Steve's Conclusion

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Steve's SnapShot
    PowerShot SX260 black front.jpg
  • 12.1-megapixel CMOS image sensor
  • Canon's HS (High Sensitivity) System
  • 20x zoom lens (25-500mm)
  • Intelligent IS (image stabilization) feature
  • 3.0-inch (461,000-dot) wide viewing angle LCD screen
  • HD (1080p) video recording  
  • Smart AUTO, which selects settings based on 58 predefined shooting situations
  • Easy mode for basic photography
  • Program and Manual modes for shooting with more advanced settings
  • Live View allows for quick adjustments
  • Built-in Hints and Tips option
  • High-Speed Burst HQ captures up to 10 frames in succession
  • Super Slow Motion video recording
  • Cool photo modes like toy camera, soft focus, color accent, color swap, stitch assist, miniature, super vivid, poster, monochrome, and fisheye effects    

Pros
  • Good mix of easy-to-use features and manual setting options for beginners and intermediates
  • 20x zoom lens is great to see in such a thin camera
  • LCD is very bright and sharp, easily can be viewed in sunlight outdoors
  • Color accuracy quality is very good
  • Good mix of advanced features, when compared to other point and shoots
  • Some interesting built-in special-effect features
  • Pop-up flash unit provides good results
  • Offers a very basic built-in GPS
  • Button controls are comfortable to use
Cons
  • Camera's autofocus can be a little slow in low light
  • Overall response times can be a little sluggish
  • Mode dial has a few odd choices on it
  • Seems like there's some redundancy in the easy-to-use modes
  • Battery can drain quickly with GPS activated
  • Experienced photographers will want more control options
  • Low light photos can be a bit soft when trying to make really large prints
Timing Test Results
  • Power up to first image captured = 1.3 seconds (with start-up image turned off)
  • Shutter lag when prefocused  = less than 1/10 of a second
  • Shutter lag with autofocus = about 3/10 of a second
  • Shot to shot delay without flash = 4.5 seconds between frames with minimum review time On, 2.2 seconds with review Off
  • Shot to shot delay with flash = 5.6 seconds between frames with minimum review time On, 3.8 seconds with review Off
  • Continuous = 1.2fps @ 12M
  • AF Continuous = 0.75fps @ 12M
  • High-Speed Burst = 1.4fps @ 12M
  • All tests were taken using a SanDisk Class 4, 4 GB SDHC memory card, Program Mode, Flash off, Review on, ISO Auto and all other settings at the factory defaults unless noted otherwise.
Bottom Line
If you can swing the $300+ price point of the Canon PowerShot SX260 HS, beginning and intermediate photographers will find quite a few nice options with this camera. The 20x optical zoom lens is a great feature, and color accuracy in images is very good. Response times are a little sluggish and low-light performance is mixed, but this is a very nice intermediate-level camera. 
Pick This Up If...
You need a large zoom camera that's still relatively small and thin for shooting outdoors with a GPS, and if you aren't planning to shoot a lot of low-light, indoor images without the flash. 
Canon has carved a nice niche for itself in the intermediate camera market. Its more advanced PowerShot models remain relatively thin, but carry nice features, such as large zoom lenses and large LCD screens.

The Canon PowerShot SX260 HS is another strong contender in the Canon family. It includes quite a few advanced features for a point and shoot camera, including an impressive 20x optical zoom lens and a popup flash unit. While the SX260 might be a little chunky to fit in a pocket comfortably, it's still a small model that's easy to tuck away while traveling. The SX260 is a nice-looking camera, offered in dark pink, black, or blue-green; with black trim on the top panel.

For beginning and intermediate photographers, the PowerShot SX260 HS has a nice set of features that can grow with you as you learn more about photography. Beginners can make use of the Smart Auto and Easy modes for simple operation, while intermediate shooters can look to use Program or Manual modes to achieve more control over the shot. Beginners can also take advantage of the basic Hints that are displayed on the screen as you select various functions. Certainly, if you're an advanced photographer, you probably aren't going to find the precise control that you want, and the SX260 cannot shoot in RAW and only can shoot at a maximum ISO of 3200. 

Canon's inclusion of a 20x optical zoom lens with this model is arguably the best feature in the camera. The SX260 can move through its full optical zoom range pretty fast, only requiring about 2 seconds, and it moves smoothly. One other thing to keep in mind with this camera is that it can be easy to zoom through the full optical zoom range and into digital zoom range if you aren't paying close attention. On the SX260's screen, the optical zoom range is represented by a white bar, which changes to yellow when the digital zoom range begins, so keep an eye on the screen. You can also turn the digital zoom off via the menu; which we highly recommend.

The SX260 HS measures only 1.29 inches in thickness, so it's not common to find such a thin camera with such a large zoom lens. Canon also included an optical image stabilization feature with this PowerShot model, which is important for a camera with such a large zoom lens. However, you may want to purchase a tripod or monopod to help further steady the camera if you plan to shoot at the maximum zoom quite often, just to protect against slightly blurry photos from camera shake. OIS is a great feature that helps tremendously, but it doesn't work miracles.

With a high-resolution 3.0-inch LCD screen, you probably won't miss the fact that the PowerShot SX260 doesn't have a separate viewfinder. The LCD is sharp and bright, and it doesn't suffer much from screen glare when shooting outdoors in sunlight. This combined eith 461K pixels gives the SX260 a high-quality LCD screen. You can make use of the built-in GPS unit to tag photos taken with the SX260, and you can shoot video at full 1080p HD. Canon included a mini-HDMI slot with this camera, making it easy to display your HD videos on a HDTV; not cable is included.

