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Old Dec 27, 2008, 11:33 AM   #1
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In the absence of a formal review by our hero, I thought perhaps some early impressions from a photographer of a few decades' experience might be useful to someone looking for a place to spend the cash they got for Christmas:

The Canon SX10 IS is, in short, a very impressive superzoom camera.
The ergonomics of the SX10 are excellent. The camera feel substantial but not overly heavy in the hand, and the fingers wrap around the grip very naturally and securely, leaving thumb and fingers well position for the controls. The menus seem very intuitive to me – almost all the settings are where I expect to find them. (This may be partly because I have owned several A-series cameras and know the Canon menus system, but I recall thinking with my first A-series camera that the menu distribution made a lot of sense.) The menu settings include a customizable menu list that can be set to include the users most frequently accessed menu items, edited to the order of the owner's choosing, and, if desired, set to be the default menu on initial access of the menu functions – overall a means of truly customizing the camera to one's own particular needs and uses. Many users will join me in applauding the presence of focal-length markings on the lens barrel – a nice feature that means a lot to more experienced photographers but is notably lacking on the models of most other manufacturers.


The range of capabilities of this camera is remarkable. Begin with the lens: 28 to 560 mm equivalent in 35-mm terms. This means that, from about 12 feet away, I could on Christmas morning make one exposure that encompassed the room, all the decorations, and the day's several celebrants, and without moving, fill the frame with a single ornament on the tree on the other side of the room. Both are remarkable in their own way. One of the things I have missed in moving to compact digital cameras from high-end 35mm cameras was a seriously wide angle lens. A 28 mm lens gets a lot of wear and tear in the kit of a serious 35mm shooter, being used both indoors and out to capture wide expanses. Having a 28 mm short end of a zoom is vastly different than calling 35 mm "wide angle." On the other end of the scale, 560 mm is a lot of lens, and one would seldom attempt to hand-hold that much lens with a conventional 35 mm system. Image stabilization, however, allows sharp shots hand-held with the long lens. Image stabilization is said to allow a gain of 2 stops in exposure latitude. The usual rule of thumb is to reach for a tripod whenever your shutter speed is slower than the inverse of your lens length (i.e., 1/30 sec for a 28 mm lens, 1/60 for a "normal" 50 to 55 mm lens, 1/250 for the long end of an ordinary zoom in the 210 to 270 mm range). With practice, photographers can often beat that rule by one stop, but with IS I have beaten the rule by 3 to 4 stops with tack-sharp results.


The reason that Canon digitals attract a lot of gray-haired photographers with extensive 35-mm experience is because most of their cameras have easy access to shutter- and aperture-priority modes and a fully manual mode in addition to the several programmed modes on the dial. There are times when us old geezers look at a prospective shot, identify potential exposure problems, and solve them by selecting a specific shutter speed or aperture value, or sometimes both. Such settings remain easy to access and manipulate with the SX10, and the other specialized program sets are well-conceived, if rather standard, and equally easy to access with the control dial. The control dial also has a setting that can be customized to give quick control-dial access to a set of features and settings that the owner anticipates using frequently – thank you, Canon, for recognizing that your customers have brains of their own.


The software has some pretty gee-whiz features. Face detection seems to work very well, and the camera can pick out all the faces in a frame and it allows you to select one to be highest priority in focus and exposure. Even more remarkable is a delayed exposure option that counts the faces in the frame when the shutter button is pressed, then recognizes when a new face (the photographer's) shows up, and fires two seconds later. I am not sure how often it will be used, but the very capability is a remarkable bit of intelligence to be present in a camera. Focusing can be set to face-detection or a defined-zone system that starts with a central square and can be shifted by the photographer. Exposure options include evaluative, full-frame center-weighted, or spot metering, and the spot meter can be linked to the focus frame. The focus frame can be blown up either prior to shooting or in review to check focus. (I found this feature to be a bit distracting to composition, so I turned it off in the menus but I can imagine situations in which I might reactivate it.) Auto focus can be set to continuous or shutter-button activated; servo focus off or on. The flash is activated to raising or lower it; auto and forced flash is available; a red-eye lamp is pretty ineffective and can be turned off, as can the focus-assist beam; flash can be synced to first or second curtain. Stitch assist includes not only the usual left-to-right and right-to-left options, but also top-to-bottom, bottom-to-top, and a four-shot two-dimensional rectangle. I can go on about the settings, but the reader can access that information by reading the owner's manual at the Canon website. The key point is versatility – you can set and override darn near everything on this camera.


