Canon PowerShot SX120 IS

      Photo Review 8.5

      In summary

      An affordable, 10x zoom digicam with a useful suite of controls and functions for family snapshooters.Canon’s PowerShot SX120 IS hits the market as the third in a series of affordable digicams with 10x optical zoom lenses and P, A, S and M shooting controls that began in 2007 with the release of the SX100 IS. Each update has involved a minor increase in sensor resolution plus some small tweaks to the body design and functionality. The on-going market position is unchanged; this camera is targeted at consumers who want a cheap, long-zoom camera. . . [more]

      Full review


      Canon’s PowerShot SX120 IS hits the market as the third in a series of affordable digicams with 10x optical zoom lenses and P, A, S and M shooting controls that began in 2007 with the release of the SX100 IS. Each update has involved a minor increase in sensor resolution plus some small tweaks to the body design and functionality. The on-going market position is unchanged; this camera is targeted at consumers who want a cheap, long-zoom camera.

      Sensor resolution steps up from 9 to 10 megapixels in the new model, although the chip size is unchanged (which means smaller photosites). The SX120 IS also boasts the latest DiG!C 4 image processor, which offers some functional enhancements and claims to provide faster autofocusing, more accurate auto exposure and lower image noise. Otherwise nothing much has changed.


      Front view of the SX120 IS with the lens extended and flash raised. (Source: Canon.)


      Rear view showing the LCD monitor and main control panel. (Source: Canon.)


      Angled view with the lens extended, showign the top panel controls. (Source: Canon.)

      Changes in body design have been minor, the most noticeable being the removal of the Print button above the top left corner of the LCD monitor. There’s also a larger silver accent on the grip, which makes the camera slightly easier to hold, although the plastic body remains smooth and the grip isn’t particularly secure.

      We had some problems with the battery/card compartment lid on the review camera, which was difficult to open and close, largely because the springs that keep the batteries in place were stronger than they needed to be, which made it necessary to force the compartment lid shut. Although the cover fits closely to the camera body when in the right place, it wasn’t always easy to achieve this objective – and when it isn’t in exactly the right position, the cover is almost impossible to open.

      The lens is the same 6mm to 60mm f/2.8-4.3 zoom lens as found o nthe SX110 IS, covering focal lengths equivalent to 36-360mm in 35mm format. The longer end of the range is suitable for action and wildlife shots but the shorter end is limited when compared with the 28mm (equivalent) lenses offered in some super-zoom models. A bright orange AF-assist LED is provided to aid focusing in dim lighting.

      Optical image stabilisation is one component of the Tru Capture technology that comes with the DiG!C 4 processor. It partners with the new Intelligent Auto shooting mode, which includes Scene Detection, Face Detection, Motion Detection and Noise Reduction to please family snapshooters. Blink Detection technology provides a warning signal when shots of contain closed eyes, enabling users to re-take the shot.

      In the Intelligent Auto mode, the camera will display an icon to indicate the scene type it has detected and then set focus and exposure accordingly. Scene types that can be identified include portraits, close-ups, backlighting, night shots and night portraits. In all, 19 shooting modes are provided for still image capture, including P, Tv, Av and M, the Easy mode that carries over from the previous model and 13 Scene pre-sets.

      Whereas the P, Tv, Av and M shooting modes put exposure control into the hands of the photographer, the Easy Mode and all scene presets determine shooting settings automatically. The only adjustable settings are the single/contiuous shooting mode and image size and quality levels. Playback options are limited to simple image viewing and deletion functions. This combination makes the SX120 IS ideal for families as users can select the level of control they prefer.
      Camera menus retain the standard Canon ‘flavour’ and most camera controls can be accessed via either the Funct./Set button or the Menu button. A dedicated button is provided just above the arrow pad for switching the Face Select and Track system on and off. Canon’s My Colours modes, which let users change colour rendition when taking photos, are accessible via the Funct/Set button. In addition to the default Off setting, users can choose from five My Colours modes:
      – Vivid, which increases saturation and contrast,
      – Neutral, which subdues contrast and saturation to deliver neutral hues,
      – Sepia, for ‘old world’ brownish tones,
      – B/W for black and white photos, and
      – Custom, which opens a sub-menu containing slider adjustments for contrast, sharpness and saturation.

      Three continuous shooting modes are supported, with the fastest mode (which locks focus and exposure on the first frame) recording at approximately 1.3 shots/second. The Continuous AF mode re-focuses with each shot and achieves a burst rate of 0.9 frames/second, as does the Continuous LV mode, which updates the live view but locks focus on the first frame.

      The flash has a range of 50 cm to 4 metres at the widest lens position and 1.0 to 2.5 metres at the tele position. Flash output is adjustable across +/- 2EV in 1/3 EV increments. Selectable flash modes include the standard Auto, On, Slow Synchro and Off settings and Red Eye Reduction, which uses the AF-assist lamp, can be turned on in the camera menu.

      In-camera Red Eye Correction can also be applied to flash shots post capture. The FE Lock lets users lock the flash exposure by pressing the +/- button. Safety FE prevents over-exposure by automatically changing camera settings to counteract over-bright flash light.

