Check out an examination of photo quality from Canon's PowerShot SX30 IS, the company's advanced megazoom camera featuring a whopping 35x zoom lens.
Like most megazoom cameras, photos from the SX30 IS are noticeably soft. Also, when viewed at full size, photos are noisy even at the lowest sensitivity of ISO 80. On the other hand, Canon does a good job of keeping the noise in check up to ISO 400. At that point subjects get visibly mushy looking, though some fine detail is still around at ISO 800. At ISO 1600, noise and noise reduction are heavy, causing yellow blotching and and only a notion of detail. Outside of the yellow blotching, though, color and exposure remain consistent, so photos should still be usable at small sizes with little or no cropping. However, compared to its competition, its photo quality is likely the best you're going to find. The biggest problem here is the lens; it's too slow when fully extended, which means even with a lot of light, you'll still need to use the higher ISOs. (View larger.)
The SX30 IS has a 0-inch macro mode, which is pretty difficult to take advantage of while holding the camera. It does, however, mean you can get awfully close to your subject. Macro is also where the camera happens to be at its sharpest.(View larger.)
Among its many shooting modes are shutter-priority, aperture-priority, and manual options. Available apertures at the wide end include: f2.7, f3.2, f3.5, f4.0, f4.5, f5.0, f5.6, f6.3, f7.1, and f8.0; available in telephoto are: f5.8, f6.3, f7.1, f8.0. Shutter speeds go from 15 seconds down to 1/3,200 second. The top photo was taken at 1/500s at f2.7 (ISO 80); the bottom was at 1/500s at f4.5 (ISO 400). (View larger.)
This is a 100-percent crop of the 840mm-equivalent photo from the previous slide. With the lens starting at f5.8 you need plenty of light to keep the ISO low. This is at ISO 400. If you're going to be shooting sports indoors, using the full zoom range likely won't be possible without using the higher ISO settings. (View larger.)
If you're thinking of buying the SX30 IS for shooting sports, you may be disappointed. What's more important is speed, and this camera is fairly slow with a noticeable shutter lag and somewhat long shot-to-shot times. There are two continuous options: one with autofocus and one without. If you opt to skip the AF, focus and exposure are set with the first shot, so any fast movement will likely result in out-of-focus images. Plus, moving subjects move quickly out of frame and even with the Frame Assist button that zooms the lens in and out, it can be very difficult to track subjects. With all of that said, if you're good at anticipating action and aren't looking to make poster-size prints, this camera will certainly bring you closer to your favorite player. (View larger.)
For wildlife shooting, basically everything I said in the previous slide still applies. Add in less light from tree cover and you'll need a slow shutter speed and a high ISO to get a shot. Keeping your subject in frame can be even trickier than athletes because sports are more predictable than animals. (The top photo is a 100 percent crop from the bottom shot.)(View larger.)
In spite of being an ultrawide-angle lens, Canon keeps the barrel distortion in check; there is some on the left side, but it's barely detectable (top). When fully extended, the lens exhibits slight pincushioning, but not enough to be concerned. Center sharpness is good and the lens softens only a bit out to the sides and corners. Fringing, however, gets a more prevalent out to the sides.
It doesn't appear that Canon does much to help remove or reduce fringing in high-contrast areas of photos. Most megazoom cameras produce a lot of fringing, but some create more at the wide or telephoto positions. The SX30 IS is bad at both ends, to the point where you'll see it in larger prints or if you crop heavily. If you're able to look past it or don't mind removing if it bothers you, then it's a nonissue.
This is the fringing at the telephoto end. If you look at the head of the statue, the left side is fringed in green, while the right is purple and continues down his body. Again, this is at 100 percent; you can't really see it in the bottom photo and you're not going to find a better low-cost way to take a photo of these statues from the ground; they are at the top of the Flatiron Building in New York.
Color and exposure are generally excellent from this camera and consistent across its ISO settings. Again, though, you will see some yellow blotching from noise at ISO 1,600. Also, as typical of compact cameras, highlights have a tendency to blow out. Canon's i-Contrast feature does help bring out shadow detail, though, should you choose to use it.
This is an example of Canon's i-Contrast feature that can be turned on while shooting or used after in playback. The top is without it, the bottom photo is with it applied. I recommend using it in playback as you have more control over the end result and you aren't stuck with it if you don't like the results.
Canon introduced a few new creative shooting modes in 2010. This is Miniature Effect, which blurs the top and bottom of the frame and boosts contrast and color saturation to make subjects look like painted miniature models. It works to some degree, but is not as convincing as true tilt-shift photography, which is what the effect is based on.