My previous CreativePro post looked at the FujiFilm F900EXR, the only uber-compact (roughly the size of an iPhone), super-zoom, 20x camera, with manual controls that shoots in RAW and RAW+JPEG. However, if you’re willing to consider a camera without RAW (you’re likely already doing that with your iPhone or smartphone, right?), or are willing to wait and spend a bit more money, then there are three other uber-compact, super-zoom cameras that might be a better fit for your photography and video needs: The Canon Powershot SX280 (currently $189 at Amazon.com; discussed below) and the Panasonic DMC-ZS30 (TZ40), and its 2014 upgrade the DMC-ZS40.
Before a closer inspection of the Canon, it might help you to differentiate the similar-looking cameras choices by considering the original focus for each of the companies.
FujiFilm was originally a film company, and as a result, it’s not surprising that the F900EXR provides the most “film-like” experience. Panasonic’s strengths have been as a leader in television, video, and electronics technologies. The Panasonic DMC-ZS30 (TZ40) incorporates best what Panasonic knows best, delivering the smoothest on-board video as well as the most impressive list of connectivity options, which even support remote camera operations from your smartphone or tablet. Contrasting with both FujiFilm’s film and Panasonic’s electronics innovations, Canon has been at the forefront of digital camera innovation for decades. Not only are Canon’s digital SLR cameras (the EOS line) considered amongst the best in the professional class, but for almost as long, Canon has led the market in super mini cameras with their ELPH series. The Canon Powershot SX280 combines some of the best of both the high end and of the miniaturizing technologies, making this camera a great fit for the digital camera enthusiast hoping to upgrade the miniature or smartphone experience.
Back before digital technology, there were a number of professional camera systems, and one of the undisputed leaders was Nikon. Even in the early days of digital, Nikon led the way with a digital camera back. According to my photographer friend Michael Bronfenbrenner, during the transition to digital, Nikon spent most of its resources to support existing analog lenses, while Canon jumped in and reinvented its cameras with faster digital-only technology.
As a result, the Canon SLRs are often considered the top of its class, with fast lenses, rotating viewfinders, and of course support for RAW format. While developing their SLR lines, Canon has also long dominated the compact digital market with the ELPH series of miniature cameras. Although not quite as mini as the ELPH, this relatively new line of cameras represented by the Canon SX20, represents a robust mid-range—between compact and professional. Although I think it’s a shame that this otherwise stellar camera doesn’t save images in RAW, but in many other ways this camera benefits by both Canon’s high-end and its miniaturized consumer-level digital technology.
I’m one of those people who has stayed loyal to Apple despite many frustrations, often just because I get joy from their superior industrial design. Though Canon’s industrial design isn’t quite at the level of Apple’s, I did find almost everything about the design and feel of the Canon to be satisfying. With uber-small cameras, where everything is and how it works is really important, and I found that I liked the locations and sizes of the camera buttons, zoom, and dials. I also appreciated the little things as well, like the way the battery was labeled so its arrows aligned to both the camera and the charger, that the plug for the charger folded to lay flat when not in use, and that the charging battery displayed either a red or green light to indicate its level of charge.
I also appreciated that there were a number of different methods to jump back to active shooting from the playback or functions modes (the FujiFilm kept flashing a notice that I needed to press the shutter to return to shooting mode). The onboard video recording in this Canon is much smoother than the FujiFilm, however if you shoot a still while you’re recording video, the camera returns to still mode and stops the video recording (the FujiFilm and Panasonic continue to shoot video while allowing you to simultateously shoot a still).
One of the big differences between the FujiFilm and the Canon is how each interprets “manual mode.” While the FujiFilm provides the film-like experience of relying on the light meter to evaluate the absolute shutter and aperture effects, manual mode in the Canon is a much more of a WYSIWYG “digital camera” experience. When you use the Canon’s manual mode, the white balance and relative exposure are based on where you lock focus. The Canon also provides WYSIWYG feedback and records the exact exposure that you see in your LCD JPEG preview. Contrast that to the FujiFilm, which uses absolute exposure settings, and gives you a light meter to gauge the potential shot that you can capture in RAW.
Compared to the FujiFilm I found the ease of connecting the Canon to the iPhone to be simpler, with a very iPhone-like interface to choose which images to move over to the connecting device.
All three of these companies (FujiFilm, Canon, Panasonic) make cameras that are minimally larger than an iPhone, while representing huge leaps of technology beyond any smartphone. In my next review, you’ll see how the Panasonic is a good fit if you are looking for superior video and integration with smart devices. But if you’re willing to do without RAW, and are fine with decent video (versus the superior video and connectivity in the Panasonic), then the Canon is a very strong choice.
With a fairly intuitive interface, decent video recording, and a well thought-out design throughout, the Canon is a good camera for anyone looking to go beyond the capabilities of smartphone cameras. Honestly, when I was trying to grab a snapshot and had all three cameras available, I most often reached for the Canon. This model will continue to be in Canon’s line-up for 2014, with a couple of other cameras added with slightly different feature sets, but not replacing the SX280. And none of these other micro-cameras with super-zooms offer RAW. Stay tuned for the final miniature camera review in this three-part series—looking at a pair of cameras that can double as your video camera, and include superior connectivity to your smart devices: the Panasonic SZ30, and the 2014 model, the SZ40.