Canon PowerShot SX260 HS review
1/2.3in 12.0-megapixel sensor, 20.0x zoom (25-500mm equivalent), 231g
The controls have gone through some modest changes. As before, the pad doubles as a wheel, which makes adjusting settings much quicker than pressing up and down on the navigation pad. However, this time there are labels to show the default actions of the up, down, left and right buttons on the pad – a strange oversight on the SX230 HS that we're glad to see corrected. Another welcome change is that the 3in screen has a 4:3 rather than 16:9 aspect ratio. This means that videos are letterboxed but photos fill the screen, which is likely to be more useful for most people.
We're not sure how many people use priority and manual exposure modes on a camera like this, but it's always welcome to have these options. We particularly like how exposure settings are reflected in the preview image's brightness. Manual focus is available too but fine-tuning it isn't easy, despite the help of the wheel and a temporarily magnified preview. Sadly there's no way to move the autofocus point around the frame – it's either in the centre or positioned automatically using face detection. This isn't much of an issue for wide-angle shots but focus becomes more critical for telephoto photography.
The mode dial has a new option called Live, which replaces conventional controls with three on-screen sliders labelled Dark-Light, Neutral-Vivid and Cool-Warm. It's hard to imagine a more approachable system, but the advantage of conventional controls such as exposure compensation and white balance is that they're common to virtually all cameras, so you don't need to learn a new system each time you upgrade. This camera others both types of control, though, so there's no complaint from us.
GPS is built in. It suffered the usual problem of taking up to 10 minutes to calculate its position when we first used it at a new location, but from then on it tagged photos accurately. Now that Adobe Lightroom handles map plotting so well, built-in GPS has become a much more desirable feature, especially in a camera that's so well suited to expeditions.
The video mode exhibited all the traits we've come to expect from Canon's compact cameras. The 1080p AVC recordings excelled for details and colour accuracy, and noise was impressively low in gloomy environments. The 24fps frame rate isn't as smooth as 30fps video, though, particularly for panning shots. Still, some people will appreciate the film-like appearance – 24fps is used in cinemas so there's a kudos attached to this frame rate.
The 16-minute clip limit may prove more frustrating, especially as the camera stops with no advance warning. A countdown would be more useful than an elapsed time readout. The zoom and focus motors remained active while recording but focus was sometimes slow to update and the zoom was picked up by the stereo microphone. Despite all these niggles, this is one of the better video modes to grace a pocket-sized camera.
This isn't the fastest performer around. It switched on and captured a photo in a reasonable two seconds, but took 2.1 seconds on average between subsequent shots. There are various continuous modes; the fastest is a scene preset that captures 10 shots in a second, but the screen is blank during capture and there's limited control over exposure settings. Otherwise, continuous shooting was at 2.2fps, or 0.8fps when refocusing between each shot.
These results fall well short of its fastest rival, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ30, but they're not disastrous. For wildlife photography and candid portraits, it's useful to be able to fire off a quick string of shots to maximise the chances of getting a nicely composed, sharp photo. For this it's worth leaving the camera on continuous mode (or continuous with autofocus). This isn't as straightforward as the TZ30 with its faster performance in single drive mode, but it's not too much of a bind.
The extra zoom range over the SX230 HS is offset by the slightly hazy focus at telephoto focal lengths, but overall this is a worthy successor to a superb camera. Having a big zoom, superb low-light performance and high-quality videos in a single, pocket-sized package makes a lot of sense. It's a tough call between this and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ30, but if low-light image quality is a priority, the Canon is the obvious choice.