      Sensor and Image Processing
      Image files can only be recorded as JPEGs and the camera supports five resolution settings with a 4:3 aspect ratio plus a Widescreen setting that records images at 3456 x 1944 pixel resolution. Date stamping, which was offered as an image size setting in the previous model and only available at 1600 x 1200 resolution, is now a separate menu item and can be applied to all image sizes.

      Whereas three compression levels were provided in the SX110 IS, only two are offered in the SX 120 IS: Fine and Normal. Without a Superfine option, compression levels are relatively high. Typical file sizes are shown in the table below.

      Image size






      3648 x 2592




      2816 x 2112




      2272 x 1704




      1600 x 1200




      640 x 480




      3648 x 2048



      Only two resolution settings are provided for movie clip recording: VGA and QVGA. However, the adoption of the VGA clips can be recorded in either SP or LP mode, the latter having lower quality but offering roughly twice the recording time. All clips are recorded at 30 frames/second, using the standard AVI/Motion JPEG format with a monaural WAVE audio track.

      Typical recording times for a 2GB memory card are shown in the table below.

      Recorded pixels

      Frame rate

      Recording time with 2 GB card

      640 x 480

      30 fps

      16 minutes 47 seconds

      640 x 480 LP

      30 fps

      33 minutes 2 seconds

      320 x 240

      30 fps

      46 minutes 33 seconds

      Maximum length of video clips is one hour. Recording will stop before this time when the file size reaches 4GB. Use of SDHC cards with speed class of 4 or higher is recommended.

      Playback and Software

      The standard suite of playback functions is offered in the SX 120 IS, along with the ability to use some of the capture technologies after the shot has been taken. Shots can be viewed singly by pressing the play button, which displays the last image recorded.

      You can move from one shot to the next by toggling with the horizontal arrow pad buttons. To go faster, simply rotate the control dial wheel. Two transition effects are available: fade and slide.

      Images can be erased one at a time or all images in memory car be deleted with the Format control in the set-up menu. Direct printing is supported through USB connection to a PictBridge-enabled printer. Pressing the zoom lever displays a thumbnail index of shots in memory and you can adjust the number of thumbnails displayed. The vertical buttons on the arrow pad let you jump between shots for quick searching.

      Pressing the Display button in play mode magnifies the image. You can increase or reduce magnification with the zoom lever and also move the magnified area around the shot with the arrow pad buttons. Images containing detected faces will show frames around the faces and you can switch to focus check display by pressing the Face Detect button.

      Images can be rotated and resized in playback mode and blink detection and red-eye correction can be used post-capture. You can also display a small brightness histogram and/or over-exposure warning. iContrast adjustments can also be applied, with four levels of correction (Auto, Low, Medium and High) selectable.

      The bundled software disk contains Canon’s Digital Camera Solution applications Version 48.0. These include ZoomBrowser EX 6.4 and PhotoStitch 3.1 for Windows and ImageBrowser 6.4 and PhotoStitch 3.2 for Macintosh. An electronic version of the user manual in PDF format is also provided on the disk.

      Autofocusing was similar to the SX110 IS and the image stabiliser enabled us to shoot at shutter speeds down to 1/10 second at wide and mid-range focal lengths in dim lighting, although blurring occurred at 1/60 second with longer settings. Exposures were better balanced than we found in the previous model, although blown-out highlights remained common in shots taken in bright, contrasty lighting.

      Imatest showed resolution to be slightly below expectations but very little edge softening was detectedin test shots. Resolution was highest at shortest focal length with wider lens apertures and declined as the lens was stopped down. The graph below shows the results of our tests (which were limited in scope due to insufficient working space in our test set-up).


      Resolution remained relatively high throughout up to ISO 400 but dropped sharply at ISO800, even though the image size remains the same throughout the camera’s ISO range. A further small decline in resolution was found at ISO 1600. The graph below shows the results of our tests.


      Image noise was visible in long exposures from ISO 400 on, becoming progressively more obvious at ISO 800 and ISO 1600. By ISO 1600 shots had become distinctly blotchy looking and unsharp. Interestingly, this blotchiness was less evident in flash exposures at ISO 1600, although sharpness remained compromised. Flash shots taken with sensitivities up to ISO 800 were relatively free of image noise.
      Colour accuracy was generally good and saturation levels were similar to those we found with the SX110 IS. A few colour shifts were detected in cyan, yellow and the light skin tone. Saturation was slightly elevated in reds and blues. Fortunately, despite these shifts, the colours of lighter skins appeared natural in portrait shots.

      Imatest showed lateral chromatic aberration to be predominantly in ‘moderate’ range of the scale. Coloured fringing was visible when shots taken in contrasty conditions were enlarged to 100%. Backlit subjects were well-handled at wider focal length settings, although we noticed a decline in contrast when shooting at full tele zoom.

