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Canon PowerShot SX280 HS review: Excellent camera, but buy extra batteries

A new processor leads to less noise at higher ISOs and faster performance, and built-in Wi-Fi lets you shoot and share. But neither helps this camera's battery life.

Joshua Goldman Managing Editor / Advice
Managing Editor Josh Goldman is a laptop expert and has been writing about and reviewing them since built-in Wi-Fi was an optional feature. He also covers almost anything connected to a PC, including keyboards, mice, USB-C docks and PC gaming accessories. In addition, he writes about cameras, including action cams and drones. And while he doesn't consider himself a gamer, he spends entirely too much time playing them.
Expertise Laptops, desktops and computer and PC gaming accessories including keyboards, mice and controllers, cameras, action cameras and drones Credentials
  • More than two decades experience writing about PCs and accessories, and 15 years writing about cameras of all kinds.
Joshua Goldman
9 min read

With the PowerShot SX280 HS, Canon's top compact megazoom for 2013, it's all about the processor.


Canon PowerShot SX280 HS

The Good

The <b>Canon PowerShot SX280 HS</b> has shooting modes for every type of photographer from casual to advanced; a useful long zoom lens with excellent image stabilization; and overall excellent photo and video quality for a compact megazoom.

The Bad

Battery life is short, especially if you use the Wi-Fi and GPS features or movie capture. The flash isn't in a great location, and there are no easy panorama or HDR shooting options.

The Bottom Line

Wi-Fi connectivity and a new processor help make Canon's PowerShot SX280 HS one of the top compact megazooms available. But you'd better load up on batteries.

Compared with its predecessor, the SX260 HS, the SX280 shares the same 20x, f3.5-6.8, 25-500mm lens and 12-megapixel backside-illuminated (BSI) CMOS sensor. Joining them in the SX280, however, is an all-new Digic 6 image processor, which provides less noise at high ISOs, faster shooting performance, and 1080p movie capture at up to 60 frames per second.

Along with the performance gains from the processor, Canon tuned up the camera's autofocus (AF) performance, making the AF more than 50 percent faster than the SX260's.

The other major new hardware feature is Wi-Fi connectivity, which joins the built-in GPS receiver. The latter is for geotagging your photos with location information, while the former makes it so the camera can wirelessly connect to an iOS or Android device for transferring and sharing photos and videos or backing up to a computer.

Unfortunately, none of these things helps its battery life; the SX260 wasn't great in this department and the SX280 doesn't show improvement. Otherwise, it's a fine follow-up to an already excellent little 20x zoom camera.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Picture quality
Though the updated processor doesn't necessarily deliver significantly better images at higher ISOs, the SX280's results are better than the SX260's. The SX280's photos still get softer and noisier above ISO 200 (pixel peepers will see noise and soft details below ISO 200), but its higher ISOs are a bit more usable at larger sizes.

Canon PowerShot SX280 HS sample pictures

See all photos

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 somewhat usable at small sizes. Basically, if you need to shoot in low light or want to freeze action, the SX280 HS is a fine choice. Keep in mind, though, this is still a small-sensor camera and can't match the quality of a digital SLR or interchangeable lens compact. (You can read more about the SX280 HS' image quality in the slideshow above.)

Video quality is generally excellent, too. The SX280 can capture 1080p MP4 movies at 30fps or 60fps; the SX260's videos were in MOV format and maxed out at 24fps. The 60fps video option is nice to have when shooting fast-moving subjects or when quickly panning the camera. Some people don't like the smoother results, but you can shoot at 30fps. The zoom does function while recording and the camera refocuses and adjusts exposures smoothly. You will hear the zoom motor and possibly the continuous AF in quiet scenes. (Note: Canon issued a firmware update for the SX280 HS that addresses battery issues when shooting video.)

Sarah Tew/CNET

Shooting performance
True to its claims, the SX280 HS is faster than the SX260 HS, and not just in one or two aspects, but across the board. From off to first shot takes 1.5 seconds and the lag between shots is the same 1.5 seconds. Turning on the flash will extend that lag to 3.9 seconds, however. The time from pressing the shutter release to capture without prefocusing is 0.2 second in bright lighting. In low-light conditions that time goes up to 0.4 second, which is on par with times of the top cameras in its class.

The camera has three continuous-shooting options. Its standard full-resolution continuous mode hit 3.4fps in my tests. This is with focus and exposure set with the first shot. You can also chose the same mode, but with autofocus, which slows the camera down to 1.1fps. Lastly, in the Scene modes, there's a high-speed burst setting that can hit 14fps for up to seven shots. It, too, sets focus and exposure with the first shot. What's nice is that it refreshes relatively quickly after the burst, so you're not left waiting too long before you can shoot again.

Design and features
With a couple of exceptions, I really liked the design of the SX260 HS, and nothing has really changed for the SX280 HS in that area. The camera is still remarkably small for having a 20x zoom lens, but not so small as to make operation difficult. It's lightweight, too, but still feels well made.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The flash, while in a better place than on models prior to the SX260, still isn't in a great spot. It's motorized and pops up automatically and if your finger happens to be on top of it when it does, it stops and you get a "Wrong flash position, restart camera" warning.

