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Canon PowerShot SX220 HS Review

CANON SX220-HD PURPLE 12MP DIGITAL CAMERA

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Alongside the megapixel race that has headlined the past few years of digital photography, manufacturers have strived to outdo each other in the lens department, too. Whereas once Ricoh and Panasonic were the only companies with acclaimed superzoom compacts as part of their ranges, today almost every manufacturer offers a small-format, high-zoom alternative, typically sweetening the deal with HD video, GPS functionality and a range of manual control.

Canon’s rejoinder to all this has been its PowerShot SX series of cameras, which began life as an extension to its existing budget PowerShot models, before targeting a more discerning audience with bridge-camera models sporting bigger zooms and a more impressive spec sheet.

The range has since been broadened to offer a pocket-friendly alternative between the two, and the Canon SX220 HS is one of two new members (the other being the SX230 HS, which is identical in specification to the SX220 HS save for the addition of GPS functionality).

Not only does the SX 220HS boast a 14x optical zoom, which offers a respectable range of 28-392mm and stabilisation courtesy of Canon’s Optical IS system, but it’s also one of the latest compacts to offer Canon’s High Sensitivity technology.

This is centred around a 12.1MP CMOS sensor, whose backlit construction moves the wiring from the front to the other side of the substrate, where it presents no obstacle for incoming light. This in turn heightens its sensitivity, which theoretically broadens its latitude for shooting in lower light, where the use of a tripod or flash would be otherwise required.

Canon also underlines the benefit of using ‘only’ 12MP so that each photosite can be larger, and claims that its DIGIC 4 processing technology helps get the most out of the technology when it comes to dealing with images and videos.

On the subject of the latter, full HD capture (1080p) is possible at a frame rate of 24fps, while a 30fps option captures at the lower 720p standard. Super Slow Motion options are also included, with a 120fps setting at the 640×480 VGA resolution and 240fps at 320×240, and stereo sound recording is possible thanks to a pair of microphones located beneath a grill on the top plate.

Elsewhere, the camera offers a wealth of exposure control to suit all abilities, from Smart Auto functionality, said to instantly recognise the scene and match it to 32 presets, right through to a fully manual setting. Sensitivity may be adjusted over a range of ISO 100-3200, while metering may be varied between evaluative, centre-weighted average and spot patterns.

On the rear of the model lies a 3in widescreen LCD, its aspect ratio designed specifically for 16:9 movie recording, while all images and videos are recorded to SD, SDHC and SDXC media. As is standard for such a camera, Canon has also provided it with a rechargeable lithium ion battery, which is said to last for around 210 shots once fully charged.

Canon PowerShot SX220 HS: Build quality and handling

Superzoom cameras are often designed with their extensive focal ranges in mind, typically with a decent grip and thumb space to aid their handling, but the SX220HS goes against convention.

The minimal styling of the camera’s metal front plate is bordered by a grey-finish around the top-plate and sides, while the widescreen LCD on the back not only necessitates a fairly wide body for such a model, but also leaves little room for controls and no dedicated space for the thumb.

This means that the thumb needs to sit between the edge of the LCD and the mode dial, although as images in their standard aspect ratio only occupy around three-quarters of the display this isn’t too great a problem.

Canon has, however, gone to the trouble of rectifying some of the issues which afflicted the preceding SX 210IS model. The awkward lever on the top-plate for adjusting the lens’s zoom has now been replaced by a far more comfortable collar which encircles the shutter release button, while the power control, whose previous position on the slightly concave top plate made it equally annoying to operate, has also been relocated to a more sensible position on the rear.

Otherwise the basic template hasn’t changed, with four large buttons on the back for movie recording, playback, menu and display options, and a small, freely-rotating menu pad dial around a central Func button which is used for the majority of image settings.

Once you get into the swing of the menu system changing options becomes effortless, and the menu-pad dial can be used to quickly zip through a series of images, movies or menu options.

Canon PowerShot SX220 HS: Performance

The camera takes just under a second to come to life, and as before it raises the pop-up flash as this happens. There seems to be no way to deactivate this, and should you have your finger in the way – which is entirely likely given the flash’s position – the flash will be forced into it. Even if you turn the flash off it annoyingly remains in its upright position.

The zoom glides at a steady pace through its focal range, only making a little noise as it does so. There’s a slight slowdown in focusing speed at the telephoto end of the optic, but given the camera’s generally prompt focusing speed even here it’s still reasonably snappy.

The LCD also has a perfectly respectable viewing angle, and it does well in brighter conditions until the lighting becomes particularly harsh. Those with less inclination to shoot video may, however, be frustrated by its wide aspect ratio, which is otherwise only fully filled when shooting in the 16:9 option, where resolution is lowered to 9MP.

Most of the time the camera’s metering system does a sterling job to produce print-ready exposures, although given the limitations of smaller sensors this does mean that while shadows show good detail highlights often lose theirs, particularly in high-contrast conditions.

