Canon Powershot SX40 HS £449
15th Dec 2011 | 09:55
Is it time to upgrade to the SX40?
Canon introduced the SX40 in September, at the same time as the compact PowerShot S100. The SX40 is one of a new generation of Canon cameras to be equipped with the fast Digic 5 processor. Canon promises that this boosts the HS system and now also supports Full HD (1080p) video shooting.
On board the camera is a 35x zoom, making it the longest zoom lens on any Canon compact camera. In 35mm terms, that makes the zoom range from a wide angle 24mm, to an incredible 840mm - and all this is optical zoom, not digital.
The lens itself also features Ultrasonic and Voice Coil Motors, which allow for fast, and crucially for video recording, near silent zooming and focusing.
New intelligent IS technology has been included in the SX40. Capable of identifying the shooting situation and automatically applying the most appropriate image stabilisation settings, the camera comes equipped with seven different IS modes (which include panning and macro) that are automatically applied.
HS in the 'HS system' stands for high sensitivity, something which Canon has been working on improving for some time. The SX40 uses a back-illuminated 12.1 megapixel CMOS sensor, which is actually a reduction in pixel count from the SX30. Coupled with the new Digic 5 image processor, Canon claims that the camera is capable of delivering up to 75% less noise than the previous model - something which we were very keen to put to the test.
The Digic 5 processor also allows for high speed shooting, with the SX40 boasting an impressive 10.3fps shooting for up to 8 frames at a time while using the high-speed burst mode. These images are recorded in full resolution, making it particularly useful for shooting fast moving subjects.
In terms of design, there's little to distinguish this camera from the previous SX30. It's modelled after a mini DSLR, even including a faux lens release button at the bottom of the lens barrel.
Experienced photographers, or those potentially looking to expand their knowledge, will appreciate the full manual controls on offer from the SX40. Along with the fully automatic modes, you will also find Manual, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority (Tv) and Program mode. The camera also comes with a variety of scene modes and creative filters.
Build quality and handling
As with many bridge cameras of its ilk, the SX40 uses the familiar miniature DSLR styling, complete with grip to the right and the faux lens release button mentioned earlier.
The controls are laid out in a similar manner to that of a DSLR, with an exposure dial at the top of the camera that uses the same styling as Canon's DSLR range. In addition, to Av (Aperture Priority), Tv (Shutter Priority) and Manual this has icons to set the standard Auto options, scene modes and video recording.
Unlike a DSLR, however, the lens is zoomed via a switch around the shutter release button. Zooming is quick and smooth, and those ultrasonic motors do a good job of keeping it near on silent as well.
On the rear of the camera, you'll find a good array of buttons sensibly arranged in easy to reach places. The Zoom Framing Assist button, used to zoom briefly zoom out of a scene when the lens is fully extended is a handy addition and comes in useful when trying to compose a faraway scene. Changing the focus point can also be done via a button on the back of the camera, though it's somewhat disappointing to note that this only works in manual modes (Av, Tv, P and M). In Auto mode, the button is used instead to toggle between Face Detection On and Off.
The menu is again something that will already be familiar to Canon users. Handily, the Function button in the centre of the jog dial can be pressed for quick access to commonly used settings, allowing for rapid adjustments to be made on the fly.
As with the SX30, a dedicated movie record button can be found to the right of the viewfinder, which is useful for capturing quick movies without having to change the mode dial.
After spending a while trying to figure out how to make the inbuilt flash pop-up, we realised that it's a simple matter of flipping it up by hand, the flash button to the side of it instead acting to change flash settings.
Articulating screens have proven to be popular additions to Canon's DSLR range, such as the EOS 60D, and is something that can also found on board the SX40. Although the 2.7inch screen does feel a little on the small side, the fact that it articulates is a great bonus, especially when trying to shoot from awkward angles.
The screen also coped well in bright sunlight and overall is an impressive feature of the camera. Unfortunately however, the same can't be said about the electronic viewfinder. Unlike many other cameras, the SX40 can't detect when you bring your eye to the viewfinder, so annoyingly you have to manually switch it on and off.
Composing images through the viewfinder is difficult, as it is small and the image does not appear particularly sharp within it. We'd really only recommend using it if you find you cannot live with using the LCD screen.
In good light, the SX40 does a good job of locking onto a subject for focus, even when using the camera at its maximum focal distance. It does start to struggle in lower lighting conditions though, sometimes hunting around for a target and occasionally failing to find one. But, to be fair, that is something to be expected from a camera of this calibre.
The major changes to the SX40, from the previous SX30 model have been to improve the image quality, and it's something Canon has really worked on getting right.
The big new addition of course is the Digic 5 processor, which Canon claims reduces noise levels by up to 75% compared with previous models. We were of course very keen to test these claims out, and it's fair to say we were very impressed.
Noise levels remain very well controlled, even at the far end of the sensitivity settings. Images are usable throughout the range to ISO 1600, only beginning to drop off in quality at ISO 3200, but even these we found to be acceptable.
