on December 3, 2011
I've had this camera for a few weeks now and wanted to share some thoughts. First, this is my 5th compact digital camera (my 3rd from Canon), I also have owned 2 Canon DSLR's: the EOS 30D and the Rebel T2i (my current DSLR).
While I shoot better than 90% of my photos with my wonderful T2i, there are times that it is either impractical to carry the DSLR with me, or I just don't feel like lugging it around. That's where the compact camera comes in to play. Of the compact digital cameras I've owned, my favorite is still the old Olympus C-5050, it was a tank of a camera and a bit of a slow performer, but took some of the most beautiful photos I've ever seen. It's taken 2 previous Canon compact digital cameras to get me to a point where I'm really impressed with one again.
My first 2 Canon compacts were a mix of really bad and marginally OK. The first model, a PowerShot A570IS, took OK photos, but performance and battery life were quite poor. The second, an SD890IS Digital ELPH, I've used for the last 3 years and it's performed fairly well, but the performance in low light, the short zoom and the general quality of the shots left me often wishing I had my DSLR with me, or pining for my old Olympus.
But Canon has made some strides in improving the quality of their compact digital cameras and this can be seen in the SX230HS. At the price point, I'm very pleased with this camera. I would have given it 5 stars, but it's got just a few issues that force me to leave one star off the rating. Here are some notes I have on this unit, sorry it's a bit long-winded:
1. Good low-light performance for a compact camera. While the photos will be a bit grainy due to the smaller sensor size and high ISO needed for low-light, I am impressed at how well the camera performs indoors. I've taken photos in places where previous cameras always fired the flash, this camera left the flash off, which led to a much better looking photo. Again, it is a bit grainy, but I'd rather just get the shot.
2. Decent flash performance. Considering the size of the unit, the flash works well, actually better than previous compact cameras I've owned. If you want a long-range flash, either purchase the Canon HF-DC1 accessory or buy a DSLR with a utility flash.
3. Great video performance. Having owned 2 Canon DSLR's, one with HD video, I can honestly say that I will likely be using this camera as my primary video camera instead of the DSLR. Why? First, the auto-focus is active during shooting, something that my DSLR can't do. This is a huge issue because if I'm shooting a moving subject with my DSLR, I have to keep pressing the focus button, and the focus is pretty slow. Since I'm not shooting feature length movies, the quality from the smaller sensor size in the SX230HS is more than adequate for what I need. The sound performance during recording is quite good as well and they include a `wind screen' function/option to help quiet extraneous noise on a blustery day. The biggest problem with this camera when recording video is the size, it's a bit small to act as a `stable' video platform. This can be remedied by using a tripod or by learning to better brace the camera as you hold it. Like all video, it's best to keep panning slow rather than darting around the scene.
4. Focusing is relatively quick for a compact camera and the macro focusing works very well. I really like that the camera display keeps you updated on how close you can focus based on the lens zoom length. I've found this feature to be very helpful.
5. Good overall photo quality. Since this camera uses a smaller sensor, it's not capable of producing the quality of a DSLR, but I knew that before purchasing. For a compact camera, the picture quality is quite good. Colors seem to be accurate. Exposure using the auto modes is surprisingly good. Another bonus is that the automatic white balance seems to be very accurate as well. I went from fluorescent to incandescent to daylight and everything looked very good. As often as possible, try to keep the ISO under 400 for best results.
6. Zoom lens. This is the longest optical zoom I've ever owned in a compact camera. For my money, it is a great investment. While it does add weight and size to the camera, the trade-off is the ability to get shots I just couldn't get with a compact camera before. The quality of the optics appears to be very good and the lens is fairly `fast' with a max aperture at the wide angle setting (5mm) of 3.1, not bad for a compact, and a big bonus for those lower light situations. The zoom is quiet and moves in and out quick enough for me. Just be sure to use a tripod or rest on a sturdy surface at the long end of the zoom to help ensure you get sharp photos.
7. LCD display. Bright, colorful and large. No need to say more.
8. Manual Modes. I love this in a camera. Full manual, Shutter Priority and Aperture Priority. Depending on the shot I'm making, it's nice to have these controls available.
