Canon PowerShot SX280 HS £259.99
24th May 2013 | 13:42
20x zoom compact debuts Canon's Digic 6 processor
The travel camera segment of the compact camera market is continuing to do well against a general backdrop of declining sales. These cameras can offer significantly more than the average compact camera, especially in terms of zoom capability.
The Canon PowerShot SX280 HS - or Canon SX280 for short - replaces the Canon SX260. There are actually two versions of the same camera, the other being the Canon SX270 which features pretty much all of the same specifications, but lacks the inbuilt Wi-Fi and GPS of its slightly more expensive sibling.
A 12.1 million pixel high-sensitivity (HS) CMOS sensor is joined by the headline feature of a 20x optical zoom lens. Starting at an equivalent (in 35mm terms) of 25mm, the Canon SX280's lens is capable of reaching a fairly impressive 500mm.
ZoomPlus technology boosts that up to 40x, or 1000mm equivalent, and you can even push it further to 80x by combining ZoomPlus with the camera's digital teleconverter, giving a fairly staggering 2000mm reach. Image quality at the 80x equivalent length is likely to suffer, especially because it will be a crop of the full resolution image, but it might be handy occasionally.
At its widest point, the lens's maximum aperture is f/3.5, which although isn't particularly bright compared with some of the premium cameras currently on the market, is average for a camera with such a high zoom ratio.
One of the most interesting features of the Canon SX280 is that it is the first Canon camera, of any kind, to feature the latest Digic 6 processor. Canon often debuts the latest iteration of its processors in its compact cameras before distributing them among the rest of the range.
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With an improved processor comes the promise of improved noise performance and video recording capabilities. As such, the Canon SX280 is capable of shooting at 60fps for ultra smooth movie footage.
Compared with Canon's range of IXUS cameras, the upper end of the PowerShot range generally features more advanced options, such as full manual control. The Canon SX280 includes a range of shooting modes, giving you the choice of fully automatic, semi-automatic modes (aperture priority and shutter priority) and fully manual modes. There's no capability for raw format shooting, though.
Along with advanced modes, there's also a range of different modes designed to appeal to beginners, including scene modes, digital filter effect modes and the interesting Hybrid Auto mode. This basically creates a short video clip before you shoot every photo, combining all the clips at the end of each day into a Movie Digest to accompany your shots.
The camera also uses the information it gathers from shooting the movie clip to determine the best settings to use for the still image.
Digital filters, now found on most cameras to appeal to the Instagram crowd, include Fish-eye Effect, Toy Camera Effect and the ubiquitous Miniature Effect.
The Canon SX280 joins the brand's ever expanding number of compact cameras with inbuilt Wi-Fi and GPS. The Wi-Fi functionality is designed to make sharing images quicker and easier. There's a free downloadable app for iOS and Android devices for sharing images between the camera and your smartphone or tablet. As yet, there's no remote control functionality, though.
GPS offers the opportunity to geotag your images with a location, as well as create a log of your journey.
Priced at £259.99 / AU$299.95 / US$329.99, the Canon SX280 HS has a few rivals, with probably the biggest competitor being the Panasonic TZ40, which also features a 20x optical zoom lens and inbuilt Wi-Fi and GPS.
The Nikon Coolpix S9500 is also a competitor, with a 22x optical zoom capability and GPS. Sony's recently announced Cyber-Shot HX50 is also a potential competitor, although this is significantly more expensive and features a 30x optical zoom.
Build quality and handling
For a compact camera packing an impressive 20x optical zoom, the Canon SX280 is impressively slim, and will easily slip into a jeans or coat pocket.
On the front of the camera is a small strip that acts as a finger grip, helping when shooting one-handed - but it looks a little odd, since it doesn't take up much space on the camera.
All of the camera's buttons are arranged along the right-hand side, making them easily accessible with your thumb. On top of the camera, the on/off switch can be found, alongside the shutter release and the zoom switch.
Since you're likely to be using the zoom mechanism fairly frequently, it's nice that this switch feels sturdy and not too flimsy. The zooming action itself is smooth and fluid, enabling you to get from the wide angle of the lens to the telephoto end with ease.
The zoom pauses as it reaches the 40x digital zoom area, making it easy to avoid accidental strays into digital if you don't want to use it. You'll need to release and re-zoom if you want to push the zoom up to the 80x limit, which is a nice touch.
