All cameras reproduce colors differently. Accurate color can be the difference between a pleasing and unattractive portrait or a beautiful and boring landscape. We test color accuracy by photographing an industry standard GretagMacbeth ColorChecker test chart under bright, even studio lights. The ColorChecker chart contains 24 different color tiles, each representing a color from around the color spectrum. The image below shows how accurately the Canon SX100 IS reproduces the colors of the ColorChecker chart. The outside squares show the colors the camera reproduces, the inside squares show the ideal color of the ColorChecker corrected for luminance, and the inner rectangles show the ideal color of the chart under a perfectly even exposure.
As you can see in the image, many of the outer squares blend right into the inner squares, meaning the colors are very accurate. A few tiles don’t blend as well, however, especially the yellows and a couple of blues. Color accuracy is shown in a different way in the graph below. The background of the graph shows the entire color spectrum, and the ideal ColorChecker colors are located as squares, while the colors the camera reproduces are shown as circles. The lines connecting the circles and squares show the amount of color error for each color tile.
The graph confirms what we saw in the chart above; many of the colors are very accurate, with the exception of some blues and yellows. The blues are shifted toward purple, which is often done on purpose by manufactures to enhance blue skies, and the yellows are shifted toward green. Besides these few color shifts, the color accuracy of the SX100 IS is excellent, just as we have seen in all Canon PowerShots released this year.
We test resolution by photographing an industry standard resolution test chart at varied focal lengths, apertures, and shutter speeds. We run the photos through Imatest to find the setting that produce the sharpest photo possible. Imatest measures resolution in terms of line widths per picture height (lw/ph), which represent the maximum number of equally spaced, alternating black and white lines that can fit across the picture frame before becoming blurred.
The 8-megapixel Canon SX100 IS has its best resolution at ISO 80, f/3.5, and a focal length of 20.1mm. The camera resolves 1698 lw/ph horizontally with 6.6 percent oversharpening, and 1596 lw/ph vertically with 9.4 percent undersharpening. These are solid resolution numbers, and the low sharpening levels mean image artifacts such as "ghosting" will be kept to a minimum. Unfortunately, close inspection of the resolution chart image shows there is some moiré in closely-spaced lines, and some chromatic aberration ("color fringing") on the edges of the frame. To the camera’s credit, however, the image is sharp in all areas of the frame, even the edges and corners. Overall, the SX100 IS produces nice, sharp photos.
Noise – Manual ISO*(6.04) *
Image noise is the ugly sandiness or splotchiness that sometimes appears in digital photos, especially those taken in low light. This noise almost always looks very ugly, and is caused by unavoidable extraneous electric signals in a camera’s sensor, similar in principle to the static in your TV or the background hiss in your stereo. We test noise levels by photographing our test chart under bright, even studio lights at each ISO speed a camera offers. We run the photos through Imatest, which measures noise by the percentage of image detail it drowns out. The results for the SX 100IS are shown in the graph below.
The SX100 IS has very low noise at ISO 80 and 100, manageable noise at ISO 200 and 400, and extremely high noise at ISO 800 and 1600. Keep this camera at as low an ISO speed as you can, and avoid ISO 800 and 1600 whenever possible, or your photos may look like there were taken in a sandstorm. On close inspection, the noise itself looks quite grainy, with small splotches of yellow and blue. It isn’t the ugliest noise we’ve seen, but it isn’t pretty. Additionally, the higher ISO images look soft, suggesting some automatic noise reduction. Overall, the camera does well enough with noise at low ISO speeds to garner a solid manual ISO score.
Noise – Auto ISO*(1.53) *
We also test noise levels with cameras set to Auto ISO, shooting under the same bright studio lights. Under our bright studio lights, the SX100 IS chooses ISO 200, where noise obscured 1.6 percent of the image detail. This noise won’t be apparent in small versions of your photo, but if viewed at 100 percent you can clearly see the small splotches of yellow and blue. Keep this camera at ISO 80 whenever possible.
White Balance*(13.03) *
To achieve accurate color reproduction in real-life shooting, a camera must be able to accurately white balance. Different lighting sources have different color casts, so cameras need to adjust their colors accordingly. We test white balance by photographing the ColorChecker test chart under four types of light: flash, fluorescent, outdoor shade, and tungsten. We test the auto white balance setting as well the appropriate white balance presets, found in the Function menu on the Canon SX100 IS.
*Auto (12.52) *
With the white balance set to Auto, the SX100 IS is extremely accurate in the flash’s and fluorescent light, but poor in outdoor shade and tungsten light. Keep this in mind when you are shooting in different lighting situations.
*Using the appropriate white balance presets, the camera is very accurate in fluorescent and tungsten light, but poor in outdoor shade. It seems the camera has trouble white balancing no matter what in outdoor shade, but otherwise the white balance is excellent. Make sure to use the tungsten preset whenever shooting indoors in tungsten lights; you will be much happier with your photos.
