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Canon Powershot SX20 Review

I’m fairly familiar with the PowerShot cameras so was keen to see a model with a maxi zoom lens. There is a lesser specked model — the Canon PowerShot SX120 IS — but I figured the adventurous might be curious about this more capable sibling.

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Now get this straight: the camera is a bit on the bulky side, barely fits into a coat pocket and weighs nearly 600 grams, so it’s not heavy. But it’s sure got lots of …

Canon Powershot SX20 Features

Like: 12.1 million pixels and a maximum image size of 4000×3000 pixels, enough to make a 34x25cm print; 1280×720 HD movie shooting with stereo sound (SD Class 4 card or higher recommended).

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Full wide: 28mm equivalent.

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Full in on tele at a 35 SLR equivalent of 560mm.

The optically stabilised 20x optical zoom runs from a 35 SLR equivalent of 28 to 560mm.

More: there is an LCD turret viewfinder as well as a swing out/up/down 6.4cm LCD screen at the rear — no optical finder; you can set auto focus to centre frame, FlexiZone or face detect; ISO speeds run from 80 to 1600; continuous shooting reaches only one shot per second; output available via USB 2.0, AV and HDMI; the camera takes four AA batteries (NiMH or alkaline) as well as linking to an optional AC adaptor.

Exposure options include auto, Program AE, shutter or aperture priority, manual as well as a bunch of scene modes to ease the path for successful capture of portraits, sports shots etc. The novel StitchAssist mode will delight panoramic fans.

Metering can be performed with the aid of evaluative (wide area), centre-weighted and spot settings.

ISO Speeds

Good performance at ISO 80

Good performance at ISO 80

Still a good effort at ISO 400

Still a good effort at ISO 400

Noise up and definition down — but still useable

Noise up and definition down — but still useable

Surprisingly good at ISO 1600, although a little noisy and unsharp

Surprisingly good at ISO 1600, although a little noisy and unsharp

Flash options include auto, forced off and on, red eye correction, exposure compensation, first and second curtain sync for ‘streaky’ night shots.

So, all in all, a pretty likeable and capable package and an ideal companion for the traveler who doesn’t want to engage with the complexities, size and weight of a DSLR.

Digging deep into the manual I found that you could shoot stills while recording a movie; the payoff is that the screen blacks out momentarily and a click pops up on the video’s audio.

One bonus is that the movie’s audio level can be adjusted manually, a useful feature if you’re shooting in a noisy environment and you plan to later drop some music onto the sequence.

Limited editing of movie shots can be made: one second slices from the start or end of each shot can be chopped.

If you really, really had to you could operate the SX20 with one hand: most controls — power, zoom, exposure compensation, four way rocker are clustered near the fingers of the right hand. But you’re far better off with the left hand supporting the weight and the clever digits of the right doing all the brain work. Sorry, southpaws!

Startup Time
Not bad: two seconds from power on I could shoot the first shot, with successive images coming in at about a second apart.

There is a tiny amount of barrel distortion at the lens’ wide end and a similar and insignificant degree of pincushion distortion at the tele end. A good performance.

It took around two seconds to fully zoom in from wide to tele — a usefully fast helper to reframe shots.

Canon SX20 IS 2.jpg

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While I found the swing out LCD screen was an enjoyable way to line up and shoot pictures the turret finder was little more useful than a ‘pointing aid’ to line up the picture, with resolution far too coarse to assess image gradation or focus.

An annoying niggle was the slackness of the control dial surrounding the four way rocker — most indecisive. Let’s hope it was only the review camera.

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Quality: good quality snapshot quality in terms of colour and resolution. If you want better pictures, get a DSLR.

Why you’d buy the SX20: big image capture, stabilised 20x zoom, decent HD movie capture, swingout LCD screen.

Why you wouldn’t: poor burst capability; hard to hide in small pockets, excessive complexity if you only want a simple point-and-shooter.


  • Image Sensor: 12.1 million effective pixels.
  • Metering: Evaluative, centre-weighted; spot.
  • Sensor Size: 11mm.
  • Lens: f2.8-5.7/5-100mm (28-560mm as 35 SLR equivalent).
  • Shutter Speed: 15 to 1/3200 second.
  • Continuous Shooting: 1.0fps.
  • Memory: SD, SDHC, MMC, MMCplus, HC MMCplus cards.
  • Image Sizes (pixels): 4000×3000, 3840×2160, 3264×2488, 2592×1944, 1600×1200, 640×480.
  • Movies: 1280×720, 640×480, 320×240 at 30 fps.
  • File Formats: JPEG, AVI Motion JPEG.
  • ISO Sensitivity: Auto, 80 to 1600.
  • Interface: USB 2.0, AV, DC input.
  • Power: 4AA NiMH or alkaline batteries, AC adaptor.
  • Dimensions: 124×88.3×86.9 WHDmm.
  • Weight: Approx. 560 g (body only).
  • Price: The Canon PowerShot SX20IS is available at Amazon for $369.00 USD.

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Barrie Smith
Barrie Smith

is an experienced writer/photographer currently published in Australian Macworld, Auscam and other magazines in Australia and overseas.

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