With manual controls and a wide-angle to telephoto-length lens, the SX10 IS falls into the category affectionately termed 'superzooms'. Somewhere between a more advanced point-and-shoot and a fully fledged dSLR, superzooms generally have a limited audience because of their fairly niche calling card.
Sharing a similar body to its predecessor the PowerShot S5 IS, the SX10 is a slick, sophisticated picture-taking machine. Taking it out of the box for the first time provides a much more tactile experience than a lot of other cameras. The gentle plastics sit softly against your skin, the silver tipped buttons exude an understated elegance, and the hot shoe is coated in a pleasing powder black finish.
The 2.5-inch LCD screen at the back can flip and rotate, much like a screen you would find on a camcorder. Clearly, Canon's designers have taken the time to get the aesthetics of this camera right. It's moulded in such a way as to fit as snugly in one hand, excellent news for one-handed shooters.
It's not as hefty as it looks, which is a nice surprise when you first pick it up and expect it to knock you backwards. Using AA batteries rather than a rechargeable li-ion unit, their weight counteracts the bulk of the lens nicely, providing a balanced feel.
There's no need to shy away from the main drawcard of the SX10 IS — the absolutely massive 20x optical zoom lens. While we can't see it fitting in a pocket to provide some amusing quips about being happy to see someone, when we pulled it out to show people, the SX10 drew a lot of comments about how Canon managed to squash such a long lens into a relatively small package.
Thanks to the handy 35mm equivalent measurement on the lens barrel, at full extension the 20x zoom is equivalent to a 560mm telephoto lens. When retracted, the lens is a satisfyingly wide 28mm. Image stabilisation is inbuilt, and the movement of the lens itself is incredibly quiet thanks to the ultrasonic technology.
The LCD screen flips in and out from the camera body and can rotate 270 degrees, allowing it to sit facing outwards or inwards depending on whether you'll be using the viewfinder or the screen itself. The lens cap has fortunately been revamped since the S5, meaning that it no longer automatically pops off when the camera turns on. Unfortunately, the 2.5-inch screen remains the same size as on its predecessor.
Performance and Image Quality
Start up time on the SX10 was pleasing, with the camera powering on and the zoom extending to its widest angle in a reasonable 1.5 seconds. We managed to squeeze out about 164 shots on four AA batteries, which seemed to be a lot less than an equivalent 10 megapixel camera running on a li-ion battery.
Depending on the shooting conditions, the SX10 rendered pleasing colours, with the usual Canon sharpness to them. We tested the SX10 at various magnifications, and found the best results came from the zoom retracted toward the wide-angle level. Noise levels were reasonable for a camera of this class.
Despite image stabilisation being built into the lens, it's nearly impossible to take a clear, blur-free shot at the 20x magnification mark. That's because such an extended zoom will amplify any hand shake when shooting without a tripod. So while the huge zoom may be a novelty, in the long run — just like shooting with telephoto SLR lenses — a tripod really is necessary to achieve the best results.
Surprisingly, the SX10 tended to overexpose shots, particularly on bright, glary days. Overcast skies were washed out and bereft of detail, and highlights were blown out as well.
One of the main gripes we had with the SX10 was the electronic viewfinder (EVF). In high glare situations, where the viewfinder would normally be de rigueur in terms of framing a shot, the EVF struggled with representing any sort of detail. Together with the LCD screen, it's more a case of point-and-hope than point-and-shoot in these sorts of conditions. Also, we never thought we would miss a battery indicator on a camera, but we do, because there's no way to tell the SX10 is running low on battery until it's too late.
The SX10 IS is a competent superzoom camera, though it does have a lot of downsides. With a difficult electronic viewfinder and relatively low-resolution LCD screen, it's not ideal for all shooting situations. Also, don't expect HD video recording on the SX10 — for that, be prepared to fork out much more for the PowerShot SX1 IS. However, if you are determined to stay away from a dSLR system and the flexibility of having interchangeable lenses, the SX10 is a good compromise. It may not be as robust as a dSLR but its compact size and good looks will appeal to many.