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 You should know that Canon has released a newer version of this product: the Canon PowerShot SX230 HS.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 SX210 IS:
Hands On Review

Canon's latest travel zoom isn't much of an upgrade over the previous model -- which is fine, for the most part, but some design flaws continue to irritate.
By Liam McCabe

Last updated on 01/18/2013

The photo industry has been bitten by the travel-zoom bug. This year, nine of the 10 major digital-camera manufacturers have taken a crack at producing a thin-bodied, high-zoom shooter, the kind of camera that was a rarity just a few years ago.


This class of camera -- call it a travel zoom, compact zoom, fun zoom, or whatever you want -- is popular with consumers because it does everything from macro shots to telephoto shots to video recording reasonably well, in a pocket-sized frame. When a travel zoom is done right, it's an excellent all-in-one package for families and (you guessed it) travelers. Since they tend to offer manual exposure control, even discerning photo enthusiasts get excited about them, too.


That said, it's tough to pull off a truly great travel zoom. We've already looked at a handful of new models this year, only one of which (Casio FH100) really hit all the marks, in our opinion. For consideration today, the Canon SX210 IS. It's a 14 megapixel, 14x-zoom pocket camera with a 3-inch widescreen LCD, 720p HD video, and automatic and manual exposure for a smooth $300. It replaces the SX200, but I'd call it an update rather than an upgrade. The same design flaws that hampered our reviewer's experience with the SX200 are still present. But none of them really degrade the SX210's performance or the results, and in general, the SX210 performs well enough to warrant a close look from anyone looking for a powerful compact camera.



We'll start with the good stuff: The SX210 is designed in the sleek, minimalist spirit of the SD series, though longer and thicker than its ultra-compact forebears. Its predominantly metal body feels well built and has a nice heft to it. Most users should find its medium-sized frame (by compact camera standards) comfortable to hold. The three-inch, widescreen LCD is like a Cadillac: bigger than you really need, but quite luxurious. Pictures shot in the standard 4:3 aspect ratio are book-ended by black bars, like watching old TV shows on an HDTV, though the SX210's HD videos do fill the entire screen. It's about as bright as any Canon LCD, which is to say that it's visible anywhere but direct sunlight.


The button layout is standard, aside from the wheel that replaces the typical d-pad on the back. It was actually my first time using a compact camera with that feature. The four directions still correspond to the usual flash, focus, exposure, and timer hot-keys, but they're unmarked, so there was a bit of a learning curve. But the wheel can cycle through shutter speeds and apertures like a very fast thing, which, to me at least, justifies the fumbling I did at first. Those who will stick to the automatic modes probably won't find the scroll wheel as appealing.


Now for those design flaws I mentioned: For starters, the zoom "tab" on top is too small. I prefer a more tactile response from zoom controls. The mode dial on the back is always a welcome feature, but it's just too tight on the SX210. You might need to squeeze it between your thumb and index finger to turn it. And then there's the obnoxious pop-up flash. It's located right where my left index finger rests. It pops up automatically at power-up, but my finger was usually there when I hit the power button, so it stayed down. When it's down, you have to pull it up manually -- the interface even blocks the option for taking a flash picture when it's down. I suppose it's a convenient way to turn off the flash, but I viewed it as an irritating way to turn it back on. The flash caused me more frustration than any other aspect of the SX210.



The auto modes are spot-on and the typical slew of scene presets are available, so novices or anyone looking for an automatic-shooting experience will be just fine. But the SX210 also offers program, shutter priority, aperture priority, and full manual exposure control too. Hobbyists and experienced photographers will appreciate the extra control, and beginners will have room to grow with it.


Wide-angle 28mm (left) vs. telephoto 392mm (right)

I have no complaints about the camera's speed. It isn't blazingly fast, but the shutter is unnoticeable, it processes images promptly, and the 14x zoom extends and retracts quickly. The physical design might be dunderheaded, but Canon's intuitive menu system still remains, and above all, it's easy to get good shots. (And yes, you can zoom while filming videos. You'll hear some faint motor-noise, but nothing too distracting.)


Image Quality

The SX210's images in general are very good. Most people, most of the time, will be completely and utterly satisfied with the image quality. Details can be a bit blurry at the edges of wide-angle shots, but it's only an issue when you view the images at a high resolution, and it's less apparent in telephoto shots. So unless you're regularly making 8x10-inch prints, you probably won't notice.


Low-light image quality is nothing special. Noise is well controlled up to ISO 800, which is a little better than par for the course (the Samsung HZ35W I reviewed was noisy by ISO 400). The manual controls can help wrangle decent shots from dark scenes, not like the S90 can, but decently well.


ISO 80 (left) vs. ISO 1600 (right)

Video quality is solid as well. It records in H.264 (Quicktime) format. There might be some pixelation, but that's difficult to avoid on a low-end video device like this. Still, the quality rivals that of a typical pocket camcorder -- that is, good enough for most purposes.


Bottom Line

The SX210 is an extremely versatile camera that can impress casual photographers and satisfy hobbyists, and travelers might find that it's an invaluable tool.  It's compact enough to go anywhere, large enough to feel comfortable in your hand, simple enough for anyone to use, and powerful enough to capture some excellent images.


It's regrettable that Canon failed to fix the design flaws from the last generation that irritated so many users, because I've already seen several user reviews expressing frustration with those very same quirks. The reaction comes in part, no doubt, because of the price tag. I think $300 is a fair price for this camera, but most consumers -- understandably so -- think that a camera should be near-perfect at this price.


Competition is a great thing though. This travel-zoom category is crowded, and a handful of competitors churn out comparable (if not better) performance for less money -- the Samsung HZ30W and Casio FH100 spring to mind immediately and I've heard great things about the Panasonic ZS5. That knowledge makes the SX210 a little harder to recommend.


