Canon PowerShot SX120 IS Digital Camera Review
Oct 1st, 2009
The Canon Powershot SX120 IS is the successor to the PowerShot SX110 IS from 2008. Canon designed the SX120 IS to appeal to those who are looking for an affordable and compact camera that offers point-and-shoot simplicity with long range zoom capabilities.
With features such as a 10x optical zoom lens with built-in optical image stabilizer (IS), advanced face detection technology, DIGIC III image processor, and a large 3.0-inch LCD, this compact super-zoom seems to offer considerable value for the money.
We have now had the opportunity to review the Canon PowerShot SX120 IS. To see how the camera performed, check out our Canon SX120 IS sample image gallery, along with the findings and conclusions from our review. We begin by providing a general overview of the SX120 IS, and then present more of the details. You can use the navigation menu found under the product image below to jump to a specific section of the review.
Canon SX120IS Overview: The PowerShot SX120 IS incorporates a powerful 10x optical zoom lens with built-in Optical Image Stabilization (IS) technology, which offers photographer's the ability to capture images with extra versatility, while minimizing image blur. The camera's image stabilizer system uses sophisticated gyroscopic sensors to detect vertical and horizontal movements, then moves the lens accordingly to compensate, which aids in maintaining stability and focus when using the telephoto capabilities of the camera.
The Canon SX120 IS incorporates a 10 Megapixel sensor with Canons DIGIC 4 processor delivering fast response times and natural colour reproduction. DIGIC 4 also takes care of difficult lighting conditions with i-Contrast a technology which prevents highlight blowout, whilst retaining shadow detail.
For carefree shooting the PowerShot SX120 IS includes Smart Auto and Easy modes with Scene Detection Technology. By analyzing people, distance, brightness and colour in the scene, the camera automatically selects one of 18 scene variables to optimize settings for the best results - freeing the user to concentrate on picture taking, while the camera takes care of the technical details.
The camera can also
shoot VGA movies with sound, so users can film action as well as shooting
beautiful stills. Framing and reviewing shots is simple too, thanks to
a large 3.0 inch high resolution 230K LCD with wide viewing angle and
5 levels of brightness adjustment.
The PowerShot SX120 IS also comes with the latest Face Detection Technology which recognizes up to 35 faces in a scene and automatically adjusts key focus and exposure settings to ensure everyone looks their best.
This technology includes Auto Red-Eye Correction, Face Detection AF/AE/FE, and Face Self-Timer a feature that is great for group shots and self-portraits as the camera waits until it detects a new face in the frame before taking the shot.
Faces can also be detected if they are at an angle to the camera so that the correct focus and exposure can be achieved without subjects facing the camera directly.
Face Select & Track also allows the user to select a particular face to be the main subject of the photo. This person is then tracked as they move around the frame making sure the chosen face is the favoured subject and captured perfectly every time - ideal for shooting the important people in a crowded scene.
More experienced users can choose their settings with additional shooting modes such as Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority. A full manual control mode is also provided perfect for users who wish to experiment with their shots.
Powershot SX120 IS Major Features:
The camera ships with: two Alkaline AA batteries, 128MB SD starter memory card, USB interface cable, AV cable, wrist strap and Canon's software suite.
The Canon PowerShot
SX120 IS digital camera is available now for an estimated selling price
of $299.99 Canadian or $249.99 in the US. Check the latest
SX130 IS deals in Canada.
The Canon PowerShot SX120 IS offers a compact design with a comfortable hold. With 10-megapixel resolution and a proven 10x zoom lens (36-360mm equivalent in 35mm terms), the camera is a versatile unit for general family and travel photography.
The Canon SX120 IS camera is not the best solution for capturing broad panoramic type landscapes or larger group shots of people, since the wide-angle coverage of the zoom lens is more limited at 36mm coverage versus some of the competitor models on the market.
