UPDATE 04/07/2012: with its 1’’ 20-Megapixel sensor, the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 sets a new standard for picture quality in compact cameras, both in terms of detail and digital noise. As a result, the Canon SX40 HS has seen its score for picture quality drop from five to four stars. However, quality still remains excellent compared with most regular compact cameras.
After revolutionising its bridge camera with last year's SX30 IS, Canon is back with an updated model that doesn't look to have changed all that much. Appearances can be deceptive, however, as although the new PowerShot SX40 HS looks a lot like its predecessor, big changes have been made on the inside of the camera, notably with the addition of a BSI CMOS sensor and Full HD video.
From the outside the SX40 HS may look exactly the same as the SX30 IS, but there is one slight difference in design: the shape of the microphone holes between the flash and the lens. Three little round holes have in fact been replaced by a single oval-shaped hole.
Everything else is exactly the same. The SX40 still has the kind of design that some users will like and others will hate, as while some people may like the smooth lines and flush-set controls, others may be put off by the mix of plastics. Aesthetics aside, everyone in our office seems to agree that the handle doesn't offer sufficient grip, especially since the SX40 HS isn't the lightest of bridges out there. That said, the nice big dip of a thumb-rest does help a little.
The flip-put swivel screen is a handy touch, but the LCD's size and resolution are the same as in the previous model. In other words, pixels are only too visible—much more so than in competitor bridges like the Sony HX100V, Panasonic FZ150 or Nikon P500. The onscreen image isn't particularly accurate either, with colours that are fairly approximative and light grey shades that are soon washed out to white.
The camera interface is typical Canon fare, making the camera simple and pleasant to use. The only exception to this overall clarity is when switching between the screen and viewfinder, as instead of their being a dedicated button like on most other bridge cameras, this is instead one of the options accessible via the Disp. button. This can be a real pain if you want to switch to the viewfinder quickly, as you have to press the Disp. button twice to get past the various display options first. Plus, if you want to switch the grid lines off the screen you have to press the Disp. button three times, and from this position the first press will activate the viewfinder. All very confusing.
There's not much to say in this section of the review. The PowerShot SX40 HS is on par with other recent Canon models, with a slightly slow start-up time of 2.6 seconds and an autofocus that's fine, but which isn't as speedy as it could be.
The only real difference in speed comes from the burst mode, which has been upped slightly to just over two frames per second. On the whole, though, bridges from Sony and Panasonic in particular are still a bit faster.
There are two bits of good news here. The first one is that Canon has updated the internal electronics in the SX40.
It's therefore now equipped with the same excellent 12-Megapixel BSI CMOS as the firm's Ixus range of cameras. Compared with the old 14-Megapixel CCD used in the SX30, that makes for a pretty big difference in picture quality. Shots taken with the SX40 HS are more detailed at 800 ISO than pictures the SX30 took at 400 ISO, and noise is no more of a problem either! While 3200 ISO is best left to the most adventurous users, 4" x 6" prints (11 x 15 cm) still come out fine at 1600 ISO.
The second piece of good news is that Canon has finally equipped this camera with an image processing system that effectively deals with chromatic aberration (see inset). Apart from getting rid of coloured fringes, the image is also sharper, and the lens (which is lifted straight from the SX30) finally comes into its own. At wide-angle settings, the image is very sharp in the middle of the frame and is still very good around the edges. At 200 mm quality is excellent across the whole frame and stays that way right up to the maximum zoom setting.
Like other Canon 'HS' cameras, the SX40 films Full HD video at 24 frames per second, which isn't quite as good as the Sony HX100V or the Panasonic FZ150, both of which boast 50 frames per second modes. Plus, this Canon model has a slightly excessive contrast that overexposes bright, light tones and makes dark areas block together in clumps—that's usually intended to give a more flattering, more brightly coloured result. On the whole though, video quality is still excellent.
The SX40 does a very good job of recording sound, with a stereo effect that's more clearly audible than in competitor models. Even if scenes that are full of different sounds aren't captured and reproduced quite as well as with Sony's HX100V, audio is still very good in this camera. The only slight let-down is that in very quiet scenes the noise of the zoom lens is picked up in the background, as well as some other slight noises from the camera controls.