Canon Powershot SX170 IS Review

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Editor's Rating

Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

    • Image/Video Quality
    • 9
    • Features
    • 8
    • Design / Ease of Use
    • 8
    • Performance
    • 8
    • Expandability
    • 7
    • Total Score:
    • 8.00
    • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10


  • Pros

    • Inexpensive
    • 16X zoom
    • Excellent image quality for this class of cameras
  • Cons

    • Older technology

Quick Take

When comparing similarly priced cameras, the SX170 IS comes out on top. Those looking to spend under $200 on a camera will be impressed.

Travel-zooms look like compact P&S digital cameras, but they feature extra long zoom lenses (typically 10x to 25x) and manual exposure options that are not included on the little auto-exposure only cameras. The Powershot SX170 IS is Canon’s latest travel zoom, the little brother to the class champ Canon SX280 HS. At first glance the Canon Powershot SX170 IS looks like a new digicam, but under the hood is an incredible collection of older hardware. The SX170 IS is driven by the proven DIGIC4 processor (rather than the newer DIGIC5), captures images and HD video (at 720p rather than the newer 1080p) via its CCD (rather than the newer CMOS) sensor, features a simplified AF system, eschews the current standard Canon (460k) LCD for the coarser 230k LCD of earlier generations of Canon point and shoots, utilizes the same 16x zoom as its predecessor, and finally provides no GPS, no Wi-Fi, and no touchscreen controls. When compared to the SX280 HS the SX170 IS appears to come up a bit short.

So, why would anybody buy this old tech in a new package digicam? Most folks won’t be able to spot any genuine differences between the images generated by the two cameras and the SX170 IS can be bought for around $179.00 while the SX280 HS is selling for around $329.00. Most people who buy P&S digital cameras are casual photographers and they rarely (if ever) need the newest digicam features. One of the SX170 IS’s strongest selling points (aside from its bargain price) is that it can capture beautiful still images and HD video clips with very little effort on the part of the shooter while allowing neophyte shooters to stretch their wings as they learn and simultaneously offering sufficient creative flexibility to appeal to more adventurous photographers.

Build and Design
The SX170 IS replaces the SX160 IS which was very popular unit with casual shooters and generalist photographers thanks to its relatively compact body and wide-angle to long telephoto zoom. The primary differences between the SX160 IS and the SX170 IS appear to be in battery department–the SX160 IS utilized AA cells and the SX170 IS draws its juice from a much smaller and significantly lighter Canon NB-6LH Lithium-ion battery. The change from AA batteries to Li-ion power resulted in a noticeably smaller profile for the SX170 IS, a deeper handgrip, and significantly less weight–8.8 oz. versus 10.3 oz.

The Canon Powershot SX170 IS is a fairly typical looking compact P&S digicam.  If you want to make a style statement the SX170 IS is available in black, white, and red versions, but it is still a bit too bulky to be really pocketable.  The Canon SX170 IS features a polycarbonate body shell over a metal alloy frame, which is a substantially cheaper way to construct cameras than the metal-alloy shell over metal alloy frame method used in most of Canon’s upscale P&S digital cameras. Fit and finish are first rate and the SX170 IS’s construction seems tough and durable enough for just about anything the target audience is likely to try. The SX170 IS’s weather/moisture and dust seals appear to be more than adequate for anything short of extended use in extreme environments. 

Ergonomics and Controls
The SX170 IS’s control layout will be familiar to anyone who has ever used a Canon P&S digicam.  All controls are logically placed and easily accessed – for right-handed shooters. In fact, after using the almost button free Canon ELPH 510 the SX170 IS seems to be awash in button, knobs, and switches.  Shooters who like traditional control arrays and hate touchscreens are going to love this camera. The SX170 IS’s compass switch (4-way control pad) provides direct access to the flash settings, ISO/Sensitivity settings, self-timer, and macro mode/focus options. Canon’s nifty “func” button offers direct access to WB, color options, metering options, image size, and movie mode resolution settings. The rotary jog dial that surrounds the compass switch can be used to quickly sort/compare saved images in review mode or to rapidly navigate the menu in all shooting modes. Point and shoot digital cameras often hide one of the most important controls for cameras of this type–the exposure compensation button – deep in the menu, but that’s not the case for the SX170 IS. The exposure compensation function has its own dedicated button making it easy for shooters to incrementally lighten or darken images to adjust for ambient light problems. However, the camera remembers your exposure compensation settings after the camera is turned off. 

The SX170 IS also provides a “one-touch” video capture button. Simply frame your subject and push the red button. When you wish stop recording, just push the red button once again. Video capture begins an instant after you push the video start/stop button and ends an instant after you push it again. So users won’t have to deal with any significant lag when creating video clips. After the minimalist control array of the ELPH 510 the SX170 IS’s control array seems a little busy, but it isn’t counter-intuitive and most users will have no difficulty using the camera’s controls. Like essentially all point and shoot digital cameras the SX170 IS will perform impressively in auto (point and shoot) mode, but this camera was designed to be used by photo enthusiasts, too. So there are lots of creative options and an impressive level of individual input into the image making process.

Menus and Modes  
The SX170 IS features the basic two-tab version of Canon’s classic digicam menu system. The SX170 IS’s menu system, like all Canon P&S digicam menus, is logical and easy to navigate.

The SX170 IS provides a comprehensive selection of shooting modes including:
Easy Auto: Just point and shoot – no user input.
Auto (Smart Auto): Automatic scene recognition mode that instantly compares what’s in front of the lens with an on-board image database and then matches that information with the subjects distance from the camera, white balance, contrast, dynamic range, lighting and color (just before the image is recorded) to determine the best scene mode for that specific shooting situation.  No user input except for flash on/off.
Program: Auto exposure with limited user input (sensitivity, white balance, exposure compensation, etc.). 
Live: Live view mode.
Aperture priority: Users select the aperture and the camera selects an appropriate shutter speed. 
Shutter priority: Users select shutter speed and the camera selects an appropriate aperture. 
Manual: Users select all exposure parameters. 
Discreet:  Automatically turns off the flash and all sounds for discreet use.
Fish-Eye Effect:  Digitally creates a circular “Fish-Eye” look.
Scene: Portrait, Landscape, Kids & Pets, Low Light, Beach, Foliage, Snow, Fireworks; Creative Filters: Fish-eye Effect, Miniature Effect, Toy Camera Effect, Monochrome, Super Vivid, Poster Effect, Color Accent, and Color Swap.
Movie: The SX170 IS records HD video at a maximum resolution of 1280X720p @ 30 fps.

Like most currently available point and shoot digital cameras, the SX170 IS doesn’t provide an optical viewfinder which obliges shooters to utilize the LCD monitor for all framing/composition, captured image review, and menu navigation chores. Most casual shooters don’t use optical viewfinders anyway and in some shooting scenarios it is actually quicker and easier to watch the decisive moment come together on the LCD screen than it is through an optical (or electronic) viewfinder.
The SX170 IS features the same outdated 3.0 inch (230K) PureColor II LCD monitor that graced its predecessor. Nikon, Panasonic, Sony, and Pentax are now offering LCD viewfinders with double, triple, and even quadruple the resolution of the SX170 IS?s slightly grainy 230,000 pixel LCD monitor, but the cameras offering those higher resolution LCDs all cost more than the SX170 IS. The SX170 IS’s TFT LCD display is fairly bright, hue (color) accurate; relatively fluid, automatically boosts gain in dim/low light, and covers approximately 100% of the image frame. The SX170 IS’s LCD, like all LCD monitors, is subject to fading and glare/reflections in bright lighting.

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