      Digital zoom shots were slightly soft and compression artefacts could be seen along many edges. Close-up performance was good – but not spectacular. The built-in could illuminate an average-sized room at ISO 200. Flash exposures were generally well balanced, regardless of ISO setting.
      The test camera’s auto white balance setting had the usually problems with incandescent lighting but delivered close-to-natural colours under fluorescent lighting. The pre-sets over-corrected very slightly but manual measurement produced clean whites and accurate colours.

      Some barrel distortion was apparent in shots taken with the widest focal length settings, although this had been largely corrected by a focal length setting of 10mm. Pincushion distortion began to be visible at around the 40mm focal length. Neither distortion was ever enough to trouble photographers who would use this camera.

      It took approximately 1.8 seconds to power up the test camera and shot-to-shot times averaged just under two seconds without flash and 8.1 seconds with flash. We measured an average capture lag of 0.9 seconds, which reduced to less than 0.1 seconds with pre-focusing.
      Each image took an average of 3.1 seconds to process and it took just over five seconds to re-prime the flash. In the continuous shooting mode, the standard burst setting recorded five high-resolution JPEGs in 4.9 seconds, while the continuous AF mode captured five shots in 4.7 seconds. Image processing appears to be on-the-fly in both burst modes as it took only 2.5 seconds to process the standard burst of five shots and 2.3 seconds for the continuous AF burst.
      The alkaline batteries supplied with the test camera had power remaining at the end of our tests, which involved 145 shots.

      Buy this camera if:
      – You’re looking for an affordable long-zoom digicam.
      – You want plenty of adjustable controls and image stabilisation.
      – You’re happy to use a tripod when shooting in low light levels and prepared to use sensitivity settings below ISO 400.
      – You prefer cameras that use AA batteries.
      Don’t buy this camera if:
      – You want to record widescreen high-definition video.
      – You prefer shooting raw files as well as JPEGs and RAW+JPEG pairs.





      Auto white balance with incandescent lighting.


      Auto white balance with fluorescent lighting.


      Close-up. 6mm focal length, ISO 80, 1/1244 second at f/5.


      6mm focal length, ISO 80, 1/515 second at f/5.


      60mm focal length, ISO 80, 1/1002 second at f/4.3.


      Digital zoom. 60mm focal length, ISO 80, 1/636 second at f/4.3.


      6mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/501 second at f/4.


      Coloured fringing in a 100% crop from the above image.


      Skin hues: 51.1mm focal length, ISO 80, 1/159 second at f/4.


      ISO 80, 15 second exposure at f/2.8; 6.6mm focal length.


      ISO 1600, 8 second exposure at f/5; 6.6mm focal length.


      Flash exposure; 22.4mm focal length. ISO 80, 1/60 second at f/4.


      Flash exposure; 22.4mm focal length. ISO 1600, 1/60 second at f/4.


      Dynamic range coverage; 60mm focal length, ISO 80, 1/1244 second at f/5.6.


      60mm focal length, ISO 80, 1/202 second at f/4.3.


      Flare: 6mm focal length, ISO 80, 1/1244 second at f/4.5.


      Loss of contrast with full tele zoom; 60mm focal length, ISO 80, 1/501 second at f/4.3.


      60mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/807 second at f/5.6.

      My Colours shooting modes:












      Image sensor: 5.76 x 4.29 mm CCD sensor with 10.3 million photosites (10 megapixels effective)
      Lens: 6.0-60.0mm f/2.8-4.3 zoom lens (36-360mm in 35mm format)
      Zoom ratio: 10x optical, up to 4x digital
      Image formats: Stills – JPEG (Exif 2.2); Movies – AVI (Motion JPEG/WAV)
      Image Sizes: Stills – 3648 x 2736, 2816 x 2112, 2272 x 1704, 1600 x 1200, 640 x 480, 3648 x 2048 (widescreen); Movies – VGA/QVGA at 30 fps
      Shutter speed range: 15-1/2500 second
      Self-timer: 2 or 10 seconds delay
      Image Stabilisation: Lens-shift type
      Exposure Compensation: +/- 2EV in 1/3EV increments
      Focus system/range: TTL AF with Face Detect/Centre modes; range 50 cm to infinity; macro 1-50 cm
      Exposure metering/control: Evaluative, centre-weighted and spot metering
      Shooting modes: Auto, P, Av, Tv, M, Easy, Portrait, Landscape, Night Snapshot, Kids & Pets, Indoor, Scene (Sunset, Night Scene, Fireworks, Beach, Aquarium, Foliage, Snow, ISO3200), Movie
      ISO range: Auto, ISO 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600
      White balance: Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent (x2), Custom
      Flash modes/range (ISO auto): Auto, On, Slow Synchro, Off; range 0.5 to 4.0 metres
      Sequence shooting: Approx. 1,3 frames/second (max.)
      Storage Media: SD/SDHC/MMC
      Viewfinder: No
      LCD monitor: 3.0-inch TFT LCD with 230,000 dots
      Power supply: 2x AA alkaline batteries, CIPA rated for 130 shots (NiMH batteries – 370 shots/charge)
      Dimensions (wxhxd): 110.6 x 70.4 x 44.7 mm
      Weight: Approx. 245 grams (without batteries and card)





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