Canon PowerShot SX200 IS Overview
by Mike Pasini and Stephanie Boozer
Review Date: 07/08/09
The Canon PowerShot SX200 IS super zoom compact is based around a 1/2.3-inch 12.1-megapixel CCD image sensor, DIGIC 4 image processor, and a Canon-branded 12x optical zoom lens. The Canon SX200 IS's lens offers focal lengths ranging from a useful 28mm wide angle to a far-reaching 336mm telephoto, and features true optical image stabilization -- a must given that zoom range. Maximum aperture varies from f/2.8 to f/4.9 across the zoom range.
There's no true optical viewfinder, with the Canon SX200 IS instead opting solely for a 3.0-inch LCD with 230,000 dots of resolution. The maximum image dimensions are 4,000 x 3,000 pixels, and the Canon SX200 offers true manual shooting in addition to program, aperture-priority, and shutter-priority modes. 30 frames-per-second 720p (1,280 x 720) movie recording is also possible with the Canon SX200. Sensitivity ordinarily ranges from ISO 80 to ISO 1,600 equivalents, and can be extended to ISO 3,200 equivalent in a high-sensitivity scene mode. A built-in flash strobe is rated as good to 10.5 feet (3.2 meters) at wide angle, and 6.6 feet (2 meters) at telephoto. Images and movies are stored on SD/SDHC/MMC cards, including MMCplus and HC MMCplus types. HDMI high-definition, and NTSC / PAL standard definition video output plus USB 2.0 High-Speed computer connectivity are on offer, and the Canon PowerShot SX200 draws power from a proprietary NB-5L lithium-ion rechargeable battery.
Available in silver, black, blue, and red colors, the Canon SX200IS began shipping in March 2009, with pricing of US$350.
Canon SX200 IS User Report
by Mike Pasini
At $50 less than the similarly-featured Panasonic ZS3 and with a slightly longer telephoto reach, the Canon PowerShot SX200 IS makes a strong argument in the compact superzoom category.
It's also $50 more than the Canon SX110 IS I fell in love with but it adds HD video along with more zoom. And the Canon SX200 is better looking, too, with a rectangular body that flares into a grip on the right side leaving room for some very large glass.
Large glass always looks pretty and the Canon SX200's 12x zoom 28-336mm lens will get your attention. But the SX200 has brains, too. The DIGIC 4 image processor not only handles post-processing for the 1/2.3-inch 12.1-megapixel sensor, but adds some interesting features. The most interesting is the Canon SX200's ability to track the faces of moving subjects, setting focus and optimizing exposure as well as white balance for them. That same capability works in the self-timer to hold the shutter until you get in the picture, too.
The only serious gripe I have with the otherwise delightful Canon SX200 is its popup flash. There was no way to keep it from popping up on the review unit when I was in Record mode.
Otherwise, the Canon SX200 came along wherever I went, and unlike me, came back with its memory full of gorgeous images. I really hated to see it go.
Look and Feel. The first thing I noticed about the Canon SX200 was that it wasn't black. Canon sent a maroon review unit. Maroon is a strikingly attractive color without being, say, a fashion statement or getting into political arguments. It's a camera, after all, no one really wants it stealing the show or getting into a fight.
If it looks good in red, the Canon SX200 is gorgeous with that big piece of glass in front. The 12x zoom is housed in a very large barrel that pops out almost as far as the body is wide.
Unfortunately, the flash pops up whenever the lens pops out. I thought that turning off the flash would close it. Or that I could just push it back down into its hole, but nope. At first I thought, this baby is a goner. No way I'm going to be slinging the Canon SX200 around town and not detach the flash from the body. But I managed to avoid that. I did get my fingers snagged on it more than I cared to count but it wasn't quite the problem I expected. Still, it would be nice to be able to close it and keep it closed. (A reader has subsequently informed me that the flash on current models can be closed in Record mode. -- MRP)
I liked the Canon SX200's grip, which is helped by the flared right side and a small indent on the back with a grid of little bumps.
It isn't a lightweight camera, but the Canon SX200's heft helps stabilize the camera when you press the Shutter button, so no complaints from me. It's more a coat-pocket than shirt-pocket digital camera but I stuck it in my shirt pocket without a second thought and didn't have to limp around.
Controls. The Canon SX200's top deck has the very small Power button, the nice Mode dial that hangs off the back edge just enough for your thumb to twirl it easily and the large Shutter button ringed with the Zoom lever that I really like. All these controls are more centered on the body than usual (as is the lens, for that matter).
Zoom on the Canon SX200 is smooth and controlled. Every zoom should be as well-mannered as the Canon SX200's.
