Canon PowerShot SX260 HS review: Canon PowerShot SX260 HS

CNET Editors' Rating

4 stars Excellent
  • Overall: 8.3
  • Design: 8.0
  • Features: 8.0
  • Performance: 8.0
  • Image quality: 9.0
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good The Canon PowerShot SX260 HS has shooting modes for every type of photographer from casual to advanced, a useful long zoom lens with excellent image stabilization, and overall excellent photo and video quality for a compact megazoom.

The Bad The SX260 HS' menus and controls can take some getting used to, it's got a short battery life, and photos get noticeably softer-looking indoors or in low light.

The Bottom Line The Canon PowerShot SX260 HS' wider, longer lens, a few much-needed design tweaks, and excellent photo quality add up to one pretty great compact megazoom.

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The Canon PowerShot SX260 HS replaces last year's SX230 HS, updating its lens from a 14x 28mm wide-angle lens to a 20x 25mm ultrawide-angle one. It keeps the 12-megapixel backside-illuminated CMOS sensor, but gets the new Digic 5 image processor, which helps it shoot in bursts up to 10 frames per second, among other things. The camera's GPS system is improved, too, with better location information, and Canon's made it easier to turn on and off, saving precious battery life.

I honestly had trouble finding bad points of this camera. It doesn't have all the modes that others in its class have and it's a bit (and I mean a bit) slower in some areas of its shooting performance. The lens isn't terribly bright at either end. Photos are noisy and soft even at lower ISOs (though it's only noticeable if you're pixel peeping). As with any product, things can always be better. But against its current competition, the SX260 HS is easy to recommend.

Key specs Canon PowerShot SX260 HS
Price (MSRP) $349.99
Dimensions (WHD) 4.2x2.4x1.3 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 8.2 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 12 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch backside-illuminated CMOS
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 3-inch LCD, 460K dots/None
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 20x, f3.5-6.8, 25-500mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still / video) JPEG/H.264 AAC (.MP4)
Highest resolution size (still / video) 4,000x3,000 pixels / 1,920x1,080 at 24fps
Image stabilization type Optical and digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life Li-ion rechargeable, 230 shots
Battery charged in camera No; wall charger supplied
Storage media SD/SDHC/SDXC
Bundled software ZoomBrowser EX 6.8/PhotoStitch 3.1 (Windows); ImageBrowser 6.8/PhotoStitch 3.2 (Mac); Map Utility 1.0 (Windows/Mac)

The SX260 HS produces some excellent photos for a compact megazoom, particularly at higher ISOs. While photos do get softer and noisier above ISO 200 (pixel peepers will see noise and soft details below ISO 200), ISO 400 and 800 are still very usable. The noise and noise reduction are well balanced so you still get very good color and detail at these higher sensitivities. Colors desaturate some at ISO 1600 and 3200, subjects look very soft, and detail is greatly diminished, but photos are still usable at small sizes for prints or on a computer screen. Basically, if you need to shoot in low light or want to freeze action, this camera is one of the best options in its class.

Color performance is a strong point with the SX260 HS, as it was with its predecessor. Everything turns out bright, well-saturated, and reasonably accurate. More important to me is that they pretty much stay that way up to ISO 800 and only seem to desaturate some at ISO 1600.

Video quality is very good, too. Maybe not as good as the high-bit-rate AVCHD movies from Sony and Panasonic cameras, but still very good. Panning the camera will create some judder and there is slight trailing on moving subjects, but the video is watchable on larger HDTVs and certainly at smaller sizes on a computer screen or mobile device. The optical zoom is available while recording, though you will hear it moving. Along with full HD movies, the camera also records high-speed clips for slow-motion playback as well as iFrame-format video for easier editing and uploading.

General shooting options Canon PowerShot SX260 HS
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200
White balance Auto, Day Light, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Underwater, Custom
Recording modes Auto, Easy, Movie Digest, Live View Control, Discreet, Creative Filters, Movie (iFrame, Standard, Super Slow Motion, Miniature Effect), Manual, Aperture priority, Shutter priority, Program
Focus modes Face Detection AF, Center AF, Tracking AF, Manual
Macro 2 inches to 1.6 feet (Wide)
Metering modes Multi, Center-weighted average, Spot
Color effects Vivid, Neutral, Sepia, Black & White, Positive Film, Lighter Skin, Darker Skin, Vivid Blue, Vivid Green, Vivid Red, Custom Color (sharpness, contrast, saturation, red, green, blue, skin tone)
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) Unlimited continuous

Shooting options on the SX260 HS run the gamut from simple point-and-shoot options to full manual controls. The manual shooting options are better than on 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 f3.5, f4, f4.5, f5, f5.6, f6.3, f6.8, f7.1, and f8. With the lens fully extended, you only get three settings, though, f6.8, f7.1, and f8, so the lens is really slow at the telephoto end.

Shutter speeds can be set from 15 seconds to 1/3,200 second (1/2,000 is the fastest with the lens extended). There are options for setting color saturation, sharpness, and contrast, too, and the flash strength can be easily adjusted. Canon also included its Live View Control mode, which enables you to adjust brightness, color, and tone with onscreen sliders and see what the photo will look like as you make the changes. However, that's all you can adjust; everything else is automatic.

Speaking of Auto, Canon pumped up its Smart Auto, which now recognizes 58 predefined shooting situations. This includes Canon's new Face ID feature, which allows you to program the camera to recognize up to 12 faces that it will then prioritize for focus and exposure. In my anecdotal testing it worked OK, but it's one of those features that most people probably won't bother to set up.

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Mar. 1, 2012
  • Optical Zoom 20 x
  • Optical Sensor Type BSI-CMOS
  • Sensor Resolution 12.1 Megapixel
  • Image Stabilizer optical
  • Optical Sensor Size 1/2.3"