**Still Life Sequences
***Click the thumbnails to view the high resolution images.
Low Light ***(8.09) *
Not all shooting takes place in ideal studio conditions. This is why we also test color and noise performance in low light, at levels of 60, 30, 15, and 5 lux. Sixty lux is about as bright as a room lit by two soft lamps, 30 lux is as bright as a room lit by a single 40-watt bulb, and 15 and 5 lux are quite dim and test the limits of a camera’s sensor. All shots are taken at ISO 1600.
Colors stay very accurate in low light, even at 5 lux. Noise levels, on the other hand, are very high. This is due to the very noisy ISO 1600 setting on the SX100 IS, and can be diminished by lowering the ISO. However, depending on the amount of light you have to shoot in, lowering the ISO may make the shutter speed too slow and result in blurry photos. Sometimes you may just have to settle for noisy low light photos. Overall, this is a good low light performance, as not all cameras can even get a decent exposure at 5 lux.
We also test low light performance in long exposures, at ISO 400. The SX100 IS takes exposures as long as 15 seconds, and keeps noise levels admirably low without increasing significantly with shutter speed. Color accuracy isn’t as impressive as it is in brighter light, but still looks fine. You should be able to capture some nice-looking long exposures with this camera.
**Dynamic Range ***(5.11) *
Dynamic range is an important aspect of image quality that tells how much detail a camera can discern in bright and dark parts of an image. This is especially important when photographing high contrast scenes, such as a white wedding dress and a black tux next to each other or the bright highlights and dark shadows of a landscape or portrait in bright sunlight. A camera with poor dynamic range will blow out the white highlights and lose detail in the shadows. We test dynamic range by photographing a backlit Stouffer test chart at all ISO sensitivities. The Stouffer chart consists of a row of rectangles, each a slightly darker shade of gray, ranging from brightest white to darkest black. The more rectangles a camera can distinguish, the better its dynamic range.
The SX100 IS has excellent dynamic range at ISO 80, but at higher ISO speeds it drops rapidly. Just as we suggested in the noise section above, try to keep this camera at ISO 80 whenever possible, especially when shooting scenes with high contrast. Overall, the camera’s dynamic range is mediocre, and typical of similar Canon PowerShots. However, it is significantly worse than the equally priced, 10x zoom Panasonic Lumix TZ3.
Speed/Timing – All speed tests were conducted using a Kingston Ultimate 120X 2GB SD Card, with the camera set to highest resolution and best quality, unless otherwise noted.
Startup to First Shot (7.6)
The SX100 IS takes 2.4 seconds to turn on and take its first shot.
*In Continuous shooting mode, the camera fires shots approximately every 0.9 seconds for more than 150 photos. In Continuous AF mode, the camera shoots every 1.2 seconds, and autofocuses between each shot. These modes should help with capturing some good action shots, but a faster Burst mode would be nice for those moments that seem to pass by too quickly.
*The SX100 IS has no measurable lag when the shutter is held down halfway and prefocused, but a lag of 0.45 seconds when not prefocused.
The little green light takes 1.3 seconds to stop blinking when shooting a 4 MB full resolution superfine photo taken at ISO 160.
Video Performance*(4.51) *
*Bright Indoor Light – 3000 lux
*We test color accuracy and noise levels in Movie modes by recording footage of our color charts under bright studio lights lit to 3000 lux. Under these bright tungsten lights, with the camera set to auto white balance, the SX100 IS has terrible color accuracy, which is actually common for cameras in this shooting situation. The camera keeps noise levels very low, however.
Low Light – 30 lux
We also record footage of our color charts in low light. At 30 lux, the SX100 IS has better color accuracy than in bright light, and still keeps noise levels quite low. This is impressive compared to some other digital cameras on the market.
We also record video footage of our resolution test chart to see how sharp cameras are in Movie mode. Note that camera video is shot in Standard Definition, or 640 x 480 pixels, which is a much lower resolution than the still images we tested above. In Movie mode, the camera resolves 309 lw/ph horizontally with 9.4 percent undersharpening, and 377 lw/ph vertically with 8.4 percent oversharpening. This is decently sharp for camera video, and the sharpening doesn’t introduce drastic image artifacts.
We take a break from lab tests to shoot footage of moving cars and pedestrians to see how cameras render motion. The SX100 IS’s video looks nice and sharp and handles highlights very well, an area previous Canon PowerShots struggle with. On the other hand, the SX100 IS makes moving objects rather jerky, especially when they are moving out of the frame, and also shows a little moiré in repetitive patterns. Overall, the video looks good for a digital camera, but this camera is not a replacement for a camcorder.
**Viewfinder ***(0.0) *
While the camera is modeled much like Canon’s budget A-series, the SX100 IS ditches the viewfinder. Users must use the LCD to frame photos.
