Cameras

Canon PowerShot SX40 HS Review

Canon's PowerShot SX40 HS is a safe bet.

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Introduction

Canon's PowerShot SX40 HS is a safe bet, but a good one. By simply replacing the SX30's sensor with a more advanced CMOS model, and keeping almost every other design feature the same, the company has succeeded in delivering a highly competitive ultrazoom.

Design & Usability

Copy and paste

We were generally satisfied with the ergonomics of the older SX30, although a few quirks left us eagerly awaiting Canon's next ultrazoom. Well, here we are... and the SX40 is exactly the same. Our conclusions are therefore... also exactly the same. We still don't love the plastic, low-quality body. We wish the right hand had more rubber to grip. We're still puzzled by the "pretend lens release" at the lower left corner of the lens enclosure (are people supposed to believe this is a DSLR?). C'est la vie. The SX40's control scheme is more of the exact same. Is it plagiarism if we copy our own work? Because most of our comments on the SX30 apply here too. In fairness, the SX30's control layout was excellent, and so too is the SX40's. The shutter release is especially confident, with a nice long stroke and precise click stages. Canon even recycled the menu interface for use in the SX40 HS, though again, this isn't a bad thing—aging or not, this is an excellent, intuitive interface.

A hardware mode dial allows quick selection from a full suite of shooting modes.

This model's in-camera help is excellent too, with tips and descriptions for nearly every available option. A hardware mode dial allows quick selection from a full suite of shooting modes and a 202,000-dot electronic viewfinder is comfortable without the need for excessive squinting. An LCD on the back swivels, which is great for crowds and overhead shooting, but sadly the screen itself is only 230,000 dots and a thick plastic border makes the screen look even smaller.

Features

Feature layout leaves something to be desired (common sense, for example).

Features on the SX40 are plentiful. There are 13 scene modes, including Sports, which gets its own stop on the dial due to its popularity and usefulness. Our biggest complaint regarding these modes is that they hog some of the most important settings. For example, ultra high-speed burst shooting in full resolution is only accessible through the High-speed Burst HQ mode. Why not simply include this in the continuous shooting menu? Another one: extended ISO 6400 shooting is only available through the Low Light scene mode. Why not simply include this option in the ISO menu? The same sort of problems accompany the diverse set of picture effects. As for in-camera editing, this camera is aimed toward more serious shooters, so don't go looking for silly edits like decorative picture frames. Only basics like crop and red-eye are included.

Zoom ratio has become an arms race industry-wide, and this model is one of the leaders.

The SX40 is double the speed of its predecessor, with full resolution unlimited continuous shooting of over 2.6 frames per second. Like its predecessor, this camera offers a fully customizable self-timer too. Its 11 color modes, or "My Colors," cover a great deal, including a custom mode. The ISO range extends from 100 - 3200 at full resolution, and if that's not enough, the Low Light scene mode enables ISO 6400, but limits resolution to 3 megapixels. Sadly, though the SX40 offers four sizes and four aspect ratios, it does not support lossless RAW. A full-featured video device, unlike the SX30 before it, the SX40 HS is capable of 1080p video as well. While shooting, both autofocus and optical zoom are adjustable and color accuracy remains strong, unlike many models. Finally, the f/2.7 lens captures plenty of light when not employing the optical zoom, and is slightly larger than most in this class. Zoom ratio has become an arms race industry-wide, and this model is one of the leaders. The lens hardware reaches an extreme 35x zoom factor, though that necessitates a smaller aperture, limiting the light entering the camera..

Performance

Excellent performance with a few commonplace troubles

Canon is a company that takes color accuracy very seriously, especially when it comes to the top of their lineup, so though this SX40's accuracy isn't bad, we were hoping for better. In this case however, the results are strictly decent. Many colors in the spectrum are off, especially bright yellows, reds, and blues. This will noticeably detract from the appearance of human subjects.

Sharpness is a subject that ever plagues the superzoom market, and this camera struggles right along with the rest of them.

