With Canon PowerShot SX30 IS, Canon raised the bar again, improving on the last year's SX20
. Not only the resolution was increased, the zoom is now even more flexible and the camera now looks even more SLR-like.
The new Canon SX30 IS belongs to a category of digital cameras that is commonly known as "mega-zoom" cameras. Mega-zoom cameras are the ones that have very high optical zoom (e.g. 10x or higher). They are fun to use and are very versatile because you get extreme flexibility in composing your shot without having to move. You simply zoom in or zoom out.
You can zoom in to magnify far-away objects while staying far from them. Sometimes it is not practical (or possible) to get close enough to your subject to get a large enough shot using a regular camera. Sometimes it is just too dangerous.
With SLR digital or film cameras, you would have to buy and, even more problematic, carry around a bunch of lenses and a camera body to be able to get to 10x magnification or higher. Now you can get an excellent digital camera with 15x optical zoom (or higher) for less than $400 and sometimes even for less than $250, put it in a compact camera bag and save money, time and effort. The only potential drawback (unless you need the best possible picture quality and are willing to spend thousands and carry big bags) is you might not loose much eight carrying it around.
It is essential that the mega-zoom camera you get has optical image stabilization. Some cameras have no image stabilization at all, resulting in blurry images at high magnification levels and/or in dim light. Some cameras rely on increased sensitivity setting (ISO) to increase the shutter speed thereby reducing blur caused by the shake when the camera is handheld, but sometimes at an expense of increased noise and/or decreased detail level. But the best cameras have optically-stabilized zooms. These cameras move an optical element within the lens (some shift the imaging sensor itself) to reduce or eliminate blur caused by shooting handheld.
Optical image stabilization used to be expensive and not used in many cameras, but gradually the use became more widespread. The Canon SX30 IS has optical image stabilization (the IS at the end of the model number stands for image stabilization). The SX30 is a successor of the Canon SX20 IS
Although all mega-zoom cameras are fun, the most fun to use cameras for me are the ones with over 15x optical zoom, optical image stabilization and 28mm wide angle or wider. Fortunately, the SX30 has an incredible 35x optical zoom, starting from 24mm. A wide angle of 24mm (in terms of 35-mm film equivalent) allows you to capture a wide picture, which is useful indoors or taking pictures of buildings without having to move too far backward. This is one of the widest (if not the widest) starting zoom points among compact digital cameras on the market and makes this model very versatile, especially for shooting indoors or while traveling.
I tried the SX30 IS in variety of environments and came away quite impressed.Is It An Improvement Over the Canon SX20 IS?
Canon SX30 IS is a replacement for the last year's popular Canon SX20 IS
, which in turn was a replacement of the Canon PowerShot SX10 IS. It is a digital camera with optical image stabilization, 35x zoom, 14.1-Megapixel resolution (vs. 12MP of the SX20), ISO up to 3200 and 2.7-inch LCD. The camera has face detection and features servo AF tracking. It has an HDMI out and an ability to record HD video in 720p resolution, with stereo sound.
Similarly to the previous model, the camera has an articulated LCD screen and stores photos on SD memory cards
. The incredible 35x optical zoom and optical image stabilization work together to give you sharp pictures when shooting handheld at long distances or indoors. This is probably the highest optical zoom on the market today and optical image stabilization makes it usable when shooting handheld without introducing blurriness.
Unlike the predecessors, the SX30 now uses a proprietary Li-Ion battery instead of the 4 AA batteries. I am pleased with this change.
The predecessors, like the Canon SX20 IS, SX10 IS and the S5 IS before it were impressive and very popular cameras. The only things I did not like about them were their use of 4 AA batteries, the fact that the filter adaptors were sold separately, whereas Panasonic FZ cameras came with them and the flimsy lens cap, as well as the fact that the flash had to be raised manually (unlike Panasonic cameras where you could just push a button). Well, the AA batteries are replaced with the rechargeable Li-Ion battery and the flash uses a button now. These two are major improvements. About Canon PowerShot SX30 IS
The Canon S30 IS is a 14.1-Megapixel digital camera with 35x optical zoom (24-840mm in 35-mm equivalent), optical image stabilization with maximum apertures of f/2.7 at wide angle and f/5.8 at full telephoto. The camera features fast USB 2.0 interface. It stores images on SD cards (including SDHC and SDXC) in JPEG format.
The camera is black and has a 2.7-inch fully-articulated LCD screen. In addition to digital still photographs, the camera can record video clips with stereo sound up to 720p HD resolution (1280x720). You can output video and sound to your TV (be it your pictures or video clips) in PAL or NTSC. The camera also has an HDMI out for its high-resolution videos.
The camera has face detection that works in conjunction with automatic white balance, focus and exposure.The camera has a solid feel and good build quality.Features
The SX30 lets you shoot at the resolutions of up to 14 Megapixels and lets you print enlargements or crop the part of the picture and print it with excellent results. And, of course, it is more than enough for the standard 6x4-inch or 5x7-inch prints.