On the back of the camera, at the top-right is a mode dial for quickly switching between the various modes on offer, such as fully automatic, semi-automatic (aperture priority and shutter priority) and fully manual. It's also here that you'll find scene mode, digital filters and the Hybrid Auto mode.
It's pretty useful having this dial, since it saves having to fiddle around in the main menu to get to the shooting mode you want to use. Unlike the Panasonic TZ40, there isn't room here for groups of custom settings, which is a bit of a shame.
There's also the traditional four-way navigational control pad, surrounded by a scrolling dial. This dial is used to set the aperture or shutter speed, depending on the mode that you're shooting in. If you're in fully manual mode, hitting the up directional key enables you to switch between the two. This button doubles up as the exposure compensation button when shooting in other modes.
Other functions accessed via the four-way pad include the focusing modes (macro, normal and manual), flash (on/off) and timer. Pressing the function button in the middle of the pad brings up a sort of quick menu that gives you easy access to commonly used settings, such as white balance, image ratio and sensitivity.
A more extensive menu can be accessed by pressing the dedicated Menu button, but you'll probably find you rarely need to use this.
By default, autofocusing is set to Face AiAF. This gives priority to faces, but can bring up problems if you're trying to focus and recompose on other kinds of subjects.
For the majority of shooting subjects, we'd recommend using Center Frame AF as it makes it easier to focus and recompose. It's a big shame that, unlike the Panasonic TZ40, you can't set different autofocus points yourself, since this would give more flexibility.
One oddity of the camera is that it doesn't show on the screen how different settings will affect the final image once you've changed a setting. For example, while shooting in aperture priority, if you set the exposure compensation to +2, while you are making that change, the screen shows how the resulting image will be exposed.
However, as soon as you exit the exposure compensation dialog box, the picture returns to normal. This can make it tricky to adequately assess the settings you need to use.
Using the Wi-Fi functions of the camera is fairly easy, if not without a few niggles. It is accessed while playing back images, since currently the only functionality is to share images between devices.
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The up button on the four-way control pad is used to access Wi-Fi settings, and once you've already set up a device (such as a smartphone) with the camera it is remembered for quicker access.
You can also connect the camera to another Wi-Fi-enabled camera, computers and printers. Sadly there's no way to directly share images via social networking sites and email, like with Samsung's range of smart cameras, which is a shame.
Instead, to share an image while out and about you'd need to connect your phone to the camera, send the picture across, then reconnect your phone to a Wi-Fi/mobile data network and upload the pictures. It's a little bit of a cumbersome task, but it's a nice to have addition if you like that kind of thing.
The GPS functionality is switched on via the Function menu. You can choose to only embed GPS data to each image, or to do this and create a log of your travels. Switch the travel log off if you want to conserve battery, since this also works when the camera is switched off.
We continue to be impressed by Canon's range of both IXUS and PowerShot cameras, so we had high hopes for the Canon SX280, with its excellent zoom capabilities and number of appealing features.
Happily, we've not been disappointed by the image quality. Colours are bold and punchy, without being overly vibrant. Skies are represented well, as are bright whites. It also copes well with skin tones.
If we zoom into images at 100%, there is evidence of some image smoothing, even at lower sensitivities, but the camera puts in a very similar performance in this respect to what is perhaps its closest competitor, the Panasonic TZ40. Smoothing is not particularly noticeable at these lower ISOs at normal printing and web sizes, so for the average user it's nothing to worry about.
Similarly, closely examining images with areas of high contrast reveals a little purple fringing, which is not uncommon for compact cameras. It's fairly well controlled though, and not particularly noticeable when viewing images at normal sizes.
Although the maximum aperture of the Canon SX280's lens is f/3.5, you can still achieve some pleasing shallow depth of field effects, especially when shooting macro images. With these images, the out of focus areas are rendered very well, with an excellent drop-off in focus and attractive bokeh.
The automatic white balance system does a reasonable job in the majority of conditions to produce accurate colours. Sometimes, however, under artificial lighting the camera will err towards producing slightly warmer images than we would like. To combat this, you can either set a more appropriate white balance setting or create a custom white balance.