But the Canon name does count for a lot. They've earned their reputation for making reliable cameras that take sharp pictures with minimum fuss, and the SX210 is certainly in line with that. It's impossible to be everything to everyone all the time, but the SX210 is most things that most casual or hobbyist photographers could use most of the time.


Similar Products

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Canon Powershot SX210 IS Reviews

Canon Powershot SX210 IS Reviews by Digital Camera-HQ Users

  • 4.0 out of 5
Great pocket for advance shooters under $299 (pfoto — 01/02/2011)
Pros: Very well built, many custom features and manual controls for the advanced/pro photographer, good panoramic stitching, great overall performance, and a nice video quality with smooth zooming. Comes with lithium ion rechargeable battery and charger. Cons: For it's quality performance at around $250 there isn't much to complain about. As for the pop-up flash issue it's really insignificant & it's an easy solution. If your expecting the overall performance to be of a Pro DSLR than I suggest to get a DSLR. Summary: I am generally a Nikon diehard for their outstanding image quality but I have been disappointed with their pocket camera line as they have not introduced a comparable camera to the SX 210 with manual controls, so it was a tough decision between the Canon SX 210 and the Panasonic ZS7. Both models are neck to neck in overall performance for the money and with both having pros and cons. I am a big fan of Carl Ziess lenses which are one of the best in the world but on the ZS7 it only stops down to F/6.3 loosing some close-up focus unlike the SX 210 canon lens that has greater depth at F/8. The images may appear little sharper on the ZS7 and thats mostly because they have squeezed the histogram by increasing the image contrast but the downside to that is it losses the highlight and shadow detail color. A higher contrast image captures are usually more difficult to correct afterwards than an image with more even tone. The SX 210 captures pretty much a full tonal range and it allows you the option increase or reduce the contrast as you please in the function menu set-up. The GPS feature I didn't care for much but I did like the RAW image capture feature in the ZS7 which allows you process and convert image formats without compression afterwards. The video was also very sharp by the increased contrast in the ZS7 but it had a number of issues that went along with it such as light streaking across the movie image every time a street light or a high reflective object entered the frame. The Lumix ZS7 originally got me very excited and I was almost sold on it but at the end it fell a little short against the SX 210. In my final decision I stepped up to the Canon SX 210 from the SX 130 and it's a huge difference, it's worth every penny. If you love the flexibility of manual controls and the ability to override all the programmable settings independently in TV, AV, M, P, and MOV, then the SX 210 by far is the best overall compact camera under $299. The picture quality is very good and it's capability of panoramic stitching was impressive. The lithium ion rechargeable battery and charger which comes with the SX 210 makes it a sweeter deal. The video quality for a still camera is also good but if you are looking for higher quality movies to playback on large flat screens then i suggest to get a real HD camcorder. Overall in it's class for the money the SX 210 is the best choice for a pocket camera and of course the further you reach in your wallet there are better cameras to buy. I have been a professional digital studio photographer since '95. I have used 50MP digital cameras worth $50,000, I have used 10MP DSLRs at around $2000, and even used the earlier 3MP pocket cameras for around $750 that never even had a fraction of the features you can get now for $150, so I can honestly say that every system has it's pros and cons but out of all the cameras I have owned the SX 210 overall is the most impressive with it's great features for under $299. For anyone who says they were expecting allot more performance for that money should truly get a reality check, so if your expecting the quality performance to be equivalent of a Pro DSLR than I suggest you get one. The SX 210 is not only a great bang for your buck but it's also a great camera for more advanced shooters. Most negative camera reviews from point-and-shoot consumers are usually resulted from user errors and not necessarily from the camera itself despite the pop-up flash issue which is really insignificant in comparison of the camera's full capabilities. Yes, the possibilities are there that you could get a lemon with any digital camera but your'e always safer buying a trusted brand name.
  • 1.0 out of 5
Don't (brotherbob — 05/02/2010)
Bad pictures, hard to use, flash in a bad place. Terrible controls on this camera, This is the sixth Canon I have owned and it is the worst. The others I could at least get good pictures with but not this one. I am going to dump it on Craigs list for whatever I can get and go buy the Panasonic ZS7.
  • 5.0 out of 5
Canon SX210 for all types of shooting (Dale Thorn — 03/28/2010)
The SX210 zoom of ~400 mm really works. I have not gotten a better photo of a bird or small animal at a distance with the Panasonic G1 and its 400 mm equivalent zoom, in spite of the G1's larger sensor. The Canon SX210 can exhibit quite a bit of noise when images are viewed at 100 percent, so I would recommend keeping ISO low, and one way to do that is to set the ISO to a specific low value, and then brace the camera against something to minimize camera shake, if need be. Another possibility to reduce noise is to use a noise processor such as Noise Ninja (cheap), or Noiseware (more expensive). The manual controls work well, battery life is quite good compared to other compacts such as the Panasonic ZS3 and TZ5, HD movies are very good, with stereo sound, and the overall image quality is excellent. If I had any complaints, the biggest would be the one-minute lens retraction when switching to playback. I would much prefer 20 seconds or less, or an adjustable amount. Other than these items I've mentioned, I don't care about any of the other "features" such as face detection or vibrant colors etc. - I'm just a purist and I want the camera that gives me the best photo of a small animal or bird when a long zoom is required, and the SX210 is the best compact camera so far (so far as I know). BTW, don't forget that with long zooms, 400 mm isn't just 4/3 better than 300 mm - since photos are two-dimensional, it's 16/9 better, giving you nearly twice the pixels for your cropped image when using maximum zoom.