Thumb back through this year's PMA announcements and it's not hard to pick out a trend around cameras like the Canon PowerShot SX200 IS: every manufacturer is looking for ways to get on board with a compact ultrazoom. Pretty impressive growth for a class of cameras that, for all intents and purposes, didn't even exist a few years ago.
Canon's latest entry in this field, the PowerShot SX200 IS, sports 12 megapixels, a 12x zoom, a huge screen, and a slimmer form factor than ever for an ultrazoom PowerShot – representing a marked change from Canon's previous uninspiring but functional compact SX models. And when our review unit of this recent release rolled in this afternoon, I dropped everything and headed outside for some initial shooting with this long-zoom wonder.
Redefining the SX line
Physically, the SX200 joins the PowerShot line as Canon's smallest and thinnest ultrazoom model. It's overall size may still be more compact than ultracompact, but compared to the step-down (and AA-powered) SX110 IS, the SX200 makes some appreciable reductions.
Just the same, it's not exactly a camera that you'll want to haul around in a pocket on a regular basis. And even with its lithium-ion power source, the SX200 weighs in slightly heavier than the SX110 – no doubt a function of the SX200's extensive use of alloy materials.
The SX200 is also the first new PowerShot we've actually had in the office sporting Canon's recently revamped consumer-cam interface.
The quick-access "FUNC" button menu remains on the left-hand sidebar, but has been visually updated. Helpful guides provide single-sentence explanations for each menu option and setting, offering clear, succinct explanations for advanced controls like metering and sensitivity. All of this friendly advice may quickly wear on advanced users, but it's also easy to disable the "Hints & Tips" function in the camera's setup menu.
Stylistically, the SX200 represents the new direction of Canon's PowerShot models, with cleaner lines, more high-end materials (brushed metal with chrome accents), and a "retro-chic" two-tone appearance. Most of the folks in our office were impressed with the SX200's overall polish, but a lone dissenter felt that the SX200 looked a bit like a budget cam from a distance. Better than looking like a budget camera up close I suppose...
On a related note, the SX200's pivoting pop-up flash is a nice visual and functional touch, though I don't care for the fact that it deploys when the camera is powered on and can't be locked back into place until the lens retracts on shutdown. Leaving the flash extended at all times may make it more vulnerable to gettiing damaged or snapped off, so we'll keep an eye on how it fares in some extensive shooting and report back.
It's all about the lens
Not surprisingly, the SX200 provides a full suite of manual exposure options in addition to its AE settings. Like the SX110 before it, the SX200's 28-336mm optically stabilized lens stops down via an iris diaphragm, providing more dynamic aperture control than what many point-and-shoot models afford.
Beyond the control that it offers, even, the SX200's lens is the "big story" here, allowing users to dabble in wildlife or sports shooting with a camera that's basically pocket-size.
There's also a super Macro Mode for getting up close and personal with subjects at the other end of the zoom range.
Overall, the zoom is smooth and fluid in use, with nearly stepless performance providing shot-framing flexibility. Distortion does appear to be an issue at the wide end, however, and I can already to see that I may be wishing for faster apertures across the board. Plus, you can't use the zoom while recording in video capture mode (but we're still excited to see how the SX200's H.264 format 720p video shapes up just the same).
More to come...
This afternoon's handful of sample images are giving us our first taste of the SX200's performance, though it's worth noting that we've already checked out results from another camera with what seems to be the same 12.1 megapixel sensor (the recently reviewed SD780). We'll have much more on the SX200's image quality and overall performance – as well as it's very interesting HD video capabilities – in our final review later this month.
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