The Bottom Line
There are a lot of things to like about the Canon PowerShot SX260 HS camera (original MSRP $349). It's an intermediate-level point-and-shoot camera that has several great features, including a 20X optical zoom lens in a camera that measures only about 1.29 inches in thickness.
The biggest drawback to the PowerShot SX260 is its struggles with shutter lag and with shot-to-shot delays. For a camera with a pretty high price point, I would expect better response times. Because of the shutter lag, you could experience problems with a few photos having soft focus, which, again, shouldn't happen with a camera in this price range.
Having said all of that, the PowerShot SX260 HS may deserve an even better star rating than what I've given it here.
Even though this camera had a starting price of $349 at its release, Canon quickly dropped the MSRP on it to $299, which is the price at which I'm basing my star rating. Some retailers have reduced the price even further.
With that in mind, if you can find this camera for quite a bit less than the reduced MSRP, it would be easier for me to give it a higher star rating. If you shop around a bit for the SX260 HS, you may find it at a bargain price, which would make it a good value. At that point, I could recommend it a bit more strongly for someone looking for a thin zoom camera.
As you might expect with a camera with an intermediate price range, the overall image quality is really good with the SX260 HS. There are a few image problems from time to time, usually related to slight softness in focus, but you won't be disappointed in the photography results with this model.
The "HS" in this camera's name is short for Canon's High Sensitivity technology, which is designed to provide exceptional image quality in low lighting. Coupled with the pop-up flash unit and this camera's CMOS image sensor, the SX260's low-light results are pretty good with realistic colors. The biggest problem I found in low-light images was a tendency for slight softness in some images. However, most of the problems with the softness may have been related more to the camera's autofocus system working too slowly at times to achieve a sharp image versus poor performance in low light for the camera's HS system.
The HS system also provides very nice results when you choose to bump up the ISO setting on the camera manually. You should be able to end up with usable photos, even at ISO settings up to 3200, although you will notice a bit of noise at that maximum ISO setting.
If you like to shoot at a number of different image resolution options, you'll be pleased with what Canon offers in the SX260 HS. There are 16 different resolutions, spread among four different aspect ratios.
You can shoot video at full HD resolution, and Canon included an HDMI slot with the PowerShot SX260 HS, making it fast and easy to download your movies or view them on an HDTV. However, no HDMI cable is included with this camera, so you'll have to buy it separately.
The 20X optical zoom lens is a great feature in a camera of this size, and it moves through its zoom range pretty quickly. To help avoid camera shake with the large zoom lens, Canon has included optical image stabilization features.
Beginning and intermediate photographers will appreciate the variety of settings that are available with the SX260 HS. This camera works very well in fully automatic mode, which is great for beginners, and there are quite a few manual control options available in Program mode. This variety of options is nice for helping a beginning photographer to learn more about photography as his or her skills improve.
The response times for the SX260 HS are the most disappointing aspect of this unit. The autofocus is a little slow for a camera in this price range, which results in some blurred images and which can cause you to miss some fast-moving subjects. In addition, the delays between shots with this camera are far too long, especially when using the flash. You can make use of the SX260's burst modes to deal with the shot-to-shot delays, but the LCD screen goes blank during the burst mode, which makes it impossible to frame the images. A camera that costs this much shouldn't have these problems.
Battery life could be better with this camera. If you're someone who plans to use the GPS quite a bit, you're going to find that the batter will drain pretty quickly. Moving the large zoom lens through its range continually will cause the battery to drain, too. I'd recommend purchasing a second battery with this camera. Canon did include a separate battery charger with the SX260 HS, which is helpful in making sure you always have a fresh battery on hand.
The look of the SX260 HS is pretty good. It has rounded edges and is relatively thin, considering it has a 20X optical zoom lens. It'll fit in a pocket -- barely -- at 1.29 inches in thickness, and it's available in black, pink, or blue camera bodies.
I don't mind having a little extra size in a camera like the SX260 HS, because that allowed Canon to make use of larger buttons on the control panel, which makes this camera more comfortable to use. The mode dial is very handy, too, and I wish more point-and-shoot cameras included a mode dial.
A popup flash unit gives this unit a good performance level in low light photos.
The 3.0-inch LCD screen is a really nice design feature on the PowerShot SX260. It's a bright screen with sharp images. You really won't notice many problems with screen glare when shooting images outdoors in bright sunlight.
Finally, there's a built-in GPS system with this camera, which is great for geotagging your photos.