Canon PowerShot SX70 HS
Canon’s latest super-zoom camera features a new 20.3-megapixel sensor and DIGIC 8 processor, upgraded EVF and support for Canon’s CR3 Raw format plus 4K 25p video.
Like many consumer-orientated cameras the SX70 has a few limitations for serious photographers, but the target market for this camera is snapshooters who require an all-in-one unit that can cover virtually any shooting situation but is compact and light enough to take anywhere. As such, the SX70 HS provides a powerful set of controls in a compact and lightweight package.
This makes it a good choice for travellers, holiday makers, families and anyone who doesn’t want to change lenses and will only view their shots on computer or TV screens.
Announced in September 2018, Canon’s PowerShot SX70 HS is an upgrade to the PowerShot SX60 HS, which was released in September 2014. Retaining the some 65x optical zoom lens (21-1365mm equivalent in 35mm format) as its predecessor, the new model benefits from a higher-resolution (20.3 megapixel) sensor, the latest DIGIC 8 processor and a 2,360,000-dot OLED EVF with an eye sensor for automatic switching between it and the LCD monitor. The new camera can record 4K video at 25 fps for PAL system users (30 fps for NTSC).
Angled view of the PowerShot SX70 HS with the pop-up flash raised. (Source: Canon.)
The SX70 HS fits into the only category of compact cameras currently showing any marketplace stability: super-zoom models. Cameras with less than about 20x optical zoom are gradually being replaced by smartphones which, even if they can’t match the zoom range of compact cameras are more convenient to use and deliver equally attractive pictures and video clips that are easier to share.
The RRP of AU$749 is a big ask for a camera with a 1/2.3-inch type sensor (which isn’t much bigger than the sensor in a typical smartphone). But the long zoom lens, OLED EVF, 10fps burst shooting and functionality of this camera’s lightweight, SLR-like body make it worthy of consideration.
Interestingly, the SX70 HS supports raw file capture, although it uses Canon’s CR3 format, which delivers 12-bit files that are 30-40% smaller than the losslessly compressed CR2 equivalents. It claims to do this without reducing resolution.
The camera is supplied with a lens cap and tether, a neck strap and a LP-E12 battery, charger and cable. (Source: Canon.)
Who’s it For?
The target market for this camera is snapshooters who require an all-in-one unit that can cover virtually any shooting situation but is compact and light enough to take anywhere. This makes it a good choice for travellers, holiday makers, families and anyone who doesn’t want to change lenses and will only view their shots on computer or TV screens.
Interestingly, the price tag if the SX70 HS is slightly higher than an entry-level DSLR with a larger APS-C sensor and a kit lens. However, because of its smaller sensor, the SX 70 HS is smaller and lighter and has a much longer zoom reach. Its OLED EVF is also better because it shows users exactly what is being recorded and can be used while shooting movie clips.
Like many consumer-orientated cameras the SX70 has a few limitations potential purchasers should take into account. Its highest sensitivity setting is ISO 3200 and you can’t select ISO settings with shutter speeds slower than one second (although it is possible to use longer exposures with ISO settings above 100, but the process is tricky). The slowest shutter speed available is 15 seconds and the camera triples that time with noise-reduction processing (dark frame subtraction method).
Because of its small sensor, lens aperture adjustments run out at f/8. The lens is also slow, which means the widest aperture is f/3.5 at the 3.2mm (widest) focal length. By the time you’re a third of the way through the zoom range, the maximum aperture is reduced to f/5.6 and that’s where it remains until just before you reach the maximum optical zoom setting. (It would have been nice to have 35mm focal length settings stamped on the extending inner barrel as a guide – but they’re not provided.)
In the course of our tests, we found the monitor displays slightly more than the exact field of view captured by the sensor. It comes close at the native 4:3 aspect ratio but is out with the other settings (which crop the frame). It also lacks a touch-screen overlay, which would have been really convenient in a camera of this type – and surely not too costly to add.
The flash isn’t strong enough to illuminate subjects at low ISO settings with the lens fully extended. It also consumes a fair bit of battery power when used repeatedly in low light levels. Battery capacity is about average for a compact camera at 325 shots/charge with the monitor in use.
