Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Canon PowerShot SX10 IS 10-Megapixel Digital Camera with 20x Optical Stabilized Zoom

Mega-zoom cameras (cameras that have 10x optical zoom or over) are fun. Before digital mega-zoom cameras were available, you would have to buy and, not less important, carry around a bunch of lenses and a camera body to be able to get to 10x magnification. Now you can get a digital camera with 10x optical zoom and over for less than $500 and frequently even for less than $300 and put it in a compact bag.

Why is having 10x or more optical zoom fun? You can zoom in to magnify far-away objects while staying far from them. Alas, not all mega-zoom cameras are created equal. Some cameras have no image stabilization at all, 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, but sometimes at an expense of increased noise or detail.

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 SX10 IS is on of these cameras and a successor to the well-respected Canon S5 IS.

I have used many mega-zoom cameras, including the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8, the new 18x-zoom Panasonic FZ18, the Canon PowerShot S5 IS, the Fuji S6000fd, the Fuji S700 and others.

Although all mega-zoom cameras are fun, the most fun to use cameras for me are the ones with over 15x optical zoom, optical image stabilization and 28mm wide angle. I wanted to try the new Canon PowerShot SX10 IS in part because of its 20x optical zoom, image stabilization and 28mm wide angle (35mm-equivalent). I purchased the Canon SX10 IS and after using it and comparing it to other stabilized-zoom cameras, I sold it on eBay (just as the previous Canon S-series models and other cameras that I get to try).

In this case, I sold it not because it is a bad camera or there is a better mega-zoom alternative. I simply am happy to have a digital SLR and mega-zoom feature of this camera is not something I need on a daily basis.

An Improvement Over the Canon S5 IS? 

A replacement for the last year's popular Canon PowerShot S5 IS, the Canon PowerShot SX10 IS is a digital camera with optical image stabilization, 20x zoom (vs. 12x), 10-Megapixel resolution (vs. 8MP), ISO up to 3200 (vs. 1600) and 2.5-inch LCD. The camera has face detection and features improved DIGIC 4 with servo AF tracking.

Just as the S5 IS before it, the SX10 IS has an articulated LCD screen, uses 4 AA batteries and stores photos on SD memory cards. The amazing 20x optical zoom and optical image stabilization work together to give you sharp pictures when shooting handheld and/or at long distances. This is probably the highest optical zoom on the market today and optical image stabilization makes this 20x optical zoom usable without introducing blurriness when shooting handheld (of course to reasonable level).

The Canon S5 IS and the S3 IS before it were impressive and very popular cameras. The only things I did not like about them were their use of 4 AA batteries, the fact that the filter adaptors were sold separately, whereas Panasonic FZ cameras came with them and the flimsy lens cap, as well as the fact that the flash had to be raised manually (unlike Panasonic cameras where you could just push a button).

The S5 IS added a hot shoe adapter for external flashes, moving it closer to semi-pro category and the SX10 IS retains this feature. The SX10 still has not improved in the areas I criticized (ever since S2 IS), but did improve in the area of resolution, and most importantly zoom level and wide angle coverage. And although the changes are evolutionary rather than revolutionary the SX10 IS is a major leap forward due to aforementioned.

About Canon PowerShot SX10 IS 

The Canon S10 IS is a 10-Megapixel digital camera with 20x optical zoom (28-560mm in 35-mm equivalent), optical image stabilization with maximum apertures of f/2.8 at wide angle and f/5.7 at full telephoto. It stores images on an SD card in JPEG format (including SDHC).

The camera is only available in black color. It has a 2.5-inch fully-articulated LCD screen. The camera is relatively compact and feels solid, features USB 2.0 connectivity that is fast.

The 20x optical zoom optics features optical image stabilization. In addition to digital still photographs, the camera can record video clips with stereo sound. You can output video and sound to your TV (be it your pictures or video clips) using the supplied audio/video cable. It has face detection that works in conjunction with automatic white balance, focus and exposure.


