Editors' note: As of March, the SX1 will be able to capture images in the RAW format, via an update to be made available from Canon's website.
The SX1 IS is Canon's HD-video sibling to the superzoom SX10 IS which we reviewed a few months ago. The two share the same body and button configuration for the most part, but inside things are definitely different. At the heart of the SX1 is a CMOS sensor, something which is normally reserved for Canon's digital SLR range. The SX10 IS, meanwhile, has a CCD sensor. Both share the enormous 20x optical zoom.
Though the SX1 IS may look similar to the SX10 IS when you place them side by side, don't be fooled — this is a distinctly different camera on the inside.
The SX1 IS has a variable angle LCD screen at the back.
Just like its companion, the SX1 features a smooth, black and grey plastic exterior. The lens is the same length — 20x optical zoom, or 560mm in the 35mm equivalent measurement — and features the same image stabilisation system.
There's an extra flap on the side of the unit for HDMI output, however, you will need to provide your own cable to plug it into an external television. At the top sits the hotshoe for an external flash unit as usual.
The fiddly mode dial, which seems to be a bit of a hit and miss feature on newer Canon cameras, is still present here. Fortunately, we felt the version on the SX1 had a little more resistance and accuracy than its equivalent on the SX10.
With full high-definition video recording in 16:9, the SX1 also shares the same mammoth 20x optical zoom with its smaller cousin. There's a CMOS sensor rather than a CCD sensor inside, for the first time on a consumer-level Canon camera.
The screen is far superior to that on the SX10 IS — maybe it's just because it's 2.8 inches rather than 2.5, or that you can toggle between 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios when taking shots. Perhaps it's a trivial inclusion, but it makes portraits that much more interesting in the extended form.
The variable angle LCD, which we also saw on the SX10, is a great tool in all shooting situations. We much prefer it to the electronic viewfinder.
Performance and image quality
Performance-wise, the SX1 isn't all that different from the SX10 — start-up times are similar, and the shot-to-shot time is fairly consistent. We found that the SX1 coped admirably with our ISO noise test, producing clear and usable images right through to ISO 800. As with most new Canon compact digital cameras, ISO is expandable up to 3,200 in the scene modes.
The SX1 IS coped well across all ISO ranges, with a little softening at 1,600.
(Credit: CNET Australia)
As with the SX10, the camera still blew out highlights a little too much for our liking and had a tendency to overexpose in automatic and scene modes, luckily this can mostly be fixed by shooting in manual. If only Canon had seen fit to allow the SX1 to shoot in RAW as well — for the time being, JPEG is the only file format supported.
Overall, the image quality was either on par or better than what we saw on the SX10.
Shooting video is incredibly easy on the SX1. VGA is the only resolution you can shoot at when the aspect ratio is set to 4:3, but flick it to 16:9 (via the button to the left of the viewfinder) and full HD video becomes available. We especially like how there is a one-touch record button underneath the mode dial, marked with a big red circle so you can't miss it. Pressing the shutter button in movie mode takes a still image.
With two microphones positioned above the lens, the SX1 is capable of recording stereo sound. While Canon has stated in the user manual that the noise of any lens adjustments may be heard in the recording, we found that in most situations the microphones didn't pick up much of the noise at all, and most times in louder than average shooting situations, there was no incidental sound.
To put it simply, the videos shot with the SX1 were superb. We loved how you could shoot in black and white, vivid, sepia and other in-camera display settings. To make the most of the HD video though, Canon suggests SD cards (class 6) are used, but we managed to get usable, consistent videos from a class 4 SDHC card.
We only wish that Canon included an external microphone and headphone jack to make the SX1 act almost like a fully fledged video camera.
The SX1 IS is a great camera for those who don't want the bulk of an SLR but desire the flexibility of different shooting modes and customisable options, with a long lens. The inclusion of (good quality) HD-video recording just makes the package even more appealing, and we would wholeheartedly recommend this camera for anyone who is looking for a camera that can — almost — do it all.