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Canon PowerShot SX10 IS Review

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £280.00

In much the same way that Canon’s G-series has for many years set the benchmark for high-end compacts, the S-series has, since its introduction in 2004, set the standard for super-zoom bridge cameras. The last model in the series was the S5 IS, launched in 2007, which featured a 12x zoom optically stabilised lens, 8.0 megapixel CCD sensor and VGA 30fps video recording with stereo audio.

Canon has now merged the S series with its new SX line, and the S5 has been replaced by two models; the £400 CMOS-sensored SX1 IS, which I will be reviewing next week, and today’s review camera, the 10-megapixel, 20x zoom SX10 IS.

At £280 the SX10 is quite expensive, but then so are a lot of its competitors, cameras such as the much-commented-upon Panasonic FZ28 (£243), the Olympus SP-570 UZ (£245) and new SP-590 UZ (review coming soon) and the Nikon P80 (£250). However even by these standards the SX10 IS is a bit pricey.

Externally the SX10 IS looks very similar to its predecessor. It is a large camera even by super-zoom standards, only a little smaller than a compact DSLR. In fact it’s almost exactly the same size as the Panasonic Lumix G1 that I reviewed last week. At 560g it’s also quite heavy. A substantial portion of that is accounted for by the weight of the big zoom lens and the four AA batteries that power it, but it also reflects the camera’s robust build quality.

The lens is impressive though. It’s quite a wide, squat shape, but extends just over 5cm at full zoom. The top of the lens barrel is marked with the equivalent 35mm focal length settings, from 28mm to 560mm, but this is largely cosmetic since the lines don’t actually match the selected focal length with any real accuracy.

The camera’s SLR-like shape provides excellent handling, and the large handgrip is very secure and comfortable to hold. The shaped and textured thumbgrip area on the back also ensures a firm grip, although I did that the position and sensitivity of the D-pad control on the rear of the camera to be a frequent problem. On several occasions I accidentally switched the camera into manual focus mode or changed the ISO setting by jogging the D-pad with my thumb while shooting, but then maybe that’s just me being a clumsy twit.

The SX10 IS is a pretty sophisticated camera, and inexperienced users may find its array of external controls somewhat daunting. For the more advanced user however it provides a welcome degree of creative control. The main mode dial includes aperture and shutter priority, program auto and full manual exposure, with shutter speeds of 15 seconds to 1/3200th sec. and aperture settings from f/2.8 to f/8 in 1/3 EV increments. The maximum aperture decreases fairly evenly with increasing focal length, until at maximum zoom there is only a one-stop difference between minimum and maximum. Aperture and shutter control are adjusted via a rotating bezel around the D-pad accompanied by a very clear display on the monitor.

More and more high-end digital still cameras are featuring integrated high-quality video recording capabilities, and this is a prominent feature of both of Canon’s new super-zoom cameras. The more expensive SX1 IS features full 1080 HD 30fps movie recording, but the SX10 retains the 4:3 aspect VGA 30fps video function of the S5 IS. It has stereo audio recording via two high-quality microphones mounted above the lens. Thanks to its whisper-quiet ultrasonic motor the zoom lens can be used while shooting video, and clip lengths can be up to one hour long or 4GB in file size. There is a separate button to start video recording, and pressing the shutter button while shooting captures a still frame. The quality of the recorded video is very good, and the sound quality is also superb, possibly the best I’ve heard from a still camera.

The SX10 IS has a 2.5-inch flip’n’twist LCD monitor with a resolution of 230,000 dots, which is average size for a recent compact. The screen is nice and bright with good contrast and colour, and its anti-glare coating means it can be used outdoors in bright daylight without a problem. It also has a wide viewing angle, but it is fully articulated so you can tilt it to any viewing angle, including pointing forwards towards the subject.

The SX10 also has an electronic viewfinder, but with a resolution of 235k dots on a 0.44-inch screen it’s not even close to being sharp enough for manual focusing. The dots are clearly visible, like looking close up at a colour TV. I’m afraid that after experiencing the ultra-sharp field-sequential EVF displays in the Fuji S100FS and especially in the Panasonic G1, anything else is looking a bit last year.

