Camera users must have realistic expectations, but the SX280 HS is competitive speed-wise with any camera in its class. When camera R&D folks design a camera with a long zoom some operational speed must be sacrificed (particularly at telephoto settings) because a longer lens will obviously move and focus more slowly than a shorter lens. I’ve reviewed “travel super-zooms” from Nikon, Panasonic, and Canon and all of them share similar faults–slow maximum apertures, very complex zoom formulas (which reduce contrast), noticeable barrel distortion (straight lines bow out from the center) at the wide-angle end of the zoom, and fuzzy/soft images and Pincushion distortion (straight lines bow in from the edges) at the telephoto end of the zoom range. The SX280 HS is guilty on all counts, too.
While its competitors continue to increase resolutions (some newer P&S digicams feature resolutions in the 20 megapixel range) on their new travel super-zooms, Canon has opted to go with a relatively modest 12 Megapixel maximum resolution for the DIGIC 6 driven SX280 HS in an effort to better control noise.
The SX280 HS features the same TTL Contrast Detection AF system that graced its predecessor. In all Auto exposure modes, the camera analyzes the scene in front of the lens and then calculates camera to subject distance to determine which AF point is closest to the primary subject (closest subject priority) and then locks focus on that AF point. Face detection is linked to the camera’s exposure and WB systems allowing the SX280 HS to automatically find, lock focus, and then optimize exposure for images with up to 12 faces. Switch to one of the manual modes and you’ll find that users only have the center focus option and there is no way to move the AFP (auto focus point) around in the frame–so if your subject is off center you’ll be obliged to lock focus in the center of the frame and then recompose your shot.
The SX280 HS’s multi-mode pop-up flash provides an acceptable selection of artificial lighting options, including auto, flash on (fill flash), flash off, Red-Eye, and Slow Sync. According to Canon, the maximum flash range is just over 10 feet.
The Canon PowerShot SX280 HS supports SD, SDHC, and SDXC memory media, but there is no RAW format option available–only JPEG format images can be recorded.
The SX280 HS draws its juice from an NB-6L rechargeable Canon lithium-ion battery. Canon claims a fully charged NB-6L is good for 210 exposures and based on my experiences with the camera–that number seems fairly accurate.
When the SX280 HS is powered up, the zoom telescopes from the camera body and when the camera is powered down, the lens retracts back into the camera body and a built in iris-style lens cover closes to protect the front element. Zooming is smooth, fairly quick, and relatively quiet – especially for such a long lens. The SX280 HS’s long focal length range makes Canon’s newest Powershot an almost ideal choice for an incredibly broad variety of photographic applications, but its strongest appeal may be to weight and space conscious travelers.
Images show visible corner softness and barrel distortion (straight lines bow out from the center of the frame) at the wide-angle end of the zoom range is noticeably above average. Pincushion distortion (straight lines bow in toward the center of the frame) is also above average at the telephoto end of the zoom. Chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is above average, but well managed. Images shot at longer telephoto settings grow consistently softer as the lens is zoomed further out. Images shot at full telephoto will usually be acceptable for 4×6 prints or for posting on-line, but I’m guessing that it is going to be difficult to capture an image at the telephoto end of this zoom that would make a good 9×13 enlargement.
The SX280 HS’s optical image stabilization system reduces involuntary camera shake by quickly and precisely shifting a lens element in the zoom to compensate for movement. Typically, IS systems allow users to shoot at shutter speeds up to three EV slower than would have been possible without Image stabilization. Keeping a lens with a focal length range from ultra-wide angle to super-telephoto steady (without a tripod) poses some daunting challenges. Canon has equipped the SX280 HS with what they claim is the most advanced and effective optical Image Stabilization system ever used in a Point and Shoot camera (it assesses camera shake about 8,000 times per second) providing up to 4.5 EV of exposure compensation. Canon’s proprietary intelligent IS technology assesses the scene in front of the camera and automatically selects the most appropriate image stabilization setting from among seven IS options.
The SX280 HS’s 1920x1080p @ 30fps HD movie mode produces properly exposed and fluid videos clips with accurate (although slightly over saturated) colors. The SX280 HS also captures video at 1280x720p, 640 x 480 and 320 x 240 at 30 fps. Video capability is especially impressive since you can use the 20X zoom while recording. I recorded several video clips at our local extreme park and didn’t notice any motor noise while zooming. However, the extreme park is a noisy place so your experience may vary. Canon recommends a class 6 (or higher) memory card for the best quality video capture. The video clip, which accompanies this review, was shot in the early afternoon on a very bright day.
After shooting with two Canon point and shoot digital cameras (SX280 HS and the S110), I realized that Canon seems to have made some subtle changes on the color interpolation front. Canon’s default color interpolation has created the signature look that Canon P&S cameras are famous for–reds were always a bit bolder than those seen with the naked eye, blues were a bit brighter than they are in real life, and greens/yellows were a bit more vibrant than they are in reality. After using the SX280 HS and S110 for a few days I noticed the colors seemed slightly less saturated (intense) and contrast was a bit harder than before. After some critical viewing of images shot with the SX280 HS and the S110 (and comparing similar images shot with earlier Canon P&S digicams) I realized that the new default color was strongly reminiscent of classic 35mm Kodachrome slides from the fifties and sixties, although with noticeably less contrast. Maybe not a major refinement, but a welcome one. Over the past decade, only Sony’s point and shoot digital cameras have boosted more color saturation than Canon’s models. Images generated by the SX280 HS are consistently a bit soft (like most other Canon models)–especially at the long end of the zoom. Overall, image quality is a tiny bit below average, but for 3×5 or 4×6 prints and (most) enlargements up to 8×10 the SX280 HS will do just fine.