While the SX230 is as tame as they come with modes like Smart Auto, it also offers a variety of manual controls for those who like more hands on time with the exposure process. Smart Auto takes all the guess work out of taking a great photo, with only one real demand on the photographer; framing the picture. The camera will automatically choose relevant exposure settings (aperture, shutter speed, etc.), while at the same time choosing the best Scene settings from up to 32 pre-defined situations. This system is designed to help you capture much more pleasing photos in a variety of shooting environments. For those with a bit more photographic experience, or those wanting to learn more, the SX230 provides access to various levels of manual control; starting with Program AE (Auto Everything) to full Manual. With robust exposure mode options, the SX230 can appeal to a wide range of photogs; whether this will be your first digital camera, or you're a seasoned photographer looking for a compact and lightweight camera for snapshots.
The exterior of the SX230 hasn't changed much from post models, with the exception of the added "hump" on the top from the GPS sensor. This is still a compact camera, however there's enough real estate for you to easily wrap you hands around the camera for a good hold. I found that pinching the camera with my left hand and wrapping with the right offered the most comfortable hold on the camera. Like we mentioned in our SX210 review, we would have liked to see a small raised hand-grip on the front of the camera that would allow you to wrap your right hand around the camera better, also offering a more secure grip. The camera controls are located in the same positions as on the SX210, all of which are arranged in a comfortable manner, just within the reach of your finger tips. The location of the zoom controls offers effortless framing, along with the mode dial. Your thumb falls naturally over it, allowing you to change exposure modes quickly. The SX230 also incorporates a separate movie mode shutter release. While you can rotate the mode dial to the Movie position, this is not necessary. No matter what shooting mode you are in you can start recording full HD video by simply pressing the movie shutter on the back of the camera. This is a great option that we are seeing more and more nowadays, giving you a much better chance at capturing those once in a lifetime events that a photo doesn't always work best for.
One small issue we noted with the SX210 was the fact the the Up/Down/Left/Right directions on the 4-way controller are not labeled on the back of the camera, even though they all toggle different camera settings depending on the exposure mode being used. It's possible that this will cause a bit of frustration at times, considering you have to hold your finger on the 4-way controller (aka the rear control dial) for an onscreen graphic to pop-up showing you the possible shortcuts. This has not been remedied on the SX230, however it does appear that the pop-up menu displays a bit faster.
Canon has upgraded the LCD on the SX230 with twice the resolution of past models at 461K pixels. This is a high-quality monitor that provides a pleasing view of your subjects while shooting photos or video as well as when reviewing stored files. This unit occupies the majority of the real estate on the back of the camera, with a wide 16:9 aspect ration and 100% frame coverage. With a 16:9 aspect, this means when shooting in the standard 4:3 ratio (highest resolution setting on the camera), you will have some empty black space on the left and right sides of the frame. This is where Canon places many of the settings icons, filling this space. When you change the still image format to 16:9, or record HD video, the entire display will be filled with the live image. Overall, this display worked well in most lighting conditions, with only a few angles that reflect bright light.
The SX230 is among several newer PowerShot models that offer Canon's new "HS" designation. This means this model is equipped with their High Sensitivity System, which is broken down to a fast CMOS type image sensor and their DIGIC 4 processor. This is a backside-illuminated sensor, which offers less noise at higher ISO speeds, increased shooting performance, and lower power consumption when compared to a standard CCD type unit. While the SX230's lens doesn't offer a fast f/2.x maximum aperture, it does offer a max. of f/3.1 which is still quite fast for a 14x zoom lens. This unit covers a vast 35mm equivalent zoom range of 28 - 392mm. Canon also includes their optical image stabilization system in the SX230, which gives you approx. 2-3 stops of compensation, helping you reduce blur caused by camera shake; whether using the telephoto capabilities or shooting in lower lighting. With a vast zoom range, the SX230 will afford a pleasing field of view whether you're shooting close-ups of friends and family, group portraits indoors and out, or when zooming across the basketball court. Even thought the camera has a proven IS system in place, we still highly recommend some form of camera support when shooting with the telephoto end of the zoom range; such as a monopod or tripod. We noticed some typical lens distortions when viewing our samples, with some average barrel distortion at full wide angle, moderate pincushioning at the telephoto end, and a moderate amount of chromatic aberrations (aka purple fringing). The CA was only really noted when shooting at full wide angle, however there was a bit more than we'd like to see. Zooming in even slight seemed to greatly reduce the amount visible, with virtually nothing showing up in our other mid-telephoto to full telephoto shots.
When reviewing our sample images, we were pleased to find that the SX230 captures some very nice photos outdoors. Exposure is relatively good for a point-n-shoot type camera, and color saturation is pleasing to the eyes. Images are tack sharp throughout the zoom range, with very little edge softness present at some of the wider angles. When critically viewing photos at 100%, we saw a good amount of fine detail, providing a nice clear image throughout (from edge to edge). While the majority of the time we used Smart Auto, we did see that at times Smart Auto would produce a brighter image, with a bit of extra noise when critically inspecting images at pixel level (100%, aka pixel peeping). When shooting the same subject using Program mode with the ISO set to the lowest (100) option, we saw an image that was slightly darker (not a bad thing) with less visible noise. This doesn't mean you should steer clear of Smart Auto by any means, but we did want to mention it for those who demand the best quality possible for larger prints or tight crops.