9. Automatic Mode. The automatic mode, which I'll use on the fly, seems to be very good at reading a scene and setting things up just right. I've been continually impressed with the overall look and exposure of photos taken in Auto mode.
10. Play Mode. I came across this by accident, but you can hold down the `play' button to review photos without turning the full camera on and extending the lens. This is a bonus to help preserve battery life. I didn't realize my previous Canon compact had the same feature.
11. Other modes readily available. I like the decision to put the Portrait, Landscape and Kids/Pets modes right on the dial. While I don't use them often, it's nice that you don't have to navigate a menu to get into these helpful modes.
12. Build quality. This camera is well made. It feels sturdy and the lines and color (mine is black/silver) just look good.
1. Size. It's a bit larger and heavier than my previous compact digital cameras, but I knew that before I bought it. The trade off for me was the longer optical zoom, which is worth the extra size and weight. For comparison, it's a bit smaller in length and width than an iPhone, a little more than twice as thick and the two are close in weight, though I haven't put them on a scale to compare.
2. Pop-up flash. I'm not exactly certain why Canon chose to go this route, but I can speculate. If you had placed the flash on the camera body in the usual location, the slightly protruding lens body would likely have caused shadowing of the flash. It does take some getting used to - just remember to hold the camera a little differently, which doesn't take long to adjust to. If you do forget and put your finger over the flash, it won't pop up when you turn the camera on; in this case you can manually raise the flash if needed by simply flipping the door open. Canon provided a small tab on the door just for this purpose. What I do now is rest the camera in the palm of my open left hand, then grasp the right side of the camera with my right hand. My left hand, while not in the `normal' position for holding a camera, becomes a nice stable platform while not interfering with the flash.
3. No hand grip. The lens body already projects from the front of the camera, so why not put a small protruding grip on the front of the camera near the shutter release? Sure this would mess with the nice Canon logo on the front of the camera, but it would make the camera much easier to hold, especially with one hand. Considering that you don't want to cover the flash, your grip with this camera must be modified from what normally feels comfortable with a compact camera. I think adding a small grip that protrudes no further than the retracted lens body would improve the design without affecting the overall size of the camera. Combine the lack of a grip with the smooth (very nice looking) finish and if your hands are just a bit dry, it can slip right from your fingers. Be sure to use the wrist strap!
4. No RAW mode. Since Canon appears to have aimed this camera at a market that includes DSLR users as well as casual users, it would be nice to have the ability to output RAW images for those of us that are inclined to use it. I shoot RAW exclusively in my DSLR and would really appreciate having it available here too. It really improves my post processing capabilities in Adobe Lightroom. Unfortunately, this is one area that I see many camera manufacturers seem to miss out on. There are a few select compact camera models that offer RAW out there, but they are usually expensive or lacking in some other area. This camera would be over the top if Canon would add RAW capability.
5. No optical viewfinder. I've noticed many people complaining about this. Having owned numerous compact digital cameras with optical viewfinders, I find them to be overrated. Sure, it can be difficult to see the LCD display in bright sunlight (or if wearing polarizing sunglasses), but I simply have learned to shield the screen with my hand. It's really no big deal. On the cameras I've owned that do have them, since they're so tiny, I'd say I used them less than 1% of the time.
As for battery performance, I can't say it's poor, especially compared to previous cameras I've owned. Depending on how often you zoom that big lens and how often you fire the flash or even use the GPS function, your battery life will vary. It could probably benefit from a slightly larger battery, though the NB-5L it comes with (the same battery my SD890IS uses) is more than adequate for the job. I would suggest if you are out for a long day of shooting and want to be covered, do what I do and carry a second backup battery.
Finally, if you can get past the minimal flaws in this camera, I think you'll be pleased with this camera. Canon, in my opinion, is really getting the hang of the compact digital market. With a few more improvements, this camera would be perfect. Considering the current price, I would not hesitate to buy this again.
Updated 12/6/11 - I removed one of my 'cons' as another reviewer pointed out the fact that this camera does have a quick way to access the video mode, rather than having to use the mode dial to get there. This is a nice feature and I'm glad it was pointed out to me.