Canon's pocket-sized PowerShot SX210 IS superzoom sounds like the ultimate compact camera, thanks to its class-leading 14x zoom range and 14.1-megapixel resolution, dSLR-style exposure controls and 720p movie mode. But is this £300 snapper really at the cutting edge, or is Canon just playing a rather conservative numbers game?
Get your specs on
You certainly can't fault the specs. The SX210 boasts one of the latest 14.1-megapixel, 1/2.3-inch sensors, and its 14x optical zoom even beats Panasonic's mighty Lumix DMC-TZ10. If you're serious about your photography you can use the aperture-priority, shutter-priority and manual modes to control depth of field and motion blur, and, if you're not, you can simply set the camera to full auto and let it take care of everything. Canon's image-stabilisation system will help cut camera shake in dim light and at long zoom settings, and, with an HD movie mode and HDMI connector, you can use the SX210 as a camcorder too.
Gadget fans should enjoy the 'smart shutter' mode, activated by a wink, a smile or another face entering the frame, and new 'miniature' and 'fish-eye' effects can add novelty value to your pictures. The 'smart flash' system seems to work well too, blending flash and ambient light quite subtly.
Photography by numbers
But the SX210 is all about numbers and not innovation. The old PowerShot SX200 IS had 12.1 megapixels, but the SX210 has 14.1. The SX200 had a 12x zoom, while the SX210 has a 14x zoom. And just so there's no doubt that it's new, this camera's body has been restyled and some of the controls moved around. The pop-up flash is still, annoyingly, right where you want to put your left index finger when you hold the camera, but the mode dial's moved from the top to the back.
Canon's persisting with its rotary controller/navipad arrangement but, in this case, for reasons which are hard to fathom, it's removed any labelling. A virtual representation helpfully pops up on the LCD display when you start the camera up, but it soon disappears and, after that, you're reliant on your memory and trial and error to work out which button to press for EV compensation, the flash mode, the self-timer and the focus mode.
You've also got to be a big wide-screen fan, because that's the aspect ratio of the 76mm (3-inch) LCD display on the back. It's fine if you spend much of your time shooting HD movies, but not so good if you're taking conventional 4:3 ratio stills, when you get thick black bars on either side and the display area effectively shrinks to about 62mm (2.4 inches).
Apart from the annoying rotary controller, the SX210 works well enough, but there really is nothing special about it at all. In fact, its pictures are rather disappointing. The fine detail isn't particularly sharp, subtle textures like grass and distant trees tend to smooth over, and the lens loses definition towards the edges of the frame. The pictures are okay, but no more, and the jump to 14.1 megapixels certainly doesn't deliver the kind of improvements that the numbers might suggest -- quite the reverse in fact.
The PowerShot SX210 IS is an odd sort of camera. It sounds like it ought to be good, but it isn't particularly. It's big on numbers but short on innovation. It looks good, but doesn't feel especially well designed, and its pictures are very ordinary indeed. Styling aside, it just comes across as a cautious and predictable exercise in product development.
Edited by Charles Kloet