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The Day the Last 2-AA Battery, Travel & Field Camera - Died
on September 8, 2013
As some of you know, the Canon SX100 series are my favorite cameras. I always carry the latest model with me in a video-camera-shoulder-bag (i.e. - "purse" for dudes,) everyday, wherever I go. I have owned and used all of them from the SX100 to the SX160. I have long-considered the Canon SX100 line of cameras to be "The Best 2-AA-Battery All-Purpose Travel and Field Cameras Ever Made." I have posted 5-star reviews of both the SX150 and SX160 here on Amazon during the last two years, and I have made it abundantly clear why I feel so strongly favorable of them.
Accordingly, I bought a new Canon SX170. I tested it out to compare it. For sentimental reasons, I intend to keep it. But for the most obvious of reasons, which I just indicated in the above statement, I'm not pleased with it. To the contrary, I am deeply saddened about what has now been completely lost to all consumers, worldwide - The day the last full-featured, full-manual-control, compact, 2-AA battery, travel & field camera left on the entire worldwide market - Died.
Here is a summary of my comparative conclusions.
SX160 IS vs. the SX170 IS - A CAMERA COMPARISON - THE BOTTOM LINE
The Canon SX160 runs on 2-AA rechargeable batteries.
The Canon SX170 runs on a Canon NB-6LH proprietary battery.
Other than the battery, the two cameras are virtually identical.
I will start with the conclusion first - There is no serious reason even to consider buying the new Canon SX170 instead of the previous model Canon SX160 ... unless you absolutely HATE using 2-AA rechargeable batteries in a camera.
Both cameras have exactly the same features, the same functions, and the same specs - except for the batteries. Cosmetically they are virtually identical cameras in almost all respects except for a small change in the shape of the grip on the right side of the SX170 camera. Functionally they both work exactly the same, and they both produce identical quality pictures. No changes were made to either the sensor or to the DIGIC 4 image processor to bring any improvement to the final images produced.
The initial Amazon release price of the SX170 is $179. (Sept. 2013)
The current Amazon price for the SX160 is $144, about $35 less. (Sept. 2013)
Literally, you have to HATE using 2-AA rechargeable batteries in a camera to want to pay $35 more for the same camera with a mini-sized proprietary battery that will only take about half as many shots with each charge, when the quality of the pictures you get will be absolutely identical with both cameras.
SPARE BATTERIES. Amazon is currently selling official Canon brand NB-6LH spare batteries for about $38 apiece. (Remember, people, your camera warranty is now VOID if you use a "cheap Hong Kong knockoff" proprietary battery in it. You do so at your own risk.) A spare pair of top-quality Sanyo [now Panasonic] brand "eneloop" rechargeable AA batteries can be bought on Amazon for about $4, but even "cheap" AA batteries won't void your warranty for the SX160.
That is the bottom line.
SX160 & SX170 - BACKGROUND INFO & THE "2-AA" BATTERY CAMERA.
The SX170 is the seventh model of the Canon SX100 line of cameras. This series began with the SX100 in the year 2007. From the beginning these cameras have always run on 2-AA rechargeable batteries. That has always been their strongest selling point - the fact that they use 2-AA batteries. If you happened to run out of rechargeable AA batteries, you could always buy spare AA batteries for them to keep taking pictures.
That is the main feature which made them ideal travel & field use cameras literally anywhere in the world.
The cameras of this SX100 series were all full-featured, with full manual control, and a good megazoom. They were also very affordable. Spare batteries for them could be purchased easily and economically. So these cameras were also inexpensive to use, too. And if you bought a new camera, you just transferred the rechargeable AA batteries to the new camera. You never had to buy any new (and much more expensive) proprietary batteries each time you bought a new camera. So in the long term, the AA battery cameras were always much less expensive for people to own and operate.