On the other hand, noise performance is some of the best available. Images are aesthetically pleasing even at the highest ISOs and performance is just as strong in low light. Noise reduction software performs very well in both regular and low light, smoothing images without stripping away too much detail. Overall, resolution scores are outstanding. This is especially impressive considering that this lens appears to be identical to the old SX30's. The drastic improvement must therefore be the result of this model's CMOS sensor. Sharpness is a subject that ever plagues the superzoom market, and this camera struggles right along with the rest of them. A heavy dose of edge enhancement elevates this camera to a very high sharpness rating, but whether this is actually an improvement to image quality is debatable. These enhancements result in dark black lines on high contrast borders. This "feature" is a drawback that's common to just about every fixed-lens camera, and no—it can't be turned off. Dark contrast lines aside, we were still able to get pretty sharp shots from about four blocks away.

Conclusion

Truly a super superzoom?

Canon's strategy is clear. Start with the framework of the already-excellent PowerShot SX30 IS ultrazoom, swap the CCD sensor with a CMOS model, and ship it. Simple.

The experiment is a stupendous success. The Canon PowerShot SX40 HS retains everything we loved about its predecessor, while boosting image quality to levels we've not yet seen from a fixed-lens camera. Supporting this is a rich feature set, versatile enough to handle any shooting scenario. The camera is equally comfortable in dim light, quick action scenarios, video applications, and of course extreme zoom magnifications; all controlled by an intuitive, masterfully designed menu interface that makes all this a breeze.

If you're in the market for a multipurpose superzoom that offers simplicity when you need it and sophisticated features when you don't, look no further.

In fairness the model is not without its faults, many of which are inherited from the SX30. The exterior is still plastic and unprofessional, proper rubber grips are still missing, and color accuracy isn't quite what it should be, but none of these details detract severely enough to prevent our highest recommendation. If you're in the market for a multipurpose superzoom that offers simplicity when you need it and sophisticated features when you don't, look no further.

Science Introduction

Overall, image quality on the SX40 is great. Color accuracy isn’t bad, though we were hoping for better, especially from a Canon. Noise performance is some of the best available, and, thanks to aggressive sharpness enhancement, resolution scores are outstanding too.

Color, Sharpness, & Resolution

We tested the SX40 for color accuracy, resolution, and sharpness.

Canon is a company that takes color accuracy very seriously, especially when it comes to the top of their lineup. In this case however, the results are strictly decent. Many colors in the spectrum are relatively far off, especially bright yellows, reds, and blues. This is going to noticeably detract from the appearance of human subjects. Overall saturation is also off by about 7%.

Resolution scores, likely thanks to the CMOS sensor, are simply outstanding. Using a heavy dose of edge enhancement, Canon elevates this camera to a very high sharpness rating as well. Whether this is actually an improvement to image quality is debatable however. Edge enhancement creates dark black lines on high contrast borders, and this is clearly visible in the crops below. This "feature" can't be turned off, but it's a drawback that's common to just about every fixed-lens camera.

Noise

Noise performance is some of the best available, as images are aesthetically pleasing even at the highest ISOs. The SX40's noise performance is excellent across the board. Visual artifacting at ISO 100 is only 0.56% and increases steadily from there. A smoothing algorithm is likely at work here, but we prefer when the effect is applied with a light touch, avoiding drastic dips in image quality at certain ISOs. The SX40's software is a great example of this. Noise maxes out at 1.23% at ISO 3200, which is still relatively low. Performance is just as strong in low light. Although noise does increase slightly, it isn't enough to make a perceptible difference. Noise reduction software behaves similarly in low light as well.

Video Capability

The SX40 HS is a full-featured video device. We investigated its speed, color accuracy, and more.

Unlike the SX30 before it, the SX40 HS is capable of capturing 1080p video at 24 frames per second. That's the cherry on top of an already excellent video feature set. Both autofocus and optical zoom are enabled while shooting video, although zoom speed is reduced to cut down on noise. Still capture is also unlocked while a video is recording, but resolution is limited to nine megapixels. As an added bonus, the Super Slow Motion Movie mode captures lower resolution video at a whopping 240 frames per second, and is a fun diversion.

Color accuracy tends to drop off considerably while shooting video, but this isn't actually the case for our SX40. The error value increases to a worse-but-still-respectable 4.24, with almost a perfect 100.0% saturation. The high score is partially due to the availability of custom white balance in the video mode.

Sharpness isn't quite as strong unfortunately, but at least improves on the SX30. The camera achieved 500 LW/PH of detail horizontally and 600 vertically in our test, placing it behind both the Panasonic FZ47 and Nikon P500.

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