The camera lets you shoot at the resolutions of up to 10 Megapixels and 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, 1600 and 3200 as well as Auto and High ISO Auto. It also has manual focus (with focus bracketing) in addition to automatic 1-spot focus (the focus spot in auto mode can be moved to any position on the screen by using [SET] and arrow buttons) as well as face detection.

The camera has an autofocus assist light for better and faster focusing in low-light conditions. It works well in dim light.

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 1/3,200 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. 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 camera even has a live histogram. The evaluative metering incorporates data from the face detection system to ensure that faces are properly exposed.

Movie Mode 

The camera has a built-in stereo microphone for recording sounds while filming video clips and a speaker, which can be used for operational sounds or to play back the sounds recorded. The camera can record AVI movie clips at up to 640x480 pixels at 30 fps with stereo sound; also available is 320x240 resolution at 24 fps at up to 4GB or 60 minutes.


The camera has a Macro mode as well as Super Macro mode, in which it can focus as close as 0 inches. That's right - zero inches!

Focus Range: 

Normal: 50 cm (1.6 ft.) - infinity (W)/ 1 m (3.3 ft.) - infinity (T)
Macro: 1 - 50 cm (0.39 in. to 1.6 ft.)
Super Macro: 0 - 10 cm (0 to 3.9 in.)

LCD and Viewfinder 

The camera has a fully articulated 2.5-inch LCD with 230,000 pixels that covers 100% of the view. The LCD requires quite a lot of force to flip outward or rotate, but feels sturdy as a result.

In addition to the LCD, there is an electronic viewfinder (EVF). Since it is expensive (and difficult if not impossible) to make a 20x zooming optical viewfinder and impossible to easily confirm focus in a non-SLR optical viewfinder, the Canon S5 IS has an EVF.

Both the LCD and EVF are fluid, has pleasing colors and good resolution. Both are fluid, even in low light.

I found that the LCD is well-visible in regular conditions, but in sunlight, visibility decreases and you have to use the EVF, which works well in sunlight.


The power is supplied by 4 AA-sized batteries. Canon includes four 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 4 Rayovac 2300 mAh NiMH batteries. This is much better for environment and your pocket.

I personally dislike cameras that don't come with rechargeable batteries, unless they are inexpensive. The advantage of using AA batteries is the ease of finding replacement rechargeable or disposable batteries. Also, if you use high-capacity rechargeable NiMH batteries, you can get 600 shots out of the SX10, according to Canon, comparing to about 300 shots I used to get from my Panasonic FZ5 on one battery charge.

The disadvantage is the price of batteries and the charger, the weight and inconvenience of having to deal with 4 batteries instead of one. The SX10 IS was already heavier than the Panasonic FZ18 and got even heavier when batteries were loaded. It is also more expensive without the batteries than the FZ18 with its rechargeable battery and a charger.

One thing to note: the camera comes preset to continuous focus and continuous image stabilization, both of which are battery hogs. I recommend that you disable both of them (and switch to focusing and OIS only after the shutter release button is depressed), unless you like and have an opportunity to recharge your batteries often.

On Resolution 

The difference between 8MP and 10MP is minimal. For majority of people who only print 6x4 or 5x7 photos and do not crop, there is no difference at all.


After my camera arrived (I bought it for $360, which is a pleasant benefit of progress since the predecessor, S5 IS, cost me $434 last year), I found it to be well built and have a solid feel. The camera has a SLR-style body and is relatively convenient to hold. Upon arrival, I loaded my four 2300 mAh Rayovac NiMH batteries in the camera, inserted my 512 MB SD card and was ready to shoot.

In the Box 

The camera comes with 4 AA-sized disposable batteries, a neck strap, a stereo video cable, USB cable, a lens cap, 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 FZ18.

The zooming is the most impressive aspect of this camera. It is precise and rather fast (and seemingly quieter that that of the S5's, perhaps due to the use of the VCM motor). And the slower speed lets you fine-tune the composition precisely.

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 2 fps.

Shooting with flash is slower since the flash needs time to recharge. I was not surprised to see that the flash recycle time still can reach 7 seconds (shooting indoors at f/5.7. At least the screen did not go blank in the meantime, unlike some 2-AA battery equipped Canons of the A-line. And the 2-AA models recycle their flashes even slower.

