Canon SX150 IS Review

 
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Basic Specifications
Full model name: Canon PowerShot SX150 IS
Resolution: 14.10 Megapixels
Sensor size: 1/2.3"
Lens: 12.00x zoom
(28-336mm eq.)
Viewfinder: LCD
ISO: 80-1600
Shutter: 15-1/2500
Max Aperture: 3.4
Dimensions: 4.5 x 2.9 x 1.8 in.
(113 x 73 x 46 mm)
Weight: 11.0 oz (312 g)
includes batteries
MSRP: $250
Availability: 09/2011
Manufacturer: Canon
Full specs: Canon SX150 IS specifications
14.10
Megapixels
12.00x zoom
1/2.3"
size sensor
image of Canon PowerShot SX150 IS
Front side of Canon PowerShot SX150 IS digital camera Back side of Canon PowerShot SX150 IS digital camera Top side of Canon PowerShot SX150 IS digital camera Left side of Canon PowerShot SX150 IS digital camera Right side of Canon PowerShot SX150 IS digital camera

SX150 IS Summary

Canon's entry-level long-zoom digicam offers a lot of capability at a great price. If you can afford about $40 more, you can get better image quality and performance with other models, but for the price, the Canon SX150 IS is a winner. (And if you can catch it at the discounted price of $149 we've seen here and there, it's a screaming good deal.)

Pros

Optically-stabilized 12x zoom lens, large 3" LCD screen, full PASM exposure control, super-close macro shooting, 1280x720p HD video recording, low price.

Cons

Slow performance, poor battery life (good with NiMH rechargeables, though), no HDMI output to connect to HDTV.

Price and availability

The Canon SX150 IS has a list price of US$250 though current street price is around US$179. The SX150 began shipping in the U.S. from September 2011, in black or red.

Imaging Resource rating

3.5 out of 5.0


Canon PowerShot SX150 IS Review

by David Elrich and Stephanie Boozer
Review posted: 5/18/2012
Updated: 5/22/2012

The compact digital camera market is undergoing some serious challenges as the low-end is usurped by smartphones while higher-priced models are taking heat from Compact System Cameras. Yet one digicam neighborhood is flourishing nicely: long-zooms of all types. As we all know, cellphones do not have optical zooms let alone anything like the 12x range of the affordable PowerShot SX150 IS. Now let's determine if this camera is worth even this buyer-friendly cost.

Look and Feel. The Canon PowerShot SX150 IS is a very pocketable camera and our all-black review sample had a nice heft when loaded with its two AA batteries. At this price you wouldn't expect a magnesium alloy frame and this PowerShot does have a decidedly plastic feel. Canon added some silver accents on the front (surrounding the lens and the front grip) as well as the shutter and power buttons. Opinions will surely vary, but to my eye, the Canon SX150's trim gives it a bit of a low-rent look. Perhaps I'm unfairly comparing it to its higher-end siblings, though: I really like the look of the PowerShot SX40 HS mega-zoom, but that's almost three times the price of the SX150. In its favor, the much smaller SX150 IS easily fits in a pocket so you can carry it with you at all times. A medium-sized digicam, the SX150 IS measures 4.46 x 2.88 x 1.8 inches (113.3 x 73.2 x 48.5mm) and weighs 11 ounces (312g) with battery and card.

The front fascia has logos/text which are fairly unobtrusive. Most important is the 12x extending zoom lens with a nice focal range of 28-336mm equivalent. This is a nice range for a zoom, wide enough at the short end to capture groups of people from fairly close up (or broad landscapes from further away), but with enough zoom for 99% of the shots most people take.

The lens folds neatly into the body when powered off and extends about 3-inches at full telephoto. Also on the front are two pinhole stereo mics and an AF Assist lamp. The Canon SX150 has a maximum movie resolution of 720p, rather than the 1080i or 1080p of more expensive models, but that's really enough to produce a nice-looking HD picture, there's at least stereo audio to add another level of realism.

