BUILD AND DESIGN
The Canon PowerShot SX40 is almost identical to Canon’s earlier SX30 on the outside. It is the same size and weight (21.2 oz.) and uses the same construction. It feels solid for an entry level camera although its polycarbonate body doesn’t match the machined feel of specialty cameras like the Lumix LX5 or the pro feel of more expensive DSLRs. However the polycarbonate body holds up to heavy use, as long as it is cared for.
The pop-up flash feels smooth to pop-up and firmly re-seats itself when you press it back down. The rear articulating LCD is also well constructed and doesn’t feel like it’ll snap off the way some cheaper cameras’ do. It comes in handy for shooting from awkward positions, like with the camera over your head for capturing outdoor scenes. I used it to get an overview of the Occupy Wall Street protest in this image:
The only obvious drawback to the design is the extension of the telephoto lens out from the body. That’s the downside of a 35x zoom. Even when it is fully pulled in the lens sticks out over 2.0-inches. While the extra inch compared to other cameras with less of a zoom may not seem like much, it means the camera is almost impossible to stick in a pocket – even a largish one.
Ergonomics and Controls
The controls are a nice mix of some common DSLR controls like the mode dial on the top of the camera and typical point and shoot controls like the 4-way rear rocker for common settings. The menu system is nearly identical to other cameras in the Canon PowerShot line, mostly point-and-shoots. One place where Canon picked the point-and-shoot version is the zoom control. It is the common lever on top of the camera near the shutter button. That may be bothersome for anyone used to a DSLR with a zoom ring on the lens.
Other than the choice of zoom controls the SX40 handles almost identically to an entry level DSLR with a telephoto zoom attached.
For users of the SX30 the controls are essentially identical. If you put tape over the camera model number it would be hard to tell the difference between the two cameras. This consistency certainly makes it easy for those who are currently Canon customers to upgrade without too much of a learning curve. Like the SX30 the SX40 offers a dedicated video recording button – a must for convenient video capture – and a “zoom out” button so you can find your subject when using the lens zoomed to the telephoto end where it can be hard to orient your field of view.
The SX40 does not come with a real printed manual. There is a quick start guide in English and Spanish but it is a shame that a $400 camera with a 220-page manual requires you to browse it on your computer or print it yourself. It is conveniently available online if you’re traveling and forget your CD.
Menus and Modes
The SX40 offers a wide variety of shooting modes, very similar to previous versions and to most mid-level Canon point and shoot cameras. The most important are directly on the mode dial on top of the camera:
- Auto: The “Smart Auto” mode is a little like having a full-time photo assistant. As you move the camera around in this mode, it continuously chooses which it thinks is the best scene mode, showing you the icon on the display. In addition it also highlights the focus areas it is using. Shooting is simply a matter of choosing your zoom level and pressing the shutter button.
- Program AE [P]: If the SX40 needs a little help with the scene, P mode gives you the ability to make a few tweaks without losing the camera’s automatic functionality. You can adjust exposure compensation (brightness), switch the flash on or off, tweak the white balance, ISO, color and tone.
- Time (Shutter) Priority [Tv]: In Tv mode you choose the desired shutter speed (from 15 seconds to 1/3200s) and let the camera determine the appropriate aperture (f-Stop). This is often important for sports or other action photography where you need to freeze the action. You can also achieve that goal by using the dedicated Sports mode.
- Aperture Priority [Av]: Av mode is the inverse of Tv. You set the aperture (from as wide as f/2.7 to f/8.0) and the camera determines the shutter speed. This is ideal for controlling the depth of field (determined by your aperture, focal length, and subject distance) and allowing the camera to choose the appropriate shutter speed.
- Manual Mode [M]: In manual mode you can set both the aperture and shutter speed yourself.
- Sports Mode: Sports is a mode dedicated to capturing action, so the camera will use a sufficient ISO and wide-open aperture to obtain a high shutter speed.
- Movie Mode: For maximum control over how movies are recorded, setting the camera to the Movie mode allows you to tweak the format used and also choose from a wide variety of scenes and effects.
- Creative Filters: If you prefer to add effects to your images while they are being taken, instead of after the fact on the computer, the SX40 allows you to choose from a variety of real-time filters, including Super Vivid, Poster Effect, Fish-Eye, Miniature Effect, Toy Camera, as well as some color filters.
- Custom 1 [C1] & Custom 2 [C2]: The SX40 can save the current settings in one of two user “presets” which can be recalled at any time by using the C1 and C2 positions on the mode dial.
- Scene Mode [SCN]: Scene mode allows the user to pick from a wide variety of scenic specific presets depending on the subject. Scene modes include: portrait, landscape, nightscapes, low light, beach, foliage, snow, and fireworks.
The camera has plenty of other features, many of which, like face detection and switchable aspect ratios, have become expected for mid-range cameras. Some, like digital zoom, are of questionable value on an ultrazoom since it is hard to imagine getting much of a quality image from a 35:1 zoom which is then further scaled up digitally — I turned it off right away.
The rear LCD is a well designed articulated 230,000 dot 2.7-inch display with adjustable brightness. It is easy to flip it around and use it as a more traditional rear camera LCD, or swing it out so it can be viewed at a different angle, or replace it against the camera to avoid scratches when not in use.
Pressing the Display button or replacing the CD next to the camera will automatically switch the display to the electronic viewfinder, which mirrors the information from the LCD, including the shooting data and menus. The electronic viewfinder (EVF) is quite impressive. I found it informative and responsive. It can also be set to magnify the focus area when using manual focus, which helps with the common problem of EVF cameras that it is hard to tell whether the subject is in focus.
The SX40 also offers a Zoom Framing Assist feature for help when quickly zooming in causes you to lose your subject. You can hit the Frame Assist button to temporarily zoom out and locate your subject and then zoom back in with it in the frame. It’s slow though, so don’t expect to use it on any fast action. Annoyingly, even though the camera help system calls this “Frame Assist” there is no such term in the manual where it is called (Zoom Framing Assist). Consistency of terminology would make it much easier to get help in the manual for features like this one which don’t explain themselves.