The Canon PowerShot SX230 HS is essentially the same camera as the PowerShot SX220 HS, but with the added bonus of a built-in GPS system for geotagging photos. This compact superzoom has the potential to be a very useful travel camera but, given that we thought the SX220 was expensive at around £230, the SX230 has its work cut out to justify its even higher £270 price tag.
Compared to one of Canon's dainty little Ixus cameras, the SX230 looks like something of a bruiser. Weighing in at 223g, it'll still fit in your pocket, but not without causing bulges, lopsidedness and other sartorial issues.
The design isn't bad but there's nothing particularly original about it. The sturdy-feeling model we played with came dressed up in matte black, with silver edging. Rounded corners helped to prevent it looking too sombre. Metallic blue or pink options are also available.
On the rear of the SX230, you'll find a large, 3-inch LCD screen. Those hoping to swipe, jab and otherwise prod their way around the camera's interface will be disappointed -- the SX230 is firmly rooted in the realm of buttons and dials, rather than touchscreens.
The controls are conveniently placed and provide instant access to some useful functions. The busy mode dial on the rear, for example, clearly reflects the fact that this product is aimed at true photography enthusiasts.
One slightly irritating design decision that the SX230 shares with the SX220 is the position of the pop-up flash. It's placed at the exact point where your left index finger naturally rests on the top edge of the unit, which inevitably means that you accidentally close the flash almost every time it tries to pop up. You may, at some point, become accustomed to this, but, even after a fortnight of using the camera, we still kept getting caught out by the pop-up problem.
You may notice that the fixed portion of the SX230's lens housing sticks out slightly more than on some rival cameras. In fact, it's a miracle it doesn't protrude further, given that the camera offers a stonking 14x optical zoom.
The focal range of 28-392mm (in 35mm terms) opens up all types of shooting possibilities, while the optical image stabiliser, high ISO sensitivity, 12.1-megapixel resolution and 1080p high-definition video capture mean this is a very versatile camera.
The SX230 provides a wealth of automatic, manual and semi-automatic options to suit all types of users and shooting situations. Switch to the 'easy' mode and the camera's intelligent auto settings will attempt to work out the best combination of settings for your current subject.
There are also standard auto and program modes, as well as a number of presets like 'landscape', 'portrait', 'kids' and 'pets', available directly from the mode dial. All of these, plus options like 'smart shutter', 'smile detection' and 'face detection' make the SX230 a great choice for pointing and shooting, but there's also plenty of options for anyone feeling more ambitious.
Shutter- and aperture-priority modes can be selected from the mode dial, in addition to a full manual mode. Thoughtful touches, such as a histogram feature and a controller that can be used as either a five-way pad or a scroll wheel make manual tinkering a genuinely practical option.
We were very impressed by the results we got from the SX230. In particular, the camera's low-light capabilities are streets ahead of the average compact's. There's some noticeable noise from ISO 400 upwards, but we found that even shots up to ISO 1,000 are usable, if slightly soft. Colours tend to stay fairly faithful and blur is kept at bay by the optical image stabiliser.
In daylight and other well-lit situations, the SX230 performs very well too. Colours are warm and deep but retain a natural quality. There's a high level of detail and you can crop quite far into an image without losing definition.
We've seen sharper images from other cameras but some softness in your picture isn't always a bad thing. There's some purple fringing around the edges of high-contrast areas, and some lens distortion around the edges of wide-angle shots, but these are well within the norm for cameras of this type.
Even the movie mode is pretty good. The picture quality can't compete with that of a dedicated HD camcorder, particularly in terms of the rather stuttering 24-frames-per-second shooting rate, but colours are good and you can use the zoom while you film. There's also an interesting high-speed movie mode that lets you capture smooth slow-motion shots. HDMI connectivity lets you view your movies on an HD TV.
The Canon PowerShot SX230 HS is a very capable camera. But excellent picture quality and low-light performance needn't cost the best part of £300. You're basically paying a very high premium for the inclusion of the GPS functionality, so, unless you're going to make full use of this aspect of the camera, you'd be much better off opting for the almost-identical but GPS-free PowerShot SX220 HS. You should also bear in mind that using the GPS function significantly reduces the camera's battery life.
Edited by Charles Kloet