on December 17, 2011
I bought this camera a month ago and I've passed the 2000 picture mark, so I guess I'll jump in and provide a review. I upgraded from the Canon PowerShot SX10 IS to this one and I've been thrilled with some of the new features and less than thrilled with others.
The quick verdict:
This is a great camera for anyone who wants lots of features and versatility but doesn't want to use manual settings and doesn't travel a lot.
Pros: great zoom range, nice picture and video quality, improved low light performance
Cons: ISO locked to 100 with >1 second exposures, proprietary Li-ion battery
The camera is a bit bulky, as you would expect from a camera with a 35x zoom lens, but I quickly got the hang of handling it. I tend to accidentally hit the zoom framing assist button when shooting. It seems to be right where my thumb wants to be when holding the camera, especially when switching between landscape and portrait orientation. I had similar issues with the SX10. I'm not sure I like the memory card being slotted in with the battery on the bottom of the camera. Access to the battery/card slot is blocked when attaching the camera to a tripod quick release plate.
The zoom range is a nice feature. The size of the full moon is about 1/5th along the long side of the image at full optical zoom and close to 850 pixels across. On a clear night, you can get some nice detail. Clipping the Raynox DCR-250 macro conversion lens on at full zoom and using a light box for trans-illumination, I was also able to take pictures of microscope slides at 125x total magnification on a 150 dpi test print. They look better than the images I took with a scope and CCD camera at the lab. Very nice!
Image quality and low light performance:
The image quality under low light and high ISO conditions has improved compared to the SX10. I took some images of kittens at the shelter in rooms that were poorly lit. With the SX10, I would end up with a lot of motion blur and noise on high ISO (800) images. Comparable images look better with the SX40, but some processing artifacts are visible when looking at the full size of the high ISO (1600) images. The camera ultimately was not able to stop the motion of kittens at play without the use of flash though, but I was expecting that under the poor light conditions.
Speaking of flash, the camera works well with the SpeedLite 270EX flash. The hot shoe can be covered with a plastic cap for protection when not in use. It took me a few tries to figure out the best way to take the cap off, but with a closer look at the design once you get it off it becomes obvious. Having long enough fingernails to get under and lift the front of the cap makes it easier.
Filters and lens accessories:
The lens can be fitted with the same 58 mm Lensmate filter adapter as the SX10. Thin filters will work fine at all zoom settings, but thicker filters like a circular polarizer or stacking several filters will cause vignetting at wide angle. A little bit of zoom or a 67 mm filter adapter may help avoid the vignetting issue. The lens cap that comes with the camera will no longer fit once you put the filter adapter on. And speaking of the lens cap - Canon put a tether on it, so it can be attached to the camera thus reducing the risk of losing it compared to the non-tethered cap of the SX10. While that is a plus, the SX40 does not come with a lens hood like the SX10 did. That would need to be purchased separately.
One thing I miss on the SX40 is the "sunset" preset under the SCN options that the SX10 offered. Out of all the SCN options on the SX10, that one probably saw the most use when I wasn't in M or Av mode, so I'll have to figure out an equivalent setting on the SX40. The snow, beach, and foliage settings are all still there, so why did the sunset disappear? The new settings such as miniature seem intriguing, but I haven't really gotten into exploring that yet.
Overall, the camera has a lot of good features. So why would I give it only three stars? There are at least two things that I would consider design flaws.
Let's start with the battery. This is a so-so issue, some good news and some bad news. The good news is the battery weighs less than the SX10's AA batteries, lasts longer (for about 1000 pictures), and fully recharges in under 2 hours while I often have to let the AAs recharge over night. The bad news is it is much more expensive to get a spare and inconvenient for travel. With the SX10, I could fly overseas and use my mom's batteries and charger in Germany in case I forgot to bring mine. If needed, I could rely on AA batteries being available at a souvenir shop or gas station. With the proprietary battery pack, if I forget to take the charger and 220V adapter with me or don't have anywhere to plug it in, the camera is dead once its battery pack runs out of power. You can't just buy a spare one at a gas station. If you have a spare battery pack in your possession, you have to package it according to TSA safety restrictions on Lithium batteries if you take it on an airplane. So there's a lot more to consider when traveling with this camera. If Canon offered the same camera with the option of using AA batteries, I would probably opt for that instead of the battery pack just for the sake of convenience when traveling.
