Canon PowerShot TX1 Overview
by Mike Pasini
Review Date: 9/5/07
The Canon TX1 is an unusual hybrid digital camera optimized for video capture. It features a 10x f/3.5-5.6 optically stabilized zoom lens, a seven megapixel imager, and a Movie mode with resolutions up to 1,280 x 720 pixels and frame-rates up to 60 frames per second in QVGA resolution. Other resolutions are limited to 30 fps video, and surprisingly for a camera aimed at video capabilities, Canon has selected a Motion JPEG AVI file format rather than the MPEG4 format found on most other such cameras.
Other features of the Canon TX1 include a rather small 1.8 inch LCD display with a fairly average 115,000 pixel resolution, as well as 35mm-equivalent zoom range from a rather tight 39mm wide-angle to a powerful 390mm telephoto. Optical zoom is supported during movies. Focusing is done via Canon's relatively new Face-Detect AF system, and the TX1 can macro focus to a minimum of 10 centimeters; however, the TX1 has a Super Macro mode that gets right up to the glass. ISO sensitivity tops out at 1,600 as with Canon's other PMA 2007 PowerShot digicams, and data is stored on Secure Digital or MultiMediaCards, including the newer SDHC types, with a not-very-generous 32MB MMC Plus card in the product bundle.
The TX1 derives its power from a custom lithium-ion battery pack and connectivity includes USB 2.0 (Hi-Speed), standard definition NTSC, or PAL A/V out, as well as high definition 1080i component video out. A component video cable assembly (CTC-100/S) is included.
Pricing for the Canon PowerShot TX1 was set at $500 when it started shipping in March 2007.
Canon PowerShot TX1 User Report
by Mike Pasini
Intro. If we can build a car that runs on gasoline and electricity, why can't we have a digicam that takes great stills and terrific movies too? And let's make it as small as a Canon ELPH while we're at it.
Well, Canon has. And the diminutive TX1 has a lot of charm, too, shooting 7.1 megapixel stills and HD video through a 10x optically stabilized zoom with a 4x digital zoom (for a phenomenal 40x reach) -- and adding ISO 1,600 into the mix just for fun. And they didn't forget to fit a flash in there, too.
Sure, there are comprises. You want an ELPH form factor with a swivel screen, you get a 1.8 inch LCD. The control layout is awkward, and the Zoom lever is more like a one-way street. Forget fast start-up or shut-down with an LCD that swings open and closed.
But just try to find anything else like it.
Design. This hybrid's specs read like a digital camera's, but its physical design resembles a small palm-sized camcorder.
One advantage of the physical design is the 10x zoom you get compared to those compact lens-like digicam optics. Another is the all-metal construction really built to take some abuse.
Having a full-blown PowerShot tucked inside a camcorder is really sweet. You can tap into camera features like extended ISO and Face Detection autofocus but still enjoy camcorder bonuses like a 16:9 aspect ratio and component video playback of 720 pixel video.
Despite its small size, the stainless steel body no lightweight at 8.5 ounces (241 grams). Yet for a long zoom (which is what this puppy's pedigree is), that's remarkable.
But you only have to pick it up to confront the first compromise. It's not easy to hold. Right-handers-only need apply, but even they will have problems. Your thumb goes on the back near the Zoom lever, your index finger on top by the Shutter button, but your middle finger has to slide down under the lens (something I had trouble doing), and your pinky has to rest under the bottom to provide a little slip-proof support. Every one of those positions is a bit of a stretch.
The biggest stretch is between your index finger on top and your middle finger in front. In fact, Canon even warns in the Basic Camera Guide (yes, two manuals again), "Be careful not to block the lens, flash, microphones or speaker with your fingers."
Worse, though, the Zoom lever really has no leverage when you press up to zoom in. Your index finger is on the Shutter button, so it can't force down as your thumb pushes up. That tilts the whole thing down so the lens loses sight of the scene. Only zooming out seems to be stable with that grip. And it wasn't just me who had trouble. Luke Smith, who takes the 164 lab shots, put it this way, "Weird control positions never feel comfortable."
Not that I could recommend a better arrangement. The back panel controls are just above the Zoom lever in a compact arrangement of Display button, Menu button, Navigator, and a joystick OK button that function just like their counterparts on any current PowerShot.
