Every now and again, a company will make a product just to turn some heads and make a statement. Usually these products sport unusual designs and fantastical feature sets.
With its PowerShot TX1, which includes a 10x optical zoom lens, 7.1-megapixel CCD sensor, optical image stabilisation, face detection and the capability to record high-definition 1,280x720-pixel video at 30 frames per second, Canon was definitely trying to make a statement. The camera's vertical design makes it so difficult to use, however, we wish it hadn't blurted it out so quickly.
In many ways similar to the Sanyo Xacti VPC-HD2, the Canon TX-1 uses a vertical design with the lens at the top of the body and is intended to be held as you would a pistol. Unlike a pistol, the trigger, or in this case the shutter release, sits on top of the camera body. This unfortunate placement and the body's blocky overall design lead to many of the camera's ergonomic problems. With our middle finger tucked awkwardly beneath the lens and our index finger on the shutter release, our little pinky ended up dangling beneath the camera, and we didn't know where to put our thumb.
A trio of raised dots to the left of the zoom rocker beckoned to our thumb, but with it placed there, we inevitably nudged the zoom and ruined our composition. Plus, that positioning also placed our thumb squarely across the video-recording button, forcing us to continually worry about inadvertently pressing it. Also, since Canon placed the zoom rocker on a rounded protrusion on the camera back, you have to pull your thumb back into an uncomfortable position to manipulate the control. Worse yet, trying to shoot a vertical still picture is an exercise in contortion.
Ultimately, we didn't look forward to shooting with the TX1's strange controls. Sanyo's design, which places both video and still shutter buttons on the camera back and includes an angled grip, felt much more comfortable, though its video couldn't compare to the footage we captured with the TX1.
Shooting video with the TX1 felt much more comfortable, though still not as cozy as the Sanyo. The TX1's small 46mm (1.8-inch) screen, compared to the HD2's larger 56mm (2.2-inch) screen may have something to do with this. Also, the camera's dual functionality occasionally has its drawbacks. For example, with the still-image mode set to super macro, the zoom is understandably disabled, but it remains disabled if you start shooting video while still-image mode is engaged.
On the upside, Canon's menu controls carry over the intuitive design and quick access to important functions that we've come to love in its other cameras and camcorders. A quick press of the tiny joystick lets you access features such as shooting mode, ISO, image size, exposure compensation and white balance. You won't find aperture-priority, shutter-priority or full manual exposure modes, but Canon does include seven preset scene modes, such as portrait, beach, snow and night snapshot, which automatically set the camera to deal with those shooting situations.
In addition to those shooting modes, the TX1 includes some nifty functions to help make shooting somewhat easier. Optical image stabilisation helps keep your shots steady and becomes especially useful when using the long end of the 10x optical, 39mm-to-390mm-equivalent, f/3.5-to-f/5.6 zoom lens. In our still-image field tests we were able to shoot more than two full shutter speeds slower than we normally do with adequately sharp results. For example, when zoomed to an equivalent of 118mm, we shot a sharp photo at a shutter speed of 1/20 second while hand-holding the camera, whereas we'd normally need to use a tripod to shoot at that shutter speed. For video, the image stabilisation helped, but as with most camcorders, it wasn't effective enough over the full range of the zoom. When shooting at full 10x zoom, you'll want to use a tripod or a monopod to get steady footage.
If you feel you need to quickly boost your sensitivity to raise the shutter speed, Canon's Auto ISO Shift will boost the ISO with a single button press but caps the sensitivity at ISO 800 in an attempt to keep ISO noise at bay. To help with portraits, Canon includes a rather effective face-detection mode. Unlike some companies, which give face detection a dedicated button, Canon places it at the top of its menu.