The Canon PowerShot SX530 HS ($429.99) is one of the smaller cameras available with a 50x zoom ratio, and it doesn’t really skimp on features in order to get there. The superzoom uses a 16-megapixel CMOS image sensor that supports 1080p video capture and Canon’s unique Creative Shot mode, and its control layout is quite good for a point-and-shoot model. It doesn’t quite earn Editors’ Choice accolade for models with 50x or higher reach, though. Another Canon camera, the PowerShot SX60 HS ($479.00 at eBay) , is our choice instead, thanks to a 65x zoom lens, an integrated EVF, and Raw shooting support. But the SX60 HS is bigger and more expensive, giving you reason to consider the SX530 HS as a more affordable alternative.
Design and FeaturesThe SX530 HS ($479.00 at eBay) measures in at 3.2 by 4.7 by 3.6 inches (HWD) and weighs 15.6 ounces. It’s got a deep handgrip and a big lens that juts out from the body, giving the appearance of a very small D-SLR or mirrorless camera, but the lens is not detachable and there’s no electronic viewfinder. If size isn’t a priority, and you’re looking for the most zoom you can get on a budget, don’t count out the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ70 ($479.00 at eBay) (3.8 by 5.1 by 4.7 inches, 1.3 pounds), which includes a 60x lens and EVF, but omits Wi-Fi.
The 50x lens covers a 24-1,200mm (full-frame equivalent) field of view, which allows you to capture wide-angle landscapes and zoom in on distant objects. The f-stop starts at f/3.4 at the wide end and narrows to f/6.5 when zoomed all the way in, but the optical stabilization system is strong enough to deliver crisp results at the maximum zoom range. If you think that 1,200mm reach is an overkill (and for many photographers it is) but would prefer a lens that captures more light throughout its range, don’t forget that the older Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 ($479.00 at eBay) is still on the market. Its 24x (25-600mm) zoom maintains an f/2.8 aperture throughout, and its price point is competitive with the SX530 HS.
When shooting at telephoto distances, the general rule of thumb for photography is to set the shutter speed as the reciprocal of the focal length. That rule originated in the days before optical stabilization. Modern superzoom compacts like the SX530 HS sport pretty intense image stabilization, to the point where I was able to get crisp images at shutter speeds as long as 1/50-second when zoomed all the way in. I took care to hold the camera steady, and was dealing with a static subject. If you’re tracking a bird in flight and your hands are less than rock solid it’s a good idea to switch to Tv (Shutter Priority) mode and opt for a shorter speed, especially if you’re shooting outdoors under bright sunlight.
The deep handgrip goes a long way to helping you hold the camera steady, but you’ll still need to use the rear LCD to frame images. A camera like the SX60 HS or the Fujfiilm FinePix S1 ($479.00 at eBay) with an eye-level EVF allows you to frame shots with the viewfinder at your eye, which is naturally steadier than holding it at arm’s length to see the rear LCD. The display is a 3-inch panel with a 461k-dot resolution. It’s fixed, but sharp enough to confirm framing and focus. It also has good viewing angles.
The top plate houses the power button, a standard mode dial, a control wheel, the zoom rocker, and the shutter release. The shutter and zoom control sit at the front top of the handgrip, which is sized so you’ll need to curl your index finger back in order to operate them comfortably. The control wheel adjusts aperture or shutter speed in the corresponding priority modes. Full manual shooting is available as an option.
There are two buttons on the left side of the lens barrel. The top is the Framing Assist function. If you lose track of your subject when zoomed in you can press and hold it to widen the field of view of the lens. An outline shows on the rear LCD to indicate your previous focal length, and releasing the button returns the lens to that zoom position. It can also be used to automatically frame subjects for portraiture; pressing it without holding it down allows you to select a face, upper body, or full body subject; the lens will automatically zoom to frame a portrait. The lower button activates a focus lock system, which works in conjunction with the lens stabilization. If you’re tracking a moving object, holding it down will shift lens elements to help keep it in frame. It’s worth using, especially if you’re trying to track birds in flight.
There are more controls on the rear. To the right of the thumb grip, at an angle that almost puts them on the right side, you’ll find a dedicated button to record videos and an exposure compensation button. Flat on the back, below the thumb grip, is a four-way controller with a center Func./Set button and direct controls for ISO, flash output, the focus mode, and information display. Menu, playback, and a dedicated Wi-Fi button round out the rear controls. Additional shooting settings, including white balance, the drive mode, and the metering pattern, are accessed via an overlay menu that’s opened via the Func./Set button.
Like other recent Canon compacts, the SX530 HS includes Creative Shot. It’s a mode that Instagram fans should pay attention to. When set to Creative Shot, six total pictures are captured each time you press the shutter. The first is the shot as you framed it, and the other five have crops and artistic filters applied automatically. If you’re more of an artistic type it’s worth trying out, as you may be very happy with the results it delivers.
