Basic Specifications
Full model name: Canon PowerShot SX720 HS
Resolution: 20.30 Megapixels
Sensor size: 1/2.3 inch
(6.2mm x 4.6mm)
Lens: 40.00x zoom
(24-960mm eq.)
Viewfinder: No / LCD
Native ISO: 80 - 3200
Extended ISO: 80 - 3200
Shutter: 1/3200 - 15 sec
Max Aperture: 3.3
Dimensions: 4.3 x 2.5 x 1.4 in.
(110 x 64 x 36 mm)
Weight: 9.5 oz (270 g)
includes batteries
Availability: 03/2016
Manufacturer: Canon
Full specs: Canon SX720 HS specifications
40.00x zoom 1/2.3 inch
size sensor
image of Canon PowerShot SX720 HS
Front side of Canon SX720 HS digital camera Front side of Canon SX720 HS digital camera Front side of Canon SX720 HS digital camera Front side of Canon SX720 HS digital camera Front side of Canon SX720 HS digital camera

Canon SX720 Review -- Now Shooting!

04/13/2016: First Shots posted
: Field Test Part I posted

We've now completed round 1 of our Canon SX720 Field Test, where we explore that generous 24-960mm eq. zoom range! Dive in for all the details below, and for anyone wanting to jump straight to our Canon SX720 overview, please click here.


Canon SX720 Field Test Part I

Getting to know the world's first pocket superzoom

By Dave Pardue | Posted: 06/03/2016

How many cameras weighing less than 10 ounces can reach out optically to 960mm equivalent? As of this writing that would be one, namely the Canon SX720. Burdening your biceps to the tune of a mere 9.5 ounces or 270 grams, this compact travel zoom lives in its own class at the moment (let's dub it a "pocket superzoom"), urging traveling photographers wanting to keep it light but craving generous zoom reach to sit up and take notice.

Optical zoom range is both enticing and addictive, especially for anyone wanting to reel in the distant world for their sensors to capture. From a cardinal perched 30 feet away to the Eiffel Tower off in the distance down the Champs Élysées, the world is full of intriguing subjects awaiting your camera's zoom reach. And yet, as most of you know, there's a price you tend to pay for this much reach afforded in such a small package. This first Field Test is an initial look at how much you'll be able to expect from the Canon SX720 out in the real world and across the full optical zoom range.

1/250s / f/5.6 / ISO 100 / 200mm eq.

(Images have been cropped and resized to fit this page, as well as edited in post-production software primarily to balance shadows and highlights. Clicking any image will take you to the original, unedited image as produced by the Canon SX720 and provide you with access to the full resolution file and associated EXIF data. All images in this test were shot handheld with onboard image stabilization enabled.)

SX720: Small yet powerful

Getting back to the size of the SX720, in order to surpass this range in a relatively compact camera you'd need to step up to a full-fledged superzoom such as the Canon SX50 or SX60. The SX50 is one of the lightest of these, and yet is still more than twice the weight of the SX720 at 21 ounces or 595 grams, and comes in a larger body style similar in size to a small DSLR. So, once again, if you need something to slip comfortably into your purse or coat pocket and still zoom for miles, the SX720 is the current frontrunner by a good margin.

Actually, it just occurred to me that at 9.5 ounces and zooming to 960mm, the "ounces to maximum effective focal length" ratio is roughly 1/100. So let's coin another term while we're at it, "OFL", and rate the SX720 at "101" (960mm/9.5oz) and thus where a higher number means a better score. The predecessor to this camera, the SX710, sports an already impressive OFL of 79; while the previously mentioned Canon SX50, a camera that we favored highly in our Best Superzoom competition a few years ago, rates with an OFL of 57 (1200/21). The popular Nikon P900 comes in with an OFL of 62, and raising the sensor size to a 1-inch type, the Sony RX10 III rates with an OFL of just 16 (rounded up) as its lens is much larger and therefore heavier to accommodate the larger sensor.

And of course the number only drops further as you raise the sensor size and thus the weight of the rig, so the comparison bears consideration if you wish to travel light and still tote that coveted extensive zoom reach.

The Canon SX720 is the first 40x camera to fit in a coat pocket and weigh less than 10oz (284g)

I've had the privilege of shooting with cameras from all of the major manufacturers, and I tend to find Canon cameras the easiest to operate. From their consumer and enthusiast compacts up to their DSLRs, they're the easiest for me to simply pick up from scratch, start making adjustments to and begin shooting. The SX720 is no exception, and is eminently straightforward and intuitive in its control and menu layout. Further, the mode dial and scroll wheel have a reassuring firmness to them, preventing accidental bumps in the camera bag or elsewhere for the most part. The camera feels solid and sturdy for the price, not at all chinzty.

