CAMERAS Canon PowerShot SX20 IS Review

Canon PowerShot SX20 IS Review


Canon PowerShot SX20 IS Review

Home CAMERAS Canon PowerShot SX20 IS Review

Canon PowerShot SX20 IS Review

The Canon PowerShot SX20 IS is particularly impressive with its 20x optical zoom. The focal length range extends from wide-angle 28 to 560 mm with a speed of F2.8 to F5.7. Following the current trend, Canon integrates an HD video function with stereo sound. In addition, the 12-megapixel camera offers a foldable and tiltable display. As with all cameras in this class, there are many special functions, such as “Face Detection” in conjunction with the self-timer. The SX20 was tested here by us through standard practice and software testing.

Brief assessment


  • Good adaptation possibilities
  • System hot shoe
  • HD video function with good picture and sound quality
  • Bright, rotatable and tiltable display
  • Large zoom range


  • Relatively strong artifacts on fine structures
  • No RAW/CR2 mode
  • Very highly compressed files

Canon PowerShot SX20 IS Review

Ergonomics and Workmanship

The SX20 IS is immediately comfortable in the hand. The housing made of high-quality plastic makes a solid impression and is well manufactured. The flaps, behind which the connectors and batteries are located, are not too smooth and snap in clearly when closed; this makes the camera suitable for everyday use. The zoom rocker is easy to reach and works evenly over the entire zoom range. When the zoom rocker is operated, the display shows the minimum object distance that the camera needs to focus. The selector wheel combined with the 4-way rocker switch with the important functions such as ISO setting, self-timer or macro and super macro is mounted on the back of the camera next to the display and is easy to operate with the thumb. The back of the SX20 IS also features a recording button for the HD video function, which can be used at any time and which can be activated without complicated adjustments from normal camera operation. On the top of the camera, to the right of the flash is the program dial with all subject programs. The button to the left of the flash, which must be folded out manually, can be used to adjust settings such as sync when using the flash.

The display is not too large at 2.5 inches (6.4 cm). However, when working it proves to be good. It was particularly convincing for outdoor shots. Compared to many other cameras in this price segment, it is 0.5 inches smaller, but this has a positive effect on power consumption; however, the resolution of 230,000 pixels is just as high as with many 3″ displays. The automatic recognition of the camera position is a pleasant feature. When viewing, all images (whether portrait or landscape) are automatically adjusted to the camera position. The display can be rotated 180° both horizontally and vertically. For very bright environments, there is also an electronic viewfinder with dioptre compensation. Here the images appear very rich in contrast.

Canon PowerShot SX20 IS Review

On the right side of the camera, all necessary connections as well as the slot for the SD(HC) card are located in the handle. The connections are all easily accessible. The USB connection complies with the 2.0 standard and enables fast data exchange when no card reader is used. The HDMI connection is particularly noteworthy, which allows you to watch HD videos in digital quality. For power supply, Canon has chosen standard AA batteries or rechargeable batteries for the SX20 IS. An optional power supply is available from Canon. On the lower side there is a tripod thread made of metal. Including batteries and memory card, the camera weighs 645 g.

Canon PowerShot SX20 IS Review

Equipment And Features

Outstanding from the wide range of technical equipment is the large zoom range. With 28 to 560 mm a 20x zoom is available. With the zoom rocker the focal length can be changed in two speeds. This makes it possible to react quickly as well as to define the image section exactly. The ultrasonic motor ensures a pleasantly quiet zoom. In addition, the reliable optical image stabilizer ensures a steady image and less camera shake, which is especially important for telephoto shots.

Canon PowerShot SX20 IS Review

In addition to the standard functions such as aperture and shutter priority, program mode, and manual mode, the program dial also features various subject programs. For beginners, the Auto Scene Detection is valuable, which automatically adjusts the complete settings to the environmental conditions. A stitching assistant makes panorama shots easier, but you have to stitch them together afterwards on the computer with the included software. The video mode is also available on the program dial, but can be started at any time by pressing the record button.

