 202,000 dots, 5-level brightness adjustment, dioptric adjustment
Power supply: NB-7L rechargeable lithium-ion battery; CIPA rated for approx. 400 shots/charge (viewfinder) or 370 shots/charge (LCD monitor)
Dimensions (wxhxd): 122.9 x 92.4 x 107.7 mm
Weight: 552 grams (without battery and card)
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Rating (out of 10):
- Build: 8.5
- Ease of use: 8.5
- Autofocusing: 8.0
- Image quality: Stills - 8.0; Video - 8.5
- OVERALL: 8.5