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Canon PowerShot SX20 IS Review

Not quite a year after announcing the Powershot SX10 IS ultrazoom, Canon is back with a successor, the PowerShot SX20 IS. The new camera gets a higher 12.1 megapixel resolution on the same physical-sized sensor, a 720p HD video capability and an HDMI connection to facilitate playback of images on an HDTV.

Folks familiar with the SX10 IS will note the new camera appears to be virtually identical to the old (the main external difference seems to be the enlargement of the digital cover on the camera’s right side to include the HDMI port), and the similarity is more than skin deep. The 20x zoom lens ranging from 28 to 560mm (35mm equivalent) has been retained, along with the 2.5 inch articulating monitor and full auto and manual shooting modes. Here’s a look at that lens range:

Wide Angle


The SX20 carries a Digic IV processor (as does the SX10), but the mention of “improved smart auto” in Canon’s ad copy suggests the later model processor may give the camera some additional capability. While the SX20 IS has been described by Canon as the successor to the SX10 IS, that camera remains on the Canon website at present.

The SX20 IS accepts SD/SDHC, MultiMediaCards, MMC plus and HC MMC plus memory media. Canon includes 4 AA alkaline batteries, a neck strap, lens hood, lens cap, USB and AV cables and CD-ROM software with each camera.What they don’t include is the comprehensive user’s manual – you get the basic “getting started” portion of the full manual (the first 40 pages out of 180), but you’ll have to download and print the complete guide on your own.

Those missing pages cover everything from a detailed explanation of camera controls and settings to manual shooting modes to the playback/retouch menus to… well, to basically all the stuff that anyone who plans on moving the mode dial (page 42 of the full manual) off of “auto” may want to know at one time or another.

OK, Canon’s gotten off on the wrong foot by going the easy route (for them) on the in-box user’s manual – let’s see if SX20 IS performance can save the day.

BUILD AND DESIGNFollowing the typical formula for the class, the SX20 IS looks and feels like a downsized DSLR, measuring out at 4.88×3.48×3.42 inches and weighing about 24 ounces in shooting configuration (batteries, memory card and lens hood installed). If these numbers look familiar, they happen to be the exact dimensions and weight of the SX10 IS.

The body is composite and the materials and overall build quality appear to be on a par with the class competition. A bit of play in the lens (both wide angle and zoomed out to telephoto) that appeared in some competitors (but without degrading image quality) is missing from the SX20 IS – the camera has a solid feel.

Ergonomics and ControlsWith identical dimensions, weight and control layout, you might suspect the SX20 IS handles much like the SX10 IS in this arena, and you’d be right. What I wrote about the SX10 is equally applicable to the SX20:

The SX20 IS features a deeply sculptured handgrip style body and contoured back that is small enough so the little finger of my right hand has no place to go but curl under the body, resulting in a firm and solid one-handed grip. The index finger falls quite naturally to the shutter button in both one and two handed shooting. There is rubberized material at the front of the handgrip portion of the body, but it’s as smooth as the plastics that make up the rest of camera exterior and really contributes little to improving the grip. The same holds true for a patch of nubs molded in the plastic on the camera back in the thumb rest area – I’d prefer a really tacky material in these two locations, but the camera has an overall good feel in the hand(s).

External buttons and controls allow access to most shooting modes as well as many other settings that the user might want to change on the run, such as white balance, ISO sensitivity, exposure compensation and continuous shooting modes. The portion of the camera back not taken up by the monitor is awash with buttons, but Canon has laid them out so as to minimize conflict with the thumb when shooting.

Menus and ModesIf you’ve been around Canon compacts before then the menu layout will be an old friend – and if you’re new to Canon you’ll find the menus are largely intuitive. The camera can display a brief explanation of menu items as you select them if the “hints & tips” feature is enabled in the setup menu. Once you have images captured and are in playback mode, playback and print menus allow for a good range of in-camera image modifications and printing images directly from the camera via a PictBridge compliant printer.

In the past Canon has divided shooting modes into “image zone” and “creative zone” categories, but those terms have been dropped from the SX20 IS vocabulary. Now the only mention is of “shooting modes,” a welcome simplification.

