Canon describes the PowerShot SX200 IS as a 'super-compact wide zoom', but that's stretching it slightly. It's actually something of a monster as far as compacts go. The specs are good, though, with 12 megapixels, manual controls and a 12x wideangle zoom, but the SX200 will set you back about £280.
These compact superzooms are catching on. Regular superzooms might have a longer zoom range, but they're styled like mini SLRs and there's no way you're going to be able to shove one in your jacket pocket like you can with this camera. Besides, the 12x zoom on the SX200 still has a long enough reach for all but the most distant subjects.
Long zooms need image stabilisers to keep the picture steady, and Canon's IS mechanism does a great job here. Canon says it offers a 4x shutter speed advantage, and it certainly steadies up long-range shots remarkably well.
At the other end of the scale, the zoom is equivalent to a 28mm wideangle, so this really is a very flexible do-it-all camera. It's a good one for learning about photography too, because, although it has idiot-proof fully automatic modes (plus new help screens), it has aperture-priority, shutter-priority and manual modes as well.
But, while it looks great on paper, the SX200 chucks away much of its potential due to the way it's designed and the results it produces. Some aspects of this camera are just unnecessarily annoying, like the flash which pops up as soon as you turn on the camera and can't be clicked down, even when you turn the flash off -- and it's right where you want to rest your left index finger when you're holding the camera.
Also, Canon's clearly determined to stick with its spinning control-dial arrangement on the back of the camera around the outside of the navigational buttons. In theory, you spin this to adjust ISO, lens aperture and a host of other settings, depending on the mode. In practice, it's far too slippery, and, half the time, you activate the directional buttons by accident just because you're pressing down to try and get some more grip. Canon, it's useless. Get rid of it.
And then there's the picture quality, which is alright, but no better than that. The detail rendition isn't bad in the centre of the frame -- although it's not the best we've seen from a 12-megapixel compact -- but the lens does go slightly woolly towards the edges and, at longer zoom settings, there's a fair amount of chromatic aberration too. For a camera with only average picture quality, £280 is expensive. Admittedly, the SX200's pictures at high ISOs aren't bad. There's some detail loss at ISO 1,600, but the overall result is still decent.
The Canon PowerShot SX200 IS' manual exposure modes might tempt keen photographers, but these are undermined by the awkward controller. The image stabilisation is good, but the pictures are average. You'd have to be a real Canon fan to pick this camera over its rivals, which include the smaller, cheaper and much better Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ6.
Edited by Charles Kloet