Think you've got a big one? Well, think again. The focal range offered by Canon's 14.1-megapixel, 35x-optical-zoom PowerShot SX30 IS trumps even former megazoom market leaders, like the 35x-zoom Fujifilm FinePix HS10 and Olympus SP-800UZ.
Expect to pay in the region of £350, which is almost as much as an entry-level digital SLR these days. In saying that, the SX30 does offer plenty of bang for your buck.
You do like your zooms don't you?
The SX30 (shouldn't that be SX35?) powers up from cold in an instant. Starting at a wide 24mm, the Canon's focal range extends up to a mind-blowing 840mm in 35mm-film terms. It's therefore the classic all-in-one option for those who want extreme flexibility when it comes to framing -- grab candid close-ups and broad landscapes without the inconvenience and expense of swapping specialist lenses. Of course, cynics would argue you don't get the same quality of a specialist lens, either. It's an argument Canon meets head on by virtue of the SX30's optics, said to have gone through the exact production processes as its interchangeable EF-series lenses.
The other worry is that the effects of hand wobble will be quite pronounced and images quite blurry towards the extremities of its whopping telephoto range. To combat this, the lens has optical image stabilisation and features an Ultrasonic Motor (USM), as used in Canon's dSLR lens range, to enable fast and nigh-silent zooming.
We were able to achieve commendably sharp results in daylight, at the maximum telephoto range. Things became inevitably problematic, however, when the camera was faced with busy scenes. It seemed to have trouble deciding whether it should be focusing on the background or the intended foreground subject, and didn't always get it right.
Plastic, yet fantastic
Like the FinePix HS10, the SX30 has taken its design cues from a digital SLR, and in that respect looks like any other conventional 'bridge' camera at first glance. Though solidly built, it doesn't feel quite as robust as the HS10, and there is more obvious plastic on show.
Still, the proof is in the pudding -- or, rather, the zooming. It's controlled via a large and obvious chrome lever that encircles the equally large and obvious shutter-release button, both located at the top of the handgrip. Give the lever a nudge and the zoom travels from maximum wide-angle to extreme telephoto setting in three to four seconds. Although there is a low grinding noise as it moves, this isn't off-putting.
To save you zooming back and forth when you're fully zoomed in and your subject drifts out of frame, Canon has implemented a 'zoom framing assist' button in the top right-hand corner of the back plate, where a zoom-rocker switch might otherwise be found. Press this and the zoom backtracks to a preset distance so you can find your subject again. Release it, and it pings back to your original framing. It's a neat idea in principle, yet out of force of habit, we found ourselves zooming in and out in small increments anway.
Most of the controls here are similarly large and obvious -- Canon does like its buttons on the chunky side. They include a shooting-mode dial crammed with the usual creative and pre-optimised settings, like subject-recognising 'smart auto', which looks like someone's pressed down very hard on it with their thumb. The dial itself has the right amount of give, so the desired setting can be reached quickly and not jogged accidentally in the heat of the action.
The SX30 is furnished with various digital-effects filters, including the fun and surprisingly effective miniature mode first seen on the SX210 IS. It also features a record button for filming 720p high-definition video. This is found alongside the electronic viewfinder, just above the 230k-resolution LCD screen. To make the most of its video facility, HDMI output is provided alongside regular AV and USB connectivity. Twin microphones sitting just below the pop-up flash at the front back this up with stereo sound.
LCD, a sound system
At 2.7 inches, the SX30's LCD is smaller than expected, given the relative bulk of the rest of the camera, but this allows for its handy tilt-and-swivel mechanism. It's nothing we haven't seen before on bridge cameras, of course. Like the EOS 60D, the screen can be flipped out at right angles to the body, or rotated around so it's facing inwards for added protection when the camera's not in use.
There's a clear compositional advantage, too, for those awkward occasions when you can't easily get eye-level with the electronic viewfinder. Otherwise, a press of the display button switches between LCD and EVF in a second.
Again, like the EOS 60D, the SX30 features a flash of the pop-up variety. A covered hot shoe for an accessory flash is located just behind it, and blends in almost seamlessly with the Canon's designer bumps and curves.
In terms of the SX30's images, we have the usual grumbles. There's some loss of sharpness toward the edges at the maximum wide-angle setting and images lack contrast straight out of the camera, thought at least the latter is more easily corrected in Photoshop.
Colours are well saturated at the default setting and, as mentioned, it's possible to come away with sharp results shooting handheld at the maximum telephoto range, which is surely the ultimate requirement of any new megazoom contender.
Although operation is less convoluted than the Olympus SP-800UZ, the Canon PowerShot SX30 IS doesn't quite match the rugged build and power-in-your-palm of Fujifilm's mighty FinePix HS10. Still, if you fancy yourself as an amateur paparazzi, and want a big zoom but not a steep learning curve, this particular PowerShot could be just the ticket.
Edited by Emma Bayly