When the Canon SX50HS came out, two years ago next month, it was a significant upgrade from the SX40HS, which was already a great Point and Shoot superzoom for wildlife, macro, and landscape photography. The SX40HS had impressive image quality, a long zoom with enough reach for even small birds and bugs, great optical image stabilization, and a wonderful macro ability both at wide angle and at full telephoto.
The SX50HS added a 50x zoom reaching 1200mm equivalent (2400mm with a very usable 2x digital tel-converter), fast precise focus, faster continuous shooting, a great Sports Mode for birds in flight, and, for those who wanted it, RAW. It quickly became, if you measure such things by the number of users and the chatter on the forums, the de facto standard for P&Ss for nature photography.
However, in the two years since its introduction a whole new group of features began to appear in competing models and in P&Ss in general. Wifi connectivity, GPS tagging, sweep panorama (see the post), in-camera HDR that does not require a tripod (post)…not to mention ever increasing pixel counts. Unfortunately none of the newer models seemed able to match the image quality of the SX50HS, and, honestly, for the P&S nature photographer, it is all about image quality…or at least it is about image quality first.
When last October rolled around, a lot of P&S nature photographers were disappointed that Canon did not update the SX50HS. Rumors came and went, and the fate of the SX60HS became a hot topic on the forums. It came up every time there was any kind of opportunity for an introduction from Canon all through 2014.
A few months ago I decided not to wait any longer, and purchased the Sony HX400V. It has all the modern features, a 20mp sensor, and, to my eye, image quality as good as the SX50HS…better in some situations…different certainly, but still very satisfying.
This month, of course, Canon finally introduced the SX60HS. It is not supposed to ship until October 20th, but I was able to get one direct from Canon this past week.
In many ways, it is everything a P&S nature photographer could have hoped for in an upgrade.
- The Eye-level Electronic View Finder has been improved dramatically! It is bright, and detailed…the best I have seen in a P&S camera. The LCD panel is also high resolution and very easy to use.
- The zoom is slightly longer (65x or 21mm – 1365mm, and still with usable 1.6x and 2x digital tel-converters to get you out to 2730mm when needed).
- The pixel count has been increased to 16mp, considerably less than the Sony’s 20, but considerably more than the SX50HS’ 12mp.
- Continuous shooting mode has been revised to 6.4 frames per second with viewfinder refresh between frames (the blacked-out view during high speed shooting was a major criticism of the SX50HS), 4.5 frames per second with auto-focus between frames. Contrast this with the Sony HX400V which only manages 2 frames per second with focus (or without focus…though it does have a 10 fps fast mode, see below), buffers all the images, and takes a much longer time to process and write the images to the card.
- Macro mode has been extended so that you can still focus to 0 inches (touching the front lens element) at wide angle, but now focus to 1.1 inches all the way out to 200mm equivalent! Wonderful!
- There is built in, no tripod needed, HDR.
- Wi-fi connectivity is built in and apps are available for Apple and Windows laptops, tablets, and phones.
- They also claim faster focus, but, personally, I don’t see a lot of difference between this and the SX50HS.
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Unfortunately, at least in my early sample, Canon has not managed to maintain quite the same level of image quality from this 16mp sensor as they got from the 12mp sensor in the SX50HS. In fact, in every test I have tried, straight out of the camera, the SX50HS shows more detail and slightly better color than the SX60HS, and when looking for fine detail, the SX60HS comes no where near the Sony HX400V. The Canon images from the SX series have always been very clean at the pixel level…showing very few digital artifacts (pixelization and blocking), noticeably fewer than the the Sony, but at sizes up to 2:1 magnification, both the SX50HS and the HX400V clearly show finer detail and less digital “smudging” than the SX60HS. Digital smudging used to be a huge issue in Sony P&S superzooms. The fine details in browns, tans, flesh color, and all shades of green would just turn to mush, as though someone had dragged a wet brush across a water color painting. In fact, it was often called the water color effect. The Sony HX400V shows very little smudging and the SX50HS shows practically none. The SX60HS, again, straight out of the camera, shows a lot…as much as or more than earlier Sony H series cameras. Even without the smudging, the detail is just somewhat soft overall in the SX60HS when compared to the SX50HS or HX400V.
