If you're looking for the perfect mix of compact camera specs right now, 12.1 megapixels and a 20x zoom just about hits the spot. Lucky for you, as that's precisely what the Canon PowerShot SX260 HS is packing.
Thankfully, camera makers are turning their backs on ever-increasing pixel counts for headline-grabbing marketing hooks. Sanity is prevailing and we're seeing a returned focus on what really matters in a good camera -- features, ease of use and quality images. This is where the SX260 HS fits in.
You can pick one up online now for around £270.
Design and features
The good-looking SX260 HS is surprisingly large -- about the same as a first-generation. At least Canon has made good use of all that extra space. The buttons are bigger than usual so it's a good choice for anyone with fat fingers.
There's a built-in GPS receiver that automatically geo-tags your images, stamping them with location metadata so that apps like Adobe Lightroom, Apple Aperture and iPhoto, as well as sharing sites like Flickr, can accurately plot them on a map.
This latter feature is quite a boon, although I found that some of my pictures, even when taken under clear skies and with good line-of-sight of the sky, weren't stamped. Only 10 of the 39 taken under overcast skies carried with them the necessary data, as the camera didn't get a fix on the satellites. It goes without saying that any shots you take indoors will also be missing these metrics.
The level of detail is impressive in both overcast and bright conditions. Solid edges are razor sharp and natural subjects such as flowers and foliage are captured with great subtlety.
Stark contrasts are handled with aplomb. Although there's an excusable degree of flare on the image below, where the sun is reflected directly by the hands of the clock to the right and the cherub on top of the tower, both the lit and shadowed sides of the white stone structure are accurately reproduced. There's no loss of detail in either portion, with the bricks that make up the fascia easily made out. The fine detail in the town crest is well preserved.
The sensitivity range on the SX260 HS spans ISO 100 to ISO 3,200 with exposure compensation of +/- 2EV in 1/3EV steps. The image above was exposed at ISO 160, and noise is very well controlled, with only faint grain visible across the frame. Even when forced to ramp up the setting under overcast conditions, there's very little detrimental effect on the result.
The image below was shot under overcast skies and at full zoom, forcing the camera to hike to ISO 500. Although there's a degree more noise in the background, where the sapling in front of the furthest large tree is mottled, the subject of the image (I set it to focus on the bench) remains clear, with only a slight hazing obvious on the front legs.
At closer quarters the macro mode, which puts you 5cm from your subject, has a beautiful shallow depth of field, which helps isolate the focused area and pull it forward from the background.
I performed all of my tests with the SX260 HS set to auto, allowing it to choose the most appropriate setting for each shot. Despite having a maximum aperture of f/3.5 at wide angle (f/6.8 at full telephoto), it never opened it further than f/4, even when it had self-selected the macro setting. This didn't matter as the results demonstrate an attractive, fast fall-off in the focus, while the subjects themselves are pin sharp and full of fine detail.