Below the Zoom lever is a big Movie button. Like the S3, this box is ready to shoot movies the minute you press the Movie button. There is a Mode dial on the side of the Zoom lever with Playback, Auto, Manual (such as it is on PowerShot), and Scene modes.
The tripod socket is almost an afterthought, protruding from the front edge and offering very little real estate to stabilize the mount.
The stereo microphones are on the back of the swiveling LCD, and the speaker grill is on the main body just under the Power button.
That all makes sense. But the grip itself is too much of a stretch.
Display/Viewfinder. Unlike other camcorders, the TX1 doesn't have an optical viewfinder. A very small 1.8 inch LCD is all you get. It's bright, and pretty smudge resistant, but it's small. And shooting 16:9 aspect ratio images on that small screen is real punishment.
Probably the less said about this, the better.
But it is an articulated LCD. It swings up, and rotates. You can face it forward to take self portraits, or back so you can get behind the camera, and hold it either up high, or very low, tilting the LCD so you can easily see what the lens sees. You can also swing it around and fold it back into the camera so the screen is exposed, great for passing it around for playback. That's probably where the size hurts the most.
But the less said about that, the better.
Performance. Yet another compromise imposed by the camcorder form factor is the slow startup and shutdown time. For a long zoom, it isn't bad in light of the competition, which usually has to rack out a lens quite a bit.
But you have to swing up the LCD, and swivel it into position, too. Which takes quite a bit longer than it takes the lens to pop out. And that isn't really reflected in our timings.
Zooming, however, is as smooth as buttah, so long as you use two hands. Even zooming into the digital zoom range works seamlessly. And that gives you a 40x zoom from the wide-angle focal length. It's image stabilized, too.
And when you get down to pressing the Shutter button, good things happen. Fast. Both autofocus lag, and pre-focus lag are above average for a long zoom, good news for birders.
Cycle time is a leisurely one second in Continuous mode (and 1.68 seconds in Single Shot mode). But there are actually two Continuous modes, one that focuses continually (and takes that full second), and another that doesn't (and gets about 2.2 shots a second). Here, as in Movie mode, a high speed SD card makes a difference.
Scene Modes. There are really very few Scene modes on this camera. Canon seems unable to simply group all its Scene modes under one menu, however, making it very difficult to find what you're looking for.
What it calls Special Scene modes are available under the Scene mode option on the Mode dial. Those include Portrait, Night Snapshot, Indoor, Foliage, Snow, Beach, and Aquarium.
But Canon also includes a number of Shooting modes not very different from Scene modes like Color Accent, Color Swap, Super Macro, and Stitch Assist. Those are under the Function menu.
Lens Performance. One of the highlights of using this camera, though, was the lens itself. There is moderate blurring in the corners, as our Test Results prove, but its images are sharper than many digicams can manage.
Canon doesn't divulge the aperture range except to cite the maximum aperture is f/3.5 at wide-angle, and f/5.7 at telephoto. But I don't think I have a shot in the Gallery with an aperture smaller than f/5.7, and some bright sunlit shots are just f/3.5. That translates to a shallow depth of field generally.
The focal length range is 6.5 to 65.0mm, a true 10x optical zoom with a 39-390mm 35mm equivalent. Despite that long range, the barrel distortion at wide-angle is only a moderate 0.89 percent. And the pincushion at telephoto is just 0.2 percent.
Add 4x digital zoom to that range, and you're seeing things you aren't supposed to see at 1,560mm telephoto equivalence.
With the lens shift image stabilization, you can actually observe them, too. It has three modes: Shoot only, Continuous, and Panning.
Image quality. Ah, well, this was a mixed bag. An interesting mixed bag.
There are, for example, a few of the usual technical flaws our Test Report always uncovers. Like moderately high chromatic aberration at both ends of the focal length range, and moderate barrel distortion at wide angle. Corners are soft, too. But nearly every digicam we test has the same small problems.
Then there was the familiar saturation issue. Take a look at the red carpet in front of the stadium for the All-Star game. It's blinding. But so are the cable cars for the National and American league. They're just way oversaturated. That problem is pretty common, too, but the TX1 doesn't give you any way to tone it down.
