SX10 IS Overview
by Andrew Alexander, Mike Tomkins, and Shawn Barnett
Review Posted: 04/15/09
The Canon PowerShot SX10 IS sports a long zoom lens ranging from 28 to 560mm, which amounts to a 20x zoom that starts at f/2.8. Other vitals on the Canon SX10 include a 10-megapixel sensor, a 2.5-inch articulating LCD, and video recording on demand.
Canon SX10 IS Features
Canon's PowerShot SX10 IS digital camera replaces the company's previous PowerShot S5 IS model, and indeed both cameras share very similar styling cues. The Canon SX10 has grown a third of an inch or more larger than the S5 in all directions. The Canon SX10's rear-panel controls have been totally overhauled, and the separate AF-assist lamp has been dropped from the camera's front panel. On the inside, the Canon SX10 uses a slightly larger 1/2.3-inch CCD image sensor, and simultaneously boosts resolution from eight to ten megapixels, along with upgrading the previous model's DIGIC III processor to a DIGIC 4 type that allows for servo AF tracking.
At the same time the zoom lens gains a lot of reach, being boosted from "just" a 12x optical zoom in the S5 to a whopping 20x zoom in the PowerShot SX10 IS. The added range can be found on both ends, with a useful 28mm wide-angle and a powerful 560mm telephoto. Thankfully, the Canon SX10 IS includes true optical image stabilization, a must-have for a camera with a lens this powerful. Maximum aperture is f/2.8 to f/5.7 across the zoom range. As well as the previously mentioned AF tracking, the Canon SX10 IS's autofocus system now has improved face detection capability. Canon says the Canon SX10 will now recognize faces at most angles, and has included a Face Detection self timer which automatically takes a photo two seconds after an additional face enters the scene. The Canon PowerShot SX10 IS's LCD display retains the previous 2.5-inch diagonal size, but its resolution increases slightly from 207,000 dots to 230,000 dots.
The standard ISO sensitivity range offered by the Canon SX10 is unchanged from the S5, with a minimum of ISO 80 through to a maximum of ISO 1,600. A new high-sensitivity scene mode allows this to be boosted to a maximum of ISO 3,200, however. Available Canon SX10 IS shutter speeds are unchanged, ranging from 1/3,200 to 15 seconds. Metering modes are unchanged, evaluative, center-weighted, and spot all included. Likewise, exposure modes are unchanged with the Canon SX10 including program, aperture- or shutter-priority, or a fully manual mode. Flash range when set to Auto ISO is rated at 1 - 17' (30 cm - 5.2 m) at wide angle, and 3.3 - 9.2' (1 - 2.8 m) at telephoto. And the Canon SX10's hot shoe allows connection of most modern Canon flashes for much greater range. There are seventeen scene modes, and the SX10 also offers a new Intelligent Contrast Correction function.
Where the Canon S5 offered Motion JPEG AVI movies, the Canon SX10 IS opts for H.264 MOV instead, a newer format which generally offers significantly improved compression (and hence smaller file sizes) for equivalent video quality. As with the previous camera, sound is recorded along with movie clips. The Canon PowerShot SX10 is unchanged from its predecessor in storing its images and movies on Secure Digital cards, and offering both NTSC / PAL video and USB 2.0 High Speed computer connectivity. Power is likewise unchanged, coming from four AA batteries with alkaline disposables in the product bundle.
Canon SX10 IS Pricing and Availability
The Canon PowerShot SX10 IS ships in the USA from October 2008, priced at US$400 or lower.
Canon SX10 IS User Report
by Andrew Alexander
The Canon PowerShot SX10 IS doesn't depart much from the feature set that has been common to Canon's megazoom PowerShot line. In a nutshell: a new sensor, a new lens, a redesign of the control set, and no RAW mode. But let's dig a little deeper.
The Canon SX10 IS maintains its SLR-style design and mentality; if you're comfortable shooting with a digital Rebel, you'll find that working with the SX10 IS is very familiar. While improved, the performance and image quality still don't match those of a digital SLR. The Canon SX10 IS makes an excellent bridge camera, with a wide array of features that will appeal to beginners and advanced amateurs alike.
