There's nothing radical about the appearance of the Canon PowerShot SX160 IS. It's a competent, no-nonsense compact with a fairly large plastic body, although the bulk is offset by subtle curves and a comfortable bulge at the grip, which houses AA batteries, rather than a rechargable one.
The specs far exceed what you'd expect of a camera keenly priced at around £165 though, packing as it does 16 megapixels and a 16x optical zoom. But does it deliver where it counts most, with great-looking photos?
The lens offers a generous 16x optical zoom, equivalent to 28-448mm in a conventional 35mm camera. That's a great range, which is perfect for shooting landscapes when fully zoomed out and snapping wildlife when zoomed in. As explained below though, if your wildlife is moving too quickly, you might miss it.
Aperture runs from f/3.5 at wide angle to f/5.9 at the furthest end of the zoom. Both of these are par for the course in a simple point-and-shoot camera.
The sensor's native resolution is 16 megapixels, which delivers images measuring 4,608x3,456 pixels.
It's got plenty of features for the more ambitious photographer too, with the regular auto mode supplemented by shutter and aperture priority, program and manual modes. There's a live settings mode that lets you tweak brightness, vividness and colour temperature, with real-time updates.
There's also a small selection of scene modes and shooting options, the latter of which include a 'face self timer' feature that starts the shutter countdown when it spots a new face entering the frame. That allows you to pose your family, set the timer and amble into shot yourself rather than having to rush.
It's powered by AA batteries, two of which slip into one end without adversely affecting the balance. On the one hand, this is a blessing as you'll find last-minute replacements on any high street worldwide should you run out. On the other, conventionally powered cameras of this sort can sometimes demand more frequent battery swaps. That was true here.
In my tests, shooting 81 stills and 5 minutes 11 seconds of video was
sufficient to set the battery icon red and flashing close to empty.
That's despite having trimmed the rear screen brightness to its lowest
level and setting the 'screen off' timer to 1 minute to avoid excessive
Stills photography tests
Macro mode takes you up to 1cm from your subject in wide angle, and the results are good. Depth of field is kept nice and shallow and the de-focused bokeh effect at the back of the scene is an attractive, creamy blur, with round specular highlights.
At full telephoto, you can achieve equally impressive results, albeit from greater distances, effectively isolating your subject in the frame and, in bright conditions, focusing quickly enough that you can shoot more flighty subjects, such as the bug below.
The lens is very sharp at the centre and there's barely any fall-off as you move towards the edges and corners of the frame. That's impressive for any lens, because focusing incoming light around the edges bends it to an extreme degree to meet the sensor. Light entering at the centre, on the other hand, can pass straight through.
Likewise, there was very little evidence of colour fringing against sharp contrasts within the frame. Close examination of a few images does reveal some very slight inaccuracies in this respect -- known as chromatic aberration -- but you wouldn't spot them unless you were hunting for them. They certainly have no detrimental effect on the overall composition.
However, while the lens stands up to close scrutiny, image quality raises some concerns at middling sensitivities. While images are sharp and clean at ISO 100 to ISO 160, digital noise starts to creep in above ISO 200. Areas of flat, darker colour are speckled, but brighter, more detailed areas are far clearer.
Once the sensitivity starts to touch ISO 400, the digital noise starts to appear in the more detailed areas too. Zooming to 100 per cent on the face of the squirrel, below, reveals some grainy noise in the animal's fur, which is most clearly visible around the edge of the eyes, on the nose and in front of the ear.