Canon PowerShot SX1 IS Review

The first model in Canon’s popular PowerShot S-series of superzoom cameras was the PowerShot S1 IS, which was introduced in 2004. Since then, the PowerShot S-series has received yearly updates that add more features and more megapixels, with the most recent upgrade being the PowerShot S5 IS, which was introduced in May of 2007.

In September of 2008, Canon announced not one, but two cameras that will succeed the S5 IS. The Powershot SX10 IS is the more affordable of the two models, and it has a 10-megapixel CCD sensor behind a 20-times optical zoom lens with image stabilization. The Powershot SX1 IS, on the other hand, is more expensive and includes a RAW mode, a CMOS sensor, a faster continuous shooting speed, and the ability to record HD 1080p video.

CMOS sensors have been used for quite some time in inexpensive imaging devices (such as mobile phones and no brand ‘keychain’ digicams), but up until now, they have not made their way into mainstream compact cameras. Canon was the company that pioneered the use of CMOS sensors in digital SLRs (beginning all the way back in 2000 with the EOS D30). The explanation for this is straightforward: they have simply not been good enough.

When compared to CCD sensors, CMOS sensors have more electronics incorporated into the chip itself, which results in less space being available for the actual light capture. When dealing with a sensor that has a wide surface area, this is not an issue; but, when working with extremely small sizes, it means that the sensor’s sensitivity is reduced, which results in noise as well as all of the picture quality concerns involved with eliminating the noise.

Any issues that were previously present with CMOS on big (DSLR) sensors have long since been resolved, and it is now the technology of choice in almost all models, with the exception of the most affordable ones. The effort to repair them for smaller sensors has taken a lot longer than originally anticipated, but it is one that continues to this day. This is because the opportunities presented by the on-chip processing capabilities of a CMOS sensor are simply too alluring for camera makers to resist (quite aside from the fact they use less power and are, in theory, a lot cheaper to mass produce).

Although few claims are being made about how the use of CMOS will affect image quality per se, they all sport unique features (high-speed capture, HD movies, and clever image stacking modes) which are only possible because of this technology. The SX1 IS, along with Sony’s HX1 and the Ricoh CX1, is the first in a new wave of CMOS-sensored’serious’ compact cameras.

The SX1 is a “hybrid” camera, meaning that it can take both still photographs and movies using a single device, much like its predecessors in this series, which date back to the original S1 IS (the S1 IS was one of the first cameras to feature a dedicated Movie record button).

The use of a 16:9 format screen and viewfinder, in addition to a CMOS sensor that is capable of recording in full 1080p, distinguishes the SX1 from the SX10 in that it is the only model in the series that prioritizes video capture almost as much as it prioritizes still photography.

Key differences between the PowerShot SX1 IS and the PowerShot S5 IS

  • Sensor with a higher resolution (10MP vs 8MP)
  • New 28 – 560 mm equiv lens
  • Digic 4 processor (S5 IS was Digic III)
  • LCD screen with a larger size and a greater resolution (2.8 inches vs 2.5 inches)
  • HD video recording at 1080p resolution (1920 x 1080)
  • ‘My Menu’ system
  • a significant rise in the rate of continuous firing (burst)
  • The RAW file format has been revived.

The SX1 IS is quite similar to the S5 IS in terms of its outward appearance; the two primary changes between the two cameras are the bigger LCD and the upgraded lens (which is both larger in diameter and extends out farther at the longest zoom setting). The exterior architecture of the SX1 IS is still predominantly made of plastic, with the exception of the hot-shoe, the tripod mount, and a portion of the lens barrel. Despite these enhancements, the SX1 IS is somewhat heavier and overall bigger than its predecessor.

The SX1 IS seems even more like a “miniature SLR” in design than its predecessor did due to the deep hand grip and bigger lens that it has. This perception has been bolstered by the reorganization of the buttons, which makes it simpler to manage the camera with only one hand; the addition of the back scroll wheel, which is a feature seen on many EOS SLR cameras; and the darker finish. The build quality is good despite the fact that it is made of plastic, with the exception of the hand grip, which has a slight degree of pliability when pressure is applied to it.