Look and feel. Like most superzooms, the Canon PowerShot SX10 IS has the look and feel of a digital SLR. Canon provides a sizeable right-hand grip with plenty of grasping space for your fingers; this grip houses the four AA batteries that power the camera. The Canon SX10, while slightly larger than the previous PowerShot S5, is actually 1/2 ounce (14g) lighter.
Canon has redesigned the control features of the SX10 IS. The S5 experimented with a lever and recessed switch borrowed from the Canon G-series cameras to turn the camera on and off and switch modes; clearly, this system wasn't popular, as Canon went back to the drawing board.
The Canon SX10 features a conventional On/Off button, located just out of reach of a thumb or forefinger, on the top right-hand side of the camera. The button is slightly recessed so there's little danger of it being pressed accidentally. Modes are switched by a conventional dial that looks like it came off a digital Rebel. Image playback is now accessed by another conventional button, located just beneath the On/Off button. It's possible to enter playback mode without turning on the camera and extending the lens.
Users coming from the S5 will also encounter a redesigned layout of rear buttons; gone is the four-way controller by the thumb, and new to the Canon SX10 IS is a four-way directional pad beside the LCD screen. A rotatable ring surrounding the pad could be an homage to Canon's pro-series of cameras, which allow the user to control a number of features by rotating the dial rather than pressing a button. The 2.5-inch LCD screen remains comfortably large, sweeping out 180 degrees and then rotating through a 270-degree axis to allow great flexibility in composing images and doing self-portraits.
The Direct Print/Shortcut button remains on left side of the viewfinder and can be customized for one-touch access to a number of different functions such as White Balance, Custom White Balance, Light Metering, AE Lock or AF Lock, among others. I found the Custom White balance setting most useful. The Canon SX10 maintains the Function button system, with the button in the center of the four-way directional pad. The button provides access to a menu of most frequently changed settings, is extremely convenient, and streamlines camera operation, eliminating multiple trips to the Canon SX10's more extensive menu system. Canon's tabbed menus are easy to understand and navigate, although the icons at the top of each tab can be a little cryptic.
The port covers for the memory card slot, USB port and AV ports have been slightly redesigned, using harder covers that match the metallic grey finish of the camera. The port covers have a semicircular indent for you to tug at with a fingernail, while the memory card slot has slightly raised bumps to help you slide the cover out. The battery cover is still a slightly complicated affair, requiring you to slide it away from the camera and back, and is located somewhat close to the tripod mount. You may be able to change both card and batteries while the camera is mounted on a tripod, depending on the tripod design and your dexterity.
Display/Viewfinder. Like all superzoom cameras, the Canon PowerShot SX10 IS is equipped with both an LCD and an Electronic Viewfinder (EVF). The Canon SX10's LCD is articulated, which means you can flip it against the camera body to protect the screen, which automatically switches to the EVF when the camera is powered on. You can also swing out the LCD and rotate it to grab overhead and very low-angle shots without putting a strain on your neck, back, or knees. Or, if you prefer a more conventional viewing option, the Canon SX10's LCD can be rotated and flipped up against the camera body with the screen facing outward.
The Canon SX10's LCD hasn't grown from that of the S5 IS; it's still a 2.5-inch screen, but it has 230,000 pixels instead of the previous 207,000, which should make photos look just a little crisper. The screen itself is bright, clear, and easily viewed in bright sunlight. Tilting the screen also helps when you're shooting outdoors at high noon.
The Canon SX10 IS maintains its flexibility in terms of what information can be shown on the display. The "Custom Display" menu allows the user to fine-tune the items that can be displayed, with two banks of settings for each of the EVF and LCD screens. Each press of the DISP. button brings you through to the next set of display settings, alternating between EVF and LCD. With these settings, you can make the displays as spartan or cluttered as you desire, filling the screen with items such as shooting information, grid lines, a 3:2 guide and a live histogram.
The EVF is useful, but no match for the articulated LCD screen. I didn't end up using it very much, given that the LCD screen was very capable even under extreme light conditions. The viewfinder is equipped with a diopter for eyeglass wearers, and it was easy to adjust the EVF to my eyes.
