Editors' note: The design, features, and shooting options are identical between the Canon PowerShot SX170 IS and the
The Canon PowerShot SX160 IS was one of my favorite cameras to recommend to those looking for a good-quality point-and-shoot with semimanual and manual controls that takes AA-size batteries (and still is). For the follow-up SX170 IS, the good news is the camera retains almost all of the features of its predecessor.
The bad news is, AA batteries didn't make the cut, and Canon has switched them out for a rechargeable lithium-ion pack. This does mean the body is smaller and lighter and has better battery life compared to alkaline batteries, but you lose the convenience of being able to buy batteries almost anywhere.
Still, if you're on a budget and want a camera with semimanual and manual controls, but don't need to capture fast-moving subjects, the SX170 IS is available.
Canon's lower-end PowerShots generally produce some of the best photos you'll get from inexpensive point-and-shoots, and the SX170 IS is no different. Though you probably won't want to use its photos at full size, the SX170 IS overall produces very nice photos, especially for its price and features.
Pixel peepers will see noise even at ISO 100, but it's not noticeable at reduced sizes. Up at ISO 400 is where it starts to be more visible. Going above that, you'll start to see more color noise, artifacts, and loss of detail. The camera definitely favors dropping shutter speed over raising ISO when left in auto. That's good in general, but if you're not paying attention it could result in blurry photos.
The 720p video quality is good, and better than I've seen from some entry-level full HD camcorders I've tested. But, as with its photos, you'll see more noise the less light you have. Also, you may notice some vertical smear when shooting bright light sources. This is common with consumer CCD sensors.
The lens does zoom while recording and when it's zooming in you will hear slight motor sounds picked up by the stereo mics in front on very quiet scenes. Overall, though, for capturing the occasional clip for Web sharing, it does a fine job.
Though the SX170 IS shoots faster than models prior to the SX160 IS, it still has the bottlenecks created by a two-generations-old image processor and a slow CCD sensor. Canon did update the autofocus system with the SX160, however, so shutter lag is more reasonable at 0.3 second in bright lighting and 0.5 second in low-light conditions.
The camera starts up and fires off its first shot in about 2 seconds. Shot-to-shot times averaged 1.5 seconds, while turning on the flash slowed that down to 4.7 seconds. Continuous shooting speeds are nothing special, at 0.8 frame per second with focus and exposure set with the first shot. The camera does have continuous with AF (a rarity) that captures at a slow 0.6 fps.
Unless you're shooting outdoors in bright daylight conditions, I would not recommend this camera for trying to capture fast-moving subjects such as sports, or kids and pets. Even then, I wouldn't use the zoom lens to do it. This camera's performance is fine for still or slow-moving subjects, though.