Canon PowerShot SX210 IS camera

The Canon PowerShot SX210 IS comes in to replace the SX200 IS, competing against the likes of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ8, in offering a wealth of creative control and a lot of zoom in a relatively compact camera. It's the sort of camera aimed at those who want a little more, without stepping up to a hybrid or DSLR model, and often aimed at those travelling.

The SX210 sees a number of changes over the last iteration, bringing in new technologies and design, as well as the return of some features that had been removed in the previous generation of cameras. The Canon zoom lens gives you a 28-392mm range (in 35mm terms), with a max aperture of F/3.1. It isn't the widest angle in this category of camera, but from a folding lens of this type, the camera is certainly compact.

It is also a UD (ultra low dispersion) Canon lens, meaning the glass will cut down on unwanted refraction. This is a technology that has moved over from Canon's SLR lens, with Canon telling us that it'd had to improve the quality of its compact lenses to cope with the higher resolution sensors making their way into these types of cameras.

The dimensions of the body read out as 105.8 x 59.3 x 31.9mm, larger than your average compact, but still small enough to slip into a pocket. It weighs 215g all in with memory card and battery, which both reside in a compartment on the underside.

The design of the camera is interesting, with a silver band running around the edges setting off the coloured body - purple, black and gold are all on offer. There are no hard edges on the SX210, instead a collection of curves around the edges and the 3-inch, 16:9 aspect LCD display on the back.

The layout of controls is relatively conventional for a Canon camera, the top offering power, zoom and shutter, although the zoom control is a separate toggle, rather than the normal ring around the shutter button. The back offers the normal four-way controller flanked by four buttons, as found on most IXUS models, but with an additional rotating bezel on the four-way controller. A mode dial sits on the rear above of the other controls.

The right-hand side of the camera offers up Mini-USB and mini HDMI connections, for hooking up to your computer or TV. Also hidden into the design is a pop-up flash. Canon told us a pop-up flash was needed to avoid vignetting given the size of the lens below.

We're in two minds about the flash. The strange thing about it is that it opens whenever you turn the camera on. This means it is ready to fire or not when you need it, but the real problem is the location. Sitting on the top left-hand corner of the body, it's exactly where your finger will be sitting when you power on the camera. We were forever turning the camera on and stopping the flash deploying.

We asked Canon if this would damage the flash and they confirmed that it wouldn't; the flash can be manually lifted and shut as you please. Closing the flash cancels it, obviously, so it won't fire - easier than cancelling it under the flash controls, although you do get that option too. With prolonged use you'll get used to it, we're sure.

Sitting at the core of the SX210 is a 14-megapixel sensor backed by the DIGIC 4 processor. Image stabilisation (either lens shift in still shooting or dynamic in movie shooting) is present and seems to be effective. With 14x lens, all the IS in the world won't replace a stable shooting platform if you want the sharpest images at the far end of the zoom.

Those familiar with Canon camera will know that the four-way controller normally offers up a number of shortcuts: flash, exposure compensation, self timer and macro. These markings have been removed from the controller, so you have to lightly press on it to give you a corresponding display on the screen, which at first glance is a little fiddly.

However, this gives Canon more flexibility to change the function of these controls, and knock them out of various shooting modes. For example, in Auto, you don't get to set macro mode or exposure compensation, so these options are greyed-out. In shutter priority the controller will change the shutter speed by default, but by clicking upwards you can switch to changing exposure compensation.

The mode dial offers up some surprises. You get the normal run of Auto, program, shutter priority, aperture priority and manual. But you then get a full run of Easy mode, portrait, landscape, night shapshot, kids and pets and indoor before you reach the Scene mode. The final position is reserved for video shooting. The dial has a good firm clicking action to it, and provides a convenient thumb rest whilst gripping the camera. The dial also rotates all the way round - a minor but welcome detail.

Auto mode in this case is Canon's Smart Auto, the likes of which we've seen on IXUS models for some time, which scans the scene and picks the appropriate shooting mode from a couple of the scene presets. It is fairly effective, and potentially negates the need for the portrait and landscape shooting modes as it is good at recognising these scenes; macro detection also works well too.