The PowerShot SX100 IS features a 2.5-inch low-temperature polycrystalline silicon TFT color LCD with a monitor resolution of 172,000 pixels. The size is average for a point-and-shoot, but its resolution is less than desirable.
The LCD is flexible in terms of viewing, but does not rotate like many older A-series offerings. Unlike the majority of point-and-shoots, viewing photos at extreme angles is possible on the SX100's monitor. The wide viewing angle prevents solarization, which is like the effect you see on laptops when the screen is pushed back too far. This wide view allows users to shoot from varied angles, as well as show photos to a group of people. The LCD has 100 percent coverage, allowing users to accurately frame photos so people won’t be cut out of group shots. For outdoor use, users can adjust the LCD brightness in 15 steps via the Setup menu to adjust for brighter or darker situations.
While its body closely resembles the entry-level A-series cameras, the Canon PowerShot SX100 IS utilizes a flash more similar to the higher-end S-series. The SX100 IS uses a manual pull-up instead of a pop-up flash. When the flash is closed, the camera disables the flash option.
Users can choose from the standard options for automatic flash: Auto, Auto with Red-Eye Reduction, Flash On, Flash On with Red-Eye Reduction, Flash Off, FE Lock, Safety FE, and Slow Synchro. Red-Eye can be turned on or off in the menu.
Flash illumination ranges from 1.6 to 9.8 feet in wide shooting and 1.6 to 6.6 feet in telephoto shooting. The flash takes a reported 12 seconds to recharge, but we found it only takes about 7 seconds to recharge between shots.
Users can also manually change flash functions. Adjusting the flash takes a few steps due to the wealth of control options. Users can choose Flash Adjust through the menu to control flash (Manual) or let the camera decide (Auto). The Flash Adjust setting is accessed via the Record menu and is only permitted in Shutter Priority or Aperture Priority.
There is no "soft flash" option like on some point-and-shoots, but using the Flash Output feature, the flash can be adjusted three stops. Users can change how much illumination the flash puts out to avoid harshly lit photos. Flash Output is selectable in Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, and Manual shooting mode.
In addition, users can change Flash Exposure Compensation +/- 2 EV in 1/3-stop steps. Working with the overall image exposure compensation, Flash Exposure Compensation allows users to control the foreground and background illumination for even lighting. Users are only permitted to select the function in Stitch Assist, Program, Shutter Priority, and Aperture Priority modes.
Overall, the Canon SX100 IS flash has a limited range, but offers more control than most point-and-shoots with the Flash Output and Flash Exposure Compensation options. It would have been nice to include manual flash control in some of the Scene presets and the Auto mode, but the number of flash options is enough for a good score in the flash department.
**Zoom Lens ***(8.25)*
The Canon SX100 IS is one of an increasing number of point-and-shoot cameras with a long zoom lens. The SX100 IS isn’t quite the tiny point-and-shoot with a 3x optical zoom lens, but it’s also not the chunkier compact with up to 18x optical zoom. It’s a hybrid that mixes mid-range zoom with a small frame. The new PowerShot SX series has a 10x optical zoom lens on a relatively small point-and-shoot body, like its rivals the Panasonic Lumix TZ3 and Nikon Coolpix S10.
The SX100 IS is fitted with optical image stabilization to compensate for blur, associated with camera shake when the lens is extended for close-up photos. At that long of a zoom range, optical image stabilization is most certainly a necessity.
The lens extends from 6.0-60mm, equivalent to 36-360mm in 35mm film terms. 4x digital zoom is also available, but at reduced resolution. Because reducing the number of pixels can deteriorate image quality, users can disable digital zoom through the Record menu. Digital zoom is not possible in Stitch Assist or Movie mode.
The lens focuses at 1.6 feet to infinity in normal wide shooting and 3.3 feet to infinity in normal telephoto shooting. When the camera is set to Macro, the lens focuses at a closer range of 0.39 inches to 1.6 feet.
Users can zoom in and out using the zoom lever that surrounds the shutter button. Zooming is smooth, but makes a noisy humming sound that can be distracting to the shooter. Users can zoom when in Movie Standard mode and luckily the noise isn’t picked up during video recording. In still capture, users may notice slight barrel distortion in images where the frame appears bowed at the corners.
The SX100 IS has a decent aperture range. When the lens is zoomed out, the maximum aperture is f/2.8. When it is zoomed in, it is f/4.3. The minimum aperture if f/8.
A "Lens Error" warning appears if the lens is blocked. Users simply need to restart the camera to correct the occasional lens error. Users can also set when the lens retracts with the Lens Retract menu listing. When users switch from Shooting to Playback mode, the lens can retract after either one minute or immediately.