Scenes with little red in them did a lot better, like the statue of the seal or any of the shots at the yacht harbor behind the stadium. Reds really are a special problem for the TX1.
But contrast was a bit strong for my taste, too. You can see this on both of the statue shots (which you'll find in the Gallery). Juan Marichal's statue has pretty good detail in the chiseled stone base, but the bronze is a bit too dark. Willie Mays just looks overexposed.
Both are in bright sunlight although there is some shade falling on Willie Mays. But look at the exposures. Marichal is f/3.6 with ISO 172 and Mays is f/4.0 at ISO 400. In fact, a lot of the images taken in bright sun were ISO 400 with large apertures.
My favorite shots were taken in shade or indoors. Like the masks, the orchid, the corks and the fish-head bottle opener. And they're all ISO 200, mostly at f/3.6.
I didn't include any of my doll shots in dim light because they just didn't fly. Even at ISO 1,600 with image stabilization I couldn't get a sharp image.
There is one handy feature related to high ISO shooting I really liked, though. If you enable the Auto ISO Shift feature, when the current ISO setting is too slow for a handheld shutter speed (indicated by the red shaking-hand icon), you can just press the Print/Share button to kick the ISO up high enough to hand hold the camera.
Battery Life. Sometimes the lab in Atlanta, and Realworld here in San Francisco have very different experiences with an aspect of the review unit: Battery life was one of those.
Luke found it was "not so good. I'd never managed to use up a Canon lithium-ion battery on the standard test shots before this one." But I used it for a couple of hours shooting at the Chevy Red Carpet show at the All-Star game (mostly powered on, too), and still didn't have a battery warning hours later, even after showing the pictures on an HDTV.
Hunting through either manual's battery sections didn't help. But a note in the Date/Time section explained the TX1 has a rechargeable lithium ion battery built into the camera to save date/time settings. Most cameras now include that kind of backup power. That battery needs gets charged the first time you use the camera, so that process might have drained the built-in battery in the lab.
But on the TX1, you have to charge that battery for four hours, much longer than most cameras require.
Navigation. The buttons are necessarily quite small to fit 3/4-inch square real estate allotted to them. And I've already complained about the grip, making it hard to get to the buttons.
But I was also frustrated with the joystick Multi Controller. It wasn't very sensitive at all for cursor movement, and also seemed to be a one-shot wonder. You have to let it come all the way back before you can push it where you want it to go. Since the travel is so short, you may think you have let it spring back. But you'll find instead you are just jamming it repeatedly with no effect in the direction you want the cursor to move. Pressing the joystick in to activate the Function/Set button is also pretty difficult at times.
The ability to record a movie or still image depending on which button you press (rather than switching to a distinct movie or still recording mode) seems to put too much of a burden on Canon's menu hierarchy, too. For a camera with separate modes, having the Menu button handle general setup, and the Function/OK button handle specifics with a few dedicated buttons for frequently accessed options works fine. But, to give just one example, the Function/SET button display gets a little confusing handling both still and video options. You set the aspect ratio (4:3, or 16:9), then deal with the movie resolution (determined by the aspect ratio), and finally still image size and quality. I found myself inexplicably capturing 640 x 480 stills, I got so lost in the options. Take them in order and you'll stay sane. Remember, you're not really stuck in Movie mode. It's just an ever-present option.
I also had trouble finding the Wind Filter (see below), Super Macro mode, and a few other features. They were so randomly located they seemed more like Easter eggs than features.
Macro. One of the best things about any digicam is Macro mode. You get to see the world up close and personal. The TX1 doesn't disappoint here, providing a Macro focus mode from the Multi-Controller and a Super Macro shooting mode. Canon calls Super Macro a Scene mode, but it isn't on the short Scene menu. It's on the Shooting mode menu.
Macro focuses from 3.9 inches to 1.6 feet, while Super Macro focuses up to 3.9 inches, according to Canon. And by "up to," Canon means you can focus on anything touching the lens. All of that is accomplished at wide-angle. Normal focus range is 1.6 feet to infinity.
Shooting on the lens really works and it's a new world; albeit a world of transparent objects, because there's no way to light anything else.
Movies. The TX1 can capture movies with stereo sound, and using digital zoom at either 4:3, or 16:9 aspect ratios. There are a lot of cameras that offer a 16:9 letterbox aspect ratio option for image size. Surprisingly rare is one that extends that to Movie mode, however. The TX1 is one of those rare birds, and if you've got an HDTV, that's great news.
