The Canon PowerShot SX720 HS has a slim design, which is pretty remarkable when you consider that it features a 40x optical zoom housed within a relatively small body. It is easy enough to carry in your pocket.
Canon has gone for a brushed metal look which makes the SX720 look stylish, while the rounded corners of the camera body also add to an overall sleek appearance. There's not much of a handgrip but the rubber texture and the position of the mode dial means it feels secure in the hand.
I found that the optical stabilisation was just as useful when composing shots as when taking them, although at maximum zoom it's pretty impossible to track a subject.
The button layout on the SX720 is simple and straightforward - especially so if you've ever used a Canon compact camera before. On top of the camera is the shutter release button, which is surrounded by a zoom rocker. There's also an on/off switch, along with a video record button.
On the left-hand side of the top plate, you'll find the inbuilt flash. To use the flash you need to eject it using a switch on the side of the camera. Just underneath this switch, you'll find the Zoom Frame Assist button. This is a very useful feature, especially for a camera which features such a high optical zoom.
Canon SX720 HS Telephoto
Big zooms are useful for sports and wildlife photography and the Canon SX720 HS packs in a decent zoom range. The 40x optical zoom lens is an equivalent of 24-960mm in 35mm terms. If this isn't enough zoom for you, there are two digital zoom modes available. A digital zoom called Zoom Plus takes you to of 80x. This uses a Digital Tele-Converter which can reduce camera shake because the shutter speed is faster than it would be if you zoomed in (including using digital zoom) to the same zoom factor. 2x Zoom Plus gives you a whopping maximum zoom of 1920mm. Zoom Plus works by cropping to the centre 1/4 of the frame, then resizes that 1/4 frame back to full size.
A further digital zoom of 120x can also be used. This gives you a maximum telephoto of 3840mm, although using this digital zoom reduces quality and noise considerably.
The amount of detail displayed in images taken at the full stretch of the Canon PowerShot SX720 HS optical zoom is great and roughly matches the detail displayed in images taken at the wide-angle end of the zoom. You can use the whole zoom range with confidence. Optical image stabilisation also does a great job of keeping images blur-free at the telephoto end of that massive zoom, too.
Canon SX720 HS Image Quality
All of the sample images in this review were taken using the 20.3 megapixel SuperFine JPEG setting, which gives an average image size between 8Mb and 9Mb.
Colours directly from the Canon PowerShot SX720 HS are bright and punchy, with a lovely degree of saturation when you're shooting in good light. Blues are well represented, being accurate and not displaying a cyan tinge.
The overall impression of detail is very good, especially at low ISOs. If you step up to ISO 1600, the impression of detail at A4 is pretty good, but you will see some reasonably severe image smoothing if you examine at 100%. On the plus side, noise is pretty well controlled because of the image smoothing, and unless you like to print out your shots at very large sizes - reasonably unlikely for a camera like this - you should be pleased with how images look.
Automatic white balance copes well with a variety of different lighting conditions, erring ever so slightly towards yellower tones under artificial lighting. If this isn't to your liking, it's worth switching to an appropriate white balance preset, such as Tungsten or Fluorescent. Remember that you can't shoot in raw format, so getting things right in camera is a little more important.
Frustration with Canon SX720 HS
The biggest frustration I have with the Canon SX720 HS is that its not possible to change the autofocus point. This seems like a bit of an oversight for something which otherwise affords such a high level of manual control. You can choose Centre AF, or switch on Tracking AF or Face AiAF which chooses a spot for you, giving priority to any faces in the shot. There is no option to manually position the autofocus point anywhere in the frame. Instead, you have to select the Centre AF mode and focus on the subject, then reframe off-centre and then take the shot.
The Canon SX720 HS also does not allow you to shoot in RAW, meaning all photos are stored as JPEG.