"Manual" mode limitations:
The bigger issue though is that the camera does not have a fully manual mode. Sure, there is the M mode setting, but it has limitations. I noticed it when I took some night shots and the camera changed my ISO setting from 400 to 100 as I increased exposure time in M mode. When I tried to reset the ISO, it told me "ISO speed is limited due to slow shutter speed." The camera manual explains under Tv mode that when shutter speeds of 1.3 seconds or slower are used, the ISO speed is fixed to ISO 100. However, there is no warning about it on the page detailing M mode and I did not expect to find any limits in manual setting as it wouldn't really be manual then.
I emailed Canon support about it and they clearly did not get what I was asking about, so I called phone support. The guy I talked to was clearly not expecting this limitation either and at first told me I probably had a faulty camera and should send it in. However, he was then able to reproduce the effect on his camera much to his own surprise. He had to check with someone and finally came back with the information that the limitation is built into the firmware by design to "prevent overexposure and hot pixels on the sensor." No plans to upgrade the firmware to change that. He recommended cranking up the ISO to 3200 at 1 second exposure. That's not really what I wanted to do though. It's a bit of a joke really, or even insulting, to any photographer who knows what they're doing in M mode.
It is possible to get around this limitation using a CHDK hack. However, at this time there is only a buggy alpha version of CHDK available for the SX40. I gave it a try and while the ISO override worked, it wasn't the ISO I had set it for. E.g. setting the override at ISO 400 gave me pictures with ISO 640, and setting it for ISO 800 gave me ISO 1250. Regardless of the option of using CHDK, this limitation is like putting a child lock on M mode and it's a farce to call the resulting feature "manual mode." So that is my main disappointment with this camera so far.
Last but not least, I was also disappointed that Canon does not provide a printed manual with the camera. All you get is a PDF on the accompanying CD. It is set to print in postcard size, which results in a lot of white space and waste of paper when printing it. The resulting binder weighs more than a pound in paper weight. Neither the PDF nor the print out are useful as a reference in the field, at least not for me. The tech support person I talked to quickly promised to get a printed manual sent to me at no charge when I mentioned it though, so a phone call might be all it takes to get one. I haven't received it yet, but when I do I shall report what it looks like.
Overall, the SX40 is a nice camera with some great features, but unfortunately it is prevented from performing to its full potential by restrictions that Canon designed into the firmware. Canon's "design" of locking ISO settings in manual mode is almost an insult to more advanced hobby photographers, and it is clearly misleading to still call it "manual" if the camera is allowed to override the photographer's choices in settings. I don't think any other camera model in this quality and price class does that. However, those who do not use M mode routinely will probably hardly notice this limitation.
March 1, 2014 - It took six months of research before making the decision, but I did move up to the SX50. Other than the longer zoom which was a minor consideration, the SX50 had very little shutter lag, does much better in low light, focuses much more quickly, and has a spot focus where the SX50 focuses on a bird, for example, rather than trying to focus on the twigs and leaves in a tree. See my review of the SX50. (I had to buy two now that I got my wife involved in nature photography. Let's hope there's no SX60...)
Sept. 1, 2012 - Although I'm always leery that Canon will come out with a new model soon after I order a camera, I have just placed an order for an SX40HS for my wife! Some of you may think that it must be worth 5 stars now, and the answer is that it is not perfect. Shutter lag and spot focusing continue to be problematic. Low light even using a higher ISO is still an issue, but the lens and IS at 35x are superb. Many of the photos that I have posted with this review have recently won photo contests, and that is certainly due to the equipment almost as much as my knowing how to use it.
May 23, 2012 - I have now taken over 30,000 photos with this camera, and probably would have taken 50,000 except that I didn't start using the burst mode until 6 weeks ago. Once in a while, I do have the "universal" digital problem of the camera not "wanting" to focus on the object, especially when the subject is a bird in front of a grassy field or worse, a bird IN a mustard field, but I've learned a secret to correct this.