On the plus side, close-focusing is really easy, thanks to the dual MF/Close-up button on the arrow pad, and with the lens at the wide position the camera will focus until the front of the lens almost touches the subject (although you risk shading the subject if you go that close). The Framing Assist and Auto Zoom functions also work well when the lens is zoomed in and you want to keep focus on distant or moving subjects. The Constant Face Display Size settings are also easy to use and effective and will be welcomed by family photographers.
Build and Ergonomics
While we didn’t review the PowerShot SX60 HS, we did review its predecessor, the SX50 HS, which had a 50x optical zoom lens. Aside from the longer lens, not much has changed in the basic body design, which remains a little SLR-like with a simple control layout.
Rear and top views of the PowerShot SX70 HS camera. (Source: Canon.)
Because of the longer lens and larger monitor screen, the new camera is a bit bigger and heavier than the SX50 HS. The resolution of its monitor and EVF are substantially higher and the body is metal and composite plastic although, unfortunately, not weather-sealed.
Canon doesn’t provide any details of the optical design of the lens, which probably isn’t surprising for a camera at this level. Built-in stabilisation is based upon ‘eight-mode shake correction technology’, which was also used in previous models and probably relies on moving an element (or group) in the lens.
Features retained from the earlier cameras include the Zoom Framing Assist function which operates via Seek and Lock buttons on the left hand side of the lens. The former is used to make the lens zoom out to relocate subjects, while the Lock button engages additional optical stabilisation to hold the subject in the frame until the shot is taken.
As before, the zoom is powered and driven by a conventional lever surrounding the shutter button. However, a new zoom rocker switch has been added to the lens barrel, where it sits just below the user’s thumb for more SLR-like handling.
The lens retracts into its barrel when power is switched off. When the on button is pressed, the inner barrel extends 15 mm and then to 65 mm as you zoom in to the 1365mm (35mm equivalent) position. There are no focal length settings stamped on the extending section of the barrel but a display on the monitor/EVF screen shows the 35mm focal length equivalent for both the optical and digital zoom settings.
The grip design and fully-articulated LCD monitor are other carried-over features, as is the pop-up flash. As expected for a camera in this class, the battery and memory card share a compartment in the base of the grip
The new OLED viewfinder has a resolution of 2.36 million dots plus an eye sensor. The monitor’s resolution hasn’t changed and remains at 922,000 dots. Interestingly, there’s no longer a hot-shoe on the top of the EVF housing, which means external flashguns can’t be used with the new camera.
The SX70 continues to offer a microphone socket. The camera’s wireless connectivity includes Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
Sensor and Image Processing
The SX70 has a 20.3-megapixel (effective) backside-illuminated (BSI) CMOS sensor paired with Canon’s latest DIGIC 8 processor, which has improved the camera’s image stabilisation system, which now boasts up to five stops of shake correction. Response times have also been improved, with the SX70 HS able to record bursts at 10 fps with focus locked or 5.7 fps with continuous AF.
Another feature associated with the DIGIC 8 chip is support for Canon’s CR3 Raw format, which has smaller file sizes than the previous CR2 format. There’s also a cRAW setting that applies lossy compression to conserve storage space while maintaining the same pixel dimensions.
Like the recently-announced PowerShot G5 X II and G7 X III cameras, which also have 20-megapixel sensors, the native aspect ratio of the SX70’s sensor is 4:3, which roughly matches the aspect ratio of the monitor screen. However, the newer G-series cameras provide higher resolution for stills, with the largest image size at 5472 x 3648 pixels, compared with 5184 x 3888 pixels for the SX70 HS.
The remaining 3:2, 16:9 and 1:1 4:5 aspect ratios are achieved by cropping the frame, which yields maximum frame sizes of 5184 x 3456, 5184 x 2912 and 3888 x 3888 pixels, respectively. The table below provides a guide to typical file sizes for 4:3 aspect ratio images.
|JPEG||Large/Fine||5184 x 3888||7.4MB|
|Medium/Fine||3648 x 2436||4.1MB|
|Small||2432 x 1616||2.3MB|
|RAW||RAW||5184 x 3888||33.3MB|
The SX 70 HS appears to be the first model among Canon’s ‘bridge-style’ digicams to support UHD 4K video, although only at the 25p frame rate for PAL system users. However, it’s only accessible when the movie mode is set via the mode dial. This mode must also be selected if you want to record video snapshots or time-lapse movies or use special effects like the miniature effect.
