Think you've got a big one? Well, think again. The focal range offered by Canon's 14.1-megapixel, 35x-optical-zoom PowerShot SX30 IS trumps even former megazoom market leaders, like the 35x-zoom Fujifilm FinePix HS10 and Olympus SP-800UZ.
Expect to pay in the region of £350, which is almost as much as an entry-level digital SLR these days. In saying that, the SX30 does offer plenty of bang for your buck.
You do like your zooms don't you?
The SX30 (shouldn't that be SX35?) powers up from cold in an instant. Starting at a wide 24mm, the Canon's focal range extends up to a mind-blowing 840mm in 35mm-film terms. It's therefore the classic all-in-one option for those who want extreme flexibility when it comes to framing -- grab candid close-ups and broad landscapes without the inconvenience and expense of swapping specialist lenses. Of course, cynics would argue you don't get the same quality of a specialist lens, either. It's an argument Canon meets head on by virtue of the SX30's optics, said to have gone through the exact production processes as its interchangeable EF-series lenses.
The other worry is that the effects of hand wobble will be quite pronounced and images quite blurry towards the extremities of its whopping telephoto range. To combat this, the lens has optical image stabilisation and features an Ultrasonic Motor (USM), as used in Canon's dSLR lens range, to enable fast and nigh-silent zooming.
We were able to achieve commendably sharp results in daylight, at the maximum telephoto range. Things became inevitably problematic, however, when the camera was faced with busy scenes. It seemed to have trouble deciding whether it should be focusing on the background or the intended foreground subject, and didn't always get it right.
Plastic, yet fantastic
Like the FinePix HS10, the SX30 has taken its design cues from a digital SLR, and in that respect looks like any other conventional 'bridge' camera at first glance. Though solidly built, it doesn't feel quite as robust as the HS10, and there is more obvious plastic on show.
Still, the proof is in the pudding -- or, rather, the zooming. It's controlled via a large and obvious chrome lever that encircles the equally large and obvious shutter-release button, both located at the top of the handgrip. Give the lever a nudge and the zoom travels from maximum wide-angle to extreme telephoto setting in three to four seconds. Although there is a low grinding noise as it moves, this isn't off-putting.
To save you zooming back and forth when you're fully zoomed in and your subject drifts out of frame, Canon has implemented a 'zoom framing assist' button in the top right-hand corner of the back plate, where a zoom-rocker switch might otherwise be found. Press this and the zoom backtracks to a preset distance so you can find your subject again. Release it, and it pings back to your original framing. It's a neat idea in principle, yet out of force of habit, we found ourselves zooming in and out in small increments anway.