Canon PowerShot SX130 IS Overview
Review by Greg Scoblete and Stephanie Boozer
Overview by Mike Tomkins
Review Posted: 02/18/2011
The Canon SX130IS follows up last year's long-zoom SX120IS model. Compared to the SX120IS, Canon has again upped the resolution slightly, taking the SX130 from a 10-megapixel sensor to 12 megapixels, simultaneously increasing the sensor size slightly from 1/2.5-inch to 1/2.3-inch. The Canon SX130's body is similar in arrangement to that of its predecessor, but has been restyled somewhat. The new body is just a little larger, with dimensions of 4.5 x 2.9 x 1.8 inches (113 x 73 x 46mm), and weight has also increased a little to 11.1 ounces (314g) including battery and flash card. The Canon SX130IS won't fit in your shirt pocket, but isn't unreasonably large.
The Canon PowerShot SX130 combines its 12-megapixel sensor with a more powerful 12x optical zoom lens, which offers the range from a useful 28mm wide-angle to a powerful 336mm telephoto setting. The increased reach at the wide-angle end comes at a price though -- maximum aperture varies from f/3.4 at wide-angle to f/5.6 at telephoto, noticeably less bright than the previous camera. As the "IS" in the SX130's name would suggest, it retains Canon's Image Stabilization technology, helping fight the effects of blur from camera shake -- particularly important at the longer focal lengths.
Images are framed and reviewed on a 3-inch color LCD display with 230,000 pixels, and not surprisingly for a long-zoom camera, there's no optical viewfinder on this model. The Canon PowerShot SX130 IS offers not only a selection of Scene modes and a Program auto mode, but also the ability to control shutter and/or aperture manually. Canon's implementation of face detection is included, and the face detection functionality is linked not only to the autofocus system, but also to the exposure metering and white balance systems to ensure correct exposure of portraits as well.
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 (Evaluative, Center-weighted average, Center spot, Face Detect AE), and white balance options (Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Flash, Custom). Compared to its predecessor, the PowerShot SX130 offers slightly reduced flash range when the ISO sensitivity is under automatic control, with a maximum reach of 9.8 feet at wide-angle, or 8.2 feet at telephoto.
The Canon PowerShot SX130 IS stores images on Secure Digital or MultiMediaCard media, including the latest higher capacity SDXC types. Like its predecessor the SX120, the Canon SX120IS runs on a pair of AA batteries - either alkaline, lithium, or NiMH rechargeables. A pair of alkaline disposables is included in the product bundle.
Suggested retail pricing for the Canon PowerShot SX130 IS is US$250, and the camera began shipping in late August 2010.
Canon SX130 IS User Report
by Greg Scoblete
The Canon PowerShot SX130IS is a 12-megapixel ultra-zoom, packing a 12x optical zoom lens, a roomy 3-inch LCD display, 720p HD video recording and manual controls. At $249, it's a mid-range model in Canon's compact camera lineup and replaces the 10-megapixel Canon SX120. Fans of the older model will find many features carried over: the large display, an "Easy" mode, and more, but Canon boosted the zoom from 10x to 12x in addition to adding high definition video recording.
The Canon SX130 IS offers a nice blend of functionality designed to entice relative novices as well as more advanced shooters. The latter will enjoy the camera's manual settings, Shutter and Aperture priority modes, and extensive color modes for tweaking individual colors in a photo. The point-and-shoot crowd have access to an "Easy" mode to streamline camera settings, an in-camera guide as well as ample scene modes.
Look and Feel: Whereas many long-zoom cameras tend to self-consciously mimic digital SLR designs with aggressively protruding grips and electronic viewfinders perched atop the lens, the Canon SX130 hews closer to a point-and-shoot camera in its design. There’s a slight ergonomic rest for your finger to the left of the lens barrel, which helps anchor your grip. You can get away with holding and shooting one-handed, but I found it far more comfortable to grip the camera with two hands. And, despite its towering size (compared to a smaller pocket camera), there's no viewfinder on the Canon SX130.