Full HD 1080p recording at 50p and 25p and HD 720p at 50p are also available and accessible via the Quick menu. Movies are recorded with the MP4 format with the H.264 codec and IPB compression. Recording is started and ended by pressing the movie button.
A port is provided for connecting an external microphone but there’s no accessory shoe so users will need to find some way to attach it to the camera. Users can adjust the recording level for soundtracks and apply a wind filter/attenuator to suppress extraneous ambient noise.
When manual mode is selected, the camera allows manual adjustments to shutter speed and exposure levels, including +/-3EV of exposure compensation. Auto levelling can keep horizons level while movies are recorded. (It works by cropping the frame.)
In the Hybrid Auto mode, the camera will automatically record a few seconds of HD/50p video before each shot is taken. These clips are combined into a short ‘digest’ movie at the end of the day. This function can be selected for other shooting modes by enabling ‘Video snapshot’ in the menu.
Stills frames can also be extracted from 4K movies and saved in JPEG format. They will retain the 16:9 aspect ratio of the original clip.
Playback and Software
The SX 70 HS provides all the standard playback functions, including Canon’s Jump settings as well as brightness or RGB histograms and blink alerts for over-exposed highlights. In-camera raw file development is not available and raw files can’t be edited in the camera.
Up to 998 images can be selected for printing in a Photobook, but again only JPEGs. Cropping, re-sizing, red-eye correction and slideshow viewing are all supported. Built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth interfaces enable the SX 70 HS to be linked with a smartphone for live viewing, geotagging and uploading images to the Canon iMAGE Gateway service.
As has become normal, users must download the software bundle, which includes Digital Photo Professional for converting CR3.RAW files into editable formats. A link is provided in the printed basic instruction manual supplied with the camera.
All super-zoom digicams involve compromises and the more manufacturers ‘stretch’ the capabilities of the technology, the more likely the effects of compromises will become obvious. We found such to be the case with the SX70 HS we received to review, as we had with the earlier model.
Our Imatest results were disappointing and showed the review camera failed to meet expectations for a 20-megapixel camera at any lens aperture/focal length combination we were able to measure. This was true with both JPEG and CR3.RAW files.
While the raw files produced higher resolution than the JPEGs, particularly at the highest ISO setting, they also fell below expectations in our tests. For both file types resolution declined progressively as ISO sensitivity was increased. The graph below shows the results of our tests.
Lack of space in our testing set-up prevented us from evaluating the entire zoom range but we were able to make measurements for just under a quarter of it. Across this range, edge softening was evident at all apertures and focal lengths we tested. The best performance was measured at a focal lengths of 9.4mm with the widest lens aperture, as shown in the graph below.
Lateral chromatic aberration ranged between ‘negligible’ for most exposures at 3.8mm through the ‘low’ band, where most exposures fell and tipped just into the ‘moderate’ band with the longest focal length we tested (38.9mm). Interestingly, we found some purple fringing in wide angle test shots, where this should be least likely to occur, going on the Imatest results.
In the graph below, the red line marks the border between ‘negligible’ and ‘low’ CA, the green line separates ‘low’ and ‘moderate’ CA.
AF performance was variable and depended on the nature of the subject. With dim lighting and problematic subject contrast (for example, when it was hard to separate the subject from the foreground or background) it could take a second or more to find focus.
This problem was exacerbated at the longest focal lengths where it often laboured to capture and hold focus. Sometimes the lens would focus on the closest object in the frame, regardless of whether that was the subject of the shot. Roughly 40% of shots we took at the 247mm setting were slightly (or grossly) unsharp.
In contrast, close-up performance was much more competent. At the 3.8mm (wide) setting when Macro focus is used, the camera will focus on subjects that almost touch the front element of the lens. However, at the 247mm setting, where the minimum camera-to-subject distance was approximately three metres, shots were slightly softer than expected.