There are 13 primary shooting modes in the SX20 IS, exactly the same as the SX10 IS with the exception of the 720p HD video option of the newer camera:

  • Auto
  • Portrait
  • Landscape
  • Night snapshot
  • Sports
  • Special Scene: with a sub-menu including night scene, sunset, snow, fireworks, ISO 3200, color swap, indoor, foliage, beach, aquarium and color accent options
  • Stitch Assist
  • Movie: can capture video at 1280 x 720, 640 x 480 or 320 x 240 resolutions, all at 30 fps. Maximum recording times are 29 minutes, 59 seconds for HD, 1 hour for 640 or 320 or 4GB for any recording, whichever comes first.

The above modes are largely automatic and user inputs are typically limited to image size and quality settings, and single versus continuous shooting modes for still images.

  • Program AE (P): camera sets aperture and shutter speed, user can select settings such as ISO sensitivity, exposure compensation and white balance
  • Shutter Priority (Tv): user sets shutter speed, camera sets aperture and user can select from range of other settings
  • Aperture Priority (Av): user sets aperture, camera sets shutter speed and user can select from range of other settings
  • Manual (M): user sets aperture and shutter speeds, and can select from range of other settings
  • Custom (C): can be used to save frequently used shooting modes (P, Av, Tv and M only) and various shooting settings, such as zoom or manual focus locations, menu settings, etc.

Display/ViewfinderThe 2.5 inch LCD monitor is of 230,000 dot composition, adjustable for 5 levels of brightness and can swing through 180 degrees of motion from the camera back while rotating through 270 degrees along its long axis. With many competitors going to 2.7 inch and larger monitors Canon is probably going to have to play catch-up before too much longer, but I found this monitor to be a bit more usable than most smaller monitors in bright outdoor light. Monitor coverage is 100%.

The 0.44 inch electronic viewfinder has 235,000 dot composition, and is also adjustable for five levels of brightness. The viewfinder is equipped with a diopter to compensate for eyesight acuity, and coverage is 100%.

Canon PowerShot SX20 IS -

Canon’s PowerShot SX20 IS is a 12.1 Megapixel super-zoom camera with a 20x optically-stabilised lens and 2.5in flip-out screen. Announced in August 2009, it comes one year after its predecessor, the massively popular SX10 IS. Canon’s not messed too much with a winning formula and kept the body, lens, screen and AA battery power of the SX10 IS, but enhanced them with a few key upgrades.

Most obviously (and inevitably) Canon has increased the resolution from 10.0 to 12.1 Megapixels. Much more importantly, the movie mode now boasts a 720p HD option, and there’s also an HDMI port so you can watch both video and stills in high quality on an HDTV.

The SX20 IS has also become more cunning in its auto mode, employing scene detection which along with recognising people and close-ups, can additionally discern between different lighting conditions, and even if the subject is in motion. Making operation even easier, the SX20 IS also now features Hints and Tips which explain what different settings will do if required. And for those who like to know exactly when a photo was taken without consulting the file attributes, a new Date Stamp can optionally imprint the information in the corner of your images.

These new features enhance what was already one of the best super-zoom cameras on the market. The headline 20x optical zoom range remains extremely flexible, delivering coverage equivalent to 28-560mm with effective image stabilisation.

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You can start recording video at any time by simply pressing the big red button on the rear, zoom the lens while filming, and capture decent quality stereo sound.

The 2.5in screen may sound a little small compared to the latest cameras, but like its predecessor it’s fully articulated, allowing you to compose with ease at high or low angles – not to mention flipping it round for self-portraits or back on itself for protection.  

As before there’s also a flash hotshoe on top of the camera which can accommodate any of Canon’s Speedlite range, and even control recent models through the menu system. Speaking of the menus, the SX20’s various options have been also been redesigned and simplified.

There’s still full manual control over exposure with Program, Manual, Aperture and Shutter Priority modes, along with a selection of scene presets and one of Canon’s thumb wheels to allow quick and easy adjustments.

The earlier PowerShot SX10 IS was justifiably a best-seller, not to mention one of our Best Buys, so by equipping it with HD video and an HDMI port, along with the other enhancements mentioned above, Canon’s produced an even more compelling prospect. But its arch rival from Panasonic has also received an update in the form of the latest Lumix FZ38 / FZ35, with both models sporting 12 Megapixels, HD movies with stereo sound, and powerful super-zoom ranges.

In our full review we’ll pitch the SX20 IS directly against the FZ38 / FZ35, comparing every aspect from design and build to still and video quality. We’ll also throw-in a DSLR to see how their image quality measures-up. We’ll additionally discuss how its features compare against its stable-mate, the PowerShot SX1 IS, which boasts Full HD 1080p video and fast 4fps continuous shooting.