Shutter lag and flash recycling are both reduced very substantially from the A-series cameras, due to a combination of more advanced processing by the Digic-4 chip and, in what I consider to be an upgrade, a capacity for four AA batteries rather than the two of the current line of A-series cameras. (Some earlier A-series used four AAs, and the flash cycled quicker than the current models.)


Picture quality is quite good. Ten megapixels is a lot to cram onto a small sensor, and some folks have reported some chromic aberration, or purple fringing. Chromic aberration is worst at sharp edges of high contrast. I have made deliberate attempts to produce chromic aberrations, and have been only inconsistently successful, having produced the dreaded purple fringe only on some shots, and visible only after extensive enlargement. I have not yet had a picture that I thought was significantly affected by chromic aberration when viewed at a reasonable magnification.


So is the SX10 a perfect camera? No, but it is awfully good; its capabilities rival the best 35 mm cameras in many ways, and its digital capabilities allow it to offer features impossible with 35 mm cameras, like stitch assist, creative color options, and contrast controls. I would love for it to have a larger sensor, but we all know that the manufacturers are going to protect their D-SLR lines, and the technical aspects of designing lenses small enough for a compact camera that still serve larger sensors are said to be quite formidable and have been discussed in these forums by folks more knowledgeable than me. A wider range of aperture settings would be nice – I am sure that everyone would like a little more speed, and that would allow further narrowing of the depth of field for portraiture, but my appeal would be for another stop or two on the smaller side, so that the 28-mm setting can be used with knowledge of depth of field for foreground-to-infinity sharpness in landscape works. (Few people these days realize these days that Ansel Adams worked mostly with f-stops of 64!) But, all of you old 35 mm devotees out there please admit it – if you were ever crazy enough to dream of a 28-560 zoom with this good of an optical quality, you would have killed to own one, and you would have expected to mortgage your house to be able to afford it.


So overall – extreme versatility in hardware and software, very good image quality, and a highly user-friendly design make the SX10 difficult to exceed in a single-lens camera. Multiple lenses and a larger D-SLR body add some image quality and perhaps some additional capabilities, but the additional abilities will be quite esoteric for most users, and the difference in image quality will seldom be justified by the expense and, more important on most days, the extra bulk and weight of a multi-lens system. The SX10 should receive serious consideration from anyone desiring a high quality digital camera but reluctant invest in a D-SLR system. I am really glad that Santa found me!


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Old Dec 29, 2008, 9:44 AM   #2
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Thanks for the great review. I also got an SX10 IS for Christmas and so far am very happy with it. I will be trying to take video of gymnastics meets (low light, from faraway) in a couple of weeks. What settings should I use for this? I know there is a sports setting, but I am wondering if it assumes you are outdoors. I would be doing both video and still pictures.
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Old Dec 29, 2008, 11:58 AM   #3
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Your proposed tasks (gymnastic meets) will be extremely difficult for the Canon DX-10IS to accomplish, I am sorry to tell you.

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Old Dec 29, 2008, 4:37 PM   #4
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dqtmg2 wrote:
Quote:
Thanks for the great review. I also got an SX10 IS for Christmas and so far am very happy with it. I will be trying to take video of gymnastics meets (low light, from faraway) in a couple of weeks. What settings should I use for this? I know there is a sports setting, but I am wondering if it assumes you are outdoors. I would be doing both video and still pictures.
Welcome to Steve's

Video is going to be a lot easier to shoot than stills..... well stills will be impossible. When I shoot gymnastics events I have 2 dSLR cameras in use, one with a 70-200mm f2.8 lens where depending on venue I'm getting about 1/250s at ISO3200 and the other with a 85mm f1.8 lens where I'm getting 1/800-1/1000s at ISO 6400. Now you would be using a lot slower glass and not able to get those types of ISO for usable shots so basically don't even try.

However, you say you are wanting video, this is a lot easier as motion blur is taken away by the brain in the moving shots.

