Canon PowerShot SX100 IS Digital Camera Review
Read an expert, independent digital camera review of the Canon PowerShot SX100 IS digital camera.
All cameras reproduce colors differently. Accurate color can be the difference between a pleasing and unattractive portrait or a beautiful and boring landscape. We test color accuracy by photographing an industry standard GretagMacbeth ColorChecker test chart under bright, even studio lights. The ColorChecker chart contains 24 different color tiles, each representing a color from around the color spectrum. The image below shows how accurately the Canon SX100 IS reproduces the colors of the ColorChecker chart. The outside squares show the colors the camera reproduces, the inside squares show the ideal color of the ColorChecker corrected for luminance, and the inner rectangles show the ideal color of the chart under a perfectly even exposure.
As you can see in the image, many of the outer squares blend right into the inner squares, meaning the colors are very accurate. A few tiles don’t blend as well, however, especially the yellows and a couple of blues. Color accuracy is shown in a different way in the graph below. The background of the graph shows the entire color spectrum, and the ideal ColorChecker colors are located as squares, while the colors the camera reproduces are shown as circles. The lines connecting the circles and squares show the amount of color error for each color tile.
The graph confirms what we saw in the chart above; many of the colors are very accurate, with the exception of some blues and yellows. The blues are shifted toward purple, which is often done on purpose by manufactures to enhance blue skies, and the yellows are shifted toward green. Besides these few color shifts, the color accuracy of the SX100 IS is excellent, just as we have seen in all Canon PowerShots released this year.
We test resolution by photographing an industry standard resolution test chart at varied focal lengths, apertures, and shutter speeds. We run the photos through Imatest to find the setting that produce the sharpest photo possible. Imatest measures resolution in terms of line widths per picture height (lw/ph), which represent the maximum number of equally spaced, alternating black and white lines that can fit across the picture frame before becoming blurred.
The 8-megapixel Canon SX100 IS has its best resolution at ISO 80, f/3.5, and a focal length of 20.1mm. The camera resolves 1698 lw/ph horizontally with 6.6 percent oversharpening, and 1596 lw/ph vertically with 9.4 percent undersharpening. These are solid resolution numbers, and the low sharpening levels mean image artifacts such as "ghosting" will be kept to a minimum. Unfortunately, close inspection of the resolution chart image shows there is some moiré in closely-spaced lines, and some chromatic aberration ("color fringing") on the edges of the frame. To the camera’s credit, however, the image is sharp in all areas of the frame, even the edges and corners. Overall, the SX100 IS produces nice, sharp photos.
Noise – Manual ISO*(6.04) *
Image noise is the ugly sandiness or splotchiness that sometimes appears in digital photos, especially those taken in low light. This noise almost always looks very ugly, and is caused by unavoidable extraneous electric signals in a camera’s sensor, similar in principle to the static in your TV or the background hiss in your stereo. We test noise levels by photographing our test chart under bright, even studio lights at each ISO speed a camera offers. We run the photos through Imatest, which measures noise by the percentage of image detail it drowns out. The results for the SX 100IS are shown in the graph below.
The SX100 IS has very low noise at ISO 80 and 100, manageable noise at ISO 200 and 400, and extremely high noise at ISO 800 and 1600. Keep this camera at as low an ISO speed as you can, and avoid ISO 800 and 1600 whenever possible, or your photos may look like there were taken in a sandstorm. On close inspection, the noise itself looks quite grainy, with small splotches of yellow and blue. It isn’t the ugliest noise we’ve seen, but it isn’t pretty. Additionally, the higher ISO images look soft, suggesting some automatic noise reduction. Overall, the camera does well enough with noise at low ISO speeds to garner a solid manual ISO score.
Noise – Auto ISO*(1.53) *
We also test noise levels with cameras set to Auto ISO, shooting under the same bright studio lights. Under our bright studio lights, the SX100 IS chooses ISO 200, where noise obscured 1.6 percent of the image detail. This noise won’t be apparent in small versions of your photo, but if viewed at 100 percent you can clearly see the small splotches of yellow and blue. Keep this camera at ISO 80 whenever possible.
White Balance*(13.03) *
To achieve accurate color reproduction in real-life shooting, a camera must be able to accurately white balance. Different lighting sources have different color casts, so cameras need to adjust their colors accordingly. We test white balance by photographing the ColorChecker test chart under four types of light: flash, fluorescent, outdoor shade, and tungsten. We test the auto white balance setting as well the appropriate white balance presets, found in the Function menu on the Canon SX100 IS.
*Auto (12.52) *
With the white balance set to Auto, the SX100 IS is extremely accurate in the flash’s and fluorescent light, but poor in outdoor shade and tungsten light. Keep this in mind when you are shooting in different lighting situations.
