Canon PowerShot SX30 IS (Black) review: Canon PowerShot SX30 IS (Black)

For those who like to take close-ups, the SX30 IS has a 0-inch Macro mode, which is pretty difficult to take advantage while holding the camera. It does, however, mean you can get awfully close to your subject. Macro is also where the camera happens to be at its sharpest.

Shooting performance is slow. The only thing the SX30 IS does relatively quickly for a megazoom is start up; from off to first shot is 1.8 seconds. Shutter lag in bright conditions is a minimum of 0.5 second. In low light that goes up to 0.8 second, but there were times it felt longer. Shot-to-shot times averaged 3.5 seconds without the flash; turning on the flash pushed that out to about 4 seconds. There are two continuous options: one with autofocus and one without. If you opt to skip the AF, focus and exposure are set with the first shot, so any fast movement will likely result in out-of-focus images, but it shoots at approximately 1.6 frames per second. With AF slows that time to 0.6fps. Combined with the LCD refreshing after every shot, it can be very difficult to know exactly what you're shooting, so it's mostly press and hope for the best. Plus, moving subjects move quickly out of frame and even with the Frame Assist button it can be very difficult to track subjects. With all of that said, if you're good at anticipating action, this camera will certainly bring you closer to your favorite player to catch a shot of something.

Like most megazoom cameras, photos from the SX30 IS are noticeably soft. Also, when viewed at full size, photos are noisy even at the lowest sensitivity of ISO 80. Still and all, Canon does a good job of keeping the noise in check up to ISO 400. At that point subjects get visibly mushy looking, though some fine detail is still around at ISO 800. At ISO 1,600, noise and noise reduction are heavy, causing yellow blotching and only a notion of detail. Outside of the yellow blotching, though, color and exposure remain consistent, so photos should still be usable at small sizes with little or no cropping. However, compared with its competition, its photo quality is likely the best you're going to find. The biggest problem here is the lens; it's too slow when fully extended, which means even with a lot of light, you'll still need to use the higher ISOs. There is a Low Light mode, but the quality isn't good for much of anything and the photos are at a reduced 2-megapixel resolution.

In spite of being an ultrawide-angle lens, Canon keeps the barrel distortion in check; there is some on the left side, but it's barely detectable. When fully extended, the lens exhibits slight pincushioning, but not enough to be concerned. Center sharpness is good and the lens softens only a bit out to the sides and corners. It doesn't appear that Canon does much to help remove or reduce fringing in high-contrast areas of photos. Most megazoom cameras produce a lot of fringing, but some create more at the wide or telephoto positions. The SX30 IS is bad at both ends, to the point where you'll see it in larger prints or if you crop heavily. If you're able to look past it or don't mind removing if it bothers you, then it's a nonissue.

Color and exposure are generally excellent from this camera and consistent across its ISO settings. Again, though, you will see some yellow blotching from noise at ISO 1600. Also, as typical of compact cameras, highlights have a tendency to blow out. Canon's i-Contrast feature does help bring out shadow detail, though, should you choose to use it.

Video quality is on par with an HD pocket video camera. It's not stellar and won't replace a full-size camcorder, but is certainly good enough for Web use or casual viewing on an HDTV. You do get use of the optical zoom while recording and the lens movement is very quiet so it doesn't get picked up by the stereo mic. Image stabilization is available, too, as is a wind cut filter, though the latter didn't seem to do much. Lastly, there are options to use Canon's Color Swap and Miniature Effect modes for movies giving you a little more room to experiment with video.

The 35x zoom lens on the Canon PowerShot SX30 IS is definitely an attention-grabber. To some extent it deserves the attention, too, as it's no small feat to make a lens that long (and wide) fit in a compact camera for less than $430. The problem is that the lens is of limited use because it needs a lot of light to get good results. And even then, those results are just good on the level of an average point-and-shoot camera.

Shooting speed
(Seconds: smaller is better)
Time to first shot  
Typical shot-to-shot time  
Shutter lag (dim)  
Shutter lag (typical)  
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Canon PowerShot SX30 IS

Typical continuous-shooting speed
(Frames per second: larger is better)

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