The Canon PowerShot SX260 HS ($349.99 direct) is the successor to the very solid SX230 HS($349.99, 4 stars). Like its predecessor, it features a 12-megapixel image sensor and a built-in GPS, but adds a longer 20x zoom lens (up from 14x), without increasing the size of the camera. A good performer, and a top choice for geotaggers, it doesn’t quite surpass the Nikon Coolpix S9100 ($329.95, 4 stars) as our Editors’ Choice superzoom.
Design and Features
At just 2.4 by 4.2 by 1.3 inches (HWD) and 8.2 ounces, the SX260 HS can slide into a pants pocket with ease. It’s comparable in size to other compact superzooms that we’ve tested, including the Fujifilm Finepix F600EXR ($349.95, 3 stars), a 15x camera at 2.4 by 4 by 1.2 inches and 7.7 ounces. The SX260’s 20x lens covers an impressive 25-500mm (35mm equivalent) focal length range. If you want to go any longer than that, you’ll need to look at a camera with a much larger body like the 35x-zooming Canon PowerShot SX40 HS ($429.99, 4 stars), which can easily be mistaken for a small D-SLR at first glance. The SX260 offers a sturdy-feeling metal exterior and is available in black, green, or red—although the red version looks pinkish to my eye.
Controls are well thought out. The Mode dial is located on the rear of the camera, so you can adjust it while framing photos. The 4-way jog wheel makes it easy to navigate through menus and to adjust the Exposure Compensation, Flash mode, Self Timer, and to engage Macro shooting mode. There’s also a dedicated Movie button, allowing you to start recording a clip without having to change the camera’s shooting mode. The pop-up flash is motorized, only opening when the camera settings call for it. There is a discrete mode available which disables the flash and all sounds, so you won’t accidentally make noise during, say, your child’s school play.
An overlay menu system, accessed by hitting the Function button, allows you to modify common shooting settings. From here you’ll be able to adjust the GPS settings, change the Metering mode, control White Balance, set the ISO, and control the power output of the flash. The camera’s rear LCD is 3 inches in size and packs a 460k-dot resolution. It is quite bright and sharp, but can’t match the 921k displays found on competing cameras like the Sony Cyber-shot HX7V ($299.99, 3.5 stars). The display is fixed, which can be problematic when shooting outdoors in direct sunlight—cameras with tilting displays do better there.
Performance and Conclusions
The SX260 did quite well in speed tests. Superzooms generally take a little bit longer to get going than standard compacts, as there is more time required for the larger lens to extend from the body. The SX260 HS starts up and shoots in 1.8 seconds, records a very short 0.2 second shutter lag, and can grab a photo ever 0.5 second in continuous drive mode. The Samsung WB750 ($279.99, 3.5 stars), which features a comparable 18x zoom lens, starts and shoots in 1.9 seconds, matches the 0.2 second shutter lag, and can grab a burst of 8 shots with only 0.1 second between each photo.
I used Imatest to measure the sharpness and noise of photos captured by the SX260. The camera did quite well in terms of sharpness—it scored 1,939 lines per picture height, which exceeds the 1,800 lines that denote a sharp image. This is comparable to the performance of the Fujifilm Finepix F600EXR, which netted 1,981 lines.
High ISO shooting is where the SX260 falters. It only manages to keep noise below 1.5 percent through ISO 800, and even at that setting, images start to lose detail as a result of in-camera noise reduction. This won’t be a huge issue unless you’re looking at photos on a high-resolution display or making prints through ISO 1600, but when you bump the ISO to its maximum setting of 3200, noise reduction kills detail—even if you’re just viewing your images on a 20-inch display. The Nikon S9100 is still one of the best compact superzooms that we’ve tested in this metric—it keeps noise below 1.5 percent all the way through ISO 3200 making it a better choice for lower-light shooting.
The built-in GPS works quite well. It was able to lock onto a signal in Manhattan after a few minutes, which can be a challenge for any camera. Results were accurate enough—looking at the photos in the map in Photoshop Lightroom it appeared as if the position was off by twenty feet or so in most cases. The camera’s video capture isn’t as robust as some others—it can record QuickTime video at 1080p24 and 720p30 resolution and it can zoom and refocus while recording. The sound of the lens moving in and out is audible on the soundtrack, which is fairly typical for a camera in this class. The video shot at 24 frames per second isn’t as smooth as the 720p30 footage—1080p footage at a higher frame rate would have been nice. The camera supports standard SD, SDHC, and SDXC memory cards, and includes mini HDMI and mini USB ports to connect to HDTVs for playback and PCs for image offload.
At $350, the Canon SX260 HS isn’t the least expensive compact superzoom on the market, but it is capable of capturing some very nice images—especially at lower ISO settings. Its GPS works quite well, and the camera is compact but offers enough physical controls to make shooting a pleasure. If you aren’t prepared to spend this much on a point-and-shoot camera, consider the Samsung WB750, which is priced a full $70 less and features a very capable 18x zoom lens. Our Editors’ Choice, the 18x Nikon S9100 is also priced lower, but lacks a GPS. If you want a long zoom lens and the ability to geotag your photos, and the SX260 HS is within your budget, it should be at the top of your list.