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|Duncan Evans reviews the Canon Powershot SX130 IS.|
Once upon a time the world of superzoom compacts meant making sacrifices in order to deliver on the big zoom promise. Well, times change and today’s cameras have plenty to offer across the board but there’s usually a payoff somewhere. The Canon Powershot SX130 packs a handsome 12x optical zoom to get you closer to the action and backs it up with a 12Mp resolution to capture it. So let’s put it to the test and see if performance matches expectations.
Canon Powershot SX130 IS: Features
It’s all about the family with the new Canon Powershot SX130 IS, which replaces the SX120 in the line up. Whether it’s face detection and tracking, blink detection and red-eye removal for families, the 12x superzoom for holidays, or the 28mm wide angle for scenes on days out, ease of use and practicality are the mantras that Canon is chanting over the SX130's curvaceous shape. In fact there’s a bit of everything in here, from the 12Mp resolution and DIGIC 4 image processing system, to the HD-movie. With a 12x optical zoom from the pleasing 28mm wide angle up to the 336mm equivalent reach at the end it’s also a relief to know that there is hardware based shift stabilisation in the lens to help with shake. While the SX130 can be used as a straightforward point and shoot, it also comes with some manual control in the form of aperture priority, shutter priority, manual and program options, as well as a number of scene modes. These include the miniature effect that’s been all the rage, plus a dubious fish-eye effect. Of more value, and quite astonishing given the length of the zoom, is the macro mode that reckons you can get as close as 1cm to the subject.
Canon Powershot SX130 IS: Handling
While recent Canon compacts have been all svelte and slinky, a digital Keira Knightley if you will, the SX130 turns back time to the dawn of digital with a hulking front and ramrod straight back. It’s not the prettiest of cameras it has to be said. It also weighs quite a bit at 308g fully loaded. The build quality is good, but not great – there’s no sense of top quality or style here. While the control layout itself is well ordered with a dual menu and on-screen function system allowing access to the shooting parameters, the positioning of them is not ideal with the thumb grip right over the top of the face detection and ISO placements. The joypad arrangement on the back is complimented with a rotating wheel and while the buttons are larger than on most compacts, they are plastic and smooth, providing poor tactile feedback. Fortunately the on-screen function menu and the main system menu are both easy and straightforward to navigate.
Canon Powershot SX130 IS: Performance
There’s a number of interesting facets to the performance of the SX130, starting with the metering. There’s the usual trio of evaluative, centre-weighted and spot. The evaluative, or zone, can be left to its own devices, or tied in to the face detection mode, so that it’s a kind of super-centre-weighted option. However, in practice, even with this turned off, you only need to move the central focus area a little to get totally different readings in evaluative mode, showing that it actually is centre-weighted and a bit metering, not strictly zone metering at all. In terms of image consideration, there’s a healthy regard for the sky, even on backlit subjects, so that the foreground becomes darker. One of the reasons for that is the firmware now contains shadow enhancement technology, so the shadows can be boosted anyway. However, when you get those dread bright cloudy skies, then the camera will give you an exposure for the landscape. For hue and tone I don’t think anyone can have any complaints. Everything is nicely saturated, from healthy skin tones, to blue skies, to radiant vegetation. Even the subtle tones of pale lilacs and whites in flowers are faithfully reproduced. Basically, you’ve got colours that you can print straight out of the camera.
As the family is a key target here, there’s a raft of features like face detection and tracking that ties in with the focussing system. It has red-eye removal and anti-blinking detection. Well, the face detection works quite well, it picks people up and follows them around but it can get stuck in places. The blink detection is more hit and miss. Also, the focussing is fine for a compact and there’s two further options beyond the straightforward focus and lock option. One is that with a half-press of the fire button the focus can be set to continuous at that point – useful for tracking things. The other is that the focus can be set to continuous all the time. This is not recommended, for two reasons. One is that it will re-meter each time where you might not want it to, the other is that it drains the battery. Speaking of which, the SX130 takes either two AAs or the Canon NB-3AH battery pack. Now two batteries is not a lot of power and while Canon might claim 130 typical shots the reality is more like 50-60 of average use with Duracell AAs.
