Although the Canon PowerShot SX130 IS may not be the most stylish compact on the block, it does have a good range of functions, including a nice 12x (28-336 mm) zoom lens and a 720p HD video mode. In fact, it'll do everything many photographers need.
HandlingThe SX130 can feel a bit surprising when you first pick it up. The plastic casing doesn't feel to be very good quality and it almost feels like you're handling a toy than a decent-quality digital camera. One slightly irritating consequence of this low-end construction is that the flash isn't motorised, so you have to flick it out manually to the sound of a big plasticky click. It's fairly bulky and is quite heavy at 306 g.
The SX130 has a small handle which helps you grip the camera and the overall design of the camera body is actually fairly pleasant. On the top, there's a large control dial for selecting the exposure mode and on the back there's a four-way controller with click-round wheel and a select button in this middle. This allows you to control the camera easily with your thumb. The graphic interface is simple and effective and the menus have a handy built-in help function which is great for beginners.
The SX130 has plenty of functions and settings. It can be used in Smart Auto mode (the camera automatically selects the best scene mode) or in P, S, A or M mode for those who want greater control over the results. We found the Smart Auto mode pretty good, if a little slow. There's a standard face-detection function which works really quite well. The semi-manual modes are very useful, and can be selected using the dial on the top of the camera. There's a decent choice of settings available too, particularly in aperture priority mode. The SX130 even has a manual focusing mode for precision control.
The SX130 has an adjustable white balance and a good selection of creative scene modes (Miniature, Fish-Eye, Super Vivid, Poster Effect), but there's no panorama mode. Plus, you can choose from spot or centre-weighted light metering, and a flash strength correction feature is on hand too. Unfortunately, the LCD leaves a lot to be desired, with its a poor definition (230,000 dots) and tight vertical viewing angles (TN panel). Moving images flow perfectly well in good light conditions, but images on the screen are soon plagued with fuzz when the light starts to fade, before becoming full of glitches in low light.
ResponsivenessThe SX130 is a bit slow to start up, as you'll have to wait just under 2.5 seconds to take a picture. Photo-to-photo turnaround is pretty average, and only the camera's focusing in wide-angle mode can really be described as responsive. In telephoto or in low light, the autofocus is a little slower, although it's still acceptable. The burst mode is, unfortunately, quite slow at just 1 fps.
Picture QualityWe had high hopes for the 12x optical zoom lens in the SX130 IS. In wide angle, it displays fairly classic behaviour, with images that are sharp in the centre but a little hazier around the edges. With the zoom extended further out, the picture quality becomes more consistent, with detail very well reproduced across the frame. Chromatic aberration (coloured fringes) is, however, present and purple fringes appear around highly contrasted zones. Barrel distortion is also visible in wide angle, but this soon disappears as you start to zoom further out, and the level of distortion in telephoto mode isn't particularly troublesome.
The SX130 IS behaves fairly typically in its management of electronic noise. Moderate smoothing and granularity is more visible then in certain compacts (Panasonic compacts in particular), but detail can still be distinguished. Pictures remain usable up to 800 ISO, above which they'll need post-editing.
On the whole, colour reproduction is accurate, but we did notice that reds were strongly over-accentuated. The automatic white balance works well enough and exposure is passable too. The optical stabilisation system is effective, with a clear, sharp Barbie shot at 1/6ths of a second.