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Photography and Art

Review: Canon PowerShot SX200 IS

Canon PowerShot SX200 IS Review - December 2009

Digital compact cameras have come a long way in the last 9 years. They have got smaller, more feature backed, and offer improved image quality. For some, it is not enough for a camera to just offer purely point and shoot full automation. There are times when a greater degree of flexibility is required without having to resort to a large camera. The Canon PowerShot SX200 IS a camera that offers full automation but with enough flexibility for the user to take control when situations demand.

It is a camera that looks modern and stylish and feels comfortable to hold due to its curved grip. Its looks are deceiving as the body contains a power zoom lens and HD movie recording.

Features

The Canon PowerShot SX200 has a typically solid construction that makes that camera feel like it has been designed to last and inspire confidence. Its key feature is it's powerful zoom lens. It provides the equivalent of 28-336mm (35mm format) which should be enough to cover most situations. This is a lens with a focal length wide enough to handle landscapes but with sufficient magnification to give wildlife photography a go.

The SX200 has an image sensor that offers a maximum resolution of 12mp. This resolution seems to have become standard on many digital cameras and can resolve plenty of detail.

The Canon PowerShot SX200 IS provides the following key features:

 

  • 12 megapixel image sensor
  • DIGIC 4 image processor
  • Compact 12x optical zoom lens (28-336mm equiv)
  • Image stabilised lens
  • HD movies
  • Smart auto with scene detection technology
  • Face detection
  • Face Recognition
  • Blink Detection
  • 3.0" LCD monitor
  • Full manual exposure control

 

The SX200 IS is provided with a USB cable to connect to a computer and a cable to output to a TV.  The provided battery is NB-5L  3.7V 1120mAh(Li-ion).

The tripod socket is offset to the left handside. Access to the battery and memory card is still possible although it is awkward as it is from the bottom of the camera.

The camera comes with a Getting Started guide with the main user manual in PDF format on the included CD ROM disk.

Image Stabilisation

With the wide focal range offered by the 28-336mm lens image stabilisation is essential to ensure useable results are achieved (especially at the more telephoto extremes). However, it also benefits the short focal lengths as it helps to ensure that sharp pictures are possible in low light conditions.

Three modes are provided for IS;

  • Continuous - IS always active
  • Shot only - IS only activated when the shutter is pressed
  • Panning - IS is only active to detect vertical movement

Image stabilisation is on by default and an initial indication of its status is shown when the camera starts up. No external IS function button is provided so digging into the menu is necessary. Perhaps the only time IS should be deactivated is when shooting from a tripod.

Autofocus

The PowerShot SX200 has two main autofocus modes;

  • Wide Area Focus Spot Focus
  • Spot Focus

The main mode is the face detection mode. The autofocus is primed to detect faces and if it cannot it will focus on the closest object to the camera almost anyway within the screen. A focus aid light actives when ambient lighting conditions drop.

Spot focus provides allows for selective focusing with the focusing point centrally located on the screen. Note, its position cannot be moved.

Manual focus is provided for situations where autofocus may not be suitable. A distance scale is provided along with the facility to magnify the central area to accurately determine focus.

Performance

Powering up the PowerShot SX200 instantly extends its lens and reveals the hidden flash unit. It powers up quickly and is ready to shoot as soon as the Canon logo has cleared off the LCD screen. The raised flash may initially surprise as it is unexpected. The flash will raise even if it has been set not to fire. The fact that the flash unit is raised seems to ensure that it won't accidently be obstructed by fingers. However, it is a shame it cannot be closed down when it is not required.

The camera powers up quickly and is ready to shot as soon as the Canon logo on the LCD screen has cleared.

Full Auto Mode

There are two modes that allow the SX200 to be used in full auto. Most users will most likely be using the camera in full auto mode where the camera will make all the decisions. The camera will employ features such as face detection, scene detection and image stabilisation in order to optimize exposure. On the top left hand side of the LCD screen is the status indicator. It shows in pictorial form how the camera is interpreting the scene in front of it.

Shooting Modes

In full auto mode the camera will try to determine the shooting mode based on it's analysis of the scene the camera is facing. The shooting mode is represented by an icon at the top right handside of LCD screen. The Icon background colour will vary depending on the scene detected.

Grey : decent lighting
Light Blue : Blue Sky detected
Dark Blue : low lighting

The icon will identify modes such as portriat, backlighting, sunset, and macro. It terms of detection of a sunset (or even a sunrise) the camera can be fooled by orangy colours. Canon recognise this in the user manual and suggest using program mode as a solution where the White balance can be adjusted.

