Canon PowerShot SX40 HS

      In summary

      Canon’s latest ultra-zoom digicam introduces an updated High Sensitivity (HS) CMOS sensor, DiG!C 5 processing, improved image stabilisation and new slow-motion movie effects.Canon’s PowerShot SX40 HS has most of the same features as its predecessor, the PowerShot SX30 IS, which we reviewed in October 2010. However, its price tag is $30 lower, the sensor resolution has been reduced to a more sensible 12 megapixels (effective) and Canon has opted for CMOS technology which, with the new DiG!C 5 image processor, allows the SX40 HS to support Full HD video recording.

      Full review

      Canon’s PowerShot SX40 HS has most of the same features as its predecessor, the PowerShot SX30 IS, which we reviewed in October 2010. However, its price tag is $30 lower, the sensor resolution has been reduced to a more sensible 12 megapixels (effective) and Canon has opted for CMOS technology which, with the new DiG!C 5 image processor, allows the SX40 HS to support Full HD video recording.

      Aside from that, only a few features have changed since we reviewed the SX30 IS. The move to lower resolution, new processor and adoption of back-illuminated CMOS technology is part of Canon’s High Sensitivity (HS) system, which was introduced with the Ixus 300 HS in May 2010.

      Otherwise, the body design, lens, LCD monitor, battery and most controls are unchanged since the SX30 IS. With its SLR-like styling and large hand-grip, the SX40 HS is roughly the same size as an entry-level DSLR camera plus kit lens.

      Front view of the PowerShot SX40 HS with the pop-up flash raised. (Source: Canon.)

      Front view of the PowerShot SX40 HS with the monitor facing forwards. (Source: Canon.)

      The 4.3-150.5mm f/2.7-5.8 zoom lens covers a 35mm equivalent focal length range of 24mm to 840mm. Lens-shift type stabilisation provides up to 4.5 EV of shutter speed advantage and the camera’s automatic ‘intelligent’ image stabilisation system selects the correct stabilisation to use in different shooting situations.

      As in previous SX-series models, autofocusing and zooming are driven by ultrasonic motor (USM) and voice coil (VCM) motor technologies, which provide smooth transitions between focal lengths and fast and quiet autofocusing. Gyro detectors in the lens detect camera movements and send them to a controller that can discriminate between hand-shake and intentional camera movements and make appropriate corrections by moving element in the lens to re-direct the light rays.

      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.

      Two views of the top panel of the PowerShot SX30 IS showing the zoom lens retracted and fully extended. (Source: Canon.)

      The rear panel is unchanged from previous model and still sports a fully-adjustable LCD monitor. Screen resolution remains relatively low, at 230,000 dots. The EVF appears to be similar to the previous model’s.

      The rear panel of the PowerShot SX40 HS with the monitor facing inwards. (Source: Canon.)

      As in the SX30 IS, the battery and memory card share a compartment in the base of the camera. USB/AV-out and HDMI connectors are located under a rubber cover on the right hand side of the camera body.

      The camera comes with a tiny case for the slide-off hot-shoe cap, which is quite difficult to remove. Compatible external flashguns include the Speedlite 580EX II, 430EX II, 320EX, 270EX II and 270EX.

      The camera’s user manual is only supplied in electronic format on the software CD. 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
      Although the physical size of the SX40 HS’s sensor hasn’t changed since the previous model, the reduction in resolution from 14 to 12 megapixels means the photosites are slightly larger. Couple this with backlit CMOS technology and there’s potential for better imaging performance, particularly with higher sensitivity settings. The camera’s sensitivity limit has, sensibly, been kept to ISO 3200.

      In line with the SX series, the SX40 HS can only record still images as JPEGs. Four sizes are provided for each of four aspect ratio settings with only one compression level available. Typical image sizes are shown in the table below

      Aspect Ratio

      Image size






      L (Large)

      4000 x 3000



      M1 (Medium 1)

      2816 x 2112



      M2 (Medium 2)

      1600 x 1200



      S (Small)

      640 x 480




      L (Large)

      4000 x 2664



      M1 (Medium 1)

      2816 x 1880



      M2 (Medium 2)

      1600 x 1064



      S (Small)

      640 x 424




      L (Large)

      4000 x 2248



      M1 (Medium 1)

      2816 x 1584



      M2 (Medium 2)

      1920 x 1080



      S (Small)

      640 x 360




      L (Large)

      2992 x 2992



      M1 (Medium 1)

      2112 x 2112



      M2 (Medium 2)

      1200 x 1200



      S (Small)

      480 x 480



      The new sensor has enabled the SX40 HS to support Full HD video recording at 1920 x 1080 pixels with a frame rate of 24 fps. Two slow motion movie modes have been added, recording at 120 fps with VGA resolution and 240 fps with QVGA (320 x 240 pixels).

