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Canon PowerShot SX110 IS Overview

by Mike Pasini and
Stephanie Boozer
Review Date: 02/18/09

Packing a 10x zoom lens into a surprisingly compact body, the Canon SX100IS was a very popular model in last year's long-zoom sweepstakes. This year, Canon has updated the design with a 9 megapixel sensor (up from 8 megapixels) and larger 3 inch LCD (up from 2.5 inches). The result is the new Canon SX110IS, selling for the same MSRP of $299, despite the upgrades. Read on below for more details about the Canon SX110IS.

As was the case with its predecessor, with dimensions of 4.4 x 2.8 x 1.8 inches (111 x 71 x 45mm) and weighing in at 10.7 ounces (302g) the Canon SX110IS won't fit in your pocket, but if you can live with a camera you have to carry in a pants pocket or purse rather than a shirt pocket, the SX110IS gives you a load of features and capability in a surprisingly compact package.

In an age when camera makers are chasing ever-higher megapixel counts, we applaud Canon's restraint with the SX110IS, in going to "only" 9 megapixels on its 1/2.3-inch sensor. This is more than enough resolution for 99% of consumers, and should produce less noise than would a higher-resolution sensor of similar size. Combining its 9-megapixel sensor with a 10x optical zoom lens, the Canon SX110 IS gives you the power to reach out and turn distant subjects into frame-filling images. Long zoom lenses mean it's all the harder to hold the camera steady enough to capture sharp images though. Fortunately, the "IS" in the SX110's name means it incorporates Canon's excellent Image Stabilization technology, letting you snap sharp photos at shutter speeds two to four times slower than you'd be able to hand-hold otherwise.

As digital cameras have become less expensive and more mass-market, there's been an unfortunate dumbing down of camera controls. As one result, it's becoming increasingly difficult to find compact (non-SLR) cameras that give you options for shutter-priority, aperture-priority and full manual exposure control. The Canon SX110IS offers all that and more, yet remains entirely accessible for novice users with its full auto and multiple scene modes. In fact, a new "Easy Mode" makes the camera even simpler to use: Literally a "you push the button, the camera does the rest" experience suited for complete beginners. An enhanced iSAPS (intelligent Scene Analysis based on Photographic Space) exposure system compares scenes the camera sees through its lens with an enormous database of reference scenes stored in its memory, to determine the best exposure for a wide range of conditions.

The Canon PowerShot SX110 IS stores images on Secure Digital or MultiMediaCard media, including the newer (and higher capacity) SDHC types. Images are framed and reviewed on a 3-inch color LCD display with 230,000 pixels.

The Canon SX110IS's 10x optical zoom lens covers a broad range equivalent to 36-360mm on a 35mm camera -- a moderate wide angle to a pretty substantial telephoto. The lens is also faster than many, with a maximum aperture ranging from f/2.8 at the wide angle end to f/4.3 at the telephoto end of its range.

With a lens offering this kind of telephoto power, camera shake can become a real problem, so Canon added a true optical image stabilizer, which works to correct camera shake by moving lens elements to counteract the motion. Three modes are available: one that operates continually while framing images, another that saves a little battery by only operating during exposure, and a final mode that optimizes the anti-shake algorithms to cope with stabilizing panning shots. Canon claims up to three stops of stabilization, meaning that you can shoot at shutter speeds 8 times slower than what you would otherwise be able to hand-hold, and still get sharp results.

Canon's implementation of face detection is included, and capable of detecting up to nine faces in a scene. The camera can automatically prioritize which face to focus on, and the face detection functionality is also linked to the ambient exposure, flash exposure and white balance systems to ensure correct metering of portraits as well; if you prefer, face detection can be turned off altogether and center AF used instead. When focusing in dim light, a very bright orange LED provides for AF-assist. For the more experienced photographer, there's a wide range of adjustments and customizations on hand, including a range of ISO sensitivities (from 80 to 1,600 equivalent), metering modes, autoexposure and flash exposure locks, flash output control, white balance options, and adjustable image sharpness, contrast, and color options.

