The PowerShot SX210 aims to please. Its 14x optical zoom will give you a wide range of opportunities, and a full array of manual and auto exposure modes will put as much control in your hands as you want. Top it off with a wide aspect, 3.0-inch LCD and you've got a well-equipped compact ultrazoom.
The svelte SX210 is hard not to like it at first sight. The curved metallic accent, the bold color, the wide-aspect LCD; Canon has clearly stepped up their style game over the last model, the SX200. We saw solid performance from the PowerShot SX200, though it was just a little bland in aesthetics. Did they succeed in upping the "fun" ante with the SX210? Read on.
BUILD AND DESIGN
The SX200 marked a departure from the bulkier design of the SX100 and SX110, slimming the camera body down considerably. If we had one complaint about the SX200's aesthetics though, it was that the camera was a little lackluster.
Enter the SX210. Taking up a fair share of real estate on the front of the camera is the large 14x zoom lens. It offers an equivalent focal range of 28-392mm with a maximum aperture range of f/3.1-5.9. It's just ahead of the 12x optical zoom SX200 at telephoto and it's a little bit faster at wide angle (the SX200's maximum aperture is f/3.4).
The SX210 carries the Digic IV image processor and a 1/2.3-inch CCD with 14.1 megapixels. That's another increase over the SX200, though not necessarily a good one. As we've often noted, higher pixel density can mean noisier images at high ISO settings.
Inside and out, the PowerShot SX210 is distinctly modern, losing the handgrip in favor of a slim and straight profile. The chrome accents extend around the top and sides of the camera, complementing the metallic panels of the back and front. There's a shallow ridge running through the middle of the chrome component, offering a natural contour for your fingers as you grip the camera. The edges are sloped where the SX200's are straight.
Canon takes another step boldly forward by offering the SX210 in gold and purple options as well as black. It's a re-design with a more youthful vibe.
Ergonomics and Controls
The slimmer profile and loss of the curved grip makes the SX210 slightly less easy to handle than its predecessor. It has a tendency to slip occasionally in the hand, though the curved ridge on the top and a nice overall balance offer some stability. Once I'd become accustomed to using the camera, I didn't have any gripes about the ergonomics. Still, you might be off to a good start with the SX210 if you attached the included wrist strap to the camera body.
Control layout on the back panel is typical of Canon's PowerShot models and quite intuitive. The mode dial offers access to no less than thirteen shooting modes. The button with the red circle will start video recording with one press from any shooting mode. That's a handy feature for capturing spur-of-the-moment movies. If video isn't a go-to feature for you, the button can be assigned as a shortcut to a different function such as white balance or ISO adjustment.
The rest of the buttons are pretty standard: playback, display settings, and a main menu button surround the center control wheel. As mentioned in the First Look and the video above, the control wheel is suspiciously devoid of markings. Pushing each of the four directional buttons around the compass switch brings up different options for flash, AF, EV and self-timer settings... but which button is which?
Placing your finger on any of the buttons (but not pressing it) will bring up an on-screen indicator. The button you're in contact with will glow in white on the screen. It's a neat trick, and without the markings on the compass switch, more space on the camera's back panel is given over to the wide-aspect LCD.
The button functions change depending on what mode you're in. In playback, for example, the "south" button serves as the delete key. It's the same kind of "soft key" concept employed by Sony's new NEX cameras. As usual, the center function button pulls up an on-screen quick menu for access to shooting controls like white balance and metering mode. To see these functions in action, take a look at the video below.
On top you'll find the left and right stereo microphones, a recessed on/off button, a very small zoom toggle, and the shutter button. I found all of the controls reasonably easy to use, though someone with large hands might find the tiny zoom switch off-putting.
Overall, it's a good layout. Controls are intuitive though the "soft keys" take a little getting used to. One gripe I have is that the mode dial requires a firm hand to turn, and that usually means repositioning my grip to switch to another shooting mode. On the other hand, I never had to worry about accidentally turning the dial into another mode.
My other complaint is that the pop-up flash is automatically raised every time the SX210 is powered on. The first few times I used the camera it seemed like a neat feature, but after a solid month of use it's wearing thin. Having the flash popped up also means you'll have to find somewhere else to grip the camera with your left hand if, like me, you like to keep the camera stabilized in both hands. Keeping my hand on top of the flash when I powered on the camera kept it from raising when I didn't want to use it. Thanks to a small ridge on the top of the flash unit, it can be raised manually anytime while shooting.
Menus and Modes
The PowerShot SX210 uses Canon's two-layer menu system. As mentioned previously, a quick menu is pulled up by pressing the function button. From here, adjustments can be made to shooting settings and the results are viewed in live time on the screen.
The main menu, accessed through the menu button, is organized into two tabs. The shooting menu is where you'll be able to change settings for image stabilization, face detection and AF frame size among other things. The camera menu is where you'll go to change sound options, LCD brightness and power saving settings.
Here are some of the mode dial's thirteen settings:
There are portrait, kids and pets, landscape and night snapshot modes available on the dial. I tried indoor mode a few times, but opted to use program mode and set my own white balance and ISO for the most part.
More specialized shooting modes are available under the "SCN" stop on the mode dial. Low light (records a 3.5 megapixel image), beach, color swap/accent, fisheye and miniaturize effects... there's no shortage of shooting modes here. The camera will remember which mode was used last, so turning the mode dial to this position will automatically bring up the most recent scene mode.
The SX210's 3.0-inch LCD has a 230k-dot resolution, making it sufficiently sharp and fluid. It was easy to use under most conditions, but predictably difficult in direct sunlight. The wide aspect ratio is attractive, but to actually capture 16:9 images you'll have to select the wide option from the image size menu. Resolution of wide angle images is around 10.5 megapixels.
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