The Canon PowerShot SX10 IS

An aging but still capable superzoom camera.

28mm - 560mm 20X zoom (if you use digital zoom, you can reach 80X 2240mm)

Default Settings

If your camera is misbehaving, there's a chance it's in a bad mode.  You should have a preferred set of modes that your camera is always in.  If you change a mode, remember to change it back when you're done.

Func/Set

  • White Balance: Auto
  • My Colors: Off
  • Focus-BKT: Off?
  • Flash: 0
  • Metering Mode: Evaluative
  • Movie: 640x480 30fps
  • Image: 10Megapixel (3648x2736), hit DISP to set quality to Fine.

Menu

  • IS Mode -> Continuous.  Otherwise your pictures will be blurrier than they need to be.
  • AF Mode -> Single
  • Digital Zoom -> Standard
  • AF-assust Beam -> On
  • ISO Shift -> Auto.  I think default is off but, on auto, when you push the shutter halfway and the camera shake indicator appears the S buttom will light up blue.  Pressing it will boost the ISO.  todo: is there a drawback to leaving ISO Shift on Auto?
  • In auto mode, ISO (Right button) should be on ISO AUTO.  ISO HI will produce noisy images.
  • Safety Shift -> OFF.  I don't see any reason to turn this on...  It only applies in Av and Tv mode and, if it's on, the camera will adjust the aperture or shutter speed that you set if it thinks the exposure will be bad.  If I'm in Av or Tv mode, I don't want the camera to second-guess me!

I don't worry about the custom drive mode because it's so easy to check and change.  Just Down to select the drive mode, then Menu.

Also worry about ISO.  ISO 200 on the SX10 is normally a good compromise.  Higher than 400 might be good for sports.  Above 400 is seriously grainy.

Modes

General Modes:

  • Auto: Camera handles almost everything.
  • Programmed: camera sets shutter and aperture.  You set ISO, exposure, and white balance.  If you depress the trigger halfway and press the +/- button (below the Play button), you can use the control wheel to select the exact shutter/aperture combination.
  • Tv Shutter Priority.  You select the shutter speed, the camera selects the aperture to match.  Dial in a fast shutter to freeze motion (see "how to take a short exposure shot" below) or a slow one to take pictures in the dark (see "how to take a long exposure shot?" below).  todo: what about ISO, exposure, balance?
  • Av Aperture Priority: You select aperture, camera selects shutter speed to match.  Used to increase the depth of field to capture subjects near and far, or to blur the background to really accentuate the subject (see Bokkeh / Blurry Background below).
  • Manual: You select both shutter speed and aperture value for maximum control.  Use the +/- button to switch the dial between affecting aperture and shutter speed.
  • Custom: allows you to configure frequently used shooting modes and settings.  C saves the shooting mode (P, Tv, Av, and M), Rec. menu settings,

Preset Modes:

  • Portrait: tries to open the aperture more to blur the background and accentuate the subject.  Also applies a soft filter.
  • Landscape: tries to maximize the depth of field so near subjects and far will be in focus.
  • Night Snapshot: Tries to reduce camera shake with a high ISO and fast shutter speed?  Also allows the flash to be set to On, not just Auto.
  • Sports: boosts ISO and tries to reduce shutter speed.  Also sets the drive mode to Continuous AF.  Shame it doesn't offer a way of setting it on plain continuous.
  • SCN: see below
  • Autostitch Assist: Locks the exposure and white balance to the first picture, and displays previous pictures to assist lining up subsequent shots.
  • Movie: how is this different from just hitting the Record button?

There are more modes in SCN:

  • Night Scene: Slow shutter speed to expose the background, plus fill flash for the foreground (raise the flash!).  You will probably need to use a tripod.
  • Indoor (some weird cone icon): more aggressive white balance, boosts the ISO to reduce camera shake.
  • Sunset: ?  vivid red colors?
  • Foliage: ?  vivid green colors?
  • Snow: reduces blue tinge (how, custom white balance?), tries to meter subject and not the bright background.
  • Beach: tries to meter subject and not the bright background.  like Snow Mode but without the blue tinge compensation?
  • Fireworks: long exposure.  Use a tripod.
  • Aquarium: changes white balance and boosts ISO to shoot under water or through glass into water.
  • ISO 3200: uses highest ISO possible and speeds up shutter to compensate.  Should be the most you can do against blurring.  Can only shoot a maximum of 1600x1200.  Image noise will be very apparentl.
  • Color Accent: leave only the color you select and convert the rest of the image to black and white.  Might boost ISO.
  • Color Swap: transform one color into another.  Might boost ISO.