Moving indoors, the camera didn't impress as quite as much as outdoors. Like the SX210, the SX230 has an automatic pop-up/retract flash unit. When powered on, this unit will automatically pop out of the body at the top left corner, and when turned off it retracts back inside. Like we mentioned in our SX210 review, due to the thickness of the camera, we found ourselves holding the camera in a way that would block the flash from opening properly; using the common "pinch" technique. When this occurred, the mechanism that opens and closes the flash didn't sound to happy. While I don't think we hurt the camera in any way, I'm sure prolonged instances like this over time could wear out some parts. The flash itself was the only real draw back on this camera, which on top of the functionality described above is very weak. When shooting indoors using Smart Auto, I found the camera would choose Not to use the flash more often than note, thanks to the SX230's ability to handle noise well at higher ISO settings. When the flash did fire, it was only effective when shooting close-up portraits from no more than 5 or so feet away. On our samples page you can see a small group shot of three guys in a dimly lit bar and grill, and the flash had some serious problems illuminating them; even though they were only 4 feet away at the most. While our other indoor non-flash photos were pleasing, they too had some small issues. Obviously if you inspect them closely you'll see some noise or "grain" in the photo, but the bigger problem is with white balance. Under mixed lighting the Auto White Balance setting had some issues, especially when incandescent type lighting is involved. You can see a few examples on our samples page to see what we mean. Overall, the camera has the ability to perform well indoors, you just might have to adjust a few settings if the images we show on our samples page don't live up to your expectations.
Being one of Canon's newer HS system cameras, the SX230 offers good high ISO performance when compared to similarly priced cameras using CCD type image sensors. We noted some very pleasing results with Canon's recent PowerShot ELPH models (the 100 HS, 300 HS, and 500 HS), and the SX230 provided similar results. Noise is well controlled up to ISO 800, where you start to see some obvious noise when critically viewing images at 100%. However, we still see a good amount of fine detail, even as the ISO is raised to ISO 1600 and 3200. I would have no problem making small to mid-sized prints using the higher ISO settings of this camera, depending on the amount of light available when shooting. It's always best to keep the sensitivity set to the lowest possible, however it's nice to know that you can raise it when needed and still produce usable photos. In fact, when viewing our M&M man shots at full screen resolution (about 33% on my Dell 24-inch monitor), ISO 800-3200 look pretty darn good for a compact point-n-shoot.
While HD video is now a standard feature on digital cameras these days, most offer a maximum resolution of 1280x720, also know as 720p. The SX230 on the other hand boasts full 1080p HD video (1920x1080), at 30fps with stereo sound. The SX230's IS system is also operational during video capture, helping keep your video nice and steady when using the zoom. Speaking of zoom, the optical zoom lens can be used while recording video. The lens moves nice and slow to help keep motor noise down, however you'll still here a very light hum when zooming. Overall, the SX230 captures some nice HD video, that plays back smoothly thanks to the real-time frame rate. Just don't expect the video from the SX230 to rival that of an HD digital camcorder. While offering Stereo sound, like most all digicams, the built-in microphones are very sensitive. What this means to you is that your video will have a good amount of background noise that you might not have noticed while recording the movie. Also, the mics pick up wind rather easily. Thankfully, there is a Wind filter option in the menu to help cut down on wind noise.
The SX230 uses the same Canon NB-5L battery pack that was found with its sibling. Canon claims this pack will power the camera for up to 210 shots on a single charge, using CIPA Standard testing methods (flash used 50% of the time). We feel this is a very accurate statement, as long as the GPS functionality of the camera is turned off. Just like with your GPS enabled smartphone, while the GPS radio is one the battery will discharge at a much faster rate. So, if you are using the GPS system on the SX230 a lot, plan on having one or more spare batteries with you; especially for a long vacation. Thankfully, Canon provides a nice AC charger with handy fold-away prongs, so no extra cords are needed. This allows you to keep the charger with you, and lets you charge one pack while using another.
One of the key marketing points on the SX230 HS is the built-in GPS. This is becoming more common in digicams, yet there are still only a couple handfuls of models that actual offer this functionality. To enable this function you have to enter the Setup menu and scroll down to GPS Settings. Here you have two options, turn GPS On or Off, and enable/disable GPS Logger (aka tracker). Like we mentioned above, be careful when turning GPS on as it does drain the battery at a much faster rate. This is especially true when you enable the Logger as it will track your movements even then the camera is off; basically the GPS radio doesn't turn off with the camera, unless you select the off setting in the menu. Canon includes a handy Map Utility too, which allows you to load up captured photos, then in conjunction with Google Maps shows you small and precise destination points of where each photo was captured. Clicking on these pins will show you a small thumbnail of which photo was captured at that location. Like visiting Google maps in your browser, you have access to most of the same features, such as Zoom, Map View, Satellite View, or Hybrid. If you decided to enable the Logger, you can also import the log file into the software from the camera to show a trace of your route. At any point, you can click on an image on the left in the thumbnail view (or a log file), and edit the location information to your liking. All of this can also be exported to Google Earth. All in all this is a pretty sweet and handy feature, especially if you're on a trek across country or on any other vacation. Below you can see some screen captures from the software; click to enlarge.
Bottom line - The PowerShot SX230 HS offers some nice improvements over the SX210 of late, including Canon's High Sensitivity system, built-in GPS, full 1080p HD video recording, slightly increased shooting performance, and some cool new exposure options. On the other hand, the SX230 still has a few of the same annoyances we found with the SX210. This would include the auto pop-up flash unit which not only pops up every time you power-up the camera, but is also very weak. That said, the SX230 HS has a lot to offer for a camera of its size, especially when you consider it's packing a sweet 14x optical zoom lens. With a street price of $349 or less, the SX230 is on the higher end of the pricing scale. However, the features and performance it offers will help justify the cost.
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