The lens on the Canon PowerShot SX100 IS has its pros and cons. Its 10x optically stabilized zoom lens offers an expansive focal range. That said, the lens could be improved with a wider view, quieter zoom, and less barrel distortion.
**Model Design / Appearance ***(7.0)*
As the first camera in Canon’s SX line, the PowerShot SX100 IS combines design features from the budget A-series and the higher-end mid-range zoom compacts. Unlike its big brothers, the PowerShot G9 and PowerShot S5 IS, the SX100 IS doesn’t have a chunky body.
The PowerShot SX100 is more akin to the budget A-series cameras. The SX100 IS has a smaller frame size, comparable to the A720 IS and A650 IS, with a smooth hand grip. The SX100 IS ditches the optical viewfinder found on the A-series but adds a pull-up flash like the S-cameras. For consumers used to slim-bodied point-and-shoots, the Canon SX100 IS may look big-boned in comparison. For users who have owned compact cameras, however, the Canon SX100 IS is tiny in comparison. Overall, the SX100 IS has indistinctive looks. There are no flashy features in the body design — everything is strictly functional.
**Size / Portability ***(6.5)*
The PowerShot SX100 IS measures 4.28 x 2.81 x 1.84 inches. The camera can’t fit in a jeans pocket. Weighing 9.35 ounces, the SX100 IS isn’t lightweight, especially when compared to cameras with shorter 3x zooms. However, it is more portable than cameras with 18x zoom lenses. It should be easy enough for vacationers and soccer parents to stow in a backpack, purse, or camera case.
Point-and-shooters will appreciate the ergonomic right hand grip that allows for shooting for long periods of time. SLR shooters, however, will wish a textured gripping surface was used instead of the smooth plastic. The back also lacks any Braille-like dots or a textured surface for additional thumb support. Instead, the camera has a slight divot for the thumb. The LCD is far enough away from the edge of the camera that users can comfortably shoot using both hands.
Control Button / Dial Positioning / Size*(7.25)*
Building off the design and layout of its S-series models, Canon has applied a rotating control dial to the back of the SX100. Similar to an iPod selection dial, the rotary control dial on the SX100 allows users to easily oscillate through menus or images, and select options using the function/set button in the center. Although the rotary dial helps speed up selection through long menu lists, it is too sensitive, often missing the selection intended by the user. The rotary dial would be much better if Canon had included a touch sensitivity control.
The back surface is lined with four rectangular buttons: Print, Face Detection, Display, and Menu. The buttons on top of the camera include the power button, mode dial, shutter, and zoom lever, and are easy to identify and access.
Even with the rotary control dial, new users should be able to control the camera easily after some practice. **
The look of Canon’s menus is consistent throughout its entire line of point-and-shoots. Brand loyalists will enjoy that fact, as they can easily navigate through Canon menus. The tabbed menus have a gray background with white text. They are navigated using the rotary dial.
The following is the Function menu, which includes frequently used controls.
The following is the complete Record menu:
The Setup menu includes the standard settings for LCD adjustments and formatting. Users can also change the volume for settings such as start up or shutter click, or simply mute the camera depending on the shooting situation.
The Canon SX100 IS, like many Canon cameras, has an effective menu system that is logical, organized, easy to navigate… and a bit dull-looking.
**Ease of Use ***(7.0)*
The Canon PowerShot SX100 IS shows a good balance between the average point-and-shoot and the advanced mid-range compact. The SX100 IS is portable but still sturdy. With a logical, although outdated, menu system and easy-to-use button controls, first time shooters should be able to use the camera with relative ease. The camera also includes live preview for white balance controls and color filters so users can see how their changes will affect photos before pressing the shutter button. Users should be pleased with the easy-to-use camera, whether they’re looking to upgrade from a 3x zoom or seeking an SLR backup.
The Canon SX100 IS has an easily identifiable Auto mode, located on the mode dial. The SX100's Auto mode restricts control options to Focus (Normal, Macro), ISO (Auto, High ISO), and Drive mode (Single Shot, 10-second Self-Timer, 2-second Self-Timer, or Custom). Auto mode also limits the flash to simply on and off. Users have to manually pull up the flash to activate it. Users can’t control flash output, which sometimes leads to overexposed photos at close range. Users should consider suppressing the flash in Auto mode for subjects within a few feet of the camera, such as portrait photography or Macro shooting.
White balance defaults to Auto White Balance, which is particularly accurate. Users can change image quality resolution and compression in Auto mode. With an accessible icon and limited number of selectable functions, beginner photographers are likely to frequently use the Auto mode.
Budding videographers can make videos using the SX100's Movie mode, represented by the film camera icon on the mode dial. Users can choose from two Movie modes, Standard and Compact. Movies are recorded in AVI Motion JPEG with WAVE monaural sound.
