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I only recieved this camera today, so this is my first thoughts review and not fully indepth . I shall add to it and amend it as time goes on. Not all functions of the camera will be discussed straight away, and some things Im not even sure what they do yet! Please bear this mind when rating and please keep checking back for updates as I get to know the camera better and discuss all its properties in more detail.
I am an avid photographer and have had my fair share of high end and prosumer DSLRS. I started with a Nikon D50, then progressed to a D200, top of the range D700 and then down to a D90.
Due to a house move and health issues, I had to sell all my DSLR equipment and found myself cameraless for the first time in many years. I started on the lookout for a compact but powerful camera that could provide me with the manual control and picture quality of a DSLR, but in a smaller package.
One reason I wanted to avoid a DSLR this time around was the inconvenice of carrying a bag of lenses around with me. Everytime I went out somewhere with my camera, I also had 5 or 6 lenses to cart around "just in case" that golden shot provided itself. I always knew if I didnt take my macro lens or my super telephoto, I'd miss a shot and regret not taking the lens. This meant I had a backpack full of lenses and it weighed well over 40KG. With the back problems I have, this is not good on a days hiking. This often meant I'd not take any camera at all, and miss any shot.
So my mind was made up,I wanted a small all in one camera. But then I had the dilema of the limited zoom range most compact and bridge cameras offer. Thankfully, with the aid of the internet, I soon discovered the so called "super zoom" cameras. These as thier name suggests have a massive zoom range, one that to acheive similar in a DSLR would require several thousand pounds worth of lenses.
As usual there is a myraid of choice when it comes to super zoom cameras. all the major manufactures have at least 1 model, and seem intent on releasing more and more in the race to have the biggest and best camera. Many people are suckered in to this race, when camera companys release the same camera but with a slightly higher megapixel count. In the real world, this means nothing, and can actualy decrease image quality rather than improve it. 6 MegaPixels is more than enough for anyone printing up to A3 size, with 10MP being a good comprimise.
***Why the Canon***
So after much research, I had come to the conclusion that the Canon Powershot SX1 IS would suit me well. The things that sold it for me, were the manual control, sensor type, the zoom range and the Full 1080p HD video. I watched and read many reviews and also studied many sample images and videos before making my choice and later on, I shall go into detail about these and just why I picked this camera.
This particular camera cost me £270 from Ebay. It is a refurbished unit direct from Canon UK. Brand new, this camera can cost up to £500 at some retailers, with £350-400 being the average price. The refurbished unit comes with 1 year full warranty, and I think a bit of bargain!.
*** What is it?***
The Canon Powershot SX1 IS has a 1/2.3" 10 megapixel CMOS sensor which is the same type of sensor usually seen in DSLR's albeit a much smaller version. Most compacts have the smaller and more noise prone CCD sensor. It uses Canon's well respected Digic 4 processor, also found in thier DSLR range. The camera has a 2.8" TFT screen that folds out and rotates. The screen can be reversed and folded back into the body for protection.
The lens is a Canon own brand with its Ultrasonic motor for whisper quiet zoom and Image Stabiltiy. The optical zoom range is quoted as 20X, which means in 35mm terms, the zoom is from 28mm at the wide end, to 560mm at the long end. This is a vast zoom. It also has extra reach using a digital zoom, but this decreases quality and is not reccomended unless absolutely necesary. The lens has a respectable maximum aperture of f/2.8 at the wide end up to f/5.7 at the long end. The camera has a number of auto and scene modes, plus the manual controls I mentioned earlier.
The camera sits nicely in the hand and at around 600g with batteries, is nice and light too. The camera has a very useful hotshoe on the top for an external flash. The camera takes 4 AA bateries. This is useful, as they are easily bought when out and about, but do not last as long as some other types of camera battery. The media is stored on SD or SDHC cards. Class 6 cards are recomended for HD video capture.
So, we know why I got it, and what it does, but how does it actually perform? Coming from a DSLR background, I expect instant start up, and instant shooting. Obviously this isnt a DSLR, and so wont perform as well as one, but I shall try to be honest about it.
First impressions out of the box are overal good. Its actually larger than I imagined, but still not oversized. It looks smart and well made. The body is made from plastic, which does feel a little scratchy to the touch, but again Im being picky.
The camera is turned on using a small push button on top of the camera. Once this is pressed, it takes around a second until the camera is ready to shoot providing you have removed the lens cap and have the screen out. Compared to a DSLR, this is long time, but in the real world it doesnt seem to bad. From start up to autofocus to shot, takes a little longer depending on the variables.
Auto focus is generally good, although it can struggle in low light or situations where there is little contrast. As mentioned, the lens has Canon's USM, which means the lens is very quiet when focussing.
To focus, push the shoot button down half way, the camera will beep meaning the shot is in focus. Press the button the rest of the way, and the picture is taken. At first, I struggled to get this right. My old Nikons used to have a very sensitive button, which need a light touch to focus. On this camera you have to push the button a considerable distance before it focus's. To many people this wont be an issue, and in time wont be to me, but it was something I definately noticed straight away.
The zoom is operated by a rocker button around the shoot button. Left is wide, right is long. Its easy to operate and with careful operation you can also make the zoom faster or slower. This is especially useful when shooting movies.
There are a large range of buttons on the camera. at first it can seem a bit daunting, but they are all labelled with blue and white pictures, denoting what actions they perform. I would definately suggest reading the manual to see what the pictures mean if you havent used a camera like this before. On top the large shooting mode wheel is easy to see and read, making changes to your camera's set up easy.
