Canon PowerShot SX120 IS review: Canon PowerShot SX120 IS

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The Good Easy to use; best-in-class photo quality; manual and semimanual controls.

The Bad Fewer features, slower performance, and bulkier design than competitive models.

The Bottom Line Canon's SX120 IS pocket megazoom falls behind the competition in every aspect except photo quality.

7.0 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 6
  • Image quality 8

Canon seems to have an "if it ain't broke" attitude when it comes to its PowerShot SX series. The SX120 IS is the latest version of the company's 10x pocket megazoom and is nearly identical to its predecessors, the SX110 IS and SX100 IS. The SX120 IS gets a resolution bump--it's now 10-megapixels--and uses Canon's Digic 4 image processor, which along with enhanced battery life adds advanced face and motion detection features and improved red-eye correction. It's not much of a step forward, just offering a little bit of new technology for the price of 2008's SX110 IS. You also get the same excellent photo quality, which is nice, but ever-so-slightly slower performance, which is less nice.

Key specs Canon PowerShot SX120 IS
Price (MSRP) $249.99
Dimensions (WHD) 4.4 x 2.8 x 1.8 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 10.4 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 10 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch CCD
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 3-inch LCD, 230K dots/None
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 10x, 10x f2.8-4.3 36-360mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/Motion JPEG (.AVI)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 3,648x2,736 pixels/ 640x480 at 30fps
Image stabilization type Optical and digital
Battery type, rated life AA (2, alkaline included), 130 shots

Though it's bulkier than similarly featured models from Panasonic and Kodak, the SX120 IS will fit comfortably into a jacket pocket or uncomfortably in a jeans pocket. It's not lightweight either; the optically stabilized 10x zoom lens and two AA-size batteries are responsible for most of its 10.4-ounce weight. The SX120 IS is large enough that it should be easy to hold securely, and despite the body being slippery, the right-hand grip seems improved (but that may be all in my head). Encased in plastic, the SX120 IS nevertheless feels quite solid and sturdy. A door on the bottom covers an SDHC card slot and battery compartment. Unlike many AA-powered megazooms that use four batteries, the SX120 IS is powered by two, and battery life feels relatively short. You'll want to pick up some rechargeable NiMH batteries, which will triple the shot count from alkaline.

The controls on the back are pretty much the same as those on the SX110 IS. Face detection, display, menu, and exposure compensation buttons are above and below the navigational scroll wheel to the right of the 3-inch LCD. The wheel surrounds a Func./Set button and has top, bottom, left, and right pressure points for ISO sensitivity, focus (manual, normal, and macro), flash, and timer. The wheel is a touch too responsive, but it's only a real problem in Special Scene mode as it's always activated for either changing scene types or exposure compensation. The PictBridge button that was relegated to the far left corner above the screen is gone, while a playback button sits between the right side of the LCD and the slight indent of a thumb rest.

General shooting options Canon PowerShot SX120 IS
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,600
White balance Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Custom
Recording modes Easy, Smart Auto, Program, Aperture priority, Shutter priority, Manual, Portrait, Landscape, Special Scene, Indoor, Kids & Pets, Night Snapshot, Movie
Focus mode Normal AF, Face Detection AF, Macro, Manual,
Metering Evaluative, Center-weighted average, Spot
Color effects Vivid, Neutral, Sepia, Black & White, Custom
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) Unlimited continuous

For the SX120 IS, Canon throws the more common scene-shooting modes (Portrait, Landscape, Night Snapshot, Indoor, and Kids & Pets) on the actual Mode dial and keeps more specialized scene types (Sunset, Snow, Fireworks, Foliage, Aquarium, Beach, and ISO 3200) under an SCN spot on the dial. Also crammed onto the Mode dial is a full complement of manual and semimanual exposure modes; Canon's Smart Auto option that picks an appropriate scene type based on the camera's analysis of faces, brightness, colors, distance, and movement; and an Easy mode for fully automatic shooting with no access to menus whatsoever. There is a Movie mode on there, too, but it maxes out at VGA-quality without use of the optical zoom while recording and only mono sound. That's just sad.

Though the SX120 IS gets decent marks overall for speed, it does have some borderline performance issues that earned it some ratings demerits. It wakes and shoots in 2.5 seconds, which is typical of megazooms. Its shutter lag for high- and low-contrast scenes--0.6 second and 0.7 second, respectively--are typical for this class, too. However, shot-to-shot times are noticeably slow at 2.6 seconds without flash and jump to 6.1 seconds once you enable the flash. Continuous shooting is unimpressive, too, running at 0.8 frames per second.