The Canon SX110IS offers eleven preset shooting modes, of which five have their own positions on the Mode dial, while the remainder are accessed through a special Scene position. These scene modes make it easier for beginners to tailor the camera's settings to their intent without really needing to understand them, and the modes on offer include Portrait, Landscape, Night Snapshot, Kids&Pets, Night Scene, Indoor, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, and Aquarium.

Like its predecessor the SX100, the Canon SX110IS runs on a pair of AA batteries, either alkaline, lithium, or NiMH rechargeables. Depending on your perspective, this could be considered either a plus or a minus. On the one hand, you won't get the kind of battery life you could from a custom lithium-ion battery pack, but on the other hand, you're much less likely to run out of juice in some remote location: AA batteries can be found most anywhere, and the Energizer Lithium AA cells can be tucked in your camera back as an insurance policy, because they have almost zero self-discharge and so will remain fresh for years. And for low battery cost, nothing compares to a couple of sets of high-capacity NiMH rechargeable batteries and a good-quality charter.

Retail list pricing for the Canon PowerShot SX110 IS was set at US$299, but as of November, 2008, reputable retailers were offering it at prices as low as $205. One testimony to the popularity of this camera line is that the previous SX100IS was almost entirely sold out from the marketplace by the time the SX110IS was announced: So, if you're interested in buying a Canon SX110IS, you'd better not wait, this looks like another big winner for Canon.

 

Canon SX110 IS User Report

by Mike Pasini

Intro. The X in SX must stand for Exceptional. The first exceptional thing about the SX110 IS is its price. At about $240, you expect to give up a few things, but I can't find any. The SX110 IS gives you full manual control plus Scene modes for its 10x optical zoom with optical image stabilization and a 9.0 megapixel CCD. The flash even pops up to reduce red-eye.

Front. An asymmetrical design.

Open. Long zoom and popup flash.

I usually feel very uncomfortable when I write about inexpensive digicams because often the price is the only standout feature. If only, I try to whisper, you can save up another fifty or a hundred dollars, you won't have to live with this or that limitation.

I'm not uncomfortable writing about the SX110 IS. It's a model for others to emulate. You get the goods without giving up the farm.

Design. The prior model wasn't a lot different from the SX110 IS, but the SX100 IS was symmetrical with a nice bump on top following the lines of the large lens. The SX110 IS is not symmetrical. The bump rises slowly from the right side and drops off abruptly on the left.

You won't be bothered by that much, though, because the gorgeous 3.0 inch LCD will capture your attention. You thought a camera this inexpensive would come with just a 2.5 inch LCD, probably, or just 110K pixels. But Canon delivers a big LCD with high resolution.

That contributes to the one thing about the Canon SX110 that may give you pause. It's not a small camera. Canon has a long standing habit of building small cameras a little large. The flagship G10 is a good example, as was the G9 before it. And the SX110, like the SX100 before it, shows no effort to miniaturize. If you want small, buy an ELPH. But you'll give up a lot of things with an ELPH when compared to the Canon SX110.

Back. Very nicely sculpted around the big LCD.

This is a plastic body with smooth surfaces. Some people may consequently find the grip a little slippery. There's a nicely sculpted thumb grip on the back and a good chrome-accented ledge on the front for your other fingers. It never slipped from my hands.

It does have a healthy heft, but I wouldn't describe it as heavy. The featherweights often shake when you press the Shutter but that's not a problem on the Canon SX110.

One peculiar aspect of the body design is the location of the CR1220 battery that keeps the clock ticking when you pop out the main battery. It's on the left side of the camera in a little drawer that's hard to pull out evenly. And when you do, you lose the time. This drawer is usually hidden in the battery compartment and not quite so tempting.

Controls. The dial spins.

The control layout is pretty standard, abandoning the row of buttons below the LCD on the SX100 (there isn't room any more) for positions around the navigator. The Mode dial is large and easily thumbed from the back. The Shutter button ringed with the Zoom control is also quite large and easy to find. Only the Power button, a small rectangular inset behind the Shutter button could use further thought.

The LCD is your viewfinder and even holds up pretty well in sunlight. It does show fingermarks (blame the antiglare surface) but they're easy to wipe away.

