Canon’s latest SX40 HS superzoom retains the 35x optical zoom and design of the previous SX30 IS. But with a new CMOS sensor is the PowerShot SX40 the superzoom we’ve been waiting for? The What Digital Camera Canon PowerShot SX40 HS review…
Canon PowerShot SX40 HS review – Features
The SX40 HS’s most prominent feature is its huge zoom range. With a wideangle 24mm setting that can power through to 840mm at the telephoto end and there are few other cameras out there with quite the range, particularly at the wide end. Add to this Canon’s optical image stabilisation system (IS) that claims to counter for up to 4.5 stops of hand shake and this camera looks like a winner. A new Intelligent IS mode is able to auto-select from seven different options for stills and movie clips.
Compared to the SX30 the SX40’s biggest shift comes in the form of the new back-lit 1/2.3in CMOS sensor. Out with the old CCD technology and in with the new, as this latest CMOS is paired with the Canon HS system and DIGIC 5 processor for far faster output speeds. Pop the camera into its high speed scene mode and it can shoot eight frames at an impressive 10.3fps, and the new CMOS sensor also means Full HD 1080p movies can be recorded at 24fps. Perhaps most interesting of all is Canon’s focus on better low light performance: the 12.1MP resolution is some two million pixels lower than the SX30’s 14.1MP sensor, plus the back-lit (BSI) designation means the wiring has been moved to the rear of the sensor’s construction. In short this means larger microlenses and a more direct, clearer light path for a better quality signal and, therefore, better quality images that should be most noticeable at the higher ISO settings. The ISO 100-3200 range may seem conservative by comparison to some of the super-high numbers that a lot of recent compacts offer, but Canon has focused on providing a range where every sensitivity is of usable quality.
A mode dial with a full range of Auto and Manual settings also features a variety of Scene options and even Effects for pseudo-fisheye, selective colour and other in-camera options.
Canon PowerShot SX40 HS review – Design
The SX40 is a carbon copy of the SX30 on the outside. In some respects this is a good thing: the build quality’s sturdy, the camera holds well in the hand and shooting options are easy to access. But in other respects it’s a letdown: the fact the 2.7in, 230k-dot LCD remains the same size and resolution is disappointing as other models – such as the Sony HX100V – come with 3in, 921k-dot screens. Of course the Canon’s screen does bring the benefit of a full 180º horizontal and 270º vertical rotation for more adventurous framing.
The electronic viewfinder (EVF) is also as per the SX30, at 0.2in in size and with a 202k-dot resolution. While this is ample by common standards, it’s a shame Canon hasn’t pushed the boundaries as the SX40 feels somewhat ‘safe’ by design. Certainly ‘if it ain’t broke then why fix it’, but there are tweaks and adjustments that should have escalated this release up a peg or two.
The SX40 also includes a hotshoe that’s hidden under a plastic cap on top of the camera should you wish to use a more powerful Canon Speedlite external flashgun. Leave the hotshoe cap on and it meshes perfectly with the body – you’d be forgiven for assuming there was no hotshoe at all.
A rechargeable li-ion battery provides around 380 shots per charge, slightly more than the previous model was capable of, but only by 10 shots or so.
Control-wise and the SX40 HS features a four-way d-pad with a rotational ring for adjusting options, as well as a variety of quick-access and one-touch buttons for display and menu access. Pressing the Function button in the centre of the d-pad brings up the common options on screen for quick adjustment, or the main shooting/camera menus are accessed via the main Menu button. It’s a well-versed system that’s simple to get to grips with and use, though the rotational wheel can be a little tardy when changing settings.
Canon PowerShot SX40 HS review – Performance
With the superzoom market getting fiercely competitive, recent releases have seen vast improvements in focusing speeds. However, this is one area where the SX40 fails to amp up performance compared to its SX30 predecessor. As such the SX40 HS’s focusing speed is ample, yet can’t live up to the snappier speeds of the latest Panasonic Lumix FZ150, for example. Focusing areas, too, are also confined: the SX40 doesn’t offer a multi-area AF system, instead ‘FlexiZone’ AF provides a single AF point that can be moved around the majority of the screen. Face Detection and Tracking options also feature, though tracking fails to continuously autofocus. It’s possible to adjust the size of the focus point between small and large using a dedicated button on the rear of the camera, and placement is broad across the screen with the exception of the outermost edges.