For the macro enthusiast, the SX20 IS offers a Super Macro function that sets the closest focusing distance to 0 cm. The camera determines the focal length itself. However, the illumination of the subject is difficult – some insects flee because of the approaching lens. In the continuous shooting mode, the camera delivered a rate of approx. 1 image/s in the test as well as in the information from Canon and this over a long period of time until the memory card is full.

Canon PowerShot SX20 IS Review

In the test, the video function, which allows optical zooming during recording, was very convincing – even the autofocus remains active. The HD quality shots were quite good even in low light. The maximum recording time is 29 minutes, unless the maximum memory size of 4 GBytes per movie is reached before. A pleasant detail: the sensitivity of the stereo microphones can even be adjusted, including the windscreen. The quality of the audio recordings was a positive surprise. The video files are saved as MOV files and can be played back with Apple Quicktime, among others. Because the videos are stored in H.264 format, the memory requirement is less than that of Motion-JPEG without any loss of quality.

The flash offers not only the usual settings such as red-eye reduction, but also flash exposure correction by +/-2 f-stops in 1/3 steps. The synchronization can also be set to the 2nd shutter speed to achieve rewind effects. The hot shoe offers the possibility of using an external flash unit. However, external system flashes cannot be triggered via the internal wireless with TTL metering. In return, the performance of the internal flash is convincing, which enables good results even in problematic lighting situations.

Canon PowerShot SX20 IS Review

For “self-portraits”, the PowerShot SX20 IS offers the smart combination of self-timer and face detection. It is relatively easy to use and automatically creates as many images as you have previously set in the settings when a face appears. The MyColors function allows you to change the colors of your images into different styles, such as vibrant blue, sepia or black and white, just to name a few. The modified images can then be saved as additional files.

The measuring field for the autofocus can be moved almost freely on the image using the selection wheel in the programs provided for this purpose and can be resized. The autofocus speed of 0.5-0.7 s is in the average range for this camera class.

Canon PowerShot SX20 IS Review

Image quality

Overall, the Canon PowerShot SX20 IS delivered good results in the test. With a lot of light, especially outdoors, it convinced with natural colours. Indoors, the automatic white balance ensures a relatively neutral display – even when using the flash. The resolution is good both up and down, but also shows a slight edge drop, which is completely okay for such an enormous zoom range. Remarkable is the very high resolution in the center of the image with open aperture at wide angle, so that the relative edge drop is more prominent here. Faded down, the resolution is a little bit lower overall, which is due to diffraction effects and clearly shows that at 12 megapixel resolution on the small 1/2.3″ CCD sensor the limit of what is physically reasonable is reached.

The image noise is very low up to ISO 200. At ISO 400 and above, the noise is well smoothed out, but the loss of detail increases with sensitivity. Remarkable are the occurring artefacts like aliasing and moiré effects on fine structures due to the aggressive detail processing. Here the camera is somewhat behind the competitors. Sharpness, on the other hand, is well balanced and does not show any significant negative effects.

Canon PowerShot SX20 IS Review

The darkening of the edges is surprisingly low. With a lens of this type, this can only be achieved by software-based correction, but – as can be clearly seen in the DCTau protocol – this is done at an appropriate level. There was less “trickery” in the distortion. The lens shows barrel distortion in the wide-angle range, which is slightly annoying especially when photographing landscapes or buildings. At medium and long focal length, on the other hand, the distortion is very low.

The PowerShot handles high subject contrasts quite well, with a dynamic range of around 8.8 f-stops at ISO 80 and 100, and even 8 f-stops at ISO 800. Added to this is the amazingly neutral tonal value reproduction. Mid-tones are only slightly raised in contrast, only the brightest highlights and deepest shadows are slightly softer to create a pleasant image reproduction. The shadow value is minimally increased, but this can be corrected in case of doubt in image editing.

