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Canon PowerShot SX130 IS Review
by Jim Keenan -  9/10/2010

Canon's Powershot SX130 IS joins the compact superzoom posse as the SX120 IS rides off into the sunset.

Canon PowerShot SX130


The new camera gets a bump in resolution from 10 to 12 megapixels on a slightly larger physically-sized sensor, and the lens focal range goes wider and shorter: 28 to 336mm versus 36 to 360mm in 35mm equivalents. Here's what the new range looks like.

Canon SX130 Sample Image
Wide Angle, 28mm

Canon SX130 Sample Image

Telephoto, 336mm

Both models share a close-but-not-quite-identical external look, with the SX130 being slightly larger and about a half-ounce heavier. The new camera is primarily an evolutionary step, sharing many features with the departing SX120 such as a Digic 4 processor, smart auto, intelligent contrast correction, face and motion detection technologies. The SX130 adds 720p HD video with stereo recording, blink technology, a few new shooting modes such as miniature and fisheye, and a narrower 80 to 1600 ISO sensitivity range. It can utilize SD/SDHC, SDXC, MultiMediaCard, MMCplus and HC memory media. Canon provides two AA alkaline batteries, a wrist strap, printed "getting started" guide, USB and AV cables, and CD-ROM software.

Let's see what a modest makeover has produced in the new low-price leader of Canon's SX line.

BUILD AND DESIGN
The composite body is a bit longer and wider than something I'd consider easily shirt-pocket portable. You can get it into a shirt pocket, but you'll also know it's there. Body construction, fit and finish all appear in line with the camera's price point.

Canon PowerShot SX130

Ergonomics and Controls
The rectangular body features lots of rounded edges and blended surfaces, giving the camera a somewhat sleeker look than sharper-edged designs. There is a modest ridge incorporated into the right front of the body to facilitate a better grip. Two-handed shooters will need to use care in placing fingers on the left top front corner of the body so as to not block the focus assist lamp or one of the two microphones. All in all, the handgrip/thumb rest area provide a solid feel for one-handed shooters with the index finger falling nicely onto the shutter button.

Canon PowerShot SX130

Control layout and design will be familiar to Canon compact users and fairly intuitive for everyone else. A mode dial, shutter button/zoom lever and on/off button sit atop the camera body; playback, face select, exposure compensation, Canon's traditional directional buttons/control dial/function and set control, and menu and display buttons take up the right rear.

Menus and Modes
There are shooting and setup menus available with the camera set to any recording (shooting) mode; setting up the camera for playback provides access to playback and print menus along with the setup menu. Menu usage is pretty much intuitive.
The SX130 IS offers both automatic and manual exposure controls, which expands camera flexibility and should appeal to a wider target market. Here's a list of the SX130's exposure modes:

Here's Alfie shot in aperture priority and again in fisheye.

Canon SX130 Sample Image
Aperture Priority
Canon SX130 Sample Image
Fisheye

Display
The 3.0-inch monitor on the SX130 IS has a 230,000 dot composition and is adjustable for 5 levels of illumination. Coverage is not specified but appears to be about 100%. The monitor can be difficult to use in some bright outdoor conditions.

Canon PowerShot SX130

PERFORMANCE
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.

Canon SX130 Sample Image

Canon SX130 Sample Image

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).

Canon SX130 Sample Image

Canon SX130 Sample Image

Shooting Performance
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)

Camera Time (seconds)
Canon PowerShot SX130 IS 0.01
Pentax X90 0.01
Olympus SP800-UZ 0.03
Nikon Coolpix S8000 0.05

AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)

Camera Time (seconds)
Nikon Coolpix S8000 0.26
Pentax X90 0.43
Olympus SP800-UZ 0.45
Canon PowerShot SX130 IS 0.46

Continuous Shooting

Camera Frames Framerate*
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 PowerShot SX130

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.

Canon SX130 Sample Image Canon SX130 Sample Image

Lens Performance
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.

Canon PowerShot SX130

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.

Canon SX130 Sample Image Canon SX130 Sample Image

Video Quality
The SX130 produced some of the better 720p HD videos I've come across in compact digitals. Image quality was good and zoom is available during movie capture. The camera will record the sounds of controls being activated during movie capture, including zoom sound. The microphones can be subject to wind noise, and there is no "wind cut" feature. Canon recommends a class 4 or higher memory card for movies, and clip length is limited to approximately 10 minutes.