On the top deck you'll find the flash, mode dial, and shutter button surrounded by a zoom toggle, as well as power key and speaker. Unfortunately, the PowerShot SX150 IS does not have an auto pop-up flash--you have to manually raise it. There's no button to pop it open, you just stick a fingernail right below the Canon logo and lift it up. This can be a little annoying, but then again, you shouldn't expect the sun, moon and stars from a $179 (street price) camera.

The mode dial has many traditional options and several odd ones. Unusual for its price range, it offers Manual, Aperture/Shutter-Priority and Program exposure modes: Very few cameras at this end of the market give you this level of exposure control. The SX150's Auto mode is a Smart Auto, which guesses the type of scene in front of it out of 32 options. I've been impressed by this feature--which is available from most manufacturers these days--and Canon's system works well. The red heart on mode dial is the SX150's aim-and-forget setting for newbies, offering minimal adjustments. SCN (Scene) offers nine options ranging from Portrait to Fireworks. There's also a Low Light setting that can capture images in surprisingly dim lighting, but the resolution drops to just 2MP: This is probably good enough for 4x6 inch prints or sharing online, but you'll find bigger enlargements rather soft and noisy. The next option is Filter, which adds some cool tricks to your portfolio. There's Fish Eye, Miniature, Toy Camera, Monochrome, Super Vivid and several others. Discreet mode is an unusual one that we're actually a little surprised we haven't seen more often: It mutes camera sounds and deactivates the flash and AF assist lamp, which might might be useful if you're a museum goer or want to grab a surreptitious shot somewhere. The final choice is Movie and as noted, the SX150 IS is a little limited in this area, with a maximum resolution of 1,280 x 720 at 30 fps. Connections are a bit dated as well, as there's no mini HDMI port, just USB and conventional (standard definition) A/V.

The back of the Canon SX150 IS looks pretty much like every digicam you've picked up over the past few years. The largest feature is the 3-inch LCD, with 230K dots of resolution. Yes, that's on the low side, but I had few problems using it in direct sunlight or in dim settings, which counts for a lot. It does, however, smear somewhat in low light, and the screen tends to reflect any lights in the area, making it harder to frame your photos. Again, for the price you shouldn't expect 461K resolution or an OLED display, and the SX150's display does better than those of some more expensive models we've seen.

At the top right is a convenient thumb rest and the Playback key, while below that are exposure compensation and red-dot movie buttons. The thumb rest is pretty small, but really helps provide a better grip than you'd get without it.

Next you'll find the four-way controller with jog wheel and center Func/Set button. The four points give direct access to flash options, self-timer, focus (Macro/Normal/Manual) and ISO (Auto, 80-1600). The last two buttons are Display and Menu. Again there's nothing here that's in any way unusual or difficult to decipher.

On the right side is an eyelet for the supplied wrist strap. Nearby is a compartment for USB and A/V out. One would think that since this is a high-definition video maker the SX150 IS would have a mini HDMI port for quick connection to a HDTV, but Canon apparently couldn't squeeze that in at this price point. The bottom of the Made In China digicam has a plastic tripod mount.

The compartment for the battery and card (it accepts newer SDXC media as well as Eye-Fi) opens by pressing a switch and sliding the door. The SX150 IS uses two AA batteries for power (they're in the box). The camera is rated 110 shots using alkaline batteries, or 320 with NiMH rechargeables, per CIPA. If you purchase this camera--which eats standard alkalines like candy--you really have to go the rechargeable route or you'll go broke swapping batteries. In my own use, I got noticeably less than the 110 spec per set of alkalines, which is pretty awful. When you add the cost of a set of NiMH batteries and the necessary charger, the total cost comes out a good bit higher than the $179 street price, so that's something to consider. Good NiMH chargers run about $30, but you can find overnight trickle chargers for as low as $10. We highly recommend Sanyo Eneloop low self-discharge ("pre-charged") batteries, as they hold their capacity between charges better than regular NiMH batteries, and last for a lot of charge/discharge cycles. Check out Thomas Distributing for both batteries and chargers; we've used them for years ourselves, and appreciate their great service.