The S5 IS was criticized for having a control layout that wasn’t as user-friendly as it may have been if it had been designed better. In comparison to the SX1 IS, this has been improved, and the buttons are now clustered together in a largely logical structure.

One example of this is the newly designed rear multi-controller, which features direct access to the photographic controls that are utilized the most. Additionally, the FUNC button located in the controller’s center provides access to the controls that do not feature a dedicated external control button. The multi-controller may also be used for navigating inside the menus themselves.

The majority of the buttons on the camera are somewhat recessed so that they are not easy to unintentionally push (with the exception of the new multi-controller located on the rear of the camera), and the top mode dial is satisfyingly ‘clicky.’ Although there are some settings that require you to delve into the menu system in order to configure them, the SX1 IS behaves and appears to be more like a genuine camera than a computer with a lens attached to the front of it. You will need to delve into the menu system in order to configure certain settings.

Within Your Control

The handgrip is quite comfortable, and all of the main picture parameter settings are grouped together on the right side of the camera, making it possible to operate the device with only one hand. In spite of the fact that the camera is nearly entirely made of plastic, it has a sturdy feel to it, and the fact that the batteries are stored in the hand grip contributes to this. Even though it is one of the heaviest cameras in its category, the Canon PowerShot SX1 IS feels perfectly balanced in your palm and is pleasant to use even for extended periods of time.

The SX1 IS requires four regular AA batteries, and the use of NiMH cells is encouraged and what we did for our evaluation. The camera does not come with any batteries of its own. The battery door is exceedingly difficult to operate, making it more difficult to close than it is to open. This is similar to the battery door on the S5 IS. The SD card slot is no longer located in the same compartment, which is a positive development because it will reduce the number of times you have to open and close the door.

This is the new location for the SD card compartment; it has been moved back to the same spot that it had on the S3 IS. It is possible to remove the card from the camera even when it is mounted on a tripod, and the door is spring-loaded, which makes it very simple to open and close. The electronic viewfinder (EVF) of the SX1 IS has a resolution of 148,000 pixels, a 0.4-inch screen, and a 16:9 aspect ratio.

This is nicer than the one on the S5 IS, which has 115,000 pixels and a 0.33-inch display, but it’s not as great as the one on the SX10 IS, which has a 0.44-inch display, 235,000 pixels, and a 4:3 aspect ratio (which is cheaper). However, the electronic viewfinder (EVF) included in the SX10 IS is considerably superior to the one found in the SX1 IS. The new back LCD display found on the SX1 IS is an improvement over the one found on the S5 IS. Not only does it have a larger size (2.8 inches as opposed to 2.5), but it also has a slightly better resolution (230K pixels as opposed to 207K), and perhaps most notably, it has a 16:9 aspect ratio.

There is a problem, shared with the EVF, of image ghosting when rapidly rotating the camera or when shooting things that are moving quickly. The refresh rate is pretty high, and the color and contrast are also satisfactory. You are able to take pictures from whatever position you can twist yourself into since the LCD has an articulated design that allows it to swing out through 180 degrees and swivel through 270 degrees. This allows you to take pictures from up high, down low, and any other position in between. It also enables you to ‘flip’ the screen (so that the LCD face is flat against the back of the camera), which shields the screen from damage when the SX1 IS is carried in a bag.

The design of the shutter release and zoom rocker remains virtually identical to that of the S5 IS. There are other superzooms available that have a better release feel than this one. The shutter release is large, but the half-press position for focusing is not well defined and has a mushy, spongy feel. You may make more precise changes to the lens’ zoom by tapping the zoom rocker, or you can speed up the zooming process by pushing the rocker all the way in.

The playback magnification may also be adjusted using the Zoom rocker (and activates thumbnails). The built-in flash that is included with the SX1 IS is a pretty strong device; nevertheless, its recycle time is extremely sluggish. In contrast to the S5 IS, it does not pop up but rather requires you to manually raise it up in order to see the screen. In the auto mode, the camera will determine if the flash is required; thus, raising up the flash will necessarily turn the flash on. On the other hand, in manual mode, the flash will fire whenever it is pulled up, regardless of whether or not the camera is in auto mode.