The lens remains the big draw on the Canon SX110. Once you've used a camera with a 10x optical range, you'll feel hemmed in by cameras with 5x and 3x zooms. It's just astonishing you get 10x on a camera at this price. And when you think Canon has included its optical image stabilization, too, you just have to shake your head.

Interface. Moving the buttons from under the LCD to around the navigator turn the SX110 into a one-handed camera, although you'll use two for stability. But, as with any digicam, the interface on the SX110 is half buttons and half menus.

Lens. 10x zoom with optical image stabilization.

As far as the buttons go, their use should be fairly familiar to any Canon owner. Canon always has to change the function of at least one button on every model, but the usual hierarchy is intact. The Menu button brings up the major settings in tabs (Playback mode, for example, has a tab for its settings, another for Print function and the Setup tab). The Function/Set button brings up more frequently used options for the mode you're in (in Record mode, for example, that's where you set the image size and quality, white balance and more). And finally the buttons themselves handle the most used functions (EV, for example, is on one of them).

This works well, although I continually shake my head at the shell game Canon plays moving functions from the menu system to the buttons. But once you get the idea and learn where you're favorites are, you don't forget.

Buttons are the most direct way to do anything, and the Canon SX110 makes good use of them.

Left Side. The clock battery drawer is temptingly available. Resist.

Around the Function/Set button is the Control dial. You can press the top, bottom, left, and right sides of the navigator to move upward, downward, left, and right where necessary. But Up also sets ISO in Record mode and rotates the image in Playback. Down cycles through the shutter release modes. Left cycles through the focusing modes and Right through the Flash modes.

But the Control dial also spins, speeding navigation. It's most useful when the Mode dial is set to Scene. Then any spin of the Control dial displays the available Scene modes.

Above the Control dial are two buttons, one to toggle Face Detection on and off and the other to set EV. Below the Control dial are two more buttons. One cycles through the Display modes and the other is the Menu button.

That's the basic control configuration, but there are two other buttons on the back panel worth pointing out. Just above the controls is the rather lonely Playback button. It's located pretty close to your thumb, though, making it easy to get into Playback mode to review your shots. Pressing the Playback button again or the Shutter button takes you back to Record.

Right Side. Strap tether and auxiliary ports.

The other button of note is the Print/Share button. You can scroll through your images selecting a few to add to the print list or to download when using the camera's Direct Transfer option. In Record mode, you can assign one of six functions to it: White Balance, Custom White Balance, Red-Eye Correction, Teleconverter, Display Overlay (grid), Display Off, or unassigned.

Modes. One of the best things about the Canon SX110 is its inclusion of manual shooting modes, which are often neglected on Canon digicams.

Tv for setting the shutter speed manually, Av for setting the aperture manually, and Manual for setting both shutter speed and aperture manually greatly enhance the camera's value to both beginners and those who know how to get what they want.

The automatic modes include Program AE, Auto, and Easy Shooting. It takes a bit of doing, but in Program AE, if you half-press the Shutter button then press the EV button, you can use the Control dial to change aperture and shutter speed combinations without changing the exposure. That's how Program AE is supposed to work, but Canon rarely lets you tinker with the suggested exposure.

Auto restricts the Function menu to image size and quality options.

Easy Shooting pretty much locks up the camera, great for handing it off to a child. You can zoom and use the flash (if you raise it) but otherwise, no options.

The Mode dial includes a few Scene modes you might use frequently. Those include Portrait, Landscape, Night Snapshot, Kids&Pets, and Indoor.

Under the Scene menu, which Canon calls Special Scene, are a few additional Scene modes: Foliage, Snow, Beach, Sunset, Fireworks, Aquarium, Night Scene, and ISO 3,200.

Finally, the SX110 offers a Movie mode that can capture 640 x 480 frames at 30 fps, an LP version of that which can capture movies twice as long, and 320 x 240 at 30 fps.

Bottom. SD card and two AA batteries right next to the tripod mount. Note the sculpted thumb grip above the Control dial.

Storage and Battery. The largest image size from the 9-Mp sensor is 3,456 x 2,592 pixels. You can fit about seven of those using superfine compression and 13 using fine compression on the included 32-MB SD card.