Lens. The Canon PowerShot SX150 IS has a wide 12x optical zoom with a 35mm equivalent range of 28-336mm. Like most long zooms, its maximum f/stop is a fairly small f/3.4-5.6, so it does best with plenty of light. In Macro mode, the SX150 IS can shoot from as close as 0.4" (1 cm), out to about 1.6 feet. Normal focusing range is from 2" to infinity with the lens at its widest zoom setting, or 3.3' to infinity at the longest telephoto. In practice, we felt we could actually focus a good bit closer than the spec, although the distance is probably measured from the surface of the front lens element, which is recessed a little. No two ways about it, this camera can get really close.

With a potent telephoto that reaches 336mm, a steady grip and a good stabilization system is really imperative for sharp images. The Canon SX150 IS has true Optical Image Stabilization (OIS), a real plus in a sub-$200 digicam. It also has Canon's Intelligent Stabilization (IS) that chooses the best type of stabilization to use, depending on the movement of the camera. It's no substitute for a tripod in really dim lighting, but the SX150's IS helped a lot in our shooting with it.

Controls. The control layout is very straightforward. Anyone who has used a Canon point-and-shoot will feel right at home and other shutterbugs will get the hang of it very quickly. Everything is well labeled and properly positioned. Just realize that the Func/Set button is your day-to-day access to key camera settings while Menu controls the basic setup. You'll also use the jog wheel to move through menus and make manual adjustments.

Modes. I was pleasantly surprised at the level of manual options for this decidedly point-and-shoot digicam. Sure it has Easy, Smart Auto and Scene modes but there's manual focus and a full range of shutter speeds (15-1/2500th of a second) in Shutter Priority mode, plus a full Manual mode. At wide angle, you have a full range of apertures (f/3.4-8.0) in 1/3 stop increments, while at the tele end it's limited to f/5.6-8.0. Still this is a lot more control than you'd expect in a low-priced pocket zoom.

The SX150 IS has three movie options--720p, iFrame Movie and VGA, and you can choose from 12 effects, including Miniature with three playback speeds (5x, 10x or 20x). I've been shooting AVCHD with a number of full-featured camcorders lately, as well as 1920 x 1080 at 60p with newer Sony DSLRs, 1080/24 fps with the Canon PowerShot SX40 HS and 1080/60i with the Nikon 1, so these options didn't floor me. Still, they're fine for viewing on the PC or online, and if you can transfer the files to something that can output to an HDTV, they'll look pretty decent. The lack of an HDMI port on the camera itself was a real disappointment, though.

Menus. The menus on Canon's traditional point-and-shoots seem as old as the hills (they haven't changed significantly for years now), but Canon probably figures there's no need to fix something that isn't broken. We at IR have always liked the Canon menu system: Even with their white whiskers, the Canon menus are understandable and linear. I doubt that anyone but the freshest newbie will even need to open the in-depth manual on the CD-ROM.

Storage and Battery. The Canon PowerShot SX150 IS uses SD, SDHC and SDXC cards. It also accepts Eye-Fi wireless media. Since the camera takes 720p video a Class 6 or higher high-speed card should be used to avoid dropped frames or aborted clips during movie recording. Go for an 8 or 16GB card, as a 4 gig card holds only about 20 minutes of the best-resolution videos. (Maximum clip length is 29 min. 59 sec., though.)

The SX150 IS uses two AAs for juice. As noted above, unless you have shares in Duracell, do yourself a favor and purchase a set of NiMH rechargeables. This camera goes through standard alkaline AAs very, very quickly.

Playback. The SX150 IS offers quite a number of review options, from basic to more advanced. Hit Playback and one image appears, as you'd expect. You can enlarge it up to about 10x by pulling the zoom toggle to the right. Move it to the left and a variety of thumbnail sizes appears (4, 9, 36 and so on). You use the jog wheel to reach the one you want to examine. Pressing the Display button cycles through display modes which include no information overlay, simple information overlay, a detailed information screen, and a focus check mode which automatically magnifies a crop of the focus area or detected face shown at the bottom right. You can advance through multiple faces by pressing the Func/Set button so you can quickly check if people are in focus.

