Canon PowerShot SX260 HS £329
24th Jul 2012 | 08:00
A talented travel camera packing a far-reaching 25-500mm zoom
It's been five years since Canon launched its PowerShot SX series of family superzooms. SX cameras were designed to offer big lens performance at a more affordable price than traditional high-end superzooms, without skimping on features and functions.
The Canon PowerShot SX260 HS is the top pocket-friendly SX model for 2012, positioned under the Canon PowerShot SX40 HS bridge camera and its 35x optical zoom in the Canon lineup.
The Canon SX260 HS features a wider, longer 20x optical zoom than outgoing PowerShot SX230 HS. It's been launched alongside the Canon PowerShot SX240 HS, which is essentially the same camera but without GPS.
The new lens offers a 25-500mm equivalent range that surpasses the SX230's 28-392mm zoom at both wide-angle and telephoto ends of the reach, although it's not quite as bright (f/3.5-f/6.8, compared to the SX30's f/3.1-f/5.9).
Despite retaining the same 12.1 megapixel 1/2.3-inch back-illuminated CMOS sensor as the camera it replaces, the PowerShot SX260 HS gets Canon's latest Digic 5 processor, as featured in the Canon G1 X and Canon S100. This brings improved white balance measurement, advanced noise reduction capabilities and faster continuous shooting to the SX line.
Sensor: 12.8MP (12.1MP effective) 1/2.3-inch back-illuminated CMOS
Lens: 4.5-90.0mm f/3.5-6.8 (25-500mm equivalent)
LCD Screen: 461k dot, 3-inch PureColor II G TFT LCD
Focus modes: Face Detection, Single, Continuous, Servo AF/AE, Tracking AF
Dimensions: 106.3mm x 61mm x 32.7mm, 231g (including battery/memory card)
Indeed, with a fast memory card and the right shooting conditions, Canon rates the PowerShot SX260 HS's high-speed Burst HQ mode as capable of taking full-res shots at 10.3 shots per second (the Canon SX30 HS could only capture 3MP files at around 8.1 shots per second).
Other changes include a more traditionally proportioned 3-inch 461,000 dot LCD screen, which is more suited to composing still images on, compared with the similarly specced 16:9 widescreen monitor on the Canon PowerShot SX230 HS.
The Canon PowerShot SX260 HS also detects up to 58 scene types in Smart Auto mode (compared to the Canon PowerShot SX230 HS's 32 scenes) and packs Canon's Intelligent IS image stabilisation system that detects the type of subject being photographed and optimises the setting accordingly.
In terms of shooting modes, the Canon PowerShot SX260 HS has something to appeal to all levels of photographer. Joining the full complement of advanced P, A, S, M settings are three fully automatic ones.
The ubiquitous green Smart Auto - a point-and-shoot mode that offers limited control - and the handholding Easy mode from the Canon SX230 HS are joined by Live View Control mode. This offers more snapshot simplicity, but with on-screen sliders offering six steps of adjustment for brightness, colour and white balance.
Other highlights on the Canon SX230 HS - priced at £329 in the UK and $349.99 in the US - include a Smart Shutter mode, which uses face detection to enable you to fire the shutter with a smile or wink, and nine different Creative Filters.
Build quality and handling
Despite having a 25-500mm equivalent lens to shunt in and out of the body, the Canon PowerShot SX260 HS is a responsive compact camera. Our tests clocked it at under two seconds from start up to taking the first shot.
Zooming through the Canon SX260 HS's full zoom range takes approximately two seconds too. We didn't experience any delay or any zoom creep past the point at which we took our finger from the zoom collar switch. Framing scenes is therefore a joy, enabling you to blast through the focal lengths and compose shots with precision.
A zoom with such extended reach requires a robust image stabilisation system. The Canon PowerShot SX260 HS features Canon's Intelligent IS, offering up to four stops of compensation and automatically switching between seven different modes to suit the scene being photographed. It's effective.
Canon has addressed some of the handling quirks of the SX230 HS. A small, vertical rubber strip has been added to the front of the camera to improve grip, for instance. The flash no longer pops up on start up, either, making the camera much more comfortable to hold in two hands from the off. Due to its position on the far-left of the body, it still requires some readjustment of the left hand when it is activated, though.
Build quality is on a par with the Canon SX230 HS - in other words, it's excellent. There's no GPS hump on the top of the camera any more, and the curved edges and clean lines give it an appealing look and feel.
In another smart move, the power button has migrated to a recessed position on the top of the camera, reducing the chance of the Canon PowerShot SX260 HS being switched on in a bag or pocket. It makes it a little more fiddly to power up the camera, but at least there won't be any accidents.
Other than that, the controls that run down the right of the Canon PowerShot SX260 HS's screen are almost identical to that of its predecessor. The four-way controller/scroll wheel combo gives quick access to exposure compensation, flash and focus settings, plus the self-timer - all clearly marked, unlike on the SX230 HS.
A central FUNC/SET button confirms selections, while the self-timer also doubles as a delete button - another improvement over last year's camera.
