As we've previously established, superzooms are not the most attractive cameras one can buy. The SX30 is no exception to this rule, with a hulking black chassis and giant 35x optical zoom lens sticking out at the front. Its furrowed brow, home to the faux-prism hump and the pop-up flash, adds to its mean and nasty demeanour.
Elsewhere, there's an articulating LCD screen with 2.7 inches of real estate, and a measly 230,000 dots packed inside. Like previous superzoom cameras from Canon, including the excellent SX1, the SX30 has a one-touch record button just next to the electronic viewfinder.
Shooting control is provided via the indented mode dial, which looks and feels different from any other Canon offerings that came before. Its rounded centre provides a convenient thumb rest when gripping the camera with the right hand. Photographers can choose between full PASM controls, on top of automatic, portrait, scene, landscape and sports modes.
The lens is why most people will be interested in this camera; at the time of writing, it's the longest optical zoom found on any consumer superzoom camera at 35x. Aperture-wise, it reaches from f/2.7-5.8 from wide to telephoto extremes. Given the extreme focal length of this camera, there's no surprise it needs a decent image stabiliser to keep up with the camera shake caused by the magnification and its weight (all up with battery and card, it's around 601g).
The hotshoe is sneakily concealed by a removable flap just over the electronic viewfinder, which is actually a clever feature if you don't use an external flash too often, or at all. The SX30 uses a Lithium-ion battery (different to the earlier SX20 camera which used AA batteries) and SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards that slot in at the bottom under a rather cheap-feeling flap.
|Canon PowerShot SX30 IS||Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100||Nikon Coolpix P100|
|14.1-megapixel CCD sensor||14.1-megapixel MOS sensor||10.3-megapixel CMOS sensor|
|2.7-inch, 230,000-dot articulating LCD||3-inch, 460,000-dot articulating LCD||3-inch, 460,000-dot fixed LCD|
|35x optical zoom, 24mm wide-angle||24x optical zoom, 25mm wide-angle||26x optical zoom, 26mm wide-angle|
|HD video (H.264, 720p, 30fps)||HD video (AVCHD, 1080i, 30fps)||HD video (MPEG-4, 1080p, 30fps)|
|Pop-up flash, hotshoe||Pop-up flash, hotshoe||Pop-up flash|
Canon rates the SX30 as able to take 370 shots on one battery charge.
Given the long lens, it's not surprising that photos from the SX30 aren't as exciting (or as clear) as we would have liked. At full 35x extension, images are soft and fuzzy. As good as the image stabiliser is, it can't really cope with such length without mounting the camera on a tripod.
A photo taken at the extreme wide end (top) and the telephoto end (bottom) of the SX30's lens. 100 per cent crop inset. (Credit: CBSi)
Images taken at more standard focal lengths will be adequate for most needs, like web display and small prints. With enough light, the SX30 produces decent images. Pixel peeping at 100 per cent magnification shows some over-processing even at lower ISO levels though. Noise as you hit ISO 400 and above is quite intrusive on images, particularly the low-light pictures shot at a reduced resolution. The SX30 can't shoot in RAW either, so this means you are stuck with its JPEG images.
An image taken using the low light setting. Click the picture above for the full resolution version. (Credit: CBSi)
The lens shows some chromatic aberrations and fringing which is to be expected, and there's a fair amount of distortion at the wide end. Colour rendition is fairly decent but edges towards over-saturation.
An example of fringing from the SX30. 100 per cent crop inset. (Credit: CBSi)
Video quality is decent, with good colour and sharpness providing you aren't zoomed in all the way. You can use the optical zoom while filming. The microphone does pick up wind noise, but the example test below is fairly extreme. In most situations, the SX30 copes reasonably well.
Exposure: 1/20, f/2.7, ISO 800
Exposure: 1/100, f/4.5, ISO 125
Exposure: 1/640, f/4, ISO 80
Exposure: 1/20, f/2.7, ISO 500
The SX30 offers the longest optical zoom to date at 35x, and is adequate enough for everyday photography. Tricky lighting and shooting at its full zoom extension is where the SX30 falls flat.