Canon PowerShot SX700 Review

on Wednesday, November 12, 2014


Point and shoot ease or full manual control, close-up macro mode, good image stabilisation, decent image quality


Limited autofocus options, no raw capture, 30x zoom limitations at longer extension, no touchscreen, more basic than Panasonic TZ60

As the compact camera market continues to shrink, the outlay of new product seems to be surfing a common theme: zoom is increasing in a war waged with fixed-lens smartphone cameras. The Canon PowerShot SX700 HS - the update to the earlier SX280 HS model - and its jump from a 20x to 30x optical zoom epitomises this trend; the significant bump in spec warranting the jump in model number.
Despite packing more in the lens department, the SX700 avoids considerable waist-line expansion - it's only a little chunkier than its predecessor - and is competitive against the likes of the Panasonic Lumix TZ60 and Sony Cyber-shot HX60.
But is the more considerable zoom lens the right area to focus on? Indeed, does this update make for a less adept camera rather than a more advanced one than before, and does Canon's straightforward approach lack the polish of its nearest competitors? We've been shooting with the Canon SX700 in both sunny Portugal and the rainy UK to see whether it's the king of the travel zoom compacts.


The SX700 HS features a 25-750mm equivalent optical zoom lens, which means a 50 per cent greater reach than the earlier SX280 model. That doesn't come at the expense of a giant body size, as the 34.8mm thickness attests. Only when extending the lens fully does the camera take on a more considerable form on account of the protruding lens, but when switched off it's a pocketable purchase.

In terms of layout and design the SX700 treads a similar path to the SX280 HS, albeit with the inclusion of a protruding front grip to aid a comfortable hold. It sits neatly in the hand, so no complaints on that front.
To the back there's a mode dial positioned towards the edge of the body, while the d-pad offers a rotational control to thumb between settings. Both of these dials are plastic which makes them stick out against the more premium metal body design, not that it affects use. Using the mode dial to switch between shooting modes - whether you want point-and-shoot simplicity or manual controls to make the most of things - is fairly stiff to rotate, but this works to the benefit of not knocking it out of place by accident.
On the rear of the camera is a 3-inch 921k-dot LCD screen for preview and playback which, thanks to its ample resolution, is a step above its predecessor. It seemed bright to view when testing in the UK, but it did struggle with presenting a visible preview in the Portuguese sun.
Unlike the Panasonic Lumix TZ60 there's no viewfinder in Canon's 30x zoom offering, and even though we weren't huge fans of the Panasonic finder, that would have made all the difference in such a sun-lit situation. It's not unusable in such conditions, just difficult to define a precise exposure and accurate framing.

More can mean less

The key reason to bag the SX700 HS is its significant zoom lens. It means wide-angle group shots or far-and-away subjects can be snapped to fill the frame. The toggle around the shutter button on top of the camera glides the lens through its zoom range at a reasonable pace and everything feels sturdy with nothing rattling around.

Despite a move to a 30x zoom across all the major manufacturers, it's a specification not without its limitations. Increase that zoom to maximum and it can be tricky for autofocus to latch on to a subject due to a slowing down of performance. It still has its uses, just don't expect super-fast infallible capture.
Part of the reason for this is the amount of light able to enter the camera in such a situation. The maximum available aperture at 750mm is just f/6.9, which means considerably less light is able to enter the camera than at the wide-angle setting and, as a result, the camera needs to boost settings to achieve a live image preview. In dim conditions this will likely mean a slowed frame rate on the screen and an increased shutter speed increasing the likelihood of a blurry shot. Even if you don't know the nuts and bolts of this background stuff, you'll feel it in use and it can frustrate.
The often excellent image stabilisation also finds its ceiling at this new significant focal length. Holding shots steady at the 750mm equivalent can be a little tricky, although we did find stabilisation to do a sterling job even when shooting at maximum zoom with less-than-desirable shutter speeds.


In general the SX700 is a capable performer, but the SX-line hasn't drastically evolved over numerous iterations and essentially leaves us wanting some more in certain areas.
Autofocus, for example, works really well throughout the wide-mid zoom range, but lacks the versatility of some of the competition. There's the choice for a single area focus point to be placed in the centre only, or automated Face AiAF will detect faces and subjects anywhere throughout the scene. That's it though: just the two options. Other competitors have touchscreens for placing the focus point, or pinpoint modes for heightened focus accuracy.
So while the Canon is as much a success as its SX280 HS predecessor, the world has kept on turning and Canon hasn't really evolved its offering as much as the jump from "280" to "700" might suggest.

Instead it has focused more on the increment in focal length rather than boosting the core performance to outpace the competition. Take that as you will: it means it's good overall, but helps highlight how much of a success the older model already was and still is.


With a launch price of £329 the Canon PowerShot SX700 HS might not be a budget buy, but it cleverly undercuts the main competition from Panasonic and Sony by enough to make us stand up and pay attention. It not-so-cleverly also sits behind them by offering fewer features and a more simplistic operation, despite generally strong performance.
If you must have a massive zoom in a pocketable format then there’s a lot going for the SX700 HS. Thing is, we can’t help but think its SX280 HS predecessor, with its less significant zoom lens, was a more sensible all-round prospect. The SX700’s “30x zoom” badge may appeal, but the maximum zoom has its limitations andCanon has negated to boost its general features.
What the Canon achieves once again is quality images. They’re not quite perfect in every way, but the SX-line has always been top of its class in this regard. The SX700 HS is no different and it’s this that will make it one of the top travel zooms… even if the older SX280 HS might be twice as tempting based on its lower price point.


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