DigitalCameraReview.com
Canon Powershot SX100 IS Review
by Jim Keenan -  11/16/2007

My first thought on seeing the Canon Powershot SX100 IS was it looked like the A-series PowerShots (not a bad thing), even though Canon USA’s website had it slotted in their "High-End, Advanced Digital Cameras" roster. (My second thought was "where did the viewfinder go?"). Canon’s press release didn’t help dispel the "user-friendly, good value for the money" attributes Canon ascribes to the A-series:

"We developed the PowerShot SX100 IS digital camera with all the zooming power and creative control a traditional photo-taker could ever want in a compact and value-priced package," said Yuichi Ishizuka, senior vice president and general manager, Consumer Imaging Group, Canon U.S.A.  "At a price point of just under $300 with a simple and intuitive user interface, this camera is just as appropriate for beginners as it is for more seasoned enthusiasts with a need to capture quality images from a distance."

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Turns out Canon sees the SX100 IS as the first of a new line of PowerShots, even though it still looks like an A-series to me. But after shooting the camera for a couple of weeks, I am reminded of Shakespeare’s "that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet".

A CLOSER LOOK 

The camera features a 10x optical zoom lens that provides a 36 to 360 mm focal length range (35mm film equivalent), 8MP sensor, DIGIC III processor, optical image stabilization, 2.5 inch LCD monitor, face detection technology, automatic and manual red eye correction, ISO sensitivity to 1600 and a full set of manual controls to complement the usual automatic and programmed scene options. Here’s a sample of that focal range:

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Wide angle (view medium image) (view large image)

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Telephoto (view medium image) (view large image)

Canon provides 2 AA batteries, a 16MB SD memory card (the camera will accept SD/SDHC, MultiMedia, MMC Plus and HC MMC Plus memory cards), wrist strap, Digital Camera Solution CD-ROM, and USB and A/V cables with each camera.

Camera dimensions are 4.28 x 2.81 x 1.84 inches with the lens retracted, and a shooting weight (batteries and memory card onboard) of about 10.5 ounces.

Still images may be captured in JPEG format in the following pixel sizes: 3,264 x 2,448 (Large), 2,592 x 1,944 (Medium 1), 2,048 x 1,536 (Medium 2), 1,600 x 1,200 (Medium 3), 640 x 480 (Small), 3,264 x 1,832 (Widescreen).

Movies may be captured in AVI format at the following rates and sizes: 640 x 480 (30 fps/30 fps LP), 320 x 240 (30 fps) available up to 4GB or 60 minutes, 160 x 120 (3 minutes at 15 fps). The LP option gives priority to recording length over image quality and provides almost double the recording time for the same sized media.

CAMERA FEATURES AND LAYOUT 

The camera is offered in black and silver versions and the composite body looks and feels well built. The built-up handgrip style body is pleasant to use one or two-handed – subtle indentations in the back and top of the camera offer resting places for the right thumb and left forefinger. It would be nice to have some tacky material in the grip area to promote an even more secure-feeling hold – there was a definite death-grip on the camera while making the second of these two shots at Hoover Dam: 

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SHOOTING WITH THE SX100 IS 

Auto Mode 

On the SX100 IS, default settings include auto ISO (80-200 sensitivity), large size/fine quality jpeg, auto white balance, evaluative metering and image stabilization enabled. Unless stated otherwise, images captured by the SX100 IS to illustrate this review were at the large/superfine quality standard.

The SX100 IS, like most point and shoot (P&S) cameras, does a good job right out of the box with default settings. A novice to digital cameras can leave the camera on "auto" and expect to produce technically good images virtually all the time.

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Specific Scene Modes / Special Scene Modes 

In addition to auto, portrait, landscape, night snapshot, kids & pets and stitch assist scene modes may be selected directly via the mode dial. "Special scene" modes may be selected via the "SCN" setting on the mode dial – these include night scene, indoor, foliage, snow, beach, fireworks and aquarium. 

Manual Modes 

The SX100 IS also features Programmed auto (P), Shutter priority (Tv), Aperture priority (Av) and full manual (M) exposure settings, accessed directly on the camera’s mode dial. In Tv and Av modes, the user has the option to enable "Safety Shift" via internal menu. Safety Shift will automatically adjust aperture or shutter speed for correct exposure when it cannot be otherwise obtained.

