Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Canon Powershot SX60 HS review

For most people, photography is an activity to be enjoyed, not a craft to be honed. That is to say, taking pictures is a part of their lives, but their lives aren't devoted to photography. This is where the idea of an all-in-one super-zoom comes into play; something that can do many things but which doesn't make too many demands on its owner. The Canon SX series fits this mold, and the SX60 HS is an evolutionary upgrade to this line. At a time when the market is pushing ever upwards in terms of price (... here's looking at you Sony RX10 and Panasonic FZ1000...) the SX60 HS remains within the same price point of its predecessors. The headline specs are:

  • 16,1mp sensor
  • Digic 6 processor
  • 65x lens (21mm-1365mm effective)
  • 922,000 dot EVF
  • WiFi and NFC enabled

This is very much a case of "evolution" rather than "revolution". Yes, the megapixel count is higher and the zoom is longer than on the SX50, but those don't matter as much as they would suggest on a camera of this type, and it's mostly a case of a myriad of little changes adding up to an improved user experience.

Body and Design

The key differences between the SX60 HS over the SX50 are:

  • 16.1mp vs 12.1 mp
  • Lens is both wider and longer
  • Closer macro focusing
  • 60fps video recording
  • Larger, higher resolution screen
  • Built in Wifi
  • Microphone jack
  • Slightly larger and heavier (649g)

If you have the SX50, there is very little point to upgrading to the SX60 HS, but if you were considering a bridge camera in this price range, it is worth paying the extra amount considering the usability upgrades over the previous model.

The SX60 HS is undeniably a more comfortable camera to hold hold than the SX50. The shape of the grip and thumb rest are better and now use soft rubber materials on the front and rear. In this regards, it is now on equal footing with the venerable Panasonic FZ-200; in fact, some will find that the Canon grip is the more comfortable of the two because of the additional contouring.

Even though the camera is more comfortable to hold, the problem remains with the tactile response of the buttons and 4-way controller on the back of the camera. The buttons are recessed and have very little travel; consequently, there is precious little tactile feedback. In other words, this mid-market camera that has DSLR-aspirations, but the impression is ruined by the economy-feel of the controls. In terms of operation, the control layout is typical Canon. If you've used a Canon compact before, the menu layout and operation will be familiar.


Is 65x worth of zoom better than 50x? It's an impressive spec, and the difference between widest and longest zoom is dramatic:


To put this into perspective, at maximum zoom and looking across the mall atrium in the above sample, the magnification on the mannequin is as if it was standing not three feet away from the photographer.

The more important question is if this is a usable amount of magnification. The answer to that question is "just barely if you are using the camera hand-held". At maximum zoom, even the slightest movement unsettles the view of the subject... and that's with the image stabilization turned on. What kinds of bumps and jiggles are we talking about? How about you heartbeat for one....

.... in other words, a tripod is the perfect accessory for this camera.

Aside: Now is a as good a time as any to talk about the phenomenon of "anchoring", the tendency of the human brain's "stickiness" when it comes to processing numbers. Though most experienced photographers have a conception of how the commonly used focal lengths appear visually, it is difficult to conceptualize what the field of view is at some arbitrary number such as "20x" or "40x". This is even more so for consumers just stepping into their first dedicated camera. With no working frame of reference, its easy to get lured into the "more is better" mentality.... once you know that there is a camera with 65x zoom, it's hard to go down to 50x or 30x when the price difference is relatively small. Of course, this is the same type of marketing mechanics that happened during the early days of digital during the megapixel boom.

Image Quality

The following is an ad hoc demonstration of the camera's JPEG output quality through the ISO range. Pay attention to the legibility of the soda bottles for detail retention (or lack thereof) as the ISO value rises, speckling in the broad colour patches for overall image noise, as well as the harshness of the reflections and shadows as dynamic range decreases. These samples are not directly comparable to similar samples found elsewhere in this blog because of variable ambient lighting conditions. Click on images for 100% crop view.

For comparison's sake, the following is an example of the 16mp SX60 HS against the 12mp Panasonic DMC-FZ200, shot under identical lighting conditions and in the same manner (center weighted, f/4 and at 25mm full frame equivalent focal length). The FZ200 was once the class leader in this genre of cameras, and it is still a relevant product today. Note that even though the Panasonic is using a longer shutter speed to generate its exposures, the qualitative visual result is fairly similar to what the SX60 HS is doing. Click on images for 100% crop view.

ISO 100
ISO 200
ISO 400
ISO 800
ISO 1600
ISO 3200

Simply put, any ISO above 1600 is a fiction. ISO 400 is the highest you would want to use for any 1/2.3" sensor; ISO 800 is for emergencies. If you are using small-dimension output, and don't care about detail, you might be able to use the high ISO settings, but even when the images are downsized, the smearing effects of noise reduction are apparent. However, at lower ISO's, this there is a benefit to having more megapixels, though the difference between 16mp and 12mp is actually not that significant. For small-sensor cameras, fine details are lost in the pixel mush at all but the lowest ISO settings.


There are a number of competitors in the compact super-zoom category. The most immediate competitor to the SX60 HS is the Nikon P600. The Nikon is small and lighter, and the grip shape might be more comfortable for those with smaller hands. However, in terms of overall operation speed, the Canon is faster and more responsive.

Though it is an older model, the Panasonic FZ200 was once the the class leader in compact super-zooms, and it has aged well. The amount of zoom is not as gratuitous as with the Canon, but the build quality is better. One thing that can't be under-estimated is how well the Panasonic optical image stabilization system works with their compact cameras... perhaps the best in the industry. between the two, the Canon SX60 HS is definitely the more modern camera, but the FZ200 is less expensive and holds its own.

Another alternative is the Canon SX700 HS, which is the point-and-shoot version of the the SX60 HS. The zoom ratio is "only" 30x, but that is more than enough for most people. As mentioned above, its more zoom than what your typical user could hold steadily in marginal conditions. Though it is not as enthusiast-oriented as the SX60 HS, the SX700 HS nonetheless offers a modicum of manual control.

Left to right: Panasonic FZ200, Canon SX60 HS and SX700 HS

Simply put, there is a lot of market segmentation going on in the super-zoom bridge category. The SX60 HS falls into the "DSLR-analog" category... something that gives the impression of the upmarket camera without being one. These cameras are great for people who love pictures but who don't have demanding display requirements (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc), but they also make great first cameras for older children and teens who are just getting into photography.

Concluding Thoughts

The Canon SX60 HS is an improved camera compared to its predecessor, but nonetheless there are compromises to be had at this price point. The camera is comfortable to hold but the buttons aren't. Truth be told, many budget offerings fall into this trap... its as if the designers anticipate that a large portion of uses wont be diving very often into the menus, and thus pay less attention to the quality of the switch gear. Image quality is appropriate for this type of camera. If you don't need this much zoom, you can get better image quality with a larger sensor compact for equal or less money.... think Canon G16 or S120 for a start. However, the 65 times zoom on the SX60 HS is a real thing, This opens up many creative opportunities, so long as the user is mindful of the constraints of a small-sensor system.

With thanks to Broadway Camera

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