Digital Cameras 2013

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Hey! You should know that Canon has released a newer version of this product: the Canon PowerShot SX230 HS.

Canon Powershot SX130 IS:
Hands On Review

We spent a few weeks with the Canon SX130, a mid-range compact zoom with no sense of style. Luckily, it performs like a champ.
By Liam McCabe

Last updated on 01/18/2013

It’s homely, but darn effective. The Canon Powershot SX130 is the fourth version of Canon’s SX1xx line, and the camera giant has done a commendable job of refining the series into a no-nonsense mid-range consumer camera -- much more versatile than a run-of-the-mill point-and-shoot for a lower cost than most compact zooms. The SX130 performs as well as any travel zoom out there, but the AA-battery power and bulky design will be the make-or-break factors for most buyers.

Body and Design

Let’s call the SX130 a compact zoom. It’s a bit bulky, a little too large to fit in a pants pocket comfortably, and it runs on two AA batteries in category where every other camera runs on a proprietary lithium-ion battery. But it’s certainly smaller than a superzoom, and the rest of the specs, particularly the 12x zoom (28 - 360mm), fit the compact zoom profile.

The bulbous shape looks pretty goofy, like a regular Canon ELPH (like the SD1300) ate too many cheeseburgers. But it’s actually more comfortable to hold than smaller, rectangular compact zooms (the Panasonic ZS7 and Nikon S8100 spring to mind). The designers made good use of that extra real estate, too. They slapped a generous three-inch LCD on the rear, and put a flip-up flash on the crest of the body, leaving plenty of room for finger placement on the left. The extra-large battery cavity creates a bulge that doubles as an extra-comfortable right-hand grip, too.

The interface is minimalist, also like an ELPH. The backside sports a few hot keys, including one each for face detection and exposure compensation. A selection wheel takes the place of the traditional compact-cam four-way pad. It’s a wise substitution, since it allows for quicker navigation through shutter priority, aperture priority, and manual focus modes. Up top, the mode dial, power switch, and forward-slanted shutter with an angled zoom-tilter are all well placed.

Performance and User Experience

The SX130 looks like a clunky old camera from 2003, but the user experience is as refined as anything out there in 2010. It’s a stretch to call it fast, but it is nimble and responsive. Start-up takes about two seconds, and shot-to-shot time is about one second. There is no burst mode, but it does reliably crank out one shot per second in continuous drive mode. The menus are responsive to commands, with minimal to no lag between the push of a button and a reaction. The zoom extends and retracts quickly in photo mode, though pretty slowly in video mode, as expected.

Canon’s typical stable of auto and scene modes appear here, including the Easy Auto mode. There’s zero thinking involved with that one, though Smart Auto doesn’t exactly require a PhD in brain surgery either. The SX130 also has Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual and HD Video modes. One bizarre issue with the test camera: The SCN (scene) setting on the mode dial queued up Smile Shutter mode (the shutter fires when a smile is detected). I’m sure I would’ve heard by now if this was a problem with other cameras, so it must have been an anomaly on my test unit. (If any SX130 users are reading this and have the same problem, leave a comment below and we’ll forward it on to Canon).

Autofocus is spot-on: fast and accurate in good conditions, and pretty good even in some tough ones. My favorite example was this tele-macro shot. I was trying to shoot the building as the telephoto companion to a wide-angle shot, but the focus locked on the branches and blended the background nicely. It focused quickly at night, too, though shots often came out blurry, which isn’t much of a surprise -- pretty much par for the course in this genre.

The menu system is as intuitive as it is on most Canons, with a few unique twists. Exposure compensation and face recognition each have their own standalone hot keys, which is unusual but useful. I noticed that the SX130 tended to underexpose shots in some situations (more on that below), so I used the compensation more often that I usually do. Canon must have known that this would be an issue, and adjusted the interface accordingly. Good response.

The selection wheel is also a boon to the interface. I disliked the wheel on the SX210 compact zoom earlier this year. It was unlabeled, and during the time I spent reviewing it, I never got the hang of which direction corresponded to which command, one of many little details on that camera that left me cold. Canon corrected that for the SX130, so now it’s as idiot-proof as a four-way pad, but much more adept at cycling through settings like shutter speed and aperture (if you choose to use those modes, of course).