On the back, the 3.0-inch LCD is the center of attention with the usual four small buttons ringing the navigator, and a central Function/Set button. There's also a ring around the Canon SX200's navigator that makes it easy to scroll through and select menu options.
The four small buttons around the Canon SX200's navigator are the Share, Playback, Display, and Menu buttons, familiar to owners of most Canon PowerShots. The Share button can be defined to set Face Select, ISO, White Balance, Custom White Balance, Red Eye Correction, Digital Teleconverter, i-Contrast, Display Overlay, or Display Off. I used it for ISO.
The arrow positions on the Control Dial itself support the usual functions. Up is EV, Right goes through the Flash modes, Down goes through the Release modes (like Self-timer options) and deletes an image in Playback, and Left goes through the Focus modes (like Macro).
Lens. That gorgeous glass has a 35mm equivalent range of 28-336mm (a bit different 12x reach than the Panasonic ZS3's 25-300mm). Once you've had 336mm in your pocket, there's no happiness with a 3x or 5x zoom. It saves you bus fare, cab fare, ferry fare, and a lot of walking.
It is also the solution to shooting those soccer, basketball, volleyball, and baseball games that can be the next best thing to Halloween. And for those with no one to embarrass, that long range does marvels for isolating a subject against such a beautifully blurred background that it once caused a Zen monk to exclaim, "Bokeh!" And the word has stuck ever since.
So the big question for any super zoom is what kind of light does it need? As you rack out the barrel, the sensor sees a smaller part of the overall image and therefore less of the total light entering the lens. While a bit of an over-simplification, this explains why the maximum aperture of most digicam zoom lenses decreases at their telephoto ends. Lens designers can perform optical tricks to minimize or even eliminate the effect, but these increase both cost and bulk. As a result, long-ratio zoom lenses like the one on the Canon SX200IS tend to be rather dim at their telephoto ends.
The Canon SX200's maximum aperture at wide angle is f/3.4 and at telephoto it's a dim f/5.3. At either focal length it closes down to f/8.0, a usable range in Manual mode.
And the Canon SX200's lens enjoys Canon's optical stabilization (hence the IS in the name), a must for such a long zoom, certainly, but very handy for shooting in natural light (even if the flash does insist on popping up).
I had some trouble shooting close-ups that I didn't notice while I was still in the field -- even in Macro mode. There is a Macro and Super Macro mode on the Canon SX200, but some shots that should have been in focus in Macro mode were oddly soft. Shooting macro took more care than usual.
I liked the images I captured with the Canon SX200. They had good color and detail, and some of them were real winners (like that plant in the gallery that just pops off the background).
There is very low distortion at wide angle and even less at telephoto. There's some blurring in the corners at the Canon SX200's telephoto setting, but very little at wide angle, which is surprising.
Modes. One reason I like the SX line is the full range of shooting modes it offers.
In the Canon SX200, that starts with PASM: Programmed Auto, Aperture Priority (Av), Shutter Priority (Tv) and Manual (which gives you independent control of both aperture and shutter). Many digicams avoid all this, but having Aperture Priority makes life worth living -- and having Manual means you can live it like Harrison Ford. Program has the advantage over Easy or Green mode in that you can actually change a few of the Canon SX200's settings.
But there's also an Easy Mode on the Canon SX200 for times when you don't want anyone to control anything but the Shutter button. It's the same as Auto mode, really, except it displays instructions on the screen so if you've handed the camera to someone else, you don't have to yell across the room.
Canon likes to put some Scene modes on the Mode dial (like Portrait, Landscape, Night Snapshot, Kids&Pets, and Indoor). They're the most common Scene choices and easily accessible there. But in the Canon SX200's Scene option on the Mode Dial you'll find a few more that Canon calls Special Scenes. Those include Foliage, Snow, Beach, Sunset, Fireworks, Aquarium, Night Scene, ISO 3200, Color Accent, Color Swap, and Stitch Assist.
Finally, there's Movie mode. You've got a wealth of options here, something not common on digicams. Image size can be HD at 1,280 x 720, or SD at 640 x 480, and 320 x 240. All of those are recorded at 30 frames per second, with monaural sound. And, bonus, when you select one in Movie mode's Menu, the Canon SX200 tells you how much time you've got on your SD card for it. Brilliant.
You can zoom in the Canon SX200's movies -- but only digitally. At least the zoom is silent. The segment limit is 29 minutes 59 seconds or 4GB. And with the built-in HDMI port, you can just plug an HDMI cable into your HDTV and watch 720p video straight from the camera (an HDMI cable is not included).