The Framing Assist function was helpful for locating subjects when the lens is zoomed in but keeping the subject within the frame to take the shot was challenging for both the photographer and the stabilisation system. Bokeh was surprisingly pleasant in close-up shots taken with longer focal lengths, despite the small aperture settings applied by the lens.
Digital zoom shots captured in bright conditions were usually acceptably sharp, although not quite as sharp as normal tele shots. In challenging lighting, shots tended to be much softer due to the inevitable problems with using at long focal lengths that we’ve outlined above.
In most situations, the review camera performed quite well when presented with strong backlighting, although both highlight and shadow details were often lost in contrasty scenes, due to the small size of the sensor. We found a few flare artefacts in scenes with angled lighting, even when the light source was out of the frame. However, we also took shots with an acceptable contrast when the light source was inside the frame so the phenomenon is somewhat variable.
The auto white balance setting failed to eliminate the orange cast of both incandescent and warm-toned LED lighting but produced close-to-neutral colours under fluorescent lights and with flash. There’s no LED preset but the other pre-sets tended towards slight over-correction, while manual measurement delivered a neutral colour balance.
The addition of 4K capabilities has meant video quality is reasonably good for a small-sensor camera, although the AF system often had trouble keeping pace with fast pans and fast-moving subjects, particularly with longer focal lengths. Soundtracks were reasonably clear, thanks to stereo microphone embedded just behind the flash head. Users are able to control recording levels in the camera and apply a wind filter/attenuator to suppress extraneous noise.
Our timing tests were carried out with a Panasonic 64GB SDXC I U3 card with a speed rating of approximately 90MB/second. The review camera took just over a second to power up and slightly longer to shut down again. Zooming in from the 3.8mm position to 247mm took roughly three seconds in the stills mode but was variable when the movie mode was engaged.
We measured an average capture lag of 0.35 seconds, which reduced to 0.05 seconds when shots were pre-focused. As we found with previous models, the camera provided no reliable way to evaluate how long it took for images to be processed. Shot-to-shot times averaged 0.5 seconds without flash and 3.2 seconds when flash was used.
In the continuous shooting mode, the review camera recorded 41 JPEG frames in 4.1 seconds before hesitating briefly, a frame rate of 10 fps, which matches specifications. When we switched to RAW+JPEG capture, the camera recorded 18 frames in 4.7 seconds, indicating a frame rate of roughly four frames/second, less than half the frame rate for JPEG capture.
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Image sensor: 6.17 x 4.55 mm back-illuminated CMOS sensor with 21.1 million photosites (20.3 megapixels effective)
Image processor: DIGIC 8
A/D processing: 12-bit CR3.RAW
Lens: 3.8-247mm f/3.4-6.5 zoom lens (21-1365mm in 35mm format)
Zoom ratio: 65x optical zoom, 1.6x and 2x magnification with Digital Tele-Converter, 4x digital zoom via the zoom rocker
Image formats: Stills – JPEG (DCF 2.0/ Exif 2.31), CR3.RAW, RAW+JPEG; Movies – MP4 (MOV, H.264, AAC)
Image Sizes: Stills – 4:3 aspect: 5184 x 3888, 3648 x 2736, 2432 x 1824; 3:2 aspect: 5184 x 3456, 3648 x 2432, 2432 x 1616; 16:9 aspect: 5184 x 2912, 3648 x 2048, 2432 x 1368; 1:1 aspect: 3888 x 3888, 2736 x 2736, 1824 x 1824;Movies – 3840 x 2160 @ 25p / 120 M, 1920 x 1080 @ 50/25 fps, 1280 x 720 @ 50p
Shutter speed range: 15 to 1/2000 seconds
Self-timer: 2 or 10 seconds delay
Image Stabilisation: Built-in dual sensing IS with 5 stops of shake correction
Exposure Compensation: +/- 3EV (in 1/3 EV steps), with exposure compensation dial: +/-EV (in 1/3 EV steps) for movies
Focus system/range: Contrast Detect (sensor) with AF-S, AF-Cand manual modes; range: 5 cm infinity at 3.8mm, 180 cm to infinity at 247mm; macro to 0 cm at 3.8mm