A bigger pain in the neck is that this camera is still not terrific in low light, and "low light" can be defined as a cloudy day rather than just indoors. The difference between sunny and cloudy can be 1/2500 of a second to 1/50th of a second. Canon disagrees, but I notice that they and all manufacturers still have cameras without the extreme zoom that are advertised to be perfect in low light.
The camera still gets 4.5 stars, and that's where it will stay. Would I buy it again? In a heartbeat, but now I really know this camera.
Nov. 3, 2011 and Jan. 13, 2012 - [Please see posted photos here and web site from my first days' and most recent shootings. A picture is worth a thousand words.] I will do a complete review as the weather clears and I can take some photos in various light conditions. So far, it has performed well enough, but there is a learning curve from the SX20 which allowed greater latitude in overriding what the camera "wants to do."
It may take a month before I can review the camera adequately, so I have uploaded some photos that I took on the first day, and I must say that they're pretty good. However, there were only 8 out of 51 taken. ...And then it started to rain. Please note that I am not new to the Canon line or (nature) photography: I have had the A620, S3, S5, SX10, SX20, and now the SX40. (I returned the SX30 which was a terrible disappointment.) And I've been taking pictures for over 60 years. So, unless you really get to know the camera - and even then - you may or may not get the results that I do.
On that note, I might add that I was sorely disappointed that Canon didn't pop for a printed manual which, with this camera, is a must. Unlike the SX20 for which I could use the SX10 manual, this camera is quite different and - so far - I think more complex or at least more different than the SX20. Because of the issues that I've run into just in 3 days, it's very difficult to cross-reference what it says under Av with Tv or C1. This is not the basic point-and-shoot Elph, and I rarely shoot in "Auto." As I said, I have to give it a couple of weeks before I'll pass judgment.
I must say that the photos that WERE already posted when I bought the camera gave me some trepidation in that so many were a little washed out. What I am finding so far is that, "Auto" might well be "Average." Average aperture, Average speed, Average contrast. But I purchased it anyway, and I've already found that Av or Tv or M are still the best settings although, unlike the SX20 where one could just set the speed and the camera would use the setting, I had to save the Tv settings to C1 or C2. This became routine by my third day (today).
Nov. 8, 2011:
Five days since I got the camera, and three days of shooting. I must say I've never seen so many comments regarding reviews, and many people have agreed with the more negative comments. What I've found is that the quality of photos I've taken have been excellent, needing very little post-production diddling. That said, and having used the burst mode, I'm deleting 4/5ths of the pix that I've taken, some because of duplication, some because of focus, and some because I just screwed up.
In looking at the negative comments, I would admonish people to decide before buying this camera - or any other camera - WHAT DO YOU WANT TO USE THE CAMERA FOR??? I take pictures of nature, some scenery, but mostly birds, bugs, bunnies, bees, bears, and begonias. The SX40 HS has done very well in these areas, and I realize that there is a learning curve for such extreme focal lengths and the macro (which I rarely use).
If you're going to take night time shots - which seems to have garnered so much comment about viewfinders and such - I can't address it. I took a picture of the (harvest) moon, hand-held, in Tv mode and it came out beautifully. But I don't take many nighttime pix, and I haven't had a chance to take fireworks in years. (If I want snapshots of people or parties, I use my wife's Elph.)
I am still having some difficulty in overriding what the camera is set for re: aperture and speed. The SX20 could be overridden just by setting the speed to 1/2500th and one would get a much darker picture which could then be adjusted with software. Sometimes, it's the only way to get realistic clouds. With the SX40, I set it for 1/2500 and when I shoot, the camera comes down to 1/1600 or slower. IF I ever get the printed manual that Canon promised, I'll look for the menu where I can increase the value of the photo by -3 to +3. Yeah, I'm being a little lazy, but I hate the .pdf manual on disc that came with the camera.