Powering up the PowerShot SX200 (in record mode) instantly extends the lens and reveals the hidden flash unit. Even if the flash is not set to fire it will remain raised. Care needs to be taken to avoid placing fingers over the flash unit. Once the flash has been raised its profile helps to avoid it being obstructed.

Auto ISO

Auto ISO will adjust the ISO sensitivity depending on lighting levels. Manually, the PowerShot SX200 can be adjusted from ISO 80 to ISO 1600 (in one stop increments, apart from ISO 80). With auto ISO enable the maximum range for the ISO sensitivity depends on the operating mode of the camera.

  • Full Auto : 80 - 800
  • Program : 80 - 400
  • Aperture Priority : 80 - 200
  • Full Manual : 100

Auto ISO is best employed for casual photography, which in terms of the SX200 is likely to be the preferred mode of operation. If the desire is to ensure maximum quality and minimised image noise then it is best to set the ISO manually to as low as is practical whilst taking measures to avoid potential camera shake. The image stabiliser comes in handy here.

Flash Unit

The built in flash unit remains raised whilst the camera is powered up whether it is needed or not. Its raised profile will ensure that fingers will not obscure it but it does surprise when powering up as its position is whether a user would naturally place there fingers.

The flash works well with subjects within a 4 metre range to provide either full illumination or to act as fill flash (in order say to remove a shadowy cast under eyes in bright sunlit conditions). As expected the flashes limited power makes it suitable for social photography.

Canon SX200 - Ambient Light Test

Ambient Light

Canon SX200 - Fill Flash Light
Fill flash (Slow Sync) mode
Canon SX200 - Direct Flash
Direct flash mode

i-Contrast

In common with current cameras the PowerShot SX200 has the ability to adjust an image to increase details see in the darker (or shadow) areas which is mainly designed to deal with high contrast scenes. This mode should be used with care as the effect of boosting shadow details can result in noise levels becoming more obvious. Canon's implementation of this feature has additional flexibility as not only can the processing be applied during recording of an image but it can be applied to images already captured. The later method may be preferable as the reprocessed image can be saved as a separate file so the original image is maintained. The i-Contrast can be set to auto leaving the camera to decide the level of adjustment applied or manually set to Low, Medium or High depending on user requirements.

Canon SX200
i-Contrast disabled

 

The above photo was show without i-Constant enabled. The high contrast scene makes for a difficult decision whether to throw the balance the exposure for the foreground or background. As the photo was more about the overall location exposure was correctly set for the background. .

Canon SX200
I-Contrast enabled

With i-Contrast enabled there is now more detail revealed in the shadows producing a nicer overall balance.

Canon SX200
i-Contrast disabled

The above photo illustrates another high contrast situation but in this case the result is quite acceptable.

Canon SX200
i-Contrast enabled

Here the same scene has been re-shot with i-Contrast enabled. It is clear to see that the details in the shadow areas are easier to see. However, notice that the shadow of the bridge on the water has also been affected as has the buildings in the background. This has lead to the image looking a bit artificial. In this instance it may of been better to apply i-Contrast after the fact at a low to medium setting.

The Optics

The 28-336mm (equivalent in 35mm format) will cover enough range for most people. From capturing broad sweeping landscapes to zooming in to something distant to pick up detail, with x12 optical zoom it represents a lot of optical power. This however results in optical compromises. At the wide end there is barrel distortion. Whether this will matter will depend on the subject that is being photographed. Modern Architectural subjects are more likely to make the optical distortions more obvious. Then there is chromatic aberration. It's effects are more apparent towards the edge of the frame in high contrast areas.

With the lens zoomed to it's maximum it can be difficult to take a photo of a subject less than 1 metre away as focus cannot be obtained and the macro modes require a short focal length to be used.

Optical Analysis

With a lens that offers a range of 28-336mm (equivalent) in a compact build it is inevitable there will be optical compromises in the design.

Canon SX200
ISO 160 - f/4 at 1/1600 sec

Wide angle view (shot at 28mm, equiv.) shows the kind of view that the SX200 is capable of capturing. The lens has barrel distortion but it is not severe enough to effect this kind of view. Architectural shots would be a different matter.

Below are 100% crops from the above image.