Like all longer zoom cameras, however, the Canon SX130 has some heft to it at 11.1 ounces (314g) with memory card and battery. This heft isn't a bad thing, per-se, nor is it burdensome, as it gives the camera a substantial feel. The Canon SX130 is well contoured and comfortable to hold.
It's also, not surprisingly, somewhat bulky. At 4.46 x 2.88 x 1.80 inches (113 x 73 x 46mm) in size, the Canon SX130 is a bit tall and long. It will fit in a roomy pants pocket, but not terribly comfortably, so it's best to opt for a smaller camera pouch or bag for longer trips.
As far as aesthetics go, the Canon SX130 won't turn many heads, but its black speckled finish and silver accents contribute to a rather understated look.
Controls: There is definitely an upside to the PowerShot SX130’s boxy bulk: well-sized control buttons. At the top of the camera you'll find a pop-up flash, which has to be raised or closed manually, as the camera won't automatically pop it up. Beside the flash is a well-stocked Mode dial for access to Auto, Program, Shutter priority, Aperture priority, Manual, Easy mode, Portrait, Landscape, Kids&Pets, Scene and Movie recording modes. A large and responsive Shutter Release button sits nestled inside a zoom ring. Beside that you'll find the Power button sitting somewhat flush to the camera (don't worry, it's easy to press).
Drop to the back of the Canon SX130 and you'll see a small Playback button, a pair of controls for face selection and exposure compensation, then a scroll wheel that also doubles as a four-way controller which provides access to ISO, Macro, and Manual focusing, the flash, and self-timer. This scroll wheel is a nice touch as it really speeds up making adjustments as well as menu navigation and photo playback. Finally, beneath the Control dial are another pair of controls for the Display and the camera's internal Menu. Just left of the Playback button is a small ramp to serve as a thumbgrip as well as keep you away from the Playback button. The Canon SX130's painted surface is a little slippery at times, though, so it's a shame they didn't include some texture.
Lens: The Canon SX130IS's big selling point is its big zoom. Its 12x optical zoom lens (28mm-336mm, 35mm equivalent) delivers the benefits of wide-angle shooting in addition to the flexibility to zoom out to capture distant action. The lens itself moves at a modest pace as it travels from wide-angle to telephoto, and there's no option to adjust the zoom speed, either by moderating the pressure on the zoom lever or in the camera menu.
As the “IS” in the camera's name suggests, the lens offers optical image stabilization, which is an obvious must for a focal length of this size. Canon offers several flavors of image stabilization on the SX130IS depending on your shooting needs. Using the Menu, you can set image stabilization to Continuous mode, which (you guessed it) continuously adjusts the lens element to keep your photos sharp. There's a "Shoot Only" setting which only snaps into action when the you press the shutter. A panning mode is also available, which stabilizes only vertical movement. Finally, you can choose to turn image stabilization off.
At each setting, the image stabilization seemed to offer very good results, keeping snapshots crisp. As you'll see below, however, keeping the Canon SX130 in Continuous IS mode almost certainly contributes to its voracious appetite for battery power. If you're running low on juice, you'll probably need to shut down IS to preserve your battery.
As for focusing, the Canon SX130 delivers several choices there as well. In Macro, it is capable of focusing on objects as close as 0.4 inches (1cm). You can enter into Macro focusing manually or the camera will do it for you automatically while shooting in Auto, which is nice.
The Canon SX130 provides a few options for those interested in manual focus. A focus-assist function (which can be turned off in the menu) will bring up a magnified crop of the scene on the camera's LCD to help you sharpen your focus, which you do by using the scroll wheel on the back of the camera. For extra help, you can enable "Safety MF" mode which will automatically sharpen your focus a bit more with a half-press of the shutter. Purists may object, but I found it helpful when I was less than confident that I had properly set focus.
As far as autofocus options go, you can choose between face-detect and center frame. You can refine still further by setting the autofocus frame size to small or normal. For added assistance, you can turn on AF point zoom, which will magnify the portion of the frame that is the focal point when you half-press the Canon SX130's shutter release (similarly to the focus-assist option when manually focusing). This can be quite useful for portraits and for static landscape scenes, but if you're taking candids or any action, the constant magnified preview can be something of a distraction. Fortunately, you can disable it in the menu.
