Canon has updated last year's successful SX220/SX230 superzooms with two new models for 2012—the SX240 HS and SX260 HS. Like last year, the only difference between the two cameras is that the SX260 HS has a built-in GPS, while the SX240 HS has no geotagging functions. Both of the models have been treated to a new 20x zoom lens but they also have a fair bit in common with their predecessors, with which they share a particularly good backlit 12-Megapixel sensor.
HandlingCanon's PowerShot SX series seems to evolve slowly but surely. This year, the SX260 HS (like the GPS-free SX240 HS) has a slightly boxier design than 2011's SX220/SX230, but the cameras still look very similar. The controls are identical and have almost exactly the same layout as last year's cameras (including the mode dial on the back of the camera), although the On/Off button has moved by about five millimetres. Build quality is as good as ever too, as the SX260 is a nice-to-use camera that's clearly been made with attention to detail. Handling has improved considerably thanks to a grip strip on the front of the camera, and a bigger gap between the mode dial and the screen makes room to rest your thumb nicely on the back.
One major change in this year's model, however, is the screen. Although it's effectively the same size and the same resolution as the display in last year's PowerShot SX cameras, the format has changed. Canon has chosen to move back to a 4:3 aspect ratio, which means that 12-Megapixel photos will no longer have black bands down the sides of them. As a result, the panoramic photo mode is much more effective, as it was originally designed for a 4:3 interface and was never quite at home in the 16:9 format. And, while we're on the subject of panoramic photos, this function hasn't been updated since it was introduced by Canon—so there's still no sign of an automatic panorama mode!
Onscreen image quality isn't great, however. The ultra-high contrast floods dark parts of the picture to black and overexposes light shades to white. Greys have a strong blue overtone too, clocking up a colour temperature above 10000 K for shades up to 50% grey. Moreover, no colour will be displayed onscreen as intended by the source. The Delta E—or difference between the onscreen colours and those requested by the source—should be under 3 to be considered accurate, but we measured a Delta E of 10 in the SX260, while 6 is about average for a compact camera screen.
ResponsivenessCanon after Canon, not much ever seems to change in this field. The SX260 HS takes its first photo in just under two seconds (which is good), has a photo-to-photo turnaround time of around two seconds (which is nothing special), and has an autofocus that works in around half a second in good light but which is slightly slower in low light (which is about average).
The burst mode lives up to expectations, shooting two frames per second continuously. All in all, the SX260 isn't a slow camera but it's certainly no speed demon.
Picture QualityYou may remember that Canon's SX230 HS was one of our favourite compacts of 2011. With a good lens and with digital noise levels kept nicely in check, it was easily up there with Sony's superstar superzooms like the HX9V. But while Sony's models had a pretty heavy-handed approach to image processing, Canon kept things looking more natural with a less 'processed' look that some users preferred.
Seeing as this 2012 model uses the same sensor, it's not surprising to see similarly excellent results in the SX260 HS. In fact, it can be used all the way up to 800 ISO without a second thought. Plus, images have the same 'natural' look as 2011's models, with noise that can be quite visible in darker parts of the picture, especially from 1600 ISO, while the Sony HX20V mercilessly wipes out every last trace of noise. The heavy smoothing and accentuation can give an over-processed or even slightly artificial look to pictures taken with the Sony model, whereas Canon's image processing remains fairly neutral—you pays your money, you takes your choice.
On the whole, the new lens is pretty good. While sharpness isn't consistent across the frame at wide-angle settings, 8" x 10" (20 x 27 cm) prints still look very good right into the corners of the frame. In any case, competitor cameras rarely do any better.
When you zoom to 200 mm (see above), the SX260 HS gives first-rate results. In fact, it sets a new standard as far as we're concerned. While the Sony HX20V gives slightly sharper results in the middle of the frame, the edges hold up much better in the Canon—it's even up there with the Olympus SZ-30 MR, which was, until now, the best superzoom compact at this focal length. This level of quality is maintained up to the maximum zoom setting, even if a few purple fringes are visible on 100% size shots.
VideoLike the SX230, the SX260 films Full HD video at 24 frames per second. Here too, Canon could do with updating things, as high-end compacts from Sony and Panasonic have upped to 50 fps, bringing a noticeable gain in smoothness.
Image quality is good and there's plenty of detail, but contrast is a little too high in the SX260, which means that light, bright parts of the image are overexposed to white when there are big differences in brightens. It's certainly not the only camera that does this, but, again, Sony and Panasonic do a better job. Stereo sound is relatively accurate, but the stereo effect is less marked than in last year's model.
All in all, the SX260 HS records good-quality videos but competitors have progressed while Canon seems to be resting on its laurels.