Canon PowerShot SX160 IS review: Good choice for beginners on a budget

Design and features:
The downsides to having a long zoom lens and AA batteries for power are size and weight. A camera needs room to hold a bigger lens and batteries (bigger than a lithium ion pack at least), and they make it heavier. That said, its bigger size does make it easier to handle despite the slight grip on the front, and the weight helps keep the camera a little steadier when shooting.

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Plus, the bigger body also means room for larger, easier-to-press buttons. You get a one-touch movie record button in addition to display, menu, and exposure compensation buttons above and below the navigational scroll wheel to the right of the 3-inch LCD. The screen gets adequately bright, though some may still find it difficult to see in direct sunlight and it inverts when it's above eyeline.

The navigational wheel surrounds a Func./Set button and has top, bottom, left, and right pressure points for ISO sensitivity, focus (manual, normal, and macro), flash, and timer. The wheel is responsive with tactile stops to it, so you will not easily overshoot what you're trying to select. Its operation is overall easy to pick up, but even seasoned Canon users will want to examine the full manual included on the software disc bundled with the camera.

Key specs Canon PowerShot SX160 IS
Price (MSRP) $229.99
Dimensions (WHD) 4.4x2.9x1.7 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 10.3 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 16 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch CCD
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 3-inch LCD, 230K dots/None
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 16x, f3.5-5.9, 28-448mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/H.264 AAC (.MOV)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 4,608x3,456 pixels/ 1,280x720 pixels at 25fps
Image stabilization type Optical and digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life AA-size (two; alkaline included), 140 shots
Battery charged in camera No
Storage media SD/SDHC/SDXC

The batteries and memory card slot are in a compartment accessed through the bottom of the camera, secured by a locking door. That's good considering there's nothing holding the batteries in place. On the right side of the body under a small door are a USB/AV port for connecting to a computer or external display and a Mini-HDMI port.

Battery life is very short if you use alkaline batteries at a CIPA-rated 140 shots. Using rechargeable NiMH batteries doubles that shot count, but keep in mind that using the zoom lens a lot, increasing screen brightness, recording movies, or continuous shooting all cut into that rated battery life. If you're going out shooting for the day, you'll want to bring spares or prepare to buy some along the way.

General shooting options Canon PowerShot SX160 IS
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600
White balance Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Flash, Custom
Recording modes Auto, Program, Shutter-speed priority, Aperture priority, Manual, Scene, Live View Control, Creative Filters, Discreet, Movie
Focus modes Face AF, Center AF, Macro, Normal, Infinity, Manual
Macro 0.4 inch to 1.6 feet (Wide)
Metering modes Multi, Center-weighted average, Spot
Color effects Vivid, Vivid Blue, Vivid Green, Vivid Red, Neutral, Sepia, Black & White, Positive Film, Lighter Skin Tone, Darker Skin Tone, Custom (adjustment of contrast, sharpness, saturation, red, green, blue and skin tone are available)
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) Unlimited continuous

Most point-and-shoots at this camera's price don't come with a large variety of shooting options or controls; they're mainly made for fully automatic shooting. Among the many modes on the SX160, however, are shutter-priority, aperture-priority, and manual. Available apertures at the wide end are f3.5, f4.0, f4.5, f5.0, f5.6, f6.3, f7.1, and f8.0; at telephoto you get f5.9, f7.1, and f8.0. Shutter speeds go from 15 seconds down to 1/3,200 second. If that's too much control for you, you can switch to Program and control everything but shutter speed and aperture.

Live View Control gives you simple sliders for adjusting brightness, color, and tone. Sarah Tew/CNET

Of course, you'll also find Canon's reliable Smart Auto, which analyzes your subject and automatically selects an appropriate scene setting from 32 defined settings; some standard scene modes like Portrait, Landscape, and Fireworks; a Discreet mode that shuts off all noise and lights while shooting; and a Movie mode for capturing clips at resolutions up to 720p HD in MOV or iFrame formats.

For those who are addicted to the photo filters from a favorite smartphone app, Canon includes several of its high-quality Creative Filters: Fish-eye Effect, Miniature Effect, Toy Camera Effect, Monochrome, Super Vivid, and Poster Effect. Another mode, Live View Control, lets you easily experiment with exposure and color while seeing your results onscreen before you shoot (the same goes for the filters). While some may consider these gimmicks that can be done with software, they can be fun to play with if you're looking to do something different and can actually help you set up your shot appropriately for the effect you're after.

Conclusion:
The Canon PowerShot SX160 IS started out at about $230, but it's now down to $150, making it a very good value. For beginners on a budget or those just looking for a good occasional-use camera that you don't have to worry about charging first before shooting with it, it's a nice choice. However, a camera with a rechargeable battery pack will get you better performance and battery life and a lighter, smaller body. Also, the Canon PowerShot SX150 IS did produce better photos and is essentially the same camera, just a little slower with a little less zoom, and can be found for even less than the SX160 IS while it's still around.

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Where to Buy See all prices

Canon PowerShot SX160 IS (Black)

Part Number: CNETSX160ISB
MSRP: $229.99 Low Price: $179.99 See all prices

Quick Specifications See All

  • Optical Zoom 16 x
  • Optical Sensor Type CCD
  • Sensor Resolution 16.0 Megapixel
  • Image Stabilizer optical (Dynamic Image Stabilizer)
  • Optical Sensor Size 1/2.3"