And that brings me to manual focus. It’s rare to see this feature on such an affordable camera, and as head-turning as it is on paper, it’s not too useful in practice. First off, as helpful as the selection wheel is for manual settings, it’s only marginally effective here. You can do a rough focus at first and then fine-tune while the shutter is pressed halfway, but I wished that the wheel was more sensitive. MF mode also brings up a magnified area in the center of the screen to help fine tune the focus, but the quality is quite low since it’s a digitally zoomed image, and overall it distracts from composing the shot. It’s a nice thought that Canon included this mode and it can turn out some nice shots (left). MF mode is finnicky, but isn't a reason to ignore the camera, just a reason to ignore that mode. Some folks might find it helpful or fun to use, but that’s going to be a niche crowd.

Image Quality

As a whole, image quality is above average for the travel zoom class. In bright outdoor light, the picture quality is stellar for a compact camera. Canon’s color saturation might not be to everybody’s preference, but the shots that can come out of the SX130 look vibrant, even ready to print and frame in some cases. In grim outdoor conditions -- overcast skies in particular -- high contrast areas get blurry at a pixel level, but nothing too severe at more regular sizes. Overall, much better than average.

Indoors, things get a bit hairier, as is to be expected. I got some good shots along with a number of not-so-good shots. Some were blurry, some jaundiced from inaccurate white balancing, and some were underexposed. There are workarounds for all of these problems, but it detracts from the point-and-shootability. Indoor shots either require the flash, or a bit more patience from the user to tinker around with white balance, ISO sensitivity, and exposure compensation.

Like most of its compact zoom competitors, it’s neither good nor bad in dim lighting. The f3.4 lens and small CCD sensor are pretty much par for the course, though Canon’s excellent Digic 4 processor does help keep the noise in check at higher ISOs (it’s the same processor that Canon touts in its “high-sensitivity system” cameras like the SD4000 and SD4500). ISO 800 is still pretty clean, and even ISO 1600 isn’t too spotty or desaturated. The wealth of manual control can help nab some decent shots in poor lighting, but like most cameras of its ilk, the results will be hit or miss.

Video mode is pretty standard as cameras go in 2010. It shoots 720p motion JPEG movies with decent sound, but nothing to get too excited about. In other words, it’s decent, but not a reason to buy the camera.

Conclusion

If you’re in the market for a compact zoom camera, the SX130 deserves a serious look. It performs nearly as well as our site favorites from Panasonic and easily outdoes Canon’s other compact zoom, the SX210. The best part is that it’s much cheaper than anything else in the class.

It’s even a notable step up from its own predecessor, the SX120. It was popular for the same reasons as the SX130 will be -- it was the only compact zoom that ran on AA batteries, and it was one of the cheapest, too -- but last year’s model had a tiny sensor and super-narrow 36mm wide-angle. If you were turned off by those specs last year, rest assured that they’ve been upgraded this time around.

Since it performs pretty much as well as any compact zoom out there right now, the deciding factors will come down to the bulk -- it’s the least-compact compact zoom -- and personal preference for or against AA batteries. I’m docking half a point from the design score because it’s just too big to carry around in a pocket, but your mileage may vary. The point stands that the SX130 is a very good camera, one that will be the only camera that many buyers consider while others completely ignore it for the same reasons.

