A slimline advanced digicam with a retracting 14x optical zoom lens and 720p HD video capability.A year after releasing the PowerShot SX200 IS, Canon has upped the ante with the SX210 IS. Resolution is boosted to 14 megapixels and the zoom lens range is extended from 12x to 14x, but kept its 28mm equivalent wide angle of view. The new camera is offered in black or purple. Aside a few minor cosmetic changes and relocation of some controls, not much else has changed. . . [more]
A year after releasing the PowerShot SX200 IS, Canon has upped the ante with the SX210 IS. Resolution is boosted to 14 megapixels and the zoom lens range is extended from 12x to 14x, but kept its 28mm equivalent wide angle of view. The new camera is offered in black or purple. Aside a few minor cosmetic changes and relocation of some controls, not much else has changed.
The body of the new model is slimmer and 32 grams lighter. Its style is also softened and more curvaceous. The lens barrel is now the same colour as the camera body instead of metallic silver. There have been some minor cosmetic changes to the button controls, largely to enable the body to be made slimmer. No viewfinder is provided.
The zoom lens covers angles of view that range from the equivalent of 28mm to 392mm in 35mm format. It's not particularly fast, with a maximum aperture of f/3.1 at the wide position and f/5.9 for tele. Canon has done a good job of packing the longer lens into the slimmer camera body, although its housing still protrudes about 8 mm out from the front panel when power is off.
Switching the power on extends three inner barrels approximately 25 mm, while zooming in extends all three inner barrels by a further 25 mm until the front of the lens is just under 6 cm from the front body panel. It takes about two seconds to move from wide to tele position and about a second to retract the lens behind its split-flap shield when power is switched off.
Front view of the PowerShot SX210 IS in purple livery with power switched on. (Source: Canon.)
The mode dial has been shifted from the top panel to the top right corner of the rear panel but keeps the same settings, which means it's very crowded. It's also quite stiff to move - which has good and bad aspects. A couple of new modes (Fish-eye and Miniature effects) have been added to the Scene sub-menu but most other settings remain.
Rear view of the PowerShot SX210 IS showing the widescreen LCD monitor and relocated mode dial. (Source: Canon.)
Instead of a lever surrounding the shutter button, the zoom control is now a tiny rocker on the top panel, next to a recessed shutter button that has the same moulding as the top panel itself. The on/off button is so small you have to use the tip of a fingernail to turn the camera on and off.
Top view of the PowerShot SX210 IS, showing the ultra-small controls. (Source: Canon.)
The LCD monitor has the same resolution as the SX200's but it's now a widescreen panel instead of having the standard 4:3 aspect ratio. The other controls on the rear panel are essentially unchanged but having to share space with the mode dial has forced the designers to put them very close together. It's disturbingly easy to switch the camera on in play mode when pulling it out of a camera pouch.
The pop-up flash, which reaches out to 3.5 metres using ISO Auto at the wide-angle lens setting, is the same as in the SX200 IS. It tends to pop up whenever the camera is switched on, regardless of whether the flash has been set to off. It's easy to hold it down with the index finger of your left hand and a tiny catch on the front of the flash allows you to pull it up when needed.
The tripod socket appears to be plastic lined. Fortunately, it's located closer to the lens axis than the SX200's but remains off-centre at about two thirds of the distance from the left side end of the base panel. It overlaps the end of the combined battery and card compartment, which has a tightly-fitting slide-out/lift-up cover that can be tricky to open.
The interface port is in the same place as the SX200's. USB and HDMI ports reside beneath a lift-up cover that's contoured to match body styling and sits just above the wrist strap loop. The camera is supplied with battery and charger, USB and video cables, a wrist strap and a software disk.
The PowerShot SX210 IS plus bundled accessories. (Source: Canon.)
The P, Av, Tv and M shooting modes on the SX210 IS are more than just a token gesture. Unlike some manufacturers who provide only two aperture settings in the Av mode, Canon spans the range in 1/3 EV steps from wide open (which varies with focal length) to f/8. Shutter speeds are also adjustable in 1/3 EV steps from a slow 15 seconds to a reasonably fast 1/3200 second. In manual mode, adjustments are made with the control dial surrounding the arrow pad and you toggle between aperture and shutter speed settings by pressing the top arrow pad button. Very straightforward!
