The term ‘compact camera’ perhaps doesn’t justify or explain the sheer technological advancement that both the Canon SX1 and Sony HX1 adhere to – they essentially are, at least by gesture given their considerable stature, compact cameras, but rather more ones that wrap up the highest-end technology available at this level. In fact, as well as the notable 20x optical zoom (28-560mm equivalent) lenses, there’s so much crammed into each of these products that the price point actually sails above and beyond that of some entry-level DSLR cameras. So just what do you get for your money and, given the apparent similarities between the pair, which one comes out as top pick of the two?
Canon SX1 IS vs Sony HX1 – Features
Both the Sony and Canon are weighty compacts – both in physical stature and on the features-front too. With a 20x optical zoom lens, a range from a wide 28mm through to telephoto 560mm (equivalent) is at your disposal, and that’s something really quite special. Neither skimp on the lens-front either, as the optical image stabilisation – Canon’s titled ‘IS‘ and Sony’s branded ‘SteadyShot‘ – provides assurance of sharp images in low light and, crucially here, when using longer focal lengths. High Definition movie recording is very much flavour of 2009, and neither model misses the pulse on this front – Full HD 1080p at 30 frames per second with stereo audio capture (though no 3.5mm external mic input) is a mainstay in both bodies, with the Canon’s one-touch record button making things that little bit swifter.
So far, so similar, but differences do begin to creep in. The Sony HX1 has a tilt-angle 3in LCD screen, with the more conventional 4:3 aspect ratio. The Canon SX1, however, has a vari-angle 2.8in 16:9 widescreen LCD which means it can rotate through all the angles – to face the photographer, the floor, or even the subject. Then there’s the Sony’s mind-bogglingly clever Sweep Panorama mode – a scene mode which, rather than stitching multiple single frames together one by one, simply takes a full single sweeping 180° panorama in one take as the camera is rotated and then presents a final, coherent panorama within seconds. It’s a lot of fun and extremely effective. Uniquely of the two, the Canon has a WL-DC300 remote control in its box – allowing zooming, shooting and menu options to all be addressed from afar. And, should you want to get really clever, the SX1 has a hotshoe that is compatible with Canon Speedlites, placing a whole new world of creative lighting at your fingertips should you splash a bit of extra cash on flash kit – quite the bonus compared to the Sony’s on-board-only flash.
Canon SX1 IS vs Sony HX1 – Design
Both cameras have a similar physical design, with a chunky grip to the right for sturdy hold. The Sony is marginally smaller though and, in this instance, it doesn’t necessarily work to its advantage as things feel a tad more cramped; in particular the buttons on the back will leave larger hands brushing up against the raised LCD screen’s edge.
The LCD screens themselves are also wildly different – the tilt-angle of the Sony HX1’s 3in screen provides vertical movement to face directly up or down or any measure in between, while the Canon’s vari-angle covers every angle, not just the vertical. However, while the latter may sound like an improvement, the 16:9 widescreen format just isn’t a traditional stills photographic ratio, which perplexes a little. It’s certainly a cinematic tradition, and while HD movie mode does feature, this being a stills camera it seems an oddity to have opted for such a fixed design feature, plus it limits the size to a smaller 2.8in.
The button-arrangement and menu functions also differ considerably on both cameras, with the Sony’s menu system following suit with all other Cyber-shot cameras and the Canon’s providing a more complex yet accessible multi-tiered system. Digging through the Sony’s menus is easy, but the Canon’s simpler offering with quick access functions and even a multitude of additional physical buttons provide the better solution. The SX1 has a rotational thumbwheel-type d-pad which will, much like Marmite’s long standing message, be something you’ll either click with and love or find annoyingly fiddly and hate. The HX1 has a more DSLR-like rear control wheel on the rear that also acts as a button for selecting and running through options.
Being such power-hungry beasts, it’s good to see that both Canon and Sony have opted for CMOS sensors, which tend to consume less juice. However, in the HX1’s box you’ll find a li-ion battery and charger, compared to the notable lack in the Canon’s. Instead you’ll have to fork out extra cash to replace 4xAA batteries once they run out – a greater expense on an already expensive camera, and a power-type that may not be preferred by some. There isn’t so much as the option for a li-ion battery in the SX1 either, nor an AA-battery option in the HX1. This is very much down to a personal preference.
Canon PowerShot SX1 IS vs Sony Cyber-shot HX1: Performance
Canon SX1 IS vs Sony HX1 – Performance
Put head to head, it’s the independent performance of each camera that’s most important – and neither are a let down. However, for both, the LCD screens are perhaps a disappointment. For the Sony there’s a lagging blur whatever the conditions, while the Canon‘s screen, given its widescreen proportions, presents an even smaller image than its 2.8in when shooting in standard 4:3 format, plus there’s considerable screen noise in low light.
