Canon's PowerShot SX200 IS has a 12x optical zoom lens, which reaches from 28mm on the wide-angle end to 336mm on the telephoto end. That alone is a major selling point for this camera, and it just gets better when you factor in its image quality and fun features.
A little over a year ago, to get that kind of power in a fixed-lens model, you needed to buy a megazoom camera that was nearly the size of a digital SLR. These days, the Canon PowerShot SX200 IS represents a growing trend among point-and-shoot digital cameras: high-zoom models (10x optical and above) that are merely a bit bigger than average compact cameras but still stowable in a bag, purse, or large pocket. Let's call them 'pocket megazooms'.
Though certainly bulkier than a typical point-and-shoot, the Canon PowerShot SX200 IS feels more like a camera than the newfangled, dainty playthings people call cameras nowadays. It looks like it just ate three ultra-slim cameras for lunch, and the body is big enough to accommodate a roomy, 3in LCD screen on the back. The display is sufficiently bright for composing shots in sunlight, but in direct sun the onscreen colours were a bit hard to distinguish.
When you zoom in to the full extent of the Canon PowerShot SX200 IS's 12x optical zoom lens (the circumference of the lens is about that of a can of Red Bull), the result can look downright comical: the lens is about twice as long as the camera is deep.
The 'IS' in the Canon PowerShot SX200 IS's name stands for image stabilisation, a must-have feature in a camera whose main skill is zooming. Canon point-and-shoots normally have excellent optical image stabilization, and this model is no exception. It did a good job of keeping shots steady, except in extreme situations when we zoomed in to the full extent and shook the camera dramatically. The SX200 IS handily corrected jitter produced by normal, shaky hands; shots were clear and sharp, even at maximum zoom.
The Canon PowerShot SX200 IS also has a pop-up flash, which helped it score very well on flash exposure in our image-quality evaluations. While the flash performs nicely and looks retro-trendy, a couple of things bothered us. First, when you turn the camera on, your left index finger can get in the way of its popping up. Second, opening and closing the flash is a fully electronic process; you can't just click the flash closed with your finger.
In our tests, the Canon PowerShot SX200 IS pretty much ran the table. Of the point-and-shoot cameras we've tested so far in 2009, it was among the best performers in overall image quality, earning particularly high marks for lack of distortion, for exposure quality, and for colour accuracy. In flash-exposure quality, it outscored every point-and-shoot we've seen this year except for the Pentax X70, a 24x optical megazoom camera with a digital SLR-like size and a huge onboard flash.
Battery life is also very good. The Canon PowerShot SX200 IS took 324 shots on a single charge of its rechargeable lithium-ion battery. For a camera of this size, the ability to use AA batteries would have been a nice option (the SX200 IS seemed to have enough room to house a pair of AAs).