Rotating the scroll wheel to adjust settings requires a gentle touch, though. Press too heavily and it's all-too easy to accidentally nudge one of the other controls as you do so, and adjust that parameter instead.
Best high-end compact camera
Manually select a white balance setting to match the conditions and the Canon PowerShot SX260 HS gives a typically rich but realistic Canon colour scheme.
That's not to say the auto white balance puts in a poor performance, but it was thrown by large proportions of red or blue in the frame during our tests. Tungsten images were on the warm side, but switching to the Tungsten preset brought the colour balance closer to neutral.
The Canon PowerShot SX260 HS offers six ISO settings, from ISO 100 through to 3200. At the top end of the ISO sensitivity range, noise reduction is obvious. Details and texture are smeared and shadows look coarse.
However, pictures hold up well even at ISO 800. Yes, there's some loss of low contrast detail and a slight drop in colour saturation, but overall picture quality is still good.
That said, exposures can veer towards the bright side, meaning that highlights are prone to blowing easily. The Canon PowerShot SX260 HS is not alone in this respect, and at least it gives you quick control over exposure compensation via the four-way controller.
The Canon camera's i-Contrast control can also pull back detail in lighter areas that might otherwise be clipped, although it has a more noticeable effect in opening up shadows in high-contrast situations.
Pictures taken using fill-flash in daylight are well balanced (although you do need to be close to the subject), and images made at night or in low light conditions are of good quality, too. Canon's HS System and backlit sensor really do prove their worth when shooting indoors.
That said, there's a hint of purple fringing around backlit subjects and bright spots. Vignetting wasn't evident during out tests, although there was some softening in the corners at wide-angle zoom settings. But, for the most part, it's not too intrusive.
Video quality is in line with the camera's still image capturing performance, too. Movies can be shot in Full HD at 24fps, complete with stereo sound.
The lens can be zoomed reasonably quickly throughout its full range during shooting, and it's quiet when it does so. High speed video modes are also available, capturing action at 240 or 120 frames per second.
Exposure was reduced slightly (by 1/3 stop) to retain a little more detail in the sky here. The Canon PowerShot SX260 HS offers +/- 2 EV of compensation in 1/3 stop increments.
The Canon SX260 HS is capable of capturing vivid colours, with reds, blues and greens being particularly punchy. This image was shot indoors using ISO 400.
A typical lineup of Canon creative filters are on offer, including Miniature, Monochrome, Colour Accent and Toy Camera, the latter of which is shown in action here.
There's some obvious purple fringing evident in the branches on the right of this backlit scene, but most of the time it's less intrusive.
The Intelligent IS system can compensate for up to 4 stops of camera shake - essential when you're using the full reach of the monster zoom, such as here. The Canon SX260 HS includes Canon's latest Intelligent IS system that automatically selects the right stabilisation mode from seven options, based on its analysis of the scene.
The GPS function performs well when shooting outdoors but - as we found with the SX 230 HS - it does struggle when you move indoors. The GPS Logger can track your progress for around 48 hours on a single battery charge and you can review your route with the Map Utility software that comes with the camera.
Low light performance is good - this was shot at ISO 250. There's no HDR feature, although iContrast does a decent job of revealing a little more shadow detail if you need it (although the trade-off is a little more noise).
Having the full complement of PASM modes and quick access to both exposure and flash compensation means that photographers can take as much control over exposure as they want.
The minimum focus distance for the Canon SX260 HS in macro mode is around 5cm at the lens's wide setting. There are lots of cameras around that can closer - even the Panasonic TZ30 can hit 3cm.
Canon SX260 HS at 4.5mm (25mm equivalent)
Canon SX260 HS at 90mm (500mm equivalent)
Sensitivity and noise
Full ISO image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.
The Canon PowerShot SX260 HS is a superzoom that offers a good balance of features and produces still images and HD movies that are very pleasing.
It might lack some of the bells and whistles of other travel compacts - such as the Panasonic TZ30's touchscreen or the Samsung WB750's Live Panorama mode - but it delivers where it really matters: in picture quality and manual control.
The combination of automatic and fully manual shooting options, plus creative effects such as slow motion video, are great fun and useful.
High quality, high speed burst shooting isn't available in all modes, and battery life, rated at 230 shots in normal use (and a lot less with GPS activated) is merely OK.
The Canon PowerShot SX260 HS's 25-500mm equivalent zoom range surpasses the Panasonic TZ30's 24-480mm reach at the top end, although the Canon SX260 HS's sensor, at 12.1MP, comes up short against the Panasonic's 14MP resolution.
Not that that matters when it comes to overall picture quality. The Canon PowerShot SX260 HS's images can be a little soft straight out of the camera, but the camera is capable of resolving a good level of detail and pictures look a little cleaner than those from the Panasonic TZ30.
In terms of street price, there's a wafer thin mint between the Canon SX260 HS and the Panasonic TZ30 (the Canon is currently a little cheaper). But the longer zoom range, versatile exposure modes, ease of use and picture quality make the Canon PowerShot SX260 HS a slightly more well-rounded and better value family camera.