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|Duncan Evans reviews the Canon PowerShot SX30 IS.|
There have been superzooms in the past that have promised to get you right into the action, but the SX30 from Canon is about to beat all of them, offering an incredible 24mm-840mm focal length range. That’s a 35x optical zoom on top of the generous 24mm wide angle. If you thought the macro option might suffer as a consequence of this then think again. It’s rated at 0cm. That’s right, you can push the lens right up against the subject. So, the numbers sound amazing, just how well does it stand up in the cold light of day?
Canon PowerShot SX30 IS: Features
The SX30 is pretty much all about the zoom. Everything is based around it. Needless to say with such a colossal range your aperture, image stabilisation and ISO range become very important. The good news is that at the wide angle end you get f/2.7 and at the end of the telephoto it’s f/5.8. There’s lens-shift image stabilisation in the system that consists of one Hi-UD lens, one UD lens and one double-sided aspherical lens. Canon has put a lot of effort into getting as good a quality lens as possible onto the camera. The 14.1Mp CCD sensor is backed up by the DIGIC 4 with iSAPS processing engine and there’s an enhanced i-Contrast feature for brightening shadows. On the back, the LCD screen is 2.7in but only has 230k dots (not pixels) which makes it pretty mediocre. It does flip out and rotate to help with tricky shots, especially macro ones though. There’s also an EV as well but no automatic switching between the two. In fact it requires two presses of the display button to change between them and to change back. The first press adds a histogram to the current display.
See that this camera is clearly going to be aimed at the photographer rather than happy snapper, the mode dial concentrates on programmed modes. There are three specific scene modes and a general scene mode option, but with two custom settings and AP, SP and M modes, the target user is fairly clear.
Canon PowerShot SX30 IS: Handling
There have been some complaints that it’s quite plasticky. Well, it isn’t that bad, but neither is it great quality. It does feel heavy in the hand at 601g and it’s fairly bulky. The handling is fine for shooting, but the dial on the back instead of having a proper control wheel is irritating because the feedback from it is sloppy. Because the zoom is so long it’s easy to lose track of things, so there’s a quick pull back out button to give you a wide view before returning to the focal length you were at. Unfortunately it’s right next to the thumb position making it all too easy to press against. Otherwise, handling is okay to get stable shots. The ultrasonic motor for the lens ensures it’s fairly quick and not too loud. The buttons on the back are all a decent size and easy to operate.
Canon PowerShot SX30 IS: Performance
It’s only when you get a camera out in the field for the day that you get a good feel for how easy it is to use and how well it performs. So let’s say straight off, the camera exposes for the ground and unless you meter off something bordering the sky – like trees – then you run the risk of getting a white sky. Shooting a sunlit (low in the sky, not strong) landscape with a nice blue sky should be easy work for any digital camera, but the SX30 was a constant fight to retain the sky resulting in underexposed foregrounds. There is the i-Contrast option that brightens up shadows but this only works to a modest degree. Even so, it’s absolutely essential to use. All the metering modes were tried and even the evaluative ones weren’t fond of the sky.
There’s also an issue with colour fringing. Shooting dark objects against a white sky might be expected but objects against blue ones is particularly poor. Thankfully the lens stabilisation does a good job though invariably, at the long end of the zoom, more ISO is almost always needed.
Focussing, which is a key issue for this camera, is generally good. It’s not DSLR good, but it rarely had a problem with anything. There’s not a lot of options here, just moving the focus area slowly around, or using face detection. In fact, this is somewhat underwhelming as I would expect focus tracking as a minimum. Macro focussing at 0cm is commendable, but slightly misleading because the lens housing is fairly large so the front is some way from the CCD. More of an issue is avoiding shadows from the housing. But given the length of the optics, very handy.
Although there’s a sports scene mode, the burst mode of the SX30 is also fairly average. In a 10 second test it captured 7 hi-res images, so the touted frame rate of 0.6fps bore out. There’s also movies, but again, only at 1280x720, 30 fps, rather than full HD.