So if you’re in the market for a super-zoom camera, you’ve come to the right place! Read-on to find out if Canon’s SX20 IS is the right model for you, and be sure to check out our video tour for a demonstration of its highlights.

Testing notes

Following our convention of using default factory and best quality JPEG settings to test cameras unless otherwise stated, the PowerShot SX20 IS was set Large Fine quality, Auto White Balance, Evaluative Metering and with ‘My Colours’ switched off (the default setting for contrast, saturation and sharpening).

Many thanks to Queenstown Cameras for the loan of an additional SX20 IS during our tests. If you’re in Queenstown, New Zealand, and need any photographic equipment or prints, head on over to their store on Camp Street. : Canon PowerShot SX20IS 12.1MP Digital Camera with 20x Wide Angle Optical Image Stabilized Zoom and 2.5-Inch Articulating LCD (Discontinued by Manufacturer) : Point And Shoot Digital Cameras : Camera & Photo

Product Description

Discover the HD difference. With the classically stylish PowerShot SX20 IS, you can produce magnificent HD movies and dazzling photos. Loaded with features, it’s got a high-powered 20x wide-angle optical zoom with Optical Image Stabilizer, 12.1 megapixels, a big 2.5-inch Vari-Angle LCD, Blink Detection and more.The PowerShot SX20 IS is equipped with many of the same features as a higher-end camera: an ultra-powerful zoom, eye-popping resolution and advanced picture-improving technology. 12.1 megapixels of resolution gives your photography incomparable depth and ensures that any section of any shot can be enlarged and cropped with no loss in quality when you edit the image even if you choose to print the image. It can create crisp, clear 13 x 19-inch posters.

From the Manufacturer

Discover the HD difference. With the classically stylish PowerShot SX20 IS, you can produce magnificent HD movies and dazzling photos. Loaded with features, it’s got a high-powered 20x wide-angle optical zoom with Optical Image Stabilizer, 12.1 megapixels, a big 2.5-inch Vari-Angle LCD, Blink Detection and more.

The PowerShot SX20 IS is equipped with many of the same features as a higher-end camera: an ultra-powerful zoom, eye-popping resolution and advanced picture-improving technology. 12.1 megapixels of resolution gives your photography incomparable depth and ensures that any section of any shot can be enlarged and cropped with no loss in quality when you edit the image even if you choose to print the image. It can create crisp, clear 13 x 19-inch posters.

PowerShot SX20 IS Highlights

20x optical zoom in action
20x wide-angle optical zoom with Optical Image Stabilizer The PowerShot SX20 IS is equipped with a 20x Optical Zoom lens with a focal length of 5.0-100mm (35mm equivalent: 28-560mm) that allows you to shoot any scene from wide-angle to telephoto. The camera uses a VCM (Voice Coil Motor) for high-speed, quiet, energy-efficient lens movement with precise control. Focal length is conveniently indicated on the lens barrel.
The lens is optimized to fully exploit its zoom length and wide shooting angle in concert with the camera’s high 12.1 Megapixel resolution. UD glass effectively suppresses chromatic aberration, while enhanced negative refractive power ensures that distortion at the wide-angle is also corrected. Further aberration is controlled with the inclusion of a double-sided aspherical glass-molded lens and ultra-high refraction index lens.

The SX20 IS is equipped with Canon’s acclaimed Optical Image Stabilizer Technology that automatically detects and corrects camera shake--one of the leading causes of fuzzy or blurred shots. Even when zoomed in, you can get the steady, crisp, brilliant images you’ll be proud to shoot and share. And Canon’s Optical Image Stabilizer Technology is convenient to use. It functions perfectly with or without a flash.

Use the optical zoom while shooting superb 720p HD movies with stereo sound

If you long for the convenience of an advanced still camera that also creates superb movies, the new PowerShot SX20 IS lets you record video in beautiful high definition (1280 x 720 pixels). The camera also makes it easy to enjoy HD movies (and still photos) on your HDTV with a mini-HDMI connector for direct connection to a high-definition monitor. You'll enjoy the HD experience with no degradation of image or audio in the signal, plus the ability to display up to 130 thumbnails at once.