The other thing I had a problem with was button markings, which were difficult to read on the SX260; that's no longer the case for the SX280 HS.

Canon PowerShot SX280 HS Nikon Coolpix S9500 Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS30
Price (MSRP) $349.99 $349.95 $349.99
Dimensions (WHD) 4.2x2.4x1.3 inches 4.4x2.4x1.3 inches 4.3x2.3x1.1 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 8.2 ounces 7.3 ounces 7 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 12 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch BSI CMOS 18 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch BSI CMOS 18 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch high-sensitivity MOS
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 3-inch LCD, 460K dots/None 3-inch OLED, 614K dots/None 3-inch touch LCD, 920K dots/None
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 20x, f3.5-6.8, 25-500mm (35mm equivalent) 22x, f3.4-6.3, 25-550mm (35mm equivalent) 20x, f3.3-6.4, 24-480mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still / video) JPEG/H.264 AAC (.MP4) JPEG/MPEG-4 AVC H.264 AAC (.MOV) JPEG/AVCHD (.MTS); MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 (.MP4)
Highest resolution size (still / video) 4,000x3,000 pixels/1,920x1,080 at 60fps (progressive) 4,896x3,672 pixels/1,920x1,080 at 30fps (progressive) 4,896x3,672 pixels/1,920x1,080 at 60fps (progressive; 28Mbps)
Image stabilization type Optical and digital Optical and digital Optical and digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life Li-ion rechargeable, 230 shots Li-ion rechargeable, 230 shots Li-ion rechargeable, 300 shots
Battery charged in camera No; wall charger supplied Yes; by computer or wall adapter via USB Yes; by computer or wall adapter via USB
Built-in Wi-Fi/GPS Yes/yes Yes/yes Yes with NFC/yes

The built-in GPS lets you automatically record the location and local time of photos and movies, and will set the camera's time to local time, which is definitely handy when traveling. The GPS system can also track your route from photo to photo. And, thankfully, it can easily be turned on and off in the camera's function menu.

The menu system is easy enough to navigate, especially if you're coming from another Canon camera. Still, you'll probably want to spend some time poking around in the setting menus. Some of the shooting modes have settings within settings, so getting the most out of the camera requires some exploration or time with the PDF manual.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The camera's Wi-Fi is fairly straightforward to operate, but less so to set up. Using Canon's CameraWindow software and Canon Image Gateway site, you can set the camera to wirelessly upload photos to Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and e-mail. Basically, Canon forces you to set up an account on CIG with all of your account IDs and passwords so you can upload to these services from the camera instead of just allowing you to put your information directly into the camera.

If this is a problem for you (it is for me), you can instead use the CameraWindow app for iOS or Android to send photos and movies directly to mobile devices for viewing, editing, and uploading. You can also use the connection to your mobile device to geotag your photos, which might help save battery life.

And really, the biggest downside to this camera is the battery life. The SX260 HS didn't exactly have stellar shot counts and things don't improve here. There was a firmware update that improves life when shooting video and using the zoom lens. But functions like GPS, Wi-Fi, burst shooting, using the high-speed or 1080p60 movie options, turning up the display brightness, and using the zoom lens, they all add up. If you're planning to be away from an outlet for an extended period of time (the battery can't be charged by USB), you'll want to buy a couple of extra batteries for a day of shooting.

General shooting options Canon PowerShot SX280 HS
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400
White balance Auto, Day Light, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Underwater, Custom
Recording modes Auto, Hybrid Auto, Live View Control, Discreet, Creative Filters, Movie (Standard, Super Slow Motion), 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 SX280 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 comprise 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 and the camera limits you to ISO 80 with exposures longer than 1 second). 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.

Worth mentioning, though, is that despite all of this extra control, your AF area options are limited. There is, for example, no way to select a fixed area other than dead center.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Speaking of Auto, Canon's Smart Auto recognizes 58 predefined shooting situations. This includes Canon's 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.

Canon also paired its Smart Auto with its Movie Digest mode for a new Hybrid Auto. Movie Digest captures a few seconds of video before each picture you take. At the end of a day of shooting, the camera automatically gathers up all the little clips and puts them into one movie. The result is basically a candid highlight movie. Movie Digest, however, uses a standard Auto mode whereas Hybrid Auto uses Canon's scene-recognition Smart Auto, so you now can have potentially better photos while still using Movie Digest. I would recommend shutting off the AF assist lamp, though, or else you end up with your subject getting oddly illuminated in each clip.

There are Creative Filters, too, such as Toy Camera Effect, Soft Focus, Monochrome, Super Vivid, Poster Effect, Fish-eye Effect, and Miniature Effect. 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. 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 and no exposure bracketing, for that matter, and no easy panorama option.

The SX260 HS was one of the best compact megazooms available in 2012 and the Canon PowerShot SX280 HS only improves on that model. Unfortunately, the SX260 HS' battery life wasn't great and that doesn't change for the SX280 HS. There are a couple of other minor issues, too, though none that I'd consider as important as the battery life.


Canon PowerShot SX280 HS

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8Image quality 9