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Canon PowerShot SX120 IS Digital Camera Review

Canon PowerShot SX120 IS camera

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 Canon’s 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.

Canon PowerShot SX120IS LCD

Canon PowerShot SX120IS Digital Camera Review: Navigation Menu
  •  PowerShot SX120 IS: Design & Operation
  •  Canon SX120IS: Sample Test Images
  •  Canon SX120 IS Camera: Specifications
  •  PowerShot SX120 IS: Review Conclusion

  • 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:

    •  10.0 Megapixel CCD with DIGIC 4 processor
    •  Canon 10x zoom (36-360mm equiv.) with Optical Image Stabilization
    •  Face Detection auto focus with tracking and Motion Detection to minimize blur
    •  Large 3.0-inch color LCD with with 230K pixels and 100% frame coverage
    •  Full Auto plus 18 shooting modes (including Easy mode)
    •  Program AE, Shutter-priority, Aperture-priority, full Manual exposure control
    •  Movie mode w/sound, 640x480 or 320x240 (30fps) up to 4GB or 60 minutes per clip
    •  Shutter speeds from 15 secs to 1/2500 sec in Tv and Manual mode.
    •  Evaluative, Center-weighted average or Spot Metering
    •  Macro closeup focus to 1cm
    •  i-contrast to brighten under exposed images
    •  1.3 frames per second continuous shooting
    •  ISO sensitivity: Auto, High ISO Auto or 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600 presets
    •  Built-in flash with Auto, Fill, Red-eye reduction and Slow-sync modes
    •  SD/SDHC/MMC memory card compatible, 128MB included
    •  Powered by two standard AA type batteries
    •  USB 2.0 Hi-Speed data transfer to computer
    •  PictBridge and Canon Direct Print compatible

    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.

    Canon PowerShot SX120IS flash up

    The Canon PowerShot SX120IS features a manual pop-up flash. The camera displays an icon on the LCD monitor as a reminder indicator for the user to raise the built-in flash when required.

    Canon PowerShot SX120IS Camera: Design, Features and Menus

    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.

    Canon SX120 IS at full wide angle equivalent to 36mm coverage in 35mm terms
      Canon SX120 IS at 300mm equivalent telephoto

    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.

    Canon PowerShot SX120IS digital camera top

    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.

    Canon PowerShot SX120 IS back controls

    Canon SX120IS Rear Buttons and Controls:

    The playback button is conveniently located on the top back portion of the Canon SX120 IS. One push of the button and the camera will display the last image or movie taken.

    Using the main rotary (Func. / Set) dial you can also select to go back and forth between your images. Scrolling options in Playback mode include jump by 10 or 100 images at a time, jump to movies, view by date taken, or jump to the first image taken.

    Push the Face Detect button and the camera displays the message [Face Detect: On]. A face frame will appear around the face detected as the main subject. Even if the subject moves the face frame will follow the subject within a certain range. The Canon PowerShot SX120 IS can focus on up to 35 faces.

    If you want to focus on a different face in the same scene, simply press the Face Detect button again and the face frame will move to another detected face.

    Each time you press the button the camera cycles the face detection frame to another subject. When the frame has made a full circuit of all detected faces "Face Detect: Off " will appear on the LCD monitor.

    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.

    Playback with detailed information display
    Select to jump 10 images in playback
    Playback with focus check display

    +/- 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.

    Commonly adjusted 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.

    Canon PowerShot SX120 IS: Function Menu Options
    AWB: White Balance options include: Auto White Balance (AWB), Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent High and Custom preset
    My Colours: Default set to OFF. My colours options include: Vivid, Neutral, Sepia, Black and White and Custom (Adjust contrast, sharpness and colour 5 levels)
    Flash Exposure Compensation: You can adjust exposure compensation +/- 2 stops in 1/3 stop increments for the camera's built-in flash
    Metering: Select from Evaluative (default), Centre Weighted or Spot metering for difficult lighting conditions
    Continuous Shooting: Continuous (Approx. 1.3 frames per second), Continuous AF (Approx. 0.9 frames per second), Continuous LV (Approx. 0.9 fps) - focus stays set
    Image Size: Settings include: L (3648 x 2736), M1 (2816 x 2112), M2 (2272 x 1704), M3 (1600 x 1200), S (640x 480) and W (3648 x 2048) Widescreen
    Image Quality: Adjust the compression ratio (image quality). Two available settings include Fine and Normal

