Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Feel the Powershot II: Canon SX260 HS

Many years ago I bought my first camera in the Canon Powershot series, an S5 IS. I upgraded from that to a Fuji HS10, which except for its magnificent lens is at best mediocre. Tired of lugging that big lens around, I got my hands on Canon's superb Powershot S95, which is a fantastic camera that takes luscious pictures, has great functionality, and is really easy to use. A solidly designed and engineered camera in every way, it is the digital camera equivalent of a DC-3 or an AK-47. I love that camera.


Yet when I got back from my most recent trip to the east coast, I found I sorely missed having a big telephoto at hand. Clearly the HS10 wasn't the solution due to its weight and poor design, so I started poking around for a pocket zoom camera. Eventually I focused on four options: the Nikon Coolpix S9300, the Olympus SZ30-MR, the Canon Powershot SX260 HS, and going DLSR, in this case, a Canon 600 series.

I eliminated the Nikon, partly because I couldn't find any examples of it in Taiwan and so was forced to look at the 9100, and partly because I never find Nikon menus easy to use. I went out to look at the Olympus a couple of times. It has a very attractive 25-600mm equivalent zoom. It's light as a feather, so light it feels like a toy. The icons also make it look like a toy, and I had trouble overcoming this visceral reaction. It took good pictures and its controls were sensibly arranged. However, in the end I decided to go with what I knew, the Canon. I rejected the DSLR because I don't like the weight and the fact that I'd be buying extra lenses.

The Canon Powershot SX260 HS is not available in Taiwan and was not yet stocked in the big camera sellers in the US, who in any case won't ship it overseas. So I acquired it by circuitous routes. Here's my quickie first look review.

First, the good news. It takes great pictures, just like the S95. It has a solid feel that feels right in the hand, and lens retracted, takes up almost as little space as the Canon Powershot S95. It has a rubber piece that helps with the grip as well. The shutter button on the S95 has always felt cheap and flimsy to me, but the SX260 has a big silver button like an SLR. Very comfortable.

Functionality is awesome. I haven't explored them all yet, but it has nearly 60 scene modes, and overall greater functionality than the S95, which is to be expected since it is a next generation camera. It has GPS, which I have not used yet. The zoom, 25-500mm, is excellent and deploys rapidly. I did not find the shutter lag noticeable let alone objectionable, and like the S95, it powers right up. The controls are laid out sensibly, all operable by one finger. The record button is separate from the shutter (yay!). There is no control ring like on the front of the S95, sadly -- that's a great feature. ISO can only be controlled from the menu. It takes the same batteries as the S95 too.

Downers: It doesn't shoot on RAW (which is why they invented Canon camera hacks: WIKI). It does not have the range of ISO choices the S95 does (why not?).  [[Another annoying issue is when you change the PASM dial, you often accidentally press the picture review button. The shutter dial requires real effort to turn, a compromise that keeps it from turning when you put it away. MT -- this appears to be related to the newness of the camera and is no longer an issue.]]

All in all, this appears to be a solid camera, perfect for traveling and touring. Very happy with it and really looking forward to using it. Below I have some sample images for your enjoyment... the originals are all on FLICKR, click on READ MORE to view the rest of the post. The images are all taken on the highest picture fineness setting, superfine, and are ~7 meg each unprocessed.

UPDATED APRIL 2012: Some additional comments. The lack of the front wheel like the S95 is very annoying. Another annoying problem is having to go into the menu to change the ISO instead of having it accessible from either the wheel or a button. The more I use the big shutter button, the better it feels. The bokeh on either close ups or telefoto is very enjoyable.

UPDATED AUGUST 2012: Huge problem: the shutter cover doesn't work. If you slip the camera into a pocket, that nested cover will move, exposing the glass beneath right in the freakin center of the lens. This means that (1) the piece of glass covering the lens is constantly getting dirty from whatever is in your pocket and (2) it is vulnerable to scratches and stains from things in your pocket. That slip of glass now has two small gouges in it right in the center, permanent until I can pay to get it swapped for a new one. This is a serious design flaw....

Manual focus, close-up, original size.

Near 100% crop of the above photo.

Spider on the ground and water on its web.

Same spider, near-100% crop.

Same spider, imaged while standing above it using the telephoto, cropped at around 60%.

Bird on rail at max (500mm) telephoto, near 100% crop.

Construction on the new highway near my house, at maximum wide (25mm). Note two men under black triangle.

Same two men, max zoom (500mm).

