Canon PowerShot SX280HS Review - The Canon PowerShot SX280HS is a long-zoom travel compact featuring a 20x optical zoom, GPS technology and the addition of Wi-fi connectivity
Canon PowerShot SX280HS Review – Features and Handling
The Canon SX280HS feels sturdy and while it is indeed compact it still manages to pack in a wide-angle 20x zoom lens with the 35mm equivalent of a 25mm to 500mm optical zoom. Importantly for a camera offering that kind of focal length range the 280 features optical image stabilisation.
The camera’s 12.1-megapixel backlit CMOS sensor helps give the PowerShot SX280HS its high speed capabilities which include Full HD video, shooting at up to at 60fps which in layman’s terms, simply means you get very smooth videos, and the impressive-looking 14fps continuous shooting mode.
Throw in Canon’s new DIGIC 6 image processing, which combines the latest image processing algorithms and general imaging wizardry to help process all that data the camera can generate when snapping at 14fps or capturing video at 60fps.
Livery choices include black (as tested here), blue and grey and, just like the SX260HS, the PowerShot SX280HS has GPS and Wi-Fi built into the camera. Interestingly, if all that extra battery draining sharing kit is of no interest, (and as we’ll see, looking at what it does to the battery performance, it’s entirely possible you may not want it), there’s an otherwise identical GPS and WiFi free version of the 280 called the SX270HS.
The camera’s back plate has a nice “PureColor II G” 3-inch display with a resolution of 461k dots, which is about average for cameras at this level.
Canon PowerShot SX280HS Review – Build
The Canon PowerShot SX280HS has a blunt-looking suitably sturdy metal body with (as it turns out) a vital-for-the-handling raised plastic baton on the front, which is great for getting a hold and gripping the camera and keeping things relatively stable at longer focal lengths.
Atop of the SX280HS, hidden from sight until needed, is a small, electronic automatic pop-up flash; it appears as if by magic when “called for” by the camera and slots back into the camera’s carapace once it’s done its illuminating. But the problem here is the flash position, it’s right under your left index finger, which all to often stops it from popping up and then you need to restart the camera and hence, you loose the moment you wanted to capture.
The shutter release and surrounding lens zoom lever are joined by the neatly recessed on/off button on the top plate, while the camera’s back plate houses the aforementioned 3in display, the mode dial – for changing the various camera shooting modes – and below, a cluster of further controls.
These include the direct video capture, playback, display toggle and menu activation buttons, which surround the four-way jog/scroll dial and its central function and set button. These combine to access the flash and focus settings, the exposure compensation and self-timer. These last two also double as the Wi-fi mode activation and direct delete buttons when in playback; they’re colour coded in line with the playback button in blue.
The SX280HS’s menu system has a nice in-built hints and tips function; it appears at the bottom of the display when a menu option is chosen and make the camera easier to use for those new to it or the function on offer if, say, they’ve upgraded from a lesser equipped camera.
The model’s built in Wi-fi and GPS modes mean you can connect the camera to an existing Wi-fi network, or create an ad-hoc network. The menu options for these, use great and simple to understand icons and you can connect to a PC and suitable smartphones or devices.
To do the latter, you need to install Canon’s Camera Window app (available for both on iOS and Android devices) and once you’re connected, the app allows for the transfer and browsing of images or image sharing. You’ll also be able to use the smartphone as a GPS logger, which comes in useful for those cameras that don’t have a built in GPS system.
It’s when we get to powering all this clever camera kit it starts to reveal its main drawback. The Canon PowerShot SX280HS’s battery life is rated at 210 shots (according to Canon and CIPA’s test rating) but use the built in GPS and Wi-fi for any length of time and the battery life drops. I got about 100-shots and about 15-minutes of video with some flash use and a fair bit of reviewing on the display I’d certainly recommend an additional battery if you have plans on traveling and power may be at a premium.
Canon PowerShot SX280HS Review – Filters, Video and more
As is the way with today’s compacts, the Canon PowerShot SX280HS has digital effects filters built-in alongside a suite of subject modes. These include fisheye, miniature and toy camera for the former and the high-quality burst shooting mode, portrait, sports, snow, underwater and smart shutter mode, which detects when your subject smiles and takes a shot for you automatically.
The handheld night mode is a particularly clever mode as it combines four images taken quickly, one after the other to enhance the image without image noise ruining the shot and it works well enough, though you have to ensure you keep the camera steady as it takes and combines the four images.
There are a range of colour settings to choose between alongside custom settings that allow you to adjust contrast, sharpness and saturation, the red, green, blue, and even skin tones. There’s no HDR mode but the i-Contrast option can help here, though it’s not the same thing by a long chalk.