      In each case, the maximum clip length is 30 seconds. Clips recorded at 120 fps play back over approximately two minutes, while 240 fps play back over roughly four minutes.

      The maximum size for the HD and 30 fps VGA video clip is 4GB but recording will also stop automatically after 29 minutes and 59 seconds. The table below shows typical recording times at different resolutions.

      Movie quality


      Frame rate

      Capacity with 4GB memory card


      1920 x 1080 pixels

      24 fps

      14 minutes 34 seconds


      1280 x 720 pixels

      30 fps

      20 minutes 43 seconds


      640 x 480 pixels

      43 minutes 43 seconds


      640 x 480 pixels

      120 fps

      30 seconds


      320 x 240 pixels

      240 fps

      30 seconds

      The Movie button on the rear panel is the same as the SX30 IS’s and you can use the optical zoom while recording video clips. 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.

      Most controls remain unchanged, although Canon has applied some restrictions in the P, A, S and M shooting modes to minimise the incidence of image noise in shots. For example, you can only use exposures longer than 1.3 seconds at ISO 100. Try to set an exposure of, say, two seconds at ISO 800 in Tv mode and the camera will default to ISO 100.

      Switch to manual mode and set the ISO to 800 or higher and exposures default to 1.3 seconds and shots may be under-exposed. Noise reduction processing is applied automatically.

      Like the SX30 IS, the SX40 HS, includes a Low Light mode, which records at ISO 2500 but reduces resolution to 1600 x 1200 pixels. There’s also a Handheld Night Scene mode that minimises camera shake and image noise by recording a sequence of shots and combining them in the camera. ISO is boosted to match the shooting conditions.

      These are only two of the 19 scene pre-sets provided in the SX40 HS, an increase of four over the SX30 IS’s complement. New additions include High-speed Burst HQ, Handheld Night Scene, Toy Camera Effect and Monochrome.

      Scene presets individually selectable with the mode dial include Portrait, Landscape and Sports modes, along with the Movie Digest and Fish-eye effects. The rest are located in the Scene sub-menu, which is accessed via the SCN setting on the mode dial.

      The High-speed Burst HQ setting enables the camera to record up to eight frames at full resolution at up to 10.3 frames/second (fps). Focus and exposure are locked on the first frame.
      As in the SX30 IS, the SX40 HS also provides a ‘normal’ continuous shooting mode, which is accessed via the Func./Set button. The drive setting here provides four options: single-frame, continuous, continuous AF and continuous LV. In each case, you can shoot until the memory card is full. The table below shows the differences between the three continuous settings.


      Max. frames/sec.

      What the camera does



      Continuous shooting with focus and exposure set when the shutter is half-pressed.

      Continuous AF


      Continuous with refocusing; the AF frame is centred.

      Continuous LV


      Continuous shooting with the focus locked on position set in manual focus or locked on the first shot.

      The ‘Smart Shutter’ mode includes face and smile detection and causes the camera to shoot when it detects a smile, regardless of whether the shutter button is pressed. This mode also includes a Wink Self-Timer and Face Self-Timer, the former triggering the shutter roughly two seconds after the camera detects a wink and the latter triggering the shutter roughly two seconds after the camera detects a new face.

      The ‘Smart Auto’ mode uses scene detection technology that analyses subject brightness, contrast, colour and distance and selects an appropriate scene type from 32 pre-sets in the camera. Scene detection is also used in Movie mode, although the number of pre-sets is reduced to 21.

      New additions to the Movie effects include iFrame Movie, Super Slow Motion Movie and Movie Digest. iFrame Movie records 1920 x 1080 pixel movies that can be edited with iFrame compatible software or devices. This video format is recommended by Apple and editable with the supplied software.

      The Super Slow Motion Movie options have been covered in the video section above. Movie Digest is a new function that captures two to four seconds of VGA video just before you take each still photo. All these clips are saved as a single movie file at the end of the day and you can view videos made in this mode by selecting the date on which shots were taken.

      Playback and Software
      These are largely unchanged from the previous model and include in-camera corrections for brightness (i-Contrast) and red eyes in flash shots. 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 rotate, re-size and trim images and apply My Colours adjustments.