Image Quality
Every Canon compact digital I've ever reviewed has produced very good image quality and the streak remains intact with the SX130. Color fidelity and sharpness are pleasing at default settings, and in a departure from my usual shooting routine I actually shot much of the review in auto rather than aperture priority.

The SX130 is equipped with Canon's intelligent contrast feature that can "detect areas in the scene that are too bright or dark and automatically adjust them to the optimum brightness when shooting." Here's a Lake Tahoe beach shot with and without i-contrast enabled.

Canon SX130 Sample Image
i-contrast Auto

Canon SX130 Sample Image
i-contrast Off

Canon's "my colors" shooting palette will be old news to Canon users - here are the default, vivid, neutral, sepia, black & white and positive film options.

Canon SX130 Sample Image
Default
Canon SX130 Sample Image
Vivid
Canon SX130 Sample Image
Neutral
Canon SX130 Sample Image
Sepia
Canon SX130 Sample Image
Black & White
Canon SX130 Sample Image
Positive Film

Auto white balance worked well for a variety of lighting conditions, including daylight, overcast, flash and our 5500K studio fluorescents, but shot warm under 3200K incandescent light. There are daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent and fluorescent H presets available along with a custom setting.

Canon SX130 Sample Image
Auto White Balance, 5500k incandescent light

I used the evaluative metering default setting for shots in the review and it did a good job overall, but unsurprisingly would lose highlights in many high-contrast shots. Its performance in this regard is rather typical for the class in general. There are center-weighted and spot metering options available.

Noise performance in the SX130 is average or a bit above for the class as a whole, particularly for cameras equipped with CCD sensors. Canon wisely increased the physical size of the SX130 sensor when they bumped up the resolution to 12 megapixels, and they also limited ISO sensitivity to 1600. ISO 80 and 100 are clean and hard to tell apart. ISO 200 is also quite clean, but begins to show tiniest hint of noise and some loss of fine details in portions of the shot. Our shot at 400 displays some increased noise and a slight further degradation in fine details, but this is still a very usable sensitivity for big print work.

Canon SX130 Sample Image
ISO 80
Canon SX130 Sample Image
ISO 80, 100% crop
Canon SX130 Sample Image
ISO 100
Canon SX130 Sample Image
ISO 100, 100% crop
Canon SX130 Sample Image
ISO 200
Canon SX130 Sample Image
ISO 200, 100% crop
Canon SX130 Sample Image
ISO 400
Canon SX130 Sample Image
ISO 400, 100% crop
Canon SX130 Sample Image
ISO 800
Canon SX130 Sample Image
ISO 800, 100% crop
Canon SX130 Sample Image
ISO 1600

ISO 1600, 100% crop

ISO 800 seems to signal an increased amount of processing as the entire image displays a bit more noise but becomes noticeably softer - edges and details that were still relatively sharp at 400 are now fuzzier and less precise. ISO 1600 follows suit - noisier, fuzzier and fine details are now turning into featureless blobs.

Additional Sample Images
Canon SX130 Sample Image Canon SX130 Sample Image
Canon SX130 Sample Image Canon SX130 Sample Image
Canon SX130 Sample Image Canon SX130 Sample Image

CONCLUSIONS
Canon's SX130 IS is a worthy new competitor in the superzoom ranks, offering good still image and 720p HD video quality along with automatic or manual shooting options, packaged in a fairly compact and light body at an attractive price. Shutter lag is good and autofocus acquisition time in good light is competitive.


Battery life with standard AA alkalines is short - users should definitely plan to invest in rechargeable NIMH batteries. Flash recycle times are somewhat lengthy, ranging from 6.5 to 10 seconds even with a fresh power source. The maximum apertures of the lens are among the slowest in the class, costing a bit of shooting speed. Continuous shooting is difficult with moving subjects due to an initial image blackout and ongoing lag in image display.

Not the camera for a sports or action photographer, the SX130 can ably serve just about everyone else and is worth a look for those considering moving into one of the superzooms in the 15x and under portion of the class.

Pros:

Cons: