Canon PowerShot SX1 IS review: Canon PowerShot SX1 IS

Some of the more novel features include a Face Self-timer, which shoots a specified number of seconds after a face is detected, and a custom timer, which lets you also specify the number of shots to take (sort of a limited intervalometer, since you can only take up to 10 shots). As with the SX10, this camera introduces Canon's Servo AF, the company's AF tracking mode. With this camera, since the continuous shooting is so slow, I find the Servo AF has too much time to get confused, and since EVFs black out when a shot's taken, you can't verify that it's focusing on the right thing; I have lots of in-focus fences and out of focus people in my test shots. (And lest you suggest I should have used the Face Detect AF, that doesn't work unless you're shooting faces looking at you, not moving crowd shots.) I find the Servo AF less than useful since EVFs black out when a shot's taken so you can't verify that it's focusing on the right thing. The rest of the capabilities, for the most part, are the same as the competition. These include PASM, full auto, and a handful of scene modes; my favorites are a custom setting slot on the mode dial and 3.9-inch macro and zero(!)-inch Super Macro modes. (Need more details about the standard feature set? Check out the PDF manual.)

Overall, the SX1 delivers excellent performance, especially for a category notable for sluggish products. It wakes and shoots in 1.4 seconds, and under optimal focusing circumstances can lock and shoot in 0.4 second. Even under harder to focus, low-contrast conditions, it takes only 0.6 second. Shot-to-shot JPEGs typically take 2.8 seconds, and raw is even faster at 2 seconds. While its 2.9 frames-per-second burst can't beat the ultra-high-speed continuous shooting of models like the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 or the Casio Exilim EX-FH20, it's still very good for its class. And it can burst raw at about 1.5fps. My only caveat about the camera's performance is from a repeated, but unfortunately not repeatable, problem with the AF system I experienced, in which it would indicate focus had been locked even though the scene was completely out of focus.

Generally, photo quality tends to be the weakest aspect of megazooms, but so far the SX1 seems to deliver the best for its class. While its colors aren't quite as good as the SX10's--oranges, yellows, reds, and purples are slightly off, though you probably couldn't tell without a side-by-side comparison--it has a better tonal range with less contouring in shadow areas. It has a better noise profile, with lower noise at all ISO levels, and without the blue channel artifacts I noticed in the SX10's photos. However, as with most models at this level, detail becomes visibly degraded at ISO 400 and beyond. It's pretty sharp, but by the numbers it fares worse than the SX10 for sharpness; I attribute this to some visible haloing in the blue channel I saw in the test charts.

The camera retains the separated stereo mics of its ancestors and can zoom--pretty quietly--during recording. And the video quality is quite nice--relatively sharp and saturated, with fast refocusing and exposure adjustment--especially played back on a large TV.

Though it's as big as and priced like a cheap dSLR, the Canon PowerShot SX1 IS delivers similar performance plus a 20x zoom lens and HD video that those can't provide. And while it's relatively expensive for its class and has some interface quirks, as long as you don't need ultra-high-speed burst shooting, it's probably the best megazoom option we've tested thus far.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot  
Typical shot-to-shot time  
Shutter lag (dim)  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Canon PowerShot SX1 IS
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1
Canon PowerShot SX10 IS
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H50
Olympus SP-570 UZ
Nikon P80

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

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Canon PowerShot SX1 IS

Part Number: 2664B001 Released: Mar 15, 2009
MSRP: $699.99 Low Price: $849.95 See all prices

Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Mar 15, 2009
  • Digital camera type Full body
  • Optical Zoom 20 x
  • Optical Sensor Type CMOS
  • Sensor Resolution 10.0 Megapixel
  • Image Stabilizer optical
  • Optical Sensor Size 1/2.3"