The 16 megapixel PowerShot SX160 IS bridges the gap between Canon’s entry-level point-and-shoot digital cameras and the premium travel compacts. The former, lacking a large zoom range and full manual controls, are priced under Rs 10,000 and the travel compacts (SX240 HS and SX 240 HS) that pack everything an enthusiast would like in a tight form cost around Rs 18,000. The SX160 IS a no-nonsense camera with a fairly large zoom range, full manual controls and a good feature set. We put it through its paces to find out whether it has the oomph to bring smiles on the faces of shutterbugs on a tight budget.

Too large and chunky to fit into the pocket

Too large and chunky to fit into your pocket

Design and features

The SX160 IS is the successor to the SX150 IS with subtle design changes and an improved feature set; the SX150 IS had a more rounded design, completely lacking chiselled sides when viewed from the front. The SX160 IS has better-defined sides and corners, especially towards the top and along the bulge that houses two AA batteries. With this, Canon has managed to shed off a few millimetres in width and thickness, and around 15 grams of mass. The SX160 IS is by no means compact. It’s heftier than most point-and-shoots and travel compacts, and weighs close to 300 grams with a pair of AA batteries loaded—you don’t want to carry it in your pocket. However, the large body allows for a good grip and a control panel with large, well-spaced buttons.

The vertical chrome strip on the front adds aesthetic appeal. It’s slightly elevated to provide good grip and inspire confidence. The SX150 IS had this strip angled for a more natural finger position when curled around the bulge. The lens housing is large in diameter, and when fully zoomed, it extends a good 2 inches from the body. The lens of the SX160 IS has been upgraded. The 12x zoom lens of the SX150 IS started from 28 mm and extended up to 336 mm. The SX160 IS goes up to 448 mm, which translates to 16x optical zoom. This allows shooting large groups of people from a close range and rolling landscapes as well as distant subjects with great ease.

Large control panel with well spaced-out buttons

Large control panel with well spaced-out buttons

Above the lens are tiny holes on either side for stereo mic. The top houses a tiny grille for the mono speaker to the extreme left, followed by the flash and the mode dial. The flash in the SX150 IS had to be lifted manually in order to fire. Although it would have been better if the flash popped up automatically, here, there’s a lever in the form of a button to raise the flash, which is right above the LCD. The display hasn’t received an update—it has been left untouched at 3 inches with a resolution of 230K dots. It’s sufficiently large for framing subjects and viewing your images, but at least a higher resolution would have been a welcome change.

The control panel is slightly different from what it was in the SX150 IS. The buttons are round and well-spaced thanks to the flat surface that was curvy in the previous model. The SX150 IS had the playback button at the top corner and a dedicated button for video recording below it. The locations of these buttons have been swapped, which makes sense. The video recording button is now isolated and the playback button is where it should ideally be. To the left of the playback button is a shortcut for EV, and moving down, there's a large 5-way D-pad with a jog dial for navigation. The D-pad offers one touch access to ISO, flash, self-timer and macro. The Display info and Menu buttons are right at the bottom. The right side has a port flap that protects the HDMI and mini USB ports. The latter, meant for data transfer, doubles as composite video output. The package includes only a mini USB cable in addition to the wrist strap. Should you want to connect this camera to the TV, you have to purchase the composite video or HDMI cable separately.

With the SX160 IS, you have complete control over the exposure thanks to the semi and full manual modes that allow tinkering with the aperture and shutter speed. Plus you have control over other parameters such as ISO, white balance, metering mode and flash intensity. Those who don’t want to get into the nitty-gritties of exposure can use the Auto mode, which automatically determines the type of scene and accordingly uses optimal exposure values. The Live mode is a good addition to get creative shots without having to apply too much thought. You get sliders to adjust the exposure, saturation and white balance. So, for example, complete desaturation would yield a black-and-white shot and with a warm tone added, you will get a sepia shot.

Full manual controls and easy-to-use modes

Full manual controls and easy-to-use modes

The Scene mode was a bit disappointing. You can choose from only five presets—Portrait, Face self-timer, Low light, Snow and Fireworks. Presets for shooting pets, fast action, subjects against backlight, and so on, are all missing. The Creative Filter mode is more interesting, as it allows capturing shots with cool-looking effects without having to post-process. These include Fish eye, Miniature, Toy Camera, Monochrome, Super Vivid and Poster Effect.

The SX160 IS can shoot videos at 720p and using optical zoom while recording is also allowed. With the mode dial set to Movie, you can set the video resolution (1280 x 720 or 640 x 480) and add colour effects such as sepia, black and white, and lighter/darker skin tone.

Ergonomics

Although you can, the design of the SX160 IS is a tad heavy for single-handed use. Hence, it’s recommended that you wear the wrist strap all the time and grip the camera using both hands. The user interface is typical Canon—it’s similar to what’s present in other PowerShot and IXUS models. The Function/Set button brings up the vertical stack of settings on the left and the options are listed in the horizontal strip at the button. You use the up/down buttons to navigate through the vertical stack and the jog dial to select options. As you navigate, a one-liner describing the option is displayed. The Menu button brings up a page with less frequently used options including AF type, grid lines, IS mode, blink detection and digital zoom. The user interface is snappy and intuitive, requiring few key presses to change values while shooting.

Performance

It takes about two seconds for the SX160 IS to initialise and get ready to shoot. The AF is pretty quick throughout the zoom range and we didn’t encounter any focussing issues throughout while testing.

Noise test

The noise is handled quite well at up to ISO 400, after which you can clearly see a lot of graininess creeping in. However, the grains are tiny with a bit of artefacts and they don’t take away too much of the detail. Use a noise-removal plug-in/software and rescale the images, and you will have great-looking results even if viewed at 100 percent zoom.

ISO 100

ISO 100

ISO 400

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 1600

The results of the SX160 IS looked very pleasing—neither too punchy nor too drab. Photos had good contrast and the reproduction of details even in distant objects was very good. However, colour fringing around bright areas was a bit of a letdown. Green and purple fringes were present along the borders of bright objects.

Shot using the Toy Camera effect filter

Shot using the Toy Camera effect filter

Macro shots look great with excellent reproduction of colors and details

Macro shots look great with excellent reproduction of colours and details

Notice the green and purple fringing along the bright borders

Notice the green and purple fringing along the bright borders

Good looking results with good contrast and colors

Good looking results with good contrast and colours

Excellent reproduction of details even in distant objects

Excellent reproduction of details even in distant objects

The quality of video recording was very disappointing. Videos look good so long as you keep your hand steady and don’t zoom or pan. You must be patient and pan very slowly to avoid stutter. We have seen cameras do a much better job than the SX160 IS when it comes to shooting videos.

Verdict and Price in India

The Canon PowerShot SX160 IS is priced at Rs 12,995 (MRP), but you can buy it for a few hundred rupees less from online stores, and that too with a case, rechargeable batteries, a charger and a 4GB SD card included as freebies. At this price point, the flaws in performance can be overlooked. Despite the niggles, the SX160 IS performs significantly better than some of the other digital cameras in its class, and even some more expensive travel compacts.

If you want full manual controls, plenty of zoom and stellar performance in an affordable package, this camera is certainly a worthy consideration.

Publish date: October 25, 2012 12:04 pm| Modified date: December 19, 2013 3:21 am

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