The Canon TX1 not only shoots 16:9 movies, but it shoots them in high definition, too. That means that they offer more resolution than broadcast quality 640 x 480 pixels.
In video the critical dimension is the little one, representing vertical resolution. The TX1 shoots 720 pixels (not 1,080 but not 480 either) in that dimension, and 1,280 horizontally. Our nine second HDTV clip of Barry Bonds arriving at the stadium for the 2007 All-Star game consequently consumes 42.2MB. Fortunately the TX1 has an LP record mode that can cut that storage requirement in half. LP mode is available for both 640 x 480, and 1,280 x 720 resolutions.
The HD movie capture looks great on an HDTV using nothing more than the included component cable to send the signal from the camera to the monitor. No dock to buy, just use the included cable, and turn on the TX1 in Playback mode. Very nice.
To get that much data from the sensor to the card at that rate (a full 30 fps), you need a fast memory card. Canon recommends a "super high-speed memory card with a transfer rate of 20MB/s or more."
Another nice touch is the built-in wind filter. Anyone who has ever tried to record sound on a digicam knows the slightest breeze is recorded as sonic booms on the audio track. In the Setup menu's Tools tab under the Audio option, you can set the Mic Level and turn on the Wind Filter. Frankly, with the gales we have here, I didn't notice much effect, but it's the thought that counts.
Downloading. I used a Kingston SDHC 4GB card with the TX1. SDHC wasn't recognized by my old PCMCIA slot reader, so I resorted to using a USB cable to copy images and movies from the camera to my computer. I was surprised just how fast these large images, and even larger movies, transferred using USB 2.0 Hi-Speed. It was a breeze.
Shooting. True confession: My first impression of the TX1 wasn't a good one. I didn't like the grip. I didn't like the small LCD. Trying to zoom, something I really like to do to compose my stills, was frustrating. But the more I used the TX1, the more I liked it.
It would not have been my first choice to take down to the All-Star game, but I was glad to have it when I got swallowed up by the crowd. I could hold it over my head without getting weary and actually see what was going on over the taller guys in front of me waving their arms around with those LCDs that didn't let them see what the camera was looking at. My view was so good that the very short woman behind me watched the whole show in the TX1's LCD too. There is nothing quite like an articulated LCD, even if it measures only 1.8 inches.
Image stabilization didn't hurt at all at the show, either. Most of the shots of the ballplayers arriving were taken at between 42 and 65mm, well toward the telephoto end of the lens. But they're sharp, and the heads tend to be in the center of the shot, suggesting I was actually able to compose the image. Gotta love image stabilization.
The other thing that really endeared the TX1 to me was the 16:9 aspect ratio. Not just the aspect ratio itself, though, but the whole nine HD yards -- not just stills but HD movies, too. Canon takes HD seriously, even including a composite cable so you can plug the TX1 right into your HDTV and use the digicam controls to run a slide show. That's the ticket. No dock to buy, no magic incantations, no nonsense. Just plug and play.
You could complain you only get 720 lines instead of 1,080 but wait until you see the file sizes of those 720 movies. They're huge. You'll be buying six packs of 4GB cards.
I really like shooting 16:9 stills. The picture of the Bay Bridge behind the sailboat masts is a good example. If I shot that 4:3, you wouldn't notice that the bridge was anything but background. At 16:9 it becomes part of the subject. Why is this picture so wide? Because of the bridge!
Same with the seal statue. You could shoot that 4:3 and get the whole seal body in, but it's more effective shooting just the elongated neck at 16:9. And the clock tower behind it only plays into the effect.
The last thing I really liked about the TX1 was its Macro modes. Super Macro really made things interesting because you can put the subject right on the lens. That makes for some intriguing possibilities. Imagine the transparent subjects you can shoot through.
Unfortunately, there was no getting around the problem with the grip and zooming. I took the TX1 to a wedding and when I saw everyone snapping stills with their digicams and nobody shooting video, I started taking video with the TX1.
But it wasn't great stuff. I cut one toast off by inadvertently pressing the Movie button, which stopped recording. I picked it up right away again, but that doesn't even count as a blooper.
