Canon PowerShot SX600 HS review: Picks up where your phone leaves off without sacrificing easy sharing

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THE GOOD

The Canon PowerShot SX600 HS delivers easy automatic shooting options, very good photo and video quality, and a useful zoom range with optical image stabilization in a slim, lightweight package and at a reasonable price.

THE BAD

The lens is slow, so indoor use of the zoom lens is limited, the autofocus can be frustratingly inaccurate at times, and low-light photo and video quality are merely OK.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Though there’s nothing extraordinary about it, the SX600 HS is a solid choice for snapshooters wanting a simple step up from a smartphone without sacrificing on-the-go sharing.

The 16-megapixel PowerShot SX600 HS is sort of an oddball in Canon’s SX and S models.

Although Canon lists this model under its “high-end, advanced digital cameras,” it’s really not and has more in common with the camera maker’s pocket-friendly Elph line. If perhaps you didn’t consider the SX600 HS because it was listed as “advanced” you should reconsider.

On the whole, the camera is a straightforward point-and-shoot with reliably good video and photo performance. But for most people, I imagine its 18x f3.8-6.9 25-450mm lens will be the big attraction along with its built-in Wi-Fi and slim, lightweight body. At less than $250 (AU$250, £200), it’s also priced well for what you’re getting and I would expect it to drop below $200 come holiday shopping season.

That said, the 22x-zoom Nikon Coolpix S9600 (or the S9700) has slightly better photo quality and theSamsung WB350F is a better match for those who want the best wireless features.

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Photo quality

With the SX600 HS being a step-down model from the SX700 HS (about $100 separates them), you might expect a difference in image quality between the two. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on how you look at it) the pictures are about the same, which is to say they’re very good. If you aren’t pixel peeping and don’t typically enlarge photos beyond 50 percent and crop them heavily, you’ll probably really like what you get from the SX600 HS.

The image above is several 100 percent crops from the center of our test scene. There’s noise even at its lowest ISO, though you’re unlikely to see it unless you are in fact pixel peeping. Canon keeps a good balance between noise and noise reduction. Though most shots from the camera can benefit from a little post-shoot sharpening, it isn’t until ISO 1600 that subjects start to look really soft at smaller sizes, and ISO 3200 is mushy and should be avoided.

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What’s most important about all of this is that the lens is slow, meaning that it has narrow maximum apertures. That means it takes more light, slower shutter speeds, or a higher ISO when using the zoom lens to get a correct exposure and avoid blur. Even in full sun, I found the camera regularly used ISO 200 or above when fully zoomed in, so using it indoors or in low light, handheld, is basically a recipe for blurry or grainy photos.

Video quality is really very good. The SX600 HS’ photos have the same noise issues as the SX600’s and, likewise, soften in low light. But for shooting outdoors in daylight, the 1080p video at 30fps is better than I expected for the camera’s price. You can use the camera’s zoom while recording, but the lens motor can be heard in quieter scenes.

Shooting performance

While I wouldn’t classify this as a fast camera, it’s not slow either, basically performing on par with others in its class like the Samsung WB350F. From off to first shot takes 1.7 seconds with a lag between shots of 1.1 seconds. Turning on the flash drives that wait up to about 3 seconds.

Shutter lag — the time it takes from pressing shutter release to capture without prefocusing — is just less than 0.2 second in bright lighting and 0.4 second in dim lighting. That is with the lens at its widest postion; you can expect a slightly longer time to focus when the lens is zoomed in shooting a low-contrast subject.

Canon has two continuous shooting options on the SX600 HS. You can shoot at full resolution at up to 4fps or up to 10.5fps at a reduced 4-megapixel resolution. Regardless of which you use, focus and exposure are set with the first shot, so if your subject is moving fast, it’s unlikely all of your photos will be in focus.

Also, if you’re shooting in Auto, the camera’s autofocus system regularly picked subjects other than what would be the logical target. The problem is, there’s no way to override it. Maybe it’s because I’ve gotten used to being able to tap to focus with a smartphone, but this became overwhelmingly frustrating when I just wanted to snap a quick photo and couldn’t select my subject.

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Design and features

In design and features, the SX600 HS has more in common with Canon’s ultracompact Elph line than its SX series. Like the Elphs, the SX600 is small and lightweight and its controls are streamlined for snapshooters who don’t leave Auto too often.

There is no shooting-mode dial, for example; instead there’s just a three-position switch for picking what you want to shoot in. The rest of the controls are pretty standard with the exception of Canon’s Mobile Device Connect button, which lets you specify a smartphone or computer in advance that you’ll connect to at the push of a button.

Press it and it turns on the camera’s Wi-Fi, at which point you have to open your mobile device’s wireless settings and select the camera. Opening the Camera Window app completes the process.

