An enormous 20x zoom really can fit into your shirt pocket, the Canon PowerShot SX260 HS proves. A few rival cameras can match this engineering wonder -- but not the Canon's surprisingly good image quality, experts say. Tiny travel ultra-zooms do require some sacrifices, though. You won't find RAW image capture, a viewfinder, hot shoe or a full set of manual controls on these little gems.
Small and simple, with more manual controls than other models. One of the littlest long-zooms you can buy, the Canon SX260 slips easily into a shirt or pants pocket, say owners at Amazon.com. "To put this in perspective, it's about 1/3-inch shorter, twice as thick, and just 3.25 ounces heavier than my iPhone 4s," says a tester at Imaging-Resource.com.
At that size, you won't get a viewfinder, a lot of physical buttons -- or a lot of space to put your hands. Testers at Imaging-Resource.com and DPReview.com both find themselves hitting the video record button accidentally. Several owners say the pop-up flash is situated right where their left index finger wants to go.
You do get a sharp, 3-inch LCD screen that's easy to see in bright or dim light, reviews say. Advanced users get robust manual controls, "better than on most compact megazooms," says Joshua Goldman at CNET. You can control shutter speed, aperture, exposure, white balance and focus, but no bracketing.
For beginners, "auto mode makes the Canon SX260 practically goof-proof," says Daniel Grotta at Imaging-Resource.com. It can sense 58 types of shooting situations and automatically pick the right settings. Grotta sums up the SX260: "This is one of the easier, more versatile, and fun cameras we've tested in some time."
Best photo quality of any pocket ultra-zoom. The Canon SX260 shoots better-quality photos than other pocket ultra-zooms, experts say. "Basically, if you need to shoot in low light or want to freeze action, this camera is one of the best options in its class," says Joshua Goldman at CNET, where the Canon SX260 wins a spot on the site's Best 5 Digital Cameras list (it's the only ultra-zoom on the list).
Dim light is usually the Waterloo of ultra-zoom cameras. But in a head-to-head test at DPReview.com, the Canon's 12-megapixel sensor "captures a bit more detail" than the runner-up Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20 (*Est. $305) in fairly dim light (ISO 800). In bright light, the Canon captures "enough detail to produce some pretty big prints," according to Imaging-Resource.com. They say ISO 100 looks good at 16 inches by 20 inches, and its max ISO 3200 delivers a "decent" 5 inch by 7 inch. "Not bad for a pocket long zoom," testers say.
It's not perfect. Like most ultra-zooms, the Canon SX260 tends to blow out highlights (turning on the i-Contrast feature helps, testers say) and leaves mild purple fringing around high-contrast edges. Autofocus "feels sluggish," according to DPReview.com, and sometimes it can't lock on in low light. Flash photos suffer from redeye (there's an effective tool in playback to remove it) and long shutter delays.
"It's not quite as fast as Panasonic's ZS20, but it's still pretty quick," Goldman says. Turn off the flash, and "there's barely any shutter delay," say testers at Imaging-Resource.com. Rapid-fire shooting can reach up to 10.3 frames per second (fps).
Video looks "very good" at full 1080p HD, Goldman says. It can only record at a 24p frame rate, which looks a little "choppy" to testers at DPReview.com and Imaging-Resource.com. Video is point-and-shoot only -- no manual controls. Audio from the on-board stereo microphones is "mediocre at best," says Daniel Grotta at Imaging-Resource.com. There's no way to add an external mic. You can zoom while shooting, but while Grotta says he doesn't hear the zoom noise on his video, several Amazon.com customers complain of a high-pitched whine in the background of all of their videos.
Battery life is rated at 230 shots per charge. That's shorter than average for this class, and GPS will drain it much faster. Experts and several owners strongly advise getting a spare battery (*Est. $40). The camera comes with an external charger.
Metal body outclasses most other ultra-zooms. A mostly metal body sets the Canon SX260 apart from most other ultra-zoom cameras. Even the expensive ones are usually made of plastic. "The camera is made almost entirely of metal, with everything feeling pretty solid," says Keller at DPReview.com, awarding it a high score for build quality.
It feels "sturdy enough to withstand the odd drop or knock," writes Mark Goldstein at PhotographyBlog.com. Grotta at Imaging-Resource.com says, "Because of its well-constructed body, the Canon SX260 has a solid look and feel of quality." Grotta notes that it's not weather-sealed, but neither are the other ultra-zooms in this report.