The new model SX170 no longer uses AA batteries. Instead it uses a mini-sized NB-6LH proprietary battery. These batteries are not readily available except by mail order unless you happen to live near a very large city. If you are traveling, the situation gets much worse. In many places the NB-6LH batteries will not be locally available at all. So the usefulness of the SX170 as a travel & field camera worldwide has been negated. If you are stuck in the middle of nowhere with dead batteries, then you are just stuck with no more pictures!
During the last couple of years, these Canon SX100 series cameras were the only full-featured, 2-AA battery, travel & field cameras still left on the world market. The SX160 was the last one. Now the consumer can no longer buy a full-featured 2-AA battery camera at ANY price, except for a few leftover models from previous years. And soon enough they will be gone too.
Some of you may realize the gravity of this loss, others may not. Most people don't miss things until they suddenly realize they can no longer buy them, because "they" don't make them anymore. And that is exactly what has just happened here. The day the SX170 was introduced was the day the last full-featured, full-manual-control, compact, 2-AA battery, travel & field camera left on the entire worldwide market - Died.
ERGONOMICALLY - THE "NEW" GRIP
There is a "not-so-new" larger grip on the right side of the SX170 camera. Canon claims it has "introduced" a design change with a larger grip on the right side of the camera for better one-handed shooting. Ergonomically. This will indeed be a fine feature for many people. I agree. But Canon's P.R. department says this was only made possible by using the new smaller proprietary battery. No. That is not true.
The original camera of this line, the SX100, had that same style, larger right hand grip on it, and it used 2-AA batteries. Canon removed that feature from the next model, the SX110, and made the overall camera flatter. Some of us would have preferred that Canon not make that design change, but that was Canon's decision.
Now Canon is "reintroducing" that larger right hand grip feature with the SX170, but it has nothing to do with having to drop the 2-AA batteries. I measured the two cameras with a set of calipers. The dimensions of the larger grip on the right side are very similar on both cameras - the grip on the original SX100 (using 2-AA batteries) and the grip on the new SX170 (using the new proprietary battery.) Canon could have "reintroduced" this same design change all along on any of the other SX100 series cameras, and still kept the 2-AA batteries in the camera just fine. So the justification Canon is giving for being able to make this design change is completely bogus.
RATING THE SX170
I'm giving the new Canon SX170 IS a 3-star rating only for sentimental reasons - it's still a Canon. It is still an excellent camera in many ways. It still has all of the same excellent features. ... But I won't recommend the SX170 to anyone.
Since it now runs on a proprietary battery, then it has to be compared to all of the other similar cameras today that run on proprietary batteries. And in that comparison, it does not measure up very well.
WHAT THE SX170 IS NOT
The Canon SX170 is not a fast-action camera, and it never will be. It still has all the same problems of the previous models. It has a noticeable shutter lag, a slower focus, a slow image processor, a slow maximum shooting speed of 0.8 fps (less than one picture per second,) a very slow flash recovery time, it doesn't work very well indoors or in low light, and it does not shoot full 1920x1080 HD video, either, only the older 1280x720 quasi-HD video.
The SX170 is not a good camera for taking pictures of fast-moving children or pets, fast-action sports moments, or fast-focus views of flying birds. The SX170 simply won't work for that kind of photography.
There are literally dozens of other more modern proprietary battery cameras out there today that can run circles around the slow-performing, antiquated design and performance of the older-design SX170. So if you really want a modern, fast-action camera that works well in low light and that also shoots full 1920x1080 HD video, then why would you even consider buying the SX170?
Canon designed the original electronics for the SX100 line of cameras way back in 2007.* These cameras were originally designed as, "Stand here while I take your picture" cameras. And basically that is what they still do best. Changing the battery isn't going to change the primary use for which these cameras were originally intended. No more than injecting "energy steroids" into an old dog is going to teach it to do new tricks.