The SX720 HS sports comfortable, intuitive and familiar controls

Furthermore, while the camera contains basic auto settings and common scene settings for those of you who'd prefer to allow the camera to do the thinking, it also has full manual control for the enthusiast-level shooter preferring to dial in the desired settings. It doesn't support RAW capture, unfortunately, and that's something that certain enthusiasts will consider a deal-breaker. But as we discovered towards the bottom of this page of our Best Superzoom roundup, RAW files don't bear nearly the fruit from smaller-sensored cameras as they do from larger-sensored ones (except in one case of heavy-handed JPEG sharpening from another brand) so this is not much of a deal-breaker for me personally with the SX720.

There's also a fairly neat mode called "Live View" on the dial which allows you to make slider adjustments to brightness, saturation and white balance as you're viewing the scene. I'll explore that setting and other notable ones in a forthcoming second Field Test.

1/350s / f/6.3 / ISO 320 / 708mm eq.

Smaller sensors aren't generally associated with shallow depth of field potential (and thus good "bokeh") as larger sensors are when married to bright lenses, but longer focal lengths can create shallower depths of field and thus can help balance the playing field to some degree. I was about 20 feet from my friend here the almost domesticated squirrel, and for this sensor size (1/2.3") and focal length (127.5mm actual FL) the depth of field works out to roughly 6 inches (15 cm) at the maximum aperture of f/6.3, so the squirrel's body is mostly in focus while the trees in the background are rendered nicely blurred. As with most compact zooms, the maximum aperture changes as you zoom, so you'll need to experiment to determine the best combination of aperture, distance and zoom for varying subjects if you're after good subject-to-background isolation.

I need to interject a small gripe about one function I use a lot, and that's the EV (exposure compensation) adjustment. It's simple to activate by pushing the top of the 4-way control dial, and then to change the setting via the dial itself, but if you wish to quickly exit and clear the screen, half-pressing the shutter button does not get you out of EV settings mode, although the camera will still take a shot at the currently displayed setting when you fully depress the shutter button. I found this a little odd, because with all of the other direction arrows, and any setting to be found in the menu, a half-press of the shutter means "exit" just as it does on almost every camera I've ever shot with.

(Note: Our technical editor Zig Weidelich informs me that this is intentional, and common in Canon PowerShots to allow for quick additional adjustments without having to reinvoke EV setting mode, and it can be dismissed by pressing Set or EV again. I'd simply never seen it before, so while it's still a minor frustration for me, it sounds as if other shooters must prefer that the EV compensation adjustment overlay remains active while still shooting if desired.)

Pushing the optical limits of the Canon SX720's lofty zoom range

Now that we've stretched her legs a bit, let's jump right in to why most of you are drawn to this camera, and that's the nearly 1000mm equivalent zoom reach!

1/400s / f/6.9 / ISO 160 / 960mm eq.

I found the JPEG engine in the SX720 up to the challenge. The images are generally crisp, at least where I managed accurate focus, and the resulting JPEG files are neither over-sharpened nor overly saturated as is all-too-often the case in consumer-oriented cameras. As mentioned earlier, I used the "superfine" compression level, the highest quality available, but if you need more images on a card you can shoot with normal "fine" compression and the files will be roughly a third smaller in size, thereby increasing the mileage on your card.

1/250s / f/6.9 / ISO 100 / 960mm eq.

I used burst shooting (continuous/speed priority) for this image and a few more in this initial batch, which fires off a reported 5.9 frames per second with AF fixed at the first frame (or a slower burst speed with continuous AF). I found it to work just as expected, and will investigate both modes further in the next Field Test. For such a small sensor, camera size and price point, the SX720 is obviously able to deliver good images when there is enough available light and the shutter speed is fast enough to freeze the motion. Onboard image stabilization helps with camera shake, but for a bird as twitchy as a cardinal such as this one you'll likely want to remain at 1/250s or faster, especially while zoomed all the way in. (But don't make the mistake I made above, and zoom in so far you cut off her tail!)

So there's a look at several best-case scenario images with the Canon SX720. This is to say that the subjects are not moving too quickly for these shutter speeds to handily capture, and there's plenty of available light for the relatively dim max aperture of f/6.9 at full telephoto to allow for low ISO settings.

But... what happens when the light begins to dim just a bit, even in partial sunlight, or fades into dusk?

Gain strain as relates to smaller sensors

This is where the trade-off game begins, because capturing movement with an f/6.9 aperture without full sun requires a balancing act. If you choose too slow a shutter speed, your subjects will likely blur from movement, camera shake, or both. But then if you crank the ISO gain too much in order to afford a fast enough shutter speed you'll begin to introduce too much noise and smearing above certain ISO settings. The amount that's tolerable depends on the subject matter, the size you're viewing the image and your own personal taste in noise, but given that these 1/2.3" sensors are less than a tenth the size of popular enthusiast APS-C-sensored DSLRs, you can't expect to crank the gain much beyond ISO 1000 without seeing noticeable noise and artifacts.