Canon Powershot SX130 IS Reviews

Canon Powershot SX130 IS Reviews by Digital Camera-HQ Users

  • 4.0 out of 5
CANON SX130is VS. Panasonic ZS6/zs5 (Paying Attention — 01/02/2011)
I have just spent some serious time testing/comparing 4 cameras side by side. the 2 at the "top" ending up being the Panasonic ZS6/ZS5 and the Canon SX(?) 130 is. ( the other 2 the Samsung HZ30 W and the Fuji S1800. Samsung, more noise. "Better over all color balance?? To much noise if you blow pictures up. But Price, and best setting and features. It does not remember that you have forced the flash off. when you turn the camera back on. Then Fuji, took the Worst indoor shots! Dead Color and Noise. Outdoors good color?, Good focus in the center of the pictures, But focus gets soft as you leave the center of the shot. It also will often focus on something to the Side of what you are trying to take a picture of, if it is in front of the subject. Instead of focusing on what you want. I Dismissed the Fuji. the Samsung might be good for smaller prints, you can see the noise more and sometimes not quite as good of focus as the Panasonic and the Canon. But still usable, and probably the best control of all settings. and the most "toy settings features" If you don't want to blow up and frame your shots. I Probably a good camera to play with. I picked it up for only $149. It also has the most zoom 24mm with 15X optical. But If you doing that once in a life time trip down the grand canyon, or that "perfect shot" that you want to blow up and frame... do you want to risk it being on the Samsung... Samsung was also Slower than the Canon or Panasonic to start up and take a picture.) As far as the quality of the shots go. The Canon 130 clearly produced the Best Sunset shots. More Pure , clean, higher chroma blue" sky "More colors" better transition from colors/shading. the Panasonic produces "dirty blue skies. less color/ limited color. and poorer "color shading and transition", and sometimes? often? usually"over exposed as it gets "closer to the sun". When you look at the "tone" of the picture produced by the Panasonic it seems colder and a bit more lifeless than the canon. A bit of a "bluish wash"? to the picture. say by a" half step or a step" Then canon appears to have a Golden warm wash to the pictures, say by 2 "steps"? The Canon will produce Much Better color for sunsets, and possibly more pleasing pictures printed straight from the camera. But the Panasonic may be More Accurate with Color. Just a little "cold" And have “better contrast”. So Canon 130 Much better sunsets. Warmer over all picture. But Panasonic ZS6/5 More accurate color? With "regular scenic pictures, NOT Sunsets, leaning towards "cool blue" and when you click on view full size on the computer, the Panasonic Had Clearer Sharper focus. and in the daylight. often "finer/better"? noise control. The canon never seemed to be able to lock in on that final focus, I mean Never. Obvious when viewed "full size" THE Canons focus was always "Soft/and not quite in "Final" sharp focus", when viewed Full Size. And its screen goes, a bit grainy indoors at night while Shooting. and while testing I used like 6 sets of new alkaline batteries. Canon says that is should take 130 shots with Alkaline. I could only get 40 shots out of a set of batteries. I asked Canon about the grainy screen indoors, when shooting, and the Not quite being able to "finish focusing" and the batteries only getting 40 shots instead of 130, to see if it was a defective camera. there answer was to tell me not to use digital zoom, (duh!) and to take the batteries out and reset camera. took the batteries out longer than they said. and it all had no affect on the focus ( or settings) results. And when addressing the shortcomings with the batteries, they would not answer my questions, they just told me "lithium ion" batteries would get 330 shots. Nice misdirection and Not answering my questions. and Kind of Meaningless when they already told me the alkaline would get 130 shots. Very Lame and Annoying. Does that mean the "lithium ion batteries will on get 100 shots? ... When It comes down to the bodies of the cameras. the Panasonic is the smallest and lightest. it has all the style of an old candy tin or cough drop tin painted black. Not much to hold on to, and you have to remember not to block the flash.. or the mics. or the focus assist light, etc. the Canon looks more like a "real camera", and weighs more. It will Not fit in your shirt pocket. maybe your pants pocket. ( it fit in mine. Get a belt case with closed cell foam padding and put it in there anyway.) But the Canon is the easiest to hold on to, it has a more raised pronounced chrome decoration/grip on the front, and some "notches on the back for your thumb , and it is easier to work, especially for "man hands" and the "selection wheel on top it less like to get changed accidentally. and the way it is designed. you naturally do NOT block the flash, the mics, and the focus assist lame. You would pretty much have to Try to interfere with those things while taking a picture. its screen is also adequate for outdoor shots in the sun. I just hope they don't dim/fade after use. We Really should Demand "eye view finders" on cameras costing $140 and up. Maybe we should just stop buying them until they do that, that and demand that they provide USEFUL, PRINTED operators manuals. a CD is Worthless "out in the field" canons manual is Slight better than Pansasonics, still.... Worthless. The canon Being bigger and heavier is a Relative description though.. Compared to my old Pentax point and shoot IQ90-WR Film camera that I carried all over the place, hiking and back packing, the canon is about "half the size", and weight. Or even less than half the weight?. It is also more stable if you want to set the camera on something, set the timer, and step pack to get in the picture. The lens train also extends out from the body on the Bottom of the camera, making it