Canon PowerShot SX20 IS review

Ben Pitt
8 Jun 2010
Canon PowerShot SX20 IS
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
inc VAT

A classy camera that puts in a solid performance, but lacks the stand-out features to push it into the lead



1/2.3in 12.0-megapixel sensor, 20.0x zoom (28-560mm equivalent), 647g

This bulbous ultra-zoom camera looks and feels like a serious piece of kit. There’s an accessory shoe with E-TTL support for automatic exposures using Canon flashguns. The hinged screen helps when shooting at awkward angles and flips right around for self-portraits. Its 2.5in diagonal is on the small side, but the electronic viewfinder (EVF) is much bigger than other cameras’ EVFs.

The use of four AA batteries makes this quite a heavy camera, and also means that flash recycling times are slow – we measured 10 seconds between shots at full flash power. The SX20 IS isn't the nippiest performer at the best of times, taking 2.9 seconds on average between shots, and managing 1fps in continuous mode. The controls are well laid out, with direct access to ISO speed and focus point plus a jog wheel for changing settings. Manual exposure is superbly implemented but the lack of a RAW picture format is a big disappointment.

It’s not easy making a lens with a big zoom, which makes the PowerShot's incredible sharpness all the more impressive. Flash-lit photos revealed crisp details at both extremes of the zoom range. The corners of wide-angle shots suffered from chromatic aberrations, though, giving a halo of discoloration to high-contrast lines.

Telephoto shots were kept sharp with the best optical stabilisation system we’ve ever seen, managing a 90 per cent success rate at shutter speeds as slow as 1/8s seconds at the full 560mm zoom position. Moving subjects such as sports and wildlife need a fast ISO speed and fast shutter, though. Here, the SX20 IS was good but not exceptional, with a lack of subtle details due to aggressive noise reduction. The 720p video mode worked well, with effective optical zoom and autofocus that didn’t spoil the excellent audio quality. The picture wasn’t as crisp or as noise-free as we’d like, though.

The SX20 IS is a superb camera, but the areas where it excels – lens sharpness, stabilisation and manual controls – are matched by the lighter, faster and cheaper Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38.

Basic Specifications

CCD effective megapixels12.0 megapixels
CCD size1/2.3in
Viewfinderelectronic (235,000 pixels)
Viewfinder magnification, coverageN/A
LCD screen size2.5in
LCD screen resolution230,000 pixels
Articulated screenYes
Live viewYes
Optical zoom20.0x
Zoom 35mm equivalent28-560mm
Image stabilisationoptical, lens based
Maximum image resolution4,000x3,000
Maximum movie resolution1280x720
Movie frame rate at max quality30fps
File formatsJPEG; QuickTime (AVC)


Memory slotSDHC
Mermory suppliednone
Battery type4x AA
Battery Life (tested)340 shots
ConnectivityUSB, AV, mini HDMI, DC in
HDMI output resolution1080i
Body materialplastic
Lens mountN/A
Focal length multiplierN/A
Kit lens model nameN/A
AccessoriesUSB and AV cables

Buying Information

Warrantyone-year RTB

Camera Controls

Exposure modesprogram, shutter priority, aperture priority, manual
Shutter speed15 to 1/3,200 seconds
Aperture rangef/2.8-8 (wide), f/5.7-8 (tele)
ISO range (at full resolution)80 to 1600
Exposure compensation+/-2 EV
White balanceauto, 6 presets, manual
Additional image controlsflash compensation, iContrast
Manual focusYes
Closest macro focus0cm
Auto-focus modescentre, spot, face detect
Metering modesmulti, centre-weighted, centre, AF point, face detect
Flashauto, forced, suppressed, slow synchro, rear curtain, red-eye reduction
Drive modessingle, continuous, self-timer, AE bracket, focus bracket

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