One thing that is going to make a pretty big difference is getting the camera on a tripodwith a good smooth head. Now if possible be as low as possible. I have floor access when I cover an event so I will be seated so I'm slightly looking up (you will notice at the Olympics and the like the cameras are near to floor level. Before you go practise your panning technique. Don't zoom while shooting if possible as this will make it harder for the camera to maintain focus, you are already in a bad lighting situation so don't make it harder for the camera. Frame tight, so use the zoom but be aware that the more you zoom the less light into the camera so it is a trade off.
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Old Dec 29, 2008, 10:09 PM   #5
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Docmoon,

How about some sample pics straight from your SX10 and no pp? Good review but need some samples! Thanks.

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Old Dec 31, 2008, 8:30 PM   #6
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Mark1616 is very much correct in his advice about shooting a gymnastics meet with the SX10 - or any camera. My new toy is the first I've had with IS, so I am not speaking from firsthand experience, but I have been told that you should turn off the IS with a tripod. Apparently the IS tries so hard to find motion that the computer chip sort of tries too hard, imagines that is finds motion, and does its little lens-motion act to "correct" motion that isn't there, and so winds up blurring your shot. Even with a tripod, though, the motion inherent in gymnastics will result in blurred shots with the shutter speeds you will likely have to use in the gym, unless you are careful and a little lucky to fire right at a moment when they pause. But you may also have the opportunity to use the motion blur for some artistic effects if you use a tripod or monopod.

You won't have any choices in shooting stills during a video - you will have to set the camera on its video setting with the control dial. You can take a still during the video, but it will essentially be the same sort of shot you would get with the Auto setting, and you should be aware that the video will then have the the sound of the shutter release and a moment of display of the still shot interposed in the video.

If you are familiar with the location of the meet, or can scout it in advance, you might have some luck finding a spot close to some of the apparatuses, but you will not get anything decent shooting from the stands in poor light. There are some auxilliary flashes from Canon, Sunpak, and perhaps others that will work on the SX10, and they might give you a bit more range than the pop-up, but don't think that you are going to sit back and use all 560mm of the lens.

Re sample pictures: Here are some shots in anuric condition (no pp - look it up) that I hope will both illustrate a couple of the points that I made and serve for an evaluation of picture quality. First is a shot with my A-540 at 35 mm, followed by one from the same position with the SX10 at 28 mm. Note a bit of pincushion distortion at 28 mm, but also the wider field of view. (ISO 100, f3.5, 1/60, with flash.)

Next shot is also from the same position, the neck and head of the violin at 560 mm, ISO 100, f 5.7, 1/60, with flash. If you zoom in you can make out fine grains of bow resin.

The next two shots are of an exquisite vase at the home of an acquaintance, chosen so you could see the available detail. Both are at ISO 100 and f4.0, with the zoom lens at 85mm. The first is with flash synced at 1/60; the second demonstrates IS by turning off the flash and hand holding at 1/5 second.

The last shot, of the orchid, is at ISO 200, f5.7, 1/160. My biggest complaint on this camera so far is that there seems to be a range of distances between three and four feet where the autofocus really struggles. I am not sure if I have a defective unit or a design problem, but it is a bit of a nuisance on some shots, solvable strangely enough by backing up and using more zoom.

If there are any other issues you want demonstrated, speak up.

Hope you had your blackeyed peas today.
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Old Jan 1, 2009, 1:58 PM   #7
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Apparently I can use some advice on uploading these pictures. I used the Attachment: Browse button to navigate to the first file, failed, and tried a couple of more times thinking I hit the wrong button somewhere along the way. Might the files be too large? If so, is there another way to fulfill the request for sample pictures without pp, which to my mind includes condensing?

Good intentions foiled by technology, or perhaps by ignorance thereof.
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Old Jan 1, 2009, 3:41 PM   #8
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docmoon-

It is only possible to insert a single photo in a single post. The size must be below 250,400 bytes.

To insert multiple photos in a single post you must use an outside server/service such as mugshots, photobucket, etc.

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Old Jan 1, 2009, 3:43 PM   #9
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Check out this link, it will show you how to include photos in your posts.

How to post your photos
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Old Jan 1, 2009, 6:08 PM   #10
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OK, I think I have this.

First, at 35 mm focal length.
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