Improved Smart AUTO intelligently selects the proper settingsJust set the Canon PowerShot SX20 IS to Smart AUTO and you're ready for maximum enjoyment from your picture taking every time. It's a relaxing and satisfying way to shoot because you can completely concentrate on your subject knowing that the camera has the technical details covered. Advanced Canon technology intelligently analyzes your situation and shooting conditions. Then it automatically selects an appropriate setting from 22 specially defined settings. So whether you're photographing flowers, a captivating sunset, or your friends at the park, you can be confident that you're getting dramatic, memorable images.

Shooting ModesAdvanced presets for the best possible photos under certain conditions. With 24 Shooting Modes, you're ready for whatever shot comes your way.

DIGIC 4 Image Processor Canon’s proprietary DIGIC Image Processors have long set its cameras apart from the competition, and the new DIGIC 4 sets the bar even higher. Faster, more accurate noise reduction delivers better image quality, even at high ISO speeds.

iSAPS Technology is an entirely original scene-recognition technology developed for digital cameras by Canon. Using an internal database of thousands of different photos, iSAPS works with the advanced DIGIC 4 Image Processor to improve focus speed and accuracy, as well as exposure and white balance.

Large 2.5-inch Vari-Angle LCD enables easy viewing The camera’s 2.5-inch LCD screen gives you the big picture, whether you’re shooting, reviewing or showing off your images. This high-resolution screen offers a crisp, clear picture to make shooting, playback and using the camera’s menu functions especially convenient. Clear and bright, it also features Night Display for easy viewing in low light. It also has an electronic viewfinder that provides sharp images when you shoot close-up with Super Macro shooting mode.

This AA battery powered camera enables you to easily power upConveniently, you don’t need to worry about running out of batteries or having to recharging them. Since AA-size batteries can be purchased at any store, simply get new ones locally wherever you go--no special power adapters or chargers are needed.

What's in the Box

  • PowerShot SX20 IS Body
  • AA-size Alkaline Battery (x4)
  • Neck Strap NS-DC4
  • Lens Hood LH-DC50
  • Lens Cap
  • Digital Camera Solution CD-ROM
  • USB Interface Cable IFC-400PCU
  • Stereo Video Cable STV-250N

Canon PowerShot SX20 IS: Digital Photography Review

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The 12MP Canon Powershot SX20 IS is the successor to the SX10 IS but constitutes only a fairly minor upgrade. It is essentially the same camera (both have a 28-560mm equivalent lens) with a slightly increased megapixel count (12.1 vs 10 MP) and a new 720p HD video mode. Lens, screen and most other items on the spec sheet remain unchanged. As such, the camera is the latest incarnation of Canon's popular series of superzoom cameras that can trace its ancestry right back to the PowerShot S1 IS of 2004.

Like its predecessor the SX20 IS uses CCD technology to capture its images. When we tested it we found that the SX20 IS is one of the best performers amongst its competition across the ISO range, both in terms of performance and responsiveness. Its metering is excellent and the output features natural colors and very good sharpness across the frame.

Group review, Jul 6, 2010

Body type SLR-like (bridge)
Max resolution 4000 x 3000
Effective pixels 12 megapixels
Sensor size 1/2.3" (6.17 x 4.55 mm)
Sensor type CCD
ISO Auto, 80 ,100, 200, 400, 800, 1600
Focal length (equiv.) 28–560 mm
Max aperture F2.8–5.7
Articulated LCD Fully articulated
Screen size 2.5″
Screen dots 230,000
Max shutter speed 1/3200 sec
Format H.264
Storage types SD / SDHC / MMC / MMC Plus / HC MMC Plus
USB USB 2.0 (480 Mbit/sec)
Weight (inc. batteries) 600 g (1.32 lb / 21.16 oz)
Dimensions 128 x 88 x 87 mm (5.04 x 3.46 x 3.43″)

See full specifications

The SX20 IS a solid performer that combines SLR-like styling, extensive manual controls and a good HD video mode. If you don't find it too large and can live with the, compared to some rivals, slightly shorter zoom you cannot go wrong with the Canon.

Good for: Photographers who like to use the viewfinder and set their shooting parameters manually

Not so good for: Maximum zoom range applications such as shooting birds in the sky

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Build quality

Ergonomics & handling


Exposure and focus accuracy

Image quality (jpeg)

Flash performance

Low light / high ISO performance


Performance (speed)

Movie / video mode


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