Canon PowerShot SX230 HS review: Canon PowerShot SX230 HS

Though it doesn't focus as closely as others in its class, the SX230 HS is a capable macro shooter. You can get within 2 inches of your subject and come away with some nice fine detail as long as you keep your sensitivity below ISO 200.

One of the biggest benefits to CMOS sensors is their fast speed compared with CCD sensors. That's certainly true of the SX230 HS, getting a noticeable performance jump from the CCD-based SX210 IS. On the other hand, it is slightly slower than CMOS-based compact megazooms from other manufacturers. The camera goes from off to first shot in 1.6 seconds with shot-to-shot times averaging 2.4 seconds without flash and 3.6 seconds with flash. Its shutter lag--the time it takes from pressing the shutter release to capturing a photo--is 0.4 second in bright lighting and 0.8 second in low-light conditions. The SX230's burst mode is capable of capturing at 2.2 frames per second, with focus and exposure set with the first shot. It can shoot until your memory card fills up, though, which is nice; competing cameras have a burst limit and make you wait while images are stored before you can shoot again. The camera also has a continuous with AF, but it is really too slow to be useful for sports or other fast-moving subjects. The camera also has a high-speed burst mode that can shoot 3-megapixel photos at up to 8.1 frames per second. The results are very good compared with similar modes on other cameras I've tested, suitable for small prints and definitely for Web use.

The SX230's design doesn't change much from its predecessor; it basically looks like an extra large PowerShot Elph, and kind of a dull-looking one at that. 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. Canon continues to make the flash pop up every time you start the camera, regardless of the camera's settings. (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 I still had problems seeing it in direct sunlight. Also, despite being 3 inches on the diagonal, you'll only be using 2.5 inches for framing your shots unless you switch to one of the camera's 16:9 wide-screen resolutions.

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 and zoom ring. When gripping the camera, your thumb sits on the sizable shooting mode dial. It clicks firmly into each selection, so there's little risk you'll inadvertently change modes. The power button is positioned above the right edge of the LCD and close to the mode dial. Depending on the size of your thumb, it can be a little difficult to press.

Directly under the dial are a dedicated record button for movies 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 dial allows for fast navigation 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. In all, operation is straightforward, but you'll certainly want to read the manual, which is in PDF format on the bundled software disc.

Including a built-in GPS receiver makes the SX230 HS competitive with the high-end compact megazooms from Sony, Panasonic, Fujifilm, and Casio. However, those manufacturers offer greater functionality; Canon uses it to geotag photos with elevation, longitude, and latitude data and updating the camera's clock. It can also keep a log file of your travel, e.g. the path you take while walking through a city. But that requires you to leave the GPS on all the time and make sure it's always able to connect to satellites. So if you go indoors and forget to shut off logging, your battery will continue to drain. Canon didn't make it easy to turn on and off either, burying it at the bottom of the camera settings menu. Plus, there's no mention in the manual as to what the camera does should you lose your connection. Does it automatically search again? Do you have to go into the menu and turn the GPS off and on again to get it to refresh? If it refreshes on its own, how often will it search until it gets a signal?

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 and its life is fairly short, hastened by using the zoom, GPS, burst shooting, and capturing movies. You'll want to invest in a second battery.

The Canon PowerShot SX230 IS might not be the fastest compact megazoom or have the longest lens. It's also Canon's first crack at putting GPS in a PowerShot and it shows. However, its photo quality is excellent for its class and with all of its shooting options, including semimanual and manual modes, it's a great choice for beginners and enthusiasts or as a family camera.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Smaller bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot  
Typical shot-to-shot time  
Shutter lag (dim)  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10
Nikon Coolpix S8100
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V
Canon PowerShot SX230 HS
Canon PowerShot SX210 IS

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

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