ISO and noise performance
Running the ISO series of tests the ISO80 mode is nice and clean. Any artefacts are more likely to come from the JPEG algorithms. ISO100 shots do show a little tonal variation in the shadows but nothing to even notice unless you really look for it. At ISO200 the variations show up in solid surfaces as well as shadows. At ISO400 it’s more noticeable and this is the key ISO because it’s the one you’ll most likely use in conjunction with the telephoto end of the zoom. The quality actually suffers here, and in conjunction with the colour fringing, doesn’t look too great on close up. At 100% though it looks okay. At ISO800 the noise is everywhere and while the suppression tries to keep a handle on it, this has the consequence that details tend to get obliterated and images are softer. The final ISO rating is 1600, no ISO3200 surprisingly, and this has noise throughout. It isn’t coloured noise though, but again, the result of the processing is that the image is messy and soft.
|Canon PowerShot SX30 IS Outdoor ISO speed test: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.|
|Canon PowerShot SX30 IS Test chart ISO speed test: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.|
Outdoor, sunny scenes tend to be fine but overcast ones under shade didn’t perform very well. Here, the cloudy WB gave a warm result, the sunny WB gave a perfect result (despite not being sunny) and the Auto WB was far too cold. Interior lighting with tungsten using the AWB setting is fairly aggressive and comes up with very neutral, even slightly blue results. Fluorescent as well seems also on the ball with aggressive colour correction. Back outdoors again, in mixed scenes with sun and shade, you often get blue in the shadows, but not with the SX30. However, it does tend to overdo it, resulting in golden colours becoming slightly weaker.
Despite Canon’s best efforts, you don’t get this kind of range without some compromise. Clearly, there’s some with colour fringing, but also, at the wide angle end, the centre is sharp but the edges were pretty soft. There’s obvious barrel distortion on verticals but only what you would expect from a 24mm wide angle. An f/2.7 aperture is good news for low light conditions. Shooting with the sun in the frame produces streaks of light and also spotting. Great if you wanted special effects, not so if you didn’t. At the end of the telephoto end the quality is okay. It isn’t sharp at all, it can be a bit grainy looking and there’s not a lot of contrast but there’s enough detail to keep most people happy. Contrast is fine at wide angles.
Canon PowerShot SX30 IS: Verdict
If all you want is the biggest zoom on a compact with reasonable image quality, then stop reading, you’ve found your camera. If you wanted a general purpose camera then the metering, image sharpness, colour rendition, handling issues, colour fringing, lacklustre burst mode and so on are all negative issues. The Fuji FinePix HS10 is better across the board if you want the megazoom option. The thing is, the SX30 is almost the same size and price as an entry level DSLR. Yes, you get a lot of zoom for your money, but the hybrid compacts offer better quality and functionality, though at a higher price. Even with street prices now at the £350 point, there are just a few too many disappointing elements to the SX30 to really recommend it.
Canon PowerShot SX30 IS: Pros
Huge 35x optical zoom
Close up macro
Twist and rotate LCD
Canon PowerShot SX30 IS: Cons
Heavy and bulky
White balance a bit iffy
|VALUE FOR MONEY|
Canon PowerShot SX30 IS: Specification
|What comes in the box||Camera, strap, UV lead, mains charger, lens cap, manual, software|
|Optical zoom||35x (24-840mm equiv)|
|Max image size||4320 x 3240|
|Focus modes||Face Detection, Single, Continuous, Servo AF/AE|
|File types||JPEG, MOV|
|ISO sensitivity||ISO80 - 1600|
|Metering modes||Evaluative (linked to Face Detection frame), Centre-weighted, spot (centre, FD frame or Flexizone AF frame)|
|Exposure compensation||+/- 2EV|
|Shutter speed range||15s-1/3200th sec|
|Monitor||2.7in LCD (230k dots)|
|Media type||SD, SDHC, SDXC, MMC, MMCPlus, HCMMCplus|
|Interface||H-Speed USB, HDMI mini connector, AV output|
|Power||Li-ion NB-7L (370 shots approx)|
|Weight||601g inc battery and memory card|
The Canon PowerShot SX30 IS costs £359.00 and is available from Warehouse Express here:
Canon PowerShot SX30 IS