Below are examples at ISO 400, 800 and 1600 while zoomed to 960mm eq. to help better illustrate the effect of noise and noise reduction artifacts on images as you crank the gain. Clicking on any image will take you to a carrier page, and clicking on that image will bring you the full resolution image as delivered straight from the SX720 for pixel-peeping and further analyzing the effects. And if you'd like to compare the SX720 to the pocket zoom competition as ISO rises, our Comparometer is a handy little tool for doing just that!

1/320s / f/6.9 / ISO 400 / 960mm eq.

Even with partial southeastern USA sunlight I still needed to let the ISO float up to 400 in order to achieve a 1/320s shutter speed for capturing this fast-moving cardinal. The noise isn't terrible, but it's definitely noticeable, especially in the background imagery. At this ISO there's not yet much in the way of smearing effects, which are the result of the processor attempting to minimize the noise levels and often robbing the image of fine detail, so I'd call ISO 400 fairly safe territory for most shooting needs.

1/200s / f/6.9 / ISO 800 / 960mm eq.

I would have loved more light in order to better showcase this moment. These little chickadees are tough to capture, as they're very shy and don't like being close to people. But it was dusk and I didn't want to push the ISO beyond 800, however I really needed a faster shutter speed to better freeze the action. Ah well, for this camera class, the performance certainly isn't bad for this light level.

1/400s / f/6.9 / ISO 1600 / 960mm eq.

ISO 1600 is traditionally not a setting I ever recommend for this sensor size, but yet again I've seen far worse performance than this. Even without zooming into the image you can see a good bit of fine detail is lost due to the camera attempting to minimize the noise at this ISO, but for anything other than critical uses the images is still usable for some purposes, such as online sharing. For printing anything above 4 x 6 inches I advise remaining at ISO 800 or less.

Now to another gripe about this camera, only this one is noticeably more significant to me than the earlier one. On most cameras I've been shooting with these days, including some consumer long-zooms, there is a setting that allows the ISO to be constrained even when shooting in "Auto ISO". This is something I rely on and use often, because I can determine on my own just how much noise I'm willing to tolerate for any given camera, and then put a hard cap on that setting. On another recent compact zoom for instance I put the cap on at ISO 800, and that was that, and for this camera I would cap it at 1000 (or 800 if partial stops were not an option). But, much to my dismay, this is not an available setting, but it would be a terrific firmware update as I believe it's a critical feature for all cameras to have now.

Going wide

Let's reverse engines now and zoom that 40x lens all the way out. The widest angle of 24mm eq. is a very common and traditional setting, and not many compacts nor superzooms go wider, though there are a few that go as wide as 21mm eq. It's a fairly typical focal length for landscape shooting and the like, not extreme by any means, but generally usable for most situations.

When zoomed all the way out to 24mm eq. you're afforded a maximum aperture of f/3.3. This isn't terribly bright, but certainly far more useful for low light shooting than f/6.9 when zoomed to the tele end. Below are examples at f/3.3 and f/4 to show the possibilities when increasing the aperture and letting in more available light. I experimented with "super-vivid" scene mode for the outdoor shots... perhaps a bit overkill in the first image, but I liked it a lot in the second one.

1/640s / f/4 / ISO 80 / 24mm eq.
[super-vivid scene mode]

1/800s / f/4 / ISO 80 / 27mm eq.
[super-vivid scene mode]

1/80s / f/3.3 / ISO 1000 / 24mm eq.

Now let's zoom the lens back in a bit and explore the wealth of zoom range between the wide angle and telephoto ends of the focal length spectrum.

Canon SX720: Finding the middle ground

It's easy with so much zoom power to focus primarily on the starkness of wide angle imagery or the addictive power of the full 960mm eq. zoom reach, but there really is a wealth of alternatives at your disposal in the middle ground as well, assuming a capable camera. For one thing, the best portraits are generally shot neither at wide angle nor super-telephoto, but somewhere in the happy medium. And then there are times when backing the zoom toggle just a bit will ensure more crop freedom, such as in the female cardinal shot above where I inadvertently cut off her tail.

There's also a general rule that cameras such as the SX720 are configured to provide the best image quality performance while in the middle of the zoom range, and often having potential issues while at the extremes. Stay tuned for more to come from our technical analysis regarding the performance of this model in the lab. And last but not least, backing off from super-telephoto allows a wider aperture the more you dial it back, giving you more flexibility with potentially faster shutter speeds at the same ISO setting.

Below are examples shot between 100mm and 500mm equivalent focal lengths, at wider apertures than are available at super-telephoto range and across a variety of ISO settings for additional comparisons.

1/160s / f/5.6 / ISO 125 / 246mm eq.

