Canon Powershot SX200 IS Review
By Mike Flacy
Canon's PowerShot SX200 IS is the second model we have seen in this compact super-zoom series, the first being the SX110 IS from last year. The SX200 is even more compact than its predecessor, measuring just 4.06 x 2.38 x 1.48 in. and weighing in a about 10 ounces with a battery and memory card loaded. Although this is a petite model, Canon has packed it full of high-end features, including a 12-megapixel image sensor, 12x optical zoom lens, optical image stabilization, DIGIC 4 processor, a large 3.0-inch LCD, auto pop-up and retracing flash unit, USB 2.0 High-speed connectivity, Li-ion battery pack, 720p (1280x720) HD movie mode at 30fps, and much more.
The SX200 has been designed to be usable by everyone in you household or office. Whether you are new to taking pictures or a seasoned veteran, the SX200 has an exposure mode to suit your needs. Those with less experience will appreciate the fully automatic operation offered by Easy, Auto or one of the 17 pre-programed scene modes. For the more experienced users, there are several exposure options that will allow them to grasp as much of the exposure process as they can handle. These settings include Program auto, Aperture priority, Shutter Speed priority and full Manual.
The compact size of this camera will allow you to tuck it away in large pockets (like on cargo shorts), as well as mid size purses and handbags; it should also fit perfect in a briefcase or fanny pack. Canon has designed this camera very well, with a enlarged right hand side for a good firm grip as well as excellent control layout. I found all of the buttons and dials were very easy to operate, all by using just my right hand. The wedge type design of this camera also offers comfortable one-handed shooting. One new feature that deserves a mention in the automatic pop-up/retract flash unit. When you press the power button, this unit pops out of the body at the top left corner, and when powered down, it retracts back inside. This is a unique system that is also very 'cool'. The first time I picked up the camera, I did have my left index finger over top of the flash, which I though was going to make using the camera uncomfortable. However, a simple shift of finger placement solved this problem. Once I got use to carrying it, there was never a second thought about the issue.
The 3.0-inch LCD is a welcomed option on this model. While it's not as resolute as some displays on the market these days, with 230,000 pixels, I found it still offers a good clear image with nice color reproduction and decent contrast. This is a nice 'Wide View' display that offers an anti-reflective coating. I had absolutely no problems using the LCD in various lighting, from dim to extremely bright, which is also a very good thing considering this is the only viewfinder on the camera. Another change Canon made to the SX200 was the menu system. While the layout and design is almost identical, the operation and color has changed slightly. While I did not have any problems with the new menus, I preferred the 'old' style function menu over this new one. They also took away the SuperFine JPEG compression setting, now you can choose from just Fine or Normal.
During our shooting performance tests, the SX200 did quite well for a consumer model. Power up to first image captured measured approx. 2.0 seconds, which includes the time it takes to extend the 12x zoom lens. Shutter lag, the time from depressing the shutter release and capturing an image, was less than 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and about 3/10 of a second including autofocus. When shooting a sequence of still images, the shot to shot delay averaged 2.4 seconds without the flash and 4 - 6 seconds with the flash, depending on the distance from the subject. The only area in which I feel the SX200 lacks is burst mode. You have continuous mode settings to choose from (Continuous, Continuous Shooting AF.) Continuous mode allowed me to capture 10 photos in 10 seconds (about 1.0fps) with no buffer slow down, surpassing Canon's claim of 0.8fps. Continuous Shooting AF mode acquires focus for each shot, and allowed me to captured 10 frames in about 14 seconds; about 0.7fps. In both burst modes, the LCD briefly displays the last shot, making it possible to follow a moving subject. Switching from record mode to playback or vice versa takes about a second. All of our tests were done using an OCZ Class 6 4GB SDHC memory card, with the image size/quality set at Large Fine, Program mode, ISO Auto, preview on, flash off, with all other settings at default (unless otherwise noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera setting, media, etc.
