Canon Powershot SX170IS review

Canon Powershot SX170IS is an affordable compact ultra zoom. For around $200 you get a 16 megapixels sensor and 16x optical zoom with image stabilization. Compared to previous SX160, the new one has a small but important upgrade: it comes with a Li-Ion battery and a charger unlike SX160 which used AA batteries; most users prefer Li-Ion. Design and features remained mostly unchanged so you get a standard set of shooting modes as well as full manual control in case you need it what makes SX170 a great first camera. The more you learn about photography, the more manual control you will want to have.

GENERAL SPECIFICATIONS

  • Announced: 2013.
  • Type: Entry level ultra-zoom
  • Dimensions: 108 x 71 x 44 mm (4.25 x 2.8 x 1.73″)
  • Weight: 251g (with battery)
  • Sensor: 1/2.3″ (6.17 x 4.55 mm), 16 MP (4608 x 3456 pixels)
  • Lens: 28-448mm (35mm eq.), F/3.5-5.9
  • Image stabilization: Yes (in the lens)
  • Dust and moisture protection: No
  • Flash: Built-in pop-up flash
  • Continuous shooting: 1 fps (lol)
  • LCD screen: 3″, 230,000 dots
  • Memory card: SD, SDHC, SDXC
  • Battery: Li-Ion NB-6LH
  • Video: 1280 x 720 (30, 25 fps), 640 x 480 (30 fps)
  • Connectors: mini USB 2.0

CONSTRUCTION AND HANDLING

SX170IS is available in two colors: black and red. It is entirely made from plastic which doesn’t hide this is an entry level camera. It is a bit rough to the touch but at least very well assembled, there are no squeaks or rough joints between body plates. SX170IS is very easy to hold since it has a small but still sufficiently big grip at the front and at 251grams with the battery no one should have reason to complain on the weight.

You can use this camera in full Auto mode and the camera will do everything by itself, but the good thing is that is has all the manual settings in case you need them. Standard PASM manual exposure modes are available as is the case with manual focus and custom white balance.

All of the buttons on the back are very big and easy to press even for users with large fingers. SX170IS allows you to get direct access to several important settings: ISO value, exposure compensation, macro mode, flash setting and timer.

Pressing the center button on the multi-way controller will give you access to quick menu with most important shooting settings like white balance, light metering, color settings, image size and aspect ratio etc. Quick menu is identical to what is already used on other Powershot models and is very fast and easy to navigate.

A small pop-up flash with range of 3m is present – good enough for family use.

LCD

LCD has 3 inches diagonal but only 230,000 dots. That’s pretty low for modern standards, but better LCD’s are reserved for higher priced cameras. Viewing angles are also far from perfect; LCD is pretty much unusable when viewed from above or below (overhead shooting). There is neither viewfinder nor the option to attach one.

CANON POWERSHOT SX170IS LENS

16x optical zoom lens should give you more zoom range than you will need in normal shooting conditions. In 35mm equivalent it covers 28-448 mm range. Aperture goes from F/3.5 on wide angle to F/5.9 on maximum zoom. That is not particularly good for lower light conditions but at this price point and physical size this is as good as you can get.

Lens quality is actually pretty good. It is sharp on both wide angle and maximum telephoto and even corners of the frame do not show significant loss of sharpness (just a slight blur towards the corners). Light fall-off is visible when you zoom the lens, and chromatic aberrations are pretty much the constant through all of the images but those imperfections are easily removed in post process. In real life use, main image quality restriction is the sensor and image processor, not the lens.

Optical image stabilization is built-in and allows you to get sharp and steady images at high telephoto.

Example of zoom range at both maximum wide and telephoto:

CANON POWERSHOT SX170IS SENSOR AND IMAGE QUALITY

A small sensor (1/2.3″) has 16 megapixels and does not use back side illumination like more expensive Powershot cameras. The real life downside of this exclusion is image quality in low light conditions when the noise becomes really strong. You can get an image, but it is nothing you would want to look at often; just take a look at image samples at the end of the review. Photographs are much better in daylight though; colors are more or less accurate but they do tend to appear too bleak on default settings. You can fix than by selecting vivid setting in quick menu. Noise and noise reduction artifacts are visible in daylight though and when you zoom into images there are no fine details. This is the main reason why you would want to buy a more advanced camera: SX270 comes to my mind first and cost only marginally more.

CANON POWERSHOT SX170IS BATTERY, MEMORY CARD AND CONNECTORS

Canon SX170IS is delivered with a Li-Ion battery NB-6LH and external charger. It is strong enough for around 200 shots. If you don’t use flash and zoom much of the time, this can be extended to maybe 250 shots. This is a clear step forward for most users compared to previous SX160 which used AA batteries although AA’s provided significantly more power.

Standard SD/SDHC memory cards are supported; you can get them on every step nowadays. SX170 only has mini USB connector.

CANON POWERSHOT SX170IS AUTOFOCUS AND CONTINUOUS SHOOTING

Auto focus is fine in daylight; it takes around a second to focus. Night shooting is another story when it takes up to several seconds to find focus. Continuous shooting is possible at 1 frame per second what made me LOL. You will be faster pushing the shutter button manually each time.

CANON POWERSHOT SX170IS VIDEO QUALITY

SX170 can record at maximum resolution of 1280×720 at 30 frames per second. Mono microphone is built-in and there is no input for external one. Video quality is average at the first glance. Colors and exposure are good, but all sorts of artifacts due to compression and low resolution are visible in videos. SX170IS also has problems with aliasing in videos; straight lines on buildings often look pixelated. Night video recording surprised me in a good way. Noise is more visible than in daylight but altogether videos look completely usable. Auto focus also works surprisingly well even when zoomed in during the night, just take a look at video samples below. Altogether, I would rather own a camera with average video quality but perfect auto focus and image stabilization like this Canon SX170 than a camera with good video quality but unusable auto focus. With the SX170IS you can get a usable video no matter the conditions and this is what counts most.




CANON POWERSHOT SX170IS CONCLUSION

Canon SX170IS showed to be an average performer. Image quality suffers from noise reduction and it is on a verge of unusable in low light, but a typical buyer of this camera will probably never notice something is wrong since images will be viewed scaled to PC monitor size or printed on small family album size formats. Video recording is also average but it has excellent auto focus during video and very effective image stabilization so this camera might allow you to capture memories other cameras in this price range would not. If you can afford just a little more expensive camera, I would advise you towards Canon SX270; it is better in all regards including image, video quality and build quality. If your budget is very tight, SX170IS will have to do. Finally, take a look at image samples below and decide for yourself if you will be satisfied with them.

CANON POWERSHOT SX170IS  PRO

  • Handling
  • Huge zoom range
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Auto focus during video recording
  • Li-Ion battery

CANON POWERSHOT SX170IS  CONS

  • Low light performance
  • Auto focus in low light

PHOTO EXAMPLES

All straight out of the camera:

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2 thoughts on “Canon Powershot SX170IS review

  1. Great videos,
    I´m starting in photography, I have a totally automated point and shoot and I wanted to try an afordable (under 200 usd) camera with the most manual functions just so I can start playing around with it. I was thinking about the canon sx170, do you have any other recomendations?

    Thank you very much,

    Kind regards

    • Hi, SX170 is OK, but try extending your budget a litlle and buy SX270HS, that’s a year older model (hence cheaper), but superior in every aspect to SX170. SX270 is good enough I wouldn’t mind using it sometimes.

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