Canon PowerShot SX600 HS User-Friendly Superzoom – DigitalVersus
In terms of style, the PowerShot SX600 HS is exactly the kind of camera that we like, with simple, flowing lines and a fuss-free design, topped off with great build quality and flawless assembly. Plus, the metallic finish goes to show that an all-rounder consumer camera designed for mass appeal doesn’t have to be made from that cheap-feeling plastic that makes creaking noises when handled. A special shout out also goes to the pop-up flash, which has once again been treated to a 100% mechanical mechanism (unlike the SX280 HS). When you get hold of this compact for the first time, it feels soft and smooth like a bar of soap or a polished pebble, ready to slip easily into a pocket. It can be hard to believe that there’s a 18x zoom onboard. Optical technology has come such a long way over the last few years, with powerful zoom lenses getting smaller and smaller. You have to admire the craftsmanship on display here, if only for the lens’ compact build—we’ll get on to image quality later.
Simplicity is the name of the game with the SX600 HS, with controls and handling that are purposefully user-friendly. A little switch under your right thumb flicks between “Hybrid Auto”, which makes a movie summary out of all of a day’s shots, “Creative Shot”, an improved version of the mode seen in the PowerShot N (see below), and the standard “Auto” mode. For anyone who really insists on changing settings, it’s here that you’ll find a “Programme” mode (P) tucked away, and that’s your only option for setting exposure metering, colour settings, white balance, ISO and image quality (compression) yourself. But the main point of the SX600 HS is to bring the joys of an 18x zoom lens to general point-and-shoot snappers in a compact camera that’s easy to use. The large selection of “Auto” modes and “Scene” modes should therefore suffice for the vast majority of users. Creative effects include favourites such as “Fish-eye”, “Miniature” and “Toy Camera”, which will no doubt prove popular. However, contrary to what its name suggests, we would only advise using the “Handheld Night Scene” mode if you happen to have a tripod. This works by taking a burst of photos that are then stitched together into one final image. The problem is that the slightest movement or tremble of your hands can totally ruin the result. Similarly, the “Low Light” mode, which works by automatically generating 4-Megapixel shots (rather than 16-Megapixel shots), should only serve as a last resort.
Like all of Canon’s 2014 PowerShot cameras, the SX600 HS gets Wi-Fi for sharing and transferring photos, geotagging shots with location data and controlling the camera remotely. NFC is also on hand for a quick and easy way to connect to compatible Android smartphones and tablets. The Wi-Fi mode is relatively straight-forward if a little long-winded to use. First, click the button showing a smartphone icon on the back of the camera, then choose a name for your SX600 HS, then look for the corresponding network on your smartphone (something like SX600HS-xxx_Canon0B), confirm your choice, then fire up the Canon Camera Window (CCW) app and follow the instructions onscreen. Set-up is much simpler if you have phone with NFC. And there’s no option for connecting via a QR code, which would have have been handy. To control the camera remotely, you’ll need to make sure that you’re running version 184.108.40.206 or later of Canon Camera Window. There aren’t a whole load of options for changing settings remotely (you can zoom in and out, use the self-timer and activate the shutter-release), but they’re logical choices when you consider who the SX600 HS is aimed at. Once you’ve finished, don’t forget to disconnect the camera properly via the application, otherwise it may have trouble re-starting it.
All in all, we didn’t find much to criticise the SX600 HS for on design and handling. Canon has sought to make an easy-to-use superzoom, and the firm has done just that. We would have liked to see a touchscreen and a higher screen resolution, as this camera is worthy of more than a 461,000-dot display. In fact, that’s the only feature that feels slightly less impressive about this otherwise well-made device. Thankfully, Canon makes up for that to some extent with the screen’s good viewing angles.
Superzoom compacts have a reputation for being slow to start up, as it can take time to get their monster zoom lenses into position. And, since the SX600 HS is still using Canon’s ageing Digic 4+ image processor, we didn’t hold out a lot of hope here. However, the SX600 HS proved us totally wrong. It does a great job, even beating 2013’s higher-end SX280 HS, which uses the newer Digic 6 imaging engine.
It takes about 1.5 seconds for the 18x zoom lens to deploy and get into position. Once that’s done, the SX600 HS is a breeze to use, with a fast autofocus that finds subjects and locks on quickly in all lighting conditions and at all focal lengths. It even manages to out-perform Panasonic’s Lumix TZ60, which is already one speedy superzoom. On the other hand, you do have to wait about a second for the camera to turn around between two photos and the burst mode “only” manages to shoot at 2.4 fps for 14 photos, but still, the SX600 HS is a fast little compact that comes off very well in this part of our review.
The general trend in the compact camera market is to reach crazy new heights in terms of pixels, zooms and processors. But Canon is keeping things modest—almost minimal, in fact—with the SX600 HS. The SX600 HS gets the firm’s Digic 4+ image processor (first seen in 2008), a reasonably restrained 16-Megapixel BSI CMOS sensor and an 18x zoom lens equivalent to 25-450 mm. Among other things, this mid-range spec sheet means that the maximum sensitivity setting is capped at 3200 ISO, whereas many competitors take things a couple of settings higher to 12800 ISO. That said, those kinds of higher ISO settings are never good enough to actually use.
Playing it safe isn’t always enough to ensure top-notch picture quality. Everything is fine up to around 400 ISO. Pictures have a typically “Canon” look with a low level of soft grain that’s kept in check well. The SX600 HS starts to show its first weaknesses at 800 ISO, where pictures get grainy and smoothing kicks in pretty heavily, even if quality is still good enough for making prints up to A4 size (8″ x 12″ / 20 x 30 cm). Beyond that, quality drops considerably. The 3200 ISO setting should generally be avoided, but photos taken at 1600 ISO can still be used to share online or send by e-mail.
The 18x zoom lens suffers from the same main problems as many other superzoom lenses. Chromatic aberration is pretty strong at wide-angle, showing up as green and purple fringes bordering highly contrasted zones. Plus, sharpness levels lack a certain crispness as you zoom and areas of highlight tend to be overexposed. Still, Canon’s model does a better job than some competitors, with image quality staying reasonably even over the frame. The “ZoomPlus” digital zoom promises to extend zoom power to 36x or even 72x, but we don’t recommend using either function.
Creative Shot – Monocrhome filter
The PowerShot SX600 HS films Full HD video at 30 frames per second … and that’s your lot. There are no other settings available to change, so all that’s left for you to do is line up the shot and hit “record”. Note too that there’s still no option for taking a photo while filming video. Audio is recorded in mono that’s then doubled up over two channels, which at least prevents that annoying feeling of having one ear blocked when playing back movies. Image quality is as expected given the performances of the sensor and processor—it shimmers, bright highlights are soon overexposed, sharpness isn’t great and the image looks desaturated.