The default My Colurs option together with the auto white balance system combine to render scenes with reasonable accuracy, neither appearing too lifeless nor vibrant, with only the occasional shift towards either warmth or coldness depending on the scene’s content.

Detail throughout images is more than respectable, although it’s hard to sharpen images in order to squeeze out any more without also sharpening the fine grain of noise, which is present on all sensitivities but controlled at the lowest few.

Noise rises steadily through the sensitivity range, and at the highest sensitivities there’s practically no chroma noise, but the processing which ensures this is the case also means that there’s little detail in such images captured at night. Here, it becomes difficult to control highlight details, too, without having to underexpose the image as a whole.

There’s a touch of barrel distortion at the wide end of the camera’s optic, and at the telephoto extreme the camera tends to require the maximum aperture of f/5.9, which creates a little vignetting at the corners of the frame. This is particularly noticeable when shooting flat areas little detail (such as skies), although otherwise it’s not as great an issue over more detailed subjects.

Sadly, chromatic aberrations including purple fringing do make themselves known throughout the lens’s range, particularly at the telephoto end and whenever shooting contrasty subjects. Those wanting to use images at their full size should keep this in mind and look at suitable processing methods, as its visibility borders on objectionable.

Finally, the camera’s video mode captures clear and detailed movies, with clear sound and little ambient noise (although sound is slightly tinny nonetheless), and only a slight whirring from the lens if its zoom is used during recording.

Should the scene change suddenly, the camera doesn’t quite adjust exposure with fluidity, instead working in more obvious incremental steps, but this should only be an issue in special circumstances, such as when panning a scene.

Canon PowerShot SX220 HS: Image quality

As part of our test we shoot our resolution chart at every sensitivity setting. The higher the value quoted in the caption score, the greater the level of detail being resolved and the better the image quality.

Entire resolution chart

ISO 100: score 20/22
Resolution chart at iso 100

ISO 200: score 20/22
Resolution chart at iso 200

ISO 400: score 20
Resolution chart at iso 400

ISO 800: score 20
Resolution chart at iso 800

ISO 1600: score 20
Resolution chart at iso 1600

ISO 3200: score18
Resolution chart at iso 3200

Canon PowerShot SX220 HS: 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.
Signal to noise ratio graph

Dynamic range

A high dynamic range indicates a better ability to reproduce a wide range of tones. These cameras do not produce raw files, only JPEGs which are automatically processed in-camera to produce the best image possible in the view of the manufacturer.
Dynamic range graph

Canon PowerShot SX220 HS: Photo samples

Building image

Tree image

Pigeon image

ISO 3200 image

Tower image

ISO Test

Full iso 100 image

ISO 100

Crop of iso 100 image

ISO 400

Crop of iso 800 image

ISO 800

Crop of iso 1600 image

ISO 1600

Crop of iso 3200 image

ISO 3200

Canon PowerShot SX220 HS: Price and specs

Canon PowerShot SX220 HS: Price and specs

  • Price – £269.00 (SRP)
  • Sensor – Approx 12.1MP effective, 1/2.3in type back-illuminated CMOS type
  • Lens – 28-392mm f/3.1-5.9
  • Memory – SD, SDHC, SDXC
  • Viewfinder – No
  • Video resolution – 1920 x 1080 at 24 fps, 1280 x 720 at 30 fps, 640 x 480 at 30 fps, 320 x 240, 30 fps, Super Slow Motion Movie at 120fps and 240fps
  • ISO range – ISO 100-3200
  • Focus modes – Single, continuous, servo AF/AE, AF tracking, Face Detection
  • Max burst rate – Approx. 3.2fps (3MP High-speed Burst at approx. 8.1fps)
  • LCD – Wide 3in PureColor II G TFT, approx. 461,000 dots
  • Shutter speeds – 15-1/3200 sec. (range varies by shooting mode)
  • Weight – Approx. 215g (including battery and memory card)
  • Dimensions – 105.7 x 59.3 x 33.2mm
  • Power supply – Rechargeable Li-ion Battery NB-5L (supplied)

Canon PowerShot SX220 HS: Verdict

The Canon SX220′s backlit sensor may not give you DSLR-like quality, but the camera succeeds in providing a healthy zoom range inside a pocketable body, and with good quality results across the board.

We like

The Canon SX220 HS offers an incredible zoom range, a number of solid exposure controls and produces, on average, good quality images.

We dislike

To fully appreciate the benefit of the widescreen LCD you’ll need to shoot video with some frequency, or use the 16:9 aspect ration, where resolution is lowered to 9MP. Chromatic aberration also seemed to be a problem, particularly at the telephoto end with contrasty subjects.

Pros

  • Wealth of exposure controls
  • Quality images

Cons

  • Chromatic aberrations throughout the lens range
  • Widescreen LCD only full filled in video or 16:9 modes

Verdict

A number of manufacturers now offer small-format cameras paired with
ambitious optics, and the latest addition to Canon’s PowerShot range
stands up well against its rivals.

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