      With so many functions unchanged, it’s no surprise to find most of the compromises influencing the performance of the PowerShot SX30 IS also affect the performance of the SX40 HS. However, as with the previous model, we feel most snapshooters would be happy with the quality of the photographs we obtained from the review camera.

      Autofocusing was generally very good, although not quite equal to Panasonic’s FZ150, particularly at longer focal lengths and in low-level, low-contrast lighting. Focus tracking during video recordings was also a little jumpy.
      The reduction in sensor resolution has barely affected either normal shooting performance or the results obtained in our Imatest tests. Test shots straight out of the camera appeared slightly sharper than those from the SX30 IS, although they still benefited from a little post-capture unsharp masking.

      Images retained their sharpness at sensitivity settings up to ISO 1600, provided light levels were high enough and flash shots at ISO 3200 were printable at snapshot size. However, Imatest showed a significant drop in resolution at the two highest ISO settings, as shown in the graph below.

      Imatest also showed resolution to be well below expectations for a 12-megapixel camera at the shortest focal length and slightly below expectations at the other focal lengths we were able to test. Lack of space in our testing set-up prevented us from measuring the entire zoom range.

      Slight edge softening was evident at all apertures and focal lengths we tested. We found the lens performed best at the widest aperture (or one stop down) with focal lengths between about 11mm and 42mm. The graph below shows the results of our tests.

      Lateral chromatic aberration was generally lower than we found with the SX30 IS and ranged between the ‘negligible’ and ‘low’ bands. There was no evidence of coloured fringing in test shots of high-contrast subjects. In the graph below, the red line marks the border between ‘negligible’ and ‘low’ CA, the green line separates ‘low’ and ‘moderate’ CA.

      Close-up performance was competent, although at the extreme end of the Macro range, shots were slightly softer than expected. 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.

      Digital zoom shots captured in bright conditions were sharp and less artefact-affected than we normally see but the limited dynamic range of the sensor tended to compromise highlight areas. In low light levels, digital zoom shots were much softer, partly as a result of camera shake which is inevitable with such long focal lengths.

      Contre-jour lighting was handled very well and flare was minimal as long as the light source was prevented from shining directly into the lens. Barrel distortion could be seen 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.

      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 Full HD mode gave the SX40 HS an advantage in video quality over the SX30 IS, which is to be expected, but otherwise clips looked similar in quality and optimal performance only occurred with brightly-lit subjects. Soundtracks were similar to those from the SX30 IS and no wind cut filter is available to suppress wind noise.

      Rolling shutter effects were found in some clips we recorded with the Full HD and HD settings. Autofocusing was generally good but the AF system had trouble keeping up with fast pans and fast-moving subjects. Focus tracking performed well at shorter focal lengths but the system encountered problems towards the longer end of the zoom range.

      The high-speed modes were interesting and more usable than similar files from the Fujifilm X10 we have just reviewed. Although not large enough to fill a typical monitor or TV screen, clips are big enough to be used for basic motion analysis.
      Overall response times were similar to the SX30 IS. The test camera powered up ready for shooting in just under one second and shot-to-shot times averaged two seconds without flash and approximately 2.4 seconds with. On average, it took 3.1 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 High-speed Burst HQ mode recorded 10 shots in just over one second. It took roughly four seconds to process this burst. In the normal continuous shooting mode, 10 Large frames were captured in 3.3 seconds. It took 3.8 seconds to process this burst.

      Buy this camera if:
      – You’re looking for an ultra-zoom digicam that can record widescreen Full HD video with stereo sound.
      – You want good imaging performance with moderately high ISO settings.
      – You want plenty of adjustable controls and effective image stabilisation.
      – You’d enjoy taking very close ‘macro’ shots.
      – You want to shoot slow-motion movies.
      Don’t buy this camera if:
      – You want a pocketable camera.
      – You want to take long exposures at night.
      – 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 100, 1/640 second at f/4.

      150.5mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/640 second at f/5.8.

