Our First Take
When we last saw Canon's travel zoom lineup, it was in the guise of the SX280 HS, a compact camera with a 12-megapixel sensor and a 20x optical zoom lens. In our review of that camera, we remarked how impressive it was that 20x optical zoom lenses had become the norm in that part of the market, with some models like Sony's HX50V even reaching a stunning 30x optical zoom.
Well, Canon clearly felt that 20x was no longer sufficient, unveiling the SX700 HS (MSRP $349.99) with a new 30x optical zoom lens just ahead of CP+ 2014. The SX700 HS replaces the SX280 HS in the lineup and comes with several hardware improvements, though the control and overall experience of shooting with the camera is quite similar. We went hands-on with the new camera at CP+ in Yokohama, Japan to see what else is new with Canon's latest travel zoom.
Design & Usability
30x is the new 20x.
Canon's SX travel zoom cameras have long been consumer favorites for their combination of size, extensive optical zoom range, and ease of use. The new SX700 HS is no exception, as it manages to squeeze an entire 30x optical zoom (25–750mm in 35mm terms) in a body small enough to fit in your jacket pocket. Though the SX700 is technically larger than last year's SX280, it's only grown by a few millimeters in each direction. It's still a thoroughly pocketable camera with an expansive reach.
The SX700 HS handles very well, with a new, raised protrusion on the right side offering plenty of grip. It's larger than the small vertical strip on the SX280 and has a rubber coating offering even more purchase. The controls also seem tightened up slightly, which addresses a complaint we had about last year's model.
Around back you'll also find an upgraded, higher-resolution screen—921k dots up from 461k. The controls have been moved around slightly, with the video record button moving to the top of the camera, beside the shutter button. In its place is a new mobile upload button, designed to work in concert with the added NFC functionality to easily allow you to pair the camera to a smartphone.
The changes here are almost universally for the better. Though you may accidentally begin recording a video or two without meaning it, the ease with which you can pair up the SX700 to your smartphone is worth the occasional mishap.
WiFi and NFC go together like PB&J.
Though the added zoom range will draw shoppers to the SX700, there are a host of other upgrades designed to make your life easier. Chief among these is the addition of NFC, which is designed to make pairing the camera with a phone a simple process. Gone should be the need to enter a complicated password to connect to an ad-hoc network. Though the functionality didn't work perfectly on the show floor at CP+, the ideal is at least better than the poor WiFi implementation on previous Wifi-capable Canon cameras. One major caveat: Apple has yet to include NFC in any of its iOS devices, so this won't help iPhone users.
The SX700 should also see a slight improvement in image quality thanks to a newer 16-megapixel CMOS image sensor. The ISO range actually shrinks slightly from the SX280, going from 80–6400 to 100–3200, but it's likely not a huge loss. The difference between ISO 80 and 100 is likely negligible, while ISO 6400 was virtually unusable on the SX280 anyway. And despite the increase in optical zoom, the lens itself has a similar maximum aperture range of f/3.2–6.9.
One interesting addition to the SX700's arsenal is Canon's Zoom Framing Assist feature. This first appeared on the company's PowerShot SX40 HS, a large superzoom camera with a 35x optical zoom. Zoom Framing Assist is for those times when you're fully zoomed in on a subject and it suddenly leaves the frame.
To use the feature, simply press the dedicated button on the left side of the SX700 HS and the camera will pull back slightly, letting you find your subject. Release the button and it will return to your original zoom position to continue filming. In practice it can be a little slow for fast-moving subjects like birds, but it is useful for a school play where the range of motion is limited.
Canon's 2014 travel zoom model has a lot more promise.
With the point-and-shoot market on the ropes, there simply hasn't been much innovation amongst the sub-$350 cameras in the past year. Most of the new models at CES 2014 and here at CP+ 2014 have been boring updates that maybe tweak a single feature. Some updates hardly seem like updates at all.
It's refreshing, then, to see that Canon has put so much effort into improving its flagship travel zoom this year. With a new sensor, 50% greater zoom range, a higher-resolution LCD, improved ergonomics, simpler WiFi connectivity, and the addition of Zoom Framing Assist, Canon has done quite a lot for the SX700 HS.
The key, as always, will be how it actually performs in the real world. While we got to spend a fair amount of time with the camera at the show, it's impossible to tell if the new sensor and lens combo will yield improved results until we get the camera in for a full test. In the meantime, however, color us impressed with the improvements we've seen so far.