In Standard, users have a choice of three resolution and compression options: 640 x 480 at 30 frames per second (fps), the new LP compression of 640 x 480 at 30 fps, or 320 x 240 at 30 fps for up to 4 GB or 60 minutes. In Compact mode, file size is restricted to 160 x 120 at 15 fps for up to 3 minutes. Compact Movie mode is a quick-and-easy reference for users who are only interested in uploading to the Web or e-mailing videos.
Control options are about the same in Standard and Compact, with the exception of one important feature: zoom. Users can optically zoom in Standard mode, but not in Compact mode; that limits zooming capabilities if users want to record small videos. Users can do two things if they want small files with zoom: set zoom before hitting the record button in Compact mode, or record in Standard with zoom and then resize post-capture.
In Compact and Standard file sizes, users can change White Balance (Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Custom) and Colors (Off, Vivid, Neutral, Sepia, Black-and-White, Custom).
There are a few post-capture functions, too. Users can resize videos after the fact or play back movies in slow motion or jump frames.
**Drive / Burst Mode ***(5.75)*
To photograph fast-moving sports or people, users might consider switching to Drive mode on their Canon SX100 IS to take multiple still photos in succession. Users can access the Burst mode via the rotary control dial, which lumps the single and burst Shooting modes together. In addition to Single Shot, users can switch to Continuous shooting at 1.3 fps or Continuous AF at 0.8 fps. The 1-fps rate doesn’t bode well for this Drive mode.
Users can also select from 10- or 2-second Self-Timer modes, perfect for those infamous Facebook self-portraits. Users might miss the last hidden Custom Timer setting, because the LCD doesn’t automatically display that function. Continue rotating the dial to view the Custom function.
Overall, the Burst modes are slow. Faster burst rates would vastly improve this camera for action photography.
The PowerShot SX100 IS offers a fair amount of Playback options. Like most point-and-shoots, users can view their images as singles or in slide show form with transitional effects. To jump through a series of photos, users can view the photos as a nine-thumbnail index using the zoom lever. Users can also edit photos in the camera by resizing or adding a sound clip.
Users can connect the camera and print directly with a PictBridge-compatible printer.
Like the Record menu, users can access the Tools set-up functions via Playback mode.
Accessing Playback is simple, with a dedicated Play button located on the back of the camera. The SX100 IS offers enough playback functions to make basic corrections like red-eye fix, but the camera lacks more innovative built-in editing such as panoramic stitch (although users can do so with the post-capture software). Users who seriously dislike editing images on their computer might want to consider competitor cameras like HP or Casio, which offer more in-camera editing. For more advanced photographers, the lack of built-in editing shouldn't pose too much of a bother.
Custom Image Presets*(7.0)*
The Canon SX100 IS divides the location of its custom image presets. The mode dial on top of the camera only accesses five presets, arguably the most frequently used: Portrait, Landscape, Kids & Pets, Night Snapshot, and Stitch Assist. There is also a dedicated Special Scene mode area on the mode dial. The Special Scene mode opens up a separate internal menu through the rotary dial for Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Aquarium, Indoor, and Night Scene. It’s helpful having a few of the presets on the mode dial to access easily, but dividing the list of presets is a bit confusing for a new user.
In addition, there is no help text that sometimes accompanies Scene modes. For example, in Night Scene, the camera automatically optimizes shutter speed and flash but does not spell that out for the new user, as some competing models do. Having said that, the camera does display the Scene name. For instance, the mountain icon shows that the function is called "Landscape."
The SX100 IS’s preset modes cover the bases for most varied shooting situations from indoors to outdoors, portraits to actions. The lack of a unified list of custom image scene modes with spelled out text help guides, however, is its downfall.
Manual Control Options
Users have plenty of manual controls to choose from with the Canon PowerShot SX100 IS. The camera features PASM (Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual) functions normally reserved for SLRs and higher-end compacts.
The Canon PowerShot SX100 IS uses TTL autofocusing. Users can choose between Normal or Macro AF using the rotary control dial. The lens normally focuses at 1.6 feet to infinity in wide shooting or 3.3 feet to infinity in telephoto shooting. Focus in Normal AF is sufficient, but autofocus is surprisingly accurate in Macro shooting, with a range of 0.39 inches to 1.6 feet.
There are Single and Continuous AF Modes. Single AF Mode focuses when the user presses the shutter halfway down, while Continuous mode focuses constantly, regardless of the depressed shutter. The only downside to Continuous AF is that battery life is shortened. Neither AF Frame Center nor AF mode are functional in Movie mode.
AF Frame can be set to either Center or Face Detect in the Shooting menu. In Center AF Frame, focus is fixed in the center. In Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, and Manual modes, there are two autofocus frame sizes available: small and normal.
