CANON SX110IS Review

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by Ron Eggers

Published Summer ’09

Serious Capabilities In A Small Package

Each new generation of consumer digital cameras includes significant advancements over previous models. Higher resolutions, less electronic noise in captured images, larger and more viewable screens, faster response times and broader zoom ranges are making it increasingly attractive to use relatively inexpensive consumer cameras for serious photography.

One of Canon’s newest consumer digital cameras, the PowerShot SX110 IS, is a compact 9-Megapixel camera with a 10X optical zoom lens. While, at $249.99,it’s priced closer to entry-level consumer models, it’s closer in resolution, capabilities, responsiveness and image quality to the company’s high-end G-series cameras that have become very popular with professional photographers as a take-along camera for those quick shots when professional gear isn’t available.

Compact & Full-Featured

The SX110 IS has a lot going for it. The 10X optical zoom extends from 6mm wide angle to 60mm telephoto, which is the equivalent of 36mm to 360mm on a 35mm camera. That telephoto range is extended through a 4X digital zoom. There are consumer cameras on the market with longer telephoto capabilities. Several companies are marketing so called “ultra-zoom” digital cameras with 18X -20X zoom lenses, but they’re considerably larger, heavier and bulkier than the SX110 IS. The SX is extremely compact for its capabilities. It weighs less than 8.7 oz., and extends only 1-3/4-inches when the lens is closed. It easily fits into a shirt pocket, and most ultra-zooms can’t do this. Even with the lens extended, the camera is still only 3-inches deep. It’s possible to take the Canon along just about anywhere when you want to capture high-quality images with a lightweight camera.

Having a 10X optical zoom is great because it enables you to capture close-up images of subjects that may be too far away to shoot with a zoom-challenged conventional pocket camera. And, unlike some ultra-zoom cameras, where images taken at the high end of the optical zoom range are marginal because they’re a little too soft or not focused quite correctly, the quality of the images taken with the SX100 IS is excellent throughout the entire zoom range, including the maximum optical zoom focal length.

The 4X digital zoom makes it possible to move in considerably closer to your subject. But the image quality is degraded when the optical and digital zooms are extended to the maximum, so I tend to shoot with the digital zoom set to “off.” It is possible to limit the digital zoom to 1.3X or 2.2X to reduce the degradation of image quality and still go slightly beyond the 10X range. Like all digicams that have a variable aperture rating depending on their zoom setting, the f/2.8-f/4.3 lens is relatively fast for a consumer model. This is especially true at f/2.8, when shooting wide angle images. With normal focusing, it’s possible to focus down to 1.6 feet. There’s also a macro focusing mode that allows you to focus from about a half of an inch to the normal focusing range.

Camera shake is one of the problems that plague cameras with long telephoto zoom lenses. To reduce potential camera shake, Canon has included its sophisticated advanced optical Image Stabilizer (IS) technology. With the added two or three stops in equivalent shutter speed that IS provides, the camera can capture clear, sharp images in marginal lighting conditions.

High ISO, Low Noise

Another feature that assists in shooting in marginal lighting conditions is the camera’s higher ISO setting. The SX110IS can capture images from 100 to 3200 ISO. The standard range is 100 to 1600 ISO, with one extra stop available as a special HI setting, for low-light shooting. However, there is noticeably increased electronic noise in captured images that were shot at the highest ISO, though generally not to the point that the images were unusable.

Electronic noise is kept to a minimum via the SX’s proprietary DIGIC III image processing engine. Canon has built a strong reputation with its series of DIGIC image processing engines. Many of the image processing capabilities that once were the exclusive domain of professional cameras have migrated to consumer cameras. Advanced features include face detection technology that automatically sets focus, exposure, flash and white balance. It really does a beautiful job when shooting portraits and group shots, and is particularly effective when capturing available-light people shots.

