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Lifewire / Gannon Burgett
Optical image stabilization (IS)
Solid zoom range
No 4K video
Minimal manual options
No touchscreen display
The Canon PowerShot SX720 HS might look and feel like a compact camera, but hidden within is an impressive 40x zoom lens with optical image stabilization, a perfect match for its 20-megapixel stills and 1080p video capabilities.
Who says good things don't come in small packages? Canon considers its SX720 HS a compact camera, but within its tiny form factor is an impressive 40x zoom lens that also features optical image stabilization. Add in its 20-megapixel sensor and Full HD video capture and you have yourself a rather capable camera that wouldn’t struggle to fit in any decent-sized pocket.
To see just how well the PowerShot SX720 HS performs, we put it through its paces, testing everything from the design and ergonomics, to image and video quality.
The Canon SX720 HS is fairly standard as far as point-and-shoots go. It features a rounded rectangular design with a prominent lens and handgrip on the front, while the back is headlined with a 3-inch screen, and an array of buttons to change settings and navigate the menu. The top features a grille where the onboard microphones and speaker are housed, as well as a power button, shutter button, and a dedicated record button for video. The bottom has a standard tripod mount, and a door flips open to reveal the battery and SD card compartment.
Nothing about the design is astounding, but it’s incredibly impressive that Canon managed to pack such a powerful lens inside a camera this size. There are cameras double the size of the SX720 HS with less zoom range. It was small enough we were able to toss it in a diaper bag, small purse, a sling bag and even our pockets without much hassle. Personally, we would’ve liked to see a slightly more prominent handgrip, but the rubberized coating did help to ensure the camera didn’t move around in our hands too much.
It was small enough we were able to toss it in a diaper bag, small purse, a sling bag and even our pockets without much hassle.
We found the button array on the back to be just enough to gain access to all of the important settings and features without overwhelming us from a usability standpoint. We would’ve loved if the 3-inch screen on the back was a touchscreen, but considering this is a more entry-level camera, it didn’t necessarily come as a surprise.
Overall, there’s not much to complain about. The SX720 HS features a fairly standard design and has all key features and components easily accessible for quick access and operation.
Setting up the Canon PowerShot SX720 HS is as simple as taking it— and its components—out of the box, placing its rechargeable battery inside the camera, grabbing an SD card to put in the slot (located inside the battery compartment), and turning it on. The first time the camera boots up it’ll ask you to put the current time and date in so it can stamp the appropriate metadata on the image files. Once past that, you’re ready to shoot. There are plenty of settings and customization options within the menu, but the camera is simple to use out of the box and doesn’t require any tinkering to start shooting.
The sensor at the core of the SX720 HS isn’t the biggest, but it certainly performs well considering its size. The 20.3-megapixel (5184 x 3888 pixels) 1/2.3-inch sensor features an ISO range between 80 and 3200 and offers shutter speeds ranging from 1/3200th of a second to 15 seconds. When paired with the onboard 40x zoom lens (24-960mm full-frame equivalent), the sensor performs well across most of the zoom range.
We tested the camera in a range of environments, across all zoom lengths and nearly every ISO setting. In well-lit environments, the SX720 HS performed wonderfully across nearly the entire zoom range. When at the longest focal lengths, the photos did get noticeably softer, especially around the edges, but no better or worse than similarly-priced camera systems.
Where this camera severely suffers is in low-light situations. Yes, there’s an onboard flash, but it doesn’t reach far and it isn’t the most flattering light, regardless of your focal length or subject matter.
Even in cloudy situations and at dusk, the camera performed well across most of the zoom range. Again, the longest focal lengths suffered a bit, mostly due to the increased ISO required as the lens has a variable aperture that limits light throughput as you zoom in, but the images were still usable in most cases.
Where this camera severely suffers is in low-light situations. Yes, there’s an onboard flash, but it doesn’t reach far and it isn’t the most flattering light, regardless of your focal length or subject matter. It’ll work in a pinch, but don’t count on using this camera for anything other than snapshots in low-light situations.
All in all, the photo quality was solid across the board. Images were slightly softer when fully zoomed in and situations that require the flash aren’t ideal, but considering how compact this camera is and the zoom range it has to offer, the photos left us impressed more often than not.
Canon has been known for limiting the video capabilities on its smaller cameras, but the SX720 HS doesn’t lack too much. The camera features 1080p recording at up to 30 frames per second (fps) and has multiple image stabilization (IS) modes to keep footage as still as possible, even when handheld.
Add in its 20-megapixel sensor and Full HD video capture and you have yourself a rather capable camera that wouldn’t struggle to fit in any decent-sized pocket.
We found the camera recorded impressive footage in bright sunlight and decent footage in overcast conditions. Once the lights were low or the sun went down video quality dropped dramatically as the sensor would push the ISO up high to account for the lack of light. This turned the footage into a dark, mushy mess thanks to noise reduction.
The Dynamic IS, Powered IS, Macro (Hybrid) IS, and Active Tripod IS all performed well. We tested the optical image stabilization zoomed out, zoomed in, with photos, with video, and it performed incredibly well in all the aforementioned situations. Video was a bit jittery if entirely handheld at longer focal lengths, but unless viewed on a large screen the shake was hardly noticeable.
Thanks to built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, the SX720 HS has the ability to transfer images wirelessly from the SD card in the camera to an Android or iOS device with Canon’s Camera Connect mobile application installed. While the app could use some work in the interface department, once set up, the process of transferring over photos and videos is smooth. Even cooler, the app can automatically geotag photos captured with the SX720 HS using the GPS signal from your smartphone.
The Canon SX720 HS retails for $300, which is right on target for what it has to offer. DSLRs are continuing to drop in price, but sometimes you want something a little more pocketable. And as impressive as smartphones have become, no smartphone offers 30x optical zoom at this point in time, so the SX720 HS still holds its own in the declining point-and-shoot market.
As tends to be the case with most offerings from Canon and Nikon, the SX720 HS has an almost identical competitor from Nikon in the form of the A900.
The A900 features a 20-megapixel 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor with an ISO range between 80 and 3200—identical specs to the SX720 HS. The A900 also offers a similar focal length range (24-840mm full-frame equivalent), optical image stabilization, and built-in wireless functionality.
Where the A900 comes out on top is in the video department, continuous shooting capabilities, and its electronic viewfinder. The A900 features 4K video recording at up to 30fps, 7fps continuous shooting (compared to the 5.9fps with the SX720 HS), and a tilting 3-inch screen, which provides a little more flexibility than the Canon’s fixed screen.
The A900 retails for a bit more than the SX720 HS at $367, but for that extra cash, you do get 4K video, a more flexible screen, and faster continuous shooting. That said, if 4K video isn’t a requirement and you don’t think you’ll need the articulating screen, it might be worth it to save that extra money and go with the SX720 HS.
Small but mighty.
Anyone who thinks good things can’t come in small packages has clearly never taken the SX720 HS for a spin. It’s not going to blow you away, but during testing, we came to love the versatility in such a compact form factor. At a time when compact camera sales are rapidly declining, the SX720 HS manages to carve out a niche of its own with an impressive zoom range, 1080p video, 20.3-megapixel stills, and nice-looking design.
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