Man on left, max zoom + 4X digital telephoto. No cropping.

Bee, zoom.

Bee, closeup via manual focus.

Parkscape. Light was a bit flat today since it was cloudy...

Flower, using the macro setting.

Near 100% crop of spider, manual focus

Hand-held, 5:30 am, Apr 11, ISO 100, SPOT metered

Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums! Delenda est, baby.


Geoff said...

Michael that camera looks quite impressive. The zoom is better than my old Sony video. But seriously do NOT take pics of your wife like that and never post them. You will get bitten for sure. Cheers

Lorenzo said...

A good photographer needs a generaous wife behind him. Don't ruin the only chance you got at hand.

B.Y. said...

Thank you for demonstrating the shots of your new camera. I'm now convinced that there is really no need to buy a DSLR or DSLC.

Anonymous said...

Very nice summary. Can you please also post some low light examples (still and video)? I loved the 230, but it was horrible in low light... I'm hopeful this has been improved. Thank you!

Jenna Lynn Cody said...

I'm in the market for a camera and quite sad that this one is not available in Taiwan. What a ****tease. I don't have "circuituitous" roots by which to acquire one, so what would you recommend for those of us actually in Taiwan?

Michael Turton said...

Well, I will try and do some low light pics tomorrow, Anon. I was hoping to get some moon shots tonight to compare with the HS10, but too cloudy here.

Jenna, some cameras are available on e-bay and on Amazon, "used." Likely they are never opened or minimally used testers distributed to generate publicity.


Carlos said...

I had an SX200 and now have the SX230, and they’re great for the outdoors. The SX200 (12x zoom) was pretty terrible indoors or even on cloudy days; even going up to ISO 200 was bad for photo quality. But I can’t live without the zoom. In the end the SX200 got a bit scratched after spending too much time in earthquake disaster zones, so I got the SX230 (14x zoom). Now I wish I had waited for the SX260, which looks to be about the same size!

The SX230 is not terrible at ISO 200, but it has very weak macro capabilities compared to the SX200 (you still have to be a few inches away). I could use the SX200’s macro mode at maybe just 1”, and it had a super macro mode that worked at ¼”. It was fantastic. The SX200 was noticeably bulkier though.

David said...

In regards to your manual focus problem, try turning off Safety MF in the menu. As long as this is on the camera will try to correct your manual focus, but if you turn it off, it will leave your focus setting where you put it even between shots.

Michael Turton said...

Thanks David. That solved it. Man that was annoying.


David said...

You're welcome, Michael. BTW, I'm DJH644 on Flickr and found your blog from the SX260 group. I really enjoyed your photos from your bike trip on the east coast. Does Green island go by another name? I couldn't find it on the map.

Michael Turton said...

David, on Google Maps Green Island = Lyudao, which is "Green Island" in Chinese. It is due east of Taitung city on the east coast of Taiwan, about 30 kms. I think this URL will take you right there.


Dennis said...

Hi Michael, thank you for the review and sample pictures, they look great. Any luck with the low light pictures?

Colin Foyle said...

Hi Michael,
I agree completely with your review of the SX260. I have a S100 that I think is a great camera for a backup of a DSLR, but the one thing lacking on the S100 was a longer zoom. So, I got the SX260. Now I have the longer zoom, but don't have Bracketing, and RAW. You mentioned Canon camera hacks, but it doesn't look as though the SX260 will be available there any time soon. I really want bracketing, I can probably do without RAW (although I use it nearly 100% on the S100 and my DSLR), but the bracketing, is something I can't do without. So, now I am considering taking both the S100 and the SX260 with me whenever I want a P&S camera... Which defeats the original plan... I think the SX260 will win out just because of the zoom range.... Great review.

Michael Turton said...

Good lord! I forgot the bracketing.

I'm really tired of not having the camera functions I want but having all the useless editing functions in the camera. I can edit at home on my big screen. Why don't the companies give us the choice?


Anonymous said...

Hi,Michael! I am looking for a new camera to buy this month and i would like to ask you something about SX260 before to have it.I see many of your photos are with shallow depth of field.I have many digital cameras but all are same about cheaper than this "point and shot" and AUTO mode and trying shallow depth of field was a dissapointment with all cameras i own.I read from the net some articles about shallow DoF which i am interested,that to have success with this your camera must be with somehow more lighting in focus f=2.0 and less but no more.If that is true then your SX260 how is possible that created so nice photos with shallow DoF if it has f=3.5(not much light)?
What mode did you use for all those photos you got? Manual or AUTO?
Something more,i would like to use my next camera is MACRO.Trying all those cameras i have nothing is perfect in macro,while one of them have good specification only 1cm from the lense(Canon Powershot A720)and what about SX260? I know that Macro is 5cm,not so good.Did you try any close-ups around 5cm?Are you happy with the result?I will be pleasured if you can answer these critical questions to me before to buy it. Thank you

Michael Turton said...