The SX280HS’s video capture is silky smooth thanks to that 60fps-recording rate even at full HD and of course there’s stereo sound; the auto wind filter is best left on here too. There are dual optical zooming speeds while recording footage, basically fast and slow.
Depending on the movements of the zoom lever, disappointingly, the lens drive noise is audible when using the faster zoom speed, less so at the slower lens zoom speed, but it is still audible nonetheless. However the actual footage is clean and crisp though at the full extent of the digital zoom, the quality is rather granular-looking and so a tad disappointing.
Canon PowerShot SX280HS Review – Performance and Image Quality
In terms of speed, the Canon PowerShot SX280HS acquits itself very well. The shutter response is well under a second, and from switch on to first shot the camera takes just under two seconds and one and a half seconds for shot to shot timing.
Focus and shutter response are very good, though focus performance drops off shooting video while the use of flash means its recharge hampers the shot to shot performance stretching it to almost three seconds. In “normal” shooting modes the camera shoots JPEGs at 3fps, while in high-speed mode, you’ll get 14fps for (up to) seven shots, after which, even the new DIGIC 6 processor has to buffer off the data before it can do more.
The SX280HS produces excellent colour throughout; images are bright, well saturated without being too so and there’s good contrast, the lens, be it at wide telephoto end performs well too, and the exposure performance (in Evaluative metering, more on which shortly) is dependable in all but the most difficult of subject with big contrast variations.
Here though, if you have problems the SX280HS lets you take control. You can either activate the i-Contrast, which helps retain shadow detail in high-contrast scenes on the fly, alternatively you can use the exposure compensation control to pull things back into range or finally, if all else fails, switch between the Evaluative, Center-weighted Average or Spot metering (from within the camera’s excellent Func(tion) menu) and that will allow you to control the way you handle any difficult lighting.
One problem with flash was the occasional red-eye, but otherwise the camera does what it does very well indeed, which brings me onto the optics.
A 5cm close focus distance looks a tad modest by the standards set by a lot of today’s similar compacts, but nevertheless makes for some great macro shooting. Overall, the detail captured at both ends of the zoom is good and problems with chromatic aberration, purple or blue fringing are well controlled throughout the zoom though slightly more noticeable at the 500mm end of the zoom range.
Barrel and pincushion distortion are there but negligible and not visible in “general” shots. The “Intelligent” and “Enhanced Dynamic” image stabilisation systems are sued to help stabilise camera shake at the longer focal lengths available for the former and for the same when shooting video for the latter.
As always though, one thing to bear in mind is the way it can make your composition “jump” if you press the shutter release to abruptly or, when recording video, if you pan or move the camera too quickly. It takes a while to get used to but once you’re aware, you can adjust your shooting style accordingly.
The camera has an improved ISO range – from 80 to 6400 – from the previous SX260HS model. Noise is very low at ISO 80 to ISO 200, becoming noticeable only at ISO 400. The jump to ISO 800 makes it more prominent still but beyond this point, from ISO 1600 to 3200 noise is obvious and detail starts to suffer as the processing kicks in, although results at this ISO would be fine used on screen.
At ISO 6400, well, lets just say it probably best left in the bank, image noise is very distracting, so the rationale of boosting the top ISO setting from that of the SX260HS’s, ISO 3200 top setting, is questionable.
The White Balance (WB) control is good, but the Auto setting struggled in mixed lighting and in tungsten lighting where it gave an orange cast, but all the WB presets perform well, so as always, it’s best to use the relevant mode for the ambient lighting you’re shooting in.
Canon PowerShot SX280HS Review – Verdict
The Canon PowerShot SX280HS costs around £250, making it look a reasonable buy, but that’s richer than similar cameras such as the Nikon Coolpix S9500.
It offers a lot of zoom and feature set ideal those wanting a versatile snapper for their travels, while the inclusion of both GPS and WiFi makes for superb sharing capability. Overall image quality is very good, excellent colours and detail the key attributes required and achieved.
The 14fps high speed shooting mode will also appeal, but its locked away somewhat, unavailable to the other manual modes, for example. There’s neither HDR mode nor a panoramic mode, but probably the biggest problem for the SX280HS is its short battery life. It’s best described as modest but when using GPS and WiFi, it is very poor.
To compensate, however (and if you buy a back up battery), the excellent image quality, the quality zoom (in terms of focal length and captured detail), then the Canon PowerShot SX280HS must be high on your must have list.
Canon PowerShot SX280HS Review – Sample Image Gallery
There are just a small selection of images captured with the Canon PowerShot SX280HS. For a full range, head on over to the Canon PowerShot SX280HS review sample image gallery.