Unlike some competing face detection systems, the Face Select tool allows users to select which face to focus and expose on using the rotary dial and Face Detect button. When AF Frame is set to Face Detect, users can select which face in a scene to focus on. A green box appears around the main face and a white box around other faces. If the face is a profile shot, too close to the edge of the frame, or at too high of a contrast, the autofocus sometimes will not detect the face properly. In those cases, the camera defaults to Center AF.
Users can select Manual focus using the rotary control dial. The center of the LCD is magnified to aid in focusing. Additionally, there is a Safety MF lock that users can activate in the menu. Safety MF is a backup focus setting that combines Manual focus with an extra, secondary autofocus, utilizing both the viewer’s eye and the camera’s autofocus technology to attain focus.
Users can control exposure with a dedicated exposure button that adjusts exposures +/- 2 stop in one-third step increments. Exposure compensation is permitted in all modes except Auto, Movie, and Manual. There is a helpful live preview with exposure compensation, but the sensitive rotary control dial often leads to selecting the wrong exposure value.
For high contrast situations, users can control exposure and focus separately with an AE Lock function in Program, Shutter Priority, and Aperture Priority modes. This auto exposure mode takes a few steps. Users have to first lower the flash, press the shutter halfway down, then hit the exposure button. An asterisk appears, indicating the auto exposure is locked and users can shoot as normal. This AE Lock gives users a little more room to manually compensate for backlighting or high contrast images.
Users can check if an image is properly exposed in the Playback mode. Parts of the image that are overexposed blink. Some cameras display a live histogram while in Shooting mode, which can help users determine the correct exposure prior to capture.
Like most cameras, the PowerShot SX100 has three light metering methods: Evaluative, Center-Weighted (or Average), and Spot metering. Evaluative metering is the default setting for most Shooting modes and evaluates multiple areas of the frame for the best overall light metering. Center-Weighted metering also uses multiple metering areas, but averages them with more emphasis on the center frame. Center-Weighted, or Average metering, is used in Face Detection AF. Spot metering reads from a small area in the center of the frame.
**White Balance ***(7.5)*
The Canon SX100 IS has a standard list of white balance options, a crucial setting that helps ensure accurate color in varied lighting conditions. In addition to Auto white balance, users can choose presets for Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, or Fluorescent H. To select presets, press the function/set button for a menu of options. There is also a Custom white balance setting for users to manually determine correct white balance with a white card. Users can change white balance in the PASM modes, Stitch Assist, and Movie mode. White balance can’t be adjusted in Scene modes. White balance is accurate in Auto white balance and most presets, although Tungsten and Outdoor Shade can be problematic. See the Testing / Performance section of this review for more details.
Users can control sensitivity by pressing the top of the rotary dial. In Auto mode, ISO is limited to two choices: Auto and High ISO. In Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual modes, users can select from the full range of Auto, High ISO Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, and 1600.
For low light situations such as nightclubs, users can set a menu option to Auto ISO Shift (on or off). In dark conditions, Auto ISO Shift displays a shake icon and then automatically boosts ISO to reduce blur. Users can also increase sensitivity using the Night presets. The camera has good overall low-light performance. Even though the camera applies built-in noise reduction, grainy noise is a problem at ISO 800 and ISO 1600. For more details related to image quality, go to the Testing / Performance section of this review.
The Canon PowerShot SX100 IS allows users to select shutter speed in Shutter Priority and Manual modes. Shutter speed ranges from 1/2500 of a second to 15 seconds. Instead of the traditional four-way controller that requires the user to push the multi-selector for every value change, users can use the rotary dial the way iPod users scan through song lists. The control dial speeds up choosing a shutter speed, but again, the rotary dial is too sensitive. For example, shutter speed switches to ISO if you rest your thumb too long on the north side of the dial, which is pretty irritating. Controlling the rotary dial, and by extension, shutter speed, takes some getting used to, but will speed up navigation once the users becomes accustomed to it.
Aperture is manually adjustable in Aperture Priority and Manual modes. Aperture values range from f/2.8 to f/8.0, which lets plenty of light into the lens. Like shutter speed, aperture is selected using the rotary dial.
Picture Quality / Size Options*(7.5)*
The Canon PowerShot SX100 IS is equipped with an 8-megapixel 1/2.5-inch CCD sensor that allows for a full range of recordable resolution and compression settings. With the function/set button, users can choose from the following picture sizes and resolutions: 8M Large (3264 x 2448-pixel resolution), 5M Medium 1 (2592 x 1944), 3M Medium 2 (2048 x 1536), 2M Medium 3 (1600 x 1200), 0.3M Small (640 x 480), Postcard (1600 x 1200), and Widescreen (3264 x 1832). Postcard mode, as the name implies, is optimized for postcard printing at a 3:2 width-to-height ratio with 2-megapixel resolution and Fine compression.
For all other picture sizes besides Postcard, users can select from three compression settings: Normal (lowest compression quality), Fine, and Superfine (highest quality). Like most point-and-shoots, the SX100 IS does a good job of providing enough size options to turn stills into large prints or e-mail as Web resolution images.