One thing that really impressed us was the fact that Canon was able to squeeze a pretty decent 12x wide view optical zoom lens in such a compact shell. This lens covers a 35mm equivalent range of approx. 28mm - 336mm, offering a great deal of versatility for framing your shots. With a nice wide end, you should be able to capture nice indoor group photos or outdoor landscapes, and the telephoto end will help you frame tightly on your subject as well as bring those distant subjects up close. While it's not the fastest lens with a wide open aperture of 3.4 at wide angle, I found the camera still does well in lower lighting, mostly because of the effective image stabilization system. Overall we found the lens shows typical amounts of barrel distortion at the wide end and slight pincushioning when using the telephoto capabilities. Chromatic aberrations were present in many of our outdoor photos, which is common among super-zoom models. However, one thing that was a bit weird was not only did these aberrations create the normal 'purple fringe', but some were also green. You can see this best by looking at our full telephoto zoom example. If you look at the block on the left hand side, you will see the normal purple colored stripe along the edge of the blocks, but a green line along the edge of the shadow cast from the same blocks. Just remember that it's unlikely you will see these instances when creating small to large sized prints of full resolution images.
Image quality was pleasing both indoors about out. Our outdoor samples show the camera has the ability to capture excellent exposures that show good color balance, and are tac sharp. In fact, I saw almost no signs of edge softness throughout the zoom range. When shooting indoors, I found the flash had plenty of power when using the Auto ISO. Canon claims a max. range of up to 9.8 ft. using this setting. While this may seem less than many cameras out there, I feel Canon was simply more conservative with their rating. Many manufactures will post a broad flash range, but this is only when you use extremely high ISO settings, which will ruin an image due to noise. The SX200 did well indoors, keeping the ISO to a max. of 250. This produced nice exposures, with plenty of light. I did see a bit of speckling from noise in dark shadow areas, but this was only when viewing images at 75-100%; your 4x6 - 8x10-inch prints should look great. Overall, our people photos show sharp facial detail and accurate skin tones.
The DIGIC 4 processor seems to control noise well. Looking at our M&M man examples, noise levels are quite low for a consumer model from ISO 400 and below. At 800 you start to see some heavy NR (Noise Reduction), however these images are still very usable as long as you have decent lighting. Even ISO 1600 looks like it can create a usable 4x6. In darker conditions, the appearance of noise will be greater. When shooting outdoors at night, I found this camera was able to produce some decent handheld photos. For our outdoor example, I did use the group to help support the camera as well as the slow sync flash setting. Overall, I was pleased with the outcome, especially from a consumer point-n-shoot with the ISO set to Auto. The i-contrast function also worked well, helping brighten certain areas of the photograph. Be sure to check out our before and after examples using the i-contrast function in the playback menu.
When using the Marco focus option, the camera does an excellent job of controlling the flash output, ensuring you don't overexpose your subject. While normal Macro mode seemed to perform up to Canon's claims, the Super Macro mode did not work well at all. In fact, normal Macro mode was able to focus closer than Super Macro. There were also several instances where the Super Macro mode would through up a Green rectangle along with the focus successful sound, and the image was completely out of focus. Hopefully these findings were due to a small problem with the eval unit Canon loaded us.
The SX200 is the second model we have seen this year from Canon to feature their new 720p HD movie mode. This means you now have three resolution settings to choose from (1280x720, 640x480 or 320x240), all with a fixed frame rate of 30fps. Like we saw on the SD780 IS, the SX200 was able to capture excellent video for a consumer model. The Exposure system did well indoors and out, and the AF system was able to keep up with moving subjects. Movie playback is nice and smooth thanks to the 'real-time' 30fps frame rate. We highly recommend you purchase a large SDHC memory card for this camera, as the HD function consumers about 3MB per second!
Unlike the SX110, Canon used their proprietary NB-5L 3.7v 1120mAh Li-ion battery pack to power the SX200. They claim with this pack you can capture up to 280 images on a single charge. I was able to shoot over 150 images and several (about 15) short movie clips as well as complete all of out other tests with power to spare. With battery life like this, you shouldn't need to purchase a second pack unless you plan on taking over 250 photos a day.
Bottom line - designed for those who want a great deal of versatility packaged into a small frame, the SX200 IS is yet another example of Canon's commitment to offering the latest in technology and ingenuity. The SX200 is an awesome little camera, with very few flaws. Image quality is excellent, as is shooting performance in single shot mode. If you are one who is in the market for a versatile super-zoom that can be tucked away in your purse, backpack or briefcase, look no further. With a street price of US$379 or less, we feel this camera offers an outstanding value for the amount of features and portability you are receiving.
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