Samsung WB350F Canon PowerShot SX600 HS Nikon Coolpix S9600
Price (MSRP) $260 (£250, AU$209) $250 (£200, AU$250) $280 (£225, AU$300)
Dimensions (WHD) 4.5×2.6×1 inches (114.3x66x25.1mm) 4.2×2.4×1 inches (106.7x61x25.1mm) 4.3×2.5×1.3 inches (109.2×63.5x33mm)
Weight (with battery and media) 7.7 ounces (218 grams) 6.6 ounces (187 grams) 7.3 ounces (207 grams)
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 16 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch BSI CMOS 16 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch BSI CMOS 16 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch BSI CMOS
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 3-inch touch LCD, 460K dots/None 3-inch LCD, 460K dots/None 3-inch LCD, 460K dots/None
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 21x, f2.8-5.9, 23-483mm (35mm equivalent) 18x, f3.8-6.9, 25-450mm (35mm equivalent) 22x, f3.4-6.3, 25-550mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still / video) JPEG/MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 AAC (MP4) JPEG/H.264 AAC (MP4) JPEG/MPEG-4 AVC H.264 AAC (MOV)
Highest resolution size (still / video) 4,608×3,456 pixels / 1,920×1,080 at 30fps (progressive) 4,608×2,592 pixels / 1,920×1,080 at 30fps (progressive) 4,608×3,456 pixels / 1,920×1,080 at 30fps (progressive)
Image stabilization type Optical and digital Optical and digital Optical and digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life Li-ion rechargeable, 310 shots Li-ion rechargeable, 290 shots Li-ion rechargeable, 290 shots
Battery charged in camera Yes; via USB to AC adapter or computer No; wall charger supplied Yes; by computer or wall adapter via USB
Storage media microSD/microSDHC/microSDXC SD/SDHC/SDXC SD/SDHC/SDXC
Built-in Wi-Fi/GPS Yes (with NFC)/No Yes (with NFC)/No Yes/No

Along with sending photos and movies directly to mobile devices for viewing, editing, and uploading, you can use the Wi-Fi to sync your mobile’s GPS to geotag your photos, which is nice because this camera does not have built-in GPS. You can also wirelessly send images directly to a photo printer or back them up to a PC on the same network that the camera is connected to.

Lastly, the app can be used as a remote viewfinder and shutter release. It doesn’t give you much control — just zoom, self-timer, shutter release, and flash (assuming you’ve popped it up) — but it’s nice to have for shooting wildlife and group portraits. It can’t be used to start and stop video, however.

Canon includes NFC on the SX600 HS for use with supported Android devices, but it isn’t used for much. If you haven’t installed the CameraWindow app, you can tap your smartphone against the camera and it will launch the Google Play store so you can download it. After that, it’s only used to launch the app. You’ll still have to turn on the camera’s Wi-Fi and connect your device to the camera by selecting it in your wireless settings.

Other cameras featuring NFC from Sony, Panasonic, and Samsung will launch the app and handle the connection process, making shooting and sharing that much easier. They also use NFC to quickly send single photos to your phone with a simple tap between the camera and device.

As you might imagine, using Wi-Fi doesn’t do great things for your battery life. For regular shooting, battery life is very good and on par with the competition. But using the Wi-Fi, shooting a lot of video, cranking up the screen brightness, and frequently zooming in and out will shorten it.

General shooting options Canon PowerShot SX600 HS
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200
White balance Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Custom
Recording modes Auto, Hybrid Auto, Program, Creative Shot, Portrait, Smart Shutter, High-speed Burst, Handheld NightScene, Low Light, Fisheye Effect, Miniature Effect, Toy Camera Effect, Monochrome, Super Vivid, Poster Effect, Snow, Fireworks, Long Shutter
Focus modes Face AF, Center AF, Tracking AF
Macro 2.0 in. to 1.6 ft. (5-50cm) (Wide)
Metering modes Evaluative, Center-weighted average, Spot
Color effects Vivid, Neutral, Sepia, Black & White, Positive Film, Lighter Skin Tone, Darker Skin Tone, Vivid Blue, Vivid Green, Vivid Red, Custom Color
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) Unlimited continuous

As I mentioned earlier, the switch on back next to the thumb rest is for changing shooting modes.

The top postion is for Canon’s Hybrid Auto mode, which captures a few seconds of video before each picture you take. At the end of a day of shooting, the camera automatically gathers up all the little clips and your photos — taken with Canon’s scene-recognition Smart Auto — and puts them into a movie. The result is basically a candid highlight movie.

The middle spot is a revamped version of the Creative Shot mode that appeared first on last year’s supersmall PowerShot N. Snap a picture of something and the camera will automatically create five different versions using different color and tone settings, crops, and styles in addition to saving the original photo.

The old version gave you no control over what types of effects were used. Now, you can choose a category of filters — Retro, Monochrome, Special, or Natural — for the camera to use with a total of 46 filters available.

The last position is for Smart Auto and everything else. Once you’ve moved the switch all the way down, you press the Func. Set button and then navigate to a list of shooting modes. This model doesn’t have shooting modes for directly controlling shutter speed and aperture; you’ll have to go with the SX700 HS or other SX models for those. The closest you’ll come is Program Auto, which allows for control of other things like ISO and white balance.

Conclusion

Though it’s not a standout in any one way, the Canon PowerShot SX600 HS is a solid choice for snapshooters wanting a simple step up from a smartphone without sacrificing on-the-go sharing.

(cnet.com)

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