On the plus side, by coming down to 12 mp from 14 and by improving the processor, I can finally get SOME pix in low light or at least on a cloudy day. I've posted a few photos from the past few days: the two of the golden-crowned sparrows and the hummer were taken in low light and in thickets. They came out as sharp as anything I've ever taken with the SX10 or 20 (or S3 or S5 etc. etc.). Another plus, I am not having as much trouble with the SX40 focusing on a bird in the middle of a tree. The camera spots the center and at least HALF the time immediately seems to understand I want the bird not the branches.
IF every photo I took came out perfectly, where's the fun in photography? Yes, sometimes the SX40 frustrates me, but Mother Nature sometimes frustrates me. Sometimes I think Mother Nature is picking on me. I ALWAYS though that Canon picked on everybody. After all, why do they come out with an improvement (?) every 10-12 months? Okay, the SX30 was terrible...
I'll continue this in another week or so. For the time being, what I really like is the sharp photos I've been getting, and the 8 fps in the burst mode (the third is usually the best). I'm still not crazy about is the lack of an override for Tv and Av even using the C1, and I THINK the viewfinder is smaller than the SX20.
Oh, btw, this camera is a few crucial (after a 5 hour hike) ounces less than the SX20. It's probably because it has a proprietary battery instead of the 4 AAs. I like the weight. What I don't like is that Canon wants $59 for a second battery, and has warned me about buying from "the secondary market." Comments? Suggestions? I'd appreciate knowing if there's a reliable battery that will work with this camera. (One of the other dealers offering a second battery as part of the SX40 HS package has been called out for offering a battery that doesn't fit the SX40!)
I think it's silly to say that the LCD isn't as clear as a computer monitor. Never had one that was, and I'm often disappointed when something that looks in focus on the LCD is not nearly as sharp on my computer. After 12 years of digital photography, I've become accustomed to it. At least I didn't waste any film and have to wait two weeks to find out that my vacation pix are lousy.
Still 4 stars for the features, 5 for the photos I've taken, and 3.5 for Canon engineers.
Nov. 14, 2011.
I posted more photos which speak for themselves. However, there is a caveat: I took 191 photos this morning mostly of deer, wild turkey, hawks, one praying mantis, and one tarantula. Of the 191, I posted (on my own site) 9. Here, I posted 5. And I kept 11. 180 were deleted, and that brings up two points. The burst mode of 8 fps works. That is, the SX40 really can shoot at 8 frames per second. However, not all will be in focus; many will be identical shots; and it is not the panacea for carefully composing and focusing and being at the right setting. (If you need the burst mode, you may be best off in Tv because speed is what you're after.)
And please note: The battery is rated at being able to take 400 photos at the highest resolution and using the viewfinder (380 using the LCD). Well, if you shoot in the burst mode often or you take "movies," expect your battery to go in about 250 shots - and that's fast at 8 fps. I have just purchased two more batteries and, though they're not Canon "approved" because they're 1/4th the price, I'm hoping that I now will never run out of batteries while shooting. Will report on that when I get them.
Just one note re: the battery indicator. When the battery indicator is down from 3 (full) to 2 bars, it only takes 3-5 more photos to get it to show red and Charge the Battery. This isn't a lot more helpful than the old SX20 which allowed about 10 shots when it said to change the battery without any precursor. I was really looking forward to having a real battery indicator. This ain't it. Still 4.5 stars.
Nov. 22, 2011
I started this review on Nov. 3 by saying, "So far so good," but I had a few reservations. I no longer have reservations, and would definitely recommend the SX40 to anyone who is more than a novice photographer. This is not a "simple" point and shoot, and you may get more than what you need or even want.
It takes great photos, but you still have to know how to tweak its capabilities. If you're just going to keep this at "Auto," then you don't need this camera. However, if you really want such features as taking movies and using "my colors" and a quasi-fisheye mode, this may very well be the camera for you. If you want to take pictures in RAW, this is not the camera for you (it doesn't have RAW). I care about none of these things, so for me the camera gets 4.5 stars. If you want those features, this camera may be only a 3 or 4.
So basically, I'm content with my purchase. There's no second-guessing. No alternative would have made me happier. I REALLY like it, but I don't love it. BUT look at it this way: if I got perfect pictures every time, it would take all the fun out of digital photography. I still need room for creativity ... and improvement.