I was given a new camera for my birthday last month. As you all probably know, I LOVE my cameras and I take photos with them all the time. The new camera, a Canon Powershot SX60, was an unlikely interest of mine. I am not what you might consider an early adopter of new technology. My husband adores trying out beta versions of software and getting the latest and greatest tech gadgets, but I prefer to wait a while so that most of the kinks are worked out before I spend my money. Kinks annoy me. I avoid kinks when possible. So, it’s very unlike me to want a brand new tech gadget, one that is so new that no one’s reviewed it, like this new camera of mine. But oh did I want it!
See, I’ve gotten rather into photographing birds recently and none of the lenses I have are quite long enough for shooting good, tight bird shots. However, a really long telephoto lens can easily set you back $15,000 or more and I certainly don’t have that kind of money to spend. Superzoom cameras, on the other hand, have some AMAZING zoom capabilities for about $500, though I knew that the overall quality is significantly lower. I had tried a Powershot SX50 a while back and loved it, so I was thrilled to see that the SX60 was being released. It’s got a 65x zoom capability (a zoom equivalent of about a 1300mm lens!!) and can focus on a subject less than a centimeter away. This seemed like my dream walking around camera, one that I could use to photograph the insects and birds I see everyday. I was ecstatic when I opened it up on my birthday and have been playing around with it ever since.
There are things I absolutely love about the camera. The zoom is fantastic! I can take pretty decent photos of birds from 30-40 feet away:
I can also get some great shots of the moon:
The vibration reduction works well and the camera is surprisingly lightweight, so I can handhold the camera for even the really long shots without too much motion blur. Neither of the shots above required a tripod, though I did brace my arms on my car for the moon shot. I feel like this camera does a great job with things that are far away. There is admittedly quite a bit of noise in the images, especially at high ISO settings (and by high, I mean anything over about 800 ISO), but I feel it does a remarkably good job with telephoto shots given the low cost. Macro shots… Well, that’s another matter!
I am not a pro photographer, so I’m sure what follows wouldn’t be considered a true test of the abilities of the SX60, but I did some test shots to see what this camera is capable of. I don’t expect this camera to take the sort of stunning macro photos my DSLRs are capable of, so I tested it against my tried and true Canon Powershot G12 and my iPhone 5S, the two cameras I’ve carried around with me everywhere for three or four years now and I was hoping to replace with this one. I wanted to really test the limits of all of the cameras to get a good comparison, so I photographed my trusty fall cankerworm moths under the porch light at night with all three cameras to see how they stacked up. I set the two Powershots so they would limit themselves to 800 ISO since I knew that the SX60 gets really noisy above that, and I set all of them to auto white balance.
So here are the results. These are three images straight out of the camera, taken with the three different cameras:
It’s obvious that you can get closer to the moth with either of the Powershot models than the iPhone 5S, but that’s not surprising. It doesn’t have any macro ability, but you still get reasonable detail. Everything turned a little yellow in the iPhone photo, but the SX60 shot wasn’t much better! The auto white balance on the G12 was the winner here, giving me something close to the actual color of the wall that the moth was photographed on. You’ll notice too that the shadows get less harsh as you move down the line of photos. The shadows were bad on the iPhone 5S and a little less pronounced but still obvious on the SX60, but you could see decent detail on the G12. If I wanted a really high contrast look, the SX60 might be a better option, but I think the G12 produced a more pleasing, better balanced shot.
Even though I like the G12 shot a little better due to better white balance and what I consider a better ability to work with uneven light levels, the SX60 did a little bit better job getting the entire moth in focus. The wings are similarly focused on all of the shots, but the thorax is a little blurry on the G12 shot. But let’s take a look at an enlarged detail and see which one does a better job on a fine scale:
The iPhone 5S is a clear loser here – the details are fuzzy and the resolution is dramatically lower than either of the Powershot models. To me, the G12 produced the best image here again. The SX60 shot has a huge variation in the light levels on individual scales, with some completely blown out while others are underexposed. The light levels are a lot more even in the G12. What I really notice, however, is the graininess of the SX60 shot. You can see a lot of noise in the image and there are sections that are muddy and ill-defined. I think the G12 picked up a lot more detail and generated quite a bit less grain than the SX60.
The conditions in which I took these images are fairly extreme: artificial light from a single source bathing a white wall in light at night. I tend to take most of my night photos with one of my DSLRs and use a flash, so I probably won’t take a lot of photos in these conditions. How do the two Powershots stack up in a more typical day shot? I found a plume moth on the same wall in the shade during the day and shot it with the SX60:
and the G12:
For both images, I chose an aperture of f/4 and an ISO of 200 and let the cameras choose the shutter speed and white balance. Neither camera got the white balance quite right, but in these less harsh, daytime conditions, I still think the G12 took the better shot. The edges of the moth in the SX60 image are just not as crisply well-defined and the contrast between the lights and darks is a little too high. There’s just not as much detail in the SX60 image relative to the G12’s. Also, the SX60 chose a lower shutter speed (1/60) than the G12 (1/100), so it took what I think is a less pleasing shot even with a lower shutter speed. That slower shutter speed might mean the difference between getting a good shot and missing a shot with flighty insects – it’s not ideal!
I’m still playing around with the SX60 and exploring its limitations so I know how to put the camera to best use, but my overall verdict so far is this: I love the SX60’s zoom capabilities and I think it’s going to be great to use for photographing birds and dragonflies, the things for which I really like the extra reach. I do not at all like it for the macro shots though! What this unfortunately means is that, rather than replacing my G12 as my walking around camera, I’ve simply added the SX60 onto what I was already carrying! Granted, this has dramatically increased my ability to get a decent shot of almost anything I might want to photograph, but I’ll admit that carrying around two cameras and a phone is quite a lot of weight for my purse.
Has anyone else used a superzoom camera for macro photography? I would be interested to hear what you think about any of the models you’ve tried. I honestly wouldn’t recommend my camera to anyone interested in photographing macro subjects, but are there better options out there? Leave a comment if you’d like to weigh in!