When using the manual flash mode, lifting up the flash to turn it off will turn off continuous shooting. Since the flash hot-shoe from the S5 IS has been carried over to the S7 IS, you will be able to use any of the Canon Speedlites as well as other hot-shoe attachments. Additionally, you will be able to use the camera with studio flash. A new lens is included with the release of the SX1 IS (also used in the SX10 IS).

It has a wide-angle setting of 28 millimeters and a telephoto setting of 560 millimeters, giving it a zoom ratio of 20. (impressive enough, but surpassed by the latest round of 24x and 26x superzooms). The lens has optical image stabilization (IS), which will assist in maintaining the sharpness of photos captured at the maximum focal length of the zoom range.

Unless you utilize it at maximum speed, the USM-powered zooming motion is completely quiet. When powered up at 28 mm, the lens expands to a length of around 21 mm (0.8 inches), while at maximum 560 mm zoom, it extends to a length of approximately 55 mm (2.2 inches).

The actual focal length, as well as the 35mm equivalent, are neatly indicated on the top of the lens barrel, along with the zoom settings. It is feasible to attach a 52mm filter to the front of the lens, despite the fact that Canon does not officially support the use of filters.

The high-speed USB 2.0 connector and the HDMI port are both positioned on the side of the camera behind a plastic cover that does not like to remain open. The cover is not removable.

The playback button, the exposure compensation/image rotation button, and the focus select/delete button have all been relocated to their new positions just next to the thumb rest. The SX1 IS is a camera that focuses on shooting rather than playback, hence it does not have a specific playback mode. The new position for the AV out connector as well as the DC-in connector may be found concealed by a plastic cover. When you let go of it, just like the cover that goes over the USB and HDMI ports, this one will snap back into place.

The multi-controller that was included on the S5 IS has been replaced with a combination controller that features a manual focus select, macro mode selector, ISO selection, drive mode selector, and a function/set button in the center. The issue with this new controller is that the scroll wheel is extremely mushy and sluggish, to the point that it is nearly impossible to use.

It is fortunate that the entire control cluster continues to function as a D-pad while navigating the menus; nevertheless, the wheel remains the sole choice for choosing aperture and shutter speed when shooting in TV, AV, or M mode. When in shooting mode, the new ON/OFF button illuminates a brilliant orange light; when in playback mode, it illuminates a green light.

It is positioned adjacent to the primary control dial, which has mostly retained its previous function. New scene modes have been added, however, they are difficult to access since they are buried under the SCN setting on the dial. Through the use of the menu, the direct print button may be assigned to any one of ten different purposes (2 more than the S5 IS). The button labeled “aspect ratio” allows you to toggle between the 4:3 and 16:9 viewing modes.

The camera defaults to shooting in the 4:3 aspect ratio, however, the maximum video resolution is just 640 by 480 pixels. In 16:9 mode, the video is always recorded in high definition (1080p), but the maximum still image resolution is just 8 megapixels. Additionally, the field of vision of the lens is significantly diminished (to 29-580mm). The tripod socket is not aligned with the optical center of the lens as it has been for some time.

Even if this is standard for cameras in this category, it is still a nuisance, especially considering that Canon has a panoramic aid option on this camera. The SX1 IS comes with a bayonet hood already attached. It does not click into place very firmly, which means that it can easily become dislodged or fall off in your luggage, or when you remove the camera from its bag. Any rotation away from the right position at the broad end may create vignetting in the photos.

The workings and the controls

People who have used PowerShot cameras in the past or now will find the SX1 IS immediately recognizable since it marks another incremental step in the history of Canon’s superzoom cameras. In addition, the SX1 IS features a new optical image stabilization system. When compared to the S5 IS, some of the buttons have been relocated to various areas of the camera, and a new combination of a multi-controller and scroll wheel has been introduced.

At first sight, the mini-slr’ style and controls may appear to be intimidating; yet, all of the essential functions are straightforward to operate, and you will most likely become comfortable with the camera very soon thanks to the large variety of auto and scene settings. External buttons on the SX1 IS provide access to the majority of the shooting functions that are typically utilized, and you may superimpose virtually any piece of data onto the LCD or electronic viewfinder while the camera is active.