Hints

If the camera is not happy with the exposure, when you push the shutter halfway it will display the shutter speed and aperture in red.  To obtain a better exposure, you can:

  • Use the flash
  • Adjust the ISO or use Auto ISO Shift
  • Change the metering method

Metering Method

You can change the metering method to change how the exposure is calculated.  Hit Func/Set, then select the 3rd item from the bottom.  Here are the possible settings:

  • Evaluative: Camera evaluates the entire frame and tries to meter on a subject without blowing out the background.  The ultimate compromise and shouldn't require centering the subject.
  • Center Weighted Average: averages the exposure of the entire frame giving more weight to the center.
  • Spot AE Point: Meters pretty much only on the center of the frame.  Use this mode when there is a large difference between subject and background so averaging isn't a good strategy.
    • Center: locks the metering spot in the center.
    • AF Point: metering spot is the same as the spot used for autofocus.

Questions

How to take a long exposure shot?

  • Use a tripod!  And be careful of wind.
  • What mode should I use?  Manual or Tv?
  • 2 Second Delay: Go to Menu -> Drive Settings and set the delay to Custom, 2 sec delay, 1 shot.  Now, change the drive settings to Custom.  The two second delay gives the camera time to stop moving after you press the shutter and remove your hand from the camera.  (you can just hit Menu when the drive setting screen is up to go to the Drive Settings submenu).
  • Turn off Image Stabilization.  When you're on a tripod, IS can only mess things up.  Menu -> IS Mode -> Off.  Remember to turn it back on again!  I spent weeks thinking my camera was breaking (why are all my handheld shots fuzzier?) when I'd just left IS off.

You might want to fire the flash during the long exposure.

To set whether the flash triggers on the opening curtain or the closing (at the beginning of the exposure time or the end), hit the Flash button, then hit Menu.  This also lets you set the flash power.

15 seconds at ISO 800 produces a decent exposure for reflected moonlight but it's very grainy.  For bright moonlight, 15 seconds is just not long enough for a good quality picture.  Use chdk to take longer exposures.

How to take a short exposure shot?

If you want to freeze action:

  • Use Sports Mode or set ISO HI in Auto Mode or ISO 1600 in Manual Mode.
  • In extreme situations, use SCN mode then select ISO 3200.  This forces the camera to use an extremely high ISO and shorten the shutter speed to compensate.  It will only shoot at 1600x1200 though.

How to use the timers?

Easy!!  Hit the drive button (the bottom of the scroll wheel) and choose timed or face detection.  For face detection, when the camera detects one more face in the frame, a 3 second timer will start, then it will take 3 pictures (you can configure these).

Note that the exposure and white balance are locked to the values used for the first shot.

Bokkeh / Blurry Background

For the best effect, you want:

  • Huge aperture.  If you could shoot through an infinitely small pinhole, everything would be in focus.  You want the opposite.
  • Shoot in Av mode and crank the aperture to 2.8 or as wide as possible.  Portrait mode also tries to open the aperture more and compensate with shutter speed but it also applies a subtle soft filter.
  • Zoom in as much as posible.  The SX10 can manage f/2.8 at the wide zoom setting (28 mm) and f/5.7 at the maximum telephoto setting (560 mm).
  • todo: The larger the aperture, the smaller the number.  So why do I get better bokkeh when I stand far away and zoom in?
  • As much distance as possible between subject and background.
  • Longer focal length.  todo: what does this mean?

 

Possible Surprises

The zoom has two speeds.  Push the zoom lever harder to zoom faster.

Image Stabilization makes taking panning shots harder since it's actually fighting your panning.  Menu -> IS Mode -> Panning will keep vertical stabilization but turn off horizontal stabilization (you must hold the camera horizontally what will happen if the camera is held vertically?).  Menu -> IS Mode -> Off will, of course, turn it completely off.  Remember to set it back to Continuous when you're done.

Digital Tele-Converter: If you need to capture quick action at high zoom, consider hitting Menu and changing Digital Zoom to 1.4x or 2.3x.  These are the tele-converter modes, so a T will appear next to the zoom indicator on the display.  The camera sets the digital zoom to that factor, the focal length goes to max telephoto, and shutter speeds can be reduced a bit.  todo: does this really make much of a difference?

Clock: Hold down Func/Set when turning on the power (either with the power button or the playback button) to display a clock.  Try rotating the camera 90 degrees while the time is up.

The flash has different power settings (except in Auto mode where I assume it adjusts the power based on the light meter).  Hit the Flash button, then hit menu.

If you're having a hard time focusing a handheld image, try setting the IS Mode to Shoot Only.  Now the IS will only be used when taking the shot, not when composing it.  todo: in what situations would this make much of a difference?

Stuff to Ignore

Safety Zoom.  This means if you set the image capture size to less than L, the camera will allow more digital zoom because it will not degrade the already-degraded image.  Just always shoot L, and get an 8GB SD card if you run out of space.  You can always post-process later.

Frustrations

Why can't I set the flash to always fire when shooting in Auto mode?  And why can't I use autofocus in Auto mode?

Answer: Just use P (programmed) mode with ISO AUTO (hit ISO button), Auto White Balance (hit Func/Set, top item), Evaluative Metering Mode (Func/Set, item third from bottom).  It's basically the same thing.

The SX10's pano assist is pretty goddamn terrible.  Just set your controls to manual, shoot everything on the same setting, and then assemble the panorama yourself.