In Auto, Easy and some scene modes, or when face-detect AF mode is selected, the camera will automatically detect and track faces. Pressing the Face Select button allows you to cycle through all the detected faces, making it easy to focus on a specific person in a group. If no faces are detected in Auto or Easy mode, the SX130 will revert to a 9-area AF mode, focusing on the closest subject with sufficient contrast. In most other modes, autofocus will revert to center frame. When center frame AF mode is selected in the menu, you can toggle face-detect AF mode by simply pressing the Face Select button. Nice.
Modes: The Canon SX130 IS affords the photo enthusiast ample opportunity to experiment. There is a Program mode alongside full Manual mode, Aperture and Shutter priority modes, all accessible on the mode dial. You can set your shutter speed and/or aperture on the LCD simply by spinning the scroll wheel. For those looking for a "set and forget" experience, Canon's Smart Auto mode relies on 28 predefined shooting scenes to determine which is the best match for the scene in front of you. Or choose from Portrait, Landscape and Kids&Pets to match your scene.
When in Auto mode, the camera will sharply curtail your menu options. You'll lose access to exposure and all of the color modes addressed below. You will still be able to adjust image resolution and set the self-timer. For everything else, you'll need to go into the camera menu.
For an even more streamlined approach -- and I do mean streamlined -- the Canon SX130 can be set to Easy mode. Unlike some camera easy modes, which still let you access a simplified suite of menu options, Canon's Easy mode locks you out of everything. The only control you can exercise over your shooting in Easy mode is to zoom and raise or lower the pop-up flash (and raising it simply drops the camera into auto-flash mode). I think this goes just a bit too far, crippling many functions that might still be useful to someone seeking an easy mode (like exposure). Still, if you were handing the camera over to a caveman or someone equally incapable of coping with digital camera technology, you can imagine a scenario where this kind of mode could come in handy. Most people would do well to just skip it.
The Canon SX130 packs an additional 12 Scene modes (not counting the modes found on the Mode dial) including standbys such as Snow and Fireworks. There are also some fun image effects. Some are pretty routine, like Fish-eye, but others, like Color Accent and Color Swap, are more noteworthy.
There's a "Smart Shutter" too, which will automatically snap a photo when it detects a smiling face. It works as advertised and can come in handy for portraits (particularly of children whose inclination to smile can be a tad unpredictable). Since you can snap a photo whenever you choose, it's not necessarily an impediment to using your own judgment and reflexes. A "Wink Self-timer" option will take a photo two seconds after it detects a winking eye, and "Face Self-timer" will take a shot two seconds after a new face is detected.
My Colors: One nice touch that the SX130IS offers is Canon's My Colors mode which lets you apply color effects either to the entire image, emphasize specific colors in a photo, or even isolate them altogether so they can stand out sharply amidst an otherwise black-and-white photo. You can shoot in vivid to highly saturate all the colors in your frame or in neutral for a more muted appearance. There's an option for sepia images, positive film (which also boosts color saturation) lighter or darker skin tones, and black & white as well.
Additional My Color options are vivid blue, vivid green, vivid red or custom color. If you select custom, you'll have the option to select which colors in a scene you'd like to emphasize (green, red or blue) and which you'd like to dial back. You can also adjust the contrast, sharpness, saturation and skin tone of the image, all in five level increments. This gives you a great degree of creative control over the look of your images in a relatively simple fashion, plus it allows for hours of experimentation as there are multiple combinations to play with.
There's also a very cool Color Accent mode, which lets you isolate a specific color in an otherwise black & white scene. Oddly, this setting isn't grouped with the other color options but is shunted over to the other Scene modes. Not a big deal, all things considered, but it seems misplaced there, though keeping it a separate Scene mode probably helps avoid using it unintentionally. There's also a Color Swap mode that lets you change one color in a scene to another.
HD Video Recording: You'll find 1,280 x 720 at 30 frames per second video recording in the H.264 format on the Canon SX130IS, accessible from the Mode dial (but not, alas, through a dedicated movie button). With a bit rate of 3MB/s it's not the highest quality HD recording on a compact, but the results were pleasing enough on an HD computer monitor. Sometimes the lens would need to refocus in lower-light settings.
