Forgive us, but this has been sort of a weak year for travel-zoom cameras. Sticking a giant zoom on a lousy point-and-shoot doesn’t improve anything, but manufacturers just keep squeezing ever more ambitious lenses onto the same tiny bodies. Go ahead! Zoom away! Zoom till you’re blue in the face, but your photos will still look terrible if your camera is a piece of junk.
Canon’s most expensive travel zoom, the SX260 HS, boasts one of the biggest numbers of all, with its huge 20x optical zoom ratio. But this model’s CMOS image sensor tops out at only 12.1 megapixels, showing encouraging restraint on Canon’s part. Our initial time with this model proved enjoyable. The camera is quick, compact, and comfortable, and our first look at the pictures felt promising. Only testing the SX260 HS will prove its mettle though, and it’s our hope that its arrival will break the travel zoom segment’s year of bad luck.
Design & Usability
Canon’s PowerShot SX260 makes handling a real pleasure.
This little PowerShot offers all the flexibility we could want from a compact. On the front is a real handling bonus: a tall, skinny ergonomic strip juts slightly outward from the front plate, giving the fingers something sturdy to latch onto. We still prefer wider, rubberized surfaces at this position on small cameras, but Canon’s technique here is still a decent way of lending some grip to the otherwise smooth camera body. On the back, the thumb naturally comes to rest beside the mode dial, which is rigid and textured.
Canon’s tried and true button layout for compacts is used to great effect here.
Outside this fairly advanced camera is a simple, intuitive control interface, capped off by a full-featured mode dial and Canon’s excellent tab-based menu system (complete with pop-up tooltips). Veterans and newcomers alike will find something to appreciate inside the SX260 HS. Canon’s tried and true button layout for compacts is used to great effect here, keeping things clear and simple. Many of us favor Canon menu systems, and the SX260 is a good example of why we do. Shooting options are at your fingertips thanks to the quick Function menu. This interface is a simple crossbar arrangement that offers easy access to ISO options, white balance, metering, drive mode, etc. The software is fast and responsive too, we only wish the LCD had enough resolution to legibly display all the options at once, without scrolling.
The PowerShot packs a power punch, with great video capability and other high-end goodies.
2012 has been the first year for which built-in GPS actually works correctly. The SX260’s implementation is a good example of this. The GPS transceiver can tag data from each shot with geographic information, though it struggles quite a bit indoors. This camera is also a serviceable video device, producing sharp clips even in less than ideal light, and both automated and manual control are possible. Footage is sharp, but not always smooth, leaving unwanted grain in dark areas at times, but for a compact camera, this model is more sensitive than average in low light.
The SX260’s editing suite offers less fun and games than some competitors.
Of the eleven scene modes, the most useful one has got to be High-speed Burst HQ, which allows full resolution bursts at 10 frames per second. Either that, or Low Light mode, which limits resolution to 3 megapixels, but unlocks ISO levels up to 6400. Picture effects are a little more goofy, with options such as Fish-eye, Miniature, and Toy Camera. The SX260’s editing suite offers less fun and games than some competitors, but an extensive mode dial is found at the upper right corner of the rear plate with traditional “PASM” shooting modes and a slew of others. Notably, exposure has almost as much flexibility as you’d find on an SLR. All the priority modes are available and easy to use, though we’re disappointed at the absence of program shift, and exposure compensation extends out to the traditional +/- 2 stops.
Though four aspect ratio options are available, RAW encoding is not. Substitutions include JPEG settings of either Fine or Super Fine. Some relatively advanced drive mode features decorate this compact camera. A typical full resolution continuous shot mode is available from the Function menu, and it quickly records data to the memory card so you won’t run into capacity problems. Also, like high-end cameras, a continuous mode with autofocus is also available, which rapidly adjusts focus between individual shots—an impressive feature, even if it does slow things a bit. For even faster shot-to-shot speed, the High Quality Burst scene mode is capable of shorter full resolution bursts, however you’ll need to swap modes to access the feature.
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