The provision to shoot at up to 10.3fps is one of the SX40’s standout features, but this mode should be taken with a pinch of salt. Only accessible via the Scene options, this mode can’t be used with manual exposure adjustment and maxes out after capturing eight frames. The focus point is also fixed so no focus adjustment or continuous autofocus is possible. Should any of the manual modes be used then the Canon is reduced to 2.4fps at its best speed. A partial success, and yet other models such as the Panasonic FZ150 offer a superior 12fps burst mode or an AF Tracking mode at up to 5.5fps. Canon should have been able to go one better here.
The new sensor and processor do mean that Full HD 1080p video is possible, and this is one of the SX40’s finer points. The highest resolution clips are recorded at 24fps, or 720p can be captured at 30fps. The 1080p mode is of a good quality, the zoom can be used during
recording and the camera automatically glides into focus without needing
to half press the shutter. Plus there are 120fps and 240fps slow motion modes at lower resolutions, yet these latter two settings do suffer to excess from compression, but are fun to have nonetheless.
The camera’s zoom lens also works proficiently and is powered by a zoom toggle around the shutter button. We’re particularly fond of the markings on the lens barrel that mark out eight key focal lengths – 24mm, 85mm, 100mm, 135mm, 200mm, 300mm, 500mm and 840mm – to provide an accurate way of knowing your equivalent focal length.
Canon PowerShot SX40 HS review – Image Quality
ISO Sensitivity & Image Noise
Thanks to the new sensor the SX40 HS’s images are a treat. At first they may not appear to differ by comparison to the SX30 IS’s shots, but this all changes as the higher ISO ranks are put to test.
Shots taken at ISO 1600 limit image noise successfully, and while there is some grain shots are of very good quality. Sit them side by side to the nearest competitor superzooms and the Canon’s shots are the favourites.
Tone & Exposure
Where white or brighter subjects feature in a scene the Canon can overexpose the shot a little, so careful attention to the metering mode can be critical. This isn’t a common issue, however, and the vast majority of shots are well balanced with a good tonal range.
The lack of Raw shooting is one notable absence and a feature that Canon really should have worked into this latest release. With the likes of the Fuji HS20 and Lumix FZ150 offering Raw shooting, we have to wonder why this feature is still missing from Canon’s superzoom repertoire.
Colour & White Balance
The PowerShot SX40 HS’s shots are vibrant with colour and succeed in balancing out all manner of scenes under various lighting conditions. JPEGs come straight out from camera with a richness and vibrancy that’s typical of Canon and most pleasing.
Sharpness & Detail
As per all superzooms there’s a pay off between having such a vast zoom range and the image quality’s sharpness. While the SX40 isn’t going to provide DSLR-like results, it’s a darn good and far cheaper alternative that does return shots with enough detail throughout its vast 24-840mm zoom range.
Value & Verdict
Canon PowerShot SX40 HS review – Value
Make no mistake, the SX40 isn’t a budget camera and will launch with an asking price around the £460 mark. Indeed that’s the same price as a budget DSLR system, or you could pick up a Sony SLT-A35 with 18-55mm lens for the same cash.
In relative terms, considering the rest of the superzoom market, however, and Canon’s latest offering sits towards the top end of the pricing spectrum. The likes of Sony’s HX100V currently cost around £385, while others such as Fuji’s HS20 have plummeted as low as £270.
If Canon’s latest had revised the screen size and resolution and amped up the performance to a class-leading level then it may have warranted the high price, but as it is it does feel a tad expensive.
Canon PowerShot SX40 HS review – Verdict
On the surface the SX40 HS is almost indistinguishable from its SX30 predecessor, and much the same can be said about using the camera. It’s disappointing to not see significant advances in focusing speed and performance, and while a speedier 10.3fps Scene mode is available it’s still not class leading in speed or ability. The small and low resolution LCD screen also feels out of date compared to the competition and there’s still no sign of Raw shooting.
But it’s the SX40’s inner workings that escalate the camera to greatness: thanks to the new back-lit CMOS sensor image quality is a mini triumph. Add to that the lens’s huge 24-840mm range and excellent image stabilisation and the SX40 HS is hard to beat for a superzoom that provides a zoom in excess of 600mm.