On the back a scroll wheel and a 4 way button and set/function button provide the means to make the most used changes. The scroll wheel I feel is a little bit of a let down. I would have liked it to have clicks, but instead it just spins, which can sometimes make choosing a menu item frustrating.
The rest of the buttons are ok, if not a little small and to far recessed in the body. People with larger hands may find pressing them difficult.
The camera does have a "traditional" viewfinder, although its electricly operated and in my brief look through it is quite frankly awful. It looks like you are looking through Terminator's computer eyes from the 1980's, and I can see no purpose to it whatsoever.
Being bred on DSLR's, I exclusively used the viewfinder, but with this camera, I can see I shall exclusively be using the LCD. It does display most of the useful information like what setttings are in use, but its not clear enough to see what you are shooting in detail and is too small to get a good overview of the scene. It doesnt cover 100% of the frame, so shooting this way may lead to things entering your pictures, you couldnt see through the viewfinder.
The LCD on the other hand is bright and clear. Its in 16.9 widescreen format, so when you are in standard format in the camera, some of the screen is black with the shooting information down the sides. Switch to 16.9 format and the whole screen is used with 100% coverage of the scene and the shooting info overlaid onto the scene.
The LCD seems bright and punchy. I havent had a chance to try it outside in sunlight, but inside it performs well, and can provide enough detail to focus accurately.
Entering the menu system is easy. Simply press the menu button on the back of the camera. This then shows you four tabs with numerous options to change in each one. Each tab relates to a certain set of changes. The first tab is camera settings like AF frame location, AF mode, flash settings and so on. The second tab relates to sytem settings such as screen brightness, powersaving and time modes. The further two relate to custom settings and themes/sounds for the cameras operation. Everything is laid out logicly, and items can be selected or deselcted using the scroll wheel and SET button. As mentioned, the scroll wheel can be fiddly to use.
Im manual mode, setting the shutter speed and aperture was simple, and pretty well thought out. You can see the image change as you change the settings, so you can see the image get darker as you raise the shutter speed, and the same when you raise the aperture. Pretty neat really. Certainly should help people previously scared of manual modes to experiment a bit more, as you can see the result of your changes as you make them.
To record video, you have several options, and a little bit confusing. You have a movie mode on the mode dial, but you also have a dedicated record button on thr back of the camera, which will record regardless of the mode you are in on the mode dial. Why they even have a movie mode, I dont know. Also, to shoot true HD video, you need to be in 16:9 widscreen mode, otherwise you will just be filming in standard VGA. So this is where the confusion kicks in.
If you are shooting images in standard format, you need to first change to widescreen using the dedicted button on the back of the camera, and then start recording. To then go back to stills in standard format, you need to press the button again. I can see a few cock ups happening here when quickly trying to capture video.
At this stage Im not entirely sure why there is widescreen and standard mode, but with more use of the camera and proper read of the PDF instructions, it shall become clearer.
From a very short HD video I made, the difference is obvious from standard video. Its so much clearer and brighter. I have only viewed it on the camera's screen, but cant wait to hook it up to my 46" HD TV. This is one of the reasons I bought this camera, and it looks like it hasnt disapointed.
***Enough with all that, what are the pictures like???***
Ok, Ok.. Well, in my limited use so far, they are pretty good. I have only used it inside in auto mode and full manual mode. Colours seem punchy and replicated well. Noise was kept to a minimum, despite a dark overcast day and no lights on inside. Up to ISO 200 is fine, ISO 400 is starting to look a little grainy and above that, I think is for emergencies only.
The camera has many image quality settings, so far I have only used superfine 10MP. This is the highest setting, so should produce the best results. I cant go into to much more detail until I get out an use the camera more in real world scenarios instead of inside the house.
The Image stabilisation seem to be working well. I was getting good hand held shots at shutter speeds well below (or above, depeding how you look at it) what I would have with my DSLR's.
Ok, so thats my first impressions. There is so much more to go into, and a lot of gaps to fill, but I need some time to get to know the camera, and how it functions. Still, in the few hours I have owned it, I have made these conclusions.
A compact and lightweight super zoom, more than capable for most people.
Well constructed and thought out layout, with easy access to main buttons for image set up
Slightly confusing video modes, although HD video looks stunning.
Picture quality very good with good noise control and little purple fringing.
Good bright, quality screen that is highly manourverable.
Shockingly bad viewfinder. Not even sure why they bothered with it.
Possibly replaced now by newer models this really will make a superb second hand bargain if picked up for the right price.
Canon are a camera company and the optics on this prosumer / bridge camera reflect that.
It will never deliver the sheer quality of a dedicated DSLR with a bag full of lenses. It will never be as handy to carry around as a lot of the smaller cameras now available. What it does give you, in one neat package is the ability to produce superb pictures under most conditions, either fully automatically, or by using the wealth of controls available to exercise your own photographic skills.
It's best in daylight and has a large optical zoom range making it capable of delivering landscapes, portraits and ultra, ultra close ups. Its worst at night or in dark interiors, and like most digitals with a brief but annoying hesitation between pressing the button and taking the picture it can struggle with action shots (But for this there is a very handy 'single-button' video mode)
Using 4 x AA batteries is a boon. I run it from Aldi's £1.99 rechargeables which seem to last in excess of 200 shots (I have never actually exhauseted them in a single day. But if I had I can pick up a set of disposables in almost any shop.
And you'll love the large, flexible LCD screen which can be twisted around through almost any angle, enabling accurate self portraits and superb low-angle shots without scrabbling around on the ground.
Niggles? The door to the battery/SD Card compartment is fiddly and appeared when I bought it to be flimsy. However two years fairly intensive use sees it still hanging in there with no sign of giving up.