Canon PowerShot SX20 IS Review

by Reads (58,291)
Editor's Rating

Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

    • Image/Video Quality
    • 8
    • Features
    • 6
    • Design / Ease of Use
    • 7
    • Performance
    • 6
    • Total Score:
    • 6.75
    • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10


  • Pros

    • Good image quality
    • Low shutter lag; fast AF
    • Manual shooting controls
  • Cons

    • Slow lens at telephoto
    • Smaller LCD
    • Less zoom than others

Not quite a year after announcing the Powershot SX10 IS ultrazoom, Canon is back with a successor, the PowerShot SX20 IS. The new camera gets a higher 12.1 megapixel resolution on the same physical-sized sensor, a 720p HD video capability and an HDMI connection to facilitate playback of images on an HDTV.

Canon PowerShot SX20 IS

Folks familiar with the SX10 IS will note the new camera appears to be virtually identical to the old (the main external difference seems to be the enlargement of the digital cover on the camera’s right side to include the HDMI port), and the similarity is more than skin deep. The 20x zoom lens ranging from 28 to 560mm (35mm equivalent) has been retained, along with the 2.5 inch articulating monitor and full auto and manual shooting modes. Here’s a look at that lens range:

Canon PowerShot SX20 IS
Wide Angle

Canon PowerShot SX20 IS

The SX20 carries a Digic IV processor (as does the SX10), but the mention of “improved smart auto” in Canon’s ad copy suggests the later model processor may give the camera some additional capability. While the SX20 IS has been described by Canon as the successor to the SX10 IS, that camera remains on the Canon website at present.

Canon PowerShot SX20 IS

The SX20 IS accepts SD/SDHC, MultiMediaCards, MMC plus and HC MMC plus memory media. Canon includes 4 AA alkaline batteries, a neck strap, lens hood, lens cap, USB and AV cables and CD-ROM software with each camera.
What they don’t include is the comprehensive user’s manual – you get the basic “getting started” portion of the full manual (the first 40 pages out of 180), but you’ll have to download and print the complete guide on your own.

Those missing pages cover everything from a detailed explanation of camera controls and settings to manual shooting modes to the playback/retouch menus to… well, to basically all the stuff that anyone who plans on moving the mode dial (page 42 of the full manual) off of “auto” may want to know at one time or another.

OK, Canon’s gotten off on the wrong foot by going the easy route (for them) on the in-box user’s manual – let’s see if SX20 IS performance can save the day.

Following the typical formula for the class, the SX20 IS looks and feels like a downsized DSLR, measuring out at 4.88×3.48×3.42 inches and weighing about 24 ounces in shooting configuration (batteries, memory card and lens hood installed). If these numbers look familiar, they happen to be the exact dimensions and weight of the SX10 IS.

Canon PowerShot SX20 IS

The body is composite and the materials and overall build quality appear to be on a par with the class competition. A bit of play in the lens (both wide angle and zoomed out to telephoto) that appeared in some competitors (but without degrading image quality) is missing from the SX20 IS – the camera has a solid feel.

Ergonomics and Controls
With identical dimensions, weight and control layout, you might suspect the SX20 IS handles much like the SX10 IS in this arena, and you’d be right. What I wrote about the SX10 is equally applicable to the SX20:

The SX20 IS features a deeply sculptured handgrip style body and contoured back that is small enough so the little finger of my right hand has no place to go but curl under the body, resulting in a firm and solid one-handed grip. The index finger falls quite naturally to the shutter button in both one and two handed shooting. There is rubberized material at the front of the handgrip portion of the body, but it’s as smooth as the plastics that make up the rest of camera exterior and really contributes little to improving the grip. The same holds true for a patch of nubs molded in the plastic on the camera back in the thumb rest area – I’d prefer a really tacky material in these two locations, but the camera has an overall good feel in the hand(s).

External buttons and controls allow access to most shooting modes as well as many other settings that the user might want to change on the run, such as white balance, ISO sensitivity, exposure compensation and continuous shooting modes. The portion of the camera back not taken up by the monitor is awash with buttons, but Canon has laid them out so as to minimize conflict with the thumb when shooting.

Menus and Modes
If you’ve been around Canon compacts before then the menu layout will be an old friend – and if you’re new to Canon you’ll find the menus are largely intuitive. The camera can display a brief explanation of menu items as you select them if the “hints & tips” feature is enabled in the setup menu. Once you have images captured and are in playback mode, playback and print menus allow for a good range of in-camera image modifications and printing images directly from the camera via a PictBridge compliant printer.

In the past Canon has divided shooting modes into “image zone” and “creative zone” categories, but those terms have been dropped from the SX20 IS vocabulary. Now the only mention is of “shooting modes,” a welcome simplification.

Canon PowerShot SX20 IS

There are 13 primary shooting modes in the SX20 IS, exactly the same as the SX10 IS with the exception of the 720p HD video option of the newer camera:

  • Auto
  • Portrait
  • Landscape
  • Night snapshot
  • Sports
  • Special Scene: with a sub-menu including night scene, sunset, snow, fireworks, ISO 3200, color swap, indoor, foliage, beach, aquarium and color accent options
  • Stitch Assist
  • Movie: can capture video at 1280 x 720, 640 x 480 or 320 x 240 resolutions, all at 30 fps. Maximum recording times are 29 minutes, 59 seconds for HD, 1 hour for 640 or 320 or 4GB for any recording, whichever comes first.

The above modes are largely automatic and user inputs are typically limited to image size and quality settings, and single versus continuous shooting modes for still images.

  • Program AE (P): camera sets aperture and shutter speed, user can select settings such as ISO sensitivity, exposure compensation and white balance
  • Shutter Priority (Tv): user sets shutter speed, camera sets aperture and user can select from range of other settings
  • Aperture Priority (Av): user sets aperture, camera sets shutter speed and user can select from range of other settings
  • Manual (M): user sets aperture and shutter speeds, and can select from range of other settings
  • Custom (C): can be used to save frequently used shooting modes (P, Av, Tv and M only) and various shooting settings, such as zoom or manual focus locations, menu settings, etc.

The 2.5 inch LCD monitor is of 230,000 dot composition, adjustable for 5 levels of brightness and can swing through 180 degrees of motion from the camera back while rotating through 270 degrees along its long axis. With many competitors going to 2.7 inch and larger monitors Canon is probably going to have to play catch-up before too much longer, but I found this monitor to be a bit more usable than most smaller monitors in bright outdoor light. Monitor coverage is 100%.

Canon PowerShot SX20 IS

The 0.44 inch electronic viewfinder has 235,000 dot composition, and is also adjustable for five levels of brightness. The viewfinder is equipped with a diopter to compensate for eyesight acuity, and coverage is 100%.

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