In the same vein, as the S5 IS, video recording is something that is given a great deal of importance (even more so on this model because it can record 1080p HD video), with the almost silent lens operations (zooming, focusing, and IS) keeping camera noise down, and the wind filter keeping unwanted external noise to a minimum. Similar to the S5 IS, this model also records 1080p HD video.

Quality of the Image

A Perfect White Balance

The Canon PowerShot SX1 IS digital camera has seven different white balance settings, including an automatic mode as the default as well as a manual (custom) white balance option. To use the manual (custom) white balance option, point the camera at a white (or gray) subject and press the DISP button. The automatic white balance looked to operate fine outside, but the photographs it produced had a discernible tint when shot in dimly lit indoor environments.

If you want your interior photos to have a more natural look, you should use one of the presets instead of manually adjusting the color settings (or custom WB). When compared to the S5, the IS WB performs somewhat worse in incandescent light, but it performs far better in fluorescent lighting conditions, both in auto and preset modes.

As we have discussed in the past, Canon has informed us that the warm tone that is produced by the incandescent auto-white balance setting is purposeful and is supposed to maintain some of the “atmosphere” that was present in the scene being photographed.

Performance in a Flash

The built-in pop-up flash unit has a range of 4.0 meters when set to telephoto and 5.2 meters when set to wide-angle (when the ISO is set to auto). When put to use, we discovered that it worked quite well, with the majority of interior flash photographs exhibiting ideal exposure.

The FUNC menu has a Flash Exposure Compensation option that ranges from -2.0 to +2.0, and the AF illuminator assists with focusing in low light conditions (even if it isn’t powerful enough for such a long zoom camera; it only truly works at distances of approximately 1.3 meters and below).

The flash hot-shoe from the S5 IS has been carried over to the SX1 IS. Although it is only compatible with Canon’s 220EX, 270EX, 430EX II, and 580 EX II Speedlites, the SX1 IS should provide full devotion when used with any Canon-compatible flashgun.

Macro Focus

Despite the new lens, the performance of the telephoto end of the macro mode is extremely comparable to that of the S5 IS. This includes comparable magnification as well as very low distortion. The camera has some trouble focusing at macro distances when it is set to the long end of the zoom range, and it will claim that it is in focus even when it is not truly in focus. The SX1 IS can focus all the way down to zero millimeters when it’s at the widest point of its zoom range, which results in very high magnification and significant quantities of distortion.

The SX1 IS also has a super macro mode, which locks the lens to its widest zoom setting (28 millimeters) and is designed to do a better job of macro photography than the standard macro mode by enabling the camera to focus on a subject that is only 0 centimeters away from the front of the lens. This mode is only available when the lens is set to the super macro mode.

The results of shooting in the super macro mode were the same as those generated by shooting in regular macro mode with the lens set to its widest zoom setting. This is because the standard macro mode can focus on an object that is touching the front of the lens.

Movie mode

Because of the improved CMOS sensor, the SX1 is able to capture video at 1080p (1920 x 1080) resolution at a frame rate of 30 frames per second. This is one of the most significant distinctions between the SX10 and the SX1. The movies are recorded in Quicktime format, and the files are actually not heavily compressed. This ensures that the final videos are rich in detail, but it also means that the file sizes can get quite large; if you intend to record a lot of high-definition videos, you should invest in a memory card with a large capacity. 640×480 and 320×240 video resolutions are also available, with the latter having the ability to be produced at a frame rate of 60 frames per second.

In any mode other than playback, all you have to do to record a video is hit the large movie recording button that is located to the right of the electronic viewfinder (EVF) (movies will be captured with the current video setting specified in the FUNC menu).

There is also a setting on the mode dial that is specific to video recording. When this setting is engaged, the amount of options that are displayed in the menu is condensed down to only those that are relevant to movie recording. You are also able to make use of a large number of the settings that are accessible in the stills mode, including (if you really want to) the special effects that are located in the MyColors menu.

During the process of shooting a movie, you have access to all of the camera’s settings, including zooming, autofocus, and image stabilization (IS). All of these settings function in a very quiet manner, so there is no aud Because the autofocus on the SX1 IS is fairly sluggish and because this slowness is especially obvious while making movies, it is a good idea to prefocus the camera before beginning to record any videos if you do not want the results to be fuzzy. You also have the option to take still photographs while the movie is being recorded; doing so will interrupt the recording, but the still photograph will be saved in its own file.