1/400s / f/5 / ISO 100 / 122mm eq.

1/400s / f/5.6 / ISO 200 / 344mm eq.

1/500s / f/5.6 / ISO 1000 / 407mm eq.

In Part II of this Field Test I'll take a look at video, a closer look at burst performance, as well as some of the additional settings and features found on the SX720. Stay tuned for our technical analysis from the lab still to come as well, and please see our Canon SX720 gallery for more images and Exif data.

Canon SX720 GalleryCanon SX720 Lab Shots


Canon SX720 Review -- Overview

Preview posted: 02/17/2016

It seems that pocket long zoom cameras (a.k.a. "Travel Zooms") hit a bit of a ceiling a few years ago when multiple manufacturers reached the 30x mark. Whereas bulkier "superzooms" have continued to reach ever farther into the distance with each passing year and model, pocket zooms have stayed relatively static in recent years at this apparent 30x limit.

That all changes with the introduction of the Canon SX720 HS and its 40x zoom range, all 24-960mm eq. of it, in a package that fits easily in a purse or coat pocket. Even the larger superzooms didn't reach the 40x mark until just a few years ago, so this really is a major accomplishment, at least in terms of the available reach for the size, and marks a milestone similar to the one that Nikon reached with the P900 last year when it leapfrogged the competition for overall range in the popular superzoom arena with an 83x optical zoom.

Other than the impressive increase in optical zoom range, much of the imaging pipeline remains the same as found in the previous year's SX710 HS. For starters, the SX720 retains a 20.3mp CMOS sensor of the common 1/2.3 inch variety, and is powered by the same DIGIC 6 processor. And, in order to ensure crisp images especially at the long telephoto end, this model also incorporates Canon's "Intelligent Image Stabilizing" optical IS technology, which claims greater performance and less blur from camera shake.

Taking a closer look at the biggest highlight from this model, the 40x optical zoom lens (24-960mm eq. range) sports one Hi-UD, three UD and three aspheric lens elements to help achieve both "high image quality and high magnification" throughout its focal length range. The maximum aperture is f/3.3 when wide open at 24mm eq., dimming to f/6.9 when extended to 960mm eq. at full telephoto.

Because this is new technology for this size of camera body, you'll certainly want to stay tuned to our site for more to come on the SX720's image quality once we finish our testing. If the image quality holds up across the specified 960mm optical range, then this will prove to be an impressive feat of engineering indeed.

The rear control panel looks largely similar to the SX710, for those of you familiar with that model, with the majority of buttons and general placements remaining the same. One notable addition to the general ergonomics is a padded thumb rest that's been added beside the mode dial, a welcome touch given the lack of one on the predecessor. The mode dial icons appear largely unchanged, offering traditional modes as well as a special movie mode, access to all scene modes, live view control, auto and others. The older "display" button is now labelled as "info" although it presumably serves the same or similar purpose. One additional obvious difference is the return to a more rectangular appearance as found on earlier models, whereas the SX710 was designed with a more rounded "sporty" look across the top of the camera.

The Canon SX720 is capable of continuous shooting bursts of up to 5.9 shots/second, which lowers to 4.6 shots/sec while utilizing continuous AF. Still image aspect ratios offered are 16:9, 3:2, 4:3 and 1:1. Full HD video is offered in both 30p and 60p formats, in addition to both HD and VGA video at 30p. Video is encoded using an MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 codec with stereo audio recorded in MPEG-4 AAC format, stored in MP4 files.

Additional amenities that were ported over from the SX710 include both built-in Wi-Fi and Near Field Communication (NFC) for devices capable of utilizing this technology, supporting remote control and sharing images wirelessly. The 3.0" LCD remains fixed and offers a resolution of 922k dots, promising crisp images across a variety of lighting conditions. Zoom Framing assist is also onboard, a handy feature allowing the user to quickly zoom in and out as needed in order to keep the primary subject in the frame while at extreme telephoto range. And the Story Highlight feature allows the camera to create a highlight reel from a collection of images and/or film clips for you, in-camera, in order to save you the time and hassle of compiling and creating these yourself in post-production.

The SX720 HS accepts SD, SDHC and SDXC memory cards including UHS-I types, while power is supplied via an NB-13L battery pack, with a dedicated battery charger included in the bundle. The battery can also be charged while still in-camera, which is new to this line, but oddly the unit does not ship with a USB cable and one must be purchased separately.

The battery is rated at approximately 250 shots in regular shooting mode, 355 shots in ECO mode, and is stated to be able to record 50 minutes of video on a full charge. Additionally, image playback time is rated at an approximate 5 hours. External connections include a Micro-B USB 2.0 port and a Micro HDMI (Type D) port, however composite A/V out has been dropped.

The Canon PowerShot SX720 HS began shipping in March 2016 for a suggested retail price of about US$380, and only comes in black.


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