In terms of performance, although the SX1 IS is supposed to be the high-performance model of the two, the SX10 is by no means slow. It starts up in two seconds and shuts down again in about one and a half, which is very fast for a super-zoom camera. In single-shot mode it has a shot-to-shot cycle time of 1.8 seconds, while in the standard continuous shooting mode it can snap away at 0.7 seconds per frame, apparently until the memory card is full, which is certainly above average. There is also an AF continuous mode, although this is somewhat slower.

The autofocus system is a bit of a departure for Canon, since this is the first model in ages that doesn’t have the much criticised multi-zone AiAF system. Instead it has a simple one-zone AF mode, with a dedicated button to quickly move and resize the AF point. In practice this is exactly how most people were using previous Canon models anyway, so they’ve simply omitted a feature that nobody was using. The simpler system is quicker, easier to use and most importantly a lot more accurate.

I found exposure metering to be accurate and reliable, although in very high contrast situations it did tend to over-expose somewhat, burning out some bright highlights. Dynamic range is actually quite good, so it is better than most at preserving shadow detail. The SX10 has Canon’s iContrast function for boosting shadow detail, and it does work very well, with hardly any extra noise.

The overall image quality is very good. The lens has fantastic centre sharpness, and the level of recorded detail is superb, among the best I’ve seen. Wide angle barrel distortion is kept to an acceptable minimum, and telephoto pincushion distortion is also thankfully mostly absent. There is some chromatic aberration toward the edges of the frame at al focal lengths, but again it’s kept to an acceptable minimum.

Despite the smaller 1/2.3-inch sensor, noise control is also very good. While noise is visible from 200 ISO upwards, Canon’s usual process of reducing chroma noise more than luminance noise means that images at 400 and 800 ISO still have plenty of fine detail and good contrast. 1600 ISo is a bit of a mess, but not totally unusable.


The PowerShot SX10 IS is an expensive and quite complex camera, and not really suited for the beginner, however in capable hands it is capable of producing excellent results, and has enough creative versatility to do so in a wide range of situations. Build quality, handling, performance and image quality are all up to Canon’s usual high standard.

”Over the next few pages we show a range of test shots. On this page the full size image at the minimum and maximum ISO settings have been reduced to let you see the full image, and a series of full resolution crops have taken from original images at a range of ISO settings to show the overall image quality. ”


This is the full frame at 80 ISO.


At 80 ISO the image quality is excellent, with nice smooth tones and no noise.


At 100 ISO the results are still good, but there is a tiny bit of noise creeping in.


Slightly more noise at 200 ISO, but overall quality is still good.


Still plenty of fine detail at 400, although the shadows are looking rather grainy.


Quite noisy now at 800, but colour balance and detail are still pretty good.


At 1600 ISO all fine detail has been lost; small prints only.


This is the full frame at 1600 ISO.


”A range of general test shots are shown over the next two pages. In some cases, the full size image has been reduced for bandwidth purposes, and a crop taken from the original full resolution image has been placed below it to show the overall image quality. Some other pictures may be clicked to view the original full-size image. ‘{‘


Here’s the usual test shot of the west window of Exeter cathedral to compare detail and sharpness with other cameras. Click on the image to download the full-size version, or see below for a full-res crop.


The level of recorded detail is superb, sharper than some high-resolution cameras.


The lens is good, and keeps wide-angle distortion to a minimum.


Centre sharpness is fantastic.


Corner sharpness is not too bad, but there is some chromatic aberration.


”Here are some general test shots to help evaluate the camera’s overall image quality, including the zoom range of the lens. Some pictures may be clicked to download the full size original image ”


These artificial islands at Sidmouth are designed to alter the currents to help build up a sandy beach. They seem to be working. The 28mm wide angle is great for panoramic scenes like this.


This is shot from the same spot, but zoomed in to 560mm on that ship on the horizon. That’s pretty impressive by any standard.


The iContrast function boosts shadow detail, but the slight over-exposure has burned out the highlights.


Colour reproduction is excellent.


Trusted Score

Score in detail

  • Value 7
  • Image Quality 9
  • Build Quality 9


Camera type Super Zoom
Megapixels (Megapixel) 10 Megapixel
Optical Zoom (Times) 20x

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