The SX30 has an effective autofocus assist light for better and faster focusing in low-light conditions. It works well in dim light. The SX30 features selectable ISO between 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600 and 3200 as well as Auto and High ISO Auto. It also has face detection that not only adjusts the focus, but also the exposure to make sure that faces of subjects are properly exposed. The face detection works surprisingly well.LCD and Viewfinder
The camera has a sturdy, fully articulated 2.7-inch LCD with 230,000 pixels that covers 100% of the view. In addition to the LCD, there is an electronic viewfinder (EVF). Since it is expensive (and difficult if not impossible) to make a 20x zooming optical viewfinder and impossible to easily confirm focus in a non-SLR optical viewfinder, the camera has an EVF.
Both the LCD and EVF are fluid (even in low light), has pleasing colors and good resolution. The LCD is well-visible in regular conditions, but in sunlight, visibility decreases and you have to use the EVF, which works well in sunlight. Its resolution is not as high as the LCD's, but is adequate for composing the shot.Metering and Exposure
The exposure modes include Program AE, Aperture and Shutter Priority mode, and even full Manual mode. The shutter speed can be set between 15 and 1/3,200 sec with speeds slower than 1.3 sec available in Shutter Priority or Manual mode and operating with noise reduction.
The light metering can be selected between Evaluative, Center-Weighted and Spot (center or AF point). I find Spot and Center-Weighted modes useful when taking pictures of people at distances where the flash doesn't reach in backlight. In Evaluative metering mode, the faces might turn out underexposed, unless you dial some exposure compensation.
In Spot mode, you can set metering to properly expose the subject's face. Also, the Spot metering mode can help you figure out the proper exposure in difficult lighting conditions be metering off the object with known tonal characteristics and then dialing some exposure compensation. The camera also features a live histogram for evaluating the exposure and the over/underexposure amounts. The evaluative metering incorporates data from the face detection system to ensure that faces are properly exposed (as well as focused).Movie Mode
The camera can record video at up to 720p HD resolution (1280x720) and output it through its HDMI connection. It has a built-in stereo microphone for recording sounds while filming video clips and a speaker, which can be used for operational sounds or to play back the sounds recorded. The 720p resolution is not 1080i/p, but it is more than sufficient for virtually all uses and better than most cameras' 480p (640x480).Focusing
In addition to auto focus and manual focus capability, the camera has a Macro mode as well as Super Macro mode, in which it can focus as close as 0 inches. That's right - zero inches (or cm)!Power
Unlike the previous models that used 4 AA batteries, the SX30 is powered by a Li-Ion battery pack, which is more compact and lighter than 4 AA batteries. This change makes me happy. The questionable advantage of using AA batteries is the ease of finding replacement rechargeable or disposable batteries.
The AA disadvantages are as follows. First is the price of batteries and the charger, which you had to buy separately. Them there is the weight and inconvenience of having to deal with 4 batteries instead of one. Fortunately, the SX30 uses a Li-Ion battery and comes with a charger.On Resolution
When comparing with the last year's model (the Canon SX20 IS), the difference between 12MP and 14MP is negligible. For majority of people who only email or print 6x4 or 5x7 photos and do not crop, there is no difference at all. More important is the optics.Operation
The control buttons are well positioned. I found the camera to be well built and have a solid feel. The camera has a SLR-style body and is quite convenient to hold. After charging the battery and loading my SD card, I was ready to see the camera in operation.Performance
Just like the last year's SX20's, the SX30's operation is fast. The power-up takes less than 2 seconds (mostly taken by the lens extension) and is relatively quiet. The camera focuses very fast as well (under a second), just as fast as competing Panasonic models.
The 35x zoom is the most impressive aspect of the SX30 and equally impressive is its operation. It is quiet in operation, precise and fast. The composition can also be fine-tuned well.
The shutter lag when pre-focused is virtually absent and the picture is taken almost instantaneously. The shot-to-shot delay is about a second.
Shooting with flash is slower since the flash needs time to recharge. I was not entirely surprised to see that the flash recycle time still can reach 5-7 seconds (shooting in low light at the narrowest aperture setting).
The flash has red-eye reduction modes, and they work rather well most of the time.Focusing
The camera focuses fast, even in dim light and even at full telephoto. It has no issues in any kind of light indoors or outdoors in the evening.Manual Focus
I liked the camera's manual focus ability. When focusing manually, you see the focus area enlarged to help you fine-tune your focus and you also see the distance markings. Truth be told, I find manual focus rarely needed as the automatic focus works really well. Still, bulkier cameras with focus rings, e.g. Fuji S6000fd
or real SLRs work best for fine-tuning focus at telephoto. I sometimes use manual focus with my Canon XT dSLR
and almost exclusively when using my film cameras.Face Detection
The camera features face detection technology, which works surprisingly well, finding faces in the frame, showing you that it found them by displaying focusing rectangles over them, focusing on them and ensuring that faces are not over- or underexposed.Ease of Use
The SX30 uses Digic 4, which is the same as in the SX20 and in most other Canon cameras. Once you get used to Canon menu systems, they are pretty easy to use. Overall, the ease of use is very high and almost reaches my all-time favorite (Panasonic). And obviously, if you used a Canon camera before, you will not need much time, if at all.Computer Connectivity
The USB 2.0 on this Canon is a "real" USB 2.0 High Speed (and not the slower USB 2.0 full speed variant) - the transfer speeds are fast. I always prefer to use my memory card reader however: for speed and convenience. So I have not tested the transfer speed directly from the camera and instead used the card reader.
