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Canon PowerShot SX1 IS First Impressions

After a thorough review of the competition, I purchased a Canon PowerShot SX1 IS — a super-zoom camera with a 20x optical zoom. The camera comes with a strap, a remote control, an RCA cable, a USB cable, a gobo, mac/windows software, and instructions for use.

I have taken some test photos and videos, used the included software, and read through a significant portion of the manual. This post reflects my limited experience with this camera.

The Package

The paltry 32MB internal memory is completely insufficient for more than a few shots, so I had to purchase a 8GB SDHC card. Though the lens cap has a clip which easily attaches to the strap, I opted to get a lens cap keeper to reduce time between seeing a shot and taking it. This is somewhat important since the startup time of the camera is 1.3 seconds which is significantly faster than my old Sony Cybershot and I do not want to futz with the clip when I want to take a shot.

Because of the long lens, I chose to also purchase the more sturdy Joby Gorillapad SLR-Zoom which attaches to the bottom of the camera for shots which require stability. I am not sure if this is strictly necessary though the stiff articulated legs fill me with confidence.

The Camera

The camera itself is a pleasure to use. As a point-and-shoot camera in auto-mode, it makes good guesses for tint and available light to get the best picture possible. It generally works correctly for indoor and outdoor scenes and produces great results with little effort.

If you want to do anything beyond the basics, such as using the 0-10cm range super-macro mode, you have to leave the auto-mode. This is all covered in the included manual though it is sometimes difficult to match the mode and feature set starting on page 300 with the feature you happen to be reading about on page 73. The camera supports a wide range of program, aperture priority, shutter speed priority, and fully manual settings which are easy to use. I like that the camera itself will not go into an invalid mode though I would like it if the display would indicate why you cannot access a desired feature or steps to take to access that feature.

The display is on an articulated joint which allows hip shots and ‘myspace shots’ knowing exactly what will wind up in frame. Because of this articulation, the screen is a little smaller than 3″ fixed viewfinder found on many modern cameras, though I appreciate the trade-off. Another benefit of the articulated viewfinder is that it is protected in your bag if it is off. If the viewfinder is closed and the camera is on, the camera has a viewfinder which old-school shutter-bugs will appreciate.

Once familiar with the camera’s paradigms, the features generally work as you would expect though you absolutely must read the manual to understand those paradigms and features. The only feature of the camera which disappoints me personally is the manual focus which uses the dial on the back, making the viewfinder difficult to use and focus in general slow and laborious, and uses digital zoom to focus rather than an optical alignment feature like the old-school SLR cameras.

The Software

The bundled software is ‘ok’. There are two main packages of interest — the picture importer and the photo editor. The photo importer provides no clear way to simply import everything and delete everything on the device which is my most common use case. However, since iPhoto does not understand RAW photos, this is the only piece of software which meets all potential use cases. To accommodate this, I have configured my mac to not launch either program on import leaving me to launch the appropriate program on every import.

The photo editing software if fun and looks useful for more pro-am work than I plan to do in the immediate future. It includes RGB, brightness, and constract adjustment controls and support raw files and you can make post exposure white balance adjustments.

Conclusions

This is a first impression so there are no conclusions at this time! I think given my requirements to have an easy to use camera, which could double as a pro-am camera packaged with abundant optical zoom, I made the right choice. In the field of super-zoom cameras this camera is clearly the best. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 which features 12x zoom and no manual features would be a good choice for those not interested in manual features and a little more zoom than your typical PHD (Push Here Dummy) cameras.

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