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Canon PowerShot SX1 IS review

Ben Pitt
22 Apr 2009
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
400
inc VAT

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Specifications

1/2.3in 10.0-megapixel sensor, 20.0x zoom (28-560mm equivalent), 585g

With a 10-megapixel resolution and 20x zoom, this camera may seem wildly overpriced compared with Panasonic's FZ28. However, two key features differentiate it from most other ultra-zoom cameras.

This is the first Canon PowerShot to be built around a CMOS sensor rather than a CCD sensor. CMOS is widely used in digital SLRs, and although the sensor used here doesn't produce SLR-level image quality (its dimensions are in line with other ultra-zooms rather than SLRs), it delivers SLR-like performance. We measured 3.9fps in continuous mode, just short of the 4fps claimed speed. Just as impressive is the two-second start-up time, which is particularly fast for an ultra-zoom camera with a large lens. 1.7 seconds between shots in single drive mode is nowhere near SLR standards, however, and 3.7 seconds for flash photography is disappointing.

The other feature that separates the SX1 from cheaper ultra-zooms is its full-HD video mode. It records 1,920x1,080 pixels per frame, nearly seven times more than the 640x480 resolution of most digital cameras. It saves videos in QuickTime format using AVC compression, and the gargantuan 40Mbit/s bit rate requires a seriously powerful PC for playback and editing. However, picture quality was significantly better than we've ever seen from a stills camera. Only Casio's SX-F1 comes close, also recording at 1,920x1,080 pixels, but the SX1 exhibited noticeably sharper detail and more flattering colours. It even surpassed similarly priced dedicated HD video cameras for detail. Sadly, its autofocus was a little slow to track moving subjects and camera positions. Automatic exposures reacted smoothly to changing light, but manual exposure isn't available during video capture. Sound quality is considerably better than on most stills cameras, with a detailed, full-bodied tone from the stereo microphone and a manual volume setting. Noise from the focus and zoom motors was audible in quiet scenes, though.

The hinged LCD folds out to the side of the camera and rotates to face up, down or backwards for self-portraits. Its 2.8in diagonal is ample but the 230,000-pixel resolution is a little disappointing at this price. The electronic viewfinder is more of a letdown, as its 148,000-pixel resolution compares poorly with the 235,000 pixels of the SX10 IS.

We were delighted to find an HDMI output, which shows the 1080p videos in all their glory and is great for slideshows too. An infrared remote control is included, and a recently announced firmware update will add RAW capture, although this wasn't available in time for our review. With so many tantalising features, the use of four AA batteries seems decidedly low-tech - this camera deserves a high-capacity Li-ion battery.

As a stills camera, the SX1 IS is impressive, but those expecting an upgrade from £250 cameras such as the FZ28 or SX10 IS will be disappointed. The controls are well designed and almost identical to the SX10 IS's, with various dedicated buttons and a wheel for adjusting settings quickly. Photos taken in bright light were smooth and detailed, but colours sometimes lacked vibrancy, and chromatic aberrations were easy to spot in high-contrast scenes. Details were soft in low-light shots, and shadows exhibited large amounts of chromatic noise. Nearly all ultra-zoom cameras suffer from this problem, but the SX1 is a little worse than the SX10 IS and the FZ28, and much worse than Fujifilm's F100fs with its larger sensor. We also found that the flash tended to overexpose subjects at close proximity.

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