Cameras with optical zoom of 6x and above are addictive. After using a mega-zoom camera, it is difficult to "downgrade" to a compact point-and-shoot model. A reasonably compact camera with a 12x optical zoom and 28-mm wide angle, the Canon SX200 IS is definitely more versatile and fun to use than a regular compact camera.
With mega-zoom cameras, not only you can really zoom in and therefore practice your creativity, they also have optics that is generally better than in pocket-sized cameras, resulting in sharper images.
Before digital mega-zoom cameras were available, you would have to carry around a bunch of lenses and a camera body to be able to get to 10x magnification. This model features 12x optical zoom, optical image stabilization and compact design.
The optically-stabilized zoom moves an optical element within the lens to reduce or eliminate blur caused by shooting handheld.
I have used many mega-zoom cameras, including the Panasonic DMC-FZ28, the Panasonic DMC-FZ18, the Canon PowerShot S5 IS, the Canon PowerShot SX10 IS, the Fuji S700, and others. The SX200 IS interested me with its combination of its compact dimensions, price, zoom, image stabilization and wide angle capability. And 12.1-megapixel resolution does not hurt either.
What Is Canon SX200 IS?
The Canon PowerShot SX200 IS is a digital camera with optical image stabilization, 12x wide-angle zoom lens, 12-Megapixel resolution, 3-inch LCD. The camera has face detection and uses SD storage (SDHC capable).
The camera is powered by a custom Li-Ion battery. Its 12x optical zoom and optical image stabilization work together to give you sharp pictures when shooting handheld and/or at long distances.
The 12x optical zoom is a 35mm equivalent of 28-336mm. The camera's maximum apertures are not very impressive f/3.4 at wide angle and f/5.3 at full telephoto. The minimum aperture is f/8 throughout the range. The camera stores images on an SD cards in JPEG format. In addition to digital still photographs, the camera can record HD video (1,280x720 at 30 fps).
The camera is available in red, black, blue and silver colors. It is relatively compact and feels solid. The camera features fast USB 2.0 connectivity. The camera has an HDMI out for HD video playback as well as video outs for standard-resolution video playback in either NTSC or PAL standards.
The SX200 IS lets you shoot at the resolutions of up to 12 MP (4,000x3,000 pixels), which lets you print enlargements or crop the part of the picture. And, of course, it is more than enough for the standard 6x4 prints.
The camera features selectable ISO between 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600 and 3200 as well as Auto ISO modes.
Metering and Exposure
The exposure modes include Program AE, Aperture and Shutter Priority mode, and even full Manual mode. The light metering can be selected between Evaluative, Center-Weighted and Spot (center or AF point). I find Spot and Center-Weighted modes useful when taking pictures of people at distances where the flash doesn't reach in backlight. In Evaluative metering mode, the faces might turn out underexposed, unless you dial in some exposure compensation.
In Spot mode, you can set metering to properly expose the face of your subject. Also, the Spot metering mode can help you figure out the proper exposure in difficult lighting conditions be metering off the object with known tonal characteristics and then dialing some exposure compensation.
The Program AE modes let you avoid figuring out the details and the full auto mode turns the operation into fully-automatic point-and-shoot affair.
The camera can record HD movie clips at up to 1,280x720 pixels (720p) at 30 with sound. This is HD, albeit not the highest resolution of HD (1,920x1,080).
Auto focus works well overall, but has occasional issues in dim light and in macro mode. And since you cannot see whether the focusing was accurate on the LCD screen, you might end up discovering that some of your photos are a little blurry only after you view them on a computer screen or on prints.
LCD and Viewfinder
The camera has a 3-inch LCD with good 230,000 pixels that covers 100% of the view. There is no viewfinder however. The LCD is fluid, has pleasing colors and good resolution. It is fluid, even in low light. I found that the LCD is well-visible in regular conditions, but in sunlight, visibility decreases.
Unlike the Canon PowerShot SX10 IS or Fuji S6000fd, which use 4 AA batteries, but like Panasonic DMC-FZ28, which use proprietary Li-Ion battery packs, this model uses a custom Li-Ion battery. This is the approach Panasonic has long practiced in their mega-zoom cameras and, coincidentally, the one I prefer.
I personally dislike cameras that use AA batteries. Usually, cameras that use 2 AA batteries are slow in recharging their flashes. The ones that use 4 AA batteries are bulky and heavy once batteries are loaded, plus it is cumbersome to remove and reinsert four of them. With 4 AA batteries, the additional disadvantage is the price of batteries and the charger, the weight and inconvenience of having to deal with 4 batteries instead of one.
The Canon's other model, SX110, uses 2 AA batteries and the flash recycle time suffers as a result (up to 11 seconds). This SX200 on the other hand can recycle its flash in about 3-4 seconds max.
A quick suggestion on maximizing battery life: turn off its continuous focus and continuous image stabilization, both of which are battery hogs. If you disable both of them (and switch to focusing and OIS only after the shutter release button is depressed), the battery life improves.
The camera provides up to 12MP resolution, which produces excellent prints (provided the shot is well-focused and in good light) up to 10x8 inches.
The camera is well built and has a solid feel. The camera is relatively convenient to hold. In comparison to some other mega-zoom cameras, a positive difference of this model is the absence of the lens cap that needs to be removed manually. The camera uses lens doors that open automatically, which is nice.