There are other long range zoom cameras offering broader 28mm coverage, and even 25mm extra wide coverage like the Nikon COOLPIX L120
March 2011 Update: Canon has now announced an updated version of the SX120 IS in the form of the Canon Powershot SX130IS offering a wider-angle 12x optical zoom providing 28-336mm coverage in 35mm terms.
Taking into account that the Canon PowerShot SX120 IS offers an attractive price point, the camera deserves a closer look considering that it comes loaded with features, offers a powerful image stabilized zoom lens with good telephoto range, and provides suitable shooting options for both novice and more advanced users.
The main control dial located on the top of the PowerShot SX120 IS allows you select the desired shooting mode. The camera offers the convenience of a basic 'green' Auto mode for care free picture taking, and a total of 18 shooting modes.
The Canon SX120 IS also offers the versatility of full Manual (M), Shutter (TV) and Aperture (Av) priority exposure modes for those that want the added creative control. The shutter speed range can be controlled from 15 - 1/2500 sec (total range - varies by shooting mode)
The shooting mode settings found on the top dial of the PowerShot SX120 IS include:
Auto 'Green' Mode: In the default green Auto mode, the camera focuses on the subject it judges to be the main subject and then selects the optimum settings for subject brightness and colour.
The camera intelligently analyzes the situation and shooting conditions, and then automatically selects an appropriate setting from 18 specially defined settings.
With the camera's face detection technology, when faces are detected, a white frame appears on the face of the main subject, while gray frames appear on other detected faces. Even if the detected faces move, the camera will follow the faces within a certain range. The frame locked on the main subject turns green once focus is achieved.
Easy Auto Mode: Operational instructions appear on the LCD screen, and only the necessary buttons are functional. This prevents incorrect operation of the camera, allowing even beginners to take worry-free pictures.
Scene Modes: Six of the settings on the Shooting mode dial are dedicated to using the SX120's program Scene modes for user friendly operation. When you choose a shooting mode that matches a particular set of conditions, the camera will automatically select any necessary settings. So whether you're photographing flowers, a captivating sunset, or your friends at the park just compose and press the shutter release to take the picture.
Five of the more commonly used Scene modes, including; Portrait, Landscape, Night Snapshot, Kids&Pets, and Indoor, are accessible directly on the shooting dial, while the other Scenes are accessed by first selecting the 'Scene' setting, and then choosing from options displayed on the camera's LCD monitor. Available selections include, Sunset, Night Scene, Fireworks, Beach, Aquarium, Foliage, Snow, and iso 3200.
Movie Modes: The Canon PowerShot SX120 IS does offer the ability to shoot movies at 640 x 480 resolution. You can record movie clips up to 4GB in size or 1 hour in length. Three resolution levels are available: 640 x 480 30fps, 640 x 480 LP (takes up half the memory space of 640 x 480 standard) and 320 x 240.
During movie recording, the optical zoom on the Canon SX120 IS is disabled and only the digital zoom can be used. The mechanical movement noise of the optical zoom would otherwise get picked up by the cameras built-in microphone.
+/-2 stop exposure compensation in 1/3 step increments is available to darken or brighten the movie depending on lighting conditions.
Manual Settings : In the Program (P), Manual (M), Aperture (Av) and Shutter Priority (TV) shooting modes you can control the combination of shutter speed and aperture used by the camera.
Pressing the Display (DISP.) button provides the choices of viewing the played back image with no information display (full screen), with simple information display, with detailed information display or focus check display to confirm for fine details. Press the 'DISP.' button repeatedly to cycle through the viewing options.
+/- 2 stop exposure compensation in 1/3 step increments is available by pressing the exposure compensation button located above the rotary "FUNC. /SET" dial and selecting a setting before taking the picture. (Darkens or brightens the image depending on the level of compensation)
Pushing the 'MENU' button on the PowerShot SX120 IS activates the camera setup and operation menus. The available MENU options vary depending on the selected shooting mode.
camera settings like White Balance, My Colours, Flash Exposure, Metering,
Image Quality and Image Size are found in the camera's Function Menu
and can be quickly accessed by simply pushing the [ FUNC. / SET ] button.