**Picture Effects Mode ***(7.0)*
Before shooting, users can set the camera to record stills and movies in different colors or heightened effects. By hitting the function/set button, the screen draws up a variety of Color modes: Off, Vivid, Neutral, Sepia, Black-and-white, and Custom. In Custom color, users can further adjust contrast, saturation, and sharpness in five-step values. The LCD also provides live preview to help users distinguish between each setting before applying the picture effects.
The Canon PowerShot SX100 IS comes with the easy-to-use ZoomBrowser EX 6.0 for Windows and Macintosh operating systems. On the left side of the screen interface, users can control what editing functions or tasks to use by pulling down on columns using the tabs. Below that is the Last Acquired Image section, which easily allows you to manage what folders to store your pictures in. There are two ways to view your folders in this program: Favorite Folders or All Folders.
Once you’ve selected a picture to preview, the top tool bar in the browser allows you to view the image separately, rotate it, or view it in a slide show. The properties tab also allows users to view the details about their photo, such as image size, brightness/contrast, or even to add a comment or give a star rating. The star rating system allows users to tag photos according to preference, and helps expedite sorting and review.
Additional software packaged with the camera includes Image Browser 6.0 and Photo Stitch 3.2 (for Macintosh) and Photo Stitch 3.1 and Camera TWAIN Driver 6.8 (for Windows).
*Jacks, Ports, Plugs (5.0)
*On the right side of the Canon PowerShot SX100 IS are three ports tucked underneath a flip door: DC-in, AV-out for monaural sound and NTSC/PAL viewing on televisions, and a USB 2.0 mini B-jack for computer and printer connection.
*Direct Print Options (7.0)
*Users can pre-select favorite photos before going to the pharmacy print kiosk or home printer. Users can select single images or all images, choosing how many of each picture to be printed with or without date and file information. Users can choose a standard print size or an index print, much like a proof sheet.
The SX100 IS is compatible with PictBridge-enabled printers with USB 2.0 ports, including the Canon CP and SELPH Compact Photo Printers. By pressing the dedicated print/share button, the camera automatically starts printing when connected.
The Canon PowerShot SX100 IS accepts AA batteries, a feature normally reserved for entry-level cameras. AA compatibility allows users to conveniently buy more AA batteries during vacation. The camera box comes with two Panasonic AA alkaline batteries that can capture a reported 140 shots per charge. The PowerShot is also compatible with AA-sized Ni-MH batteries for up to 400 shots per charge.
While most cameras have a few megabytes of on-board memory, the Canon PowerShot SX100 IS has no internal memory. Users who forget to pick up an extra memory card at the time of purchase will be out of luck when trying to take the first few pictures with their new camera. Users will have to purchase external memory. The SX100 IS accepts SD, SDHC, MMC, MMC Plus Card, and HC MMC Plus Card media.
**Other Features ***(4.0)*
Stitch Assist – Stitch Assist is a tool for making wide panoramic photos. Users can take a series of photos that are then linked together in one photo composite using the included PhotoStitch software.
*Create Folder *– For large volumes of photos, Canon includes a "Create Folder" function in the Setup menu that allows users to sort pictures by single days, days of the week, or by month. Competitors’ cameras sometimes include an automatic calendar view via Playback, but the Create Folder is just as effective, although it takes a few more steps.
At an introductory price of $299, the Canon PowerShot SX100 IS is a strong contender in the 10x optical zoom market. When compared to the entire point-and-shoot market, the PowerShot SX100 is a bit on the expensive side, since some cameras can be found for around $100. On the other hand, when compared to other 10x cameras with optical image stabilization, the SX100 IS is a bargain. Most other cameras in this class are priced at $350 or more. With solid image performance and face detection, the Canon SX100 IS is an admirable choice.
**Who’s this Camera For?
***Point and Shooters* – The Canon PowerShot SX100 IS is geared toward more advanced point-and-shooters. With its 10x zoom and manual PASM modes, the camera is made for users who are looking to upgrade from their first digital camera.
*Budget Consumers *– For those strictly interested in mid-range zoom cameras with optical image stabilization, the SX100 IS is definitely a good choice. The PowerShot camera has an intro price of $299, which is usually what current online retailers price older cameras with an original price tag of $350.
Gadget Freaks – Techies won’t be too interested in the Canon PowerShot SX100 IS. Early adopters tend to go for cutting edge cameras with Wi-Fi or touch screens.
Manual Control Freaks – Shooters who like to flex their manual muscles can do so with the Canon SX100 IS. The camera has the full set of PSAM modes. Manual users might also want to upgrade to a SLR.
*Pros / Serious Amateurs *– Professional photographers might consider the PowerShot SX100 IS as a backup camera for their SLR. Its compact size, long zoom, optical image stabilization, and manual controls are all good points to consider when choosing a vacation camera.