General purpose metering, known as evaluative metering, on Canon cameras also does a good job to produce balanced exposures in the majority of conditions. If the scene is particularly high contrast, then the camera does struggle a little, but you can switch to spot or partial metering to attempt to combat this. Alternatively, you can focus and recompose to make the camera take a reading from a different part of the scene.
As probably the standout feature of this camera, it's reasonable to expect a good performance from the optical zoom lens. Images shot at the furthest reach of the telephoto optic are good, with plenty of detail retained.
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You can choose to shoot with image stabilisation activated - this is useful if you don't have access to a tripod or steady surface to rest the camera on. It does have a slight effect on the resulting final image quality though, especially when zoomed in at 100%, so it's something to bear in mind. Images shot handheld without image stabilisation are still relatively blur-free, especially in good light.
Happily, the Canon SX280's digital zoom is also a good performer. ZoomPlus boosts the capability up to 40x and manages to retain a good level of quality, and it certainly gives plenty of flexibility.
As you might expect, image quality drops when using the 80x zoom function, and since it's effectively a cropped image, you won't be able to make large prints from any images shot at this (equivalent) focal length. That said, having the ability to shoot at this distance is a nice feature to have, even if it probably won't get used all that often.
The new Digic 6 processor brings with it the promise of improved low light performance. Compared with its predecessor, the Canon SX260 HS, the Canon SX280 did put in a marginally better performance in our labs test for signal to noise ratio.
That said, at higher sensitivities, such as ISO 1600, the results were so close they were hardly separable.
At higher sensitivity settings, such as ISO 1600, the Canon SX280 puts in a good performance for a camera with a sensor this size (1/2.3-inch). Although noise is apparent at this point, it's not too bad, but it's worth pointing out that there is some loss of detail.
By the time you reach even higher sensitivities, such as ISO 3200, there's even more loss of detail and more noise. That said, at normal printing and web sizes, images are more than usable and are certainly better than not being able to get the shot at all.
On the whole, autofocusing speeds are very quick, enabling you to get the shot you need. While using macro focusing the camera sometimes takes a little longer to achieve focus, but it's rare for a false confirmation of focus to appear.
How to use your new digital camera
Digital filters included on the Canon SX280 vary from Toy Camera to Miniature and Super Vivid. While there's not the vast range that cameras such as the Olympus XZ-2 offers, it's still worth experimenting with what the camera has to offer.
The Canon SX280's screen is not a particularly high resolution device, and as already mentioned it's not a touchscreen. That said, it doesn't seem to suffer too badly from glare or reflections in all but the very brightest of sunlight, and offers a clear and bright view of the scene being photographed. Images played back appear crisp and vibrant.
Battery life when not using the GPS functionality is reasonable, putting in a few solid hours of shooting time, meaning if you're using it fairly lightly while on holiday it should be fine. It might be worth investing in a spare battery, though, if you think you might be a very heavy user.
Activating the GPS function does drain the battery significantly, and again, if you're hoping to use this while shooting on holiday, a second battery would be a good idea.
Noise and dynamic range
We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.
A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.
For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.
JPEG signal to noise ratio
As we can see from this graph, the Canon SX280's JPEG files show a relatively strong signal to noise ratio, with a greater signal to noise ratio than JPEGs from the Panasonic TZ40 at every sensitivity, and greater than the Canon SX260's images at every sensitivity but ISO 800 and ISO 3200. The Canon SX280's JPEGs show a stronger signal to noise ratio than the Samsung WB850's at ISO 100, but at ISO 200 and above the Samsung's images take the lead.
JPEG dynamic range
JPEG results for dynamic range are more impressive than those for signal to noise ratio, with the Canon SX280's images showing greater dynamic range than the Canon SX260 and Panasonic TZ40's at every sensitivity. They also contain greater dynamic range than the Samsung WB850's JPEGs at every sensitivity but ISO 100 and ISO 400, where the two produce very similar scores.
Image quality and resolution
As part of our image quality testing for the Canon SX280, we've shot our resolution chart.
If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 80 the Canon SX280 is capable of resolving up to around 20 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.
For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them, check out our full explanation of our camera testing resolution charts.
Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:
Full ISO 80 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.
ISO 80, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 100, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 200, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 400, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 800, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 1600, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 3200, score: 12 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 6400, score: 12 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
Colours are represented well straight from the Canon SX280, being bold and vibrant without being overly saturated.