The vast majority of owners report no problems with durability. Only about 8 percent of reviews at Amazon.com rate the Canon SX260 below 3 out of 5 stars, including a few who got dud models that malfunctioned.
GPS but no HDR or in-camera panorama. "A long list of crowd-pleasing photographic goodies" helps the Canon SX260 win a top spot at Imaging-Resource.com. The 20x optical zoom lens tops the list. Digital zoom can quadruple its reach to 80x, but it degrades image quality.
Built-in GPS can geotag your photos with longitude and latitude data. "It doesn't do anything fancy (like know what landmark you're standing in front of), but it gets the job done, at least outside of big cities," where tall buildings make it hard to get a satellite lock, says Keller at DPReview.com.
Wink is Canon's unusual self-timer feature. When you wink, the camera detects it, waits 2 seconds and then snaps the photo. (There's also a regular timer.) Face Identification lets you program up to 12 faces into the camera. When it detects them, it will prioritize focus and exposure for those faces.
Other features included on the Canon are more common, like Handheld Night Scene (which shoots a few different exposures and then combines them to create one clear shot) and Creative Filters (the usual array of miniature, toy camera, etc.).
Two common features are missing, though: high dynamic range (which combines several exposures to gain greater depth and detail) and in-camera panorama. "The panorama mode is still Canon's Stitch Assist, where you take a photo and then try to line up a ghost image to take the rest of the photos so you can then head back to a computer to stitch them together with software," says Goldman at CNET. "It's really time Canon caught up to Sony, Nikon, Panasonic, and Fujifilm and had a panorama mode that just does it all automatically when you pan the camera."
Like other pocket ultra-zooms, the Canon SX260 can't shoot RAW, and there's no hot shoe. It does have a pop-up flash, and Canon sells an external flash (*Est. $115) that attaches to the tripod mount.
Review Credibility: Excellent The Canon SX260's photos look better than other travel zooms', Jeff Keller says. His comprehensive tests reveal some drawbacks -- like sluggish autofocus -- but overall, it's "a solid choice" among travel zooms.
Review: Canon PowerShot SX260 HS Review, Jeff Keller, June 2012
Review Credibility: Excellent Easy and versatile, the Canon SX260 ranks as one of Imaging-Resource.com's favorite pocket zooms. It aces most of this website's exacting tests, although picky experts here do wish it could shoot RAW and bracket exposures.
Review: Canon PowerShot SX260 HS, Daniel Grotta and Stephanie Boozer, July 27, 2012
Review Credibility: Very Good With an "amazing" zoom in a tiny body, the Canon SX260 earns a spot on PhotographyBlog.com's list of the best digital cameras. Mark Goldstein tests its ease of use and image quality. He is especially impressed with its low-light prowess, rare in a pocket zoom.
Review: Canon PowerShot SX260 HS Review, Mark Goldstein, April 16, 2012
Review Credibility: Very Good "I honestly had trouble finding bad points of this camera," Joshua Goldman says after testing the Canon SX260. He does find a few -- short battery life is one -- but the camera is so good overall, it's the only ultra-zoom to make CNET's list of the best five cameras.
Review: Canon PowerShot SX260 HS Review (Green), Joshua Goldman, March 23, 2012
Review Credibility: Good ConsumerReports.org tests 44 ultra-zoom cameras, including the Canon SX260. Editors rate each camera's photo and video quality, ease of use and more before ranking the cameras from best to worst. To protect it from bias, ConsumerReports.org doesn't accept any freebies or advertising. Write-ups here are very brief compared with the more highly ranked sites, though.
Review: Canon PowerShot SX260 HS, Editors of ConsumerReports.org, Undated
Review Credibility: Fair The Canon SX260 is one of the most consistently high-scoring ultra-zoom cameras at Amazon.com. With more than 450 owner reviews posted, it gets an overall rating of about 4.4 out of 5 stars. Many call it the perfect travel camera. Still, a small percentage of owners give it 1 or 2 stars. Common complaints include too-slow shooting, mechanical noises on video soundtracks and a pop-up flash situated right where users want to hold the camera with their left hand. Some got dud models that malfunctioned.
Review: Canon PowerShot SX260 HS 12.1 MP CMOS Digital Camera, Contributors to Amazon.com, As of February 2013