BUILD AND DESIGN
Build-wise, the SX230 HS seems like a carbon copy of the SX210 IS, with only a few dimensions differing from its older sibling. Its dimensions are 4.16 x 2.42 x 1.31-inches and the SX210 IS measures 4.17 x 2.33 x 1.26 inches. The weight difference is not really discernable-the SX230 HS weighs 7.87 oz., and the SX210 IS comes in at 7.58 oz.
The major build difference that can be found is the actual GPS chip that is encapsulated at the top of the camera next to the shutter and zoom ring. It's somewhat unattractive, but I guess it's necessary to house the GPS unit. I would like to see the next version of this camera with less of a pronounced GPS box.
The SX230 has a 14x optical zoom lens with a focal length of 28-392mm, and it protrudes out over the front of the body. It also has the same aperture range as the SX210's 14x lens of f/3.1-5.9.
The hardware of the SX230 is basically a re-hashing of the SX210's design, minus an indiscernible amount of weight and a GPS dome added on the top. The chassis has a nice chrome finish extending around the camera with a ridge around it, a natural place to rest your fingers when shooting. Overall, the design is nothing new and should appeal to shooters who want three different color options: black, red and blue. I received the blue one for review.
Ergonomics and Controls
Like most point-and-shoots, the SX230 has quite a slim profile, though I wouldn't say it's exactly pocketable. The lens protrusion is a bit bulky to fit into a pants pocket and the SX230's overall balance feels a bit lens-heavy to me. With the lens extended fully it gets slightly top heavy as well, making a two-handed grip a necessity.
The SX230 employs a typical control layout with a mode dial, a func/set button that leads you to a quick menu, a dial around this button that lets you navigate quickly through settings, a dedicated menu button, display button, red video record button, shutter, zoom ring and on/off switch.
The wheel around the func/set menu is used to access the quick menu and is also used as directional buttons that bring up different options for focusing, EV stops, flash settings and self-timer. It is exactly the same as DCR Editor Allison Johnson's SX210 review indicated - if you hold your finger over any of these buttons, the options for AF, EV and all that aforementioned will light up.
The LCD has quite a bit of real estate, offering that 16:9 aspect ratio used for modern movie and HD video capture. You can also capture in the 16:9 aspect ratio for your images, which is nice if you also want to display them on your HD monitor or TV.
Allison identified the same annoyance that I found, too - the pop-up flash that automatically raises when the camera is turned on. I was almost afraid to push it down since it didn't do so automatically. It's ok, you can push it down without consequence and this works great on a DSLR for me (usually done manually through the menu or exterior button), but on a point-and-shoot, I would've just preferred one enclosed on the front of the body.
The major feature of the SX230 HS that sets it apart from other point-and-shoot digicams is that it captures, logs and records global positions. It has a built-in GPS system that allows you to log your location at all times, in sort of an exact recording of the path you went on at any given time if it's enacted (and even when the camera is turned off, for that matter). My advice is to skip logging unless you are a hardcore geo-tagger or fitness enthusiast that likes to record every step of the way. I tried this and it was a battery drain.
The best part of the GPS chip in the SX230 HS is the geo-tagging or GPS feature that records the exact location of your shots. This is accessed through the settings menu. To be sure that the GPS is working, go outside and let it find a signal, which is does in about 30 seconds. You'll be able to know if it has found a GPS signal on the LCD if a little satellite icon is displayed.
Once you get back to your computer to offload images, you'll be able to use Canon's Image Browser software. Images can also be exported to Google Earth for a more interactive map. Although it's a cool feature, and may be enough for some camera buyers, I think that accessing location information could be a bit more intuitive - the function is hidden deep in the menu, and getting the information is basically accessed through the software. I went through Lightroom 2 to see if it was embedded in the metadata, but alas, it was not. A cool function, and a definite upgrade from the SX210 IS.
Menus and Modes
As is the case with most of Canon's point-and-shoots, the SX230 HS uses a dual system that can be activated by pressing the func/set button. This leads you to a quick access tab on the side of the screen to change various settings. Since the camera can go fully automatic, the quick menu is different for each mode on the mode dial. For instance, in the more manual modes like Program, Av, Tv and Manual, you can access light metering, color filters, white balance, ISO settings, flash power, drive mode (single shot to continuous), aspect ratio, recording pixel size, compression, and movie quality size.
You can also access the main menu by pressing the Menu button on the back. Inside here is the dual-tabbed menu divider that gives you camera settings and the other setting options like volume, LCD brightness, date/time, etc. In the camera settings accessed through the menu, you can control things like i-Contrast, Autofocus, wind filter and flash settings. It is a rather simple system to adopt, and if you're familiar with recent Canon PowerShot cameras, this is no different.
Here are some of the mode dial's thirteen settings:
There are different options on the mode dial, including an interesting feature called movie digest. This mode allows you to make a short movie by automatically recording 3 seconds of video before you take each still image. The resulting videos are compiled in one video file. Interesting, but I couldn't find a use for it myself. There are also separate tabs for Portrait, Landscape, Kids & Pets, SCN with a sub menu of scene modes, fish-eye effect, and movie mode for enabling video.
The SX230 HS has a 3.0-inch TFT LCD with 461k-dot resolution compared to the 230k-dot resolution of its older sibling, the SX210 IS. It doubled in terms of resolution, and playback of video and stills looks great on the 16:9 aspect ratio screen.
The DCR lab ran some tests on the LCD to see how it well it would truly perform in different lighting scenarios, by measuring peak brightness and black-level luminance ratings. The peak brightness measured out to 485 nits, and on the dark side a measurement of 0.65, making it a decent performer overall with an LCD contrast ratio 746:1. As it is inherently problematic to frame shots in strange ambient lighting situations, the SX230 HS monitor worked better than other point-and-shoots I've used in its class. It seems as though manufacturers are coming up with more accurate and high-resolution LCD's to portray the images you see in the camera the same as your computer monitor.
I struggled using the LCD both during normal daylight hours and shooting at dusk with a lot of ambient light behind me. This is to be expected, but I hope that manufacturers soon come up with an anti-glare coating technology that can alleviate these sorts of shooting scenarios. Overall, the LCD was high-res and looked great.
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