In-Camera Editing Tools 

An automatic red eye correction feature detects and corrects red eye during image playback. For those occasions where the automatic feature doesn’t detect red eye, a manual correction function is provided. Images saved at a high pixel settings may be manually saved at lower pixel counts. Sound memos may be attached to images. 

Exposure Compensation 

Exposure compensation of +/- 2EV in 1/3 EV increments is available in all but movie, auto and manual (M) modes. 

Light Metering 

Evaluative metering is the camera default setting, but center-weighted or spot metering methods may be selected by the user in P, Tv, Av or M modes.

Evaluative metering was used for all shooting with the SX100 IS for this review, and did a good job overall. As with many cameras, there was some loss of highlights in bright, relatively high contrast scenes, but the camera meter got it right far more often than it was wrong. 

Focus/Macro Focus 

Normal focus range at wide angle is 1.6 feet to infinity; 3.3 feet to infinity at telephoto.

Macro focus at wide angle is 0.39 inches to infinity.

Manual focus is 0.39 inches to infinity at wide angle; 3.3 feet to infinity at telephoto.

There is an AF-assist beam to help with low light conditions; AF acquisition time in good light is in the half-second range.

Monitor 

The 2.5 inch LCD monitor is of 172,000 dot composition, about midway in the range that sees some monitors with as high as 230,000 or as low as 115,000 compositions. The monitor can be difficult to use in bright outdoor light, but is adequate for photo review and/or composition in good lighting conditions. The monitor is adjustable for fourteen levels of illumination.

The monitor can be set to display shooting information or present a virtually clear screen, and grid lines may be overlaid to assist with photo composition.

There is no viewfinder. 

Flash 

Flash on the SX100 IS is manually deployed, and offers a range of about 9.8 feet at wide angle or 6.6 feet at telephoto. Flash performance was generally good as to exposure and color rendition, but recycle times are, according to Canon, "twelve seconds or less".

I found shots at near or full flash output generally meant a seven to ten second recharge time; shots in brighter conditions or at closer range would sometimes find the flash ready again in 4 seconds. I tried fresh alkaline and NiMH (2700 mAh) batteries and got similar recharge times with each – if anything, the alkalines may have been a tiny bit quicker. While the flash recharges the monitor goes black and the camera goes with it, but you can always hum the tune to "Jeopardy" as you wait for them to come back to life. Lowering the flash while it recharges doesn’t seem to do any good – the camera stays off line until the flash comes back up, even though you’re trying to convince it you don’t want the flash.

Shutter performance with flash drops off a bit as the camera uses the AF assist beam in red eye reduction mode before firing the flash, but the camera is still fairly responsive with flash enabled.

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Color 

Default color on the SX100 IS was pleasing and accurate to my eye. "My colors" options are available in stitch assist, movie, P, Tv, Av, and M modes. These include vibrant and neutral color settings, sepia, black and white and a custom setting that allows the user to set sharpness and saturation before shooting.

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Neutral (view medium image) (view large image)
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Sepia (view medium image) (view large image)
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B&W (view medium image) (view large image)

ISO 

Auto ISO is the default setting and will establish a sensitivity of 80 to 200 ISO depending on conditions – this setting puts a priority on image quality according to the Canon manual. There is a High ISO Auto setting that expands this envelope to 800 ISO on the high side. Manual settings of 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, or 1600 are available in P, Tv, Av and M modes.

That auto ISO range should be our clue as to where Canon considers this camera’s ISO strength lies, and the blue sky shots bear this out. 80 and 100 are pretty close with 200 a bit noisier, but still not bad. Noise starts ramping up above 200, with a fairly dramatic jump between 400 and 800. The ISO levels don’t look quite so bad in the "real world" daytime shots, particularly if they stay small, but you clearly want to shoot the SX100 IS at 200 or less if noise avoidance is a paramount consideration.


ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

 


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White Balance 

Auto white balance was used for all the shots taken by the SX100 IS for this review, and performed well.  Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H and Custom settings are available in stitch assist, movie, P, Tv, Av and M modes.

