Canon PowerShot SX530 HS big zoom camera
A 50x optical zoom camera that's a good option if you want to start photographing wildlife
Canon’s PowerShot SX530 HS may look and feel rather clunky, but it’s a versatile camera that packs a massive zoom lens and some good ease-of-use features. We like to call it an all-round camera, simply because you can use it for portraits (people and flowers), landscapes, and super-zoomed close-ups of distant objects.
It’s a camera that’s a little bigger than a handful when it’s switched off (you can’t just carry it in your pocket unless wearing a big jacket), but its lens barrel is suggestive of the capabilities that reside within. Switch it on and you’ll see the lens extend a little from this barrel, with the overall look of the camera still being normal. Once you start zooming in, though, that’s when you can see the full potential of the camera.
The lens barrel pokes out of the body a total of 60mm, and it features an optical zoom of 50x. In regular camera parlance, it’s a lens that’s capable of a wide angle of 24mm and a maximum zoom of 1200mm. You don’t get to see that sort of reach too often in affordable cameras, and when you do, it can sometimes be unusable. However, Canon has made sure that the quality of its super-zoom is good enough for you to capture the most unlikely of shots.
Shots are committed to your memory card by a 16-megapixel sensor that sits behind the lens, and it can capture images that look natural and well detailed. There isn’t too much wrong with its quality at all for everyday purposes, though when you start scrutinising the images at their native size, you start to see some noise (especially if you use an ISO value above 400) and chromatic aberration. If you don’t crop your images much, or if you just display them on Facebook or Instagram, you’ll find them to be of excellent quality.
With such a large zoom range in a camera like this, the ease of use sometimes goes out the window. Shaky hands and slight movements can cause the long zoom to be of little value, with minimal movement causing the framing to be difficult without a tripod. Sometimes the shots themselves lack the clarity required to make useful shots out of the zoomed-in subjects you are framing. Luckily, though, this camera is more than useful at its maximum optical reach.
We put it through its paces while on a short bushwalk, giving it the task of capturing close-up images of flowers, vast landscapes, and perhaps snaps of wildlife if we were lucky enough. What we ended up with were images that please us immensely. Landscape shots were well-lit and captured with good dynamic range in the bright light, and close-ups of flowers were snapped with the artfulness we intended when playing with the available light. We used semi-auto (shutter priority and aperture priority, and manual, rather than auto).
But the crowning glory of this camera came when we spotted some birds along the track and were lucky enough to have them stick around long enough for us to capture their beauty. We managed to fill the frame when capturing a pied currawong in a tree in front of us as it was going to town on some nectar. The light was dark, meaning we had to play with the exposure manually to get the look we wanted, and that is another point about this camera we want to make: it’s quite easy to change its settings, and its screen shows you a live view of the changes that you make.
Read more: A simple guide to mirrorless cameras
A little further down the track we came to an opening with a tree canopy to the side, and this is where we spotted a pair of crimson rosellas flying from limb to limb. It was a mad rush to get the camera up and pointed in the right direction, and a fight to get a proper exposure with the birds being backlit by the strong sun in front of us. We waited a little and were lucky enough to see one of our feathered friends fly to a neighbouring tree that was lit much better, and with fewer branches obstructing the view of the bird.
We aimed the camera, used maximum optical zoom, made some quick adjustments to the exposure, and managed to capture a couple of shots that we are proud of. Along the way, we noticed that the best way to use the full zoom is to be slow and steady, using increments to find the small subject and frame it. Zooming in all the way in one hit leaves you prone to losing a small subject in the scene; however, there is a button on the side of the lens that you can press, which jumps out of the scene, allowing you to get your bearings and re-frame if you must. It comes in very useful if you’ve moved the camera a little too much, or zoomed in too quickly.
Optical image stabilisation of the lens-shift variety helps to keep the image as steady as possible during maximum zoom operations when you are hand-holding the camera rather than sitting it on a tripod, and you can hear the whirring of the stabilisation as it’s doing its work. Even when we held the camera for our maximum zoom, spur-of-the-moment shots, the clarity of the end result was attractive.
Another couple of things you can do while using the camera’s zoom without a tripod is to either enable the 2sec timer, which will allow you to minimise shake from your hands while pressing the shutter, or enable burst mode, so that you can fire a couple of shots in a row, hoping one will be free of blur (be warned that it's not a fast camera when it comes to sequential shooting).
The manual mode of this camera works in conjunction with one dial atop the camera, and there is a +/- button on the right corner of the body that allows you to switch between aperture and shutter values. These values are limiting, however. The aperture closes only up to f/8.0, which can be too big on bright days, and the maximum shutter speed is 1/2000th of a second. Then again, this is just a basic camera that’s designed to hit a sweet spot between price tag and feature-set.
Its control dial feels and sounds rough, and the camera overall doesn’t have a refined design, which is again reflective of its price point. The LCD screen sits fixed at the back, without a hinge that can allow you to be more creative in your framing. We found the screen to be merely adequate in its quality, and quite difficult to see in bright light, especially from the sides.
As mentioned previously, though, we love that exposure changes are shown ‘live’ on the screen so that you can make quick and easy on-the-fly adjustments. The exposure meter at the bottom-right corner of the screen also helps. Focusing is limited to the centre of the screen, so if you want to frame your shots with a different focus perspective, you have to use the focus-and-reframe method, moving the camera to the side (while keeping the shutter pressed halfway), and being careful not to change the focal plane in the process.
Primarily, you should consider the PowerShot SX530 HS camera if you want something with a big zoom that will allow you to get decent quality shots of distant subjects, including wildlife. It’s more capable than it otherwise looks and feels, and can be used quite easily in semi-auto and manual modes.
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