      Digital zoom; 150.5mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/800 second at f/5.8.
       4.3mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/800 second at f/4.
       Stabilisation test; 150.5mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/40 second at f/5.8.
      Digital zoom; 150.5mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/40 second at f/5.8.
      Macro mode; 4.3mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/1000 second at f/4.
      15-second exposure at ISO 100; 6mm focal length, f/3.2.
      ISO 3200, 1-second exposure; 6mm focal length, f/3.2.
      Flash exposure at ISO 100;19mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/4.5.
      Flash exposure at ISO 800; 19mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/4.5.
      Flash exposure at ISO 3200; 19mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/4.5.
      Av shooting mode; 9mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/640 second at f/3.5.
      Av shooting mode; 9mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/125 second at f/8.
      Backlighting; 10mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/1250 second at f/4.5.
      Backlighting; 4.3mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/1250 second at f/5.
      Still frame capture while recording a video clip; 27mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/160 second at f/4.5.


      P shooting mode; 150.5mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/500 second at f/5.8.

      P shooting mode;15mm focal length, ISO 125, 1/100 second at f/4.

      Auto shooting mode; 63mm focal length, ISO 500, 1/125 second at f/5.
      Still frame from HD video clip recorded at 1920 x 1080 pixels.
      Still frame from HD video clip recorded at 1280 x 720 pixels.
      Still frame from VGA video clip.
      Still frame from high-speed video clip recorded at 240 frames/second.


      Image sensor: 6.16 x 4.62 mm High Sensitivity CMOS sensor with (12.1 megapixels effective)
      Image processor: DiG!C 5
      Lens: 4.3-150.5mm f/2.7-5.8 zoom lens (24-840mm in 35mm format)
      Zoom ratio: Approx. 35 optical, up to 4x digital
      Image formats: Stills – JPEG (EXIF 2.3); Movies – MOV (Image Data: H.264; Audio Data: Linear PCM stereo)
      Image Sizes: Stills – [4:3] 4000 x 3000, 2816 x 2112, 1600 x 1200, 640 x 480; [3:2] 4000 x 2664, 2816 x 1880, 1600 x 1064, 640 x 424; [16:9] 4000 x 2248, 2816 x 1584, 1920 x 1080, 640 x 360; [1:1] 2992 x 2992, 2112 x 2112, 1200 x 1200, 480×480; Movies – Full HD: 1920×1080 24fps, HD: 1280 x 720 30fps, 640 x 480 30fps, iFrame HD: 1280×720 30fps, Super Slow Motion Movie: 640×480 120fps, Miniature effect: 640×480 6fps
      Shutter speed range: 15 to 1/3200 second
      Self-timer: 2 or 10 seconds delay with Custom and Face Self-Timer modes
      Image Stabilisation: Optical (Lens Shift Type), approx 4.5EV
      Exposure Compensation: +/- 2EV in 1/3EV steps
      Focus system/range: TTL Autofocus with Centre, FlexiZone and Tracking AF modes plus Face Detection; range – 5 cm to infinity; macro 0-50 cm
      Exposure metering/control: Evaluative, Centre-weighted average, Spot metering
      Shooting modes: Intelligent Auto (with Scene Detection), P (Program), Tv (Shutter Priority), Av (Aperture Priority), M (Manual), C1 (Custom 1), C2 (Custom 2), Portrait, Landscape, Smart Shutter, High-speed Burst HQ, Handheld Night Scene, Low Light, Beach, Foliage, Snow, Fireworks, Stitch Assist, Fisheye Effect, Miniature Effect, Toy Camera Effect, Monochrome, Super Vivid, Poster Effect, Colour Accent, Colour Swap, Movie, iFrame Movie, Super Slow Motion Movie, Movie Digest
      ISO range: Auto, ISO 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200
      White balance: Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Flash, Custom
      Flash modes/range (ISO auto): Auto, on, off, Slow Synchro; range – 50 cm to 7.0 m; +/- 2EV output adjustment; hot-shoe for Canon EX series Speedlites
      Sequence shooting: Normal: 2.4 frames/sec; High-speed Bust HQ: 10.3 frames /sec
      Storage Media: SD/ SDHC or SDXC memory cards
      Viewfinder: Electronic viewfinder with dioptric adjustment and 5 levels of brightness adjustments (approx 202,000 dots)
      LCD monitor: 2.7-inch TFT colour vari-angle LCD monitor with approx. 230,000 dots
      Power supply: NB-10L rechargeable lithium-ion battery
      Dimensions (wxhxd): 122.9 x 92.4 x 107.7 mm
      Weight: Approx. 557grams (without battery and card)


      RRP: $599

      Rating (out of 10):

      • Build: 8.5
      • Ease of use: 8.3
      • Autofocusing: 8.0
      • Image quality: 8.0
      • Video quality: 8.3
      • OVERALL: 8.3