Manual focus is achieved by turning the FUNC / SET dial when you select MF mode. A distance scale and magnified centre view appears on the LCD to allow the user to adjust focus.
The Canon PowerShot SX120 IS runs on two AA type batteries. The camera comes supplied with two regular disposable Alkaline batteries, so a set of rechargeable AA batteries and a charger are a must.
batteries will allow for about 130 shots compared to being able to capture
about 370 shots with a set of high powered rechargeable batteries.
The SX120 IS uses Secure Digital (SD) type memory cards. A small capacity 128 MB starter card comes supplied with the camera, so another must would be to get a larger memory card. The good news is that these are inexpensive in today's market.
We would recommend a 2GB SD card as a minimum, and a 4GB card would provide enough space for lots of images and movies as well. (Approximately 750 Large 10MP still images = 2GB space)
We were quite pleased with the performance of the Canon PowerShot SX120 IS all things considered. The camera powers up responsively, and the comfortably positioned zoom lever surrounding the shutter button makes framing images a simple step.
In terms of capture speed, we were able to record a series of three images in a four second burst of shooting with the camera set to continuous advance mode, which falls within the stated SX120 IS specifications of 1.3 frames per second (fps).
The 10x IS zoom lens incorporated into the SX120 IS provides good image quality capabilities, and as mentioned is the same proven lens found in the previous Canon SX110 IS model. Edge to edge image detail is quite good although some corner softness can also be noticed. Center area sharpness was however generally very good for this class.
If you are not regularly printing larger than 8" x 10" prints, the lens quality from the Canon PowerShot SX120 IS should be very acceptable to most users. We did observe some barrel distortion (curvature) when shooting close-up's at wide angle, although once again this is fairly common with cameras in this category.
The optical image stabilizer lens technology did a good job during our tests, offering up to 3 steps compensation, allowing us to hand hold the camera under lower light conditions and get blur free images were normally a tripod would have been required.
One of the few disappointments with the Canon SX120 IS is that the camera's built -in flash must be raised manually. It is easy to forget to raise the flash, and this could result in a missed opportunity. The camera does however offer a prompt on the LCD screen and displays an orange indicator warning when the flash is required.
The large 3.0-inch 230,000 dot resolution LCD monitor offers easy composition and playback capabilities. The cameras menu system is easy to read and navigate on the screen, and colours are vibrantly displayed. The brightness of the monitor can be adjusted in 5 steps depending on viewing conditions.
The LCD monitor does not feature any advanced coatings like some higher end monitors, so viewing the screen under very bright conditions can be more difficult. The simply solution is to point and shoot in the general direction of your subject and then playback the shot while shielding the monitor to see if you got what you want.
More and more of the new digital cameras now provide HD movie recording ability, although the Canon PowerShot SX120 IS does not offer this feature. The camera's video recording abilities are limited to 640 x 480 (30 frame per second) AVI movies. So if you are big on video capabilities there are other cameras you should look at. Check out the newer Canon PowerShot SX130 IS with 12x zoom and 720p HD movie recording.
Overall we found the Canon PowerShot SX120 IS performed well in terms of image quality for its class. The 10 megapixel sensor offers good image quality from 80 to 200 ISO, with digital noise (grain like effect) becoming more noticeable from there on.
The PowerShot SX120 IS does deliver 'usable' image quality even at 800 ISO depending upon conditions, as seen in the shot of the two football players in our SX120 IS sample image gallery. The camera does experience approximately 0.6 sec shutter lag (the time from when you press the shutter button to the time the camera takes the picture), so a little forethought and anticipation is required to capture the exact movement in a situation like this.
are looking for a value priced long-range zoom camera, offering solid
performance and a reasonable feature set, while delivering sharp and
vibrant images under most conditions, we would definitely recommend
the Canon PowerShot SX120 IS as a practical solution.