Canon PowerShot SX30 IS (Black) review: Canon PowerShot SX30 IS (Black)

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The Good Flexible lens range; excellent image stabilization; features for every kind of user.

The Bad Generally soft, noisy photos at full size; overall slow performance; no raw capture.

The Bottom Line The Canon PowerShot SX30 IS is a point-and-shoot camera with a 35x zoom lens. As long as you're not expecting much more than that, it's a very good megazoom.

7.0 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 6
  • Image quality 7

Let's get something straight: the Canon PowerShot SX30 IS is basically little more than a compact point-and-shoot camera with a long lens. It may look like a digital SLR, but outside of that, they have almost nothing in common. If you're expecting dSLR-like speed and photo quality, you won't find it here or on any other current megazoom camera. However, if you need a 35x lens and only have $430, this is the camera to buy. That doesn't mean it's great, just that it's more affordable than a digital SLR with comparable lenses. Though the SX30's lens range does allow for a lot of framing flexibility and has excellent image stabilization, shooting with it can be a trying experience. Everything about this camera is slow; from the lens to its movement to shooting speeds, it's just not a fast camera. Also, though photo quality is very good in bright light, there's a noticeable drop-off at ISO 400 and above. That's unfortunate since you'll need those higher sensitivities when using that long lens.

On the other hand, it has a lot of features outside of the lens including a vari-angle LCD, a one-touch record button for movie capture at 720p resolution, and shooting modes from full auto to full manual as well as some creative scene modes. If you need one camera to satisfy a whole family of users or just want one camera to handle a wide variety of situations, the SX30 IS might be the solution.

Key specs Canon PowerShot SX30 IS
Price (MSRP) $429.99
Dimensions (WHD) 4.8 x 3.6 x 4.2 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 21.2 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 14 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch CCD
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 2.7-inch LCD, 230K dots/Yes, electronic
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 35x, f2.7-5.8, 24-840mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/H.264 (.MOV)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 4,320x3,240 pixels/ 1,280x720 at 30fps
Image stabilization type Optical and digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life Lithium ion rechargeable, 370 shots (400, EVF only)
Battery charged in camera No; external charger supplied
Storage media SD/SDHC/SDXC, MultiMediaCard, MMCplus, HC MMCplus, Eye-Fi SD/SDHC cards
Bundled software ZoomBrowser EX 6.5/PhotoStitch 3.1 (Windows); ImageBrowser 6.5/PhotoStitch 3.2 (Mac)

The SX30 IS looks somewhat like a compact version of a Canon EOS Rebel dSLR. At the front of the large, comfortable grip is a shutter release with a lever for operating the extreme 35x zoom lens followed back by a shooting mode dial and power button. Though the motor moves the lens smoothly, its range would be better controlled by a manual zoom like that on the Fujifilm FinePix HS10. It simply takes too long to move the lens in and out. A Zoom Frame Assist button on back next to the thumbrest helps a bit by pulling the lens back and sending it forward again when released, but it's still too slow when trying to track a moving subject.

Below the Zoom Frame Assist button to the right of the thumbrest are Play and AF Frame Selector buttons, the latter allowing you to move your AF frame according to where you want the camera to focus and change the size of the frame. Below that is a Control Dial that sits on top of a four-way directional pad. The Dial is used for navigation as well as changing settings. It moves too freely with no real stops, so it's pretty easy to blow past whatever it is you're trying to set. The directional pad also sets focus type, exposure compensation, ISO, and the self-timer. The Func/Set button at the center of the Dial selects options and brings up shooting-mode-specific settings. A separate Menu button below the Dial brings up the rest of the camera options. It's joined by a Display button.

The Display button is what's used to move back and forth from the 2.7-inch rotating LCD to the electronic viewfinder (EVF) for framing shots. That would be fine if you didn't have to cycle through different display settings to switch from one to the other: low-info LCD, detailed LCD, low-info EVF, detailed EVF. What's worse is that there are some modes that use the Display button to access secondary functions, so if you're in one of those and want to switch from the LCD or EVF, you have to leave the shooting mode you're in first. Or, you can flip out the LCD, which automatically turns on the LCD if you're using the EVF. Similarly, flipping the LCD to face into its cavity turns on the EVF. It's ultimately a very frustrating design choice and Canon should have used an LCD/EVF button placed next to the EVF like every other manufacturer. There are buttons on either side of the EVF, though. On the left is a programmable shortcut button, on the right is a one-press record button for capturing movies. If you want additional movie shooting options, though, you can select a full Movie mode on the shooting mode dial.

In the end, the controls are fairly easy to use, but definitely take some practice if you're not familiar with Canon's menus and controls. Even seasoned Canon users will want to examine the full manual, though, included on the software disc bundled with the camera.

Predecessors to the SX30 used AA-size batteries for power, but Canon switched to a large lithium ion rechargeable pack for this model. Battery life is good, all things considered, but if you wanted the convenience of AAs, you're out of luck. The battery is located in a compartment in the base of the grip, which is where you'll also find the memory card slot. The compartment cover doesn't lock--an odd omission for a high-end camera. Out of the box you may think Canon dropped the hot shoe from previous versions, too, but it is there on top; it's just covered up. (There's also a pop-up flash activated by a button on the left side on top, though it's fairly weak given the lens range.) For connecting to displays and computers there are Mini-HDMI and Mini-USB/AV ports under a door on the right side.

General shooting options Canon PowerShot SX30 IS
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,600
White balance Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Flash, Custom
Recording modes Auto, Program, Shutter-speed priority, Aperture priority, Manual, Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Scene, Movie
Focus modes Face AF, Center AF, User-selectable AF (FlexiZone), Macro, Normal, Infinity, Manual
Macro 0 inch (Wide); 1.6 feet (Tele)
Metering modes Multi, Center-weighted average, Spot
Color effects Vivid, Vivid Blue, Vivid Green, Vivid Red, Neutral, Sepia, Black & White, Positive Film, Lighter Skin Tone, Darker Skin Tone, Custom
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) Unlimited continuous

Again, there are a lot of shooting options on the SX30 IS, so it can act as a single camera for many people. There are program, shutter-priority, aperture-priority, and manual options. Available apertures at the wide end include: f2.7, f3.2, f3.5, f4.0, f4.5, f5.0, f5.6, f6.3, f7.1, and f8.0; available in telephoto are: f5.8, f6.3, f7.1, f8.0. Shutter speeds go from 15 seconds down to 1/3,200 second. If you come up with a set of values you'd like to use regularly, there are two Custom spots on the mode dial.

At the other end is Canon's reliable Smart Auto that analyzes your subject and automatically selects an appropriate scene setting from 28 specially defined settings. There are, of course, selectable scene modes, too, that include the basics like Portrait and Landscape as well as Canon's creative shooting modes like Miniature Effect, Fisheye Effect, and Super Vivid. There is a Sports mode as well, which is basically an auto mode with continuous shooting when you press and hold the shutter release. Canon includes its Smart Shutter option in the Scene modes, which features a smile-activated shutter release in addition to 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.