Some of the more advanced features include filtered playback, being able to tag favorites, and organizing images by category. A neat Smart Shuffle mode 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. 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 editing such as rotating, resizing, trimming, correcting red-eye, applying Intelligent Contrast (either Auto, Low, Med or High) as well as applying 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.

 

Shooting with the Canon SX150 IS

Click to see ytree.JPG

Wide vs Tele: Compare this shot at the SX150 IS' wide angle setting with the photo of the star atop the tree below, shot at maximum tele.

I used the Canon PowerShot SX150 IS over the course of several weeks, shooting locales in New Jersey and Manhattan. Despite its bargain price, there's no question that the SX150 is a capable, compact, long zoom. Because it's so light, it's a joy to carry unlike the many bigger and better but much more expensive models like Canon's own SX40 HS. When powered off, you can easily pop it into a pocket. When my still and videos were "in the can," I downloaded everything to my computer, made full-bleed 8.5x11 prints with no post processing, examined the files 100%+ on the monitor and watched the stills/videos on my HP laptop via the SD card slot. I did all of my shooting at maximum resolution (4320 x 3240 pixels) and Fine compression level. Videos were 720p and I again chose Fine compression from the several options.

The camera comes to life and grabs a shot reasonably quickly (the lab says it takes just under 3 seconds), and zooming the entire focal length range is surprisingly fast. The 9-point AF helped speed focusing. Again, it doesn't offer the gazillion focus points of higher-end models, but I found the 9 points adequate to my needs for snap-shooting.

Click to see yskyscraper.jpg

Wide angle. The SX150 IS' wide angle setting gives a nice perspective to tall buildings.

The big catch is that the SX150's shot-to-shot and burst speeds are slow with a capital S. In single-shot mode, IR lab measured a mediocre 2.64 seconds per shot. Canon claims the SX150 IS grabs 0.9 frames/second at full 14MP resolution in Program mode, dropping to 0.6 fps if you use Tracking AF. IR lab results were a little worse, varying between 1.2 and 1.5 seconds per shot, regardless of the AF setting. Definitely the CCD tortoise against the CMOS hare. It does move much more quickly in the lower-resolution Low Light mode (3.2 fps) but as noted earlier, resolution drops to a paltry 2MP. The more I used the PowerShot SX150 IS, the more the word "pokey" came to mind. To give you an idea of just how pokey, full-power flash recycle time was 13.6 seconds, among the worst ever clocked by IR labs. (Note: Although we originally used freshly-charged NiMH batteries for this test, they were about a year old. We've since re-tested with brand-new, fully-charged Sanyo Eneloop batteries and found full-power flash recycle time dropped to 9.1 seconds. That's still slow, but not unusual for a camera with a decent flash that is powered by two AAs.) "Focus and Fire" time of 0.74 second is also slower than average these days. That said, if you use this camera as a deliberate point-and-shoot, with the emphasis on deliberate, you'll be O.K.

On a positive note, though, the Canon SX150's "pre-focused" shutter lag is a very quick 0.07 second. To take advantage of this, pre-focus on your subject by half-pressing and holding down the shutter button before the shot, then press the rest of the way when the moment arrives. (This works with essentially all digital cameras, and can make a huge difference he you're trying to capture a key moment.) I enjoyed walking around, spotting a subject then grabbing an image. Again it's like walking the dog: slow and steady.

Click to see ystar.jpg

The Canon SX150 IS' 12x telephoto zoom lens does a great job of bringing distant objects close. (Compare with the wide shot of the Christmas tree earlier.)

Without doubt, the highlight feature of the SX150 IS is the 12x optically stabilized lens. Although I prefer a wider wide-angle focal length such as the 24mm of the Canon SX40 HS, the 28mm here is pretty good. It gives me the slightly distorted perspective that adds something special to architectural images such as the buildings in Rockefeller Center. It also lets me include broader views such as the Christmas tree and its surroundings. Once those views are in the card, it's fun zooming in on those objects you can hardly make out.

A case in point is the star atop said tree; it was rendered fairly sharply, with good detail, as seen at right. The camera had to boost the ISO to 500 to get the shot, which introduced some noise and the blurring of the noise-reduction processing, but this is a great example of what the 12x zoom lens on the SX150 IS can do.