The remaining settings on the mode dial are the same as the SX 200 IS and include Intelligent Auto (with Scene Detection) and Easy settings as well as commonly-used scene pre-sets like Portrait, Landscape, Night Snapshot, Kids & Pets and Indoor. The remaining pre-sets (Smart Shutter, Low Light, Colour Accent, Colour Swap, Fish-eye Effect, Miniature Effect, Beach, Foliage, Snow, Fireworks and Stitch Assist) are in the SCN sub-menu.
As in most Canon digicams, the other controls are split between the Function button and the main menu. The former accesses frequently-used settings like white balance, ISO, resolution/quality, flash output levels, metering patterns, drive modes and My Colour settings. Lack of contrast in these icons can make them difficult to read in bright lighting. The latter controls everything else (including playback and camera set-up) and is easier to read.
As in the SX200 IS, you can allocate one function to an infrequently-used button. However, whereas it was the Direct Print button in the SX200, in the SX210 it's the Movie button - which may not suit some users.
The arrow pad retains the regular Canon settings, with exposure compensation, flash, self-timer and manual focus/macro sub-menus allocated to the four directional buttons and a surrounding dial used for changing selected settings. The review camera required some ‘persuasion' at times to switch from one sub-menu to another instead of jumping between settings in the first sub-menu selected. (Pressing the menu button or half-pressing the shutter button sometimes solved this problem.) The dial wheel is used for manual focusing.
Sensor and Image Processor
The sensor in the SX210 IS is a ‘1/2.3-inch' type CCD chip that measures 6.16 x 4.62 mm. It appears to be the same sensor as used in the Ixus 210 IS, which we reviewed in March. Packing 14.5 million photosites onto this area gives you a pixel pitch of just under 1.43 microns, which means each tiny photosite will be struggling for signal in dim lighting - as we found in our Imatest testing (see below).
Like the Ixus 210 IS, the top ISO setting is 1600 to minimise the influence of high-sensitivity noise. The SX210 IS also sports the same DiG!C 4 image processor and 'Intelligent Auto' technology as its predecessor, which accounts for the Smart Auto setting and new scene pre-sets.
The SX210 IS only records still images as JPEGs, offering six image size settings (including one 16:9 'widescreen' option), each at Fine or Normal compression. Image size and compression are adjustable via the Function/Set menu. Compression levels are standard across the Ixus range, yielding the image sizes shown in the table below.
Number of recordable images
4320 x 3240
3456 x 2592
2592 x 1944
1600 x 1200
640 x 480
4320 x 2432
As in the SX200 IS, video clips can be recorded in 720p quality (not Full High Definition but, at 1280x720 pixels, good enough to display on a widescreen HD TV set). However, they come with stereo soundtracks, whereas the previous model was monaural. A frame rate of 30 frames/second (actually 29.97 fps) ensures smooth capture of moving subjects and use of the H.264 video compression standard provides greater recording times for memory capacities. Typical recording capacities are shown in the table below.
Capacity with 4GB card
Maximum clip length
1280 x 720
20 minutes 43 seconds
29 minutes 59 seconds
640 x 480
43 minutes 43 seconds
320 x 240
1 hour, 58 min. 19 sec.
Recording stops automatically when the clips file is 4GB in size. Class 4 or faster SD or SDHC cards are recommended for video recording. The camera also supports the new SDXC cards. Although you can use the optical zoom and digital zoom while shooting video clips, the sound of the zoom motor may be recorded.
Playback and Software
The SX210 IS supports the expected range of playback modes for a new Canon digicam. Available settings include Red-eye Correction, Slideshow, My Colours, My Category, Index, Trimming, Resize, Easy, Filtered Playback, Smart Shuffle, Intelligent Contrast Correction, Image Inspection Tool, Advancing and Reversing through magnified images, Jump, Auto Rotate, Rotate, Histogram, Overexposure Warning and Resume Playback. Direct printing is also supported.