That same card will hold only 15 seconds of the highest movie quality. But a 2GB card will hold 16 min. 47 sec.

Because the Canon SX110 is powered by AA batteries, you have a choice of technologies. Single use lithiums provide the most power but are not rechargeable. Still they make a good choice if you shoot mainly on holidays and rarely any other time. The alkalines included with the camera are the least powerful option, rating just 140 shots using CIPA test methods (which take quite a few flash shots). Between those extremes, but closer to the lithiums, are rechargeable Ni-MH batteries. Those rated 400 shots using CIPA test methods.

Performance. The Canon SX110 straddles two classes of digicams. With its 10x zoom, it's a long zoom. But with its user-friendly features and price, it's also an entry-level camera.

Among long zooms, its performance is about average on our most important categories. While startup was average at 2.8 seconds as the long lens extrudes, shutdown was better average at 1.7 second. If you're scoring this as an entry-level camera, make those both average.

 



Original. Noise is evident in the full resolution image captured at ISO 400 (click to open, as the thumbnail isn't representative).

Noiseware. But because both color and detail are captured by the Canon SX110, the noise can be suppressed.

Combined autofocus lag (both at wide angle and telephoto) was about average at 0.595 second in either class. Prefocus lag (with the Shutter button pressed halfway down before taking the picture) was average at 0.075 second for a long zoom but above average for an entry-level camera. That's rather quick, however you look at it.

Continuous mode cycle time for large/superfine images was below average 0.89 second, or 1.12 frames-per-second.

Flash cycling was below average in both classes at 10.8 seconds. That usually indicates a powerful flash. That, in fact, is the case with the Canon SX110. Our ISO 100 flash tests were well illuminated to about 9 or 10 feet. That's unusual for an entry-level camera.

Download speed was 4,004 Kbytes/s, very fast indeed at USB 2.0 Hi-Speed rates. That's about average among long zooms but above average on entry level digicams.

In either class, the 3.0-inch LCD ranks above average.

Optical zoom at 10x is only average for a long zoom, if above average on an entry-level camera.

And, on the other side of the coin, the Canon SX110's weight is a bit heavy for an entry-level digicam while very light for a long zoom.

Zoom Range. 36mm to 360mm to 4x digital zoom.

Image Quality. Informally looking at our first shots with the Canon SX110, I liked the image quality. Of course, I've yet to see a flawless lens, so I was curious what our lab tests revealed.

A peek at the Still Life ISO 100 image confirmed our initial impressions. The hanging yarns look pretty good, with even a little detail in the white yarn on the right. The proportional scale below them is pretty sharp, too, without any of the artifacts I usually see.

The dark coffee mug and the white napkin under it keep to themselves, although you can see a hint of chromatic aberration on the edge of the coffee cup as it bleeds into the wall and the edge of the dark napkin along the table.

The Hellas label looks very good, as does the white Samuel Smith label, which doesn't bloom into the dark glass of the bottle.

The crayons look natural and I can even see some salt crystals in the white salt mill.

The Multi Target test shot clearly shows several bright pixels of chromatic aberration in the corners and they extend into the image more than usual. But this is a 10x zoom, after all.

The horizontal and vertical resolution targets at the center of the image look very good to at least 1,500 lines.

The Gallery shots were taken under a variety of conditions. Indoors with natural light (even the very dim light of dusk) and outdoors in both sunlight and overcast skies.

The first observation we'll make is that the Canon SX110 delivered the detail. You can see this on the outdoor white hydrangea as well as the dried one indoors. But you can also see it on the two lemons, whose skin is just luscious. Those images ranged in ISO from 75 to 400.

While the indoor hydrangea at ISO 400 clearly shows color noise, it still retains the detail of the veined petals. A little post-processing with Noiseware and I was easily able to clear this up.

Sunset. Somewhat oversaturated in Scene mode.

The worst example of the noise issue, however, is easily the orchid taken at dusk. You can see the sunset pictures taken at the same time. That was the available light. I shot the image at ISO 1,600 and it's so grainy that you might be forgiven for thinking it's a Seurat pointillist painting.

