Canon PowerShot SX20 IS review

It’s easy for the current torrent of advanced compact digital cameras to blur into one – but as soon as we switched on Canon’s PowerShot SX20 IS, we had a hunch that this one would be real fun. And it was.

The 12.1-megapixel PowerShot SX20 IS uses the DiGIC4 image processor, which also appears in Canon’s high-end digital camera products. In our tests, it produced excellent images across a wide variety of environments, from bright to dimly lit. It also managed to capture great detail in macro and fully zoomed shots.

The key feature of the PowerShot SX20 IS is its 20x zoom lens, which has a wide angle of 28mm and can zoom in to 560mm. It really lets you get close to your subject, and because the camera has built-in optical image stabilisation, you can take handheld photos at 20x zoom without getting a blurry image. Of course, this depends on the light you have at your disposal, as dim lighting and maximum zoom will still result in some blurriness unless you’re using a tripod. When the wide aperture is teamed with a relatively slow shutter speed and an ISO of 800, it takes great photos at night – without the built-in flash or a tripod.

When you switch on the camera for the first time and the lens pops out, you’ll notice the focal length written on the barrel of the lens. This can be useful for getting to a predetermined zoom point if you know the focal length you want to use. Unfortunately, the zoom lever is small and the zoom function is jumpy. There are only approximately 20 points that it will jump to, so you don’t get a fine control over the zoom motor. For framing shots, there’s an electronic viewfinder and an LCD screen, which pops out and swivels.

There are shortcut buttons to the camera’s aperture, shutter, ISO speed and focus point, but you can also use the semi-automatic and fully automatic modes if you don’t feel like playing with many settings. There are 11 scene modes to choose from and a capable HD video mode.

The only flaws with the SX20 IS’s images stem from the lens. There’s some distortion, which is noticeable on vertical lines, and chromatic aberration between highly contrasting colours; but this doesn’t show up in all scenarios. Don’t be put off by this, as it wasn’t obvious in many of our test shots.

OUR VERDICT

We’d recommend the PowerShot SX20 IS to anyone who wants a broad focal range and SLR-like controls, without the fuss and bulk of a DSLR. Image quality is superb, the controls and menu are easy to use, and its video mode is almost good enough to make it a high-grade consumer AVCHD camcorder. We also liked that it uses disposable or rechargeable AA batteries (handy when travelling).

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