If you want a modern, fast-action, full-HD video camera, then the SX170 will simply not work for you.**
* Actually it was released in 2007. Design precedes release by about 2 to 3 years, so essentially these cameras were designed almost ten years ago. Remember what that world was like? Digital cameras were low quality and high priced. Most people did not have PCs, and fewer still knew how to use Photoshop. Computer hard drives were 30 gigabytes - smaller than a standard 32 GB SDHC camera memory card of today. Photo paper for printers was terrible and would begin to fade out within months, gone altogether in a few years. .... Most people were using 35 mm film cameras with 36 shots for each roll of film, paying $27 or more at 75 cents per print each time for all the photos, both good and bad. (There was no "preview" feature before they were developed and printed. Besides, you could not "preview" photos very well by squinting at a tiny, color-reversed film negative.) ... Most people could not AFFORD to take more than a few pictures each month. Taking pictures was expensive! Every single picture had to count, so yes - literally - using a camera back in those days meant, "Stand here while I take your picture!" It didn't MATTER if they were slow. Getting your "36 prints" back from the developers at Long's Drug Store took two to three days anyway. That is the world in which the electronic circuitry for these SX100 series cameras was originally designed.
** (If you do want that however, which obviously many people do, then for a short list of modern, fast-action, full-HD-video cameras in a similar price range of the SX170, please see my post of suggestions in the Comments Section, page 1. For a comparative list of (almost all) current Canon point-and-shoot and bridge cameras, please see my post in the Comments Section, at the bottom of page 4.)
FOR A CLASSIC CAMERA WITH FULL FEATURES, USING "2-AA" BATTERIES, CONSIDER THE CANON SX160.
If, on the other hand, you do like the classic Canon SX100 series camera line - as I do very much - you have to like it for what it is. It is an older style, classic design, point-and-shoot camera. As such you simply have to accept the fact that it has some very real limitations. And those limitations are not going to be "fixed" simply by putting a different battery inside the same camera.
It makes no sense to buy a camera first, expecting it to meet your wants and needs, and then end up being disappointed when it doesn't. It works the other way around. You find the camera that actually does fit your personal wants and needs first, and then you buy that camera for yourself and enjoy it.
If you do prefer the convenience of owning a classic design, 2-AA battery, travel & field compact camera, then I suggest you consider buying the Canon SX160, on sale now, while the supplies still last. That is what I chose to do. I bought two more SX160 cameras, and tucked them away safely in a storage box for my future use and enjoyment for the time when my current SX160 either wears out or breaks down. If you are interested in the SX160, please see my own previous Amazon review of it - 5 stars and more, if I could.
The Canon SX160 is still my number one favorite camera I have ever owned, and I still plan to keep right on using it for many pleasant years yet to come.
Sincerely, and with best wishes to everyone, John AKA SLOphoto1
POST MORTEM - USING "AA" BATTERIES AS A RELIABLE POWER SOURCE.
Energy independence. That is one of the main reasons why some people - like me - have been fighting so hard for so long trying to keep the last remaining full-featured AA cameras on the market - If you can choose your own AA batteries in a competitive market, then you have total control over your own power source. And there is no future time limit for being able to still use your camera, either. ("They" don't make that battery any more.)
I still have my original digital camera, an Epson PhotoPC 600, from 1997. It runs on 4-AA batteries. It still works well, and it still takes some interesting pictures. They are particularly interesting because the pictures have an "older" look to them, because of the older camera technology. I don't have to fake this "older" look with special effects in a modern camera or with Photoshop manipulation. They genuinely look older because they really are "older," due to the older technology actually producing them inside the original camera right now.
Imagine trying to locate a proprietary battery for a fifteen to twenty year old camera? The only reason I can even still use that camera at all is precisely due to the fact that the camera was originally designed to run on 4-AA standardized batteries. The same thing will be true of the SX160 cameras of today. Fifteen or twenty years from now, they will still work just fine, because they were designed to run on AA batteries.