 

Good Tele. At maximum telephoto, the SX150's lens is pretty sharp, with essentially no purple fringing in the center of the frame. (1:1 crop above)

Fringes at the edges. There is some fringing along the edges and corners. It extends a fair ways into the frame, but fades as you move toward the center.

I had a Nikon 1 J1 with me that same day and took similar shots with the 30-110mm (81-297mm 35mm equivalent). Much to my surprise, the sub-$200 Canon did a better job than the $600 Nikon. I attribute this to the PowerShot's OIS system versus the Nikon's VR set-up. On another occasion, I shot the top of a New Jersey evergreen at full telephoto (see the crops above) and saw only a little purple fringing around the edges of the frame; the center of the shot was very clean. (Although the lab's shots seem to show more chromatic aberration than I found in my own snapshots.) Shots taken of picturesque downtown Red Bank, NJ were quite good, with accurate colors. The OIS did a fine job keeping a boat on the Navesink River steady at full telephoto. After using the 12x zoom, it's easy understanding why sales of this type of compact camera are holding up so well under the smartphone onslaught.

Click to see SX150ISMACFL.JPG

Super close-up. With the lens at its wide-angle setting, the SX150 IS can focus down to 1cm. (That's close enough that you may have a hard time getting light in around the edges of the lens, as seen above.)

Lab results showed moderately high chromatic aberration at both tele and wide angle. Corner sharpness was good at wide angle. Macro performance depends greatly on the zoom setting: At any sort of a telephoto setting, the minimum focus distance is 3.3 feet, even in Macro mode. As you zoom towards the wide angle end of the range, though, the minimum focusing distance drops to as little as 0.4 inches. That's some serious macro shooting! I particularly liked the way the camera tells you how near and far you can focus as you zoom in or out in macro mode. Very nice.

I typically like the images captured by Canon cameras. In the past year I've handled everything from the 10MP A800 to the 18MP EOS T3i and many models in between. Ones featuring CMOS sensors like the ELPH 510 HS have rung my bell, the SX150 IS' 14-megapixel CCD not as much. Although colors were accurate in Auto, I didn't think they had the pop of the newer CMOS models. I was generally happier with images shot with the exposure compensation adjusted +1/3 stop, although for some shots a slight underexposure gave more vivid colors.

Click to see ynight_iso800.JPG

ISO 800. A little dark, but not bad for a CCD digicam night shot.

I wasn't expecting superior image noise results, and indeed found the performance to be on par with other inexpensive CCD-based cameras. As detailed below, photos at ISO 1600 are really only good for making 5x7 inch prints. If you can work at ISO levels below 800 or (better yet) 400, though, the print quality is decent: Printed results showed a solid 13x19 at ISO 80, ISO 200 for 11x14 and ISO 800 for an 8x10. As I said, keep your ISO levels down for best results.

Click to see SX150ISLL4000_2M.JPG

Fast but soft. The SX150's Low Light mode does give you a high sensitivity (ISO 4000 here), but at the cost of very soft photos.

The Canon SX150 IS also has a special "Low Light" mode that boosts the sensitivity up to ISO 6400, in the process reducing the resolution to 2 megapixels. With this, you might be able to capture shots you'd miss entirely otherwise, but the resulting photos are pretty rough-looking, even when printed at only 4x6 inches. Maybe OK for small screen images on Facebook, but not much else. The shot above right was taken at ISO 800 in normal shooting mode, and came out pretty good. It's a little dark overall, but it's a very contrasty (and pretty dark) scene, and the SX150 IS did very well with it, holding onto the strong highlights pretty well and showing reasonable detail even in the shadows. By contrast, the shot at left is very soft, with little detail. I think most times you'd be better off just shooting normally and making sure you have the camera held really steady or braced against something.

The Canon PowerShot SX150 IS has a small selection of filters to add some fun to your shots. I played a little with Fish Eye, but found it to be pretty gimmicky, so didn't include any examples in my sample gallery. On the other hand, while Canon offers nothing like Olympus' Dramatic Tone or Sony's HDR, the ones they do have are at least worth experimenting with.