Canon SX200 - Cropped image
Centre detail (100% crop)
Canon SX200 - Cropped image
Edge detail (100% crop)
Canon SX200 - Cropped image
Edge detail (100% crop)

The photo was re-taken with the lens set its maximum focal length of 336mm (35mm equivalent).

Canon SX200
ISO 160 - f/5.3 at 1/320 sec
Canon SX200 - centre crop
Centre detail (100% crop)
Canon SX200 - edge crop
Edge detail (100% crop)
Canon SX200 - edge crop
Edge detail (100% crop)

The lens combined with the 12mp sensor is capable of producing detailed images but issues like CA (chromatic aberration) conspire to rob some of that detail towards the edges. There is also some optical softness also at the edges but nothing severe enough to be overly concerned about with this class of camera.

Note the halo type effect on edges which is most likely due to the level of default internal sharpening applied by the camera. The images however are however quite printer ready without the need to apply further sharpening.

Image Noise Analysis

The 12mp image sensor is capable of picking up a lot of detail but noise can always undermine the quality of an image. As the ISO sensitivity increases so does image noise as the small pixels collect a more limited amount of light compared to the sensors used on a DSLR. The SX200 ISO range from 80 to 1600 will cover most situations but in practical terms image noise becomes more obvious about ISO 400. It is therefore better to manually select the ISO rather than using auto ISO as the camera can tend to use a higher ISO than required.

Canon SX200


ISO 200 - f/3.4 at 0.3 sec (100% crop)

ISO 400 - f/3.4 at 1/6 sec (100% crop)

ISO 800 - f/3.4 at 1/13 sec (100% crop)

ISO 1600 - f/3.4 at 1/25 sec (100% crop)

The SX200's image stabilised lens makes taking sharp low light photography shots straightforward.

Canon SX200 - O2 Greenwich

Outdoor shot taken at ISO 400 (f/3.4 at 1/5 sec) with the image stabiliser enabled.

 

The image stabiliser provides for shake free images with a slow shutter speed but anything in motion will be reduced to a blur.

Canon SX200 - Image stabilised

The 100% crops show a decent level of sharpness. Shot at ISO 400 the image is not so smooth but in practical terms images are not viewed to large especially if the intension is mainly to post the images on online web galleries or social networks. Printing up to A4 is not an issue but at A3 the weaknesses become more apparent. In such as case, if the intension is to make large prints then it is best to keep the ISO sensitivity as low as possible.

Long Exposure Photography

The following photos were taken under indoor lighting lit with a single small table lamp. The cameras aperture was closed down to achieve the longest possible shutter speed.

Canon SX200 - Long exposure

The Powershot SX200 employs noise reduction when exposures are long to keep noise under control. The camera offers a maximum exposure time of 15 seconds which should be more than enough for most situations the camera is likely to be used in. Below are shown crops taken at ISO 80, 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1600.

Canon SX200
ISO 80 - f/4 at 15 sec

ISO 100 - f/4 at 15 sec

ISO 200 - f/5.6 at 15 sec

ISO 400 - f/8 at 15 sec

ISO 800 - f/8 at 8 sec

ISO 1600 - f8 at 0.8 sec

It is clear that it is possible to obtain sharp now noise results under when taking long exposures. The PowerShot SX200 limits the maximum exposure to 30 seconds which should be ample time for most purposes.

Taking control

There is more to the Canon PowerShot SX200 IS than meets the eye. It is a well featured with the latest technology well suited for those who just want point and shoot with a high degree of success. The auto systems are not infallible and user intervention is necessary to get the very best out of the camera. The SX200 comes well equipped with a full set of exposure modes. Aperture and shutter speed priority as well as full manual exposure adjustment are provided for. For those not wanting to invest in a more expensive camera but wants a camera with enough flexibility to tackle a range of situations the added controls will come in handy.

Exposure compensation is straightforward to activate and apply and it's effects are instantly shown on the screen. It is worth noting that activating exposure compensation effectively locks the exposure so if you point the camera at a screen with different light level the result may be over or under exposure. The work around for this is to deactivate exposure compensation and then reactivate if necessary.

Movie Recording

The PowerShot SX200 features can record movies at various resolutions listed below:

  • 1280x720 at 30fps
  • 640x480 at 30fps
  • 320x240 at 30fps

The movie mode is quickly accessed using the mode dial. No doubt the HD 1280x720 resolution will be the operating mode of choice to and it delivers large smooth run movies. Using this resolution it is important to ensure a fairly large capacity memory card is used, at least 4GB, to ensure plenty of capacity remembers if you are going to be out and about with the camera for the day. It is worth noting that because of the high resolution and frame rate it is possible that the movie will fail to play smoothly on old laptops and netbooks. Duo core based computers don't seem to have any problem playing them.

