Canon's compact PowerShot SX lineup has ruled the roost for the past half of a decade, and the Canon PowerShot SX260 HS ($349.99) picks up where the SX230 left off. In the last episode, the Canon PowerShot SX230 HS had boosted its optical zoom capabilities, added a few fun digital filters, matured to 1080p HD recording and tacked on GPS with logging and Google Maps. The Canon PowerShot SX260 HS carries the torch with a new 20x optical zoom lens, Digic 5 image processor, improved Highspeed Burst HQ mode and several new shooting features. However, not much has changed in terms of the camera's imaging hardware, as the Canon PowerShot SX260 HS carries over the same 1/2.3-inch 12-megapixel HS sensor from last year. Are the upgrades on the SX260 HS worth the $50 addition to last year's MSRP? Read on to find out.
Canon PowerShot SX260 HS Design
Externally, the Canon PowerShot SX260 HS has been influenced by the architecture of the PowerShot S100. The SX260 HS now has a right side grip and sheds the unsightly GPS hump found on the SX230 HS. Canon did succeed in a few noteworthy upgrades, the first being the slightly larger battery pack that offered a tad more juice. Although the battery life on the SX260 HS left much to be desired, the camera did outlast the SX230 HS when it came to stamina.
Secondly, Canon redesigned the automatic popup flash so that it doesn't flip up when the camera is powered on. Now, the flash will only peek out of its little hiding place if you manually select the flash through the menu system. This is a huge improvement, especially for users who grew tired of manually pressing down the flash when it was not needed.
Canon also boosted the PowerShot SX230 HS's zoom to a 20x optical magnification, compared to the SX230 HS's 14x optical zoom. The SX260 HS's lens is now wider, achieving a 25mm wide-angle equivalent compared to the SX230 HS's 28mm capability. However, this comes at a price. The SX260 HS's lens now has a base aperture of f/3.5 while the SX230's base aperture was f/3.1. This is about a stop slower for the SX260 HS, and I think it swindled away some of the camera's low light sensitivity.
While I don't miss the GPS hump, I feel as though Canon should have migrated the Mode dial on to the top of the camera, as I always found myself inadvertently toggling it. The four-way directional pad with spinning Control dial was a nice return, though I wanted an improved LCD screen, especially since Canon is asking $50 more than last year's model. 921,000-pixels should have been the resolution this year instead of the same 460,000-pixel display we saw last year.
Canon PowerShot SX260 HS Shooting Features
All of the same lovable features from the SX230 HS made their way onto the SX260 HS, but Canon added a few new tricks to the arsenal. First off, the Smart Auto mode has been fortified with 58 predefined Scenes; a boost from last year's 32 Scenes. This means that the SX260 HS has a more extensive library of automatic settings to deploy, based on the shooting environment. Whether the effects were profoundly noticeable or not, there's no denying the fact that Canon has one of the best Auto modes in the industry.
Canon also featured the new Face ID system. Face ID stores up to 12 faces and attaches a name and information to that said face. So, if I'm shooting pictures of my dear friend Noah Kravitz, I can snap a picture of his face, enter his name and birthday, and every time he appears in the frame, the camera will automatically recognize him and will adjust the exposure and focus to suit his particular visage. Gimmicky, yes. But I tested it with a self-portrait photoshoot extravaganza and the SX260 HS actually did an admirable job making me look like a treasure trove of gold-covered diamonds.
Moving on, the strangest new shooting mode introduced on the Canon PowerShot SX260 HS was Discreet mode. In Discreet mode (signified by an icon of what I believe to be a librarian executing the "shh" gesture), all camera sounds are silenced. This incudes menu beeps, shutter sounds, focus indicators and anything else you can think of that would make a peep on a digital camera. I renamed this mode Paparazzi mode. Then I renamed it Stalker mode.
Then there's a new Live mode. In Live mode, the user adjusts camera exposure and color via three sliders: Dark Light, Neutral Vivid and Cool Warm. This is very similar to a system Nikon has been featuring on its point-and-shoot cameras for the past few years now. For beginners, it's a great stepping stone to the more advanced shooting modes.
Of course, the Canon PowerShot SX260 HS has plenty of Manual power with a shutter speed that dips down to 15 seconds, ISO that reaches 3200, and aperture adjustment (although f3.5-f8.0 will not really give you much to play with). Manual Focus is nice and responsive, though the lame LCD resolution makes the magnified Focus Assist box virtually unusable. That's okay, since Auto Focus is the way to roll on point-and-shoots anyway.
A few last things. The Canon PowerShot SX260 HS was a bit slow overall in terms of operation and autofocusing. The GPS system was nice, but took a while to acquire a signal (5-10 minutes). And be sure not to leave GPS Logging on overnight or you'll wake up with a dead Canon in the morning! The Canon GPS Map Utility is easy to use and polished with Google Maps support, so that is a nifty feature for the world travelers out there.
Canon PowerShot SX260 HS Image Quality
The Canon PowerShot SX260 HS is equipped with a 1/2.3-inch 12-megapixel HS CMOS sensor; the same sensor found in the PowerShot SX230 HS. However, the SX260 HS benefits from an updated Digic 5 image processor that enabled the camera to take 10.3fps full-resolution burst shots. Yes, the SX260 HS's Highspeed Burst HQ mode was one of its shining stars, performing very well. Canon also claims that the new Digic 5 processor contributes to noise reduction and increased low light sensitivity.
Well, here's what I found. In ideal shooting scenarios, the SX260 HS was a great performer. This included well-lit Macro shots and subdued landscapes. However, when the dynamics shifted (bright background, underexposed foreground), the SX260 HS had a tendency to overexpose as a safety precaution. As a result, I had to dial down the Exposure Compensation in many environments. This is not a major deal, unless you're a beginner who thinks the phrase "Exposure Compensation" refers to a deep psychological complex.
In low light, the Canon PowerShot SX260 HS provided decent exposure, but its high ISO images were at times muddy. Furthermore, the SX260 HS suffered from a weak Auto White Balance in low light. Everything looked yellow. So, a Manual White Balance was required, but there we are again; manual white balances and beginners are like oil and water.
As far as videos, the Canon PowerShot SX260 HS cranked out a solid 1080p 24fps performance. Low light was a nit noisy, but sensitivity was improved over previous Canon models. Still, I wanted more manual control in video mode. Higher-end Panasonics feature AVCHD and full manual video adjustment including ISO control.
Don't get me wrong; you can achieve great things with the Canon PowerShot SX260 HS. It'll just take a bit of manual control know-how to get the most out of this camera.
Canon PowerShot SX260 HS Image Samples
Canon PowerShot SX260 HS 1080P 24FPS HD Video Samples
Canon PowerShot SX260 HS Conclusion
At the end of my quest, the Canon PowerShot SX260 HS continued to baffle me. On one hand, the camera has a superior 10.3fps Highspeed Burst HQ mode, bigger 20x optical zoom with wider lens, enhanced design, expanded Auto mode and a slew of new and interesting features. However, I'm not sure that it's enough to warrant a $50 price hike on last year's suggested retail tag.
Sure, the Canon PowerShot SX260 HS is a great camera. But the latest SX model could have used a little fine-tuning in the sensor department, could have benefited from a faster base aperture (f2.0 would be nice!), could have funneled more pixels in the LCD display and could have boosted the operation times of the menu interface. Could have, would have, should have.
One thing's certain: if you're able to score an SX230 HS on sale, that's your best bet. I'm predicting next year's SX model to feature a major overhaul, so save your piggy bank contents or jump on an SX230 HS, folks.
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