To compound the matter the SX60HS images at full wide angle and full telephoto zoom appear the most soft…and this time I think it is a lens or focus issue. Interestingly the images at full zoom look fine in the wonderful high resolution EVF, but as soon as you press the shutter release all the way down, you can see the image go soft even in the EVF. ??? And once up on the computer at home, the softness is evident, especially when compared directly to SX50HS and HX400V images taken in the same spot of the same subjects.
It is, of course possible to process the SX60HS images after the fact to improve apparent sharpness and detail at screen resolution. One of the differences between Canon and Sony is that Sony always applies more aggressive in-camera processing to their jpegs. Some people feel this gives Sony images a painterly look, lacking subtly, but there is no doubt in my mind that the images have eye-appeal at normal viewing sizes. I have experimented with more aggressive processing for the SX60HS images in Lightroom, but honestly, there is only so much you can do without introducing so much noise that it becomes noticeable even at screen resolution. And I have also been experimenting with turning down the in-camera sharpening on the Sony.
Even with much lighter processing in Lightroom, the Sony has better apparent detail, and this is with the in-camera sharpening turned down one notch. 🙁
Post-processing to the rescue is not a motto I believe in. I want a camera that has excellent, or at lease acceptable, Image Quality straight out of the camera, so that I can make it even better in post-processing. The SX50HS and the Sony HX400V give me that. The SX60HS, at least in my early sample, does not! It is not a camera I could trust in the field on a day to day basis.
One mode where the HX400V clearly outperforms the SX60HS is in-camera HDR (High Dynamic Range. The camera combines three exposures taken automatically at different exposures to produce a single image with better highlights and shadows than any normal exposure). The Sony allows much more control over the process, and produces consistently better results, especially when shooting without a tripod. I find the SX60HS HDR images to be mushy and messy compared to the highly detailed HX400V images. If HDR is important to you, you might not be happy with the SX60HS.
And then too, for whatever mysterious reason, the SX60HS totally lacks a Panorama mode???? What’s up with that?
And I am sorry, the Wi-fi connectivity to a computer in the SX60HS is simply too difficult to set up. It to me three days to work it out, and I am considerably computer handy. Good luck to anyone who is not. The process is unnecessarily complex, involving several trips to the Control Panel, adding devices, installing drivers, etc. Once connected the Canon Camera Window software works well. Connection to an Android tablet is somewhat easier and again, the Camera Window software works. Still, the Sony was much easier to set up.
And, for another omission that is hard to understand…the SX60HS has no GPS for tagging images.
So, you would probably not upgrade to the Canon SX60HS because of the modern features, or for image quality, as such. Though the modern features are all there (except sweep panorama and GPS), they simply are not particularly well implemented. And the SX50HS still has marginally better image quality…though the SX60HS might show slightly finer detail (as others have reported from their own samples). You still might what to upgrade to the SX60HS for the very fine EVF and LCD, longer zoom, the amazing macro mode, and the continuous shooting ability, if those are more important to you than image quality.
If you are choosing your first P&S superzoom for nature photography, the SX50HS is still available and is an excellent P&S for nature photography…especially if you do not need or want the modern features. The Nikon P600 gets very good reviews and I have seen some excellent images from it. I would love to be able to test the Fuji S1, which looks like it might be worthy camera. If post-processing is already part of your work-flow and style, you are not adverse to a little extra work, you shoot much macro or active wildlife, and want the best EVF in a P&S, then the SX60HS has a lot to recommend it…but only if you can live with its lower image quality. The Sony HX400V, of the three cameras compared here, gives you the highest level of control over how your image is processed in the camera, delivers great images straight out of the camera, and has all the modern features (and well implemented at that). Despite its somewhat awkward continuous mode, I can highly recommend it.
As I have said, my SX60HS is an early production sample. Things may change for the better when they get production ramped up. Mine is going back to Canon, and I will be shooting with the HX400V, with some additional tweaks I have developed during this test. I may reorder the SX60HS after a few months and give it another try. If I do, and it performs better, I will certainly let you know.
What follows is a somewhat detailed comparison of the features and characteristics of the three cameras…at least the features and characteristics that I think are important for Point and Shoot nature photography. That I think! For instance, you will not find mention of RAW capability, since I don’t use it. You will not find mention of “face mode” or “creative filters”, since again, I have not found a use for them in nature photography.
