Canon PowerShot SX260 HS Review
Canon hopes to secure top honors as 2012's best travel-zoom camera.
Other than an autofocus that misbehaved in low light and some unsightly fringing at longer zooms, the Canon PowerShot SX260 performed well throughout testing, delivering sharp, accurate images with acceptable noise levels.
Aggressive noise reduction software effects edges negatively at times.
The camera’s internal noise reduction software is highly aggressive and this has mixed results. At the lowest ISOs, 100 and 200, shots are largely free of noise, and image quality is in no way degraded. At ISO 400 and 800, noise levels are still pretty low, but smoothing software does affect the shot. Edges start to become pixelated at this point, and some details are lost in translation. At 1600 and above noise becomes noticeable, and although the smoothing software keeps things in check, shots are no longer suitable for cropping and should only be viewed in small sizes. Maximum image noise tops out at 1.51% at ISO 3200. Luminance noise is dominant over chroma.
The SX260’s sensitivity extends from ISO 100 to 3200 in full resolution, though Auto ISO will only meter up to 1600. Using the Low Light scene mode unlocks ISO 6400, however this locks resolution to only 3 megapixels.
Though the SX260 proved to be a sharp device overall, its maximum zoom struggled severely, as is typically the case.
We spotted plenty of artificial edge enhancement, which manifests itself as too-dark and too-bright lines on high contrast edges. That being said, the SX260 is a genuinely sharp camera, 20x lens and all. The closest focal length is the sharpest, averaging almost 1900 LW/PH at MTF50 across all zones, though detail is always much better in the center of the frame. The middle focal length is almost as sharp, averaging 1670 LW/PH, however maximum zoom causes a significant drop-off, down to 1270 MTF50s on average. The lens’ limited geometry can’t line up all the different wavelengths across such a huge focal range in such a small space, and so annoying little bursts of light color pollute the image as a result.
This is a good compromise we think. The SX260 suffers the same fate as similar cameras when fully extended, but sharp shots are still possible at minimum and moderate zoom.
In our stabilization lab test, which simulates quick, constant, horizontal movement, the SX260’s stabilizer produced only a moderate improvement to overall sharpness. A difference of under 6%, in fact. That’s not bad, we sometimes observe stabilizers worsening image quality, but still a modest result overall. Yet when we actually got out to shoot with the SX260, things were much different. The stabilizer is highly effective in retaining sharpness for shots we expected would be blurry. Walking and shooting simultaneously is possible at all but the most extreme focal lengths, and long zoom framing is aided tremendously by the Continuous IS mode. For still photography we do not recommend the “Powered” option.
The side-effects of a 20x zoom
The SX260’s lens produces some pretty bad fringing, and unfortunately the effect isn’t limited to the edges of the frame. That’s the price we pay for 20x zoom in such a compact body. The lens’ limited geometry can’t line up all the different wavelengths across such a huge focal range in such a small space, and so we get chromatic aberration. This score is far worse than the Canon S100 for example, since that model isn’t weighed down by an overly ambitious lens. The same can be said for almost all travel zooms.
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