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Canon Powershot SX210 review: Canon Powershot SX210

Canon Powershot SX210

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Joshua Goldman
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Joshua Goldman

Senior Editor / Reviews

Joshua Goldman is a senior editor for CNET Reviews, covering laptops and the occasional action cam or drone and related accessories. He has been writing about and reviewing consumer technology and software since 2000.

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A long zoom in a little body seems to be the big goal for camera manufacturers in 2010. The 14-megapixel PowerShot SX210 IS is Canon's entry; it's the company's most compact megazoom camera sporting a 28mm-equivalent wide-angle lens with a 14x zoom. It follows up 2009's SX200 IS, upping both resolution and zoom range and slimming down the body to a more pocket-friendly size. And though it improves on some of the prior model's controls, it still has a few design quirks that made me want to throw it across the room on occasion. Its shooting speed performance is noticeably pokey, too. On the other hand, it takes very good photos and has a nice set of manual and semimanual shooting options. If you don't need speedy shooting and don't care about design, the SX210 IS is a compact megazoom worth considering.

7.2

Canon Powershot SX210

The Good

Nice selection of semimanual and manual controls; flexible lens in a compact body; very good photo quality.

The Bad

Slow shooting performance; some awkward design aspects; unimpressive LCD.

The Bottom Line

If you want a compact megazoom with manual controls and fine photo quality, the Canon PowerShot SX210 IS is a good place to start.

The SX210 IS, which is available in black, purple, and gold versions, simply looks like an extra large Digital Elph. The 14x zoom lens front and center is the only thing keeping this from being slipped easily into a tight pocket; there's no problem dropping it in a handbag or coat pocket, though. Still, you'll probably want to invest in a protective case or risk scratching the fine finish of the metal shell. Like its predecessor, the SX200, Canon makes the flash pop up every time you start the camera. At least this time you can push it down and it'll stay down. (Simply putting a finger on it when powering on will keep it from coming up, too, hopefully not damaging the lift mechanism.) With the flash up, the camera is very awkward to hold because you don't really have anywhere to put your fingers. The LCD is decently bright, but it's a lower resolution than can be found on other cameras in its price range. Also, despite being 3 inches on the diagonal, you'll only be using 2.5 inches for framing your shots unless you switch to the camera's sole wide-screen resolution (4,320x2,432 pixels).

The camera's controls are a mix of good and bad; they're also a bit small and cramped for larger hands. On top is the shutter release, a nubbin of a zoom control, and a tiny power button that's nearly flush with the body and could be difficult to locate without looking. When gripping the camera, your thumb sits on the sizeable shooting mode dial. It clicks firmly into each selection so there's little risk you'll inadvertently change modes.

Directly under the dial is a dedicated record button for movies (it's programmable also should you want it to handle another task like changing ISO or white-balance settings) and a playback button. Below those is an unmarked Control Dial/directional pad. Touch the dial and a button description displays on screen so you know which direction to press to change flash, exposure, self timer, and focus settings. The slightest touch makes it appear, so it pops up regularly while shooting, obscuring what you're trying to shoot. The dial does make for fast navigation, though, and for quick changes to aperture and shutter speed in the manual and semimanual shooting modes. It moves freely, but you can feel individual stops when rotating it. In the center of the dial is Canon's standard Func. Set button for accessing shooting-mode-specific options and making selections. Under the dial are a Display button for changing the shooting or playback information that's shown on screen and a Menu button for basic operation settings. All in all, operation is straightforward, but you'll certainly want to read the manual, which is in PDF format on the bundled software disc.

Should you want to connect to a computer, monitor, or HDTV, there are Mini-USB and Mini-HDMI ports on the body's right side. The battery and memory card compartment are on the bottom under a nonlocking door; however, the door closes firmly. The battery does not charge in camera.

Shooting options on the SX210 IS run the gamut from simple point-and-shoot options to full manual controls. The manual shooting options are better than 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 include f3.1, f3.5, f4, f4.5, f5, f5.6, f5.9, f6.3, f7.1, and f8. With the lens fully extended, you only get three of these, though: f5.9, f7.1, and f8. Shutter speeds can be set from 15 seconds to 1/3,200 second. There are options for setting color saturation, sharpness, and contrast, too, and the flash strength can be easily adjusted. A flash exposure lock, which adjusts flash output for what you're focused on, can quickly be activated as well; it functions well for keeping the flash from blowing out subjects.

