Canon Powershot SX170 IS Review: Performance

October 15, 2013 by Howard Creech Reads (96,115)
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

The SX170 IS doesn’t seem awfully fast when compared to its upscale sibling, but numbers don’t always tell the whole story. Start up time of the Canon PowerShot SX170 is about the same as most cameras in its price range and the tiny speed difference between it and the SX280 HS is unlikely to be noticed in real world shooting scenarios. From off to first image capture is about 2.5 seconds and in the final analysis I don’t believe the SX170 IS’s target audience is going to notice that their sub $200 digicam is a tiny bit slower than its $300.00 plus big brother. I used the SX170 IS to freeze a BMX biker in mid air (see sample photos) and that’s fast enough for just about anything this digicam’s target audience is likely to tackle.

Shooting Performance
The SX170 IS comes in on the high side of average when compared to its competition in terms of timing, except for its slightly slower than average AF acquisition times. When you design a camera with a 16X zoom some operational speed must be sacrificed (particularly at longer focal length settings) because a very long lens will obviously move and focus more slowly than a shorter lens. The SX170 IS is easily quick enough to function nicely as a general- purpose digicam and dependably fast enough to capture the decisive moment–in all but the most extreme shooting situations. Shot-to-shot times are between 2 and 3 seconds.

The SX170 IS provides users with an acceptable selection of white balance options, including Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, and custom (manual). The SX170 IS’s Auto WB system does a remarkably good job across the board. I suspect most users will enable Auto WB full time.
The SX170 IS provides a reasonable range of sensitivity options, including Auto and user-set options for ISO 100 to ISO1600. ISO 100 images show bright colors, slightly flat native contrast, and very low noise levels. ISO 200 images also look very good, but with a tiny bit less snap. At the ISO 400 setting noise levels are noticeably higher and there’s a perceptible loss of minor detail. Higher sensitivity settings show flat colors, reduced contrast, lots of image noise, and fuzzy details.

The SX170 IS is powered by a proprietary Canon Lithium-Ion NB-6LH rechargeable battery. Canon says the SX170 IS (with a freshly charged battery) is good for approximately 300 exposures (420 exposures in eco mode), which is about average power duration for cameras in this class. I rarely track numbers – since I do a lot of shoot, review, delete, and re-shoot, but that number seems fairly accurate based on my experiences with the camera. I used the camera heavily for just over a week and charged the battery twice. The included charger needs about two hours to fully charge the battery.

The SX170 IS’s multi-mode pop-up flash provides an acceptable selection of artificial lighting options, including Auto, Flash On, Flash Off, Slow Sync, and Red-eye reduction plus menu options including flash exposure compensation @ +/- 2EV in 1/3 EV increments. According to Canon, the maximum flash range is a bit more than 18 feet, which seems fairly optimistic given the small size of the flash. Based on my very limited flash use, the flash recycle time is between 3 and 4 seconds.

The Canon PowerShot SX170 IS supports SD, SDHC, and the SDXC format memory media, but provides no internal memory.


Lens Performance
When the SX170 IS is powered up – the lens automatically extends from the camera body and when the camera is powered down, the zoom retracts into the camera body and a built in iris-style lens cover closes to protect the front element. The SX170 IS’s f/3.5-f5.9/5.0mm-80.0mm (28mm – 448 mm equivalent) zoom makes this digicam ideal for a broad variety of photographic applications–including shooting group pictures in tight indoor venues, capturing expansive landscapes, snapping travel pictures in exotic locales, nailing not too distant wildlife, shooting youth sports, and capturing great macro shots of bugs and flowers.  

The SX170 IS’s zoom is impressively compact and it doesn’t appear to be flimsy, but it is (unavoidably) an extremely complex lens and as complexity increases optical faults are magnified exponentially. Corners are noticeably soft at the wide angle end of the zoom, but they are appreciably sharper at the telephoto end of the zoom range. The SX170 ISs f3.5 maximum aperture (at the wide end of the zoom) is about a half a stop slower than the f2.8 maximum apertures of many similar P&S digital cameras, a stop and a half slower than the f2.0 maximum apertures of many upscale P&S cameras, and two and a half stops slower than the f1.8/f1.4 maximum apertures of many top tier P&S digital cameras – but it is fast enough for almost anything this camera’s target audience is likely to shoot outdoors. Zoom operation is fast, smooth, and fairly quiet, but this lens exhibits noticeable barrel distortion (straight lines bow out from the center) at the wide-angle end of the zoom and visible pincushion distortion (straight lines bow in toward the center of the frame) at the telephoto end of the zoom range. Chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is present, especially in high contrast color transition areas, but it is managed nicely.  

The SX170 IS features a TTL Contrast Detection 1 point (fixed to center) autofocus system providing Continuous AF, Servo AF/AE, Face AF, and Tracking AF. AF is consistently quick and dependably accurate.

The SX170 IS’s optical image stabilization system reduces blur by quickly and precisely shifting a lens element in the zoom to compensate for involuntary camera movement. Typically, IS systems allow users to shoot at shutter speeds up to three EV (exposure values) slower than would have been possible without Image stabilization. Keeping a lens with a focal length range from ultra-wide to super-telephoto steady (without a tripod) poses some impressive challenges.

Canon has equipped the SX170 IS with an optical Image Stabilization system that provides up to 3.5 EV of IS compensation. The SX170 IS utilizes Canon’s Intelligent IS technology which detects camera movement and automatically applies the most appropriate image stabilization settings from seven possible options.

Video Quality
The SX170 IS’s 1280x720p @ 30fps HD movie mode may seem outdated to some potential purchasers, but since most video clips captured by amateur shooters are going to end up on Facebook or Youtube (sites that feature VGA resolution) they are going to look just as good as the 1080p clips from more expensive P&S digital cameras. The sample video clip that accompanies this review was shot on a hot and sunny autumn day. The clip is sharply focused, properly exposed, movement is fluid (smooth, not jerky), and the colors are vibrant.

Image Quality
Colors (Canon default color interpolation) are bright and hue accurate, but visibly over-saturated. Reds are warmer than they are in real life, blues are a bit too bright, and greens/yellows are more vibrant than those seen by the naked eye. Most casual shooters won’t consider these minor color intensity variations as faults. Although there is a slight tendency toward overexposure – in outdoor light the SX170 IS produces reliably well-exposed, sharply focused, and almost noise-free images. Indoors the SX170 IS’s performance surprised me. As long as you stay at the wide angle end of the zoom, indoor pictures were better than expected. Images are reliably sharp. Check out the sample pictures, but in bright outdoor lighting highlight detail was occasionally blown-out. Overall, the SX170 IS’s image quality is on the high side of average.

Sample Images

Print Friendly, PDF & Email



All content posted on TechnologyGuide is granted to TechnologyGuide with electronic publishing rights in perpetuity, as all content posted on this site becomes a part of the community.