I read from the net some articles about shallow DoF which i am interested,that to have success with this your camera must be with somehow more lighting in focus f=2.0 and less but no more.If that is true then your SX260 how is possible that created so nice photos with shallow DoF if it has f=3.5(not much light)?

I can't really answer this question. I never shoot on AUTO. For the close ups I usually shoot on PROGRAM with manual focus, unless I use aperture priority but then I increase the DoF when I do that. I have never aimed for a short DoF so i can't help you. Any short DoF you see is entirely without me planning it.

Trying all those cameras i have nothing is perfect in macro,while one of them have good specification only 1cm from the lense(Canon Powershot A720)and what about SX260? I know that Macro is 5cm,not so good.Did you try any close-ups around 5cm?Are you happy with the result?

I am happy; I've taken many manual focus pictures -- I seldom use MACRO save for occasional flower shots.

This is the best I've done so far.

I think I have only scratched the surface with this camera....

Anonymous said...

Hi Michael, thanks for the great review and the photos you posted. I'm still debating b/w the SX260 and Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V. Did you by any chance consider this Sony model? Here is a review of it http://www.photographyblog.com/reviews/sony_cybershot_dsc_hx9v_review/.

Colin Foyle said...

Hi Michael,
I have been starting to look at CHDK, have you heard of it. It adds to the Canon SX260HS and tries to give you Bracketing, RAW, and a lot of other functionality. For the SX260 it is still in Beta, and there have been a few issues found, but there seems to be a small group working on this. I have tried Raw, and it does slow the camera down, but if you are prepared to do bracketing in JPG that works really quickly...

Michael Turton said...

Yeah, I actually linked to CHDK above. They do great work. Can't wait until their stuff for the 260 is out of beta testing... it's so incredibly annoying that we have to do this, that it is not part of the original functionality of the camera.


Ali said...

For the bigger zoom i am inclined to buy Sx260hs, but sadly theres no RAW. I am a beginner in terms of photography so really wanted to practice with RAW. But cant give up zoom.
Can you help letme now what is CHDK and how can I use that to produce RAW from 260hs(if i understood correctly)? Thankyou

Michael Turton said...

Ali --

CDHK is a Wiki that teaches you how to make a bootable SD card that gives you all the functions that Canon could have put in your camera but decided not to.

I was very enthusiastic about the SX260 when I wrote this review. But the lens cover is so awful I can't recommend the camera. The lens constantly gets dirty and scratched because the lens cover is easily pushed out of the way if the camera is in your pocket or someplace similar. Mine already has three large scratches that I cannot wash away.


Jas said...

Hi Michael,

I'm an avid Canon user but still haven't upgraded my Powershot S5 IS, which I read on your blog, you used to have.

I'm actually looking into the SX260. But I found out that there are newer ones that Canon recently released. Do you think I should consider the SX500? Or perhaps the S110? Been trying to find reviews on those cameras but there aren't a lot.

Would love to hear your opinion, thanks!

Michael Turton said...

It's hard for me to say --what do I know? I wanted something small for biking. But if you can stand lugging around the big 1000mm equivalent, go for it! I'm considering it for my next unnecessary camera purchase.

kdg said...

Does anyone have any idea how to use the sx260 hs for time-lapse photography? I've been searching to no avail. I see articles that say its possible, but without instructions >:( Some articles made reference to using "movie digest mode" but after fooling around with that I am still dumbfounded as to how to usefully make a time-lapse film without having to keep pressing the button. Anyone have ideas? thanks for reading!!

Michael Turton said...

kdg, have you tried Canon Camera Hacks? They provide methods for making Canon cameras do all sorts of things.

meyers66 said...

Hello, I’m late to this article but I’d like to comment on the lens cover issue because it sounds like we have similar problems. I have the Canon SX230. The lens cover has broken and thus will not close more than 50%. So my lens got/is stcratched. Its visible when I shoot video but not photos for some reason. I took it to Nova and they told me I’d have to buy a new camera. Do you have any idea how I can repair the retracting lens cover?