Canon PowerShot SX230 HS review: Canon PowerShot SX230 HS

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The Good The Canon PowerShot SX230 HS has good low-light photo quality for its class; excellent color; shooting options that encourage experimentation; and great-looking video quality.

The Bad Its shooting performance, though good, lags behind the competition as does its GPS functionality. The battery life is short and the overall design could use some help, too.

The Bottom Line If you want a compact megazoom with manual controls, GPS, and excellent photo quality, the Canon PowerShot SX230 HS is a good place to start.

7.5 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7
  • Image quality 8

The PowerShot SX230 HS is Canon's top compact megazoom featuring a 28mm-equivalent wide-angle lens with a 14x zoom. It's the same lens used in 2010's SX210 IS and the body is for the most the same, too. The major change is to the camera's imaging sensor; the SX210 had a 14-megapixel CCD while SX230 has a 12-megapixel back-illuminated CMOS. Without getting into the technical differences, what you need to know is that the new sensor produces better low-light photos and has faster shooting performance than that of its predecessor. Canon also built in a GPS receiver for geotagging your photos while you're shooting--a first for a PowerShot.

However, while its photos--and movies--are pretty great for its class, the SX230's shooting performance is a bit behind the competition. Its lens isn't as wide or as long as similarly sized models and Canon doesn't do as much as others with the GPS capabilities, either. Plus, everything about the design that was off with the SX210 is still off with the SX230. You'll have to decide if my issues are deal breakers for you, though, because it's otherwise a very good compact megazoom.

Key specs Canon PowerShot SX230 HS
Price (MSRP) $349.99
Dimensions (WHD) 4.2 x 2.4 x 1.3 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 7.9 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 12 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch backside-illuminated CMOS
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 3-inch LCD, 460K dots/None
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 14x, f3.1-5.9, 28-392mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/H.264 (.MOV)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 4,000x3,000 pixels/ 1,920x1,080 at 24fps
Image stabilization type Optical and digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life Li ion rechargeable, 210 shots
Battery charged in camera No; wall charger supplied
Storage media SD/SDHC/SDXC cards, Eye-Fi SD/SDHC cards
Bundled software ZoomBrowser EX 6.7/PhotoStitch 3.1 (Windows); ImageBrowser 6.7/PhotoStitch 3.2 (Mac); Map Utility 1.0 (Windows/Mac)

The SX230 HS has some of the best photo quality I've seen from a compact megazoom, particularly at higher ISOs. While photos do get softer and noisier above ISO 200--typical for point-and-shoots--ISO 400 and 800 are still very usable. The noise and noise reduction are well balanced so you still get very good color and detail at these higher sensitivities. Colors desaturate some at ISO 1600 and 3200, subjects look very soft, and detail is greatly diminished, but photos are still usable at small sizes for prints or on a computer screen. Basically, if you need to shoot in low light or want to freeze action, this camera is one of the best options in its class.

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. Sharpness is very good and consistent from edge to edge and in the corners--pretty rare on a compact megazoom. The SX230 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, visible even when viewed at small sizes.

Color performance is a strong point with the SX230 HS. 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 warm indoors. You're better off selecting the appropriate preset for your lighting or using a custom setting.

Video quality is also excellent. It shoots in full HD, but it's at 24 frames per second. That's not ideal for shooting fast-moving subjects as you'll see some judder that's typical of the video from most compact cameras. The same goes for quickly panning the camera. Otherwise the results are impressive, even at its lower resolutions. The zoom lens does function while recording, but you will hear the movement in quiet scenes. There are stereo mics on front, but the left mic is too easily blocked if you're not paying attention to your hold on the camera.

General shooting options Canon PowerShot SX230 HS
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200
White balance Auto, Day Light, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Underwater, Custom
Recording modes Smart Auto, Easy, Movie Digest, Portrait, Landscape, Kids & Pets, Scene, Creative Filter, Movie, 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 Tone, Darker Skin Tone, Vivid Blue, Vivid Green, Vivid Red, Custom Color
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) Unlimited continuous

Shooting options on the SX230 HS 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, f6.3, f7.1, and f8. With the lens fully extended, you only get three settings, though: f5.9, f7.1, and f8. Shutter speeds can be set from 15 seconds to 1/3,200 second (1/2,500 is the fastest with the lens extended). 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. Frankly, the Smart Auto is easy enough and this spot should have gone to a custom mode. Canon also put on the mode dial three popular scene selections--Portrait, Landscape, and Kids & Pets--and a SCN choice for accessing other scene settings like Low Light, Beach, Foliage, Snow, Fireworks, and Panorama Stitch Assist. There's an Underwater option, but it's for use with an optional casing; the camera is not waterproof. Canon includes its 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.

Canon's Creative Filters are now all located under a spot on the mode dial. The filters include Canon's standard Color Accent and Color Swap options as well as Toy Camera Effect, Monochrome, Super Vivid, Poster Effect, Fish-eye Effect, and Miniature Effect. While some may find these to be a bit goofy, they can be a lot of fun to play with, if only to add some interest to what would otherwise be a boring shot. I particularly liked the results from the Toy Camera Effect, which has Standard, Warm, and Cool settings. All but the Toy Camera and Fish-eye are available for movies. Also available for movies is a high-speed option for capturing 30-second slow-motion clips at 120 or 240fps at resolutions of 640x480 and 320x240 pixels, respectively.

This model also has a new Movie Digest mode that records a few seconds of VGA-quality video before you take a picture. The camera then takes all of those clips for a day and strings them together into a single movie recapping your day. Since it's a separate mode you have to remember to use it regularly throughout the day. Also, because it automatically stitches the clips together, if there's something you don't want, you'll have to edit it out yourself. It would be nice to have the option to create the movie or just store the clips as well as have it create a movie with the photos you took inserted between the clips. Still, the result is actually cooler than I thought it would be; you just really have to pay attention to what you're doing before you shoot a picture for it to be good.