The menus are a typical effort, with major settings hiding under the Menu button and those settings pertinent to shooting under the Func. Set button in the centre of the four-way control. The Func. Set button pops-up a left-hand menu to then easily change your settings. Additional settings sometimes hide under the Disp. button too, for example, to change the intensity of the fish-eye or miniature scene modes. Color Swap and Color Accent are back, meaning you take those arty wedding photos with only the pink bridal bouquet in colour whilst the rest is black and white.

The miniature mode offers the same sort of thing we've seen from the Art Filters on Olympus cameras, but we like the fact you can change the focal point or intensity of the effect. It reminds you that photography is both creative and fun so it is a welcome addition from Canon, who can sometimes come across as a little serious in their camera range.

In use the camera is responsive, with both the intelligence to support you in Auto mode and plenty of control through the manual settings for those who want to be a bit more creative. Start-up time is fairly fast, with the lens rolling out in just over 2.5 seconds, but it will be around 4 seconds before you have your first shot. Buffering the image to memory can sometimes seem a little slow, especially if you are applying an effect from the scene (like colour swap), but this is typical.

The normal ISO range runs from 80 up to 1600. A low light scene mode will then offer you up to ISO 6400, but drops the sensor to 3.2 megapixels in the process. Shadow noise shows its head fairly low down the ISO scale and is obvious at ISO 400, but given your subject, you might find that ISO 800 is acceptable. Above this and noise is obvious and more of a problem. The low light scene might help you capture the dark recesses of the pub, but it won't give you a fine image.

Video offers HD at 720p at 30fps and two lower resolutions if you wish. Video can be accessed through the correct position on the mode dial, or by punching the record button on the back of the camera (which can be reprogrammed if you don't want that). This means you can dive into recording video at any time. You also get continuous autofocus in video and use of the optical zoom, although you can hear it whirring in and out if you are filming something quiet. The stereo mic is welcomed, recording good quality 48kHz audio, and features a wind filter which will damp down some environmental noise, but won't stand up to too much of a breeze.

Video shooting offers Color Swap and Color Accent modes alongside the Smart Auto mode, which will detect changing scenes in-use, switching from portrait to macro, for example. The results are good, with good quality footage, plenty of detail and great natural colours in good light. In low light, even an unlit room in daylight, you'll find that noise is obvious, only getting worse as the light drops.

Shooting in Auto you'll find the results are better than average for the most part. Colours look natural, skin tones are well represented and there is plenty of detail. Low light shooting isn't so good with noise creeping in fairly early, but for this type of camera that's not unusual. Wrestling control from Smart Auto will sometimes give you better results: it is happy to bump the ISO up, sometimes where the flash would be a preferred option. As you can't force the flash to fire in Auto mode, it can be better to switch out to Program mode even if just for more flash control.

Focusing is fast, but getting the focal point you want can sometimes be a little elusive - shooting in Auto will sometimes need reframing to get the focal point you want, although switching through the focus options in the menus may get you better results.

The lens doesn't show any significant signs of distortion at either extremes, but fine detail is lost at the far reaches of the zoom, even when shooting with a tripod; if you are planning on producing large prints or cropping in further on detail, you'll want to move closer to get the best results. High contrast scenes do show a level of fringing, typical for this sort of camera.

The battery life is cited as 260 shots, which isn't fantastic, and shooting and watching video will eat into that too.

Verdict

Overall the Canon PowerShot SX210 IS is a versatile camera offering the advantages of a wide zoom range in a compact body. The shooting options presented are equally wide ranging, from the Easy Mode which is ideal for children, through Smart Auto, right over to Manual control.

A level of compromise is always expected in this sort of large zoom compact and it's nice to see Canon putting forward a number of fun features to widen its appeal. This camera is likely to attract those who want something diverse but simple, with the potential to grow and experiment.

It is a touch on the expensive side, but if experience is anything to go by, the price will fall fairly quickly once it is on general sale. Otherwise, the PowerShot SX210 is well worth a look.



>