The Canon SX260 HS is the latest flagship travel compact to grace Canon's perennially popular PowerShot compact range and comes with a 20x optical zoom, GPS functionality and the ability to record Full HD movies at 24fps.
The SX260 replaces the SX230 that we reviewed last year as the top model in Canon's travel compact range and brings with a number of upgrades. Most notable of these is the extension of the optical zoom from 14x to 20x, giving the SX260 a hugely flexible 35mm focal range equivalent of 25-500mm – enough to capture wide-open landscapes and also to pick out individual details within a scene. In addition the new model also benefits from the welcome addition of a finger grip.
Effective resolution remains at 12.1MP, which strikes us as quite a sensible move given that the SX260 uses a regular 1/2.3in compact-sized sensor. As per the SX230, the SX260's CMOS sensor is of the backlit variety, which basically means the wiring sits on the underside of the chip rather than on top. This arrangement has become increasingly common with compact manufacturers in recent years because it enables more light to reach the sensor, which in turn leads to improved performance in low light. ISO remains the same as the SX230 with a standard range of ISO 100 to 3200, with an extended High Sensitivity setting of ISO 6400 also available – albeit at a lowered resolution of 3MP.
In addition, the new model also benefits from Canon's latest DIGIC 5 image processor. This is notably faster than the DIGIC 4 processor employed by the SX230 and as such, allows the SX260 to shoot at a maximum 10fps in High-Speed Burst mode – as opposed to the 8.1 frames-a-second the SX30 was capable of.
The SX260 offers a good range of exposure modes that include the same Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and Manual (PASM) quartet found on DSLRs and other advanced cameras. The SX260 isn’t particularly fast, however, with a maximum aperture that runs from f/3.5 at wideangle, stopping down to f/6.8 at the camera’s maximum telephoto reach. Still, given the not insignificant engineering feat of cramming a 20x optical zoom into a camera not much bigger than a regular ultracompact we're not going to complain too loudly about this.
Other exposure modes include a Smart Auto scene selector mode (that has 58 pre-programmed scenes to choose from); an Easy mode that effectively disables access to the Quick Menu for hassle-free point-and-shoot photography; a Live View mode that uses simplified on-screen sliders for easy control over exposure, vibrancy and white balance; a Movie Digest mode that automatically records a short video clip every time a still image is taken; and a Discreet mode for silent/flash-free operation.
In addition the SX260 also offers 10 individually selectable Scene modes that includes the aforementioned High-Speed Burst mode, along with a couple of dedicated portrait modes. You'll also find a Panorama assist mode, although this isn't the same one-touch sweep mode found on Sony and Panasonic compacts, but rather a basic framing guide that helps you to frame consecutive shots. In other words, you'll need to do the actual stitching together of images yourself afterwards in Photoshop or suchlike.
Last but not least are nine Creative Filter digital effects: Fish-eye Effect, Miniature Effect, Toy Camera Effect, Soft Focus, Monochrome, Super Vivid, Poster Effect, Color Accent, and Color Swap. These are quite fun to play around with and can be used to add a bit of fun to your images without any need for fancy image editing software.
Movie recording options are solid enough with a top setting of 1080/24p Full HD, ably supported by 720p HD and 640 x 480 VGA standard definition options. Audio is recorded in stereo via two microphones positioned on the top of the camera and files are stored in the H.264 .MOV format.
Overall build quality is very high indeed, and just tops of its class, with the SX260 benefitting from a predominantly metal outer shell. While this does make it a little heavier than some rival travel compacts such as the Panasonic Lumix TZ30 and Sony HX20V, the payoff is a camera that feels especially solid and well built in the hand. We should stress that the extra weight isn't really a problem, and at just 230g including card and battery the SX260 certainly isn't going to weigh you down. It's a subjective matter of taste of course, but we think the anodised matt finish on the black review sample we were sent looks pretty stylish too.
Whereas the SX230 we reviewed last year lacked a finger grip and felt a bit slippery, the SX260 gets a raised hard plastic ridge on the front that you can use to wrap your middle finger around. There's no thumb rest on the back, however the exposure mode dial is located in about the same position and is quite chunky, which means you can easily brace your thumb against it. Thankfully the exposure dial is pretty stiff to turn so you're very unlikely to accidentally change shooting modes while using it as a thumb rest. Overall, we found that the SX260 offers a really comfortable and secure grip that easily allows it to be used one-handed – in this respect it's certainly a big improvement over the SX230.
Buttons are well laid out and easy to reach, and the SX260 also gets the rotating wheel around the D-pad that will be instantly familiar to anyone who's previously used a Canon camera. The Func/Set Button in the middle of the D-pad can be used to access a quick menu that opens up a range of shooting options down the left-hand side of the 3in, 460k-dot screen. As ever, the number of options available in the quick menu is dependant on the shooting mode the camera has been set to. Should you want to make more in-depth changes then there's also a main Menu button that opens up a more in-depth but still easy-to-navigate in-camera menu. Overall, it’s a very easy camera to use and even those unfamiliar with Canon cameras should get to grips with it pretty quickly.