Generally, evaluative metering does a good job of producing well balanced exposures.
The Canon SX280's lens offers a good wide angle of view, giving you plenty of flexibility when capturing different scenes.
With a 20x zoom range on offer, you have a variety of focal lengths to choose from, making this an extremely flexible proposition for travelling photographers.
You can choose to shoot in different aspect ratios. By default, the camera shoots at 4:3, but 1:1 is also available.
For a cinematic look, a shooting ratio of 16:9 is also available.
You might find yourself using some of the digital filters more often than others. Toy Camera was probably our favourite, giving a distinctive vignette and altering the colours of the images.
The 20x zoom capability of the Canon SX280 is its standout feature. Here this scene is shot at the fully wide angle end of the lens.
Here is the 20x optical zoom function at its fullest, which is probably more than enough for most scenarios.
However, should you want to push the camera even further, Zoom Plus enables you to increase this functionality up to 40x.
Even at the full 80x zoom, the Canon SX280 is capable of producing images that are useable at small sizes. This is essentially a crop of the higher resolution images, so large scale printing won't be possible.
Sensitivity and noise images
Full ISO 80 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.
ISO 1600 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 3200 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 6400 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
Canon's SX280 is a very appealing proposition for anybody looking for a decent travel compact camera that offers lots of control over different settings, as well as a high zoom ratio and pocket-friendly proportions.
Continuing to impress with both its IXUS and PowerShot range, Canon has another camera in the SX280 that comfortably produces excellent images and is very easy to use.
Its pictures display a good range of colour and plenty of detail, and low light performance is admirable. Keeping the pixel count down to 12.1 million pixels may seem strange in this age where most companies are pushing 16-18 million pixel sensored devices, but we think this relatively low resolution helps with the low light and low noise performance.
That said, this camera is far from perfect, which is a shame. Firstly, there's no touchscreen, which while it arguably helps to keep the cost down, is something that Panasonic has included on its TZ40, which is available for not much more than the Canon SX280's current retail price.
You're also unable to shoot in raw format, or change the autofocus point. While the former point is not uncommon for compact cameras of its ilk, the latter seems like a strange decision for a camera that offers so much manual control elsewhere.
While it's nice to have inbuilt Wi-Fi, it could be much more usefully implemented than it is here. Several companies seem to be struggling with how best to integrate Wi-Fi into cameras, but Samsung seems to be the only company to offer truly useful functionality, such as the ability to upload to Facebook and the like directly from the camera itself.
It's also a shame that you can't remotely control the camera via the downloadable smartphone app, which is something that the Panasonic TZ40 does offer.
There's plenty to like about the Canon SX280, but its standout feature has to be its excellent 20x optical zoom range accompanied by the well-performing digital zoom capability. Image stabilisation also does an excellent job of keeping images blur-free and making it easy to compose images too.
Sadly, there's also plenty to dislike about the Canon SX280. There's still no touchscreen on this range of cameras, and it seems more than a little odd that you can't change the autofocus point. We'd also like to see a slightly better implementation of the Wi-Fi functionality.
How to use your new digital camera
A 20x optical zoom offers a great amount of flexibility and matches the TZ40's ratio. It doesn't quite offer the extra-long reach of the Sony HX50, which has a 30x zoom capability, but it's worth noting that this camera is much cheaper than the Sony. Canon's digital zoom (Zoom Plus) is also excellent, offering that bit of extra flexibility if you need it.
Several manufacturers are including digital filters on their cameras, which no doubt appeals to the legions of smartphone photographers used to the likes of Instagram. While the Canon SX280 offers some interesting options, other manufacturers, including Olympus and Panasonic, seem to do this better. It would be great to see Canon including a way of keeping a "normal" version of a shot should you decide that a digital filter was a bad idea further along the line.
Hybrid Auto is a nice feature to use, and we can see it being particularly appealing for "event" photography, such as a family holiday, party or wedding. It's a shame that the Movie Digest function can't also be used with other functions, since it's a fun accompaniment to a day's worth of still shots.
What we have here is an excellent and well performing compact camera that offers lots of flexibility both to beginner users and those looking for something a little more advanced.
It would also be a good camera for anybody looking to learn a little more about photography, since you could start on the fully automatic settings and work your way through the manual options.