Menu. The Canon SX200's menu system functions like other PowerShots. The main camera settings that you'll configure are accessible via the Menu button. Settings you might change for a shoot are accessed from the Function/Set button. And buttons give you access to the settings you might change between shots.
The Function menu is a bit different on the Canon SX200, using two stripes on the left side of the LCD to do what the vertical and horizontal fly-out menus usually do. So you press Function/Set, spin the Control Dial to get from one option to another, press the Right side of the Control Dial to select an option, scroll through that option's settings and press Function/Set to pick one.
Storage & Battery. The Canon SX200 accepts SD/SDHC, MultiMediaCard, MMCplus Card, and HC MMCplus memory cards but if you're going to do HD movies, you want a fast SDHC card. Still images at full resolution are 4,000 x 3,000 and at Fine quality you can fit 626 on a 2GB card. That same card will store 10 minutes 53 seconds of HD video or 23 minutes 49 seconds of broadcast quality video on the Canon SX200.
Power is supplied by a proprietary lithium-ion battery NB-SL rated for 3.7V and 1120 mAh. Canon's CIPA standards testing yielded 280 shots or 300 minutes of playback but, frankly, I never seemed to have to recharge the Canon SX200. I'd take it out for a shoot, come home, take it out for another shoot. After about a week I wondered if I'd ever charged that battery and sheepishly dug out the charger to freshen it up. But only out of guilt.
There is a $70 AC Adapter Kit ACK-DC30 for the Canon SX200, but I didn't feel that guilty.
Shooting. Part of what makes the Canon SX200 fun to shoot with -- and fun it is -- is that 12x zoom in your pocket. You don't look around and say to yourself, "Well, if I just had a 300mm lens." With the Canon SX200 you have a lens that can see everything from three walls in a room to that kid in center field.
And the Canon SX200's smooth, 12x zoom makes it easy to compose the image just the way you want, too.
So you know you can get to anything with the Canon SX200, but you also have some fun ways to frame that composition. There's the standard 4:3 aspect ratio, but also 16:9, which I'm increasingly coming to prefer.
Toss in the exposure modes and you have a very versatile little box in your hands. It's just the right size for travel, too.
That versatility is really liberating. One minute I was taking a picture of a ship coming in, the next I was grabbing a movie of some character riding by on a bike singing "The Girl from Ipanema," and before I could finish laughing I was taking a macro shot of miniature cupcake. I nearly forgot to eat my lunch.
The Canon SX200's little flash was a nuisance, always popping up, but I just happened to be reading Joe McNally's amusing The Hot Shoe Diaries about using flash for everything (flossing, too, I'm pretty sure, but I haven't finished the book yet). So I tried a few experiments like setting the camera to -2.0 EV and the flash to +1.3 EV. You can do that on the Canon SX200, and you can get a pretty dramatic shot. An unusual shot. Just like Joe says.
One little problem we didn't solve right away was the EV setting. It's simple enough to set EV on the Canon SX200. Just press the Up arrow and spin the Control Dial. The trouble is that when you turn the Canon SX200 off, it saves the setting. That's a bit unusual, and, creature of habit that I am, I expected it to start up with the defaults (EV 0). So a few of the gallery shots are underexposed.
On a digicam that isn't really a crime, and it's more like you'd expect to see on a digital SLR. Some of my best Gallery shots are -0.3 EV.
The Canon SX200 seems to like ISO 75, if left to its own devices. My shots at ISO 3,200 were poor, but the real problem was the camera's difficulty focusing in low light. But you aren't going to get great detail and muted noise at ISO 3,200 on a 1/2.3-inch sensor anyway.
Those were small glitches, really, in what was otherwise an unusually pleasant shooting experience with a digicam. If I'd had a month with the camera, I'd forget to tell you about them.
In the Box
The Canon PowerShot SX200 IS kit ships with the following items in the box:
- Canon PowerShot SX200 IS digital camera
- Lithium-ion Battery Pack NB-5L
- Battery Charger CB-2LX
- Wrist Strap WS-DC9
- Digital Camera Solution CD-ROM
- USB Interface Cable IFC-400PCU
- AV Cable AVC-DC400
Canon SX200 IS Conclusion
The Canon PowerShot SX200 is a versatile photo companion, packing a 12x zoom that gets to 336mm, an image processor that can track faces in motion, a wide selection of recording modes including Manual, HD video with an HDMI port, and more. Image quality, while suffering the usual small-camera blurry corners and chromatic aberration, showed surprisingly little distortion and accurate color. The big complaints are that the popup flash can't be closed and close-up focusing was not accurate (which can be impossible to detect on the LCD). But the overall experience of using this versatile digicam was such a delight, it easily earns a Dave's Pick, especially if you need an interesting travel companion.