AA batteries were standardized way back in 1954. Almost 60 years later, in 2013, they are still the most widely used standardized battery in the world. And especially now that they make rechargeable AA batteries (as in "green" - reusable and even "renewable" if you use a solar-powered AA battery recharger,) there is virtually no doubt they will still continue to be very popular for at least another 60 years into the future, too. They are and will continue to be a very reliable source of power - for millions of different items. This will still be true long after the proprietary - and non-standardized - batteries of today will only vaguely be remembered as a passing fad (and expensive folly) of the early 21st century.
Non-standardized products have no long-term future in an increasingly globalized world.
That's my personal opinion about it, but speaking as a retired history teacher I am also asserting that based on actual and repeated long-term historical patterns and precedents.
Again, best wishes to everyone - John AKA SLOphoto1
UPDATE: A FEW WORDS ABOUT BATTERY USAGE - HOW MANY PICTURES PER CHARGE?
I've been asked to comment on battery usage. How many pictures should a person expect to take with each charge? Here is some data on that. This includes an actual field test I did myself of the earlier model SX150.
The proprietary battery in the SX170 - the Canon brand NB-6LH - is rated at about a 1060 mAh (milliamp hours) charge. The preferred, high-quality Sanyo [now Panasonic] brand "eneloop" rechargeable AA batteries are rated at about a 2000 mAh change (or about twice as much.) There is no great mystery to it. 2000 mAh of power will take about twice as many pictures as will 1060 mAh of power.
The SX160 and SX170 each require about 2.1 to 3.7 volts to operate the cameras. That requires either one NB-6LH proprietary battery (at about 3.7 volts) or two "eneloop" AA batteries at 1.5 volts each, (two for a total of about 3.0 volts.) The NB-6LH costs about $38 on Amazon. A pair of "eneloop" AA batteries costs about $4. Either system requires less than one cent of electricity to recharge each time. However, the NB-6LH will probably recharge only about 700 times, based on typical lithium-ion battery life spans, which have a pretty high burn out rate, whereas the "eneloop" brand AA batteries are advertised as being able to take at least 1500 recharges.
I haven't tested the SX160 and SX170 cameras yet for the number of shots they will take per charge in actual field use (where you are actually using the camera under field use conditions,) but I did do just such a test earlier for the SX150, and here are the results. (Reprinted from my earlier review of the SX150.)
"On a recent field trip to the local mountains near Monterey, CA, I set out with a fully-charged pair of eneloop AA batteries in the SX150, and I carried a backup pair of eneloop AAs just in case. I did a full day of shooting with 425 full-sized JPEGs and 8 minutes of HD video, and I used a lot of zoom and frequently turned the camera off and on too. That is a LOT of battery use for one set of AA batteries. The batteries finally ran out early the next day as I was testing some of the features on the camera."
Based on previous experience, when I actually get around to doing an actual, full-day field test of the SX170, I anticipate the results to be about half the amount of the results I obtained for the SX150 (or would similarly expect with the SX160, since the electronic circuitry is basically unchanged in all these SX100 series cameras.)
&&&&&&&& PLEASE NOTE: These cameras all show a "low battery" indicator based on a sensor which looks for a voltage drop. In the SX160 and in previous models, these cameras were designed to use regular Alkaline AA batteries which start out at about 1.5 volts (3.0 volts for two of them.) When they begin to drop too low, the low battery indicator appears on the LCD screen. Rechargeable AA batteries like the Sanyo [now Panasonic] brand "eneloop" type only recharge to about 1.2 or 1.3 volts (or 2.4 to 2.6 volts for two of them.) The internal sensor will "think" that they are running "low" long before they actually run out, once they begin to drop below the "warning point" for the internal sensor in terms of "low" voltage. They are not actually anywhere near "out." My advice is just to keep right on using them until the LCD on the camera finally tells you to "change the batteries," as it shuts down on you.
I hope that gives everyone a fairly good idea of what to anticipate with both the SX160 and the SX170 cameras in general terms of the number of pictures to expect per charge.
