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Display, User Interface and Automatic Modes

Andrew Williams

By Andrew Williams



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Canon PowerShot SX40 HS


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The Canon SX40 HS features an articulated 2.7in LCD moniotor offering a resolution of 230k-dots. This is distinctly low-res compared to the 460k-dot displays offered by competitor models such as the Panasonic FZ48 and Fujifilm HS20, while the Nikon P500 trumps all three with its 920k-dot display.


The 2.7in preview display up-close

The screen swings back 180 degrees and rotates 270 degrees vertically, letting you position it as you like for those tricky-to-capture angles. This works well, and the hinge action feels strong and reliable. There’s an electronic viewfinder too, but this offers an even lower resolution of 202k-dots and is barely 0.2in across. In use it's a bit like looking at a postage stamp very close-up and offers a poor image that lacks both contrast and clarity. Ultimately, you're better off using the 2.7in display instead.

Turning to the in-camera menu, if you’ve used a Canon in recent years then you’ll find yourself in familar territory from the get-go. If, however, you are new to Canon cameras then thankfully the SX40's interface remains pretty simple to get the hang of. Your main control dial sits up top and, like the camera body itself, is ergonomically shaped for easy and comfortable usage. It can be used to select between the various Automatic, semi/fully Manual and various Scene modes, as well as the built-in effects, video and custom presets.

Canon SX40 HS 1

The SX40's design also allows the more ambitious (or reckless) among you to adjust the main shooting settings with only your right mitt, using a combination of the main mode dial, the real thumbwheel and the directional-pad wheel. It will test the limits of your dexterity though.

Canon SX40 HS 7

Needless to say, there’s a fully automatic mode that handles virtually everything for you. With this engaged, you only need to worry about the ratio to shoot in (1:1 and 16:9 at up to 9-megapixels, 3:2 and 4:3 at up to 11- and 12-megapixel res respectively) and the quality. The SX40 is JPEG only with no facility to record images as lossless RAW files. While this will undoubtedly dissapoint serious photography enthusiasts – RAW offers significantly more post-processing flexibility – it does mean that images taken at the full 12MP rarely stray above 5MB. Indeed, they are often around the 2MB mark, meaning thousands could be stored on a 8GB SD card.

In total there are 13 Scene modes to choose from. Here’s a quick summary of what they are and what they do.

  • Sports mode lets you continuously take photos by holding down the shutter button, at a speed of roughly one per second. This is slow enough to write to SD with a fast card, so there’s no limit to the number you can take.
  • Movie Digest takes a short video clip alongside each still image, to help you keep those joyful memories even more faithfully.
  • Portrait optimises settings for portraiture.
  • Landscape does the same for landscape photography.
  • Smart Shutter takes photos either when someone winks, smiles, or when a new person enters the camera’s field of vision. Twee, but potentially quite useful for group portraits when you want to be in the shot too.
  • High-speed Burst HQ takes up to eight full-resolution shots in a row. The full eight take under two seconds to capture.
  • Handheld NightScene is for low light photography without a tripod.
  • Low Light enhances image quality in poor light but reduces overall resolution to 3MP
  • Beach optimises the settings for those all-important holiday snaps.
  • Foliage boosts colour saturation for eye-catching nature shots.
  • Snow combats the confusion caused by all-white snowy scenes.
  • Fireworks increases the vividness of fireworks shots.
  • Stitch assist helps you to make panoramic shots.
Sports and Burst mode in particular highlight the benefits that the new DIGIC 5 image processor brings to the table, most notably the increased shooting shooting speed that the SX40 enjoys over the SX30. The eight-shot burst mode is particularly useful for sport and nature photography and yet maintains excellent image quality. Even pixel-peeping reveals no loss of clarity of detail through the eight photos. Adding further flexibility are the ten My Colours options, which subtly (or at times un-subtly) alter the colour tone of your images. In addition, the SX40 also offers the full range of white balance options.

The Canon SX40 is destined to be used by many as a simple point-and-shoot camera, to which it offers the added bonus of a gigantic zoom. And as such, it performs pretty well. The auto mode is reliable and the Scene modes are intuitive enough for those who don’t know their aperture from their ISO.


October 31, 2011, 7:22 pm

I own a Panasonic TZ-5 and am interested as to the comparative performance of this camera against it / a DSLR.