Overall conclusion

Let’s start with the positive things. The SX1 IS is an attractively designed and user-friendly camera that features a zoom range that is extremely beneficial and an efficient image stabilization technology. The SX1 IS is a camera that has the potential to become one of your favorite toys because this, in addition to the new interface and features that come with Digic 4, such as auto ISO, the slightly tweaked interface, and fast shot-to-shot speeds, as well as RAW mode, which is something that is rarely seen in cameras of this class.

The utilization of CMOS technology has also enabled Canon to incorporate HD 1080p video recording, making it the first of a family of superzoom cameras to have this function. On paper, if you were looking to purchase a superzoom camera, the SX1 IS ought to be towards the top of your list of possible options to consider.

However, cameras do not simply exist in their technical specifications or on websites. After being obtained, the SX1 IS is unable to live up to the expectations set by the CMOS sensor (which Canon is known for in their EOS range of DSLR cameras). Although the image quality isn’t horrible, it is really somewhat worse than that of the considerably more affordable SX10 IS, and the high ISO noise performance is squarely in the realm of tiny cameras.

The photographs it produces immediately reveal that it is not a junior DSLR, despite the camera’s best efforts to give the impression that it is. Even while there is a RAW mode that gives you control over the picture processing, it does not offer any more dynamic range. Instead, it just gives you control over the white balance, the degree of noise reduction, and the level of sharpening.

Aside from the more expensive SX1 IS’s support for RAW mode, the more affordable SX10 IS’s lack of support for 1080p HD video capture is the other major difference between the two cameras. Although this may seem to be of little importance, the image quality issues that come with the smaller sensor, such as noise, are still present in the movies. Additionally, the “jelly effect” that is typically caused by the rolling shutter that occurs when panning with CMOS sensors is also visible in these films.

When it comes down to it, the price difference between the SX1 IS and the SX10 IS is enough money for you to get an excellent HD video camera that would provide you with video quality that is at least comparable to that of the SX1 IS.

All of these things should not be taken as evidence that the SX1 IS is a poor camera. In the correct circumstances, it has the potential to generate attractive effects; this is especially true if the end product is going to be used for tiny prints or online galleries. And the expensive price will be justifiable for some customers since it offers the ideal blend of adaptability, functionality, and size.

But at this price range, and with low-end DSLRs constantly going down in price, we don’t think there will be many people like that, especially considering that you can buy practically all of the same capabilities in a much cheaper package elsewhere (in the SX10 IS).

In the past several months, a number of new superzoom cameras have been launched. Each of these cameras has quick capture rates, an increasing number of new capabilities, and a zoom range that is getting larger and broader. It is too soon to say how the SX1 IS compares to these new cameras; nonetheless, it will be fascinating to observe how this market niche develops in the future.

Although it is interesting, the SX1 as it currently stands does not provide enough value to justify the high price that it commands. I am confident that as the price of the SX1 drops, it will become more appealing to a wider variety of potential buyers; however, it is impossible to comprehend why you would purchase the SX1 instead of the SX10 IS.