Battery Performance 

Canon rates the camera for about 140 shots with alkaline AAs, and 400 shots with Ni-MH types. I was using new batteries doing flash and other comparisons and didn’t get a chance to verify these figures, but the camera definitely went through the alkalines much quicker than the Ni-MH. I would think two pairs of Ni-MH would handle a day’s shooting.

Shutter Performance 

The SX100 IS shutter can range from 15 to 1/2500th of a second. Shutter lag once focus is acquired with the SX100 IS in good light is negligible – the camera shoots immediately once the shutter button is fully depressed. Shot-to-shot times in single shot mode ran about 2.7 seconds with a SanDisk Extreme III SD card, and about 3 seconds with a standard SanDisk (shoot, wait for camera to write, re-acquire focus and shoot), for images at the Superfine/Large quality level. If your shooting style/subject allows you to acquire focus and then shoot when the time is right, you’ll like the SX100 IS.

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The continuous shooting mode produced 5 shots in about 3.25 to 3.5 seconds with the Extreme III and took about 3.75 to 4.25 seconds with the standard card. Continuous shooting applies the focus from the initial image to all subsequent shots as long as the shutter button is depressed, so if your subject moves off of the initial focus point you may find that your shots go off as well. After the initial shot there is a brief blackout of the monitor, then the first shot is displayed as the next shot is being taken. The camera lags about one shot behind the subject, so panning with the monitor is an exercise in anticipation.

Continuous shooting with Auto Focus applies AF to each shot, but shooting times drop off – 5 shots in 5.25 to 5.5 seconds with the Extreme III, 5.75 to 6.25 seconds with the standard card. Continuous with AF results in about a 1 second blackout after each shot, but then the monitor comes back on live. 

There is a "continuous shooting with live view" mode where the camera monitor stays live and you shoot continuously with a manually set focus position, but it’s only available in "fireworks" mode.

Lens Performance 

The 10x optical zoom lens performed well overall. There is some barrel distortion (straight lines bow out from center of image) at the wide end and perhaps a tiny hint of vignetting (darkening of the corners) at the telephoto end. The telephoto end of the lens seemed a little sharper overall, and there is some chromic aberration (purple fringing) in high-contrast boundary areas of images, but this will go largely unnoticed in all but the biggest enlargements.

The lens has a maximum aperture of f/2.8 at the wide end, and f/4.3 at the telephoto end, making it a fairly fast light gatherer. Canon makes 400mm lenses with maximum apertures of f/2.8, f/4 and f/5.6 for its DSLR line, so at its 360mm length the SX100 IS lens falls into the middle of the speed range of the lenses Canon provides for its top cameras.

We came upon a herd of Desert Bighorn Sheep grazing along the roadway on the outskirts of Boulder City, Nevada and were able to put the SX100 IS lens range to good use. The sheep were obviously not completely afraid of humans, but they were not entirely trusting, either. The zoom range of the lens allowed us to stay far enough away to not spook the animals into running, yet capture some fairly good close ups at the same time.

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MISCELLANEOUS 

The SX100 IS is PictBridge compliant and also features a Print/Share button for easy downloading to Pixma, CP and SELPHY printers.

The mode dial and controls located on the camera back allow the user to access many shooting settings without having to resort to internal menus, including "my colors", image size and quality, metering method, exposure compensation and white balance.

There is a 4x digital zoom capability.


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CONCLUSION 

The Canon Powershot SX100 IS offers a blend of automatic and manual shooting options that should appeal to a broad range of users. The novice can shoot in auto with confidence that the camera won’t let her down, and the more experienced user can make use of the manual controls to exert creative license on their shots. This relatively compact camera mounts a 10x optical zoom lens and offers good shutter performance, image color and quality along with optical stabilization.

Like Shakespeare’s rose, the SX100 IS has a few thorns – flash recycle times can shut the camera down for ten seconds after a shot, and continuous shooting capability isn’t particularly strong. If you shoot a lot of flash or like to shoot in bursts, the SX100 IS may not be for you. But if you need a small camera with a big lens, give this camera some serious consideration.

PROS 

CONS