It is difficult to "downgrade" from the mega-zoom camera to a compact point-and-shoot model. Having to forego 10x optical zoom after being able to zoom in dramatically is not fun. So the smaller mega-zoom cameras, such as Canon SX110 IS fill the niche between larger mega-zoom cameras with over 15x magnification and small 3-4x zoom pocket models.
Almost as compact as the compact cameras, but with versatility of 10x zoom, the SX110 IS is a neat camera. Mega-zoom cameras are fun to use overall. 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, but now you can get a digital camera with 10x optical zoom and over for less than $300-400.
With 10x or more optical zoom, you can zoom in to magnify far-away objects while staying far from them. But not all mega-zoom cameras are created equal. Some cameras have no image stabilization at all (although, thankfully, they are rapidly becoming extinct), resulting in blurry images at high magnification levels and/or in dim light. Some cameras rely on increased sensitivity setting (ISO) to increase the shutter speed thereby reducing blur caused by the shake when the camera is handheld.
At the top of the mega-zoom hierarchy are cameras with optically-stabilized zooms. These cameras move an optical element within the lens (some shift the CCD sensor itself) to reduce or eliminate blur caused by shooting handheld. The Canon PowerShot SX110 IS is on of these cameras.
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.
I recently bought and used the new Canon PowerShot SX110 IS with 10x optical zoom, optical image stabilization and 9-Megapixel resolution. Although this model is a good camera overall and has its advantages over the Canon SX10, it has its shortcomings, especially apparent after using the Panasonic DMC-FZ28.
What Is Canon SX110 IS?
The Canon PowerShot SX110 IS is a digital camera with optical image stabilization, 10x zoom, 9-Megapixel resolution, 3-inch LCD. The camera has face detection and uses SD storage (SDHC capable).
The camera uses 2 AA. Its 10x optical zoom and optical image stabilization work together to give you sharp pictures when shooting handheld and/or at long distances.
The 10x optical zoom is an equivalent of 36-360mm. The SX110's maximum apertures is f/2.8 at wide angle and f/4.3 at full telephoto. It stores images on an SD cards in JPEG format. In addition to digital still photographs, the camera can record video clips with sound at up to 640x480 30 fps.
The camera is available in black or silver color. It is relatively compact and feels solid. The camera features fast USB 2.0 connectivity.
The SX110 IS lets you shoot at the resolutions of up to 9 MP, which lets you print enlargements or crop the part of the picture and print it with excellent results. And, of course, it is more than enough for the standard 6x4 prints.
The camera features selectable ISO between 80, 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1600 as well as Auto and High ISO Auto. The camera has a very bright autofocus-assist light for better and faster focusing in low-light conditions. It works well in dim light.
The camera also features manual focusing mode with magnification, but frankly it is not something that is needed, since the auto focusing works so well.
Metering and Exposure
The exposure modes include Program AE, Aperture and Shutter Priority mode, and even full Manual mode. The shutter speed can be set between 15 and 1/2,500 sec with speeds slower than 1.3 sec available in Shutter Priority or Manual mode and operating with noise reduction.
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 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 AVI movie clips at up to 640x480 pixels at 30 or 15 fps with sound.
The camera has an excellent Macro mode, which lets you get very close to your subject. It also has manual focusing, which, in conjunction to available manual exposure, makes it a very versatile camera.
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 or other cameras (e.g. Panasonic DMC-FZ28) which use proprietary Li-Ion battery packs, this model uses 2 AA batteries. Canon includes 2 alkaline batteries with the camera, but obviously you have to get your rechargeable batteries, preferably NiMH of high capacity and a charger if you plan to use the camera at all as the alkaline batteries that are included don't last long and cannot be recharged.
I have used 2 Rayovac 2300 mAh NiMH batteries. I personally dislike cameras that don't come with rechargeable batteries (unless they are inexpensive) and here is why. 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.
Still, I am willing to give a camera a chance if it is very good in other respects. The advantage of using AA batteries is the ease of finding replacement rechargeable or disposable batteries.
As mentioned above, the 2-AA battery cameras have issues flash recycle time. Just as I suspected, the SX110 proved this simple truth once more as its flash recycle took up to 11 seconds.
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 9MP resolution, which provides excellent prints up to 10x8 inches, provided lighting is good.
The camera is well built and has a solid feel. The camera has a SLR-style body and is relatively convenient to hold. Upon arrival, I loaded my two 2300 mAh Rayovac NiMH batteries, inserted my 512 MB SD card and was ready to shoot.
In comparison to some other mega-zoom cameras, a positive difference of the SX110 is the absence of the lens cap that needs to be removed manually. The camera uses lens doors that open automatically, which is nice.
In the Box
The camera comes with 2 AA-sized alkaline disposable batteries, a wrist strap, an AV cable, USB cable, a "starter" SD memory card, CD-ROM and manuals.
The camera's operation is fast. 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.
The zooming is precise 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. In high-speed shooting modes, the images were captured at about 1-1.5 fps.
Shooting with flash is slower since the flash needs time to recharge. Not surprisingly (taking into account only 2 AA batteries) the flash recycle time can reach 11 seconds (shooting in dim light at smallest aperture opening).
The flash is raised or lowered manually and has features such as output adjustment, 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 was took more than 210 pictures without seeing the low-battery warning.
I liked the manual focus ability. When focusing manually, you see the focus area enlarged to help you fine-tune your focus and you also see the distance markings. Truth be told, I find manual focus rarely needed as the automatic focus works really well. It is certainly no match for the cameras that lets you focus using a focusing ring around the lens.
The camera focuses fast, even in dim light and even at full telephoto. It had no issues in any light indoors.
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. They 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, especially at wide angle.
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 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.
And a note on the flash: not only it takes forever to recycle, the flash has only moderate reach and uneven coverage at wide angle.
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 however - the transfer speeds are fast. I mostly used my memory card reader however, just as always. It is faster, more convenient and conserves the batteries 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. I played with it (I just had to) and discovered that you can defeat it by covering an eye or covering the mouth. Overall, I feel it is a useful technology and a cool one too.
The camera came with 1-year parts and 90-day labor warranty.
Pros: Low price for features (for a Canon), good performance, image stabilization, 10x zoom
Cons: Chromatic aberration, slow flash recycle, slightly soft corners, no viewfinder
The Canon PowerShot SX110 IS is a good choice if you need an inexpensive camera with 10x optical zoom and optical image stabilization. Its relatively compact size, features and price make it a good choice.