If you just want to point and shoot, there's Canon's Smart Auto, which determines the appropriate settings based on the scene you're shooting. An Easy mode works similarly, but heavily limits settings. Canon also put on the mode dial five popular scene selections--Portrait, Landscape, Night Snapshot, Kids & Pets, and Indoor--and a SCN choice for accessing lesser-used scene settings like Low Light, Indoor, Beach, Foliage, Snow, Fireworks, and Panorama Stitch Assist. Canon added a Smart Shutter option to the Scene mode, too; this includes a smile-activated shutter release as well as Wink and Face Detection Self-timers. Wink allows you to set off the shutter simply by winking at the camera and the Face Detection option will wait till the camera detects a new face in front of the camera before it fires off a shot. Both work well.

In addition to the company's standard creative shooting options--Color Accent and Color Swap--it's introduced a couple new modes for 2010. One is a Miniature Effect, which blurs the top and bottom of the frame and boosts contrast and color saturation to make subjects look like painted miniature models. It works to some degree, but is not as convincing as true tilt-shift photography, which is what the effect is based on. Another mode, Fish-eye Effect, is even less effective because like the Miniature Effect, it's just an approximation done with software of what a fish-eye lens creates. That said, they're included and can be fun to play with if only to add some interest to what would otherwise be a boring shot.

Shooting performance is generally slow, meaning it's not a good option for fast-moving subjects; this is the case for most compact cameras, however. Shutter lag--the time it takes to capture an image once the shutter release is pressed--is 0.6 second in good lighting and 0.8 second in low light. Shot-to-shot times are somewhat long, too, at 3.5 and 5.8 seconds, without and with flash, respectively. What's worse is that the camera actually feels slow. From off to first shot is 2 seconds (good for a compact megazoom camera) and its continuous shooting rate is a lowly 0.5 frames per second.

The SX210 IS' photo quality is very good bordering on excellent; there are definitely some issues. Photos from compact digital cameras tend to noticeably soften at ISO 200, and that's what happens with this Canon. However, the drop off is subtle and noise amounts are low, so 13x19-inch prints of lightly cropped or uncropped images are certainly possible. Canon claims you can crop and enlarge portions of shots for prints up to 16.5x23.4 inches. You can certainly do that, but it's doubtful you'll be happy with what you get. The biggest problem is that photos will occasionally look overprocessed and digital. Cropping in only makes this more visible in prints.

As you head to the higher sensitivities--ISO 400 through 1,600--details get increasingly softer, but are still strong enough to make a solid 8x10-inch print. Its low-light photos aren't as good as those from Sony's Cyber-shot HX5V, but only slightly. On the other hand, the SX210's lower ISO shots are a touch above the Sony's. Canon has renamed its High ISO mode to Low Light to help alleviate some people's confusion about the setting. The mode captures 3.5-megapixel photos at ISOs from 400 to 6,400. The results are predictably grainy and there's visible yellow blotching in the darker areas of photos, but at least you'll capture something if that's all you're after.

There is some asymmetrical distortion on the left side of lens visible at its widest position. When the lens is extended there is slight pincushion distortion, but it's barely discernible. The SX210 exhibits a high amount of fringing around high-contrast subjects. It's typical of compact cameras, but the amount is above average for its class.

Color performance is a strong point with the SX210 IS. Everything turns out bright, well saturated, and reasonably accurate. Exposure is generally good, though it really struggles with highlights, blowing them out every chance it gets. White balance is fairly accurate, too, but Auto goes really warm indoors. You're better off selecting the appropriate preset for your lighting or using a custom setting.

Video quality is on par with an HD pocket video camera. You do get use of the optical zoom while recording and the lens movement doesn't get picked up much by the stereo mic. Worth noting is the camera's Dynamic image stabilization option that helps control shake when running alongside a moving subject. It does in fact help, but is only effective when the lens is in its widest position.

As pocketable megazooms go, the Canon PowerShot SX210 IS is a solid choice for those looking for more shooting control as well as a reliable Auto mode. Most of the issues I have are with its design, which keeps it from receiving a higher rating. (It's a marked improvement over the SX200 IS, however.) The noticeably slow shooting performance is also a problem; I can't recommend this for those needing to capture photos of anything that's moving. Nonetheless, its photo quality is very good and the manual and semimanual controls are better than you'll find from competing models.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V
1.8
1.5
0.8
0.4

Fujifilm FinePix F70EXR
2.1
1.5
0.7
0.5

Kodak EasyShare Z950
3.2
3.5
0.7
0.6


2
3.5
0.8
0.6

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Find out more about how we test digital cameras.

7.2

Canon Powershot SX210

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 7Image quality 7