Would you pay as much for a superzoom as you would for a digital SLR? That's the question you need to answer before putting down more cash for the £450 Canon PowerShot SX1 IS than you would for the EOS 1000D or the Nikon D60, with their 18-55mm lenses. Packing some higher-end features than its brother, the PowerShot SX10 IS, including a CMOS sensor (albeit of the same 1/2.3-inch size and 10-megapixel resolution), 30 frames per second, 1080p high-definition movie capture, and support for raw files, the SX1 delivers slightly better performance and image quality as well.
Physically, the SX1 is almost identical to the SX10, with the same 20x 28-260mm equivalent lens. It's equally comfortable to hold and shoot, retaining perks like the articulated LCD and four-AA-battery-powered operation. It's slightly heavier, at 680g, which makes it feel like a dSLR, but the big grip gives you plenty of holding room.
A button to jump into review mode sits near the indented thumb rest on the back, joined by the exposure compensation and focus-area selection buttons. Because the SX1's body is matte black plastic, rather than the reflective graphite of the SX10, the light blue labels are easier to see.
On the right side of the back is a dial that surrounds a four-way navigation switch with the function button in the middle. Although we generally like the controls, the dial feels too mushy. Like the SX10's, it doesn't respond appropriately, spinning either too much or too little for any given operation. As a result, we frequently overshot desired shutter speeds, for example. The zoom switch doesn't feel terribly exact, either. This is a typical problem with stepped zooms, as these lenses don't really cover a continuous zoom range, instead stopping at a series of preset distances.
Flippable and twistable LCDs are a user favourite. The SX1's is a wide-aspect 71mm (2.8-inch) model, compared with the 4:3 aspect 64mm (2.5-inch) model on the SX10. Keep in mind that, when you're shooting photos at full resolution in 4:3 aspect with the SX1, the effective image size of the LCD is as if it were a 64mm model. Canon uses the extra area on the sides for displaying information. Unfortunately, the electronic viewfinder isn't particularly great. It updates slowly and looks coarse.
More annoyingly, the camera lacks a dedicated toggle between the LCD and EVF. Instead, you have to cycle through the four display settings: low-info LCD, detailed LCD, low-info EVF and detailed EVF. That makes it nearly impossible to quickly jump back and forth.
Similarly, although there's a dedicated movie-record button, moving between capturing HD movies and standard 4:3 stills can get confusing. You have to press a button to toggle between the two aspect ratio modes, and the camera captures in whatever your indicated settings are for that aspect ratio. The routine is: press the button for 16:9, start movie record, stop movie record, press the aspect button, press shutter for photos.
It sounds simple, but we frequently forgot to toggle the aspect ratio back after shooting a movie, and ended up shooting lower-resolution, wide-aspect stills. Also, raw isn't available in 16:9 mode, which can complicate such mistakes. You should be able to set a movie size and only have to worry about pressing record. A final annoyance is that the SX1 remembers all your settings when you power off except the current metering mode.