The football season is nigh upon us. No, I am not talking about the English Premier League, but my football-mad son’s inter-school tournaments. Having long ago transferred his adulation to Christiano Ronaldo from David Beckham, he has managed to get into his school’s A team this year. So now the crack-of-dawn practice sessions will start, groaning parents hauling these pocket dynamos to practice venues and matches during the course of the next two months.
Travel light: Canon’s new offering has an ideal zoom range for the football field.
Call it synchronicity or whatever; Canon’s recently-launched PowerShot SX100 IS super zoom digicam has landed up for review, and I think it will be just the ticket to document the 2008 season.
The PowerShot SX100 IS debuts Canon’s new SX series of super zoom compact cameras, and comes with an 8 megapixel sensor, 10x zoom (36mm x 360mm film equivalent), optical image stabilization, face detection (of course), a comprehensive range of manual photographic controls, plus a 2.5-inch LCD screen (there is no eye-level viewfinder)—all nicely wrapped up in a compact silver or black plastic body.
The SX100 IS may not win any beauty contests, but it makes up in the build quality and materials that have been adopted from Canon’s popular A-series, long established as a reliable user-friendly range of cameras. There are no flashy features in the body design—everything is strictly functional. The SX100 IS is all swoopy curves; hard edges can’t be found anywhere on the body. For a 10x zoom, it is a pretty compact camera, but its dimensions and weight make it more suitable for being carried in a bag rather than your shirt pocket.
In its press note, Canon describes the SX100 IS as a camera for all members of the family, the most overused marketing blurb you could possibly come across, but there is some truth in it. The SX100 IS’ well-designed user interface makes it easy to find your way around the camera in a relatively short space of time, considering the comprehensive set of features. All everyday shooting functions can be accessed via the excellent FUNC menu, and the rotating controller/jog dial combination helps you speedily browse menus and images. The function of the otherwise rather pointless print button can now be customized; you can choose between White Balance, Digital Zoom and a few more options.
Significantly larger and heavier than your typical stylish super-slim compact, nonetheless the SX100 IS handles very well, the ergonomic bulge of the grip which houses the batteries making it stable in your hands. Your thumb rests on a little divot at the rear, perfectly positioned to operate either the jog dial or the rotary mode wheel on top of the camera. The shutter button and zoom lever are easy to operate with one hand too.
Canon has kept the number of moving lens elements to a minimum to ensure faster, power-efficient operation in its compact 10x optical zoom lens. A focal length of 36mm x 360mm gives the PowerShot SX100 IS an ideal zoom range for the football field, and I can leave my bagful of lenses home. The SX100 IS features a lens-shift type optical Image Stabilizer (IS): First developed for Canon’s market-leading EF lenses used with professional EOS SLR cameras, it works as advertised to eliminate camera shake, especially at the longer zoom range.
The nifty Auto ISO Shift feature can be selected to boost the ISO setting just enough to combat the effects of unintended camera movement. But keep this camera at as low an ISO speed as you can, and avoid ISO 800 and 1600 whenever possible, or your photos may look like they were taken in a sandstorm. This noise almost always looks very ugly, and is caused by unavoidable extraneous electric signals in a camera’s sensor, similar in principle to the static in your TV or the background hiss in your stereo.
Other than the de rigueur preset Special Scene modes, advanced modes such as Manual, Program, Shutter Speed Priority and Aperture Priority give experienced users more control. An impressive Macro mode enables detailed close-up photography, while the ability to choose a smaller AF frame size gives users finer control when focusing on smaller subjects. Video recording with sound is available for those special Facebook moments, including a new Long Play VGA mode that doubles the amount of video that can be stored on a memory card. In addition to SD, SDHC and MMC memory cards, the camera supports the new MMC plus and HC MMC plus formats for storage of up to an impressive 32 gigabits.
Image quality is top class at low ISO settings with excellent exposure and colour. The only criticism I have is about flash recycling times. It takes too long for the flash to recharge when batteries are new to start with and it gets even worse when battery power is low, which somewhat limits the camera’s use as a social snapshot tool. I found the battery life in general a little disappointing. Always make sure to carry plenty of spare batteries, otherwise you might find yourself missing out on all those photo opportunities.
That said, the SX100 IS offers reliable image quality, a big zoom range and a good variety of photographic controls in a relatively compact body. It’s fun to use and great for anyone wanting to cover a large variety of photographic situations without breaking the bank or carrying a backpack full of lenses.
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