The software bundle is Canon Digital Camera solution Disk Ver. 64.0. It includes the latest versions of standard applications like ZoomBrowser EX (Windows), ImageBrowser (Macintosh) and PhotoStitch plus PDF versions of the Camera User Guide, Software Guide and Personal Printing Guide. We've covered these applications in previous reviews of Canon cameras.
Not surprisingly, many performance aspects of the SX210 IS were similar to its predecessor. The AF and AE systems proved effective under most shooting conditions. For a contrast-based system, focusing was fast and accurate, even in very low light levels, thanks to the powerful AF-assist lamp. The camera also showed little tendency to hunt in dim lighting.
Unfortunately, shots taken with the review camera were significantly more contrasty and more saturated than similar shots taken with the SX200 IS in March (when the sun was bright and higher in the sky and ambient lighting was generally harsher). Unless the exposure compensation was set to -0.3EV, highlight detail was frequently lost and near-black shadows were common, even when no exposure compensation was applied.
Colour saturation was also elevated, particularly for reds and some blues. Imatest confirmed our subjective assessments and showed significant shifts in cyan and, to a lesser degree, magenta. Skin hues were also slightly off the mark.
Overall resolution was slightly below expectations at best - and well below at worst in our Imatest tests. In fact, the highest resolution new obtained in tests on the SX210 IS was not quite as high as the best results we obtained from the SX200 IS.
Fortunately, the overall performance of the lens was better than the SX200's lens at smaller aperture settings. However, edge softening was greater at the widest angle of view with the widest apertures (where resolution was highest) although it had reduced substantially by mid-way through the zoom range. The graph below shows the results of our Imatest tests.
One disappointing feature of the SX210's lens was the degree to which it was affected by lateral chromatic aberration. In our Imatest tests, CA was severe for both the longest and shortest focal length settings and moderate for most other focal lengths. Only the 19.1mm focal length delivered results that remained within the ‘low' CA band in our tests.
Our Imatest findings were confirmed in test shots, which showed purple, red and green fringing along the edges of areas with different contrast. In the graph below, the red line marks the boundary between negligible and low CA and the green line separates low from moderate. All values above the pink line represent serious lateral chromatic aberration.
Resolution remained relatively high from ISO 80 to ISO 200 (inclusive) but began to decline at ISO 400 and plunged steeply at ISO 800 and 1600. (We would not recommend using either setting if slower ISO settings could be used.) The graph below shows the results of our Imatest tests.
Low-light performance was better for flash shots than for long exposures. With the latter, it remained above average between ISO 80 and 400. With flash, noise was barely visible at ISO 800. From this point, image noise became increasingly visible and by ISO 1600, images were soft, even when flash was used. Colour accuracy was also compromised in long exposures.
The auto white balance failed to eliminate the orange cast of incandescent lighting and but delivered close-to-neutral colours under fluorescent lights. With both types of lighting, the pre-sets provided good colour correction, while manual measurement rendered white areas as white.
Autofocusing slowed somewhat when the camera was switched to movie mode. Although the camera was able to re-focus on moving subjects we measured a second or two of blurring between the intervals of sharpness. Exposure levels sometimes varied at the same time. Otherwise, video quality from the review camera was well above average - but not outstanding. However, the stereo soundtracks had excellent ‘presence' when you consider the size of the microphones and their location on the camera - both of which would make separating the tracks quite difficult.
We measured an average capture lag of 0.5 seconds, which reduced to a consistent 0.1 seconds with pre-focusing. Shot-to-shot times averaged 2.6 seconds. It took 3.1 seconds, on average to process each Large/Fine JPEG image.
The continuous shooting mode recorded 10 shots in 9.9 seconds, which is considerably faster than claimed in the specifications. Processing was completed within 2.5 seconds of the last shot captured, indicating it takes place on-the-fly. Battery life also appeared to be very good, with a single charge lasting for the entire testing period, which involved more than 200 shots.
