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Canon PowerShot SX40 HS review: Canon PowerShot SX40 HS

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MSRP: $429.00

The Good The Canon PowerShot SX40 HS has a flexible lens range, very good image stabilization, excellent photo quality for its class, and shooting modes for every kind of user.

The Bad The SX40 HS's shooting performance lags behind that of the competition and has a couple potentially irritating design points.

The Bottom Line If you're after a wide and long lens and excellent photo quality, the Canon PowerShot SX40 HS is a standout. In features, design, and performance, though, it's a bit lacking.

Visit for details.

7.5 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7
  • Image quality 8

Review Sections

Editors' note: Several of the design and features are identical between the Canon PowerShot SX40 HS and the

The Canon PowerShot SX40 HS is a nice improvement over its predecessor, the SX30 IS. Sure, they look the same, have the same ultrawide-angle 35x zoom lens, and, for the most part, have the same shooting modes. But a switch to a new sensor and new image processor seemed to have improved both photo quality and shooting performance, though its performance is still sucking wind a bit behind competing models from Nikon, Sony, and Panasonic.

For that matter, so is its feature set and its design, particularly if you want to take advantage of its electronic viewfinder and manual controls. On the other hand, it has some of the best JPEG photo quality you're going to find from a high-end megazoom.

Key specs Canon PowerShot SX40 HS
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 12 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch backside-illuminated CMOS
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 2.7-inch vari-angle LCD, 230K dots/None
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 35x, f2.7-5.8, 24-840mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/H.264 AAC (.MOV)
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, 370 shots (400, EVF only)
Battery charged in camera No; external charger supplied
Storage media SD/SDHC/SDXC, Eye-Fi SD/SDHC cards
Bundled software ZoomBrowser EX 6.8/PhotoStitch 3.1 (Windows); ImageBrowser 6.8/PhotoStitch 3.2 (Mac)

Overall, photo quality is excellent for this class of camera. Images do get softer and noisier above ISO 200--typical for point-and-shoots--but ISO 400 and 800 are still very usable. Like other "HS" models I've tested this year, the noise and noise reduction are well-balanced so you still get good color and detail up to ISO 800.

Colors desaturate some at ISO 1600 and 3200, subjects look very soft, and detail is greatly diminished. While you might not want to view them at larger sizes or heavily crop them, the high-ISO results should be satisfactory for the Web or prints at small sizes, though, again, colors will look a little off. Keep in mind, too, that if you're shooting indoors with lens extended, you'll need the higher ISOs to keep shutter speeds fast enough to prevent blur. Also, the auto white balance is warm indoors, which doesn't help color when combined with higher ISOs; use the presets or use the custom option when possible. Unfortunately, there is no option to shoot raw files with this camera so if you're a pixel peeper and not happy with Canon's JPEG processing, you're stuck.

Color accuracy is excellent, producing bright and vivid results. Exposure is generally very good, but highlights tend to blow out. Other manufacturers have been solving this to some degree with high-dynamic range modes that will take two or three shots at different exposures and overlay them for a more-balanced shot. Canon doesn't offer a mode like that and its i-Contrast feature is more for rescuing shadow detail than highlights. However, the SX40 does have exposure bracketing, though it shoots slowly, so your subjects need to be still.

Video quality is on par with a very good HD pocket video camera: good enough for Web use and nondiscriminating TV viewing. The full HD video records at 24fps, and though panning the camera will create judder and there is visible trailing on moving subjects, the video is watchable. Those things are typical of the video from most compact cameras, too. You can drop the resolution to 1,280x720 at 30fps, but the judder actually seems to get worse. The low-light video is predictably grainy, but it's at least as good as this camera's high ISO photo performance. The zoom lens does work while recording; it moves very slowly, though, likely to prevent the movement from being picked up by the stereo mics on front. It can only really be heard in very quiet scenes.

General shooting options Canon PowerShot SX40 HS
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200
White balance Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Flash, Custom
Recording modes Auto, Program, Shutter-speed priority, Aperture priority, Manual, Creative Filters, Sports, Scene, Movie, Custom 1 and 2
Focus modes Face AF, Center AF, User-selectable AF (FlexiZone), Macro, Normal, Infinity, Manual
Macro 0 inches to 1.6 feet (Wide)
Metering modes Evaluative, 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 (adjustment of contrast, sharpness, saturation, red, green, blue and skin tone are available)
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) 8 shots

While it doesn't have a lot of trick shooting modes like the Sony HX100V or the plentiful controls over photo quality that you'll find on the Panasonic FZ150, the SX40 HS has all of the important things for the category. You'll find full manual and semimanual shooting modes. 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. For those times when you want the camera to do the thinking there is a very reliable full-auto mode as well as stock scene modes like Portrait, Landscape, and Fireworks.

In addition to the company's standard creative-shooting options--Color Accent and Color Swap--it has other creative options: Toy Camera, Monochrome, Miniature Effect, Fish-eye Effect, a Super Vivid mode that intensifies colors, and a Poster Effect that posterizes photos. These modes aren't necessarily must-haves, but they can be fun to play with, if only to add some interest to what would be an otherwise boring shot. Plus, they're available when shooting movies, too.

Canon kept the shooting-mode dial uncluttered so you can quickly find the option you're after.

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