Movies. Movie recording is limited to 720/30p, but quality is pretty decent. You can zoom the lens during recording, but as you'll hear in this clip, noise from the zoom motor is very audible in the audio track. (51.8 MB download)

Night movies. This scene came out pretty dark, but the shop window to the right looked fine. - And there was surprisingly little noise: A lot of SLRs don't do this well shooting after dark. (Note the vertical streak from the strong light source, though.) (48.5 MB download)

Now for the real negative: As mentioned above, the SX150 IS is rated for 110 shots using standard alkaline batteries, per the CIPA standard. I didn't get close to this figure using them. It was without a doubt the worst performing power system I've seen in years. I tried Rayovacs, Panasonics and Duracells, but it made nary a bit of difference. If you purchase this camera, buying a set of rechargeable NiMH AAs is an absolute must; don't even consider it without doing so unless you have a really cheap source for AA batteries.

The 720p HD movies are quite adequate, but nothing to write home about. The maximum setting of 1,280 x 720 at 30 fps is somewhat behind the times, but typical of inexpensive CCD-based cameras. (Higher video resolution was a big part of the industry's move to CMOS sensors in digicams.) On the plus side, you can use the zoom while shooting videos but--unlike a camcorder--the twin mics pick up the sound of lens as it moves into position, making for a rather distracting audio track. They'll be OK for YouTube, but if your aspirations lean toward David Lean, they're not going to cut it.

The positive note about the SX150's video mode, though, was how well it did after dark. The street scene at right is somewhat dark, but it's not a particularly brightly-lit street, and you'll note that the restaurant and shop windows came out just fine. This was a very pleasant surprise, given the SX150's low price point. The one problem I did notice, though, was that very strong light sources tended to produce vertical streaks in video. This can happen with CCD sensors when there's a strong light overload at one point in the frame: As the image data is shifted out, that overload can spill over into the pixels following it. This doesn't happen with stills thanks to the mechanical shutter.

On the whole, the Canon SX150IS was fun to shoot with, as long as I accepted its limitations. It's not fast from shot to shot, and does better in situations where there's enough light to stay at ISO 800 or below, and I'd have been much happier if I'd had some NiMH batteries and a charger close at hand. For the price, though, it's a fair bargain, with a good assortment of features and capabilities.

 

Canon PowerShot SX150 IS Lens Quality

The Canon PowerShot SX150 IS features a 12x zoom lens, equivalent to a 28-336mm zoom on a 35mm camera.


Wide: Sharp at center
Wide: Soft at upper left
Tele: Sharper at center
Tele: Mild blurring, upper left corner

Sharpness: The wide-angle end of the Canon PowerShot SX150 IS' zoom shows some blurring in the corners of the frame compared to what we see at center when wide-open, and though relatively minor, blurring extends fairly far in toward the center of the frame. At full telephoto and maximum aperture, performance is a little better, with slightly less softening in the corners, though results at center are a just hint soft as well. Fair to good results overall.


Wide: Slight barrel distortion; only slightly noticeable
Tele: Some pincushion distortion, also slightly visible

Geometric Distortion: There is surprisingly little barrel distortion at wide-angle (0.5%), and minimal pincushion distortion (0.2%) at telephoto. Both numbers are better than average for a long-ratio zoom lens.


Wide:
Moderately high and bright
Tele:
Also high and bright

Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at both wide-angle and telephoto is moderately high in terms of pixel count, and pixels are quite bright. The effect is slightly stronger at telephoto, particularly where the bright purplish flare extends into the black target area. At both wide and tele, the chromatic aberration extends fairly far into the frame, although it fades as you proceed inward.


Macro
Macro with Flash

Macro: The Canon PowerShot SX150 IS' Macro mode captures good detail at the center of the frame, although it could be a bit crisper. The 1cm minimum focus distance is so close that we had a hard time getting light to shine in around the lens to illuminate the subject. This resulted in the uneven exposure you see at right, both with and without flash. Minimum coverage area is 1.17 x 0.88 inches (30 x 22mm), which is very good. The very bright light outside the field of view, combined with the deep shadow the camera was shooting in, results in a good bit of flare. (Light spills into the dark areas of the image, reducing contrast.)


