Ah, the compact superzoom. Over the years they've got smaller yet, somehow, have managed to cram more and more features in. In the case of the Canon PowerShot SX720 HS it's all about the zoom - 40x optical zoom, no less.
Which is quite a feat. In the hand you wouldn't think the slender SX720 HS - which is just 35.6mm thick - would provide a 24-960mm (equivalent) reach, but that it does. That's wide-angle enough for group photos and long enough to capture far away subjects as if they're close to the camera.
Indeed the SX720 HS is the slimmest camera in the world to offer such a substantial zoom. But is it really all that? As we've so often concluded with similar cameras, such as the Panasonic Lumix TZ80 (with its 30x optical zoom), there are lots of limitations with such an optic.
Shooting with the SX720 HS at the wide-angle setting and it's responsive, but that autofocus speed really dwindles as the zoom extends. At the 960mm maximum equivalent it's really quite slow, diminishing its practical use. That's the problem, really: put too much in and you don't get as much out.
There are technical reasons for this. The maximum aperture, i.e. the size of the opening that lets light into the lens, is limited to f/3.3 at the widest-angle, dropping to a smaller f/6.9 when at full zoom. That means not much light can enter the lens, limiting low-light shooting and the camera's capabilities.
So, in a sense, a shorter and more capable lens might be more suitable for your needs. If you're on a super-sunny safari then there might be enough natural light for the SX720 HS to conquer, but in many scenarios that just won't be the case from what we've seen.
There's also no touchscreen control in this latest compact which, well, seems a little behind the times. Even Panasonic has adpoted touch controls in its latest Lumix TZ80.
As per all PowerShot models the SX720 HS keeps autofocus options simple too. The single point can be adjusted between only two sizes, set as a centre point, or adjusted for face detection and subject tracking. It's fine enough, but lacks the complexities of some competitors - and with higher-end compact cameras coming out left, right and centre we suppose our expectations have risen too.
Under the hood there's a 20.3-megapixel sensor, paired with Digic 6 processor. That's the same as found in the SX710 predecessor, as Canon is focusing on the lens this time around rather than boosting image quality. But as we've so often found with PowerShot cameras, the image quality is typically best-in-class. We'll have to wait to find out with the SX720 HS, though, as we've not been able to take any sample images away having used this pre-production model.
In one sense the PowerShot SX720 HS offers plenty because of its significant lens properties, plus the likes of 1080p movie recording at 60fps. In another sense it's a long way behind the likes of the Panasonic TZ80 because there's no touchscreen and no built-in viewfinder.
Sometimes big numbers sound great, but that doesn't always translate to excellence in use. As pocketable travel zooms go the SX720 HS has a lot on offer, but that 40x optical zoom needs to be met with realistic expectations.
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