*Using the appropriate white balance presets, the camera is very accurate in fluorescent and tungsten light, but poor in outdoor shade. It seems the camera has trouble white balancing no matter what in outdoor shade, but otherwise the white balance is excellent. Make sure to use the tungsten preset whenever shooting indoors in tungsten lights; you will be much happier with your photos.
Still Life Sequences
***Click the thumbnails to view the high resolution images.
Low Light ***(8.09) *
Not all shooting takes place in ideal studio conditions. This is why we also test color and noise performance in low light, at levels of 60, 30, 15, and 5 lux. Sixty lux is about as bright as a room lit by two soft lamps, 30 lux is as bright as a room lit by a single 40-watt bulb, and 15 and 5 lux are quite dim and test the limits of a camera’s sensor. All shots are taken at ISO 1600.
Colors stay very accurate in low light, even at 5 lux. Noise levels, on the other hand, are very high. This is due to the very noisy ISO 1600 setting on the SX100 IS, and can be diminished by lowering the ISO. However, depending on the amount of light you have to shoot in, lowering the ISO may make the shutter speed too slow and result in blurry photos. Sometimes you may just have to settle for noisy low light photos. Overall, this is a good low light performance, as not all cameras can even get a decent exposure at 5 lux.
We also test low light performance in long exposures, at ISO 400. The SX100 IS takes exposures as long as 15 seconds, and keeps noise levels admirably low without increasing significantly with shutter speed. Color accuracy isn’t as impressive as it is in brighter light, but still looks fine. You should be able to capture some nice-looking long exposures with this camera.
**Dynamic Range ***(5.11) *
Dynamic range is an important aspect of image quality that tells how much detail a camera can discern in bright and dark parts of an image. This is especially important when photographing high contrast scenes, such as a white wedding dress and a black tux next to each other or the bright highlights and dark shadows of a landscape or portrait in bright sunlight. A camera with poor dynamic range will blow out the white highlights and lose detail in the shadows. We test dynamic range by photographing a backlit Stouffer test chart at all ISO sensitivities. The Stouffer chart consists of a row of rectangles, each a slightly darker shade of gray, ranging from brightest white to darkest black. The more rectangles a camera can distinguish, the better its dynamic range.
The SX100 IS has excellent dynamic range at ISO 80, but at higher ISO speeds it drops rapidly. Just as we suggested in the noise section above, try to keep this camera at ISO 80 whenever possible, especially when shooting scenes with high contrast. Overall, the camera’s dynamic range is mediocre, and typical of similar Canon PowerShots. However, it is significantly worse than the equally priced, 10x zoom Panasonic Lumix TZ3.
Speed/Timing – All speed tests were conducted using a Kingston Ultimate 120X 2GB SD Card, with the camera set to highest resolution and best quality, unless otherwise noted.
Startup to First Shot (7.6)
The SX100 IS takes 2.4 seconds to turn on and take its first shot.
*In Continuous shooting mode, the camera fires shots approximately every 0.9 seconds for more than 150 photos. In Continuous AF mode, the camera shoots every 1.2 seconds, and autofocuses between each shot. These modes should help with capturing some good action shots, but a faster Burst mode would be nice for those moments that seem to pass by too quickly.
*The SX100 IS has no measurable lag when the shutter is held down halfway and prefocused, but a lag of 0.45 seconds when not prefocused.
The little green light takes 1.3 seconds to stop blinking when shooting a 4 MB full resolution superfine photo taken at ISO 160.
Video Performance*(4.51) *
*Bright Indoor Light – 3000 lux
*We test color accuracy and noise levels in Movie modes by recording footage of our color charts under bright studio lights lit to 3000 lux. Under these bright tungsten lights, with the camera set to auto white balance, the SX100 IS has terrible color accuracy, which is actually common for cameras in this shooting situation. The camera keeps noise levels very low, however.
Low Light – 30 lux
We also record footage of our color charts in low light. At 30 lux, the SX100 IS has better color accuracy than in bright light, and still keeps noise levels quite low. This is impressive compared to some other digital cameras on the market.
We also record video footage of our resolution test chart to see how sharp cameras are in Movie mode. Note that camera video is shot in Standard Definition, or 640 x 480 pixels, which is a much lower resolution than the still images we tested above. In Movie mode, the camera resolves 309 lw/ph horizontally with 9.4 percent undersharpening, and 377 lw/ph vertically with 8.4 percent oversharpening. This is decently sharp for camera video, and the sharpening doesn’t introduce drastic image artifacts.
We take a break from lab tests to shoot footage of moving cars and pedestrians to see how cameras render motion. The SX100 IS’s video looks nice and sharp and handles highlights very well, an area previous Canon PowerShots struggle with. On the other hand, the SX100 IS makes moving objects rather jerky, especially when they are moving out of the frame, and also shows a little moiré in repetitive patterns. Overall, the video looks good for a digital camera, but this camera is not a replacement for a camcorder.
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