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

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The Good The Canon PowerShot SX280 HS 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.

8.2 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8
  • Image quality 9

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

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.

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.

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