    Canon PowerShot SX120 IS: Set Up Menu Options
    AF Frame: Select from Face Detect or Centre
    AF Frame Size: Default set to Normal. AF frame can be reduced by changing the setting to Small
    Digital Zoom: Digital Teleconverter. The focal length of the lens can be increased by an equivalent of 1.4x and 2.3x (some loss in image quality with these settings)
    AF-Point Zoom: Magnifying the focal point. Default setting is 'Off'. Select 'On' to have the AF frame magnify (to check focus) when you press the shutter release half way
    Continuous AF: Select On or Off. The Off setting helps preserve power although auto focus will take longer to achieve. Press shutter button half way to focus.
    AF-assist Beam: Select On / Off to control the AF-assist beam function. Default setting is On
    Flash Settings: Options include settings for Flash Exposure Compensation +/- 2 stops in 1/3 increments, Redeye Reduction (On/Off), Redeye Reduction Lamp (On / Off), Safety FE (On, Off)
    Review: Changes the image display time. Set from 2 to 10 sec, or Hold, Off
    Review Info: Change the way the image displays right after shooting. Choose Off (displays the image only), Detailed (with shooting information) or Focus Check
    Disp. Overlay: You can display gridlines on the LCD to aid in horizontal or vertical composition. A 3:2 guide is also available for cropping guidance
    IS Mode: Select from Continuous, Shoot Only, Panning - only counters up and down motion
    Date Stamp: You can insert the shooting date and time into the right corner of the image. The Default setting is Off

    Canon PowerShot SX120 IS: Playback Mode Menu
    Slideshow: Repeat (On / Off), Play Time (3 to 30 sec), Effect (Slide, Fade, Off)
    Erase All: Select to erase all images and movies on the card
    Protect: Select images to protect from erasing
    Rotate: Choose images to rotate
    I-Contrast: Brightens shadow areas - Auto, Low, Medium, High
    Redeye Correction: Choose an image to apply Redeye Correction
    Resize : Select 1600 x 1200 (M3), 640 x480 (S) or 320 x240 (XS)
    Resume: Playback order - Last shot, Last Seen
    Transition: Image playback transitions - Slide, Fade, Off
    Resize to smaller copy for web or email   Apply I-Contrast to brighten shadows

    SX120IS selection rotary dial

    The rotary (FUNC. / SET) dial on the Canon SX120 IS also provides quick access to changing the following camera settings: ISO (push on top part of the dial), Flash settings (push on the right), Self-Timer settings (push down), and Manual Focus (MF) or Macro Close Up (push on the left).

    The available ISO settings on the PowerShot SX120 IS include: AUTO, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, and 1600. (3200 ISO is available in Scene mode)

    Flash control settings include: Auto, Flash On (Fill), and Slow Sync Flash. The flash on the PowerShot SX120 IS must be raised manually first. The flash coverage is approximately 50cm to 4m at wide-angle, and 1 to 2.5m at telephoto.

    Pushing the bottom of the FUNC. / SET dial activates the Self-Timer menu. Settings include: Off, 10 sec delay, 2 sec delay, Face Detect Delay, and Custom Self-Timer (set the delay from 0 to 30 sec and the number of shots from 1 to 10 frames).

    Macro Focus Mode and Manual Focus is accessed by pushing on the left side of the rotary dial. The Canon PowerShot SX120IS can focus down to 1cm from the subject in Macro mode.

    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.

    Alkaline batteries will allow for about 130 shots compared to being able to capture about 370 shots with a set of high powered rechargeable batteries.

    Canon PowerShot SX120 IS camera SD card and AA battery compartment
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    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)

    The connections for the Canon PowerShot SX120 IS are found behind a hinged rubber door near the top on the left side of the camera.

    Both a USB interface cable (IFC-400PCU) and an Audio / Video connection cable (AVC-DC400) come supplied with the camera. The USB cable can also be used to connect the PowerShot SX120 IS to a Pictbridge compatible printer for easy direct printing without the need of a computer.

    An optional AC adapter (ACK-800) is available for the SX120 IS, and the camera's AC connector socket is found right above the USB / AV connection.


    Canon PowerShot SX120 IS connections

    Canon PowerShot SX120IS Review: Performance and Conclusion

    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.

    If you 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.

