The top feature of the Canon SX40 is undoubtedly the 35x optical zoom. This offers the 35mm focal range equivalent of 24-840mm and is enough to cover just about any eventuality. On top of this, there’s also a digital zoom that takes the 35x up to a whopping 140x, although as with all digital zooms it really just crops and magnifies the standard 35x image so you can expect to see a huge drop in image quality should you be tempted to use it.
The standard optical zoom is cracking, though. It’s not the sheer length that impressed us primarily, but the efficiency of the SX40’s built-in image stabilisation. This is claimed to offer up to 4.5-stops, and in half-decent light we were able to capture sharp images handheld at 840mm. Even in lesser conditions, the SX40 produced fairly decent results. As you can see below, there’s clear vignetting further down the focal range, but overall sharpness remains respectable.
Here’s the scene at 24mm, on the South Bank by the Thames.
From the same point, at 85mm.
Here’s the crane, once in the background, at 840mm. There’s some loss of fidelity, but it’s a good performance.
Detail captured at the two ends of the zoom range
This zoom performance essentially validates the existence of the SX40 HS, boasting far greater flexibility than a DSLR plus kit lens package you could get for around the same price. The zoom’s motion is reasonably quiet too.
For objects up close rather than far away, the camera offers a handy Macro mode. It can focus on objects right up against the glass of the lens, and can capture great levels of small detail in good light.
To perfect your macro images you can of course reject the automatic Macro mode and use ultra-close manual focusing instead, thereby removing the problem of the SX40 focusing on the wrong part of whatever fly/flower/fingertip you’re trying to snap.