Digic 5 also allows for super fast shooting, with the option to shoot at 10.3fps for up to 8 frames at a time. Though it is impressive that the camera can achieve this, we find it's only really useable if you have a reasonable idea of where your subject is going to be within the frame, especially while shooting at the far reaches of the zoom range. This is because while shooting in this mode, as soon as you hit the shutter release, the camera will start taking images, shutting off the LCD screen or electronic viewfinder, meaning you can completely miss the action if you're framing is off a little.
Another new feature made possible by the Digic 5 processor is the new Multi Area White Balance. This new feature has the ability to detect different light sources, compensating for the differences between tungsten, flash and daylight for more realistic colours. In our tests, we were impressed with the white balance results.
It's a little disappointing that with all the advanced features the SX40 has, it's still not capable of shooting in raw format, however it's not surprising.
There is some evidence of chromatic aberration in areas of high contrast, but this is only really visible on very close inspection and shouldn't present much of a problem for everyday users.
Metering is good on the SX40, with the exposure system coping well with most situations, including high contrast scenes. On occasion, the camera tends to err on the side of underexposure, but exposure compensation can easily be accessed with the option to apply +/- 2EV in 1/3 EV steps available. A histogram can be displayed on the LCD screen, which is useful for keeping an eye on highlights and shadows.
Colours are reproduced well, coming out vibrant but generally not excessively punchy. A variety of scene modes are available, along with a few art filters. While we're not overly impressed with those that are on offer, Toy Camera, Fisheye and Miniature modes can be fun.
Image quality and resolution
As part of our image quality testing for the Canon PowerShot SX40 HS, 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 100 the Canon PowerShot SX40 HS is capable of resolving up to around 22 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.
Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:
ISO 100, score: 22 (see full image)
ISO 200, score: 22 (see full image)
ISO 400, score: 22 (see full image)
ISO 800, score: 20 (see full image)
ISO 1600, score: 20 (see full image)
ISO 3200, score: 10 (see full image)
Noise and dynamic range
These graphs were produced using data generated by DXO Analyzer.
We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using the DXO software.
Signal to noise ratio
A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.
JPEG images from the Canon PowerShot SX40 HS show good signal to noise performance across the sensitivity range with results beating those from the Sony Cyber-shot HX100V, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ48 and Canon PowerShot SX30 IS.
For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them please click here to read the full article.
This chart indicates that the Canon PowerShot SX40 HS's JPEGs are an improvement over the Canon PowerShot SX30 IS and just take the lead over the Sony Cyber-shot HX100V from a sensitivity of ISO 800. This shows that the Canon PowerShot SX40 is capible of capturing a more shadow and highlight detail in low light conditions than the Sony HX100V, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ48 and Canon PowerShot SX30 IS.
For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.
Colours straight from the SX40 are represented well, without being overly vibrant.
Shot in miniature mode, the SX40 effectively blurs the top and bottom of the frame to create a tilt-shift lens effect, and works best when shot from above.
The Hi-Speed shooting mode is capable of shooting 10.3fps for up to 8 frames, allowing you to capture action.
Macro mode works well to lock focus onto close subjects.
One of the art filters on board the SX40 is pinhole, which creates this "retro" look for images.
The fisheye digital filter can be fun to play with, with the option to alter the level of distortion from minimal to overexaggerated, as here.
The colour of the sky is represented well in this shot, only blowing out highlights slightly in the corner where the sun is.
You can use Colour Select mode to choose to highlight one particular colour within a scene, such as the yellow-green colour picked out of this scene.
Using the camera in foliage mode helps to boost the colours of leaves.
The 25mm wide-angle lens can capture whole scene, such as this tree...
... but also zoom in extremely close, thanks to the 35x zoom on board the camera, these leaves are from the same tree in the previous picture. Even at 35x zoom, the camera has focused well to produce a sharp, clear image.
Another example of the incredible zoom on this camera. In the distance, in the middle of the shot, you can just about make out St Paul's Cathedral in London.
In this shot, taken at 35x zoom, you can clearly see the architecture of the tower of St Paul's, making this a great camera for holiday and travel photographs.
Sensitivity and noise
Full ISO image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.
Bridge cameras are a great way for inexperienced photographers to learn more without having to invest in an expensive system, and they're also fantastic for travel photographers who benefit from the extensive zoom and full manual control.
It's a big shame that even though the technology within bridge cameras, along with the image quality, gets better and better we still don't see features such as raw shooting making an entrance very often.
That said, the SX40 is a camera that pretty much anyone can pick up and start shooting with straightaway with minimal fuss. For holiday goers looking for something that will do a bit of everything, this is also definitely worth a look.
The incredible zoom range really is useful for shooting a wide variety of subjects and scenarios, while the articulating screen comes into its own when shooting from up high or down low. The addition of the Digic 5 processor has done wonders for the camera, dramatically reducing noise levels and allowing full HD video for the first time.
The EVF is a real let-down, and should only be used infrequently. We would love to see cameras like this be equipped with a raw shooting option, and the art filters could do with a modern update.
For those looking to get started with photography, this is a fantastic, fuss-free choice that will help you learn more about manual controls and different shooting options. It's worth noting that while you can pick up an entry level DSLR, such as the Canon EOS 1100D for around the same price, which will give better image quality overall, you do get the incredible zoom range in a smaller and lighter body that isn't part of a more expensive system.