    Canon SX120 IS with lens extended

    Canon PowerShot SX120IS Image Sample Gallery

    Canon Powershot SX120 IS Digital Camera Specifications
    Effective Pixels Approx. 10 million effective pixels, sensor size 1/2.5 CCD
    Processor DIGIC 4 with iSAPS technology
    Focal Range 6.0 - 60.0 mm (35mm equivalent: 36-360mm)
    Zoom Optical 10x. Digital approx. 4x (with Digital Tele-Converter approx. 1.4x or 2.3x and Safety Zoom). Combined approx. 40x
    Aperture f/2.8 - f/4.3
    Construction 10 elements in 9 groups (1 aspherical element)
    Image Stabilizer Yes (shift-type)
    Face Detection Face Detection, 1-point AF (fixed to centre or Face Select and Track)
    AF Single, Continuous
    AF Point Selection Size (Normal, Small)
    AF Lock On / Off Selectable
    AF Assist Beam Yes
    Manual Focus Yes
    Closest Focusing Distance 1cm (W) from front of lens in macro
    Metering modes Evaluative (linked to Face Detection AF frame), Centre-weighted average, Spot (Centre)
    AE Lock On / Off Selectable
    Exposure Compensation +/- 2 EV in 1/3 stop increments.
    I-Contrast for automatic dynamic range correction
    ISO sensitivity AUTO, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600
    Shutter Speed 1- 1/2500 sec (factory default)
    15 - 1/2500 sec (total range - varies by shooting mode)
    White Balance Auto (including Face Detection WB), Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Custom
    LCD monitor 3.0 TFT, approx. 230,000 dots. Adjustable to one of five levels.
    Built in Flash Auto, Manual Flash On / Off
    Slow Sync Speed Yes. Fastest speed 1/500 sec
    Redeye Reduction Yes
    Flash Exposure Compensation +/- 2 EV in 1/3 stop increments. Face Detection FE. Safety FE.
    Manual Power Adjustment 3 levels with internal flash
    Built-in Flash Range 50cm-4.0m (W) / 1.0m-2.5m (T)
    Accessory Flash Canon High Power Flash HF-DC1
    Shooting Modes Auto*, Program AE, Shutter priority AE, Aperture priority AE, Manual, Easy, Portrait, Landscape, Night Snapshot, Kids & Pets, Indoor, SCN (Night Scene, Sunset, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Aquarium, ISO 3200), Movie
    *with Scene Detection Technology and Motion Detection Technology
    Photo Effects My Colors (My Colors Off, Vivid, Neutral, Sepia, Black & White, Custom Color(Limited))
    Drive modes Single, Continuous, Self-Timer, FaceSelf-Timer
    Continuous Shooting Approx. 1.3 shots/sec. AF/LV: Approx. 0.9 shots/sec. (until memory card becomes full)
    Image size (L) 3648 x 2736, (M1) 2816 x 2112, (M2) 2272 x 1704, (M3) 1600 x 1200, (S) 640 x 480, (W) 3648 x 2048.
    Resize in playback (M3, S, 320 x 240)
    Compression Fine, Normal
    Movies Size (L) 640 x 480, 30fps/30fps (LP)
    (M) 320 x 240, 30fps Up to 4GB or 1 hour recording time
    Movies Type AVI [Motion JPEG compression + WAVE (monaural)]
    Canon Printers Canon SELPHY Compact Photo Printers and Canon Inkjet Printers supporting PictBridge (ID Photo Print, Fixed Size Print and Movie Print supported on SELPHY CP & ES printers only)
    Redeye Correction Yes, during shooting and playback
    Intelligent Orientation Sensor Yes
    Histogram Yes
    Playback Zoom Approx. 2x 10x
    Self Timer Approx. 2 or 10 sec. or Custom
    Menu Languages English, German, French, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Italian, Norwegian, Swedish, Spanish, Simplified Chinese, Chinese (traditional), Japanese, Russian, Portuguese, Korean, Greek, Polish, Czech, Hungarian, Turkish, Thai, Arabic, Ukrainian, Romanian, Farsi
    USB Hi-Speed USB (MTP, PTP) dedicated connector (Mini-B compatible)
    Connections A/V output, dedicated connector (PAL/NTSC)
    Card Type SD, SDHC, MMC, MMCplus, HC MMCplus. 128MB memory card supplied
    Supplied Software ZoomBrowser EX / ImageBrowser, PhotoStitch
    Battery Type 2x Size-AA Alkaline or NiMH Batteries(NB4-300) (Alkalines supplied)
    Number of shots Approx. 130 shots (with supplied batteries)
    Approx. 370 shots (with optional Canon NB4-300 batteries)
    Approx. 420 min. playback (with supplied batteries)
    Approx. 540 min. playback (with Canon NB4-300 batteries)
    Optional Power AC Adapter Kit ACK800, Battery Charger Kit CBK4-300, Ni-MH Batteries NB4-300
    Dimensions 110.6 x 70.4 x 44.7 mm
    Weight Approx. 245g


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