From LCD to electronic viewfinder (EVF) and it’s less rosy than it could be. In fact, both manufacturers could take a leaf out of Panasonic’s book – as recent EVFs on Lumix cameras, particularly the G-series, have been most impressive. For the Canon SX1 the EVF is wide and covers your peripheral vision, but does lack the detailed resolution that it ought to have. The Sony HX1 has a much smaller EVF that seems distant from the eye, where, like the LCD screen, images have a similar lagging real-time blur.
Things really do come up trumps where image stabilisation is concerned, though – especially that of the Canon SX1. As both systems are optically based, the difference at full zoom just on the LCD screen itself is significant, and particularly in the final image. This wouldn’t be so prominent with sensor-shift stabilisation, as the benefit wouldn’t work continuously to feed to your eye in real time. Sony’s SteadyShot is solid, though Canon’s ‘IS‘ pips it to the post.
On both counts the lenses are well considered, providing smooth, quick movement throughout the range, which never feel flimsy like some lesser compacts. Close-up, the Sony works with subjects nearer to the lens than the Canon, though at longer focal length extensions this is flipped on its head and the Canon takes pride of place.
Continuous shooting hits a super-fast 10 frames per second from the Sony HX1, something the 4fps Canon isn’t close to catching. However, the Canon does have a trick up its sleeve by including the option to shoot Raw & JPEG, compared to the Sony’s JPEG-only functionality. This seems to be one of the most major omissions from the Sony spec sheet.
Canon SX1 IS vs Sony HX1 – Value
With an RRP of £589 for the Canon SX1 it’s more than £150 dearer than the Sony HX1’s £430 asking price. We’re not talking small margins or even small prices at either end here though, and to pay upwards of £400 on a dedicated high-level superzoom requires certainty that you’re getting your money’s worth. On the one hand there aren’t many compact digital cameras more advanced than these two. However, this is equivalent to mega bucks and, when dealing with a cost margin such as this, a DSLR consideration may enter the minds of many.
Canon PowerShot SX1 IS vs Sony Cyber-shot HX1: Image Quality and Verdict
Canon SX1 IS vs Sony HX1 – Image Quality
SX1 IS vs HX1 – Exposure, Tone & Colour
The Canon SX1 IS provides a deep and realistic colour, compared to the Sony HX1‘s lighter yet punchier offering. Exposure-wise the Canon is quite conservative, which preserves detail well should you then want to tweak Raw files later. The HX1 is all-round brighter with exposure, though that’s not to say it overexposes.
SX1 IS vs HX1 – White Balance
Sony’s Auto White Balance provided very consistent, albeit cold, results between different shots and ISO settings, while the Canon’s AWB did occasionally slip to a magenta cast in consistent lighting.
SX1 IS vs HX1 – Detail & Sharpness
Canon is known for fine image quality, and while certainly the case here, in part thanks to the DIGIC 4 processor, it’s not actually the better of the two. The HX1’s images are considerably more detailed and sharper, even at higher ISO settings.
SX1 IS vs HX1 – JPEG & RAW
A possible bone of contention here is that the Sony HX1 doesn’t offer Raw shooting, whereas the Canon does. In those respects the Canon wins this fight, though with the .CR2 Raw file type you’ll have to ensure your Adobe Camera Raw software is up to date – Canon cameras don’t support the universal DNG format.
SX1 IS vs HX1 – Image Noise
The Canon’s sensitivity range covers ISO 80-1600, with the Sony providing ISO 125-3200. Although the Canon does offer a ‘High ISO’ (ISO 3200) option, it’s not at full resolution and the limited size and lack of detail may prove limited for many. As per detail and sharpness, the Sony HX1 retains greater detail at the higher ISO settings. Whereas the Canon SX1 sees image noise creep in from upwards of ISO 400, the Sony HX1 remains cleaner above this, with greater detail retention and less obtrusive noise even at the higher ISO settings. Sony’s ISO 3200 is notably noisy, but is available at full size unlike the Canon’s smaller offering.
Canon SX1 IS vs Sony HX1 – Verdict
It’s a really close call – both the Canon and Sony have their own likeability factors. While mightily similar on paper, the two are discerningly different in use. Performance-wise the Canon takes the bull by the horns and is more pleasing – from the menu system to the layout, the IS and overall responsiveness. But then enter the Sony and it all gets a tad complicated – it has the better quality images which are sharper and punchier. Then, of course, is the much talked about Sweep Panorama mode which, while not for every application, is frankly brilliant. It’s just the HX1’s LCD screen that’s a bit of a disappointment.
Then there’s the price – the Sony is the cheaper of the pair, but it also feels cheaper. The Canon is more expensive, but feels better built and, given its hotshoe and Speedlite flash compatibility, has an all-round wider scope to justify the cost. But, well and truly, such a significant cost – and this is on both counts – for what is essentially a superzoom compact raises the big question: should you buy an entry-level Sony Alpha or Canon EOS for near-on the same money? That’s a whole other question perhaps, as between these two it’s hard to decide which one could possibly take the crown – the Canon for overall performance in use, the Sony for overall image quality, detail and price.