 

Canon SX150 IS Viewfinder Accuracy


Wide: LCD Monitor
Tele: LCD Monitor

Viewfinder Accuracy: The Canon PowerShot SX150 IS' LCD monitor showed about 101% coverage at wide-angle and at telephoto, which is very good. (The slight looseness in framing is doubtless caused by the lab allowing for the slight distortion in the images, framing to the outside of the target lines.)


 

Canon SX150 IS Image Quality


Color: The PowerShot SX150 IS produced good overall color, with only slight oversaturation in bright reds and blues, while strong yellows were actually muted somewhat. Hue is off slightly for colors like yellow, orange and cyan, but not more than average. Dark skin tones are close to accurate, as are lighter skin tones. Overall, very good performance.


Auto WB:
Good, though slightly warm
Incandescent WB:
Much too pink
 
Manual WB:
Very good

Incandescent: Manual white balance handled our incandescent lighting best overall here, with the most natural-looking color. Incandescent mode produced a very strong pink cast, while Auto produced better results than average, though with a little too much warmth for our tastes. (In fairness, some people prefer shots taken under incandescent light to show a little warmth, and the amount here is well within reasonable bounds.)


Horizontal: 2,000 lines
Vertical: 2,000 lines

Resolution: Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 2,000 lines per picture height in both directions. Extinction of the pattern occurred at around 2,400 lines per picture height horizontally, and about 2,450 lines vertically.


Wide: Bright
Tele: Fairly bright
Auto Flash
Slow-Sync Flash

Flash: Our manufacturer-specified testing (shown at right) shows bright results at the rated wide angle distance of 9.8 feet, though the camera increased ISO to 500 to achieve that, resulting in higher image noise levels. The telephoto test came out fairly bright at 6.6 feet, despite a similar ISO increase to 500.

Auto flash produced bright results in our indoor portrait scene, retaining very little ambient light at a 1/64 second shutter speed, ISO 100. Switching to the Slow-Sync flash mode balance the exposure a little with more ambient lighting from the much slower 1/6 second shutter speed (ISO 100). In both shots, color balance is slightly greenish, but not too bad. The Canon PowerShot SX150 IS' image stabilization should help with the slower shutter speed in Slow-Sync mode, but any movement (of camera or subject) could be problematic at this shutter speed. Shot taken at ~5 feet (~1.5m) on a stable tripod.


80
100
200
400
800
1,600

ISO: Noise and Detail: Detail is clear and distinct at ISO 80 and 100, with some minor blurring beginning at ISO 200. Still, details are fairly well defined at ISO 400. By ISO 800, luminance and chroma (color) noise begin to dominate, coupled with a little interference from noise suppression. Though results at ISO 1,600 are quite soft and grainy, performance isn't the worst we've seen. See Print Quality section immediately below for how this affects printed images.


Print Quality: ISO 80 images look pretty good printed at 16x20 inches, although the red swatch on our Still Life target was a bit soft. (The same was true at all ISO settings, but we won't repeat ourselves below.)

ISO 100 shots are sightly soft but usable at 16x20 inches, at their best at 13x19.

ISO 200 shots are usable at 13x19 inches, best at 11x14.

ISO 400 images are soft but usable at 11x14, best at 8x10.

ISO 800 files are usable at 8x10, but detail is lacking: Much better at 5x7.

ISO 1,600 shots are OK at 5x7 - Somewhat on the soft side, but in line with other point & shoot cameras in this market segment.

ISO 6,400 shots captured in the SX150's special Low Light mode were very rough, even when printed at 4x6 inches. Fine for small screen images on Facebook or wallet-sized prints, but not much else.


 

Canon SX150 IS Performance


Startup Time: The Canon PowerShot SX150 IS takes about 2.9 seconds to power on and take a shot. That's on the longer side of average even for a long-zoom.


Shutter Lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is slower than average, at 0.74 second at wide angle and 0.75 second at full telephoto. Prefocus shutter lag is just 0.07 second though, which is pretty quick.


