Canon SX1 IS Review
Canon SX1 IS Exposure
Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Very accurate color with only slight oversaturation in strong reds, blues and greens.
Skin tones. Here, with the color balanced properly for the light source, the SX1 IS's Caucasian skin tones had a slight pink cast, while darker skin tones were pushed a bit toward yellow. However, performance here is still pleasing. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc.
Hue. The Canon SX1 IS showed several color shifts relative to the correct mathematical translation of colors in its subjects, pushing cyan toward blue, red toward orange, and yellow toward green. Performance here is still better than average, though, with an excellent overall color error score. Hue is "what color" the color is.
|See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images
Exposure and White Balance
Indoors, incandescent lighting
Best color with Manual white balance, but Auto does unusually well. Pretty good exposure as well.
|Auto White Balance
|Incandescent White Balance
|Manual White Balance
Color balance indoors under incandescent lighting was very slightly red in Auto white balance mode, while the Incandescent setting produced a very strong pink cast. Manual mode produced the most accurate overall color for this shot. The sight reddish cast with the Auto white balance setting is well within acceptable limits, though: The Canon SX1 IS does much better in this regard than most cameras we test. The Canon PowerShot SX1 IS required a +0.3 EV exposure compensation boost to get a bright exposure, which is about average for this shot. Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulbs, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the U.S.
Generally good color and exposure outdoors.
|Auto White Balance,
|Auto White Balance,
Outdoors, the Canon PowerShot SX1IS handled harsh lighting pretty well, though its default contrast is pretty high. Shadow detail is limited, showing noise grain and the effects of noise suppression. Highlights are also pretty hot. Overall color looks good, if a touch warm. The PowerShot SX1IS IS does have an adjustable contrast setting, which is effective at toning down high contrast images like these.
High resolution, 1,600 lines of strong detail.
|Strong detail to
1,600 lines horizontal
|Strong detail to
1,600 lines vertical
Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,600 lines per picture height in both directions. Extinction began just past 2,000 lines. Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail.
Sharpness & Detail
Fine detail is slightly soft from noise suppression, and high contrast areas show noticeable edge enhancement.
|Definition of high-contrast
elements is affected by
noise suppression and there's
evidence of edge enhancement.
|Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression blurs
detail in areas of subtle contrast,
as in the darker parts of hair here.
Sharpness. The Canon SX1 IS captures a lot of fine detail, though detail definition suffers from heavy-handed noise suppression. In high contrast areas, the camera produces bright enhancement artifacts, such as along the branches in the crop above left. Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.
Detail. The crop above right shows fairly high noise suppression, even at the low ISO (100) this crop was taken from, with the darker areas of hair showing limited detail. Individual strands become lost even in the moderate shadows. Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears.
RAW vs In-Camera JPEGs
More detail can often be obtained from carefully processing RAW files though, without additional artifacts.
In the table above, mousing over a link at the bottom will load the corresponding crop in the area above, and clicking on it will open the full resolution image. Examples consist of an in-camera Super Fine JPEG and a RAW file processed through Adobe Camera Raw version 5.5. The RAW image was sharpened with 400% unsharp masking in Photoshop with an 0.5 pixel radius.
As you can see, there's not a lot of extra detail is visible in the converted RAW image, mainly because it's obscured by noise. The SX1's small sensor is quite noisy, so a good noise reduction program or a RAW converter with more advanced noise reduction built-in would likely do much better.
ISO & Noise Performance
Effects of noise reduction visible at all ISOs, but reasonable detail up to ISO 200. (Below average vs competing CCD-sensor based models, though.)
|ISO 80||ISO 100||ISO 200|
|ISO 400||ISO 800||ISO 1,600|
Canon SX1 IS image noise levels are low to moderate at lower ISOs, but the effects of noise reduction are glaringly apparent, even at the lowest ISO. There's fair detail available up to ISO 200, but when compared with competing models with CCD-based sensors, the SX1 IS comes up short. At ISO 400, noise suppression increases noticeably, further blurring fine detail and generating a lot of artifacts in the form of bright or dark pixels. Detail continues to degrade as ISO increases, to the point where there is very little detail left at ISO 1,600. Chroma noise is visible in deep shadows even at the base ISO, but starts to become obvious at ISO 800. ISO 3,200 is lower resolution (1.9 megapixels), and essentially devoid of detail. A somewhat disappointing performance, considering the SX1 IS's price tag. While Canon's CMOS sensor technology provided visible benefits over CCD designs when first introduced in their SLR lineup, at the current level of development for each, CMOS and CCD technologies seem to be about on par. In the case of the SX1 IS, its CMOS sensor seems a significant step backward relative to the image quality delivered by the CCD-based SX10 IS before it.
See the Print Quality section below for maximum recommended print sizes at each ISO.
Extremes: Sunlit and Low Light tests
High resolution with strong overall detail, though high contrast and limited shadow detail. Somewhat limited low-light capabilities.
|+0.3 EV||+0.7 EV||+1.0 EV|
Sunlight. The Canon PowerShot SX1 IS had a little trouble dealing with the deliberately harsh lighting in the test above, producing very high contrast with deep shadows. Shadow detail is limited, with noticeable noise suppression in deep shadow areas. The camera required slightly more than average compensation to get proper exposure of skin tones, at +1.0 EV, which pushes highlights on the shirt a fair amount. We preferred the +0.7 EV setting overall, but the face is slightly dim. The camera's lowest contrast setting did do a pretty good job of evening out the exposure though. Be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown above; it's better to shoot in the shade when possible.
Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here.)
|Normal Contrast Setting
|Lowest Contrast Setting
|Intelligent Contrast Off
|Intelligent Contrast On
Intelligent Contrast. In addition to a 5-step contrast adjustment (which worked well, as you can see above), the Canon PowerShot SX1 IS has what the company calls an Intelligent Contrast mode. Here you can see it made a big difference in our difficult outdoor portrait shot. No exposure compensation was required, but using iContrast did result in increased noise and reduced detail in the shadows.
|Face Detection Off
|Face Detection On
Face Detection. Here, we test to see what effect the PowerShot SX1 IS Face Detection has on the exposure of the model's face. The camera was placed in Portrait mode, which enables face detection, and no exposure compensation was added. As you can see, enabling face detection did improve the exposure (since it was basing the exposure on the model's face), but we found the image was still a bit too dim in the face for our tastes.
Low Light. The Canon SX1 IS was somewhat limited in terms of low-light performance, due to the one second maximum exposure in allowed in most modes. Selecting Long Shutter mode allows a maximum of 15 seconds however, resulting in bright, relatively clean images down to the 1/8 foot-candle level. Note that Long Shutter mode doesn't allow manual adjustment of the ISO setting. The readout on the LCD display says "ISO Auto," but the camera always shot at ISO 80 in our test of Long Shutter mode. Without Long Exposure, ISO 1,600 is required for a reasonably bright image at 1/8 foot-candle, however results are quite noisy, as expected. Color balance was fairly neutral from the Auto white balance, even at high ISOs. The camera's AF system had trouble with low lighting, able to focus only down to just under the 1/2 foot-candle light level without AF assist enabled, though it was able to focus in complete darkness with AF assist.
How bright is this? The one foot-candle light level that this test begins at roughly corresponds to the brightness of typical city street-lighting at night. Cameras performing well at that level should be able to snap good-looking photos of street-lit scenes.
NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) For such applications, you may have better luck with a digital SLR camera, but even there, you'll likely need to set the focus manually. For information and reviews on digital SLRs, refer to our SLR review index page.
Coverage and Range
A reasonably powerful flash, though coverage is uneven at wide-angle. About average exposure compensation required.
|28mm equivalent||560mm equivalent|
|Normal Flash, +0.7 EV||Slow-Sync Flash, Default Exposure|
Coverage and Exposure. Flash coverage was quite uneven at wide angle, but not surprising for a wide-angle lens. Coverage was much more even at telephoto. In the Indoor test, the Canon SX1 IS's flash underexposed our subject at its default setting, requiring +0.7 EV boost for a reasonably bright image. This is about average among the camera's we've tested, for this scene. The camera's Slow-Sync flash mode produced bright results without requiring any exposure compensation, though with a warm cast from the background lighting.
ISO 100 Range. At wide-angle and ISO 100, flash intensity began to decrease from about 10 feet on. At telephoto, flash power was a bit uneven, with 8 feet being brighter than 7 feet, but falling again at 9 feet and beyond. Exposure at telephoto focal lengths was more uniform, holding steady till about 8 feet, then dropping at 9 feet and beyond.
|Manufacturer-Specified Flash Range|
Auto ISO 200
Auto ISO 200
Manufacturer Specified Flash Test. In the shots above, the SX1IS performs about as Canon says it will, though it had to raise the sensitivity slightly at both wide angle and telephoto settings. The wide angle shot here is underexposed by about 1/3 EV, but that's probably just the camera reacting to the white ceiling of the lab. The telephoto example is perfectly exposed. Our standard test method for flash range uses a fixed setting of ISO 100, to provide a fair basis of comparison between cameras. We've now also begun shooting two shots using the manufacturer-specified camera settings, at the range the company claims for the camera, to assess the validity of the specific claims.
Good print quality at 13x19 inches. ISO 400 images are soft but usable at 11x14, ISO 800 shots are better at 5x7.
The Canon SX1 IS was able to produce good 13x19-inch prints at ISO 80, 100, and 200.
ISO 400 shots are pretty good at 11x14, but that red blurring will disappoint until you get down to Letter size or smaller. ISO 800 shots are usable at 8x10, more acceptable at 5x7. And ISO 1,600 shots also look good at 5x7 and 4x6.
Color is good throughout without being oversaturated, and shadows maintain their integrity reasonably well. Though color noise eventually invades the shadows, it's less noticeable if you keep the sizes down as I've mentioned above. Overall, the printed results bring the Canon SX1's value up a bit. Still, quality is not as sharp as we'd expected from this CMOS sensor.
Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon Pro9000 Mark II studio printer, and on the Canon Pixma MP610 here in the office. (See the Canon PIXMA Pro9000 Mark II review for details on that model.)
Recommended Software: Rescue your Photos!
Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. We get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A lot of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digital camera reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...
Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Canon PowerShot SX1 IS with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!
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Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.