Lens and Zoom. Canon continues to improve the design of this series of PowerShot, introducing a new 28-560mm-equivalent lens in the SX10 IS. The lens allows just a little bit less light -- its maximum aperture is f/2.8 at 28mm, as compared to the S5's f/2.7 at 36mm. I don't think most users will notice this difference in speed. Immediately noticeable is the difference in angle; 28mm is quite wide for this class of camera, so much so that lens flare can become an issue, and Canon has thoughtfully provided a lens hood attachment with the camera. The lens, benefitting from Canon's Ultrasonic motor, moves smoothly throughout, and is absolutely silent when zooming at a standard speed. High-speed zooming creates a little bit of noise, but the lens movement still feels smooth.
The zoom performance deserves a bit more discussion. There are essentially five positions to the zoom dial, which is a dial that shrouds the shutter release button. Pushing the dial to the right zooms in, while pushing it to the left zooms out. There are two speeds of zoom, slow and fast, with the fast speed coming when the dial is turned to the extreme left or right. The slow speed is achieved somewhere in the middle. I found fine-tuning the zoom position slightly frustrating, as the slow speed wasn't slow enough; what would be useful would be a third speed selection to allow for a slow, medium, and fast zoom speed. It's certainly not a deal-breaker for this camera, but enough that I wished it could be just a bit more sensitive.
Optical quality. The Canon SX10 IS's lens is sharp in the center at wide and telephoto, and remains surprisingly sharp out to the far corners, rare for a lens of this type, with only a very limited amount of softening that does not show up in all but the largest prints. At wide-angle, the Canon SX10's 28mm setting shows moderate barrel distortion, but it's not out of the ordinary for this type of lens, and is not a detriment to most photos. Impressively, there's virtually no distortion in telephoto settings. The only real shortcoming of the SX10's lens is the high and bright chromatic aberration that appears at both wide angle and telephoto, and extends fairly far into the frame. It's noticeable in printed images at 8x10 sizes and up. Again, this is very common among extreme zoom lenses, and if it proves to be objectionable, it can be removed after capture with aftermarket image software.
Macro. The Canon SX10 IS's Macro focuses dramatically close, capable of focusing from the surface of the lens. There is considerable distortion at this distance, however, so prepare to crop from the center and provide light from the sides rather than from the flash. Using the flash is pretty much out of the question in macro mode, as the lens itself shades the output of the flash. The SX10 IS's hot shoe comes in handy here, as you could attach remote flashes and position them any way you wish.
Performance. Overall, the Canon PowerShot SX10 IS is fast enough for most shooting conditions. Start up is a little slower than the S5 IS (2.6 seconds compared to the S5 IS's 1.3 seconds). There's very little shutter lag throughout the focal range, though the SX10 IS is a hair slower to autofocus; in manual focus, however, the Canon SX10 IS's shutter response is very quick, at just over a quarter-second. Prefocused shutter lag was just under 0.08 second.
The Canon SX10 IS's shot-to-shot time in single-shot mode is still relatively slow, in fact, slower than the S5 IS. In single shot mode, you'll wait up to 2.06 seconds between shots; this improves a bit if you disable post-shot image review. For continuous shooting, the SX10 IS can achieve 0.78 frames per second, which is actually slightly faster than the S5IS's 0.75 frames per second, and that's with AF tracking enabled. This improves to 1.42 frames per second without continuous AF, and the camera was able to shoot over 20 large/superfine frames at this rate. Still, the SX10 is no speed demon is this department. Performance tests were conducted using a SanDisk Extreme III SDHC card and it seems likely that some performance attributes will lag when using a slower card.
The Canon SX10 IS comes bundled with 4 AA alkaline batteries, which you should immediately relegate to another electronic device or to the junk drawer for emergencies only, since you'll only get about 340 shots from alkalines, if you're lucky. You're much better off picking up 4-8 rechargeable NiMH batteries and a charger. The latter delivers, according to CIPA standard, about 600 shots per charge -- a much better deal indeed.
Canon's Face Detection technology seems to be one of the better systems on the market and it works eerily well on the Canon SX10 IS in detecting faces. The SX10 IS will detect faces easily when the face is pointing directly at the camera, but it will also continue to track and detect faces when they're pointing away -- a bit more than thirty degrees. The camera will place squares around detected faces, but it seems to want to stick to about three, even if there are more. This can lead to a confusing jumble of boxes onscreen, which you can attempt to reign in with the face detection selection button, allowing you to decide upon a single face to center autofocus results. While it's a marvelous technology, I sometimes found it easier to simply move the AF point to my subject's face.
