Canon PowerShot SX280 HS review:

Excellent camera, but buy extra batteries

Canon PowerShot SX280 HS Nikon Coolpix S9500 Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS30
Price (MSRP) $349.99 $349.95 $349.99
Dimensions (WHD) 4.2x2.4x1.3 inches 4.4x2.4x1.3 inches 4.3x2.3x1.1 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 8.2 ounces 7.3 ounces 7 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 12 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch BSI CMOS 18 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch BSI CMOS 18 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch high-sensitivity MOS
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 3-inch LCD, 460K dots/None 3-inch OLED, 614K dots/None 3-inch touch LCD, 920K dots/None
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 20x, f3.5-6.8, 25-500mm (35mm equivalent) 22x, f3.4-6.3, 25-550mm (35mm equivalent) 20x, f3.3-6.4, 24-480mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still / video) JPEG/H.264 AAC (.MP4) JPEG/MPEG-4 AVC H.264 AAC (.MOV) JPEG/AVCHD (.MTS); MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 (.MP4)
Highest resolution size (still / video) 4,000x3,000 pixels/1,920x1,080 at 60fps (progressive) 4,896x3,672 pixels/1,920x1,080 at 30fps (progressive) 4,896x3,672 pixels/1,920x1,080 at 60fps (progressive; 28Mbps)
Image stabilization type Optical and digital Optical and digital Optical and digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life Li-ion rechargeable, 230 shots Li-ion rechargeable, 230 shots Li-ion rechargeable, 300 shots
Battery charged in camera No; wall charger supplied Yes; by computer or wall adapter via USB Yes; by computer or wall adapter via USB
Built-in Wi-Fi/GPS Yes/yes Yes/yes Yes with NFC/yes

The built-in GPS lets you automatically record the location and local time of photos and movies, and will set the camera's time to local time, which is definitely handy when traveling. The GPS system can also track your route from photo to photo. And, thankfully, it can easily be turned on and off in the camera's function menu.

The menu system is easy enough to navigate, especially if you're coming from another Canon camera. Still, you'll probably want to spend some time poking around in the setting menus. Some of the shooting modes have settings within settings, so getting the most out of the camera requires some exploration or time with the PDF manual.

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The camera's Wi-Fi is fairly straightforward to operate, but less so to set up. Using Canon's CameraWindow software and Canon Image Gateway site, you can set the camera to wirelessly upload photos to Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and e-mail. Basically, Canon forces you to set up an account on CIG with all of your account IDs and passwords so you can upload to these services from the camera instead of just allowing you to put your information directly into the camera.

If this is a problem for you (it is for me), you can instead use the CameraWindow app for iOS or Android to send photos and movies directly to mobile devices for viewing, editing, and uploading. You can also use the connection to your mobile device to geotag your photos, which might help save battery life.

And really, the biggest downside to this camera is the battery life. The SX260 HS didn't exactly have stellar shot counts and things don't improve here. There was a firmware update that improves life when shooting video and using the zoom lens. But functions like GPS, Wi-Fi, burst shooting, using the high-speed or 1080p60 movie options, turning up the display brightness, and using the zoom lens, they all add up. If you're planning to be away from an outlet for an extended period of time (the battery can't be charged by USB), you'll want to buy a couple of extra batteries for a day of shooting.

General shooting options Canon PowerShot SX280 HS
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400
White balance Auto, Day Light, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Underwater, Custom
Recording modes Auto, Hybrid Auto, Live View Control, Discreet, Creative Filters, Movie (Standard, Super Slow Motion), 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 SX280 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 comprise 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 and the camera limits you to ISO 80 with exposures longer than 1 second). 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.

Worth mentioning, though, is that despite all of this extra control, your AF area options are limited. There is, for example, no way to select a fixed area other than dead center.

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Speaking of Auto, Canon's Smart Auto recognizes 58 predefined shooting situations. This includes Canon's 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.

Canon also paired its Smart Auto with its Movie Digest mode for a new Hybrid Auto. Movie Digest captures a few seconds of video before each picture you take. At the end of a day of shooting, the camera automatically gathers up all the little clips and puts them into one movie. The result is basically a candid highlight movie. Movie Digest, however, uses a standard Auto mode whereas Hybrid Auto uses Canon's scene-recognition Smart Auto, so you now can have potentially better photos while still using Movie Digest. I would recommend shutting off the AF assist lamp, though, or else you end up with your subject getting oddly illuminated in each clip.

There are Creative Filters, too, such as Toy Camera Effect, Soft Focus, Monochrome, Super Vivid, Poster Effect, Fish-eye Effect, and Miniature Effect. Also available for movies is a high-speed option for capturing 30-second slow-motion clips at 120fps or 240fps at resolutions of 640x480 pixels and 320x240 pixels, respectively. Absent, however, are a couple of modes you'll find on just about every other high-end point-and-shoot. There is no high-dynamic-range option and no exposure bracketing, for that matter, and no easy panorama option.

The SX260 HS was one of the best compact megazooms available in 2012 and the Canon PowerShot SX280 HS only improves on that model. Unfortunately, the SX260 HS' battery life wasn't great and that doesn't change for the SX280 HS. There are a couple of other minor issues, too, though none that I'd consider as important as the battery life.

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