Canon PowerShot SX60 HS review: Canon comes back strong with 65x zoom PowerShot SX60 HS
In September 2012, Canon launched the PowerShot SX50 HS , a bridge camera with a 50x, f3.4-6.5, 24-1,200mm zoom lens -- an unheard of zoom range at the time.
The following year, just about every camera maker released a model that matched or surpassed that range while also adding a number of features that eventually made the SX50 HS look behind the times because, well, it was.
Then in September 2014, Canon came racing back in with the 65x zoom PowerShot SX60 HS.
Selling for $550 in the US and £430 and AU$570 in the UK and Australia, respectively, the camera looks nearly identical to its predecessor, but up front you'll find an f3.4-6.5 21-1,365mm lens (35mm equivalent). Like the SX50's, the SX60's lens is impressive. But if you're looking for the zoom with longest focal length, it falls short because Canon went wider and longer with this model.
By comparison, Nikon's Coolpix P600 and the new P610 have a 60x zoom range with their f3.3-6.5, 24-1440mm lens (35mm equivalent). Those don't start as wide as the Canon, but the Nikon beats them at the telephoto end. Sony's Cyber-shot 63x zoom H400 gets you even closer with its 1,550mm telephoto.
The point to all of this is that you shouldn't shop by the magnification spec, but by the lens specifications. With that said, the SX60 HS's zoom range does deserve your attention, but so does the rest of the camera.
Features and design
The SX60 HS gets a 4-megapixel resolution bump to 16 megapixels, and its 1/2.3-inch backside-illuminated CMOS sensor is paired with a newer Digic 6 image processor for better low-light results and improved performance all around. Photos can be captured in JPEG, raw or JPEG plus raw (its 12-bit CR2 raw format is supported by Adobe Camera Raw 8.7).
Video capabilities have been beefed up. The camera can capture at up to 1080p at 60 frames per second and you can shoot in automatic or manually control exposure, and an optional external stereo mic jack has been added.
The vari-angle display is larger at 3 inches and has a high 922K-dot resolution. The electronic viewfinder has the same high resolution, too (but remains the same rather small size). On top of the viewfinder is a hot shoe that can be used with Canon EX-series Speedlites. Speaking of accessories, the front of the lens is threaded for 67mm filters and there's a jack for connecting a wired remote release (model RS-60E3).
At first glance, the design might look unchanged from the SX50, but a closer look reveals Canon moved things around and improving usability. For example, the SX60 HS has a discrete dial for changing shutter speed and aperture located just behind the shutter release, something the SX50 just didn't have. It's joined by a programmable shortcut button that's been relocated from the other side of the camera, making it much easier to quickly change something like the light metering or white-balance settings without looking at the controls.
On back you'll find separate buttons within reach of your thumb for focus area and exposure compensation, too, and flash mode, continuous shooting options, focus mode (macro, normal and manual) and display controls are on a directional pad. In the pad's center is the Function/Set button for fast access to other important settings, and Canon lets you pick what you want in that menu.
The Display button is what's used to move back and forth from the 3-inch rotating LCD to the small 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.
Your other option is to flip the LCD to face into its cavity, which automatically turns on the EVF; flipping out the screen to face you automatically switches on the LCD. Regardless, 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 and/or a proximity sensor that triggers the switch when you bring the EVF to your eye.
Rounding out the back panel controls are a one-touch movie record button, a menu button and Canon's Mobile Device Connect button, which lets you specify a smartphone or computer in advance that you'll connect to at the push of a button.
Press it and it turns on the camera's Wi-Fi, at which point you have to open your mobile device's wireless settings and select the camera. Opening the Camera Connect app (for iOS and Android devices) completes the process.
Along with sending photos and movies directly to mobile devices for viewing, editing, and uploading, you can use the Wi-Fi to sync your mobile's GPS to geotag your photos, which is nice because this camera does not have built-in GPS. You can also wirelessly send images directly to a photo printer or back them up to a PC on the same network that the camera is connected to.
Lastly, the app can be used as a remote viewfinder and shutter release. It doesn't give you much control -- just zoom, self-timer, shutter release, and flash (assuming you've popped it up) -- but it's nice to have for shooting wildlife and group portraits. It can't be used to start and stop video, however.
Canon includes NFC on the SX60 HS for use with supported Android devices, but it isn't used for much. If you haven't installed the Camera Connect app, you can tap your smartphone against the camera and it will launch the Google Play store so you can download it. After that, it's only used to launch the app. You'll still have to turn on the camera's Wi-Fi and connect your device to the camera by selecting it in your wireless settings.
Other cameras featuring NFC from Sony, Panasonic and Samsung will launch the app and handle the connection process, making shooting and sharing that much easier. They also use NFC to quickly send single photos to your phone with a simple tap between the camera and device.
