Canon PowerShot SX170 IS £169.99
14th Nov 2013 | 10:47
A lithium ion battery improves the already impressive Canon PowerShot SX1 range
Released only a year after the SX160, the Canon PowerShot SX170 shares many of the same features but comes with a new battery and an updated design. Billed as a mid-range super zoom compact, the SX170 is aimed at regular camera users as well as novices, with the option of shooting in full manual mode available to those who like to have more control over their shots.
With a 16MP CCD sensor, a 16x super zoom wide angle lens (28–448mm equivalent), a 3 inch LCD screen and full manual mode available, the SX170 IS is a nice addition to the mid-range point and shoot lineup.
Users should be happy to hear that the SX170 is the first PowerShot in this range to come with a rechargeable lithium ion battery, which according to the user manual means you should be able to get twice as many shots with it before needing to recharge, offering 300 shots per charge versus the SX160's 140. It also has an eco mode, meaning you can potentially get 440 shots per charge.
Canon has packed a powerful zoom into this camera, offering 16x optical super zoom and 32x ZoomPlus (digital zoom), with the addition of its trademark image stabilisation technology to help you take super-sharp tele shots. Available in black and red, the housing has also had a bit of an update and the autofocus has had a couple of tweaks too.
It does have a couple of limitations - Canon has declined to add a touchscreen to this model, you can't shoot in raw format and it doesn't have any inbuilt Wi-Fi capabilities. You can also only shoot video in HD 720p, as opposed to the higher resolution 1080p. These are small niggles however, and the the SX170 still offers good value for money.
There are ten shooting modes available, including Live View Control mode - which allows users to customise image brightness or colours when shooting, aperture priority, shutter priority and discreet mode. There is also a mode with six creative filters included on the camera, allowing users to use settings like monochrome and Super Vivid to change the look of their photos.
Available for £150 / $180, the Canon Powershot SX170 IS is competing with other mid-range point and shoots like the Panasonic DMC-TZ30 and the Nikon Coolpix L620.
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Build quality and handling
The first thing you notice with the SX170 is the nice chunky handgrip - it's easy to hold and isn't likely to slip out of your fingers. It's also noticeable that the pop-up flash is well away from stray fingers, always useful for people who don't have the daintiest of hands.
Most of the buttons are situated on the back of the unit, to the right of the three-inch LCD screen - with the mode dial, zoom, shutter and power buttons on the top. On the back of the SX170 you'll find a scroll wheel which also doubles as a four-way control pad, allowing users faster access when flipping between controls or when viewing their images in playback mode.
For anyone familiar with the Canon menu system the SX170 will be easy and intuitive to use; for anyone who's not, it shouldn't take them long to get up to speed. The majority of the shooting options are accessible via the control pad, while the dedicated menu button takes care of settings like date and time and autofocus options. The SX170 also has a dedicated button for exposure compensation - which doubles as the 'change function' button while shooting in full manual.
While not exactly jean pocket friendly - unsurprising given the range of the zoom lens - the SX170 will still fit more than comfortably in a bag or coat pocket and is light enough to carry in your hand without it feeling awkward or heavy - even with the battery it still only weighs in at 251 grams.
There's no doubt that the SX170 is an easy camera to use. All the buttons are well placed, the on screen menu tips are helpful and settings are clearly labelled - allowing users to spend minimal time fiddling with settings and maximum time shooting.
We only had two issues with the SX170 - when shooting using optical zoom it was sometimes slow to focus, and hunted for focus in low light situations for a frustrating amount of time before locking on. In general the optical zoom performance was superb, and although the digital zoom produced fairly noisy images when shooting at the far end of the lens, that's not completely unexpected, given that the images are a crop of a full resolution image.
Our second issue was the occasional lack of clarity on the LCD when shooting - possibly a result of the SX170 using the slightly outdated 230,000-pixel technology on the screen, Oddly, when reviewing images during playback there were no issues and the photos are crisp and sharp.
Overall the SX170 feels like a quality piece of kit - nothing about it feels flimsy or cheap. Weather and dust proof, it should be able to deal with most of the things that regular users throw at it.