The camera's operation is fast overall. The power-up takes less than 2 seconds (mostly taken by the lens extension) and is relatively quiet. The camera focuses very fast as well (under a second), seemingly as fast as the Panasonic FZ28 or Canon SX10 IS. But sometimes it struggles to focus in low light, which is something the above-mentioned cameras do not do.
The zooming is precise, smooth and fast. The shutter lag when pre-focused is virtually absent and the picture is taken almost instantaneously. The shot-to-shot delay is a bit more than one second.
Shooting with flash is only slightly slower since the flash needs time to recharge. The recycle time was only 3-4 seconds at most, unlike the 2-AA battery powered cameras that can take in double digits to recycle their flashes. But the flash is a little weak, and the relatively small maximum apertures of the lens do not help.
The flash is also raised automatically and there is no way to lower it, so it is always sticking out for not good reason. Frequently you do need to use the flash, but it is strange that a camera with serious creative modes (shutter priority, aperture priority and manual modes) insists on always popping up its flash, even if you disable the flash. Also, it has red-eye reduction modes, which still don't eliminate the red eye completely. There is a red eye removal option in playback mode. I normally fix red eye in Photoshop.
The image stabilization has several modes: Off, Continuous, Shoot Only, Panning. The Continuous mode is a battery hog, so I suggest that you do not use it. I haven't used the continuous image stabilization as it reduces battery life and, more importantly, produces slightly more motion blur in images in comparison to the image stabilization during the shutter release only.
I took more than 170 pictures without seeing the low-battery warning. The camera is rated to deliver 280 shots on one charge.
Canon is the leader in consumer digital cameras for a reason. When friends ask me for camera recommendations without being able to specify the exact usage criteria, I catch myself thinking (and frequently recommending) Canon cameras. One of the reasons is the fact that they (at least currently) simply do not have poorly-designed cameras. Other manufacturers have better (in my opinion) cameras in some specific areas. But as far as the overall lineup goes, Canon cannot be beat.
One of the outcomes of this is the uniformly excellent picture quality of Canon cameras. True, some of them (e.g. small SD-series cameras) have slightly blurry corners. But overall, Canon cameras have uniformly excellent colors, good sharpness and produce images that look good printed.
This model provides generally very good pictures overall, but there are small issues. The pictures are richly saturated, mostly sharp (in the center) from wide angle to telephoto and have pleasing colors. I really like the sky colors and the way the camera renders clouds. The corners are soft though, mostly at telephoto. And then, there are aforementioned issues with focusing in dim light and in macro mode.
The chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is apparent in areas of high contrast at both wide angle and telephoto.
The image stabilization worked well and let me take handheld photos at full telephoto at 1/100 and sometimes at slower speeds. I also could take handheld photos at 1/10 (and slower) at wide angle. This is much better than the rule of the recommended handheld shutter speeds (1/equivalent focal length) suggests. Without image stabilization I wouldn't be able to take pictures at the above shutter speeds. 1/500 at telephoto and 1/50 at wide angle would be the slowest I could use.
I mostly used the lowest ISO available (ISO 80) and saw no noise. At higher ISO settings, the noise starts to appear. At ISO 200, you can see noise appear in the shadows/darker areas and ISO 400 has quite detectable noise, the ISO 800 features even worse noise, which becomes rather bad and the detail level suffers too. Fortunately, you can avoid having to use it in most situations by simply using a slower shutter speed and/or larger apertures (e.g. F2.8 at wide angle). Image stabilization lets you use those slower speeds handheld without fear of motion blur appearing on your pictures.
But if you have to use a faster shutter speed, then you have to use ISO 400-1,600. Surprisingly, the noise at ISO 800 is not as bad as I expected and ISO 800 photos can be printed at 5x7 or 4x6 size. You can print ISO 1,600-3,200 pictures, but I would only recommend it in situations where you have no other choice.
Keep in mind that ISO 800 or higher will not let you print sharp 10x8 photos; they will be grainy. So if you need to print photos larger than 5x7, use ISO lower than 800.
Ease of Use
Once you get used to Canon menu systems, they are pretty easy to use. Overall, the eaqse of use is very high and almost reaches my all-time favorite (Panasonic).
The USB 2.0 on this Canon is a "real" USB 2.0 High Speed - the transfer speeds are fast. I mostly used my memory card reader however, just as always. It is faster, more convenient and conserves the battery life of the camera.
Just as many other recent cameras, this model features face detection technology. The face detection works surprisingly well, finding faces in the frame, showing you that it found them by displaying focusing rectangles over them, focusing on them and making sure they are focused on. Overall, I feel it is a useful technology and a cool one too. This camera can even track faces of moving subjects.
Pros: Zoom, image stabilization, battery, speed, overall image quality, 720p movie mode, features
Cons: Annoying flash, focusing issues, lens's maximum aperture, price
The Canon PowerShot SX200 IS is a good choice if you need a compact camera with 12x optical zoom, wide angle and optical image stabilization. Its relatively compact size, features and price make it a good choice overall. But it is not perfect. I do not recommend it if you frequently shoot in dim light (due to focusing issues, lens's aperture and flash weakness). And the flash that always pops up and cannot be pushed back in is simply annoying. In fact, there are better choices overall.