The Bottom Line
The 14X optical zoom lens appears to be the star feature of the Canon PowerShot SX230 HS camera, without question. When you see a zoom lens that powerful on a camera as thin and stylish as the PowerShot SX230, you're sure to notice.
However, perhaps the biggest star feature of the PowerShot SX230 is one that cannot be listed as a number on the outside of the camera's box -- the image quality. The SX230 HS shoots extremely sharp photos, at all zoom levels, and its overall image quality is really good.
The PowerShot SX230 is very easy to use, too, and all of those factors make it a great sub-$300 camera.
This camera's image quality is very impressive, primarily because of an accurate autofocus mechanism. Images shot with the PowerShot SX230 will be extremely sharp, regardless of the zoom level you're using. Even in low light, with or without a flash, the autofocus works very well.
Canon included a popup flash unit with the PowerShot SX230, which allows this camera to achieve very impressive image quality on flash photos, especially compared to other point and shoot cameras that include tiny built-in flash units. However, you must open the flash unit manually, and none of the camera's flash settings will be visible on the LCD until the flash is opened, which might be a bit confusing for some photographers. On occasion, you'll find that the flash leads to glare spots on the subject, but this isn't a significant problem.
Colors are accurate and bright with this camera, and the PowerShot SX230 even handles strongly contrasted photos -- those with shadows and bright light side by side -- pretty well. You'll be very pleased with the overall image quality.
The autofocus also works very fast, even when the zoom is fully extended, which doesn't always happen with point and shoot cameras, and which is nice in preventing shutter lag problems.
With the PowerShot SX230, you can select from a variety of scene modes to help the camera achieve the proper automatic settings. Some of the most commonly used scene modes -- including kids and pets, landscape, and portrait -- are available on the mode dial, which is handy. Other scene modes can be selected through the on-screen menus.
The 14X zoom provides strong performance for photographers, especially in a camera in this price point. I thought the zoom moved a little slowly through its range at times, but it's not a significant issue.
One problem that PowerShot cameras tend to have occurs with shot to shot delays, and the SX230 does occasionally flash the "busy" message on the LCD screen, as the camera processes the previous photo. However, this problem is not as significant with the PowerShot SX230 as it is with other Canon point and shoot cameras.
The PowerShot SX230's wide-screen 3.0-inch LCD is extremely sharp and bright. You can pick from five brightness settings with the LCD.
I liked the fact that Canon provided users with four resolution options at each aspect ratio (16:9, 3:2, 4:3, and 1:1). This gives you plenty of flexibility in your photography.
The PowerShot SX230 offers quite a few settings that give you a little manual control over the photos. For example, you can manually set the exact shutter speed or the exact aperture, as well as shoot in shutter priority or aperture priority mode.
When shooting in movie mode, you can shoot videos at resolutions as high as full HD (1080p). The PowerShot SX230 has a dedicated movie button on the back panel, or you can select "video" on the mode dial. Video quality is good with this camera, when compared to others in its price range. Canon included both a USB port and an HDMI port with the SX230, and the HDMI port is great for transferring HD movies.
The SX230 is not your typical camera from the PowerShot family, as it's a little larger than other point and shoot models from Canon. The lens housing extends out from the camera body a bit, even when the camera is powered down. Still, the PowerShot SX230 is a pretty small camera, especially considering its 14X zoom lens.
This camera is pretty easy to hold and comfortable to use, unless you have the popup flash unit open. When using the flash, you really have no place to rest your left index finger, so it can be a little awkward to hold the camera when the flash is opened.
I liked the look of the PowerShot SX230. It has silver trim along the sides and top of the camera, with the front and back panel in either black, light blue, or pink body colors. The mode dial is in the top right corner of the back panel, which is a little different than other cameras (where it's on the top panel), but the positioning works well.
Canon did not mark the options of the four-way button, which would've been helpful, but the company did include a spin dial around the four-way button, which is a nice feature for quickly scrolling through menu options or photos stored on the memory card. The overall button layout on the PowerShot SX230 is easy to use and understand.
Finally, Canon included a "tips and hints" feature with the PowerShot SX230, which causes explanations of each feature to pop up on the LCD, as you make changes. Once you've learned how to use the SX230 HS, you can turn off this feature, but it's a nice option for beginners.