Again, best wishes to everyone, John AKA SLOphoto1
UPDATE: Sept. 30, 2013 - DESIGN FLAW DISCOVERED IN THE SX170. POTENTIAL DAMAGE TO THE CAMERA.
Recently while testing the Canon SX170 camera in the field I discovered a serious design flaw. This flaw became apparent entirely by accident through normal use of the camera. It seems that the camera suddenly and unexpectedly turns on or off simply while handling it in a routine manner. This is especially true when trying to pull the camera out of a coat pocket, purse or camera carry bag.
Apparently in one of the few design changes, Canon has now relocated the On/Off power button almost to the very end of the right-rear-top of the SX170 camera (literally, only about 1/4" from the right rear corner of the top of the camera.) This is the side where the new larger right-hand grip is also located. It is the natural hand position to reach into your coat pocket or carry bag and grab the camera by the main grip in order to pull it out. When you do, if your thumb happens to be on the top of the camera, you can very easily activate the camera and possibly jam or even break the lens-extension mechanism.
When the lens pushes out against a resistance (like still being confined partially inside a coat pocket,) then the lens stops and retracts, and there is a series of several quick "beeps," similar to those of the time-delay shutter release. The more serious aspect of this is that each time this happens it puts stress on the delicate gears inside the lens-extension mechanism. Eventually this type of stress can cause the lens-extension mechanism to fail, and the camera will no longer work. (You see them on eBay, "Lens won't extend outward.")
Back in 2008, Canon faced a similar problem - and a number of lawsuits - over this very same problem with one if its "G" series cameras. If the extending lens hit an obstacle, the extending lens would sometimes jam and the camera would become altogether inoperable until it was factory repaired. (And the warranty only lasts one year.)
The SX160 did not have this design flaw, nor did any of the other previous SX100 series cameras before it. All six of the previous models of the SX100 series cameras had the On/Off power button located safely inward toward the center of the camera by at least 3/4" to 7/8" from the right end of the camera.
I've taken a total of 58 shots with the SX170 camera so far, and this "accident" has already happened to me three times. This same easy activation has also suddenly turned the camera off twice while I was simply standing there holding it. This design flaw is an accident waiting to happen.
I don't know how much of this type of stress the lens-extension mechanism on the SX170 can take. I have never encountered this problem before with any of the other six models of the SX100 series that I have owned and used previously. They all had the On/Off power button located well inward at a safe distance from the right end of the camera. So I have never previously encountered this sort of "activation by accident" with the SX160 or any of the other previous cameras of this line. But this flaw does have the very real potential to cause serious damage to the camera, and even render it completely inoperable, just by the ease with which the SX170 can be so readily activated just by complete accident.
Earlier I said that I would not recommend the SX170 over the SX160 to anyone. Now I must say that I specifically recommend against it.
Once again, best wishes to everyone, John AKA SLOphoto1
UPDATE: JULY, 2014. - CANON SX170 DISCONTINUED.
As Amazon customers can plainly see, the Canon SX170 is now officially a DISCONTINUED, failed product. It is a dead dinosaur. The new lithium battery killed it. Without the 2-AA batteries, this camera was not competitive with other, more modern, more fast-action cameras.
As Amazon customers can also plainly see, the previous model, the Canon SX160 - which still used 2-AA batteries - is NOT a "discontinued, failed product." It is still very much alive and doing well. There will still be plenty of them around for a long time. The SX160 is still an excellent camera, and since it still runs on 2-AA rechargeable batteries, an inexpensive and reliable power source will always be available for it.
I still consider the Canon SX160, to be "The Best 2-AA-Battery All-Purpose Travel and Field Camera Ever Made." I always carry my Canon SX160 with me wherever I go, and I plan to do so for many years to come. As I previously said, I bought two extras for when the first one finally wears out. (Please see my 5-star Amazon review of the SX160 for details.)
As always, best wishes to everyone, John AKA SLOphoto1
&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&& End of Story.