The SX130 IS turned in a generally credible performance, but there are a few considerations of which users should be aware. We'll highlight those as we get to them.
I've always been a fan of the superzoom class of camera for the versatility they provide with those generous focal length ranges in compact packages. The SX130 can capture a wide vista in the eastern Sierra or get quite a bit closer to the band of tule elk making their way across the field.
Ditto for a look at Mono Lake and a close up of some tufa formations (without having to make the two mile roundtrip hike at 6500 foot altitude in 90 degree temperatures).
The SX130 powers up promptly, presenting a focus point in about 1.75 seconds, and I was able to get off a first shot in about 2.75 seconds. Single shot-to-shot times ran about 3 seconds with a class 10 SDHC memory card - you can get it down to about 2.5 seconds if you disable the review feature, take a half push on the shutter button as the camera writes, and then fire the next shot as soon the focus point comes back up and acquires focus. The 3 second figure was made with the review enabled and all else the same. Continuous shooting rates came up at about 0.9 fps, but there's a 1 second blackout after the first shot and then images lag one behind on the monitor so tracking moving subjects can be a difficult exercise.
Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)
|Canon PowerShot SX130 IS||0.01|
|Nikon Coolpix S8000||0.05|
AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)
|Nikon Coolpix S8000||0.26|
|Canon PowerShot SX130 IS||0.46|
|Pentax X90||5||1.4 fps
|Nikon Coolpix S8000||10||1.2 fps
|Olympus SP800-UZ||10||1.2 fps
|Canon PowerShot SX130 IS||∞||0.9 fps
*Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera's fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). "Frames" notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.
Shutter lag was good at 0.01 seconds and AF acquisition time was competitive at 0.46 seconds. AF time dropped off a bit at telephoto, even in good light. There is a focus assist lamp for dim conditions.
The SX130 IS offers continuous, shoot only, and panning image stabilization; stabilization may also be disabled and Canon recommends doing so for tripod work. Users may want to consider using continuous AF judiciously in light of our first performance concern: battery life.
Battery life with standard AA batteries is listed as 130 shots, and Canon isn't kidding - the SX130 goes through alkalines like a sports bar goes through beer. The good news is battery life jumps to 370 shots with rechargeable NiMH units. With features like continuous AF enabled, there's a greater drain on the power supply while the camera is powered up, so alkaline users take note. Canon recommends using only Canon brand NiMH batteries - I used Sanyo Eneloops with no problem - but users will have to consider the possibility that should you use an off-brand battery and the camera suffers a malfunction that could be attributed to the power source, warranty complications could follow.
Canon rates the SX130 flash range as 9.8 feet at wide angle, and 6.6 feet at telephoto (with auto ISO). Our next performance concern is recycle time: with fully charged NiMH batteries, shooting in auto mode at wide angle, auto ISO and moderate lighting conditions produced recycle times of about 6.5 seconds. The same shot in aperture priority and ISO set manually to 100 produced a 10 second recycle time. Recycle times were similar with new alkalines, so folks who need to shoot repetitive flash shots should take into account that flash recycle times are positioned near the slower end of the spectrum. Here's a shot of Bandit soaking up some morning sun with flash as fill light, and a dusk hibiscus shot with flash as the primary illumination.
Overall, the SX130's 12x zoom acquitted itself well. There is some barrel distortion at the wide end of the zoom, and a very slight amount of pincushion at telephoto. Edges and corners have some slight softening at wide angle; telephoto has similar softening on the corners but the edges look a bit sharper than wide angle. There is some chromic aberration present at both ends of the zoom, but the effect is fairly well controlled and really becomes an issue only when enlargements hit the 300%+ range. It's going to take some pretty close scrutiny and an eagle eye to find much to complain about in anything but the largest of prints.
Even with this decent report card, SX130 lens speed is our next point for potential users to consider. With maximum apertures of f/3.4 and f/5.6 at the wide and telephoto ends of the zoom respectively, the SX130 is one of the slower cameras in the class. A half E.V. at wide angle and perhaps a third to a half at telephoto doesn't sound like much, but it's the difference between shooting at 1/20th and 1/30th of a second at wide angle, or 1/200th versus 1/264th or 1/300th at telephoto, all else being equal. Stabilization is a great ally in combating camera shake, but so is shutter speed. If you're prepared to set high ISO sensitivities or let the camera do the same via auto ISO, lens speed become less of an issue. If you're going with ISO at the low end of the spectrum to help maximize image quality with respect to noise, lens speed is nice to have.
I'm a strong proponent of additional camera support for folks hand holding superzooms at the telephoto end - superzooms can be a (sorry) handful to keep steady at telephoto, and a monopod offers a much steadier platform while retaining good mobility. With its slightly slower lens, the SX130 can only benefit from such a tool in your shooting bag of tricks.
Macro focus distance ranges from 0.4 inches to 1.6 feet at wide angle only.
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