Canon SX100 IS


8MP, 10X, Tracking Face Detection

Published March 2008

When it comes to point-and-shoot digital cameras, Canon has certainly got you covered, with a model to satisfy just about every shooter from beginner to advanced. As for me personally, I prefer a digicam that is compact — not ultra-slim, because that usually means you are paying extra for just the fashion and convenience of thinness. And it’s got to have a more powerful zoom lens (greater than 5X) with other good features too. The new Canon PowerShot SX100 IS is just such a digicam. Want more details? Read on.


The SX100 IS’s 8MP CCD sensor is dead center at the sweet spot in point-and-shoot digicams today — a good combination of image resolution and low cost for manufacturers — which translates into lower overall cost for the consumers. It has been stated before in many camera reviews in this magazine that resolution alone isn’t the only specification that you should be looking at. It’s the overall functionality and performance of the camera that should be of great interest to you. In that regard, the S100 IS is a terrific performer, at a very affordable price — $300.

There are seven different JPEG image capture sizes, ranging from 8MP, all the way down to 640 x 480 (Internet .3 MP resolution), and there’s even a widescreen 16 x 9 mode at 5.7 MP. Each captured size has three different quality settings, which trade off quality for captured size.

The SX100 IS is also capable of capturing excellent quality video clips at 640 x 480 VGA resolution. Actually there are two VGA modes — standard quality at full resolution/30 fps, and a new LP mode with 30 fps, but at slightly reduced resolution. Canon claims up to one hour of VGA LP 640 x 480 video can be captured on a 4GB SDHC memory card. Even more video can be recorded at a reduced video resolution of 320 x 240 at 30 fps. The video can be watched on the bright 172K pixel 2.5-in. LCD display, or on a connected TV set or video monitor with a provided AV output cable. The recorded video clips are in the .AVI file format, so they can be easily uploaded into your computer for editing, or sharing via the Internet.

The Canon SX100 IS is compact and lightweight — 4.28-in. W x 2.81-in. H x 1.84-in. D/ 11 oz., with two AA batteries. You’ll be able to shoot all day with this one, and your hands won’t tire holding it. Normally, I wouldn’t discuss the battery design in a digital camera unless it was something special. To me, the use of two AA batteries for power is a step in the right direction. For too long, I have harped on the need to buy a second expensive rechargeable Li-Ion battery in most digicams. But rechargeable AAs — that’s another story. You can easily buy a set of four 2400mA rechargeable NiMH batteries and a charger for under $40. This should get you easily through a long day of shooting, even if you had to replace the second set later in the day. And it will pay for itself quickly after you’ve had to buy a few sets of disposable AAs. Actually, I wished all other digicam manufacturers would adopt this AA battery usage philosophy. Some actually have in certain models, and if you want to avoid the heartache of expensive batteries, you might want to seek out those models that use the AAs.

All images are captured on SD or the newer SDHC memory cards. I’m especially delighted that the SX100 IS supports the new SDHC memory cards. These are now available up to 8GB in size, with even larger capacities on the roadmap. Even with the more common 4GB SDHC card, you’ll still be able to capture over 1,000 JPEG images at the highest resolution.

The buttons and control dial on the back of the SX100 are laid out nicely, with manual settings for ISO, Flash, Self Timer, Macro Focus, and Manual Exposure. The Mode Control dial atop the camera easily selects the various operational modes. The zoom control surrounds the shutter release. The only feature missing for me was an optical viewfinder, but this is disappearing in almost all lower cost digicams these days.

Unique Face Detection Feature

One of the hottest trends in point-and-shoot digicams is Face Detection. This is technology that lets a digicam recognize and focus on a human face from an otherwise distracting background. The overall benefit from Face Detection is good focus on faces, resulting in more acceptable images. Canon has taken Face Detection to a new level in the SX100 IS. They call it Genuine Face Detection technology. Their technology automatically prioritizes and selects faces, not just the closest object to the digicam. Up to nine forward-looking faces can be kept in focus. A new feature in the SX100 IS is Face Select and Track. With this feature, an individual face can be selected and tracked. This is great for tracking focus on an individual that is moving rapidly.

Field-Testing the SX100 IS

The true test of any digital camera is how it performs in the real world, not just under fixed studio conditions. So I took the Canon SX100 IS with me to an outdoor ethnic celebration in the heart of Los Angeles — the Dia De Los Muertos – or, as it’s more popularly called, the Day of The Dead. The Day of The Dead is visually exciting for its colorful use of skeletal comic figures commemorating the one day of the year that passed-on relatives and loved ones are remembered in a large public display.

Several features on the SX100 IS were very helpful in capturing images that were sharp and blur-free. The combination of the 10X optical zoom lens, optical image stabilization, and face recognition proved its worth. Even though I was at distances over 10 feet from performers and participants, I was able to use the powerful 10X zoom and close in on the action and get exciting close-ups of the activity. Also, the optical image stabilization allowed me to capture images that were sharp and clear, even though I was hand-holding all the time. This was especially crucial at the full telephoto 10X position. The facial recognition feature worked very well, homing in on faces and rapidly focusing on them and not on distracting backgrounds.

There were also moments when I needed to shift out of Auto or Programmed mode. Here the Shutter Priority (Tv), Aperture Priority (Av), or Manual modes really came in handy. A band of lively skeletal performers were dancing rapidly in front of a crowd. To capture their motion without too much blur, I shifted to Shutter Priority (Tv) mode, and set the shutter speed to 1/500th sec. The camera compensated with an appropriate aperture. Image stabilization and the facial recognition feature further helped with the capture of an excellent image.

Live performance wasn’t the only thing I shot. The Dia De Los Muertos is famous for its Katrina dolls (not to be confused with Hurricane Katrina) which are these weird skeletal female figures, usually in fancy dresses and hats. These Katrina dolls were displayed in various stores and were the attraction pieces to get people to enter. I used the Macro mode at the maximum wide-angle setting to get real close-ups on these spectacular figures. Also, there were several group scenes of several skeletal figures that caught my eye. I could have spent hours in many of the stores just taking pictures, but I let digression take over and I bought a Mexican Bingo game. It was my way of saying thank you to the storeowners for allowing me to shoot the pictures.

  • Size/Weight: 4.28-in W x 2.81-in H x 1.84-in. D, 11 oz (with batteries).
  • Image Sensor: 1/2.5-in CCD.
  • Maximum resolution: 8MP.
  • Zoom: 10X optical, 4X Digital.
  • Lens Focal Length: 36mm (wide angle) – 360mm (tele) 35mm equivalent.
  • Focusing Capability: 1.6-ft to Infinity (normal); .4-in to 1.6-ft (macro); 3.3-ft to Infinity (telephoto).
  • Memory card: SD/SDHC.
  • Display: 2.5-in LCD, 172,000 pixels.
  • Manual Exposure Control: Yes.
  • Exposure Metering: Evaluative, Center-weighted, Spot.
  • Provided Accessories: USB cable, AV cable, Wrist Strap, Canon CD-ROM, User Guide.
  • Power Source: 2AA batteries (Rechargeable AA NiMH recommended, but not provided).
  • Warranty: 1 year.
  • Contact:

5 Responses to “Canon SX100 IS”

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