The SX200's most obvious exterior feature is its automatic pop-up flash, and by automatic I mean that it pops up every time the camera is switched on, whether you want it to or not. It's disconcerting at first, and depending on how you normally hold a camera you might find it gets in the way a bit, but it's not particularly annoying. Also it is motorized rather than spring loaded, so it also pops back down when the camera is switched off, which I have to admit is pretty slick. Wow-factor aside though, the powered flash mechanism is really a bit of a gimmick and is just one more thing that might go wrong, especially since the moving parts are made of plastic.
The other big feature is of course the 12x zoom lens. It's a serious-looking bit of glass, with a focal length of 5.0 - 60.0 mm, equivalent to 28 - 336mm (TZ7 is 25-300mm), but despite its size it folds up almost flush with the camera body. While it's not particularly fast at f/3.4 - 5.3 it is of high optical quality, and also includes Canon's excellent optical image stabilisation system.
The SX200 IS is the first camera I've seen from Canon's new spring 2009 range, but I'm going to hazard a guess that it's not the only one to get a completely new menu system, Canon's first in many years. I have to say it gets my wholehearted approval, particularly the revamped function menu. It looks fresh and modern, and is a great example of clear, simple user-friendly interface design. I hope I'm right and this new menu system is being included across all Canon's new range.
Canon's monitors are nearly always excellent, and the one on the SX200 is no exception. Although its resolution of 230k is only average these days, it is clear and sharp with an exceptionally wide viewing angle, and has a very good anti-glare coating. I had no trouble using the camera on one of the rare a sunny days we've had lately.
The SX200 IS has HD video recording capability, or at least 1280 x 720 at 30fps, which as our ever-astute readers will no doubt point out is not really "full HD". It still looks pretty damn good, although with only mono audio and no optical zoom while recording it looks a little weak compared to the TZ7's more sophisticated stereo audio and full zoom capability, not to mention its AVCHD Lite encoding. The SX200 does feature an HDMI connector, so you can plug it straight into your HD TV.
Where the SX200 IS scores over Panasonic's model is on the main mode dial. The TZ7 is offers only automatic operation, but the SX200 has a full range of advanced exposure options, including aperture and shutter priority and well as full manual exposure. Settings are adjusted via the rotary bezel around the D-pad. Aperture settings up to f/8 and shutter speeds from 15 seconds to an impressive 1/3200th of a second are available, which offers a lot of creative control.