In short, face detection is probably most effective at three people or less; for group shots, stick to more conventional focus methods.
Autofocus was generally fast and accurate, even under low light conditions. In most situations the camera will assist is focusing efforts by turning on a subtle green focus lamp.
Noise. The native ISO of the SX10 IS is 80, and images shot at this sensitivity setting are sharp, detailed, and rich in color. Noise creeps in as you increase the sensitivity, but it's only by ISO 800 that it becomes objectionable in larger-sized prints. ISO 1,600 and ISO 3,200 should be reserved only for absolute necessity, as image noise becomes extremely objectionable and details are almost muddy. ISO 3,200 can only be selected in a specific scene mode, and produces a 2-megapixel image of 1,600 x 1,200 pixels.
Metering. The Canon SX10 IS offers evaluative, center-weighted, and spot metering options. All of these worked well to deliver generally even exposures, however the camera doesn't hesitate to clip highlights. Colors were well-saturated, delivering the vibrant images that consumers have come to expect from non-digital-SLR cameras.
Flash output. The pop-up flash on the SX10 IS is actually a pull-up flash; you have to raise it with a finger when you want to use it. Flash coverage is uneven at wide angle, and even at telephoto. Manufacturer's specs call for good wide-angle illumination when set to Auto ISO at 17 feet, which we found to be true at ISO 200, but the camera also made it out to 16 feet at ISO 100. And though the manufacturer spec called for good telephoto performance at only 9.2 feet at ISO 200, we found the Canon SX10 easily capable of 12 feet at ISO 100. It takes about eight seconds for the flash to fully recycle, which is just a bit slower than other cameras in this class, but not bad considering the power.
Optically stabilized. Typical for this level of zoom, the Canon SX10 IS's optical image stabilization worked well. There are three modes: continuous, shoot-only, and panning, which are unchanged from the S5.
Shooting. I enjoyed my time with the Canon SX10 IS, finding it to be a capable camera with a wide variety of settings that appealed to me. The Canon SX10's menu system, while getting slowly larger with each generation of camera, is fairly painless to navigate, and it's fairly uncommon that you can't find what you're looking for on the camera's quick-menu system.
While digital SLR cameras are starting to adopt live view, none of them are really as versatile as your average point-and-shoot digicam. And in this feature, the SX10 IS really shines with its adjustable LCD. It can be turned for viewing with the camera held above the head, at waist level, and for self-portraits; try doing that with your digital SLR. More traditional shooters can still use the electronic viewfinder to compose and review shots, though there's no real advantage to doing so.
I've already noted my personal disappointment with the SX10 IS's zoom system, controlled by a trigger-shrouded rocker, but handing it around to friends that are less picky than I, it didn't bother anyone. Among my informal test audience was a S5 IS user, who liked that the camera now advised him when he should raise the flash.
The control wheel is the latest user interface feature to grace this line of PowerShot cameras, and in using it for a couple of weeks, I would have to say there are only a few areas where it is actually useful. Toggling between photos and modes is still most easily done with the four-way directional buttons, but features like manual focus which require continuous input are handled well with the control wheel, where you can get a very fine level of, well, control. In manual or aperture-priority settings, adjustment of the shutter speed or aperture setting is also handled by turning the control wheel. As with many Canon PowerShots that have such wheels, menu response is inconsistent. Turn too slowly, and nothing happens. Turn too fast, and you scroll past everything and around the other end. I usually just go back to the four-way navigator.
Movie mode. The Canon SX10 IS keeps its dedicated movie-mode button that dates all the way back to 2004 with the original S1 IS, meaning you don't have to switch to a dedicated movie mode. The Canon SX10 IS's high resolution movies (640x480 or 320x240, at 30 frames per second) include stereo sound and a wind filter, which means this camera also serves as a full-function camcorder with a 20x, image-stabilized zoom. Canon has moved from MJPEG compression to the more prevalent H.264 MPEG-4 compression in the SX10 IS. Movie quality is quite good, and the stereo sound isn't bad either.