Performance and verdict
We were very impressed with the performance from the SX170, overall. It responds well to a variety of scenarios - although you can use modes like Portrait or Snow if you want to shoot a particular scene, in general the Auto mode provided great photos for most scenes. Comparisons between shooting on full manual and taking the same shots with auto mode came out well - with the Canon producing practically identical photos whichever mode we used, perfect for novice users while allowing more seasoned photographers to experiment if they want to.
There were a couple of instances when the SX170 struggled a little to expose correctly - mostly when shooting backlit subjects or towards strong light, but for the most part it coped well, producing well exposed shots with very little tweaking needed. You can adjust the exposure compensation when needed, and the SX170 also includes a flash exposure compensation setting - very handy if you're shooting at close range and need to tone down the flash; not something you often see on point and shoots.
While shooting on a cloudy day can produce some dull colours, the PowerShot SX170 IS mostly creates vibrant photos that are true to life. Adjusting the white balance did go some way towards correcting the colour tone when the light wasn't that great. In general the white balance modes performed well, especially the custom white balance which was spot on when used correctly.
When shooting on auto the SX170 determines its own sensitivity - handy for when you're shooting indoors or in low light conditions, but there was some noticeable noise on photos taken at anything higher than ISO 640. Otherwise though noise wasn't a problem and most of the shots are crisp and sharp.
Canon continue to impress with its macro performance - the PowerShot SX170 takes great macro shots and we were really impressed with the shallow depth of field we were able to create in some of our photos.
In terms of the quality of prints, when viewing images at 100% there's no obvious distortion or loss of detail on wide angle shots and, while there is a little coloured fringing, it's unlikely it would be noticeable when printing at A4 size or smaller.
One of the creative filters we especially loved on the SX170 was the Super Vivid filter - it gave a great colour boost to our photos without over saturation. There aren't many creative filters on this camera compared to some of the others available on the market, Canon seems to provide the same set for the majority of its point and shoot models, but those it does offer work well and really allow users to change the feel of their shots quickly and painlessly.
Although the SX170 comes with intelligent IS technology, it isn't always enough to compensate for lens movement at the far end of the digital zoom range, although for mid range digital zoom and optical zoom it works really well.
For a point and shoot, the PowerShot SX170 certainly offers a fair amount for your money. The full manual shooting will definitely appeal to users who are frustrated with not being able to tweak their shooting settings, while the auto mode with its ability to select from 32 different scenes will help to put novice users at ease that whatever situation they're shooting in, the SX170 can probably handle it. Discounting the few niggles we have with the camera - occasional focusing issues at long distance for example - we were really impressed by the performance of the SX170.
With 16 megapixels and a 16x optical zoom, the PowerShot SX170 IS sits between cameras such as the Panasonic DMC-TZ30, which has a 20x optical zoom but only has 14 megapixels, and the Nikon L620 with its 18 megapixels but only 14x optical zoom. The Canon falls behind a little, however, with its CCD sensor - both the Panasonic and Nikon have newer CMOS technology.
It's a great little camera - easy to use, takes consistently good photos and has enough options to suit a range of users. Throw in the reasonable price and you've got a real winner.
It'd be great if the SX170 had a CMOS sensor, as the CCD technology does now feel a little outdated. For the price we'd also like to see full HD recording capabilities.
If you're looking for a point and shoot capable of a little extra then the SX170 will probably tick all of your boxes and more. There's very little counting against this camera - a little bit of extra tech like Wi-Fi capabilities or full HD shooting would be nice but it certainly performs well without enough without them. Easy to use, good value for money and rugged enough to survive life's knocks and bumps - the SX170 consistently and happily comes out on top.
The SX170 IS takes great macro photos.
An example of the 'toy camera' creative filter.
Photos taken in low light can suffer from higher levels of noise.
An example of a photo taken with the Super Vivid creative filter.
The original photo without the filter.
For those users who like to post process their shots, photos taken with the PowerShot SX170 IS provide a good start to get the look you want. This shot was taken with the monochrome creative filter, and then had the contrast levels adjusted.
The original photo, before post processing.
The PowerShot SX170 has a full manual mode, allowing users to take full control of their shots.
Colours are well represented and the SX170 does a great job on auto mode.
The SX170 sometimes struggles to expose correctly when dealing with backlit subjects.
Shots taken with the macro setting create a pleasing shallow depth of field.