The SX210's overall performance is very good. It starts up in well under two seconds, which is impressive for a long-zoom camera, while in single-shot mode at maximum image quality it has a shot-to-shot time of approximately 2.4 seconds which is also pretty quick, although not as fast as the TZ10 or Ricoh CX3. In continuous shooting mode it can manage a shot every two seconds and keep it up apparently indefinitely (or at least until the memory card is full). It has the option for continuous shooting with autofocus too, which also shoots at the same speed.
The autofocus system is very good, but then this is usually the case with Canon cameras. Canon seems to have finally abandoned its much-maligned and frequently unreliable AiAF system in favour of a much simpler centre-zone AF, but this is at least is quick and accurate. Low light focusing is also nice and fast and doesn't slow down much even at full zoom. The AF assist lamp has a range of approximately three metres in total darkness.
One concern on some other recent zoom compacts has been battery life. The SX210 is powered by a 1050mAh Lithium ion battery which is slightly smaller than the battery from the SX200, but it still has a good duration. I used the camera over a period of about a week and managed to get over 200 shots out of it, many of them with the flash and with a lot of image playback. After a couple of charge cycles to come up to peak performance Canon's claim of 260 shots on a full charge sounds reasonable.
I once referred to the ever-increasing resolutions of compact camera sensors as “megapixel willy-waving”, and was assured by a couple of Canon designers who read it that they found that very amusing, but unfortunately it looks like the waving isn't quite over yet. The Sx210 has a tiny 1/2.3-inch sensor, the same size as the SX200 and most of Canon's other compacts, but the resolution has been increased to 14.1 megapixels, cramming even more photocells onto an already crowded chip. I had hoped that the camera manufacturers had grown out of this sort of thing, but annoyingly Canon appears to have got away with it, because the image quality of the SX210 is generally very good, although there are a couple of issues.
Colour rendition is excellent, with bright vibrant hues in most lighting conditions, and high-ISO noise control is much better than it has any right to be, with good image quality at 800 ISO and even usable shots at 1600 ISO. Dynamic range is also surprisingly good, and is improved even further by the i-Contrast feature. The only real problem is the lens, which suffers from a general overall softness, has significant chromatic aberration in the corners at wide angle and produces visible vignetting (the edges of the frame being darker than the middle) at longer zoom ranges. This is undoubtedly due to the optical compromises that had to be made to produce a flush-folding 14x zoom, so one has to wonder if an extra few millimetres of focal length is really worth it.
The Canon PowerShot SX210 is an expensive camera but it does offer more genuinely useful features than almost anything else in its class. Build quality and handling are excellent, overall performance is superb and the picture quality is better than expected for such a densely populated sensor. The only image quality issues are caused by the lens, which may just be a zoom factor too far.