I also found I just wasn't zooming in or out of a scene. At all. Yes, you can overdo that, but sometimes you really should be using the zoom. It took two hands to do it with the TX1. The left hand steadies the camera by grabbing the LCD -- which is also where the stereo mics are.
So I was very disappointed by the wedding video clips I captured. The worst video I ever shot. And all because I just couldn't comfortably control the little TX1.
Okay, that's my confession. I promise I won't do it again.
Appraisal. This still/video hybrid is surprisingly capable taking stills or video. While the stills tend toward the high contrast, over saturated style preferred by many snapshooters, the video is nothing short of high definition in a letterbox format. Despite my initial misgivings, I grew rather fond of the little thing. Maybe when I grow up and have extremely large hands, I'll actually be able to shoot with it.
- 7.1 megapixel sensor
- 10x optical zoom with 4x digital zoom and optical image stabilization
- 6.5 to 65.0mm, f3.5 to f5.6 (39 to 390mm 35mm equivalent) lens
- TTL autofocus
- 15 to 1/2,500 second shutter speeds
- 1.8 inch LCD with 115,000 pixels
- Evaluative, center-weighted and spot metering
- Exposure compensation to +/- two stops in 1/3 stop increments
- White balance: Auto, Preset (Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H), and Custom
- Flash: Auto, Auto with Red-eye Reduction, Auto with Slow Synchro, Flash On, Flash On with Red-eye Reduction, Flash On with Slow Synchro, and Flash Off
- Self-timer with 2 or 10 second delay and Custom delay
- SD memory card storage (SD, SDHC, MMC, MMC Plus)
- DPOF 1.1, Exif 2.2 compatible
- USB 2.0 Hi-Speed
- First real hybrid still/video digital camera
- DIGIC III image processor with face detection and red-eye correction
- 1,280 x 720 HD movies at 30 fps with face detection and stereo sound (aided by a built-in wind filter)
- ISO sensitivity as high as 1,600
- Image stabilized lens
- Versatile Print/Share button
- Super Macro focusing from the surface of the lens
- Automatic noise reduction at shutter speeds from 1.3 to 15 seconds
- Shooting Modes: Auto, Camera M, Special Scene (Portrait, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Aquarium, Indoor, Night Snapshot), Color Accent, Color Swap, Super Macro, Stitch Assist, and Movie
In the Box
The PowerShot TX1 ships with the following items in the box:
- PowerShot TX1 Body
- Lithium Battery Pack NB-4L
- Battery Charger CB-2LV
- MMC Plus Card MMC-32MH
- Wrist Strap WS-DC3 (a brown leatherette strap)
- Digital Camera Solution CD-ROM
- USB Interface Cable IFC-400PCU
- Stereo Video Cable AVCSTV-250N
- Component Cable CTC-100/S
- Large capacity SDHC/SD memory card. These days, 1-2GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity. But you'll want even more capacity and more speed for the TX1 to record HD movies, more like 8-16GB.
- Small camera case for outdoor, and in-bag protection
On the one hand, this first attempt at a still/video hybrid is remarkable. You get a PowerShot Digital ELPH and a high definition tapeless camcorder in one small package.
On the other, it isn't comfortable to hold and the LCD is miniature by today's standards. And I saw some questionable ISO and aperture settings for full sun exposures. Despite the high ISO sensitivity and image stabilization, I wasn't able to shoot in subdued lighting.
On the third hand, I didn't envy anyone their conventional digicams and wildly blind shots at the All-Star game. I was not in a great spot but I got some decent shots thanks to the small form factor, image stabilization, good zoom range and articulating LCD.
We're a bit torn on how to recommend the TX1 given its difficult interface, but there's no question it shoots great video and pretty impressive pictures. Its very good lens has a long reach, and can zoom as you record. If you must have a high-resolution camcorder that fits in a small space, the Canon TX1 is a very good choice. It's also a great 10x digital camera, also in a small space; it's just the awkward controls that spoil the mix. Cram all the power of the excellent Canon S3 IS into a small space, and you're bound to have a compromise or two. Nevertheless, given its good performance in so many areas, we're compelled to make it a Dave's Pick, but we caution you that you'll have to shoot two-handed and learn to work with the small form factor to take full advantage of all that imaging power.