The Canon PowerShot SX10 IS wasn't a great megazoom, but it was one of the better ones. So it's kind of sad to see its replacement, the SX20 IS, take a couple of steps backward, delivering overall poorer performance and photo quality as trade-off for slapping an extra couple of megapixels on the box. On the bright side, it does add 720p video while retaining the capability to zoom during capture, plus a mini HDMI connector for playing your movies on an HDTV.
Keeping an almost identical body to the SX10, the SX20 remains very comfortable to hold and shoot, retaining perks like the articulated LCD and four-AA-powered operation. It's heavy, 1.5 pounds, which makes it feel like a dSLR, but the big grip gives you plenty of holding room. There's a deep indented thumb rest on the back, joined by playback, exposure compensation, and focus area selection buttons. Because of the darker accent plastic, the labels are easier to read than on the previous model.
|Key comparative specs||Canon PowerShot SX120 IS||Canon PowerShot SX10 IS||Canon PowerShot SX20 IS||Canon PowerShot SX1 IS|
|Sensor||10-megapixel, 1/2.5-inch CCD||10-megapixel, 1/2.3-inch CCD||12.1-megapixel 1/2.3-inch CCD||12-megapixel 1/2.33-inch CMOS|
|Lens (35mm equivalent)||10x f2.8-4.3 36-360mm||20x f2.8-5.7 28-560mm||20x f2.8-5.7 28-560mm||18x f2.8-4.4 27-486mm|
|Closest focus (inches)||0.4||0.0||0.0||0.4|
|Sensitivity range||ISO 80 - ISO 1,600||ISO 80 - ISO 1,600||ISO 80 - ISO 1,600||ISO 80 - ISO 6,400|
|LCD||3.0-inch fixed; 230,000 dots||2.5-inch articulated; 230,000 dots||2.5-inch articulated; 230,000 dots||2.7-inch fixed; 230,000 dots|
|Video (max resolution at 30fps)||640x480||640x480||1280x720 H.264 MOV||1280x720 (AVCHD Lite or MJPEG MOV)|
|Optical zoom during movie capture||No||No||Yes||Yes|
|Exposure modes||Auto, PASM, Scene||Auto, PASM, Scene||Auto, PASM, Scene||Auto, PASM, Scene|
|Batteries (CIPA rating)||2 AA-size; 130 shots (alkalines), 370 shots (NiMH)||4 AA-size; 340 shots (alkalines), 600 shots (NiMH)||4 AA-size; 340 shots (alkalines), 600 shots (NiMH)||Lithium Ion; 470 shots|
|Body dimensions (WHD, inches)||4.4 x 2.8 x 1.8||4.9 x 3.5 x 3.4||4.9 x 3.5 x 3.4||4.6 x 3.0 x 3.5|
|Operating weight (ounces)||10.4||23.0||22.9||23.7|
On the right side of the back is a dial concentric to a four-way navigation switch with the function button in the middle. As with the SX10, I generally like the controls, but the dial feels too mushy. It doesn't respond appropriately, and it feels as if it needs to spin too far or not as far for any given operation, resulting in frequent overshooting of settings. It needs better tactile feedback. The zoom switch still doesn't feel terribly exact either, a common problem with stepped zooms (these lenses don't really cover a continuous zoom range, instead stopping at a series of preset distances).
Of course, the flip-and-twistable LCD remains a user favorite, but in trade-off it's quite small--only 2.5 inches compared with the more typical 3-inchers. The electronic viewfinder (EVF) seems a bit improved over the so-so version in its predecessor. It looks fairly coarse, but I didn't experience the slow refresh issues I had with that one. But--still annoying--the camera lacks a dedicated toggle between the LCD and EVF. Instead, you have to cycle through the four different display settings: low-info LCD, detailed LCD, low-info EVF, detailed EVF. That makes it nearly impossible to quickly jump back and forth.