SX50HS: excellent, very clean overall, with good detail and color.
SX60HS: perhaps acceptable, but requires considerable post-processing. Perhaps more subtle than the Sony.
HX400V: excellent. More digital artifacts than the SX50HS or SX60HS, but very little to no detail smudging, great fine detail rendition, and vibrant colors. Not as subtle as the Canons.
At the pixel level, the SX50HS looks best…for general viewing sizes I would give a slight edge to the HX400V. Some find the SX50HS images more natural looking. I tend to prefer the look of the more vibrant and apparently more detailed Sony images. At this point, unless Canon has a major firmware update that addresses the IQ issues, it is simply not in the IQ race at all.
SX50HS: 50x, 24mm-1200mm equivalent field of view. The built in Digital Tel-converters at 1.5 and 2x provide acceptable results (especially for tel-macro where detail floods the sensor) out to 1800 and 2400mm equivalent. DTC can be applied anywhere in the zoom range, and is actually useful in macros to give large scale at reasonable working distances.
SX60HS: 65x, 21-1365mm equivalent. The Digital Tel-Converters here are 1.6x and 2x, but, since base IQ is less, they do not produce as satisfying results.
HX400V: 50x, 24mm-1200mm equivalent. Clear Image Zoom extends the range at the long end of the zoom out to 2400mm and provides very good results.
Lens speed (wide, telephoto):
Though the Sony is the fastest (brightest) lens, it is not by much. None of these cameras are low-light specialists. Still they are adequate for most outdoor work, and all have special digital trickery built in to handle low light and indoor settings. And honestly, where are you going to find a faster 1200-1365mm lens for any camera? f6.3-f6.5 at those focal lengths is actually pretty fast, especially considering the light efficiency of the small P&S sensors.
Focus Speed and accuracy:
SX50HS: quite fast, and quite positive. Seeks in low light and sometimes does not find focus. Seeks in macro, and sometimes focuses on background.
SX60HS: as fast as the SX50HS, but not, perhaps, as accurate. Lots of shots are just a little off. More testing is needed.
HX400V: fast and accurate. Some seeking in low light and macro, but the hybrid focus (auto with manual assist using the excellent fly by wire collar on the lens) makes it easy to acquire correct focus in even the most difficult situations.
Both Canons also have a manual focus mode, but it is so difficult to use that it is pretty much useless.
SX50HS: great! Allows for sharp shots, handheld, at full telephoto and even using the digital tel-converter…as well as in low light.
SX60HS: much the same.
HX400V: excellent, even better than the SX50HS, especially while framing the shot at full telephoto.
I have total confidence in the IS on the Sony HX400V. There is no situation where I feel a tripod is needed.
Both the Canon’s have a dedicated Macro Mode. The Sony has macro focusing as part of its normal focus range. (In Auto and Program, the Canons will behave just as the Sony does and focus at macro distances without turning on Macro Mode. Macro mode is intentionally biased for close subjects…so focus may be quicker.)
SX50HS: focus to 0 in. at 24mm equivalent. Goes immediately to 1.1 in. as soon as you touch the zoom lever, and stays there until about 35mm equivalent. Goes to 1.9 in. until you reach 100mm, then jumps to 11.8 inches. You can only focus to 19.6 inches below 200mm where it jumps to 27 inches to Infinity. It quickly goes to 3.2 ft., 4.5 ft., 6.5ft. It drops back to 4.9 ft. at about 1000mm, and reaches 4.2 ft. again at 1200mm.
SX60HS: focus to 0 in. at 21mm equivalent. Jump immediately to 1.1 to 19.6 in. but stays there until you reach 200mm equivalent, where it goes to 3.9 in. At just beyond 300mm equivalent it jumps to 27 in. to infinity. From there it increases steadily to 6.2 feet just short of 1200mm and then drops back to 5.9 ft. at full zoom.
HX400V: focus to .4 in at 24mm equivalent. 1.2 in. at 50mm, 2 in. at 85mm, 6 in. at 135mm, 11.4 in. at 200mm, 27.6 in. at 400mm, 5.2 ft. at 600mm and 7.9 ft. at full zoom.
