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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Canon Powershot SX130IS- Review

Canon Powershot SX130IS- Review
July 2013, Carl Garrard
Hi. I'm the SX130is. Do you want to play?
Ok, you hate complicated cameras but you still want one that can shoot just about everything. Or maybe you are on a budget and don't want to be stuck with your camera phone or a very low end point and shoot camera. How about a refurbished Canon Powershot SX130IS for $89.00 that covers 28-336mm with an f/2.8-5.6 lens? How about it? Well if you look to your left, that's the camera I'm talking about, and the price I got mine for. Today the used camera market has never been better but finding the diamonds in the rough can be daunting. This is what you hired me for though, to do the dirty work for you. Come lads and lassies, lets venture forth!

The land of the SX130IS awaits you!
Canon Powershot SX130IS Review- Quick Introduction

Of late I've been on a tear with these affordable used digital cameras because I think there are quite a few diamonds out there lurking in the shadows. With some 2,500 (more or less) digital cameras on the market since 1998 there are a LOT to go through. The purpose of this review is to test the SX130IS and let the reader know if I deem it a hit or miss (price factored in). Until the economy improves some are forced to look at lower priced older models which not only perfectly acceptable, it can be quite rewarding if you get the right one! Ok onward to the review we go.

Canon Powershot SX130IS Review- What it's got

So. I get bored with specification sheets pretty quick these days. I've simply learned that no matter how attractive a camera looks on paper there's no substituting shooting with it in your hand when you really want to get an impression of one. In between those two extremes lies my camera reviews :). So lets get the silly feature stuff out of the way first then move on to how the SX130IS works in real life. Sip of coffee, deep breath, and knuckles cracked. Ahhhh.

The Canon Powershot SX130IS is a 12 times 28-336mm f/2.8-5.6 zoom lens point and shoot camera featuring PASM modes and built in mechanical lens shift image stabilization. It's also got 720p HD video with stereo sound, has a nice big 3" lcd screen on back, a host of fun scene/art filter and automatic modes, and a manual pop up flash. It's runs on any type of AA you can shove in it (I recommend eneloops brother, I sure do!) but lithium or rechargeable NIMH's are recommended by me.

Best Price on Eneloops. Don't waste time searching just click

For low light situations it relies on an auto focus assist lamp to achieve focus, which is nice. It's got a 80-1600 ISO range standard and upwards range to 6400 in the low light scene mode (at 2mp capture size).  It does not sport raw files, so for enthusiasts wanting a budget raw shooter, you'll need to use CHDK to do so (that's a four letter word to Canon).  However, Jpeg's can be custom controlled using the My Color (custom) setting, so there is always that. The SX130IS has a pretty good range of external controls but does not have an AEL lock button (nor can one be configured) and no live histogram. Those two omissions are cons on my report.

Basically, that's the SX130IS in a nutshell. The lens is the primary feature and its quite versatile with a respectable f/2.8 wide angle max aperture (for those of you learning, it means its pupil is pretty big when you are zoomed all the way back).

Canon Powershot SX130IS Review- Exterior Features/Comfort/Build Quality

The SX130IS is covered in a hard rubber like finish that is both smooth and provides grip. Think of how the exterior of a balloon feels and you'll have an idea of what its like to hold. It's cool to the touch and has a nice enough size and grip to allow for very comfortable and stable shooting one handed or with both. The front of the camera has a fancy chromish accented looking slashie thingamagig but gives you a surprising amount of grip for your fingers to hold onto.  On the backside there's a teeny platform for your thumb to stabilize the camera as well as plenty of room for it to lay rested without touching any buttons. A comfortable and stable camera to hold

The entire camera is made of plastics and when you shake it you'll hear the lens mechanism rattle a bit as well as the IS mechanism inside. Owners of the SX130IS, I bet you just tried shaking it didn't you? This really doesn't mean a thing so long as the camera works and the optics are aligned through the zoom range which, they appear to be based on the image quality of the optics I've seen thus far (quite decent actually!). I wouldn't be surprised if Canon are doing some lens corrections with its Digic 4 processor.

The buttons click nicely and the main control wheel is a bit sensitive to the 4 way button clicks, they simply don't have enough spring tension under them to combat the pressure you apply when scrolling the wheel around in circles. You end up tip toeing your way around using those controls, which adds a litle bit of seemingly unnecessary stress to the use of this camera. But, ya get used to it.

Canon Powershot SX130IS Review- Image Samples

Ok so what kind of image quality did my $89.00 yield me? Well lets take a look at a few images at various ISO levels first. You can do that now if you want. Then you can compare your impressions to mine afterward.

ISO 80, 336mm equivalent
ISO 80, 336mm equivalent
ISO 80, 28mm equivalent

ISO 80, 28mm (bright light)
ISO 400, 336mm equivalent


Canon Powershot SX130IS Review- Image Quality Conclusion

Overall the SX130IS didn't surprise me or disappoint me. The image quality overall is what you'd expect from a budget superzoom with an older sensor. Overall you can make decent 11x14 prints when using the lowest ISO setting and getting a very good exposure. Even when using the custom "My Color" mode and using the lowest sharpening setting in that mode, I was unable to see fine detail which means that noise reduction is applied pretty heavily at all ISO levels. This is very much normal for Jpeg only digicams.

