Canon's just replaced its PowerShot S5 IS superzoom compact with two new models, the cheaper of which is the the PowerShot SX10. But it still weighs in at around £250, which is almost the price of a basic digital SLR. So is the little Canon really worth it?
You do get quite a lot for your money, including a new 20x optical zoom, image stabilisation, a 10-megapixel sensor and full manual control if you want it. The SX10 uses Voice Coil Motors, whatever they are, to make the autofocus even quieter so that you don't scare off any timid wildlife.
The camera is pretty snappy, though focusing takes longer at maximum zoom. The image stabilisation does a good job of cutting shake, too -- and not just in the final picture. Keeping the subject steady in the viewfinder is much easier, and there's just the slightest 'drift' to deal with rather than the wild jittering of non-stabilised lenses at this focal length.
The Canon's zoom goes up to the equivalent of 560mm, which is some serious magnification. The focal length markings on the lens are a bit pointless, and presumably they're just there to show off the camera's focal range. But the filter thread on the front of the lens is really useful -- this is actually one of the few compacts with which you can use filters.
Its body is made of plastic, but it's solid and heavy with no creaks or wobbles anywhere. The controls have a good, positive feel and the SX10 comes across as a really well-made little camera.
But then there's the Multi Control Dial on the back. In the centre is an 'OK/Function' button and around it are conventional directional arrow buttons. The concept isn't a bad one, but it suffers from a serious design flaw.
The whole thing is surrounded by a spinning ring that's supposed to work like a control dial so that you can spin through menus and other on-screen options. But you have to press so hard to get enough friction to spin it that you inevitably press the directional key by accident. Canon's testers must have had special rubber inserts grafted onto their thumbs because normal human skin just doesn't have enough grip for this controller to work properly.
There were performance problems as well. The electronic viewfinder looks a bit grainy, though that's probably because the viewfinder eye-piece has a high magnification -- it's big and bright, certainly. The LCD on the rear is decent but it flattens your pictures. When you load them up on the computer they look washed out and not quite as vibrant as you thought.
Overall definition is good, but it definitely softens up at full zoom and in the corners of the frame.
The SX10 is a good little superzoom, but in all honesty there's not much here that we haven't seen a dozen times before. The SX1 is more technically interesting, with 4fps shooting and a full HD movie mode, but it costs a hefty £470. Or you could take a look at the Olympus SP-570 UZ, which has a wider-angle zoom and can shoot raw files.