The PowerShot TX1 marks Canon’s first venture into camera/camcorder hybrid territory offering both advanced still and video recording capabilities in one camera, and it has created a camera that’s big on style and features but sadly lacking in terms of ergonomics. The TX1 is an ultra-compact ultra-zoom camera that looks like the offspring of a pistol-grip camcorder and a shiny compact digicam. Made almost entirely of metal, the build quality is very good, but the Achilles heel is the flimsy plastic door over the battery compartment. I feel that the camera is actually too small, as the controls are tiny, and poorly laid-out. Holding it the proper way (with your fingers near the important buttons) is not comfortable, and I always found myself putting my left hand onto the LCD and using my right to work the controls, which sort of defeats the purpose of having a small camera. Navigating menus with the small four-way controller can make even strong men weep as it’s hard to push it in the direction you intended. And—this is kind of embarrassing—it took me a few minutes to
find the power button.
As expected from Canon, camera performance and picture quality are quite good. The TX1 starts up and focuses fairly quickly, even at full telephoto zoom or in low light. One of the big gimmicks in 2007 is “Face Detection”—I’ve never had problems taking photos of people before this feature existed. The camera will locate up to three faces when you’re framing the shot, and can lock focus and exposure onto up to nine of them when you halfway press the shutter release. Having said that, the FD feature is better than in most digital compacts that I have used. Shutter lag was not a problem, and the TX1’s continuous shooting mode is very nice, allowing you to shoot an unlimited number of photos at two frames/second, assuming that you’re using a high-speed memory card. Photo quality was very good and the TX1 took well-exposed photos with pleasing colour and sharpness. Noise levels are low up to ISO 400, with higher ISO settings best saved for those shots that you desperately must capture. The Auto ISO shift is a rather interesting feature. If you halfway press the shutter release button and get the flashing red “shake warning”, you can press the blinking Print/Share button, and the camera will choose an ISO that will result in a sharper photo.
For me, the most impressive feature on the TX1 is its 10X lens, shoe-horned into its tiny metal carapace. The lens isn’t terribly fast (F3.5-F5.6), but the focal range of the lens is 6.5-65 mm, which is equivalent to a whopping 39-390mm. Inside the lens is Canon’s optical image stabilization, which works very well. Tiny movements of your hands can blur your photos, especially in low light or on long telephoto shots. Sensors inside the camera detect this motion, and one of the lens elements is shifted to compensate. While it will not miraculously allow hand-held one-second exposures, you
can use slower shutter speeds than you could otherwise.
Another standout feature on the PowerShot TX1 is the flip-out, rotating 1.8-inch LCD display. I like rotating LCDs—they let you shoot over the heads of those in front of you, or take ground-level shots without having to actually be on the ground. The LCD can rotate 270 degrees, from pointing at the floor all the way around to pointing at your subject. When the screen is flipped around, the view on it does as well (so everything’s still right side up) and the LCD can be flush against the body for playing back your photos.
The feature that is both the most exciting and the most disappointing on the PowerShot TX1 is its movie mode. First, the good part. While most cameras are still stuck at 640x480, Canon has gone one-up by supporting 720p recording on the TX1. For those who haven’t been reading this column, that’s 1280x720 widescreen video at 30 frames/second (though true 720p is 60 fps). This camera records at 44kHz stereo sound and there’s even a wind filter for shooting when it’s breezy outside. And hey, you can use both the optical zoom lens and image stabilizer while you’re filming.
Now for the bad news. The movies recorded at this setting look spectacular—easily the best of any digital camera on the market. But since Canon uses an inefficient video codec, it greedily gobbles up the 4GB file size limit with a mere 14 minutes of continuous 720p video.
Free space on your memory card disappears at a whopping 4.4 MB/sec in 720p mode, which means not only do you need a huge memory card for recording video but also that you’ll need to downsize and recompress the videos for sharing with others. There are other resolutions available, including a “long play” 720p mode, which will allow for longer movies.
I think the PowerShot TX1 is a good first effort for Canon in the hybrid category, and I’m hoping the next iteration will finally be the camera/camcorder combo we’ve been waiting for. Till then, I strongly recommend trying the TX1 before you buy it.
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