By inserting the memory card, one immediately recognizes that there are a lot of pictures that fit on it. This is due to the strong compression. For example, a 12-megapixel image has a data volume of around 2.5 MBytes. It would be desirable to compress the images less to get a little more quality out of the recordings, because slight compression artifacts will show up. The stronger compression should be avoided at all costs, it means a significant loss of quality. Unfortunately, the possibility to save images in RAW format is completely missing.


The Canon PowerShot SX20 IS convinced in the test as a complete package and with its wide range of features. Highlights are above all the 20x zoom with a good quality result over the entire focal length range and a well-functioning HD video function. The Super Macro function offers the possibility of taking very interesting detail shots with 0 cm close-up limit. The good image quality is only slightly behind the competition (Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38). However, due to the complete equipment with HD video, connection possibility for external flash devices and last but not least the enormous zoom range, the camera is absolutely recommendable.


Manufacturer Canon
Model PowerShot SX20 IS
Price approx. EUR 380 (currently you can find used models)
Sensor Resolution 12 megapixels
Max. Image resolution 4.000 x 3.000
(aspect ratio) (4:3)
Lens F2.8-5.7/28-560mm
Filter thread
Viewfinder electronically
Resolution 235.000
Dioptre correction yes
LCD monitor 2,5″
Resolution 230.000
rotatable yes
swiveling yes
as Viewfinder yes
Video output PAL/NTSC, HDMI
as Viewfinder yes
Automatic programming yes
Automatic aperture control yes
Automatic timer yes
manual exposure yes
BULB long time exposure
Scene mode programs
Portrait yes
Landscape yes
Sports/action yes
More 12 additional languages available
Exposure metering Multi-field, Centre-weighted Integral, Spot
Flash yes
Flash connection TTL system hot shoe
Remote release
Interval recording
Storage medium SD/SDHC, MMC
Video mode yes
Format MOV
Codec H.264
Resolution (max.) 1.280 x 720
Frame rate (max.) 30 frames/s
automatically ISO 80-1.600
(upper limit adjustable)
extended ISO 80-3,200
manually ISO 80-1,600
White balance
Automatic yes
Sun yes
Clouds yes
Fluorescent lamp yes
Incandescent lamp yes
Miscellaneous Lightning
Manually yes
Number of measurement fields 15
AF auxiliary light green
Speed approx. 0.5-0.7 s
Languages English
More 25 additional languages are available
One-hand operation
(zoom and shutter release)
(Ready for operation)
645 g
Zoom adjustment motorized via ring rocker
Zoom levels infinitely variable
Trip during
.Saving possible.
Battery life approx. 340 pictures (with alkaline batteries
)approx. 600 pictures (with NiMH rechargeable batteries)
(data according to CIPA measuring method)
– = “not applicable” or “not available

Brief assessment


  • Good adaptation possibilities
  • System hot shoe
  • HD video function with good picture and sound quality
  • Bright, rotatable and tiltable display
  • Large zoom range


  • Relatively strong artifacts on fine structures
  • No RAW/CR2 mode
  • Very highly compressed files

Canon PowerShot SX20 IS Datasheet


Sensor CCD sensor 1/2.3″ 6.2 x 4.6 mm (crop factor 5.6
)12.1 Megapixels (effective)
Pixelpitch 1.5 µm
Photo resolution
4.000 x 3.000 pixels (4:3)
3.840 x 2.160 pixels (16:9)
3.264 x 2.448 pixels (4:3)
2.592 x 1.944 pixels (4:3)
640 x 480 pixels (4:3)
Image formats JPG
Color depth 24 bits (8 bits per color channel)
Metadata Exif (version 2.2), DCF standard
Video resolution
1.280 x 720 (16:9) 30 p
640 x 480 (4:3) 30 p
320 x 240 (4:3) 30 p
Maximum recording time 60 min
Video format
MOV (Codec H.264)
Audio format (video) WAV