There are several nice touches that augment the Canon SX130's video capabilities. First, not only can you use the 12x optical zoom to the fullest while recording, it's also nearly silent, so there's no annoying clicks when the lens settles into place. That's doubly welcome because the SX130IS also offers stereo recording via a pair of tiny mics on opposite sides of the lens barrel -- a nice audio boost not commonly found on lower-cost compacts. Optical image stabilization in continuous mode is available when filming and can also be disabled. You can use manual or macro focusing as well when recording movies.
Canon also makes several image effects available to you while shooting videos, including the Miniature effect, Color Accent, and Color Swap as well. These provide some creative options beyond basic video recording.
The Canon SX130 can also record at 640 x 480/30fps and 320 x 240/30fps. In my view it's a bit extraneous, as there's little sense in recording sub-HD quality, but your mileage (or memory card space) may vary.
Menu System: The Canon SX130's combination of a 3-inch LCD display, well-executed user-interface, and large text makes menu navigation a breeze. (Incidentally, in addition to its nice size, the display is remarkably bright and easy to view even under the glaring sun.) In Program mode, you can access most of your commonly used settings, including white balance, color modes, image size, image quality, drive mode, flash power, and metering, by pressing the Func./Set button at the center of the four-way controller. The scroll wheel makes getting back and forth simple, and you can press the shutter button at any time to jump back into shooting.
As mentioned above, there is a "Hints & Tips" function available in the camera menu which will provide a short written description of a scene mode or camera setting before you choose it (this can be turned off if you wish). Unfortunately, the text is usually crammed at the bottom of the screen making it difficult to read. If the description of a particular camera setting exceeds the length of the screen, as it often will, it will scroll automatically to the next line -- so if you're not looking for the description, you could miss it the first time around, though it will repeat another two times before disappearing. It would have been easier to read if Canon shortened up the menu to make room for the full text on screen.
Memory and Batteries: If sluggish performance tops the relatively short list of the Canon SX130's liabilities, skimpy battery life is a very close second. The camera draws power from a pair of AA batteries and promises a pretty measly 130 shots from a standard pair of alkalines. In practice, I could barely get through a day of shooting without burning through my batteries and never got anywhere close to 130 images from a pair of AAs when using optical image stabilization in continuous mode or shooting a few HD videos. Unless you happen to have large stock holdings in a major alkaline battery concern, you should absolutely steer clear of standard AAs for the Canon SX130.
Canon says that NiMH AA-sized batteries offer a substantially better endurance -- up to 370 images according to the CIPA standard, which is pretty good. Unquestionably, this is the way to go.
The batteries are housed along with your SD card in a compartment at the bottom of the camera. The compartment door can be a bit fussy to open but latches securely once you do get it closed. The Canon SX130 accepts SDHC memory cards in addition to higher capacity, higher speed SDXC cards. Canon recommends at least Class 4 speed cards for recording movies. If you're not mindful, the batteries can fall out of the camera as you're attempting to remove the memory card. The Canon SX130 also provides a DC input jack, for use with an optional ACK800 AC Adapter Kit.
Playback: The Canon SX130 has a nice set of options when you're in Playback mode. Just using the scroll wheel to zip through your images is fun, but it gets better. A Smart-shuffle function displays a main photo in the center of the display and drops four others around it you use the scroll wheel to go up or down or side-to-side to pick the next photo you want to see. Pretty nifty. Another nice touch is a display mode where a magnified crop of the focus area is shown at the bottom right. Pressing the Face Select button automatically magnifies the next face detected in the scene, so you can quickly check if people are in focus. A slide show lets you choose transition effects (fade, bubble, scroll, etc.) and the interval between the photo transitions. You can also do some light edits such as applying Intelligent Contrast (either Auto, Low, Med or High) as well as apply color effects such as Vivid or Positive film after the fact. You can save your edits as a new image file to preserve your original image.