more stable when set on something. The Panasonic is thinner and its lens train bulges out on the side instead, it is More wobbly and like to fall over when setting/balancing it on something. The Canon also has the manual flip up flash. I like this. I don't know why many people don't. the flash will often/usual go off on Cameras, when "not needed" (setting off flash, and raising ISO is the "easy/lazy way out of dealing with dimmer light.) and "mess up the pictures" On the canon, if you don't flip up the flash, it will not go off on you. You just have to remember to put it up at night or indoors and leave it up for low light shooting Where it is Actually Needed.. You don't have to worry about the flash going off when you don't want it to. and the flip up flash raises the flash up above the lens train, minimizing shadow, and red eye. Although at least on the Panasonic if you "force off the flash" it will remember to keep the flash off when you turn off and on the camera. But just by looking at the camera body you can not tell if the flash is on, or off. ( the Samsung hz30 W will Not remember if you forced of the flash, when you turn it off and on. very annoying. and an noisier/grainier camera. But the Samsung has the best "features/settings and price, and "over all color balance"? though. But not in the running with its noise level showing up more when you blow up your pictures) Strangely at twilight. the Panasonic ends up with better color range, )In auto or ISO set also?) But Much More noise than usual, and noticably more noise than the canon at twilight. Some how they switch at twilight/Low light. The canons noise was Better, but then its "color range" range ( and contrast?) Went Dead. The canon also uses Common AA batteries and hook up cable" which is nice. the Panasonic, "Proprietary" Believe it or not I am leaning towards the Panasonic for it Sharper/ Clearer focus on landscapes,(and everything) and its better Contrast. I am hoping I will not regret losing the canons Clearly "superior sunset picture quality". For the clearer focus. And "better contrast of the Panasonic. And sometimes that "golden wash" of the canon MAY be a bit much. The Canon “gold wash” also sometimes makes shots of people look really “ tan” as In .. “ I didn’t know you were Indian”.. and the Cool blue white was of cameras can often make people look a bit unhealthy/dead. Hopefully I will be better with the less heavy "blue wash" of the Panasonic? I also just when taking last shots. I saw somebody with their dog and I put the canons "wheel" on kids/pets later I looked at that shot.. Awful! Blurry! and Noisy? .. And then their is canons whole lack of support on the questions of battery, lack of focus, and screen. My questions were Not Properly addressed. Oh and it might be nice to be able to put the Panasonic in the shirt pocket at a party or something. Although the Canon handles "easier/better" And really is not big or heavy compared to my old film point and shoot camera that did Not even have a 1/4 or a fifth of the zoom of the Canon. the Panasonic has a Wider zoom lens that takes a somewhat Noticably wider picture. 25mm equiv. for Panasonic 28 MM equiv. for Canon. The Canon will zoom in tighter... I'm thinking the extra wideness will be more useful then the extra zoom...? To bad none of these Digital point and shoots will take as good of a picture as my old film point and shoot camera. For some Annoying reason the Canon has the most Limited "pictures size/format” settings. your are limited on the "4:3 or 3:2 or 16:9 setting" options, and the mega pixel settings... for example if you want to take a 16:9 picture to see on your plasma screen TV. You have to take it only in 10MP size, and eat up your memory space on Everything. when the TV Can't even show 2MP or detail. So, Panasonic, a Little bit cold/blue, Sharper pictures better contrast, smaller and lighter, but more "difficult" to handle. Canon can't quite finish focusing/soft. (at full size) Overly warm? ("more off/increase on"golden warmness", than Panasonic is on "cool blueness" But Canon takes Superior Sunsets! ( and that's probably it for its superior shot taking ability?) "Bigger and heavier" but "easier to handle, les likely to block things or accidentally change the Canons settings. And it has a flip up flash. ( Panasonics wheel is "not that bad" at accidentally changing, although it may have been getting easier with use..., Samsungs unintentionally changes wheel settings noticeably easier) but what is with that battery life on the Canon? Well I stayed up Way to Late, and I'm tired and forgetting stuff. I am going to bed. I spent allot of time and energy checking out, testing and comparing these cameras. hope that was helpful information. And honestly, I am kind of let down with the new digital cameras. my 5 or 6 year old 6MP Kodak camera will take much better indoor pictures with Noticeably Less noise/"smudging" and Better Color than these 2 (4) new "better" cameras. Frustrating! I am not sure with what new camera I will end up getting. My Kodak apparently just quit today. Dang I Need Sleep! Good Luck! It is kind of a tough choice between the Canon and the Panasonic...As I may have already said, as of today... I am leaning towards the Panasonic as my next camera. It Really seems to be hit or miss with these digital cameras When it comes to “consistent photo quality“ . Just More hit or miss with some than others. OH and if you decide on the Panasonic "ZS5" , the "ZS6" can be found for about the same price as the ZS5. It is primarily a ZS5 with Possibly an extra button on the back, and Maybe A couple of Minor technical differences? or not... The Primary difference being the ZS6 Does have the bigger? And Better 3" LCD screen of the ZS7 with "460k dots instead of the 230k dots of the ZS5. And it is not to hard to find the Canon SX130is for around $180 in “real live stores”. So Tired! Goodnight! Good Luck!
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