Is It An Improvement Over The Canon SX20 IS?
The SX30 IS is very similar to its predecessor, the Canon SX20 IS. It features major improvements over the SX20. The most important improvements are the 35x zoom with 24mm wide angle, Li-Ion battery, increased resolution.Durability
Based on experience with previous models of the same series (e.g. S5 IS, SX10 IS, SX20 IS) and on the perceived build quality of this model, the SX30 should be durable, unless subjected to extreme conditions. Obviously, water, sand and drops are not included.Picture Quality
I am frequently asked for camera recommendations. When this happens, I catch myself thinking about (and frequently recommending) Canon cameras. One of the reasons is the fact that they (at least currently) simply do not have poorly-designed cameras, at least in the major A, SD and SX segments. There is a rare exception - Canon SX200 IS (not to be confused with this Canon SX20 IS), which is not the best.
Although some other manufacturers have better cameras in some specific areas, as far as the overall lineup goes, Canon cannot be beat. One of the outcomes of this is the uniformly excellent picture quality of Canon cameras (again with one caveat, see above). True, some of them (e.g. small SD-series cameras) have slightly blurry corners. But overall, Canon cameras have uniformly excellent colors, good sharpness and produce images that look good printed and displayed on computer screen.
This particular camera, the SX30 IS, is no exception to this overall rule. It produces excellent pictures. They are nicely saturated, sharp at most aperture settings from wide angle to telephoto and have pleasing colors. I really like the sky colors and the way the camera renders clouds, which is something that Canon cameras always did well. In fact, I always thought that Canon cameras produced best-looking colors, which is not something I can say about Panasonic (otherwise my mega-zoom cameras of choice).
The image stabilization of the Canon SX30 works well and lets me take handheld photos at full 2-3 stops slower than I would be able to do otherwise. I also could take some handheld photos at 1/10 at full wide angle. This is much better than the rule of the recommended slowest handheld shutter speeds (1/equivalent focal length) suggests. Without image stabilization I wouldn't be able to take pictures at the above shutter speeds. 1/1000 at telephoto and 1/25 at wide angle would be the slowest I could use and maybe even that would be a bit blurry.
The SX30's lens has very slight barrel distortion at wide angle and no noticeable pincushion distortion at telephoto. There is some chromatic aberration (CA, purple fringing) to be found in high-contrast scenes, especially at the telephoto end of the zoom. As is usually the case with mega-zoom cameras, the telephoto shots have slightly soft corners, but nothing major. And the sharper pictures are attainable if you stay away from the extremes of the focal lengths and apertures, which is generally the case with all lenses.
I mostly used the two lowest ISO settings available (ISO 80, 100) and saw no noise. As is always the case, at higher sensitivity settings, the noise starts to appear. When viewed on the computer screen (at full 14-MP resolution), at ISO 200, you can see noise appear in the shadows/darker areas and ISO 400 has quite detectable noise, and the ISO 800 features even worse noise, which becomes rather bad and the detail level suffers too. Fortunately, you can avoid having to use it in most situations by simply using a slower shutter speed and/or larger apertures (e.g. f/2.7 at wide angle).
Also helpful in the regard of low-light shooting is the image stabilization, which allows you to use slower speeds handheld without fear of motion blur appearing in your pictures. But if you have to have a faster shutter speed, then you have to use ISO 400-1,600. Surprisingly, the noise at ISO 800 is not as bad as I expected and ISO 800 photos can be printed at 4x6 or 5x7. You can print ISO 1,600 0r 3,200 pictures, but I would only recommend it in situations where you have no other choice. And for larger prints, which camera does well at due to its 14-Megapixel resolution, stick to the lower end of the ISO spectrum. If you think you will need to operate in higher ISO range most of the time, a digital SLR camera or one of the Fuji Super CCD cameras might be a better choice.Bottom Line
The Canon PowerShot SX30 IS is a major improvement on the already impressive Canon SX20 IS
and is an excellent choice if you need a camera with an incredible 35x optical zoom, 14-Megapixel resolution and optical image stabilization. Its wide-angle capability and HD video recording with an HDMI out are also very cool features. I used to have reservations about batteries used in the SX20
, but the SX30 fixes that issue. I highly recommend the new SX30 IS.