A long zoom in a little body seems to be the big goal for camera manufacturers in 2010. The 14-megapixel PowerShot SX210 IS is Canon's entry; it's the company's most compact megazoom camera sporting a 28mm-equivalent wide-angle lens with a 14x zoom. It follows up 2009's SX200 IS, upping both resolution and zoom range and slimming down the body to a more pocket-friendly size. And though it improves on some of the prior model's controls, it still has a few design quirks that made me want to throw it across the room on occasion. Its shooting speed performance is noticeably pokey, too. On the other hand, it takes very good photos and has a nice set of manual and semimanual shooting options. If you don't need speedy shooting and don't care about design, the SX210 IS is a compact megazoom worth considering.
|Key specs||Canon Powershot SX210 IS|
|Dimensions (WHD)||4.2 x 2.3 x 1.3 inches|
|Weight (with battery and media)||7.6 ounces|
|Megapixels, image sensor size, type||14 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch CCD|
|LCD size, resolution/viewfinder||3-inch LCD, 230K dots/None|
|Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length)||14x, f3.1-5.9, 28-392mm (35mm equivalent)|
|File format (still/video)||JPEG/H.264 (.MOV)|
|Highest resolution size (still/video)||4,320x3,240 pixels/1,280x720 at 29.97fps|
|Image stabilization type||Optical and digital|
|Battery type, CIPA rated life||Lithium ion rechargeable, 260 shots|
|Battery charged in camera||No; external charger supplied|
|Storage media||SD/SDHC/SDXC cards, MultiMediaCard, MMCplus card, HC MMCplus card, Eye-Fi SD/SDHC cards|
|Bundled software||ZoomBrowser EX 6.5/PhotoStitch 3.1 (Windows); ImageBrowser 6.5/PhotoStitch 3.2 (Mac)|
The SX210 IS, which is available in black, purple, and gold versions, simply looks like an extra large Digital Elph. The 14x zoom lens front and center is the only thing keeping this from being slipped easily into a tight pocket; there's no problem dropping it in a handbag or coat pocket, though. Still, you'll probably want to invest in a protective case or risk scratching the fine finish of the metal shell. Like its predecessor, the SX200, Canon makes the flash pop up every time you start the camera. At least this time you can push it down and it'll stay down. (Simply putting a finger on it when powering on will keep it from coming up, too, hopefully not damaging the lift mechanism.) With the flash up, the camera is very awkward to hold because you don't really have anywhere to put your fingers. The LCD is decently bright, but it's a lower resolution than can be found on other cameras in its price range. Also, despite being 3 inches on the diagonal, you'll only be using 2.5 inches for framing your shots unless you switch to the camera's sole wide-screen resolution (4,320x2,432 pixels).
The camera's controls are a mix of good and bad; they're also a bit small and cramped for larger hands. On top is the shutter release, a nubbin of a zoom control, and a tiny power button that's nearly flush with the body and could be difficult to locate without looking. When gripping the camera, your thumb sits on the sizeable shooting mode dial. It clicks firmly into each selection so there's little risk you'll inadvertently change modes.
Directly under the dial is a dedicated record button for movies (it's programmable also should you want it to handle another task like changing ISO or white-balance settings) and a playback button. Below those is an unmarked Control Dial/directional pad. Touch the dial and a button description displays on screen so you know which direction to press to change flash, exposure, self timer, and focus settings. The slightest touch makes it appear, so it pops up regularly while shooting, obscuring what you're trying to shoot. The dial does make for fast navigation, though, and for quick changes to aperture and shutter speed in the manual and semimanual shooting modes. It moves freely, but you can feel individual stops when rotating it. In the center of the dial is Canon's standard Func. Set button for accessing shooting-mode-specific options and making selections. Under the dial are a Display button for changing the shooting or playback information that's shown on screen and a Menu button for basic operation settings. All in all, operation is straightforward, but you'll certainly want to read the manual, which is in PDF format on the bundled software disc.
Should you want to connect to a computer, monitor, or HDTV, there are Mini-USB and Mini-HDMI ports on the body's right side. The battery and memory card compartment are on the bottom under a nonlocking door; however, the door closes firmly. The battery does not charge in camera.
|General shooting options||Canon Powershot SX210 IS|
|ISO sensitivity (full resolution)||Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,600|
|White balance||Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Custom|
|Recording modes||Auto, Easy, Program, Shutter speed priority, Aperture priority, Portrait, Landscape, Night Snapshot, Kids & Pets, Indoor, Scene, Movie|
|Focus modes||Face AF, Center AF, Manual, Macro, Normal, Infinity|
|Metering modes||Evaluative, Center-weighted average, Spot|
|Color effects||Vivid, Neutral, Sepia, Black & White, Positive Film, Lighter Skin, Darker Skin, Vivid Blue, Vivid Green, Vivid Red, Custom|
|Burst mode shot limit (full resolution)||Unlimited continuous|
Shooting options on the SX210 IS run the gamut from simple point-and-shoot options to full manual controls. The manual shooting options are better than most compact megazooms. You get semimanual and full manual control over shutter speed and apertures as well as manual focus with a safety for fine-tuning. Apertures include f3.1, f3.5, f4, f4.5, f5, f5.6, f5.9, f6.3, f7.1, and f8. With the lens fully extended, you only get three of these, though: f5.9, f7.1, and f8. Shutter speeds can be set from 15 seconds to 1/3,200 second. There are options for setting color saturation, sharpness, and contrast, too, and the flash strength can be easily adjusted. A flash exposure lock, which adjusts flash output for what you're focused on, can quickly be activated as well; it functions well for keeping the flash from blowing out subjects.
If you just want to point and shoot, there's Canon's Smart Auto, which determines the appropriate settings based on the scene you're shooting. An Easy mode works similarly, but heavily limits settings. Canon also put on the mode dial five popular scene selections--Portrait, Landscape, Night Snapshot, Kids & Pets, and Indoor--and a SCN choice for accessing lesser-used scene settings like Low Light, Indoor, Beach, Foliage, Snow, Fireworks, and Panorama Stitch Assist. Canon added a Smart Shutter option to the Scene mode, too; this includes a smile-activated shutter release as well as Wink and Face Detection Self-timers. Wink allows you to set off the shutter simply by winking at the camera and the Face Detection option will wait till the camera detects a new face in front of the camera before it fires off a shot. Both work well.
In addition to the company's standard creative shooting options--Color Accent and Color Swap--it's introduced a couple new modes for 2010. One is a 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. Another mode, Fish-eye Effect, is even less effective because like the Miniature Effect, it's just an approximation done with software of what a fish-eye lens creates. That said, they're included and can be fun to play with if only to add some interest to what would otherwise be a boring shot.
Shooting performance is generally slow, meaning it's not a good option for fast-moving subjects; this is the case for most compact cameras, however. Shutter lag--the time it takes to capture an image once the shutter release is pressed--is 0.6 second in good lighting and 0.8 second in low light. Shot-to-shot times are somewhat long, too, at 3.5 and 5.8 seconds, without and with flash, respectively. What's worse is that the camera actually feels slow. From off to first shot is 2 seconds (good for a compact megazoom camera) and its continuous shooting rate is a lowly 0.5 frames per second.