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.
Lightweight and very compact, the PowerShot SX210 was there for me when I needed it. I never thought twice about carrying it in my bag, so that 14x zoom range was always just at my finger tips. But how much of that range was usable? In ideal lighting conditions, I could zoom to telephoto and grab a clean shot. Indoors and in other less-than-ideal situations, I wasn't always successful.
In most situations, the SX210 was as fast as I needed it to be. Shutter lag is almost non-existent at 0.01 seconds, and AF speed at 0.36 seconds isn't bad, though the Nikon S8000 out-performed the SX210 in this category by a full tenth of a second. Dim conditions slowed down the AF to somewhere around half a second. Overall, the system was reliable and reasonably quick.
Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX7||0.01|
|Canon PowerShot SX210 IS||0.01|
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7||0.02|
|Nikon Coolpix S8000||0.05|
AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)
|Nikon Coolpix S8000||0.26|
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX7||0.27|
|Canon PowerShot SX210 IS||0.36|
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7||0.39|
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX7||10||11.2 fps
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7||3||1.8 fps
|Nikon Coolpix S8000||10||1.2 fps
|Canon PowerShot SX210 IS||∞||0.8 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.
The SX210 comes in last in our comparative table of continuous shooting speeds, recording an image every 0.8 seconds. The Panasonic ZS7 clocks in at 1.8 fps, but paused to clear the buffer after three frames. The PowerShot SX210, like every other PowerShot we've tested in recent memory, will keep on snapping shots in burst mode until you take your finger off the shutter button (or run out of memory space).
A full flash discharge required a five second recharge period before the camera would fire the flash again. Using the flash predictably cast some harsh shadows in images. It didn't wash out skin tones though, and it was reliable when high ISO just wouldn't cut it. Flash range is listed as 2.5-11.5 feet at wide angle and 3.3-6.6 feet at telephoto.
Canon's website lists battery life at 260 shots. I easily got that number over the course of testing the camera, though I rarely use flash.
I was interested to see just how sharp the images would be coming from the 14x SX210 all the way through the zoom range. A big telephoto range is nice, but if anything past 12x is blurry, what's the point? Overall, I was very pleased with the images at wide and telephoto.
Maximum aperture at full telephoto is f/5.9. Combined with the camera's optical image stabilization, photos in decent light at full telephoto generally came out pretty clear. Dim and tricky lighting conditions were another story.
Shooting at full telephoto in less-than-ideal conditions was somewhat slow. AF times were good, but lagged noticeably. On one or two occasions, auto focus misfired and turned in a totally blurry shot. Out of the hundreds of photos I shot for this review though, those were very atypical.
I did, however, grab some pretty clear shots at a concert venue. An ISO setting of 800 allowed me to shoot some definitely-okay-for-Facebook shots at an Earth, Wind and Fire concert (yes they can still hit all of those notes).
Expecting stellar performance from a compact ultrazoom in dim light would be unreasonable. Many of the images I shot at full telephoto indoors would be fine for small prints or displaying at reduced size on the web.
Distortions at either end of the spectrum are minimal. There's some perceptible barrel distortion at wide angle, but no real pincushioning at telephoto.
I didn't see too much evidence of vignetting or lens flare either. Chromatic aberration was noticeable in high-contrast shots. In the telephoto image of the ship above, some minimal purple fringing is visible in the boundaries between the white letters and dark paint on the ship. For most shots though, purple fringing wasn't a concern.
Images are vibrant and pleasantly sharp. In good outdoor lighting, the SX210 won't let the casual snapshooter down. Saturation is boosted at default settings, making reds in particular pop.
Sharpness and color are a little more subdued moving indoors or under cloudy, grey lighting as ISO is increased and noise suppression kicks in. For those looking for more natural color reproduction, the SX210 offers a "Neutral" setting under the "My Colors" menu.
Metering at the default evaluative setting was generally accurate. I saw a tendency to overexpose and burn out highlights, a not uncommon problem in this camera class. Tinkering with the metering setting helped under some circumstances.
White balance at the auto setting was reliable. It was accurate in most cases and was my go-to setting under any condition. It did shoot a warm image under our studio incandescent lights, and shots indoors were similarly warmed up.
Auto White Balance, 3200k incandescent light
Images I captured in the field showed evidence of sometimes aggressive noise-reduction after ISO 400. This proved true in studio tests as well. ISO 80 and 100 are pretty clean in both the thumbnail and crop. By ISO 200, the edges of the playing card show a little bit of "fraying."
ISO 80, 100% crop
ISO 100, 100% crop
ISO 200, 100% crop
ISO 400, 100% crop
ISO 800, 100% crop
ISO 1600, 100% crop
From ISO 400 and up, the 100% magnification images are quite smoothed over. I wouldn't hesitate to use anything at ISO 400 or 800 for posting online at a reduced size. By ISO 1600, even the downsized image is looking flat and smoothed over. This setting should be reserved as a last resort.
Video quality is good. My sample video, shot under grey skies in an open courtyard, looks fluid and the sound is fine. Highlights are blown out, but the overall scene looks good. It won't put your HD camcorder out of work, but it will record nice clips with the touch of a dedicated record button.
Additionally, the SX210 has a significant advantage over the SX200 - it allows you to zoom during video capture. To some, that may be worth the extra $20 in sticker price alone. Zoom is only available at the slowest speed possible, probably to keep the noise of the lens extending and retracting to a minimum in the audio track.
Without much background noise, the sound of the zoom will be pretty obvious in your videos. Image stabilization really shines in video mode. Leaving it off and zooming out to full telephoto creates (predictably) a nausea-inducing shaky effect, while turning IS on cuts down on shake tremendously. The camera live focuses as focal length changes in video recording.
Video resolution tops out at 1280x720p at 30 fps, with 640x480 at 30 fps and 320x240 at 30 fps settings also available. Aside from standard mode, the SX210 will record videos in "Color Accent" mode (the user selects a color to keep in a scene and everything is will be black and white) or "Color Swap" mode. They're both fun to play with about once. Overall, the SX210's video capabilities are very strong.
There are plenty of reasons to justify spending an extra $20 on the PowerShot SX210 over the SX200. If you're shooting in great conditions, you won't have a problem snapping clean shots at the top end of the camera's generous 14x zoom range. The camera boasts eye-catching style, and build quality is as good as anything in its class.
Operation is easy in auto mode and the two-tiered menu system is easy to navigate and quick changes to shooting settings are a cinch. Using the controls for manual focus or manual exposure settings is trickier, though priority modes are pretty effortless.
For my money, the Panasonic ZS compact ultrazooms still hold their place at the top of the class in terms of image quality. Canon's SX210 outpaces the Panasonic cameras in terms of style, and if big zoom reach is your priority, it does offer an equivalent 392mm at telephoto compared to the ZS7's 300mm (though the ZS7 offers a wider angle).
Canon certainly upped the "fun factor" with the SX210, and I enjoyed toting the SX210 with me for spur-of-the-moment shooting. The ability to zoom in video recording is a handy feature. So is jumping into video mode by using the dedicated record button. I have my gripes with the pop-up flash, the tendency to overexpose and the limitations of the lens, but overall this is a good camera. If you're shopping for a Canon point-and-shoot, the SX210 is one of the strongest in a very strong lineup.