Summary. The Canon PowerShot SX10 IS offers much with its image-stabilized 20x optical zoom lens and well-rounded feature set that provides more than enough sophistication and manual options for advanced amateurs and prosumers, while providing less experienced photographers a solid set of automatic modes. Controls have been redesigned and repositioned, in an attempt to simplify the user interface. The camera's internal hardware has also gotten a significant update, moving from the DIGIC III to the DIGIC IV processor, but even with this switch the camera's performance hasn't improved significantly. We imagine that contending with the increase from 8 to 10 megapixels, and better noise reduction technology, takes up some of that new processing power.
Canon SX10 IS Basic Features
- 10.0-megapixel sensor
- 20x optical zoom lens (equivalent to a 28-560mm lens on a 35mm camera)
- 4x digital zoom
- 2.5-inch articulated color LCD monitor
- Electronic Viewfinder
- Program Automatic Exposure
- Aperture- and shutter-priority modes
- Full Manual exposure mode
- Built-in pop-up flash with red-eye reduction
- SD/SDHC card compatibility
- USB high speed connection
- Four AA alkaline batteries included
- Software for Mac and PC
Canon SX10 IS Special Features
- Optical Image Stabilization: Shooting, Continuous, Panning
- Automatic Face Detection AE/AF
- Face Detection self-timer
- Multiple continuous shooting modes, including Continuous Shooting AF
- ISO from 80-1,600 and High ISO mode
- i-Contrast for high contrast situations
- ISO Shift
- My Menu for customized menu
- Safety FE and MF options
- Dedicated hot shoe
- On-board red-eye correction (in Playback)
- High resolution movies with stereo sound
- Wind filter, audio capture adjustment settings
- Shutter Speeds from 15 sec to 1/3,200 sec
- Multiple creative options, i.e., My Colors
- Contrast/Sharpness/Saturation/Red/Green/Blue and skin tone adjustments
- Multiple White Balance settings, including Manual
- Exposure Bracketing and AF Bracketing
- Adjustable Flash Intensity
- Multiple Metering and AF modes
- Continuous AF
- Programmable Shortcut button
- Selectable AF points
- Live Histogram and Pattern/Grid Overlay
- Wide-angle and telephoto accessory lenses and filters available
In the Box
The retail package contains the following items:
- Canon PowerShot SX10 IS camera
- NS-DC4 neck strap
- Lens cap
- Four AA alkaline batteries
- IFC-400PCU USB cable
- STV-250N Stereo Video cable
- LH-DC50 lens hood
- Printed manuals for camera and software operation
- Digital Camera Solution Software CD
- Large capacity SD/SDHC card. The Canon SX10 IS doesn't ship with a memory card, so you're going to need to get one. 2GB is a good first choice, but you'll need a larger card, preferably a 4-8GB high speed SDHC card for taking advantage of high speed continuous shooting and long video clips.
- One or two sets of 4 AA NiMH rechargeable batteries and charger. Sanyo Eneloop batteries work great, and don't cost much more.
- Canon 430EX or 580EX II accessory flash for helping with that long zoom
Canon SX10 IS Conclusion
This series of long zoom PowerShots has a faithful band of happy users, and it looks like it's safe for that trend to continue. Though the lens focal length has nearly doubled to 20x, optical quality remains solid, with unusually sharp corners for its class. About the only notable problems are the bright chromatic aberration (which accompanies most extreme long zooms like this) and luminance noise at all ISO settings. Image quality is otherwise quite good, with good chroma (color) noise control even in incandescent light at ISO 800, likely thanks to the DIGIC 4 processor. The built-in Flash has good power for a long zoom digital camera, and the Canon SX10 has a flash hot shoe to allow use of Canon's excellent external flashes, like the new 430EX II. Printed results really tell the Canon SX10's story, with the camera's output capable of making high quality 13x19-inch prints with ease, and even ISO 1,600 shots make a decent 5x7. A relatively fast shutter lag result rounds out the story, and if you learn to prefocus, you can get a shutter lag of 0.08 second. Overall, you can't go wrong with the Canon PowerShot SX10 IS, a great long zoom digital camera that's also capable of capturing video with stereo sound whenever the need strikes. Though we're a little disturbed by the luminance noise at ISO 80, it doesn't show up in prints until about 13x19 inches, and then only if you look closely. If you're a pixel peeper, you might be bothered, but if prints are your main unit of measure, you'll find the Canon SX10 IS a superb image-maker. It's an easy Dave's Pick.