Canon’s delightful SX230HS do it all travel zoom.

…or otherwise titled “The $230 you will never regret spending”. Its true, believe you me. This article is a follow up to the stupendously horrible Fuji S2950 camera that i did below. Everything that is wrong with it is simply not in this little package. There are more detailed “reviews” on the internet complete with numbers and charts. But thats not quite how i look at things. While i do use those resources on occasion, many times it does little to help the decision making process.  It just muddies things up. Theres no clear cut, heres the best you can do for your money. Nope. Well, there’s that Ken Rockwell fellow, but truth be said, you just don’t need a pinch of salt with him, you need the entire bag and then some. Anyway…

Canon SX230HS.

The SX230HS is a study in not frustrating the end user. Be it dad, grandma or seven year old little Johnny. 12.1 Megapixels, 14X zoom, built in GPS, upto ISO 3200, face detect, all engineered into a package they will actually be able to use without tearing their hair out.

SC230HS rear view. Note the large 3″ diagonal LCD screen. Although it doesn’t use all of it for taking pictures, the entire screen is used while recording video.

The built in GPS unit geo tags pictures so you know exactly where you’ve been.

The Sx230HS is built pretty nicely. If feels solid and purposeful in hand. There is really nothing to fault. The battery cover, for example is heaps better than the flimsy thing on the SX2950. Its got a nice weight to it too. Its not so heavy that holding it just in your right hand will want to make it feel unbalanced, requiring a death grip to prevent it from falling. (The Olympus E-PM1 for example, is just such an offender).  And its slim enough that it will fit in the average pocket, provided your jeans arent painted on.

Its amazing just how much lens the boffins at Canon managed to stuff into such a compact body. Below is its 14X zoom in all its glory. It has a two touch zoom rocker, a light touch advances the zoom slowly and pushing the zoom rocker to its limit zooms quicker. Thats a whole lotta zoom that would keep anybody happy. It gets pretty slow at the long end of the zoom at f5.9, which makes it useless for anything other than taking pictures of Leo the lion while on safari in bright daylight. But its there if you were to ever need it.

The flash raises and closes itself and fires when ever required. It simply doesnt get any easier than this and with decent results just about every time. The one gripe is that the flash raising mechanism is tied to the lens extension mechanism during power on so the flash pops up every time the camera is powered on irregardless if its going to be used or not. And for most folks used to compact cameras where the flash is built in, the natural resting place for the left index finger is over the flash. The flash then cannot pop up when the camera is powered on and the user has to manually open it via a tiny raised lip for it to fire. Its something to get used to.

A whole lotta zoom!

Camera off, Camera on and Camera at maximum zoom. Enough to give me a complex!

Focus is nippy in good light but slows down a tad in low light. It gets the job done without too much fuss with the help of its auto focus assist lamp. But ask too much of it, and it will not lock focus.. don’t take it to heart, its not a deal breaker, no compact camera gets that right. The lcd screen magnifies the area in focus as a visual confirmation, which is a nice touch. Face detection which is a standard on all new cameras these days (heck, even my android smart phone has it) works as it should and prioritizes exposure accordingly.

The menu system will be familiar to previous Canon users and is relatively easy to get the hang of. Its pretty darned intuitive for the novice and in depth enough for the enthusiast.  For the budding enthusiast, theres plenty of functions and features to toy with and grow into. It wont leave you wanting anytime soon. The user interface is slick and snappy to use. You’re never kept waiting.  More often than not, the mode dial at the back, which will be reserved only for you who may be a little more adventurous to try the M, Av, Tv, or P modes, will always be sitting on “auto” with perfectly good results.

“Auto” is clever enough to detect a macro scene and politely point it out to you, the same goes if you were to frame a person in portrait. In fact, “Auto” mode very simply does a very very good job of getting things right. That in itself coupled with its zippy interface and focus is worth the price of admission.

Video is good, no complaints. It even has a nifty 240 frame a second mode which plays back at normal speed providing a high speed slow motion effect. Very neat indeed.

Canons HS (high sensitivity) tag means that this little camera is a little better when it comes to low light performance than previous generations. No, its not going to be better than a camera with a micro four thirds sensor found in cameras like the Olympus E-PM1, APS-C sensor found in most digital SLRs or even the sensor that Canon uses in its top of the line compact cameras such as the recently released s100. If $400 were your budget and you could live with a 5 times zoom, the S100 is a more capable camera in a smaller package than the sx230HS. But heres the kicker, 99% of the time in day to day use, for the average user, the images produced by both these cameras are for all practical purposes the same. Unless you’re the kind who lives your days behind blacked out windows and have an eerie fascination with dilapidated funeral homes… or a photography enthusiast, where that little bit extra makes or breaks an image, spending $400 for a s100 is hard to justify. While it wont better cameras with larger sensors, it will outdo most of its peers and Canons own previous models. Keep it at ISO 1600 or below and life is decidedly good, which in fact “auto” mode does, quite intelligently. Below is an example of a low light image and a crop to show how much detail is preserved.

Handheld 1/30s, f3.1, ISO1600. auto mode.

Crop of the image above to show how much detail is preserved. There’s no camera shake induced blur thanks to image stabilization. And iso1600 is quite acceptable, all things considered. Image is straight out of camera with no adjustments.

The image above is a pretty good testament to how capable this camera is. The Fuji s2950 swallowed its own tongue when i try to capture the same scene as above.

Heres a few more samples from the SX230HS:

Sample 1. Auto, 1/50s, f4, ISO 100

Sample 2. Auto, 1/30s, f3.1, ISO 1000

Images straight out of the camera are pleasant indeed. Colours and exposure are spot on and while Canon takes a more heavy handed approach to noise reduction and sharpening especially at higher ISO, they display and print perfectly well. (at all but 100%.. but hey, who does that anyway?).  All but the most rotten cameras take great pictures outdoors which is why putting up samples of images shot outdoors are pretty much pointless. My ancient Canon Power Shot A20 takes perfectly good pictures outside. Its inside and with tougher lighting conditions that is the litmus test. If that fails, its pointless just how good it performs outdoors. 12.1 megapixels is more than adequate and the lens resolves fine detail pretty well.  Image quality is as good as it gets with this sized sensor and i have been so far, very impressed.

Battery life is good provided you keep the GPS turned off. For some odd reason even when powered off, the GPS unit isnt and will slowly drain the battery. The SX230HS takes SD, SDHD, SDXC memory cards and a couple of more obscure formats that nobody really uses. Does anyone really use MMC cards anymore?

$230 buys you a lot of camera and this Canon is about all the camera most folks would ever need. Its touted as a travel zoom, but fits the bill for just about any occasion. Its perfectly happy at home as well as travelling in your trousers pocket and it makes short work of what ever scene its presented with. There’s really very little i dont like about this camera. Theres enough here to keep everybody from dad dearest to little Johnny snapping away happily making memories. Using this camera for anything from daily snapshots to getting a little more creative is quite simply fulfilling. It doesnt fight you, its quick to getting to the point and its output doesnt disappoint. Nuff said.

-asmd.

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