The Canon SX130's speaker is located where your left finger would be if you were holding the camera with two hands, which could potentially muffle the audio during playback. Odds are that's not how you'd be holding the camera if you reviewing your photos, and in any event, even with your finger completely covering the speaker, the audio playback didn't seem noticeably muffled or indistinct.
Shooting: The Canon SX130 accompanied me on a few autumn outings and proved to be somewhat of a mixed bag, not so much for the image quality, which was quite good, but on the performance front. After only a few seconds of shooting, you'll notice the camera's biggest liability: she's slow. It's not unusual for an ultra-zoom camera to be on the sluggish side of the fence, but the lag between shots with the Canon SX130 using alkaline batteries was definitely noticeable, and often disagreeable. I was often missing key moments because of the lag. Outdoor, well-lit environments with the flash down provided the smoothest shooting experience as far as lag-time was concerned. Indoors, with the flash up on automatic, the camera is a real laggard.
When I did succeed in capturing the moment, I was pretty pleased with the results. I noticed the occasional blown out highlights in some of my snapshots too, but they were generally well-balanced. To compensate for difficult lighting, you can turn on the Intelligent Contrast function in the menu. I found it worked better outdoors than inside.
See below for our image quality analysis, and look for our Pro/Con and Conclusion below that.
Canon PowerShot SX130 IS Lens Quality
Wide: Sharp at center
Wide: Soft at upper right
Tele: Sharp at center
Tele: Minimal blurring, upper left corner
Sharpness: The wide-angle end of the Canon PowerShot SX130's zoom shows mild blurring in the right corners of the frame compared to what we see at center, though blurring is less intense in the left corners. Blurring also extends further in toward center on the right side. At full telephoto, blurring isn't as strong. Pretty good results for a wide-angle 12x zoom.
Wide: Moderate barrel distortion; slightly noticeable
Tele: A tiny amount of pincushion distortion, barely visible
Geometric Distortion: The Canon PowerShot SX130 IS produced moderate barrel distortion at full wide-angle (0.5%), which is lower than average and very discreet. At full telephoto, we only measured about 0.2% pincushion distortion, which is also only barely noticeable.
Moderate and bright
Higher, also bright
Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at wide-angle is moderate in terms of pixel count, though pixels are very bright. At full telephoto, the distortion increases, particularly with the magenta pixels, which are also fairly bright.
Macro with Flash
Macro: The Canon PowerShot SX130's Macro mode captures sharp details in the center of the frame on the dollar bill, though blurring is strong along the edges and in the corners, as is chromatic aberration, extending well into the center of the frame. Minimum coverage area is 1.16 x 0.87 inches (30 x 22mm), which is quite good. The camera's flash does a good job of throttling down for the macro area, with only slightly uneven exposure (results here are actually preferable to those with only external lighting.)
Canon PowerShot SX130 IS Viewfinder Accuracy
Viewfinder Accuracy: The Canon PowerShot SX130's LCD monitor and showed about 100% coverage accuracy at both wide-angle and full telephoto. Excellent results.
Canon PowerShot SX130 IS Image Quality
Color: Overall color looks pretty good and natural, though bright yellows are a tad muted. Strong reds, blues and some yellow-green tones are pushed a little, which is fairly common among consumer digital cameras. Hue is off slightly for colors like yellow, orange and cyan. Dark skin tones show a small warm shift, while lighter skin tones edge more toward pink. Still, good results overall.
Good, though slightly red
Incandescent: Both the Auto and Manual white balances handled our incandescent lighting much better than the Incandescent setting, which came out very pink. The Auto setting is a hint reddish, though not much, while the Manual setting has a very slight yellowish tint. Both results are better than average, and personal taste will most likely be the deciding factor between the two.
Horizontal: 1,900 lines
Vertical: 1,850 lines
Resolution: Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,900 lines per picture height horizontally, and to around 1,850 lines vertically. Extinction of the pattern occurred at around 2,350 lines per picture height.
Tele: Fairly bright
Flash: Our manufacturer-specified testing (shown at right) shows bright results at the Canon rated distance of 9.8 feet, though the camera increased ISO to 500 to achieve these results. The telephoto test was also fairly bright at 6.6 feet, though again, ISO was boosted to 500.