The focus is fixed at the initial press of the shutter but the exposure will adjust to changing lighting conditions.

Conclusions

The Plus Points

  • Compact design and solid construction
  • Easy to control and setup
  • The 28-336mm lens (quite a technical achievement and still able to produce detailed images
  • Exposure flexibility (for the times when the auto modes cannot handle the situation or you just want to take control)
  • Customisable print button
  • twin speed zoom control
  • Control wheel
  • Face Detection and Face Recognition
  • HD movie mode and HDMI output

The Negative Points

  • The raised flashgun (although after a while you get use to its presence)
  • No Raw mode
  • No superfine JPEG mode
  • Chromatic Aberration
  • No histogram in record mode
  • Raised flash unit (even when not required)
  • Some may find the buttons fiddly
  • Full instruction manual provided only on a CD (however some may prefer this)

Summing up

There is a lot to like about the PowerShot SX200. It's a straightforward camera that may well be employed by many as the family or holiday camera and by others as a camera to learn and do creative photography. The fact that Canon have included a decent range of exposure modes adds light to some surprising omissions that would help to get the best out of the camera. There is no superfine JPEG mode to provide a lower level of image compression and there is no histogram in record mode to check the exposure. Provision of RAW would of been useful at the very least to make it possible to correct for the CA. This assessment is perhaps overly harsh as the SX200 is likely to keep the casual photographer very happy. It is only the more demanding photographer who may notice the shortcomings. For those who later want to get that extra bit of quality out of the camera then the extra features may be missed (but this is where the likes of the Powershot S90 and PowerShot G11 coming).

The feature packed Canon PowerShot SX200 IS deserves a place in any camera bag and  certainly high on the list as a camera to take on your travels.

 

Specification

Image Sensor  
Type 1/2.3" CCD
Effective Pixels Approx 12.1M
Colour Filter Type Primary Colour
Image Processor  
Type DIGIC 4 with iSAPS technology
Lens
Focal Length 5.0 - 60.0 mm (35mm equivalent: 28-336mm)
Maximum f number f/3.4 - f/5.3
Construction 11 elements in 9 groups (1 aspherical element)
Image Stabilisation
Image Stabilisation Yes (shift-type)
Focus  
AF Mode Single, Continuous, Servo AF
AF Assist Lamp Yes
Exposure Control  
Exposure Mode P/A/S/M etc
Metering Modes Evaluative (linked to Face Detection AF frame), Centre-weighted average, Spot (Centre)
Exposure Compensation +/- 2 EV in 1/3 stop increments
AE Lock On/Off Selectable
Shutter Speed Range 1 - 1/3200 sec (factory default)
 15 - 1/3200 sec (total range - varies by shooting mode)
ISO Sensitivity AUTO, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600
White Balance  
Settings Auto (including Face Detection WB), Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Custom
LCD Monitor
Monitor 3.0” TFT, approx. 230,000 dots
Coverage 100%
Brightness Adjustable to one of five levels
Histogram  
Histogram Review mode only
Flash  
Modes Auto, Manual Flash On / Off
Flash Exposure Compensation Yes
Manual Power Adjustment Yes
Recording Media  
Memory Card SD, SDHC, MMC, MMCplus, HC MMCplus.
File Formats  
Formats PEG compression, (Exif 2.2 [Exif Print] compliant). MOV [H.264 + Linear PCM (monaural)]
Image Size (L) 4000 x 3000, (M1) 3264 x 2448, (M2) 2592 x 1944, (M3) 1600 x 1200, (S) 640 x 480, (W) 4000 x 2248. Resize in playback (M3, S, 320 x 240)
Compression Fine, Normal
Movie  
Recording Modes (HD) 1280 x 720, 30fps, (L)640 x 480, 30fps, (M)320 x 240, 30fps
Movie Length Up to 4GB or 29 min. 59 sec (HD)
 Up to 4GB or 1 hour (L, M)
Interface  
General
Power Rechargeable Li-ion Battery NB-5L (battery and charger supplied)
Battery Life Approx. 280 shots
 Approx. 300 min. playback
Dimensions 103.0 x 60.5 x 37.6 mm
Weight Approx 220g

 

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