The flash has red-eye reduction modes, which work rather well, but sometimes don't eliminate the red eye completely. No worries - I can fix that in Photoshop CS2 very easily.

Battery Life 

The image stabilization has several modes: Off, Continuous, Shoot Only, Panning. The camera comes with mode set to Continuous by default, which is a battery hog.

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 got good pictures, but still not so good battery life.

I was able to take more than 220 pictures without seeing a low-battery warning.

Manual Focus 

I liked the camera's 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. Still, bulkier cameras with focus rings, e.g. Fuji S6000fd or real SLRs work best for fine-tuning focus at telephoto.


The camera focuses fast, even in dim light and even at full telephoto. It had no issues in any kind of light indoors. Pretty impressive stuff.

Picture Quality 

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 is the best.

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 and displayed on computer screen.

This model is no exception. It produces excellent pictures, even though some of them were slightly overexposed for my taste. They are richly saturated, sharp from wide angle to telephoto and have pleasing colors. I really like the sky colors and the way the camera renders clouds.

The image stabilization worked well and let me take handheld photos at full telephoto at 1/150 and sometimes at slower speeds. I also could take some handheld photos at 1/10 at full wide angle. This is much better than the rule of the recommended slowest handheld shutter speeds (1/equivalent focal length) suggests. Without image stabilization I wouldn't be able to take pictures at the above shutter speeds. 1/1000 at telephoto and 1/25 at wide angle would be the slowest I could use.

The lens of the SX10 exhibits very slight barrel distortion and no noticeable pincushion distortion at telephoto. There is some chromatic aberration (CA) to be found in high-contrast scenes, especially at the telephoto end of the zoom. As is usually the case with mega-zoom cameras, the telephoto shots have slightly soft corners, but nothing major. And the sharper pictures are attainable if you stay away from the extremes of the focal lengths and apertures.

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 have 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 4x6. You can print ISO 1,600 or 3,200 pictures, but I would only recommend it in situations where you have no other choice.

Ease of Use 

Once you get used to Canon menu systems, they are pretty easy to use. Overall, the ease of use is very high and almost reaches my all-time favorite (Panasonic). And obviously, if you used a Canon camera before, you will feel "at home".

Computer Connectivity 

The USB 2.0 on this Canon is a "real" USB 2.0 High Speed however - the transfer speeds are fast. I always prefer to use my memory card reader however: for speed and convenience.

Face Detection 

Just as many other recent cameras, the SX10 IS 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. Not only it helps you focus, but it helps camera select correct exposure (ensuring the correct brightness of faces), white balance (color of faces).

So Is It An Improvement Over The Canon S5 IS? 

Although the SX10 IS is similar to the Canon S5 IS, it features major improvements over the S5. The improvements are in the most important areas: zoom, wide angle, price, resolution, ISO 3200. And the S5 IS was itself a very good camera.

The new 20x zoom, 28mm wide angle and low price make the SX10 IS an excellent choice.


Based on experience with previous models of the same series (e.g. S5 IS, S3 IS) and on the perceived build quality of this SX10, the camera should be durable.

Move Mode

The SX10 features up to 640x480 at 30 fps. Update 05/2009: If this is insufficient, the newer (but more expensive) Canon SX1 IS features a CMOS-based sensor for up to full 1080p (1,920x1,080) video and an HDMI out for viewing on HDTV.


You can get the Panasonic FZ28 with 18x optical stabilized zoom, 10MP resolution and battery pack with charger and other accessories for much less (under $290 currently). For my money, I would probably prefer the FZ28 to the SX10. But with such a small price difference, I need to look at the FZ28 in more detail.

Pros: Price, 20x zoom, 28mm wide angle, solid build, features, face detection, battery life, resolution
Cons: Uses 4 AA batteries, heavier than Panasonic

Bottom Line 

The Canon PowerShot SX10 IS is an excellent choice if you need a camera with a monster 20x optical zoom, wide angle coverage and optical image stabilization. It is even priced lower than the last year's 12x zoom S5 IS. I highly recommend the SX10, unless you hate dealing with 4 AA batteries.

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