Additional Features

Captured images fill up the entire 3-inch LCD. The camera can also be set to capture images in the increasingly popular 16:9 aspect ratio. The new SX is powered by two AA batteries. There’s also a small pop-up flash on top of the body. When shooting in the Program mode, I actually like the quality and tonal content of captured portraits with the available light sequences better than with the flash on. With flash, the camera adjusts the scene so that the final picture looks somewhat overly lit. One way to avoid this is by taking pictures in the Manual mode at the correct exposure. Another way is to go into the shooting menu and adjust the Flash Exposure Compensation.

The camera supports full automatic (AUTO), program (P) aperture priority (Av), shutter priority (Tv), manual (M) and multiple scene (SCN) modes. The camera can capture images in the single frame mode or a burst mode of 1.2 frames per second. There’s a “My Colors” option that sets the color mode to vivid, neutral, sepia, black-and-white and custom.

Many of the important controls, such as Face Detection and Exposure Compensation, are accessible with a single button. Face Detection automatically hones in on individual faces in a composition to ensure that they are correctly exposed and focused, while Exposure Compensation makes it possible to adjust exposures up to two stops in 1/3-stop increments.

Ergonomically, the camera is designed very well. Features like the focusing methods, the flash setting, the ISO and the burst shooting mode are integrated into the navigation buttons. A Function/Set button at the center of the navigation buttons pulls up a whole series of settings, such as white balance, exposure compensation, metering mode, and image size and quality. A separate Menu button brings up individual shooting and setup menus.

Besides shooting stills, the SX110 IS also lets you capture video with accompanying audio. The camera can capture video with a resolution of 640 x 480 pixels and a full 30 fps. There is an LP option available that doubles the amount of video that you can capture onto the SecureData memory card. Instead of reducing the number of frames per second or lowering the resolution with this camera, the compression ratio of individual frames is increased so that more digital data can be stored on each card.

LCD Only

One of the main drawbacks with the SX110 IS is that it does not have a viewfinder. All framing has to be done on the LCD. It has a large, bright, very viewable, 3-inch LCD, but it’s still difficult to shoot using only the LCD for framing. In direct sunlight, such as at the beach or in the snow, it’s very hard to compose on the screen. Under such conditions, framing becomes almost a matter of guesswork. But that’s primarily a problem in bright sunlight.

The lack of a viewfinder really shouldn’t make anyone shy away from purchasing this camera. It takes a little getting used to, but with everything else that the Canon PowerShot SX110 IS has going for it, shooting only via the LCD screen shouldn’t be enough to keep it from being considered.

CANON SX110IS

MSRP: $249.99
  • Size/Weight:
  • 4.35”W x 2.77”H x 1.76”D, 8.64oz.
  • Image Sensor:
  • 9 Megapixel (9MP) CMOS
  • Lens:
  • 6 mm – 60mm (36mm to 360mm in 35mm equiv.) f/2.8(W)-f/4.3(T)
  • Maximum Resolution:
  • 3,456 x 2,592 pixels
  • Display:
  • 3-inch TFT color LCD with wide viewing angle
  • Shutter Speed:
  • 15 sec. to 1/2500th sec.
  • Memory:
  • SecureData/SDHC
  • Shooting Modes:
  • Auto, P, Av (Aperture Priority), Tv (Shutter Priority), M (Manual), Easy, Portrait, Landscape, Special Scene, Indoor, Kids & Pets, Night Snapshot, Movie, White Balance: Auto, Preset (Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Flash), Custom
  • Focusing Range:
  • Normal 2-in (W) 3.3 ft. (T) to infinity. Macro 0.39 in. to 1.6 ft. (W)
  • Auto focus:
  • TTL
  • ISO:
  • 100 – 1600 (plus special ISO 3200 mode)
  • Metering:
  • Evaluative, Center-weighted average, Spot
  • Maximum Burst Rate:
  • 1.2 frames per second
  • Flash:
  • Auto, Auto w/ Red-eye Reduction, Flash On, Flash On w/ Red-eye Reduction, Flash Off; FE lock, Safety FE, Slow Synchro
  • Contact:
  • www.usa.canon.com
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