Canon PowerShot SX20 IS review: Canon PowerShot SX20 IS

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MSRP: $499.99
3.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Solid battery life; articulating LCD; comfortable shooting design; can zoom during movie capture; hot shoe; exceptionally close macro focus.

The Bad Slower than its predecessor overall; no raw support; images soft and noisy as low as ISO 80.

The Bottom Line The Canon PowerShot SX20 IS is a solid, but not standout, megazoom option for the money.

See a price from Amazon.com

7.4 Overall
  • Design 8.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Performance 7.0
  • Image quality 7.0

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
Mfr. Price $249.99 $399.99 $399.99 $399.00

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.

 Key comparative specs Olympus SP-590 UZ Nikon Coolpix P90 Canon PowerShot SX20 IS Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ35
Sensor 12-megapixel, 1/2.33-inch CCD 12-megapixel, 1/2.33-inch CCD 12.1-megapixel 1/2.3-inch CCD 12-megapixel 1/2.33-inch CCD
Lens (35mm equivalent) 26x f2.8-5 26-676mm 24x f2.8-5 26-624mm 20x f2.8-5.7 28-560mm 18x f2.8-4.4 27-486mm
Closest focus (inches) 0.4 0.4 0.0 0.4
Sensitivity range ISO 64 - ISO 6,400 ISO 64 - ISO 6,400 ISO 80 - ISO 1,600 ISO 80 - ISO 6,400
LCD 2.7-inch fixed; 230,000 dots 3-inch tiltable; 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 Yes (no audio) No Yes Yes
Exposure modes Auto, PASM, Scene Auto, PASM, Scene Auto, PASM, Scene Auto, PASM, Scene
Batteries (CIPA rating) 4 AA-size; 340 shots (alkalines) Lithium Ion; 230 shots 4 AA-size; 340 shots (alkalines), 600 shots (NiMH) Lithium Ion; 470 shots
Body dimensions (WHD, inches) 4.3 x 3.5 x 3.6 4.5 x 3.3 x 3.9 4.9 x 3.5 x 3.4 4.6 x 3.0 x 3.5
Operating weight (ounces) 18.7 17.2 22.9 14.5
Mfr. Price $449.99 $399.95 $399.99 $399.00

It still has a dedicated movie record button with a fairly well-implemented capture interface. Canon integrated the movie resolution settings into the function menu along with the standard white balance, color adjustment, exposure bracketing, flash compensation, metering, and still size and quality controls. Held over from the SX10, some of the more interesting features include a Face Self-timer, which shoots a specified number of seconds after a face is detected and a custom timer that lets you also specify the number of shots to take (sort of a limited intervalometer since you can only take up to 10 shots). 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. For more details on the SX20 IS' features and operation, you can download the PDF manual.

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