13 April 2009

Canon PowerShot SX1 IS Review

Canon's popular superzoom range of cameras began with the release of the PowerShot S1 IS back in 2004, and has been incrementally upgraded each year with more features and more pixels, with the last update being the PowerShot S5 IS announced in May of 2007. In September of 2008 Canon announced dual successors to the S5 IS. The cheaper of the two models is the Powershot SX10 IS, which features a 10 MP CCD sensor behind a 20X image stabilized lens, with the more expensive camera - the SX1 IS - adding RAW mode, a CMOS sensor, faster continuous shooting speed, and HD 1080p video recording.

Canon pioneered the use of CMOS sensors in digital SLRs (starting way back in 2000 with the EOS D30) - and they have long been used in cheap imaging devices (such as mobile phones and no brand 'keychain' digicams), but until now they haven't made their way into mainstream compact cameras.

The reason has been simple; they just haven't been good enough. CMOS sensors have more circuitry built into the chip itself than CCD sensors, leaving less room for actually capturing light. This isn't a problem when you're working with a sensor with a large surface area, but at very small sizes it means lowered sensitivity - and that means noise and all the image quality problems associated with removing it.

Any problems with CMOS on large (DSLR) sensors were fixed long ago, and it is now the dominant technology in all but the cheapest models. The quest to fix them for smaller sensors has taken a lot longer, but it's one that continues because the possibilities offered by the on-chip processing capabilities of a CMOS sensor are simply too enticing for camera manufacturers to ignore (quite aside from the fact they use less power and are, in theory, a lot cheaper to mass produce). The SX1 IS, along with Sony's HX1 and the Ricoh CX1, is the first in a new wave of CMOS-sensored 'serious' compact cameras, and though few claims are being made about how the use of CMOS will affect image quality per se, they all sport unique features (high speed capture, HD movies, clever image stacking modes) which are only possible because this technology.

Like every camera in this range since the original S1 IS, the SX1 is designed to be a 'hybrid', combining stills and movie photography in a single device (the S1 IS was one of the first cameras to feature a dedicated Movie record button). But the use of a 16:9 format screen and viewfinder - plus the use of a CMOS sensor capable of full 1080p capture - means that the SX1 is unique in the range (and different to the SX10) in that it gives almost as much weight to movie capture as it does stills.
PowerShot SX1 IS vs PowerShot S5 IS - key changes

* Higher resolution sensor (10MP vs 8MP)
* New 28 - 560 mm equiv lens
* Digic 4 processor (S5 IS was Digic III)
* Larger, higher resolution LCD screen (2.8 inches vs 2.5 inches)
* HD movie recording at 1080p (1920 x 1080)
* 'My Menu' system
* Greatly increased continuous shooting (burst) speed
* RAW file format is back

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