After being left far behind by Olympus's splendid SP series of ultra-zoom digital cameras, Canon is finally making a play for the longest of all long-range zooms, 20x. The all new SX series of cameras is an evolution of Canon's S-series extended zoom models, and is at once a continuation and a refresh of those popular and well-regarded cameras. In addition to its long-range 20x optical zoom, the Canon SX10 IS has a 10-megapixel CCD sensor and a comfortable ergonomic design intended to make use smooth and unobtrusive.
Interestingly, a nearly identical model, the SX1 IS has been released in Europe, but not in the United States. The difference between the SX10 IS and the SX10 IS has to do with its sensor; the latter contains a 10-megapixel CMOS sensor instead of a CCD and is capable of taking video clips in full 1080p high definition resolution. There's no word as to when the SX1 IS will make it across the Atlantic, or why it might never be sold in the U.S. at all.
So, now that you've been tantalized by an untouchable camera, let's get down to talking about a camera you can actually buy, the comparatively less exciting but nonetheless excellent Canon PowerShot SX10 IS.
Design: Solid, Substantial, and Ergonomically Fit
Most consumers will take note of the SX10's size, particularly if they are upgrading from a point-and-shoot or ultracompact model. This is a hefty camera, more than a handful, and also quite weighty. Users will certainly want to use the included neck strap, as toting this camera around by hand all day would be quite taxing, and it's far to large to easily slip into a pocket or bag.
The camera's body conforms nicely to the contours of the hand, and the SX10 IS includes the large, right hand grip common on many Canon cameras. On the grip you'll find the power button, and a few other lesser controls for playback and minor adjustments. Many of the buttons have dual uses depending on whether or not the camera is in shooting mode or playback mode; the former is denoted by white icons, the latter blue.
One interesting and clever addition to the camera is the inclusion of a focal length cheat sheet on the barrel of the camera. When zooming out, the barrel reveals a chart comparing the focal length of the camera to its 35mm equivalent, and a series of tick marks indicate how far in our out the barrel should be placed to achieve the desired effect. It's low-tech and a little hokey, but it gets the job done and is a nice example of elegantly simple design.
There are a few aspects of design where the Canon doesn't offer as much as its competitors, particularly in comparison to the 20x Olympus SP-570 UZ. In a camera with so much zoom power, zoom control is very important. While the zoom control on the SX10 IS, the kind of lever toggle found throughout Canon's models, performs adequately, it can't compare to the comfortable SLR-like zoom ring of the SP-570 UZ. While the SP-570 UZ was looking to introduce SLR-level features to extended zoom consumers, the SX10 IS brings point-and-shoot features up with it. Also, the SP-570 UZ weighs in at only 445 grams, while the SX10 IS weighs 560 grams. The extra bulk can be a minor irritation.
The SX10 IS also includes both a vari-angle swiveling LCD display and an electronic viewfinder, so you can choose how you wish to frame your shots depending on the environment.
Performance: Excellent Image Quality
The Canon SX10 is an advanced camera but has enough user-friendliness to be a great opportunity for novice users to step-up to a more powerful model. The aforementioned familiar point-and-shoot accents will certainly make moving up from lower-end models easier, as will the automatic modes present on the camera. For more adventurous users, there are aperture and shutter priority modes, as well as a fully manual mode for serious photography. Canon has even added a 'Custom' mode to the mode dial under 'C,' allowing photographers to program in their favorite camera configuration for easy access.
All this makes the SX10 IS an excellent camera for photographers who want to take a wide variety of photos, everything from simple portraits and landscapes to high-energy action shots and sports photography. It's a highly versatile camera and definitely lives up to the reputation of the camera it's intended to replace, the S5 IS.
Images are sharp, brilliant, and full of color. In addition to traditionally sized photos, the SX10 can also take widescreen photographs and panoramas (using the clunky, yet serviceable in-camera stitching tool). I've taken a series of photos using this camera on the sidebar which can be viewed in full resolution if you click them. Check out our test shots; you'll see that the SX10 IS can do wonderful things.
Photos taken in low light situations were mixed. When shot in Auto, the camera handled low-light rather well, but only adjusted to ISO 250, well below the maximum sensitivity of 1600 on the camera. When set manually to ISO 1600, significant softness and graininess appeared as image noise muddied up the picture. Not a total wash, but also not very satisfying either.
20x Optical Zoom: Breathtaking Distance
Of course, the marquee feature on the SX10 is its impressive 20x optical zoom, and it does not disappoint. I took a number of test shots, in pairs, each from the same location, to demonstrate the sheer reach of this camera. If you look at the photos of the cupola and the airplane in flight, you'll get a good idea of how far this camera can see and in how much detail. Were it a sunnier day, I am confident that more detail would be visible on the undercarriage of the aircraft I captured.
The zoom compares favorably to the competition, and the Canon SX10 is definitely in the upper echelons of extended zoom cameras when it comes to quality and capability.
All in all, the Canon SX10 IS performs very well, and would make an excellent camera for someone interested in approaching more serious photography without having to make an investment in an SLR before they know whether or not they're made out for this hobby. The SX10 IS makes an effort to not only be functional and powerful but also approachable, something that the SP-570 UZ, with its higher-end design features, may not convey. The 20x optical zoom is marvelous, but consumers should be warned that this is a very thick, very heavy camera that will require a strap and a case and will probably not be your go to camera for quick candid shots or pics out on the town.