As you can clearly see, if you are into macro, the SX60HS is a great camera. Macros flood the sensor with detail, and you will get amazing results from 1.1 inches at 200mm equivalent field of view. The tel-macros on the SX50HS from 4.2 feet at 1200mm (or even 1800mm using the DTC) are totally amazing. The Sony makes up somewhat for lacking a true tel-macro with its higher pixel count and good IQ, both of which allow for pretty heavy cropping when you need it. On the other hand, the macros from 2 inches at 85mm are simply stunning!
High Speed Continuous Shooting:
SX50HS: 13 fps in dedicated High Speed mode for 10 shots. 3+ frames per second in regular continuous mode, with focus locked on the first frame, up to 24 shots. Less than 1 fps with focus between frames. Sports mode seems to break the rules and gives something over 3 fps with focus between frames, bot only in Standard resolution (not Fine).
SX60HS: as above, 6.4 fps continuous until the buffer fills, then progressively slower. Focus locked on first shot. Slower in low light. Moving the camera (as in panning to follow a moving subject) seems to fill the buffer faster. The finders is refreshed after each shot, beginning with about the 3rd shot, so you can see what you are following. 3.4 fps is set to focus between frames. There is evidently a third mode at 4.3 fps (LV: but I have not found what LV means in the manual yet).
HX400V: High speed: 10 fps for 10 frames. One press of the shutter shoots all 10 frames. Low: 2 fps. It is difficult to shoot less than 3 frames. The camera focuses between frames and the viewfinder is refreshed. However all shots are held in a buffer, then displayed to the LCD or finder as a group, then written to the card. It takes a few seconds between bursts for the buffer to clear. Sports mode on the Sony does not break any rules, and you are limited to the Low setting for continuous shooting.
In practice, I find that 13 fps, or 10, is simply too fast. You end up with 10 essentially identical images, and since focus locks on the first frame, if the first one is out of focus, they all are. 🙁 2-3 fps is fine for most bird and wildlife action, and focus between frames is essential. Of course. your needs may differ. All in all, the SX60HS is pretty clearly the winner here.
Electronic View Finder:
SX50HS: adequate (but just)
SX60HS: quite good. Higher resolution and contrast than either of the others. Colors a bit off, well on the warm side, but a real pleasure to use.
HX400V: adequate (but just). I have slightly more difficulty with this EVF in critical situations (like finding a bird in a bush or tree) than I do with the SX50HS.
For wildlife photography, a good EVF is essential. None of these match the EVF on the Olympus Mirrorless Compact DSLRs, but they get the job done. And the EVF on the SX60HS comes very close to the Mirrorless standard.
All three are sharp and bright enough for daylight use. The SX60HS is the brightest and sharpest.
SX50 and 60HS: fully articulated, swings out and around to the side and rotates 180 degrees.
HX400V: semi-articulated. Pulls out and rotates about 90 degrees, 45 up and 45 down.
For me an articulated LCD is essential for macro and low angle landscape work. Both designs work here, but the Canon design is superior.
Controls and layout:
SX50HS: I have used this camera for two years so I am well used to where things are. There is a button for almost everything you might want quick access to, and one programmable custom button that you can reach with your left thumb. The controls are large enough for average hands. The thumb wheel surrounding the 5 way rocker control on the back of the camera can be awkward but is usable.
SX60HS: The 5 way rocker control on the back is very difficult to use without looking and the rockers are very small and too flush with the surface for my fingers. I may get used to it, but it is awkward. There is no ISO control button and the exposure compensation button has been moved off the rockers to a separate button above and to the left. The programmable shortcut button has been moved to the top where it is reached by your shutter finger. The thumb wheel has been moved from surrounding the 5 way rocker to an actual wheel immediately behind the shutter release. This means that you can NOT operate it with your finger on the shutter release as it requires that finger to turn it. Awkward! On the other hand, it is very handy for changing the primary settings in each Mode. For instance in Shutter Preferred Mode it controls shutter speed. Canon missed, in my opinion two good options for this wheel in standard Program mode. It ought to either control manual focus (ideally a manual focus assist for Auto), or Program Shift.