Still, it's a remarkable shot. There was almost no light, although you can see the strong shadows the petals cast on each other. And it was taken in Macro mode. I did rely on Manual mode to open the lens up to f/2.8 and fix the Shutter speed at 1/15 second, which I thought I could hand hold with image stabilization. That's not possible with an automatic entry-level digicam.

Hydrant. A little blooming but highlights are preserved.

The sunset shots, however, are. They were all taken in Scene mode using the Sunset option. Viewing the images in real time on the LCD they all seemed a bit too intense to us. But that's forgivable with sunsets. Looking at them later on the monitor, I didn't feel they were quite so exaggerated. The early blues and later purples are nicely rendered as well as the glowing oranges.

That slight exaggeration of the reds I noticed in the sunset images is clear on the shot of the fire alarm. We've seen it much worse than this, though.

Click to view movie. AVI player required.

Broadcast Quality Movie. A 20MB file lasting 11 seconds. Digital zoom. (Click to view/download AVI file.)

And the fire hydrant again demonstrates the issue with chromatic aberration. This is really as bad as it gets along the top edges of the hydrant. What's notable about the image to us is how well contained the highlight detail is. I didn't see blown highlights with the SX110 -- and that's unusual.

Digital zoom performed well, too. That cranks the range out to 40x, but usually images start to fall apart, surviving only when resized. But the Canon SX110 did well even at 4x as our zoom range shots show.

But at just 10x it did remarkably well, too. The shot down Market St. is notable for the clear display of the time on the Ferry Building. You don't get that kind of detail from ultracompact digicams.

Appraisal. Usually when I say a camera is a bargain, I am highlighting the only good thing about it. Bargains usually represent technical trade-offs. But not in this case. The SX110 is a bargain by any standard. Yet it delivers above average performance whether you measure it against other long zooms or other entry-level cameras. I was happy with the image quality, too, taking successful shots under a variety of conditions, relying on both the full manual control as well as the Scene modes to do it.

 

Canon SX110 IS Basic Features

 

Canon SX110 IS Special Features

 

In the Box

The Canon SX110 IS ships with the following items in the box:

 

Recommended Accessories

 

Canon SX110 IS Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Excellent range with 10x zoom
  • Optical image stabilization very helpful
  • Fairly sharp corners at wide angle
  • Face detection works well
  • Wide range of Scene modes
  • Large 3.0 inch monitor with excellent resolution
  • A great value
  • Full manual modes
  • Very good Macro mode
  • LCD delivers 100% coverage
  • Good Auto White Balance performance indoors
  • High resolution and good detail, especially for a 9-megapixel camera
  • Very good low light performance
  • Competent autofocus down to 1/8 foot candle even without included AF assist lamp
  • Good flash performance at wide angle
  • Very good printed output
  • Reasonably fast download speed
  • Good battery life with NiMH rechargeables
  • Too large for a pocket
  • No widescreen Movie mode
  • Rather exposed battery drawer
  • Recessed Power button can be hard to access
  • High barrel distortion at wide angle
  • High and bright chromatic aberration at wide angle and telephoto
  • High contrast outdoors in harsh lighting
  • Somewhat slow startup time
  • Sluggish continuous mode
  • Slow flash recycle time

 

The Canon SX110 IS manages to pack an optically stabilized 10x zoom lens into a relatively compact body, but its image quality still competes very well with that of full-sized long-zoom cameras. In high ISO shooting, it gives up a little ground to Canon's own SX10 IS, which uses a more powerful version of Canon's DIGIC processor, but the Canon SX110 IS's more compact body is much easier to pack along on outings and trips. Its 9-megapixel sensor may sound modest at a time when some consumer models are sporting 14- and 15-megapixel chips, but trust us: The Canon SX110 IS captures more than enough detail for any size print you're likely to want to make. Auto white balance is excellent, making this a good camera for indoor shooting, as it's able to handle difficult household incandescent lighting. Highly versatile; offering anything from fully automatic to fully manual exposure, the Canon SX110IS would make a great family camera, as it can easily accommodate the interests of everyone from first-time beginners to experienced enthusiasts. A great, all-around digicam. The Canon SX110IS was an easy Dave's Pick.