Focal length 28 to 560 mm (35mm equivalent
digital zoom
Aperture F2.8 (wide angle
)F5.7 (telephoto)
Autofocus yes
Autofocus functions Single AF, Continuous AF, Area AF, Manual, AF Assist Light

Viewfinder and monitor

Monitor 2.5″ TFT LCD monitor with 230,000 pixels
Video finder Video viewfinder available


Exposure metering Center-weighted integral metering, matrix/multi-field metering, spot metering, AF-AE coupling
Exposure times 1/3,200 to 1 s (automatic
)1/3,200 to 15 s (manual)
Exposure control Programmed automatic, Shutter priority, Aperture priority, Manual
Exposure Compensation -2.0 to +2.0 EV with step size of 1/3 EV
Photosensitivity ISO 80 to ISO 1,600 (manual)
Remote access non-existent
Scene modes Fireworks, indoor, landscape, foliage, night scene, night automatic, portrait, sports/action, beach/snow, underwater, and full automatic
Picture effects “My colors” function with a total of 12 settings
White balance Automatic, Clouds, Sun, Flash, Fluorescent lamp with 2 presets, Tungsten light, Manual
Continuous shooting 1.4 frames/s at highest resolution
Self-timer Self-timer with 2 s interval, special features: or 10 s (optional)
Recording functions Live histogram


Flash built-in flash (flip up) Flash shoe: Canon, standard center contact
Flash range 0.5 to 5.2 m at wide angle1
.0 to 2.8 m at telephoto
Flash functions Auto, fill-flash, flash on, flash off, slow sync, flash on second shutter curtain, red-eye reduction

Equipment And Features

Image stabilizer Lens shift (optical)
Power supply unit Power supply connection
Power supply 4 x AA (standard battery) 4 x AA (standard battery)
Playback functions Red eye retouching, playback histogram, image index
Voice memo Voice memo (WAV format)
Face recognition Face recognition
Image parameters Noise Reduction
Grille can be faded in during recording yes
Special functions Orientation sensor
Connections Data interfaces: USBUSB type
: USB 2.0 High SpeedVideo output
: yes (HDMI output Micro (Type D))
Supported direct printing methods Canon Direct Print, PictBridge
Tripod thread 1/4″
Special features and miscellaneous DIGIC-IV signal processoriSAPS Intelligent
Scene Analysis technology Face detection-assisted
focusing and exposureGi-Contrast self-timerwith face detectionAF mode
switchable (single focus, focus tracking)
High-ISO auto mode for automatic selection of high-sensitivity levelsEquivalent noise reduction
for long exposuresNight display functionPlayback zoom

(2 to 10x)
Other digital zoom modes (safety zoom), Digital Tele-Converter)
Automatic image orientationMy-Camera mode
for customizable welcome screens and camera soundCustomized
settingEnergy saving circuitOptical

image stabilizerUltrasonic
drive of autofocusFocus

Size and weight

Weight 640 g (ready for operation)
Dimensions W x H x D 124 x 88 x 87 mm


standard accessory Canon STV-250N Audio / Video CablePIXO
C4 Charger for Special BatteriesStandard BatteriesRemovable Memory CardImage Editing SoftwareArcSoft Photo StudioPanorama Software
ZoomBrowser EX for MacintoshSoftware
Image Browser for MacintoshTwain
Driver (98/2000)
Remote Control Software Remote CaptureWIA Device Driver
for Windows ME
additional accessories Canon CBK4-300 Charger for Standard BatteriesCanon
DCC-90 Camera CaseNB3-AH
Speedlite System Flash Units
USB 2.0 High Speed


, Canon PowerShot SX20 IS Review
Peter Dench
I am Peter Dench. Digital Photographer, born in London 1972, currently living in Deerfield, near Chicago. I have numerous photography expositions and also working in model photography. In this website, PhotoPoint, I usually review cameras provided by local dealers in Illinois and by the manufacturers. Sometimes I, Peter Dench, review lenses too, but only when I have a suitable camera for them. Please let me know in the comments if I can improve any of these articles.


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