A press of the top-mounted tapering power switch and the SX130 IS readies itself for the first shot in just under two seconds, which is reasonably quick for its class. The lens barrel extends from its housing slightly proud of the body to full wideangle setting, whilst the back screen blinks into life with a cute chirping noise. Because this camera is aimed at the less experienced user, capture options here are limited to JPEG stills, written to SD media card with support for the high capacity SDXC newly offered this time around.
A half press of the shutter release button and focus and exposure is determined near instantaneously, AF point/s highlighted in green with accompanying bleep of affirmation that the shot can now be taken. Do so and a full 12 megapixel Large, Fine quality, least compression JPEG is written to memory in just over two seconds, screen briefly blacking out before freezing to briefly display the captured still.
Toggle the zoom lever that surrounds the shutter release button and the optical zoom moves rather slowly and deliberately through its range, a process taking around three and a half seconds, sound-tracked all the while by a low mechanical buzz. Attempt to use it when filming video and timings slow right down, the zoom taking ten seconds to make the same journey, the effect being that the sound of its adjustments isn't quite so pronounced. To give this slight 'fudge' rather than fix a positive spin, it at least avoids vomit-inducing lurching camerawork.
As well as providing manual exposure control, the scroll dial offers the ability to switch from infinity focus to macro focus, or 'dial in' a manual setting in between using the scroll wheel. Again, we found this implementation rather fiddly and had to scroll very gingerly to effect change to the manual focus slide rule on the right of the screen, a central portion of the screen showing an enlarged portion of your intended subject to help determine focus more accurately. We can see most of the SX130 IS' intended audience simply not bothering.
In terms of picture quality we were pleasantly surprised with the results we got from the SX130 IS. With colours veering toward warm straight out of the camera, images avoided looking too flat, even under dull, grey wintry skies. Inevitably when shooting handheld at maximum zoom we got our fair share of soft shots, and it became common sense/second nature to shoot two or three frames of every subject we attempted at the telephoto end to make sure at least one of them was sharp enough. At least we encountered commendably little in the way of barrel distortion at extreme wide angle, and sharpness is well maintained edge to edge. Pixel fringing, although visible under close inspection, is kept well under warps for the most part.
For low light shooting without the aid of the flash, which has to be raised manually, up to and including ISO1600 is perfectly usable, as our test shots show, though of course you'll want to stick blow ISO800 to get a truly noise-free photograph. If you do want to tweak the look of your basic images in-camera rather than at the download/editing stage, the digital effects filters and My Colors modes are just subtle enough to enhance the occasional shot rather than overdoing it. Used sparingly they can in fact become an additional creative tool rather than just a gimmick.
Family friendly in terms of both operation and price, the SX130 IS will extend the photographic opportunities of anyone more used to happy snapping, without forcing them to confront a particularly steep learning curve like a compact system camera or DSLR might. The full-ish complement of manual controls are there if you want them, for when experience and desire to experiment grows. But, if not, it's a case of point and shoot all the way and generally you get decent results with the minimum of fuss and user input.
What's more this camera feels like great value for money if you don't mind a slightly bulkier and more plastic-y feel than usual. The use of AA batteries is also something to bear in mind, though this can be an advantage as much as a hindrance. We'd argue these are compromises worth making as the SX310 IS packs a lot more into its generously proportioned frame than you'll easily find for an equivalent outlay. It may not be sexy, but it's practical.