Even though the SX260 HS has only 12.1 megapixels of resolution, it features Canon's High Sensitivity (HS) system, which aims at yielding high-quality photos in all kinds of light. This is accomplished by a combination of a high sensitivity CMOS image sensor, coupled with the fast DIGIC 5 processor. In my tests, I found that the SX260 HS performed pretty well in low light, with the biggest problem being some soft photos. The results were mixed, as some photos shot indoors were very sharp. Some of the problems in low light photos occurred because this camera's autofocus system works a bit slowly when lighting conditions aren't quite perfect. 

This camera has a pop-up flash unit that provides you with even better low light results. By including a pop-up flash unit with the SX260 HS, Canon has given this model more of a maximum flash range (about 11 feet) than cameras where the flash is embedded into the front panel of the camera. The PowerShot SX260's flash has a better angle to the scene and is larger than most built-in flash units on beginner-level cameras. Thanks in part to the flash, when the camera works correctly, its indoor images are outstanding. 

One area where this PowerShot camera seems to perform pretty well is when you bump up the ISO setting to deal with shooting in low light. There isn't an overly high amount of noise in high ISO photos, and the images tend to be of a decent sharpness. The ability to create usable images at high ISO settings tends to be an area where point and shoot cameras struggle, so the SX260 HS definitely performs better than most of its peers in this area. This camera's ISO can only reach a maximum of 3200, however.

Outdoor photos are well exposed and colored properly in almost all shooting situations. You may notice a bit of softness in outdoor photos from time to time, but only if you're going to create really large prints. You can choose from a variety of resolutions with the PowerShot SX260, so be sure you're recording at the size you want to match the print sizes you'll want to make later. You can shoot at four aspect ratios (16:9, 4:3, 3:2, and 1:1) with this camera, and you can shoot at four different resolutions within each aspect ratio, between 12 megapixels and 0.3 megapixels. This variety is very nice to have to help you meet your shooting needs.

Although I would call the SX260 HS a little chunky compared to many of the really thin point and shoot cameras on the market right now, it measures just 1.29 inches in thickness and has a good look to it. It fit comfortably in my hands and was easy to use for long periods of time. There's a slightly raised grip area on the camera's front panel, making it easy to grip the camera with your right fingers when shooting. The lens housing extends a fraction of an inch away from the front of the camera when the unit is powered down, and the lens itself extends about an inch when the camera is on. When using the zoom at its full magnification, the lens extends not quite 3 inches from the camera body. The right and left edges of the SX260 are flat, but the top and bottom edges are more rounded. It has a wider design than many point and shoot cameras, measuring 4.19 by 2.4 inches. This wide design occurs in part to accommodate the 3.0-inch LCD screen (measured diagonally) and all of the control buttons. 

Unlike some less expensive Canon models, the SX260 HS has a comfortable set of control buttons on the right side of the back panel. The mode dial is great for picking the features you want, and the four-way controller consists of a control dial that you can spin to scroll through options quickly. The other buttons are raised away from the camera body just enough that they're pretty easy to use comfortably. 

Response times are a bit of a disappointment for a camera in this price range. The autofocus is a little slow, which can lead to some problems capturing images of fast-moving subjects. The shot-to-shot delays with the PowerShot SX260 HS are longer than I expected to see in a camera that has so many other great features, and when you're using the flash, these delays are tough to take. There is a high-speed burst mode with this model, but the LCD screen goes blank in this mode, which can make it tough to frame images. Start-up time is pretty good with the SX260, but it can be better if you take the time to turn off the start-up image through the on-screen menus.

Movie quality is really good with the PowerShot SX260 HS, especially compared to other point and shoot still image cameras. You can shoot video at 1080p HD, 720p HD, or standard definition resolution. The camera's videos are sharply focused and the colors are very realistic. You can use the optical zoom lens with movies, and the images remain pretty sharp. However, it can be a little tough to hand hold the camera steadily on the video scene when you start using the zoom, so take extra care when trying to shoot video with a zoom; this is where a tripod or monopod would also come in handy. The audio quality with the SX260's video isn't great, but that's common with point and shoot cameras. Unless you're pretty close to the audio source, you may pick up quite a bit of background noise. In some of our test videos, you could even hear the zoom mechanism as it moved back and forth. 

Battery life is going to be very inconsistent from photographer to photographer with this model. That occurs for a few reasons. Those photographers who use the LCD at the brightest setting, move the zoom lens back and forth through its range a lot, and use the GPS feature constantly are going to drain the battery on the SX260 much more quickly than photographers who don't use battery-draining features as often. Canon estimates about 230 shots per battery charge, and I was able to nearly achieve this number during one set of tests, but I didn't come close to hitting that number during another testing session. If you're having trouble with battery life, be sure to turn off the GPS unless you absolutely need to use this feature. You'll find a separate battery charger with this camera, and it plugs directly into an outlet, which is a nice feature. This allows you to use one pack while charging another; so you'll always have power to capture that spontaneous moment. We highly recommend you snag an extra pack if your budget allows.

Bottom Line - I really liked the PowerShot SX260 HS, as it has quite a large number of nice features, while remaining pretty easy to use. It also has enough manual control features that you can use it both as a beginning photographer and, as your skills increase, as an intermediate photographer. The 20x optical zoom lens in a camera is great, and the large, bright, and sharp LCD screen is another nice feature. This camera's biggest drawback is the speed at which it operates, as its autofocus can be a little slow at times the delay between shots may frustrate you from time to time. If you want to make really large prints, you may be a bit disappointed with some of your low-light images due to their softness. However, when the SX260 HS gets everything just right, its image quality is outstanding. The price point or $299 - $349 USD for this camera will drive it out of the budget of quite a few beginners, but, if you can afford this model, you're going to be pretty pleased with the overall results; especially if you need a big zoom lens in a camera that can fit in a pocket ... as long as it's a big pocket, that is.



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