Focus area selection: Multi-area, centre, selective single-point, tracking, face detection Live View
Exposure metering/control: Multi area, Centre-weighted and Spot modes
Shooting modes: Auto, Hybrid Auto, Aperture priority, Shutter priority, Manual, Panorama, Sports, Creative Filters, Special Scene, Custom (x2)
Colour space: sRGB
ISO range: Auto, ISO 100-3200
White balance: Auto, Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten, White Fluorescent, Flash, Custom
Flash modes/range (ISO auto): Auto, on, slow sync, 1st/2nd curtain sync, off; range – 50 cm 6.5 m at 3.8mm; 1.8-4.0 m at 247mm
Sequence shooting: Max. 10 frames/second with fixed focus, 5.7 fps with tracking SF
Buffer memory depth (based on tests): JPEGs, raw files, RAW+JPEG
Storage Media: SD, SDHC, SDXC cards (UHS-1 compatible)
Viewfinder: 0.39-type organic EL EVF with 2,360,000 dots, eye sensor
LCD monitor: Vari-angle 3-inch TFT LCD with approx. 920,000 dots
Interface terminals/communications: Micro USB (Hi-Speed USB compliant), HDMI Type D, Wi-Fi (IEEE802.11n/g/b), Bluetooth low energy Ver. 4.1
Power supply: LP-E12 rechargeable battery CIPA rated for approx. 325 shots/charge with LCD screen, 255 shots/charge with EVF
Dimensions (wxhxd): 127.1 x 90.9 x 116.6 mm
Weight: 610 grams (with battery and memory card)
Distributor: Canon Australia; 1800 021 167; www.canon.com.au.
Based on JPEG files.
Based on CR3.RAW files converted into 16-bit TIFF format with Adobe Camera Raw.
Auto white balance with incandescent lighting.
Auto white balance with fluorescent lighting.
Auto white balance with flash lighting.
Auto white balance with warm-toned LED lighting.
15-second exposure at ISO 100, 22mm focal length, f/5.6. JPEG file.
15-second exposure at ISO 100, 22mm focal length, f/5.6. From CR3.RAW file.
6-second exposure at ISO 1600, 22mm focal length, f/6.3.
3.2-second exposure at ISO 3200, 22mm focal length, f/7.1.
Flash exposure at ISO 100, 60mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/5.6
Flash exposure at ISO 200, 60mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/5.6.
Flash exposure at ISO 400, 60mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/5.6.
Flash exposure at ISO 800, 60mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/5.6
Flash exposure at ISO 1600, 60mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/5.6.
Flash exposure at ISO 3200, 60mm focal length, 1/80 second at f/5.6.
3.8mm focal length; ISO 100, 1/1000 second at f/5
Crop from the above image magnified to 100% to show purple fringing.
247mm focal length; ISO 200, 1/400 second at f/6.5.
1.6x Digital Tele-Converter, 247mm focal length; ISO 200, 1/400 second at f/6.5.
2x Digital Tele-Converter, 247mm focal length; ISO 160, 1/320 second at f/6.5.
Close-up at 3.8mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/320 second at f/4.
Close-up at 247mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/400 second at f/6.5.
Flare artefacts, 3.8mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/800 second at f/4.
No artefacts in backlit shot with bright light source within the frame; 3.8mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/800 second at f/4.
1.6x Digital Tele-Converter, 247mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/400 second at f/6.5.
247mm focal length, ISO 400, 1/400 second at f/6.5.
110mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/500 second at f/5.6.
50mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/640 second at f/5.6.
60mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/200 second at f/5.6.
247mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/320 second at f/6.5.
247mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/800 second at f/6.5.
192mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/640 second at f/5.6.
Still frame from MP4 4K video clip recorded at 25 fps.
Still frame from MP4 Full HD 1080p video clip recorded at 50p.
Still frame from MP4 Full HD 1080p video clip recorded at 25.
Still frame from MP4 HD 720p video clip recorded at 50p.
RRP: AU$749; US$550
- Build: 8.7
- Ease of use: 8.5
- Autofocusing: 8.3
- Image quality JPEG: 8.3
- Image quality RAW: 8.5
- Video quality: 8.5