ISO and noise performance
Unlike many compacts recently, the ISO range of the SX130 runs from ISO80 up to just ISO1600. Mind you, when you look at the images, you’ll see why. And this is where the criticism of the camera comes in. The image quality is really not that great. At ISO200 there are clear blotches in solid tones and even with JPEG quality set to max, there are compression artefacts visible. In low light shots at ISO200 it’s actually worse. Now the caveat to this is that you really won’t see this at A4 or less, until the ISO gets up to 800 at which point the processing really starts to kick in. They are still usable though. At ISO1600 the noise reduction basically blanks detail, softens the picture and has to go into overtime. These are really disappointing and will not look good at A4.
|Canon Powershot SX130 Test chart ISO speed test: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.|
There’s a full range of manual white balance options, but to be honest, it’s doubtful you’ll use them because the SX130 works well with fluorescent and tungsten lighting. It does have a tendency to mis-read shade and turn it blue, in mixed lighting conditions, but so do most compacts. However, here it’s a bit more blue than you might have been expecting. Easy fix though. White balance using flash is usually no problem either.
Canon Powershot SX130 IS: Lens performance
There’s good and bad news on the lens front. First the bad news – the starting aperture at the wide angle end is a disappointing f/3.5. The good news is that after that, it’s pretty much all good. Firstly, while there’s obvious barrel distortion at the wide angle end, it’s standard for a compact. However, at the other end of the telephoto, some 12x later, where you might expect issues, the results are surprisingly sharp with bags of detail. At the telephoto end the aperture is f/5.6 and this is clearly the sharper part of the lens. More good news is that the image stabilisation actually works. I managed to get a sharp hand held picture – okay so I was braced against a wall – at 1/4th of a second. Now that’s impressive. The only time the lens really struggled was shooting directly into the sun and here it was the focussing that was blinded. Colour fringing is also par for the course, if anything slightly better than expected. The maximum aperture is f/8 but while this gives the most depth-of-field it’s not particularly sharp at that aperture.
Canon Powershot SX130 IS: Verdict
There’s a clear case to be made for the SX130, you can see it nestling in grandad’s pocket, ready for pictures of the kids where face detection, a decent flash and great skin tones will make it a winner, but also on hand for day trips on sight-seeing expeditions. The lens is a great asset. It scores a remarkable 1cm macro, yet delivers 28mm wide angle landscapes and over 300mm of telephoto reach, all with good sharpness and well-performing image stabilisation. It’s the star turn of the camera. However, on the down side, the image quality really is nothing special and ISO1600 is like being poked in the eye. On top of that the handling isn’t as good as it could be and the design is retro, but not in a good way. For the stated target audience, wanting a good feature set but without being demanding over image quality, this is a very viable proposition. Outside that niche, the lumpy design and mediocre image quality leave it exposed against something like the Olympus SP-600 or Samsung WB-650. It’s reasonable value for money, but not for everyone.
Canon Powershot SX130 IS: Pros
Impressive image stabilisation
12x optical zoom
Lots of manual control
High 12Mp resolution
Big 3in LCD screen
Canon Powershot SX130 IS: Cons
Limited ISO range
Image quality could be better
|VALUE FOR MONEY|
Canon Powershot SX130 IS: Specification
|Optical zoom||12x (28-336mm equiv)|
|Sensor type||1/2.3in CCD|
|Max image size||12Mp|
|Focusing system||Face detection, AF|
|Focus points||1-point fixed to centre or face tracking|
|Focus distance||1cm macro|
|File types||JPEG, MOV (720p video)|
|ISO sensitivity||ISO80 - 1600|
|Metering modes||Evaluative (linked to Face Detection), centre-weighted average, spot|
|Exposure compensation||+/-2 EV, one third stops|
|Shutter speed range||1-1/2500sec, 15sec scene mode|
|Image stabilisation||3-stop lens shift type|
|Monitor||3in TFT LCD (230k dots)|
|Media type||SD, SDHC, MMC, MMCplus, HCMMCplus|
|Interface||Mini-B high speed USB|
|Power||2x AA batteries or Canon NB-3AH battery|
|Size||113.3 x 73.2 x 45.8mm|
The Canon Powershot SX130 IS cost £168 and is available from Warehouse Express here:
Canon Powershot SX130 IS