Cycle Time: Cycle time is also on the slow side of average, capturing a frame every 2.64 seconds in single-shot mode. Continuous mode burst speeds are less than one frame per second, very sluggish.


Flash Recycle: The Canon PowerShot SX150 IS' flash recycles in about 13.6 seconds after a full-power discharge, which is again quite slow. (Note: Although we originally used freshly-charged NiMH batteries for this test, they were about a year old. We've since re-tested with brand-new, fully-charged Sanyo Eneloop batteries and found full-power flash recycle time dropped to 9.1 seconds. That's still slow, but not unusual for a camera with a decent flash that is powered by two AAs.)


Low Light AF: The camera's AF system was only able to focus down to just below the 1/2 foot-candle light level without AF assist enabled, though the camera was able to focus in complete darkness with the AF assist lamp enabled. Outdoors at night, you shouldn't have any problem focusing under typical city street lighting, and indoors, the AF-assist light will handle situations where the subject is within a few feet of the camera.


USB Transfer Speed: Connected to a computer or printer with USB 2.0, the Canon PowerShot SX150 IS' download speeds are quite fast. We measured 8,439 KBytes/sec.


Battery Life: The Canon SX150's battery life has a CIPA rating of 110 shots per charge for alkaline batteries and about 320 shots per charge for NiMH batteries. As noted above, very poor battery life on Alkaline batteries, but a good rating on NiMH.


 

In the Box

The retail package contains the following items:
  • Canon PowerShot SX150 IS
  • Wrist Strap WS-800
  • Two AA Alkalines
  • USB Cable IFC-400PCU
  • 35-page Getting Started Guide
  • Canon CD-ROM with ZoomBrowser EX6.8 (Win), ImageBrowser 6.8 (Mac), CameraWindow DC 8.6, PhotoStitch 3.1/3.2 software plus Camera User and Software Guides

 

Recommended Accessories

  • Optional NiMH AA rechargeable batteries and charger are a must
  • Protective case
  • Large capacity, high-speed SD/SDHC/SDXC memory card. 8GB or more makes sense if you plan on shooting lots of HD video.

 

Canon SX150 IS Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Pocketable 12x wide-angle zoom
  • 14-megapixel CCD sensor
  • Decent 3-inch LCD screen rated 230K dots
  • 28-336mm eq. lens is wide with solid telephoto reach
  • Smart Auto (32 options)
  • Program, Manual, Aperture/Shutter Priority modes (very unusual at this price point)
  • Macro as close as 1cm
  • Optical Image Stabilization
  • Scene modes and Filters
  • Two compression settings (Fine, Normal)
  • ISO range 80-1600, boost to 6400 at 2MP
  • Reasonably powerful flash
  • Manual focusing available
  • Good range of shutter speeds (15-1/2500)
  • AF Assist lamp
  • 1280 x 720 HD video at 30 fps with stereo sound
  • Optical zoom and IS supported during movies
  • Dedicated movie record button
  • Accepts SDXC and Eye-Fi cards
  • Very short battery life, NiMH rechargeables are almost a necessity
  • Respectable but not standout image quality, fairly high noise/low resolution at high ISOs
  • Slow response; worse than competition
  • Manual pop-up flash
  • Optical zoom audible in movies
  • No mini HDMI output
  • No A/V cable included
  • LCD smears in low light
  • LCD could use better anti-reflection coating
  • Moderately high chromatic aberration

 

Although I liked using the Canon PowerShot SX150 IS and the results I achieved with it in good light, I can't personally get very enthusiastic about it, given its quirks and slow response, even at its current street price of roughly $179. That said, it does pack a pretty significant set of features at low cost, and if you're looking for a long-zoom camera with full PASM exposure control, it's one of very few offering that capability in this price range. If your budget will stretch to cover $40-50 more, you'll find a number of models with better capabilities, but the Canon SX150 IS is a good deal at its roughly $179 street price, and a screaming bargain at the low price of $150 we've seen here and there online. Bottom line, it comes down to your budget: If you can afford it, models in the ~$220 price range will give you more capability, but in its price range the Canon SX150 IS has few peers.

 

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