HX400V: Controls are well placed and large enough for most fingers. The rocker buttons on the 5 way control have a raised edge and are very easy to use. There is one programmable custom button immediately behind the shutter release and a function button to the left of it. The function button pulls up a programmable on-screen menu of the most used settings for the mode you are in. Selections are made using the center button on the 5 way rocker and adjustments are made using the excellent thumb wheel, which is ideally placed under your right thumb. (It is possible to turn this wheel unintentionally while handling the camera, but a little care solves the problem). All in all, excellent controls and layout.
The one thing all these cameras lack is touch screen control. This is surprising in cameras at this price level. An intelligent touch screen would improve usability.
SX50HS: three exposures, adjustable for exposure spread and center, with “creative filters” (oops, I made a lair of myself…but I don’t use them). The three exposures take significant time, so a tripod is absolutely necessary. Results are good if you set it up right. Any movement at all results in ghosting or misaligned images.
SX60HS: three exposures, not adjustable, with creative filters. Results: not so great. The range is extended, but all fine detail is lost, and detail over all is smudged. Useless.
HX400V: excellent three exposures, adjustable for spread and center. Creative filters (Picture effects) available, as well as the full range of Sony Creative Styles (Vivid, Portrait, Landscape, Sunset, etc. (By the way, each of these Creative Styles has separate settings to adjust the Contrast, Saturation, and Sharpness of the image, giving you a lot of control over how the jpeg is rendered in the camera, not only in HDR mode, but in standard Program as well 🙂 I plan to “tune” my settings on the HX400V to see if I can achieve a more subtle rendering of color tones. )
I find in-camera HDR to be a big help with dramatic landscapes…big skies, etc. Of these three, only the Sony has a really effective in-camera HDR mode, and it produces files that can be easily tweaked in Lightroom for natural look I prefer. Post.
SX50HS: Stitch assist panorama in any direction. Display allows you to overlap three or more separate exposures or stitching later in software.
HX400V: two different (wide and standard) sweep panorama modes. Images are created seamlessly as you sweep the camera across the scene in any direction, in either portrait or landscape orientation. Such fun! And don’t forget to try vertical panoramas with the camera sweeping down. Post.
Considering that Sweep Panorama is built into $200 Point & Shoots these days (phones even), it is, in my opinion, inexcusable that Canon did not implement it in the SX60HS. Sony was the first to implement sweep panorama in a P&S, and their mode is still the best!
If you shoot birds or bugs in flight, you are going to be interested in the Sports Mode on these cameras. Sports Mode is optimized for rapidly moving subjects.
SX50HS: excellent. Locks on to moving subjects and tracks them, even after the shutter is pressed. Follow focus as long as the subject is near the center of the finder. Only focuses to 49 feet at the long end of the zoom, closer in at below 600mm. About 4 fps.
SX60HS: the same.
HX400V: large center focus rectangle picks up whatever is moving closest to center and tracks focus. 2 fps or 10 fps.
I have shot dragonflies in the air with the Sports Mode on the Sony, and many many birds in flight with the SX50HS. It is amazing that you can do either with a P&S! I plan a post of birds in flight in November when I next visit Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge and have lots of cooperative subjects. 🙂
Both the SX50HS and SX60HS shoot in both RAW and jpeg, or RAW and jpeg. That gives you a lot of control over how the image is processed after the fact. The Sony only shoots in jpeg, but gives you a lot of control over how the image is processed in camera. The Sony Creative Styles, as noted above under HDR, provide 7 different processing programs, each of which can be individually adjusted for Contrast, Saturation, and Sharpness. Your adjustment are remembered so in Program, you can have 7 individually tailored processing options. Changing Creative Style on the fly is easy, using the function button for quick access. You can also set a customized Creative Style in both of the Memory Modes. I am just beginning to play with customizing my Creative Styles, but I believe that this kind of control in-camera makes not having RAW much less of an issue.
To finish, I will give you my likes and dislikes for the Canon SX60HS and the Sony HX400V.
- excellent EVF
- great macro
- usable continuous shot
- sports mode for birds in flight
- Image Quality overall
- Poor HDR
- No panorama
- Difficult wifi setup
- good to excellent image quality
- great HDR mode
- great sweep panorama
- auto focus with manual assist using focusing collar on lens!
- sports mode for birds in flight
- easy wifi setup
- ability to tune jpeg processing in camera
- awkward, annoying continuous shot mode