The lens is pretty good though through most of its range, but the max f/5.6 aperture at its full telephoto position shows a lot of diffraction that robs detail from your shots, and shows pretty heavy purple fringing. At wide angle shots look pretty good optically, but showing some purple fringing and barrel distortion- reminding you yet again this is a budget superzoom camera. Either way fine detail isn't what this camera is about unless you want to shoot macro. It's a decent performer here really, but not exceptional to say the least.

For the average shooter my criticisms are probably completely irrelevant, but it's worth nothing to those who want the best IQ for the buck. Had Canon allowed raw files for this camera, the IQ could have been much better. I know because I used the CHDK hack kit and examined the raw files (no I will not include those samples here for a production camera review).

The land of the SX130IS awaits you!

Canon Powershot SX130IS Review- Notable Performance Highlights/Issues

The SX130IS has an excellent image stabilization mechanism. I pride myself on my rock solid hands (firearm training) but even the most steady of hands cannot overcome physics. This is where image stabilization comes into play and trust me, I've used every I.S. system available from all manufacturers out there. So when I say the SX130IS has excellent IS capabilities- I mean it without bias. Remember, I'm brand agnostic, I just like good cameras that suit my tastes. That is why when I shot this image at 336mm at 1/15th of a second one handed, I was simply blown away.

Shot one handed IS enabled (shoot only mode) 1/15th of a second.
Take a look at the tomato plant dead center, which is where I focused. The tomatoes and stems are dead on sharp (as can be from this camera) without any blur at all. You aren't supposed to be able to shoot at 336mm equivalent at 1/15th of a second and get a sharp image. I seriously wouldn't expect to shoot a sharp image at that focal length at 1/125th of a second most of the time, with IS enabled. Without IS enabled, it's difficult to get a sharp image for the average person when the shutter speed value goes under the focal length equivalent (example: a sharp 1/300th of a second at 500mm shot is difficult for most shooters, expect sharp results at 1/500th of a second at 500mm).

So anyways this is worth noting. I don't know how many stops of stabilization you can expect because there are so many variables with using image stabilization I find testing nearly useless. I can only speak for myself and my shooting style. I'd say this camera gives a good 3.5-4 stops of image stabilization advantage using the "Shoot Only" IS mode.

Overall too the lens range is a revelation to those who want a pocketable (barely) superzoom camera. It's a bit hefty and chunky but not overly so, and the range of photographic situations you can muster is astounding really. I like the wide angle and very good telephoto of this camera allowing you to isolate subjects and create background blur despite it's slow aperture at telephoto.

Canon Powershot SX130IS Review- Final Conclusion

For more serious shooters thinking that the less pixel dense SX130 might be the better performer than it's successors, I say be careful. Although the sensor isn't overstuffed like today's pocket superzooms, it's clearly not going to win any major awards in image quality. That said, it's a very decent performer that will likely please most shooters at most sensitivity settings, including of course the current owners of the SX130.

The SX130 has a nice 12x zoom range that really does capture a lot of different subjects quite well. To use the telephoto end of the lens though, you'll need a lot of light to make images pop. And if you want to shoot action shots, you'll need to raise the ISO value up to 400 ISO even in bright daytime sunlight to get a fast enough shutter speed to keep blur down. Luckily, there's not too much difference at ISO 400 than base ISO (80) in image quality, at least when there is ample light. Also worth mentioning is the zoom speed. It's pretty "pedestrian" in speed overall, not what I'd call a fast zooming mechanism at all, but also not slow either- somewhere in the middle in terms of overall zooming speed when compared to all cameras of this class.

For still subjects, the image stabilization works wonderfully and you can keep the ISO setting way down as well. The IS may have been the most impressive aspect of this camera besides its versatile lens range. Battery life is also worth mentioning, very good with Sanyo Eneloops (just don't use alkaline batteries if you intend to shoot all weekend or all day for that matter). 

Best Price on Eneloops. Don't waste time searching just click

The SX130IS is a fun camera to use and has plenty of features and options to keep you interested. It's comfortable to hold and has a decent amount of external controls without looking intimidating to novice snapshooters. Shooting home videos, graduations, etc... this camera has plenty competent video that may surprise you once it's on the big screen. It's not full size 1080p HD but plenty good enough at 720p for casual video shooters. Certainly good enough to document loved ones and important happenings in life.

For the budget shooter, this camera is a good value. It doesn't make me jump out of my chair cheering for it, but certainly is recommended as long as you take heed to the pro's and con's I've placed in this review.  Today's used prices make it even more value for the dollar, so I recommend that if you are going to purchase one, perhaps buy used or refurbished to really stretch  your dollar.

Be safe and happy shooting!

-Carl Garrard

The land of the SX130IS awaits you!

The land of the SX130IS awaits you!

1 comment:

  1. I like the manual pop-up flash -- simple and easy.