Wi-Fi is built in, and there’s an NFC sensor on the left side of the body. But if you have an iPhone or other device without NFC, you can still pair the SX530. The camera broadcasts a Wi-Fi network; you just need to connect to it via your phone and launch the free Canon Camera Connect app for iOS or Android. The app makes copying images over to your phone or tablet for editing and online sharing a simple matter.
Remote control is also supported. The app can adjust the lens zoom, control the flash output, toggle the self-timer, and capture a photo. But that’s it—manual control is not available, and if you’re shooting in Creative Shot mode the camera will only capture one image. There’s no GPS built-in, but if you want to add location data to images you can do so via the app. You’ll need to enable the location log function before you start shooting, and make sure the camera’s clock is synced to your phone. But as long as you’ve got those ducks in a row, the app will add GPS coordinates to images via Wi-Fi.
Performance and ConclusionsThe SX530 HS starts and shoots in about 1.2 seconds, which is pretty speedy when you consider that its big lens has to extend to the ready position in that time. Its autofocus speed is quick at the wide angle, about 0.08-second, but it does slow down when zoomed all the way in. If your subject is close to in-focus it takes about 0.6-second to lock, but it can exceed 2 seconds to bring a completely blurred subject into sharp focus and fire off a shot. Even at its slowest, its focus system is better than that of the Samsung WB2200F ($479.00 at eBay) , which regularly failed to lock onto high-contrast targets when zoomed all the way in.
Continuous shooting is available at only one speed, about 1.8 frames per second. With a fast memory card, like the SanDisk 95MBps SDHC card we use to test digital cameras, you can hold the shutter button down and fire off shots continuously at this rate. Other long zoom models can shoot at faster rates, but are sometimes limited in duration; the Panasonic FZ200 manages 5.5fps, but only for 16 shots.
I used Imatest to see how good the camera’s lens and 16-megapixel sensor were at capturing photos. On our standard center-weighted sharpness test it scores 2,071 lines per picture height. That’s better than the 1,800 lines we look for in a photo, and that quality is maintained through much of the frame. The outer edges are a bit soft (1,318 lines), but that’s very typical for a compact camera. The Canon SX60 scores just a little better on the same test, at 2,180 lines, and shows similar performance at the edges of the frame.
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Imatest also checks photos for noise. The SX530 HS keeps noise under 1.5 percent through ISO 800, and shows about 1.6 percent at ISO 1600. Close examination of images on a calibrated NEC MultiSync PA271W($479.00 at eBay) display shows that image quality is pretty good through ISO 400; the discrete lines in our ISO test scene are still visibly separate there. Pushing to ISO 800 blurs those lines slightly, but photos are still quite useable. There’s more blur than I like to see in photos at ISO 1600, and ISO 3200 should be avoided. If you’re interested in a long zoom camera that does a better job in dim light, consider sacrificing some zoom range. The Panasonic FZ200 has a 24x lens with a fixed f/2.8 aperture, and the pocket-friendly Panasonic ZS50 ($479.00 at eBay) is pretty good through ISO 1600—both sport a 12-megapixel image 1/2.3-inch image sensor, which offers a high ISO advantage over the more densely packed 16-megapixel sensor used by this Canon model.
Video is recorded in MP4 format at up to 1080p30 quality. It lags behind other models that support 60fps capture, and shows some rolling shutter artifacts during quick camera movements. This effect, which causes the top of the frame to appear to advance more quickly than the bottom, is exacerbated when zoomed tightly on a subject. This also causes a slight wobbling effect when framing images at maximum zoom, but is not visible in photos. But aside from that, which is something we’re used to seeing in superzoom cameras, the video is pretty good. It’s sharp, the focus is speedy, and audio is clear on the soundtrack—even when the lens is zooming in and out. There is a mini HDMI port for HDTV connectivity, as well as mini USB port to plug into a computer. The SD/SDHC/SDXC memory card slot is located in the battery compartment, and Canon includes an external wall charger to recharge the included battery. In-camera charging is not available with this model.
The Canon PowerShot SX530 HS is a solid choice if you’re looking for a smaller model with an extremely long zoom lens at a decent price. Some photographers may be turned off by the lack of an electronic viewfinder, but you’ll typically have to spend a bit more to get a model with a good one. Integrated Wi-Fi and Canon’s fun Creative Shot mode round out a camera that delivers good images, even though it can be slow to focus when zoomed all the way in. If you’re not married to the idea of a 50x lens, you may find that going with a camera with a shorter zoom lens nets overall better images—that’s the case with both the 24x Panasonic FZ200 and the pocket-friendly 30x Panasonic ZS50, both of which are available for around the same price as the SX530, and are Editors’ Choice winners. Our favorite camera with a 50x or longer lens, the Editors’ Choice Canon PowerShot SX60 HS, has beefed-up specs, including an EVF, Raw shooting support, and a 60x zoom that covers a wider angle and zooms further than the SX530. It’s more expensive, but it’s worth the extra money if your photography requires extreme telephoto reach.