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Canon PowerShot SX1 IS review

Maintaining the similar SLR like styling and high ratio 20x zoom of its predecessor, the popular S5 IS model, Canon’s new PowerShot SX1 IS adds several innovative features to the mix. Most notably, the SX1 IS is one of the first compacts to feature a new proprietary 10-megapixel CMOS sensor. It’s the same small 1/2.3-inch type (6.2x4.6mm) as that found in their other compacts, but the switch to CMOS may help reduce noise levels.

Also attractive is the promise of a fast 4fps burst rate, full HD (1080p) video clips for up to 30 minutes with stereo sound. And that’s not forgetting the 20x zoom, boasting a 28-560mm range in 35mm terms, all within a small and reasonably lightweight package.

As if that wasn’t enough, the SX1 IS has a flip-out and rotating 2.8-inch widescreen format TFT and Canon has recently added a Raw file capture option, though early adopters can now download a firmware update (version 2.0) and the necessary DPP processing software to bring theirs up to the current spec (existing DPP users can update here) . Previously Raw capture was only an option with the top-of-the range G-series compacts, but this, plus the powerful zoom and the tilting screen could mean the SX1 IS may tempt those potential customers too.

Build quality is a different story though. It is well made, and arguably better built than previous iterations but the plastic shell isn’t without the odd creak or two, especially around the bulbous handgrip. It’s also a good deal larger and heavier than either the G9 or the newer G10, a fact not helped by the inclusion of four AA batteries.

Like rivals of this type, the layout largely apes that of a DSLR with a shooting dial on the top plate, but a handy EOS style command dial placed to the rear means adjustments can be made easily while the camera is held to the eye. If we’ve a grumble with the controls at all it’s that you can’t set a B&W option while capturing Raw or Raw and Jpeg together. This means to compose using the screen in mono you must capture B&W as a Jpeg.

Despite that, in-camera B&W Jpegs are extremely impressive, and all the more so when using the new iContrast option to lighten shadow areas and reveal detail.

The 148k dot 16:9 widescreen electronic viewfinder falls behind that found in the Panasonic Lumix G1, in quality terms at least, but it’s still usable when checking focus accuracy thanks to an auto zoom option.

The same system can be used with the main LCD. When focus is achieved using the FlexiZone AF option, a small section of the screen, correlating to the position of the AF bracket, switches briefly to a magnified view. It’s not unlike the Live view systems of current DSLRs and a really useful feature that’s aided by the generally fast and accurate focusing and zooming.

A face-detection option works equally quickly and it’s quite something bearing in mind the size and complexity of the lens. Tested against a G9 we had to hand with its 9-point AiAF option though and it’s unsurprisingly slower. But given the huge range, it’s impressive all the same.

Like the G-series and several others in the range the SX1 IS features image stabilisation. And, with the equivalent focal length of 560mm in 35mm terms at the longest setting (in 4:3 aspect ratio), it’s without doubt an absolute necessity. We got the equivalent of around one and half stops from it but there’s also a Hi Auto ISO option that detects subject movement and hikes sensitivity and thus shutter speeds to lessen blur.

Noise levels are well controlled, by and large and compare favourably with the G9, a camera boasting a 12-megapixel CCD sensor with a 50-percent increase in surface area. Be that as it may though at ISO400 and above the SX1 struggles to deliver detail due to some pretty heavy noise reduction routine. While we can see some benefits from the adoption of a CMOS sensor, such as picture quality at low ISOs and burst rates of up to 4fps when capturing Jpegs, high-ISO performance isn’t noticeably superior to existing CCD sensors of the same size and resolution.

We were however suitably impressed with the quality of the HD video clips, but like the G-series cameras the SX1 IS lacks the versatility of a Mic socket. Be that as it may, the SX1 IS has to rate as one of the best of its type we’ve seen and while quite pricey, it can still be easily recommended.

Rating 4/5

$599.99, £439.99 (inc VAT)

Picture quality & detail at low ISO’s, build, wide-angle zoom, Raw file capture, excellent B&W Jpegs with iContrast option
Noise levels above ISO 400, weighty AA battery choice

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