The first few months of the year are always an interesting time in the camera industry, with all of the major manufacturers launching their new Spring models. Competition is fierce, and no more so than in the popular long-zoom compact sector of the market. Last month I reviewed the Panasonic Lumix TZ10, a 12-megapixel, 12x zoom compact featuring stereo HD video and built-in GPS. A few days before that I had a look at the Ricoh CX3, with its 10.6MP back-illuminated CMOS sensor and 10.7x zoom, and next week I'll be testing the impressive-looking new Sony Cyber-shot HX5, which has a 10x zoom, 10MP CMOS sensor, 1080i stereo HD video, on-board GPS and even a compass. Today however I'm taking a look at Canon's entry in the long-zoom arena, the new PowerShot SX210 IS, which offers a 14.1-megapixel CCD sensor, 14x zoom image-stabilised wide-angle lens, 720p HD video with stereo audio, and optional manual exposure.
The SX210 IS is of course the replacement for last year's SX200 IS, Canon's first real stab at the long-zoom compact market. Although it had all the right features it lacked the build quality to compete with Panasonic's market-leading TZ7, so this year Canon has made several improvements, not least of which is a sleek new all-metal body available in a gold, purple or black. The camera measures 105.8 x 59.3 x 31.9 mm and weighs 215g loaded, making it about a millimetre slimmer and a massive three grams lighter than the TZ10. The SX210 still features the novelty pop-up, pop-down flash of the SX200 and it still gets in the way until you get used to it.
The overall style of the camera is, a little plain, and several people to whom I showed it thought it was ugly, but a lot of thought has gone into the layout of the controls. The main mode dial is slightly tilted to make it better as a thumb rest, and the rear panel buttons are also cambered to make them easier to operate. The on/off button is recessed by the shape of the top panel, so there's no danger of it getting switched on accidentally. The only thing I'm not too keen on is the zoom control. Instead of Canon's usual rotary bezel the SX210 has a small rocker switch which is a bit fiddly and uncomfortable to operate, and is also extremely slow. The zoom lens can be operated while recording, and a slow zoom action is better for video use, but it is a bit frustrating waiting for the lens to wind in or out when shooting stills.