Panasonic Lumix TZ3 – As a portable point-and-shoot with a 10x optically stabilized lens, the Panasonic TZ3 is a strong rival to the Canon SX100 IS. At about $225 online, (same $299 introductory price), the Panasonic TZ3 now retails for less than the Canon camera. Both have 10x optically stabilized lenses, but the cameras have different focal lengths. The 7.2-megapixel TZ3 has an equivalent 28-280mm for wider shots, but the 8-megapixel SX100 IS has an equivalent 36-360mm for telephoto shots. The Panasonic point-and-shoot has a lower sensitivity threshold at a maximum resolution of ISO 1250 (full resolution) and 3200 (lower resolution), while the Canon has ISO 1600 at full resolution. Our lab tests show the Panasonic TZ3 has better dynamic range compared to the Canon SX100 IS. The $75 users will save on the Panasonic will result in a loss of face detection, a feature the Canon camera has.
Canon PowerShot TX1 – Canon loyalists might also consider the PowerShot TX1 hybrid. Both the PowerShot SX100 IS and the PowerShot TX1 tout 10x optical zoom lenses with optical image stabilization. The TX1, however, is geared more for video with its ability to capture high definition movies. The 7.1-megapixel TX1 captures HD video at up to 1280 x 720 at 30 fps, compared to 640 x 480 at 30 fps on the 8-megapixel SX100 IS. Both possess Canon’s face detection technology and sensitivity ranges up to ISO 1600. The TX1 has a 1.8-inch flip-out screen, compared to the 2.5-inch built-in LCD on the SX100 IS. The HD-enabled TX1 has a whopping $400 online price ($499.99 original price), which is enough to make even Canon loyalists hesitate to pay the extra $100 for a better Movie mode.
Fujifilm FinePix S700 – At a current online selling price of $190 ($249.95 original price), users will lose a mere megapixel with the 7.1-megapixel Fuji camera, compared to the 8-megapixel Canon SX100 IS. More importantly, the Fuji S700 does not come equipped with optical image stabilization like the Canon camera does. The Fuji camera simply has Digital Picture Stabilization. Both the Fuji S700 and Canon SX100 IS have 2.5-inch LCD screens. The Fuji screen, however, has a higher 230,000-pixel resolution versus the 172,000-pixel monitor resolution on the Canon LCD. Both employ sensitivity up to ISO 1600 at full resolution. The optical image stabilization is too vital to pass up, however, even for the extra savings.
Nikon Coolpix S10 – The 6-megapixel Coolpix camera has lower resolution than the 8-megapixel PowerShot SX100 IS. Both come with 10x optical zoom lenses with image stabilization. Canon uses lens-shifting optical image stabilization, while Nikon uses sensor-shifting mechanical stabilization, called "Vibration Reduction." Both come with 2.5-inch LCD screens, but the Nikon monitor rotates whereas the Canon SX100 IS monitor is built into camera body. The Coolpix S10 also has a higher 230,000-pixel monitor resolution compared to the 172,000-pixel resolution of the Canon PowerShot SX100 IS. The Coolpix S10 costs more, at $349.95 online (original $399 price).
The Canon PowerShot SX100 IS makes a solid impression. As the first in Canon’s new line, the SX100 IS performs well with its optical image stabilization and updated face detection. Even more, Canon earns major innovation points for the Face Select Tool, which utilizes a unique rotary dial that puts a spin (literally) on an old function. While most manufacturers have by now included face detection on their newer cameras, Canon took the face-finding technology a step further by allowing users to select which face to focus and expose. If the sensitive rotary control dial were improved in the next SX camera, it could easily one of the leaders in the niche 10x point-and-shoot category.
In terms of image quality, the SX100 IS is an excellent lower-priced option than the Canon PowerShot SD-series, but not significantly better than lower-priced options in the PowerShot A-series. In other words, most PowerShot point-and-shoots released this year have very similar image quality, with the exception of the PowerShot TX1 hybrid and PowerShot G9. PowerShot image quality this year has been marked by excellent color accuracy and white balance performance, nice-looking videos, but also lots of noise and low dynamic range at high ISO speeds. The SX100 IS has the added bonus of performing very well in low light. This camera would be an obvious choice for a relatively inexpensive 10x zoom camera, if it weren’t for the Panasonic Lumix TZ3, which has even better image quality.
In general though, the PowerShot SX100 IS makes strides in this class of cameras. It’s a good option for consumers looking to upgrade from a 3x optical zoom. The Canon SX100 IS isn’t revolutionary, but, all features considered, its $299 price tag makes it an attractive option.
***Click to view the high resolution image.*
Meet the tester
Karen M. Cheung
Karen M. Cheung is a valued contributor to the Reviewed.com family of sites.
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