The Canon PowerShot SX260 HS replaces last year's SX230 HS, updating its lens from a 14x 28mm wide-angle lens to a 20x 25mm ultrawide-angle one. It keeps the 12-megapixel backside-illuminated CMOS sensor, but gets the new Digic 5 image processor, which helps it shoot in bursts up to 10 frames per second, among other things. The camera's GPS system is improved, too, with better location information, and Canon's made it easier to turn on and off, saving precious battery life.
I honestly had trouble finding bad points of this camera. It doesn't have all the modes that others in its class have and it's a bit (and I mean a bit) slower in some areas of its shooting performance. The lens isn't terribly bright at either end. Photos are noisy and soft even at lower ISOs (though it's only noticeable if you're pixel peeping). As with any product, things can always be better. But against its current competition, the SX260 HS is easy to recommend.
|Key specs||Canon PowerShot SX260 HS|
|Dimensions (WHD)||4.2x2.4x1.3 inches|
|Weight (with battery and media)||8.2 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)||20x, f3.5-6.8, 25-500mm (35mm equivalent)|
|File format (still / video)||JPEG/H.264 AAC (.MP4)|
|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, 230 shots|
|Battery charged in camera||No; wall charger supplied|
|Bundled software||ZoomBrowser EX 6.8/PhotoStitch 3.1 (Windows); ImageBrowser 6.8/PhotoStitch 3.2 (Mac); Map Utility 1.0 (Windows/Mac)|
The SX260 HS produces some excellent photos for a compact megazoom, particularly at higher ISOs. While photos do get softer and noisier above ISO 200 (pixel peepers will see noise and soft details below ISO 200), 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.
Color performance is a strong point with the SX260 HS, as it was with its predecessor. Everything turns out bright, well-saturated, and reasonably accurate. More important to me is that they pretty much stay that way up to ISO 800 and only seem to desaturate some at ISO 1600.
Video quality is very good, too. Maybe not as good as the high-bit-rate AVCHD movies from Sony and Panasonic cameras, but still very good. Panning the camera will create some judder and there is slight trailing on moving subjects, but the video is watchable on larger HDTVs and certainly at smaller sizes on a computer screen or mobile device. The optical zoom is available while recording, though you will hear it moving. Along with full HD movies, the camera also records high-speed clips for slow-motion playback as well as iFrame-format video for easier editing and uploading.
|General shooting options||Canon PowerShot SX260 HS|
|ISO sensitivity (full resolution)||Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200|
|White balance||Auto, Day Light, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Underwater, Custom|
|Recording modes||Auto, Easy, Movie Digest, Live View Control, Discreet, Creative Filters, Movie (iFrame, Standard, Super Slow Motion, Miniature Effect), 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 SX260 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 include 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). 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.
Speaking of Auto, Canon pumped up its Smart Auto, which now recognizes 58 predefined shooting situations. This includes Canon's new 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.
And, of course, there's no shortage of scene modes -- 10 in all -- including an underwater option for use with a waterproof case and a Handheld Night Scene that takes a burst of shots and combines them into one with less blur and noise. 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 or exposure bracketing, for that matter. And the panorama mode is still Canon's Stitch Assist, where you take a photo and then try to line up a ghost image to take the rest of the photos so you can then head back to a computer to stitch them together with software. It's really time Canon caught up to Sony, Nikon, Panasonic, and Fujifilm and had a panorama mode that just does it all automatically when you pan the camera.
There are Creative Filters, too. Those include Canon's standard Color Accent and Color Swap options as well as a Toy Camera Effect, Soft Focus, Monochrome, Super Vivid, Poster Effect, Fish-eye Effect, and Miniature Effect. 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 120fps or 240fps at resolutions of 640x480 pixels and 320x240 pixels, respectively.
Shooting performance is somewhat mixed, at least as compared with other high-end compact megazooms. It goes from off to first shot in 2.5 seconds and then it's an average of 2.1 seconds from shot to shot after that. With flash, that goes up to 3.6 seconds. In our tests we found shutter lag -- the time it takes from pressing the shutter release to capture without prefocusing -- was an excellent 0.3 second in good lighting and 0.6 in dimmer conditions. Unfortunately, with the lens extended it can take longer for it to focus and occasionally it will shoot first before it focuses, though these are common imperfections for compact megazooms.
The SX260 HS has three full-resolution continuous-shooting options. There's a standard continuous option that will shoot at up to 2.5 frames per second until your card is full, and a high-speed burst of 10 shots at 10fps. Those set focus and exposure with the first shot. But there's also a continuous with autofocus that can shoot at about 0.8fps. That's slow, but at least it's an option; most point-and-shoots don't even offer a continuous-with-AF setting.
For me, the design improvements are the best part of the SX260 HS. While I liked the SX230 HS, I did not enjoy shooting with it. The buttons were cramped and poorly placed. The 3-inch screen was 16:9, but its highest resolution was 4:3, which meant you only had 2.5 inches for framing shots. The flash was poorly placed and constantly popping up. That's all different with the SX260, though, making the camera much more enjoyable to use.
The flash is in a better position and only comes up when you need it. The controls have better spacing and the power button is up top instead of awkwardly crammed in above the LCD. The LCD is no longer a 16:9 aspect ratio, so if you use the camera's full 12-megapixel resolution, you can frame using the entire 3-inch display. It's just a better design all the way around.
For a reviewer, it's always nice when the new version of a product you liked actually gets better. That's the case with the Canon PowerShot SX260 HS. The previous version was very good, but thanks to changes in design, performance, and features, the SX260 is an excellent compact megazoom.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Time to first shot||Typical shot-to-shot time||Shutter lag (dim)||Shutter lag (typical)|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
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