Canon's Longest zoom compact , the Canon PowerShot SX30IS offers a 35x range, but does it still deliver on quality?
One of the main advantages of Bridge cameras is their ability to offer long zoom lengths in a small compact form and none more so than this new PowerShot model. The Canon PowerShot SX30IS delivers a 35x optical zoom, from a wide 24mm through to a super telephoto 840mm equivalent, making it one of the longest-zoom compacts on the market. However, such a long zoom range in a compact body often requires a compromise in quality, but with Canon’s lens experience and a range of added features to this model, is this the case here?
Canon PowerShot SX30 IS Features
Though the Canon PowerShot SX30IS is not an altogether new venture, it is a huge leap – at least optically – from the previous model, the SX20. The sensor is a 14.1MP 1/2.3in CCD, and most likely the same as featured in the more compact styled SX210 model, and notably physically smaller than the sensor in the new G12. The processor is also the tried and tested DIGIC 4 that has been seen in a variety of recent Canon models all the way up to the professional DSLRs, and the iSAPS technology from the G series models. This provides us with a modest ISO range of 100-1600 and a 0.6-1.2fps burst mode that seems a little pedestrian for a modern compact. There are however a number of scene modes that extend its capabilities, including a dedicated low-light mode.
Creative options are not in short supply on the Canon PowerShot SX30IS; the metering system offers a choice of evaluative, centre-weighted, and spot, and can make use of the face detection or flexizone AF for readings in evaluative and spot modes. The shooting modes include the full array of PASM manual modes, plus an Auto and a range of scene modes. There is also the option to record 720p HD video at 30fps, which also comes with some creative options in the form of Miniature mode, Color accent, and Color swap. The autofocus system provides a choice of face detection, subject tracking or single point, selectable from anywhere in the viewing frame. There are also manual focus options and in Macro mode the camera is capable of focusing as close the subject can get; so even items touching the lens can be focused on.
The optics are probably the most fascinating part of this camera. The optical range of 24-840mm in 35mm equivalent terms means a 35x optical zoom which, when combined with the digital tele-converter and safety zoom, can amount to a 140x zoom in total. Despite this, the maximum aperture still manages a very respectable f/2.7-5.8 range and the image stabilisation gives up to a 4.5 stop benefit to allow for much lower lighting conditions.
The LCD screen on the rear is a 2.7in Pure Colour II unit, with 230k dots, while for more traditional shooting positions there is also a 202k-dot electronic viewfinder with dioptre adjustment for spectacle wearers. There’s a built-in flash unit on the top of the camera, which can be manually flipped up for use, and also a full hotshoe for external flash attachment, hidden by a rubber cover.
Canon PowerShot SX30 IS Design
The Canon PowerShot SX30IS is perhaps the most SLR-like of the Canon compacts to date, and at a quick glance could almost be mistaken for an entry-level model – albeit slightly smaller and curvier. To hold it feels solid and fairly weighty and has a good grip for the right hand and, though not the deepest and not long enough to cover all four fingers, this is still impressive for a compact. The top panel remains fairly clean with the shutter button surrounded by a zoom rocker switch, a single power button and the shooting mode dial occupying the right hand side. A flash button sits to the left but the flash must be lifted manually as the button only accesses the flash modes. A hotshoe is also present but nicely hidden under a rubber cap; this allows use of external flashguns such as the Canon Speedlite flashgun range for more creative lighting.
On the rear the layout remains more in keeping with the DSLR range, though the viewfinder is electronic in its display and the 2.7in screen is mounted on a vari-angle bracket, allowing for full rotation around 180º horizontal and 270º vertical, and for the screen to be turned towards the camera for protection when not in use. This really comes in useful, especially for more creative shots.
The main control dial features a d-pad design with a rotational outer wheel to quickly control a range of shooting, menu and review functions. Of note among the additional buttons are the direct record button, ideally placed for a thumb press and the zoom framing assist button that allows you to briefly zoom back out to help track a subject or reposition with ease. Overall, the SX30 feels very positive in the hand and is extremely usable for a bridge-type compact.
Canon PowerShot SX30 IS Performance
The start-up of the SX30 requires the lens to rack out slightly but still manages to be ready to shoot in under a second. The lens travels along the zoom with relative speed but there is sometimes a slight pause when the rocker is first pressed. In many ways it is a shame this didn’t go down the route of the Fujifilm HS10 and make the zoom a manual lens rotation in a more SLR-type control. The 4.5-stop image stabilisation means that the full length of this huge zoom is usable handheld in most conditions, which as an impressive feat for such a massive focal length. The autofocus system is generally accurate and able to lock on to objects under most lighting conditions with ease and at reasonable speed. It’s not fast by DSLR standards but it is by no means the slowest in its class. For continuous shooting the burst rate is surprisingly slow, taking only around one frame every second, which really writes this camera off for any kind of sports photography, though it does mean the buffer is never in any danger of filling. It is also a shame that there is no option for shooting in Raw format from this camera for more critical work.
The LCD screen, despite the rather standard resolution on paper, is bright and appears to have plenty of sharpness thanks to the PureColor II technology. The EVF viewfinder is far from perfect in both size and resolution but once again, considering the competition, it is relatively easy to use and comparatively large. The flash offers nice even coverage for portraits, without overpowering them, and there is a range of flash options too, including slow sync, compensation, and front/rear curtain options. Battery life from the rechargeable Li-ion unit is given at a respectable 370 shots and, with average use, will easily achieve this.
Canon PowerShot SX30 IS Value
The SX30’s RRP of £450 does seem a little pricey, but already the street price means you can pick this camera up for almost £100 less, making it far more appealing. The problem all cameras in this category have is that they are constantly being squeezed down by the falling prices of budget DSLRs and the new Compact System Camera models. What is worth remembering, is that the SX30IS and its ilk come with super-telephoto zoom lenses that would dramatically increase the cost of any interchangeable-lens model and therefore still offer great value for money. One of the SX30’s biggest competitors, however, is the Fujifilm HS10, a camera with an RRP of £390 but a street price of well below the £300 mark.
Canon PowerShot SX30 IS Image Quality
Images from the SX30IS are bright and punchy with a good level of detail from the 14MP sensor. On close inspection, there are signs of JPEG compression or artefacts even on the low ISO files and this increases as the ISO is raised. This is not obvious in the printed images, however, and even shots at ISO 800 remain noise free. At the highest setting of 1600 ISO, noise reduction still keeps noise to a minimum but detail does suffer in the process. With such optimised processing it is unlikely that manual adjustment of noise would have any benefit, though having a Raw option would perhaps have allowed greater tone adjustment. The metering is very impressive at retaining both highlight and shadow detail though the best results are often obtained by underexposing to around two thirds of a stop.
Creatively it would be unfair to compare the SX30 directly with a budget DSLR, as there are many areas where it cannot compete; in focus speed, viewfinder and burst mode especially. This camera does have plenty of strengths, offering not only one of the longest zooms on the market but also with the most impressive stabilisation. It produces some great-looking results and, thanks to the manual controls and vari-angle screen, you can get some really creative shots. If you're after a more compact creative camera, you'll struggle to find a better example than the SX30IS.