Auto flash produced very bright results in our indoor portrait scene, retaining some of the ambient light by using a slower shutter speed of 1/20 second, and raising ISO to 250. The Canon PowerShot SX130's image stabilization should help with the slower shutter speed, but any movement of the subject could be problematic at this shutter speed.
ISO: Noise and Detail: Viewed at 100 percent onscreen, detail is good at up to about ISO 100, as visible softening begins to interfere with fine detail at ISO 200. Chroma (color) noise isn't much of an issue throughout the series, though a combination of luminance noise and noise suppression efforts gradually decrease detail as the sensitivity increases. See Printed results below for more on how this affects prints.
ISO 200 shots start to show some luminance noise in the shadows at 16x20, and there's a slight softening of detail, but it's not bad at arm's length.
ISO 400 shots are usable at 13x19, but still a bit soft, so they're better printed at 11x14 inches. Red detail also begins to diminish more than the other colors, a common outcome.
ISO 800 images are again usable at 11x14, but noticeably better at 8x10. Most detail in the reds is now quite soft.
ISO 1,600 shots are a bit too soft for 8x10, but look just fine at 5x7.
Overall, the Canon SX130 does pretty well. They were wise to keep the ISO settings conservative. Most shooters will be very pleased with the SX130's output.
Canon PowerShot SX130 IS Performance
Startup Time: The Canon SX130 takes about 2.7 seconds to power on and take a shot. That's pretty good for a long-zoom model.
Shutter Lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is sluggish, at 0.77 second at wide-angle and 0.74 second at full telephoto. Prefocus shutter lag is 0.081 second, not the fastest on the market but still pretty fast.
Cycle Time: Cycle time is on the slower side of average, capturing a frame every 2.76 seconds in single-shot mode. Canon rates the SX130's continuous mode burst speed at about one frame per second, also quite slow.
Flash Recycle: The Canon PowerShot SX130's flash recycles in about 12 seconds after a full-power discharge, which is slower than average, and one of the camera's chief nuisances. This is not unusual for a camera with a decent flash that is powered by two AAs, but still disappointing.
Low Light AF: The camera's AF system was able to focus down to just under the 1/4 foot-candle light level without AF assist enabled, though the camera was able to focus in complete darkness with the AF assist lamp enabled.
USB Transfer Speed: Connected to a computer or printer with USB 2.0, the Canon PowerShot SX130's download speeds are pretty fast. We measured 6,736 KBytes/sec.
In the Box
The Canon PowerShot SX130 IS ships with the following items in the box:
- Canon PowerShot SX130 IS
- Wrist Strap WS-800
- 2 AA Alkaline Batteries
- Interface cable IFC-400PCU
- A/V cable AVC-DC400ST
- Getting Started Guide
- Software CD-ROM
- Rechargeable NiMH batteries
- Large capacity, high-speed Class 4+ SD/SDHC/SDXC memory card. 4 to 8GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity.
Canon SX130 IS Conclusion
The Canon PowerShot SX130IS is something of a mixed bag. It delivers the goods as far as image quality and feature set for the price are concerned. Not only does it offer a solid 12x optical zoom, image stabilized, wide-angle lens but its HD movie capabilities are quite robust for a compact camera, with plenty of creative options for your movies. That said, its sluggish speeds and meager battery life are serious liabilities when it comes to performance. With traditional alkalines, the Canon SX130 will barely survive a day of shooting, let alone a vacation's worth. They're useful in a pinch, but you'll fare much better with NiMH batteries. On the speed side, with the flash up, the shot-to-shot lag on the Canon SX130 can be interminable.
On the plus side, there are plenty of image effects and the ability to tinker with exposure, saturation, color and contrast should give the enthusiast ample opportunities to tweak their images. And the Canon SX130's wider 28mm equivalent 12x lens and the addition of 720p video with optical zoom make it a worthy successor to its predecessor, the SX120. With the warning about the slow autofocus and cycle times, we still give the Canon SX130 a Dave's Pick for its good image quality, easy demeanor, and range of customizable features.