As you might imagine, using Wi-Fi doesn't do great things for your battery life. For regular shooting, battery life is very good and on par with the competition. But using the Wi-Fi, shooting a lot of video or bursts of photos, cranking up the screen brightness and frequently zooming in and out will shorten it.
Heading to the lens barrel you'll find Canon's Zoom Framing Assist and Framing Assist Lock buttons. The former lets you pull back the lens to help you relocate a subject that may have traveled out of frame and then zooms back in when released. With the SX60 there are composition presets for whole body, upper body, or face, which triggers the camera to move the zoom automatically to keep the selected composition. As long as your subject isn't moving really fast or isn't too close to you, this actually works well.
The Framing Assist Lock button improves the performance of the optical image stabilization when trying to compose shots with the lens zoomed in. The camera's image stabilization overall is excellent, so it was hard for me to tell if it was working, which is a good thing regardless.
As for shooting options, there are a lot of them and I highly recommend downloading and reading through the camera manual. If you're buying this as a family camera, every type of user will be covered -- from those who just want to use the camera's reliable Smart Auto to those who want control over everything.
Canon promised faster autofocus speeds for the SX60 HS and while I didn't notice a big difference in performance it did feel faster at the telephoto end in bright lighting with high-contrast subjects. Like most cameras in the category, though, it can be slow with less lighting or low-contrast subjects. Again, that's common for these long-lens cameras and the Canon isn't nearly as frustrating as Nikon's P600 can be.
Shutter lag -- how long it takes from pressing the shutter release to capture without prefocusing -- is very good at 0.3 second in bright lighting and 0.5 in dimmer conditions. From shot to shot, you're waiting an average of 0.8 seconds in JPEG; raw capture averaged a reasonable 1.1 seconds.
Canon has improved the continuous shooting from the SX50, too. At full resolution it's capable of hitting 6.4 frames per second and without hitting a buffer limit, so it will just keeping shooting as long as you press the shutter release. This sets focus and exposure with the first shot, but that's common with these modes. There is also a continuous shooting setting with autofocus that is slower at about 3.4fps in my tests, which is pretty good and at least it's an option -- many cameras in this class don't even offer it.
Photo and video quality
Here's the disclaimer I use with just about every review of a bridge camera: If you're expecting dSLR photo quality because this camera looks like a dSLR, don't. In order to get a lens with this zoom range in a compact, lightweight body, camera makers need to use a small sensor that are a fraction of the size of an dSLR and even higher-end compacts. Will the photos from the SX60 HS look good at small sizes on screen or even larger prints? Absolutely. But you likely won't be impressed with what you see if you pixel peep or enlarge to get a better look at fine details of a bird you photographed from far, far away.
Below are 100 percent crops taken from the center of the scene above, throughout the camera's ISO sensitivity range.
Overall, considering the reach of this camera's lens, most will be pretty pleased with its results up to ISO 400 at larger sizes onscreen and in prints. Subjects do get softer and noisier at ISO 400 and more so at ISO 800, but are still usable at small sizes with minimal cropping or enlarging. Also, since Canon included raw image capture on this model, you can process the images yourself if you want and rescue some detail if you don't mind a little extra noise. Another bonus: there are one-third increments for ISO sensitivities, ISO 250, ISO 320, ISO 400, and so on, giving you a bit more control over things.
Colors desaturate some at ISO 1600 and 3200, subjects look very soft and detail is diminished. Basically, the SX60 HS is best-suited for outdoor use in full daylight, but if you plan to use this camera for shooting indoors or in low light, you'll want to be wary of using sensitivities above ISO 800.
Color accuracy is excellent, producing bright and vivid results, though, again, they desaturate at higher ISOs. Exposure is generally very good, but highlights tend to blow out. To help with that, Canon added a Dynamic Range Correction option that tones down highlights by about 200 or 400 percent. The penalty for using the feature is a slightly more limiting ISO range: ISO 200-1600 for 200 percent and ISO 400-1600 for 400 percent. But it works well and can definitely rescue some detail that would otherwise be blown out.
Video quality is generally very good, passable for use on a large HDTV, but best suited for small screen sizes and Web sharing. The 1080p video records at 30 or 60 frames per second, and though panning the camera will create judder and there is visible trailing on moving subjects, the video is watchable. 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 slowly, though, likely to prevent the movement from being picked up by the stereo mics on top and new motors do keep it quiet.
Thanks to a combination of improved design, large and useful features for snapshooters and advanced users, excellent photos and video for its class and -- of course -- its really wide and really long lens, the Canon PowerShot SX60 HS is one of the best bridge cameras you can buy at the moment.