Canon PowerShot SX1 IS Specifications

Sensor• 1/2.3” Canon CMOS
• 10 million effective pixels
Image sizes• 3648 x 2736
• 2816 x 2112
• 2272 x 1704
• 1600 x 1200
• 640 x 480
• 3640 x 2160
• 1920 x 1080
Image processorDIGIC 4
Movie clips• 1920 x 1080 (HD) @ 1080p
• 640 x 480 @ 30 / 15fps
• 320 x 240 @ 60 / 30 / 15fps
• WAVE (stereo)
File formats• Still: JPEG (Exif 2.2)
• Still: RAW
• Still: RAW + JPEG Large/Fine
• DPOF 1.1
• Movie: Quicktime MOV format
Lens• 28- 560 mm equiv (aspect ratio 4:3), 29 – 580 mm (aspect ratio 16:9)
• 20x Optical zoom
• F2.8 – F5.7 (max)
• 13 elements in 11 groups (1 aspherical element, 1 UD element)
Image stabilizationYes (Lens shift-type)
Conversion lensesYes
Digital zoomup to 4x
Auto focus• TTL
• AiAF (Face Detection / 9-point)
• 1-point AF (Fixed center)
Focus modes• AF: Single, Continuous
• Manual
• Focus bracket
AF assist lampYes
Focus distanceClosest 0 cm
Metering• Evaluative (linked to Face Detection AF)
• Center-weighted average
• Spot
ISO sensitivity• Auto
• High ISO Auto
• ISO 80
• ISO 100
• ISO 200
• ISO 400
• ISO 800
• ISO 1600
Exposure compensation• +/- 2EV
• 1/3 stop increments
Exposure bracketing• 1/3-2EV
• 1/3 stop increments
Shutter speed15 – 1/3200 sec
ApertureF2.8-5.7 (max)
Modes• Auto
• Program AE
• Shutter Priority AE
• Aperture Priority AE
• Manual
• Custom
• Portrait
• Landscape
• Night Scene
• Sports
• Stitch Assist
• Movie
• Special Scene
• Super Macro
Scene modes• Indoor
• Night Scene
• Foliage
• Snow
• Beach
• Fireworks
• Color Accent
• Color Swap
• Long Shutter
• Aquarium
White balance• Auto (including Face Detection WB)
• Daylight
• Cloudy
• Tungsten
• Fluorescent
• Fluorescent H
• Flash
• Custom
Self timer• 2 or 10 secs
• Custom or Face Self TImer
Continuous shootingApprox. 4.0 fps until card fills
Image parametersMy Colors (My Colors Off, Vivid, Neutral, Sepia, Black & White, Positive Film, Lighter Skin Tone, Darker Skin Tone, Vivid Blue, Vivid Green, Vivid Red, Custom Color)
Flash• Auto
• Manual Flash On / Off
• Slow Synch
• Red eye reduction
• Flash exposure lock
• Flash Exposure Compensation +/- 2EV in 1/3 stop increments
• Manual Power adjustment
• Second Curtain Synch
• Range: 50 cm – 5.2 m (wide) / 90 cm – 4.0 m (tele)
Hot-shoe• Canon EX Speedlites (270EX, 430EXII, 580EXII and older models)
• E-TTL with EX series Speedlites, Canon’s High Power Flash HF-DC1
Viewfinder• EVF (0.40″ type)
• 148,000 pixels
LCD monitor• Vari-angle 2.8″ TFT
• 230,000 pixels
• Adjustable Brightness
• 100% Coverage
Other features• Playback red-eye correction
• My Camera
• Sound Memo
• Image tagging
• Orientation Sensor
• Histogram
• Playback zoom
LanguagesEnglish, German, French, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Italian, Norwegian, Swedish, Spanish, Simplified Chinese, Chinese (traditional), Japanese, Russian, Portuguese, Korean, Greek, Polish, Czech, Hungarian, Turkish, Thai, Arabic, Ukrainian, Romanian, Farsi
Connectivity• HDMI Mini Connector
• USB Hi-Speed
• AV out
Print compliance• PictBridge
• Canon SELPHY Compact Photo Printers and PIXMA Printers supporting PictBridge (ID Photo Print, Fixed Size Print and Movie Print supported on SELPHY CP & ES printers only)
Storage• SD / SDHC / MMC / MMC Plus / HC MMC Plus compatible
Power• Compact AC power adapter CA-PS700,
• Battery Charger Kit CBK4-300
• Ni-MH Batteries NB4-300
Weight (no batt)585g (20.6 oz)
Dimensions128 x 88 x 88 mm (5 x 3.5 x 3.5″)

Pros & Cons

Good For
  • High quality and vibrant colors
  • Mode for rapid-fire continuous shooting (with AF off)
  • The incredible diversity in photography because of the 28-560mm lens and the extreme macro mode
  • Even in automatic mode, a high “hit rate” may be achieved because of generally precise focus.
Need improvement
  • The play button is in what may seem like an inconvenient location for some.
  • The package does not come with any rechargeable batteries.
  • Expensive
  • It is difficult to maintain focus in low-light conditions and at the telephoto end of the zoom range.
  • Although the electronic viewfinder has been enhanced, it is still not very good and the more affordable SX10 IS does a better job.

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