Buy this camera if:
- You're looking for a well-built, long-zoom digicam for travelling.
- You'd enjoy plenty of user-adjustable controls and image stabilisation.
- You want to shoot widescreen high-definition video clips with stereos soundtracks and are happy with 720p resolution.
- You're happy to use the monitor for shot composition.
Don't buy this camera if:
- You want to shoot raw files (the SX210 IS is restricted to JPEG capture).
- You require fast response times.
(The above graph is the best result we obtained in our tests.)
Auto white balance with incandescent lighting.
Auto white balance with fluorescent lighting.
Close-up; 5mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/80 second at f/3.1.
Close-up; 10mm focal length, ISO 1200, 1/159 second at f/4.
5mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/1244 second at f/4.
70mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/1244 second at f/5.9.
2.1x digital zoom; 70mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/1002 second at f/5.9.
5mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/403 second at f/5.
100% crop from the above image showing coloured fringing.
70mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/50 second at f/5.9.
Crop from 50% enlargement of the above image showing coloured fringing.
ISO 200, 15 second exposure at f/3.1; 8.6mm focal length.
ISO 800, 8 second exposure at f/4.5; 8.6mm focal length.
ISO 1600, 8 second exposure at f/5.6; 8.6mm focal length.
Flash exposure; ISO 100, 1/60 second at f/5; 32.5mm focal length.
Flash exposure; ISO 800, 1/60 second at f/5; 32.5mm focal length.
Flash exposure; ISO 1600, 1/60 second at f/5; 32.5mm focal length.
An example of the AF system's ability to focus on subjects in motion; 8.8mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/202 second at f/4.
Still frame from video clip at maximum resolution; bright outdoor lighting.
Still frame from video clip at maximum resolution; indoor lighting.
Still frame from video clip at VGA resolution.
Image sensor: 6.16 x 4.62 mm CCD sensor with approximately 14.5 million photosites (14.1 megapixels effective)
Lens: 5-70mm f/3.1-5.9 zoom lens (28-392mm in 35mm format)
Zoom ratio: 14x optical, 4x digital
Image formats: Stills - JPEG (Exif 2.2); Movies - MOV (H.264/Linear PCM Stereo)
Image Sizes: Stills - 4320 x 3240, 3456 x 2592, 2592 x 1944, 1600 x 1200, 640 x 480, 4320 x 2432; Movies - 1280 x 720, 640 x 480, 320 x 240 all at 30 fps
Shutter speed range: 15-1/3200 seconds
Self-timer: 2 or 10 second delay
Image Stabilisation: Lens-shift type
Exposure Compensation: +/- 2 EV in 1/3 EV increments
Focus system/range: Contrast-based AF with Face Detection; range 5 cm to infinity; Macro to 5 cm
Exposure metering/control: Evaluative, Centre-weighted and spot metering
Shooting modes: M, Av, Tv, P, Auto, Easy, Portrait, Landscape, Night Snapshot, Kids & Pets, Indoor, SCN (Smart Shutter, Low Light, Colour Accent, Colour Swap, Fish0eye Effect, Miniature Effect, Beach, Foliage, Snow, Fireworks, Stitch Assist) Movie
ISO range: Auto, ISO 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600
White balance: Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten. Fluorescent (x2), Custom
Flash modes/range (ISO auto): Auto, On, Off, Slow-synchro; range 0.75-3.5 metres
Sequence shooting: Approx. 0.7 frames/second (max.)
Storage Media: SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards
LCD monitor: 3-inch PureColor LCD II with approx 230,000 dots
Power supply: NB-5L rechargeable lithium ion battery; CIPA rated for approx. 260 shots/charge
Dimensions (wxhxd): 105.8 x 59.3 x 31.9 mm
Weight: Approx. 188 grams (without battery and card)
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Rating (out of 10):
- Build: 8.5
- Ease of use: 8.5
- Autofocusing: 9.0
- Image quality Stills: 7.5
- Image quality Video: 8.5
- OVERALL: 8.5