You keep mentioning that a DSLR would offer far superior pictures, but really how superior ? I mean would anyone really notice on pictures taken in normal conditions, or would you need to zoom in to the max on the photo and know what you were looking for ?

Also would this offer better results than the my TX-5 ? And again, buy a real margin ?

Whilst I love the idea of the DSLR the sheer bulk is very prohibitive to carrying one around, especially when you then add the need to carry lenses too.

Finally how good is the 1080p video ? I know some of the DSLR's are now taking practically broadcast quality; is this on a similar level ? Is the optical stabilisation still working whilst taking video ?

Thanks for any help.

Mike B

October 31, 2011, 8:19 pm


A DSLR has a larger image sensor which enables you to get those nice background out of focus images. The downside is having to carry a larger and much heavier device. The only other option is to go for the halfway house of the mirror-less cameras such as the Panasonic micro four thirds models. But to get a reasonable zoom and video will set you back £1050 (GH2 + 14-140mm lens).

The Canon SX40 or Panasonic FZ150 will be a step up from your current camera and for most family users give the results they want in a relatively simple way. The FZ150 is a little cheaper than the canon at the moment and also a little lighter.

Look at the sample images and video clips available on many sites to see if you feel it matches your expectations.

Martin Daler

October 31, 2011, 9:37 pm

A DSLR certainly won't produce superior images unless you have it with you. And since you say that the bulk would be prohibitive, that likely means that you won't.

Even if you have a DSLR, I'm betting there is a big empty space in your camera bag where the 840mm lens isn't.

So if you need what this camera can do, and you wouldn't carry a DSLR and a rucksack full of lenses, then you have answered your own questions.


October 31, 2011, 9:46 pm

Yep, what Mike said.

Whilst a large DSLR sensor will offer better image quality, the benefits aren't solely in that area. The larger sensor on a DSLR allows for a narrower depth of field, so it's easier to attain that professional-looking defocused background, while the focus on your subject remains pin sharp.

Also, light sensitivity from a large sensor can be excellent, so images taken in low light conditions are often so detailed, you find yourself using a flash far less than you might with a compact.

Improved light sensitivity also has the effect of allowing faster shutter speeds, so it's easier to capture a fast moving subject with a larger sensor.

All of these benefits (as well as others I haven't mentioned) dramatically widen the scope for creative, artistic photography.

The downsides are bulk, expense and focal length. Bulk can be mitigated by purchasing a mirrorless camera like Sony's NEX-5N, which retains the large DSLR-like sensor in a relatively compact body. Unfortunately, large sensors also require large lenses, as dictated by the laws of physics. As such, you have to sacrifice a lot of zoom when you increase the sensor size, which is why those do-it-all travels zooms like your TZ-5 are a good compromise for many people.


October 31, 2011, 10:15 pm

Thanks Mike.

I'd be very interested to see if I could tell the difference though between shots taken on a normal DSLR and this Canon. I'm not sure I could easily. Comparing camera output is often tough as only rarely are comparison shots taken in the same light, of the same subjects.

Unfortunately reading the review and comments on the web it seems that this camera is limited by key features being disabled in manual mode, this means that things I'd want to do (like long exposure shots) are potentially not possible at all. Seems a big shame on a device this close to an SLR.

Will certainly take a look over the FZ150 too.


November 1, 2011, 2:30 pm

Hi AJ,
Sorry for the late reply - I was out of the office yesterday. It sounds like the as-ever well informed TR audience has pretty much done my job for me though :)

The IS works very well with video too - I didn't notice much jerkiness even with fast movement. The quality won't compare well with those DSLRs you mention though. It's good, but is still reliant on the quality of the sensor. For home movies it's fine, but if you want to go a bit Be Kind Rewind, you probably want something a little higher-end.


Mike B

November 13, 2011, 3:37 pm

One other point in the Panasonic FZ150 favor is the flash hot shoe. This enables you to use a bounce flash which always gives far better indoor results than a forward firing inbuilt flash. OK you need to fork out about £150 for a decent flash but it is worth the money if you take a lot of indoor shots. If you decide on a G3 or GH2 then you can se the flash on these.


December 9, 2011, 7:00 pm

Well I bought the camera and I love it.. You CANT tell the difference unless you are some PRO that is just the best.. lol.. Also you can do the long image shots with lights. Here is a video I found on Youtube that talks about it and It is a great camera.. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NfpGJG9N7f4 Let me know what you think.. Patrick

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