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Canon PowerShot SX10 IS review: Canon PowerShot SX10 IS

Canon PowerShot SX10 IS

Lori Grunin Senior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
Expertise Photography | PCs and laptops | Gaming and gaming accessories
Lori Grunin
6 min read


Canon PowerShot SX10 IS

The Good

Speedy performance with solid battery life; articulating LCD; comfortable shooting design; can zoom during movie capture.

The Bad

No HD movie capture or raw support; a few annoying design quirks; frustratingly narrow lens aperture at maximum zoom.

The Bottom Line

A nice evolution of the megazoom, the Canon PowerShot SX10 IS delivers some improvements over its predecessor and provides an attractive option for megazoom shooters.

Though a 20x zoom lens may be yawn-inspiring in these days of 24x and 26x lenses, I think 20x is plenty, and perhaps even a bit too long given the difficulty of making a good lens that can cover so broad a focal range as the Canon SX10 IS' 28-560mm equivalent. The SX10 offers some significant upgrades over its predecessor, the S5: in addition to a huge jump in lens range, from 12x to 20x, it also bumps up a couple megapixels to 10 from 8. The latest generation of Canon imaging processors, Digic 4, adds tweaks to face detection, Servo AF, Face Detection Self-Timer, and Intelligent Contrast Correction.

Keeping a mostly similar design to the S5, the SX10 follows in its footsteps as a very comfortable to hold and shoot camera, retaining perks like the articulated LCD and four AA-powered operation. It's a little heavier, 1.5 pounds, which makes it feel like a dSLR, but the big grip gives you plenty of holding room. While it offers the same set of manual, semimanual, and automatic controls, they're differently designed and laid out. Gone is the multifunction power switch, leaving a plain old button in its wake. Now you have a more traditional button to jump into review mode; it sits near the indented thumb rest on the back, joined by the exposure compensation and focus area selection buttons. Unfortunately, the labels, light blue on gray, are pretty difficult to see in dim light and can be obscured by the glare off the iridescent plastic in bright.

On the right side of the back is a dial concentric to a four-way navigation switch with the function button in the middle. Canon uses this control layout for some of its recent compact point-and-shoots, and in many ways it's a vast improvement over the S5's configuration. But while I generally like the controls, the dial feels too mushy. It doesn't respond appropriately, and it feels like it needs to spin too far or not as far for any given operation. As a result, for example, I frequently overshot desired shutter speeds. Perhaps it just takes more getting used to than I had time for, but it really feels like it needs better tactile feedback. The zoom switch didn't feel terribly exact either. While that's a typical problem with stepped zooms (these lenses don't really cover a continuous zoom range, instead stopping at a series of preset distances), the SX10's felt even less accurate than usual, likely because of the wide range it has to cover. I expect to see this problem even more as we test this year's 24x and 26x lenses.

Of course, the flip-and-twistable LCD remains a user favorite, but in tradeoff it's quite small--only 2.5 inches compared with the new trend of 3-inchers. Unfortunately, the electronic viewfinder isn't particularly great. It updates slowly and looks pretty coarse. More annoyingly, the camera lacks a dedicated toggle between the LCD and EVF. Instead, you have to cycle through the four different display settings: low-info LCD, detailed LCD, low-info EVF, detailed EVF. That makes it nearly impossible to quickly jump back and forth; I frequently ended up cycling past my target. In contrast, the dedicated movie record button hits the right note of efficiency. As does the mode dial, which, unlike most cameras, rotates a full 360 degrees instead of forcing you to reverse direction to get to the modes at the other end. A small but welcome change.

Though a movie mode remains on the dial, it's become rather superfluous; in addition to the dedicated button, Canon integrated the movie resolution settings into the function menu along with the standard white balance, color adjustment, exposure bracketing, flash compensation, metering, and still size and quality controls. Some of the more novel features include a Face Self-timer, which shoots a specified number of seconds after a face is detected and a custom timer which lets you also specify the number of shots to take (sort of a limited intervalometer since you can only take up to 10 shots). New to this camera is Canon's Servo AF, the company's AF tracking mode. With this camera, since the continuous shooting is so slow, I find that the Servo AF has too much time to get confused, and since EVFs black out when a shot's taken you can't verify that it's focusing on the right thing; I have lots of in-focus fences and out of focus people in my test shots. (And lest you suggest I should have used the Face Detect AF, that doesn't work unless you're shooting faces looking at you, not moving crowd shots.)

The rest of the capabilities, for the most part, are the same as on the S5 and the competition. These include PASM, full auto and a handful of scene modes; my favorites are a custom setting slot on the mode dial and 3.9-inch macro and zero(!)-inch Super Macro modes. It supports 30fps VGA movie capture. On the upside, the camera retains the separated stereo mics from the S5 and can zoom--pretty quietly--during recording. But while the video quality is fine, if a little soft, 720p HD would be nicer. (Need more details about the standard feature set? Check out the PDF manual.)

Though in many ways the camera's performance remains unchanged--or worsens a little--from the S5's, it's still pretty zippy compared with increasingly sluggish competitors. It's ready to shoot much faster than the rest, at about 1.5 seconds, and is the quickest focuser of the bunch; it can focus and shoot in about 0.6 second in good light and 0.8 second in dim. Rising to 2.1 seconds, its shot-to-shot time is about half a second slower than the S5's, likely the result of increasing the resolution without adding more buffer memory; annoying, but still better than most. At least flash doesn't impose much overhead, rising to only 2.4 seconds once you factor in flash recycle time. And while its 1.4fps burst shooting puts it in the middle of the pack, the burst speeds of these cameras are all essentially in the same ballpark--that sad ballpark that nobody goes to anymore. The SX10 seems to be fairly power efficient, though. Canon CIPA (PDF) rates it at about 340 shots on alkalines and 600 on NiMH, and I never saw the low-power indicator flash while testing. And the optical image stabilizer works as well as ever; I got about four stops of shutter-speed latitude out of it. The lens, however, narrows to f5.7 at maximum telephoto, which is quite slow; even the Olympus SP-590 UZ only narrows to f5.0 at a longer 676mm equivalent.

Thanks in part to a better lens and improved noise suppression, the photo quality generally surpasses that of the S5. Though there's some distortion, especially at the wide end, it doesn't result in the serious fringing problems we usually see. You can use up to ISO 200 pretty confidently, and ISO 400 is OK as long as your scene isn't too detailed; I'd probably draw the line at ISO 800, however, unless you're planning to view or print the photos at 4x6 or smaller. (Manually it goes to ISO 1,600, though there's a scene mode that allows it to go up to ISO 3,200. Highly unsuggested.) Even at small sizes there's a little visible desaturation. As you'd expect, the color, exposure and tonal range are quite good. However, despite the improvements in the lens, most normal-range photos are generally soft. Only Super Macro shots have good center sharpness, and even then small details can have a slightly oversharpened look.

As evidenced by the SX1 IS, Canon obviously thinks that raw support and HD video are worth a couple hundred more bucks; maybe I'd agree if the SX10 were as cheap as its similarly lacking competitors. But it's not. So ding them I shall. Otherwise, like its ancestors before it, the PowerShot SX10 IS offers a very nice enthusiast-oriented feature set, plus decent performance, solid photo quality, and a comfortable, relatively well-designed body.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot  
Typical shot-to-shot time  
Shutter lag (dim)  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Canon PowerShot S5 IS
Canon PowerShot SX10 IS
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H50
Olympus SP-570 UZ
Nikon P80

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Canon PowerShot SX10 IS
Nikon P80


Canon PowerShot SX10 IS

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 8Image quality 7