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Canon Powershot TX1 Review

Canon Powershot TX1
“I found myself absolutely brimming with excitement over the Canon Powershot TX1.”
  • Excellent video quality; 4:3 & 16:9 recording modes; sturdy feel
  • Odd shape & location of buttons; heavy for its small size


Canon, one of the most successful, trusted and innovative camera companies in the world, has released a super-compact, feature-rich, high-definition, widescreen and affordable digital camera/camcorder to the masses – the Canon Powershot TX1. While the TX1 received a great deal of positive attention in the media after its announcement in February 2007, it also attracted some criticisms over the large file sizes it produces when recording in high-def modes. While the TX1’s positive attributes are universally agreed upon, is the high data output really something that will curse the TX1 to weak sales and slow adoption? Read on to find out how the TX1 performs and whether you should fork over $499 USD for this latest blast of high-def gadgetry.

Features and Design

When buying a digital camcorder, it’s often a crap shoot whether you’ll get everything you need to start recording video right away. Some companies are generous with their included accessories, while others are stingy and make you buy a host of items to finalize your DV package. Canon has proven to be sufficiently generous. Here’s what you get:

• Canon Powershot TX1 camcorder/camera
• Pleather-like wrist strap
• Battery (NB-4L)
• Compact-format battery charger (CB-2LV)
• 32MB MMC card
• Stereo video cable
• Component cable (for connecting the TX1 to a TV)
• Mini-USB cable
• Software CD (Mac and PC)
• Direct Print user guide
• Basic camera user guide
• PowerShot TX1 System Guide (excellent visual aide)
• Software starter guide (for programs on the CD)
• Advanced Camera User Guide
• Registration and warranty documents

As you can see, literally everything you need to begin recording HD video is in the TX1 package. The only gripe I have is that Canon supplied a 32MB MMC card. 32MB these days is tiny – almost unheard of. I know the old adage, “Never look a gift horse in the mouth,” but 32MB will get you only about 1-2 minutes of recorded HD video. As far as package contents go, I’d give Canon a solid 98% rating. Had they included a 1GB card, I may have tattooed the Canon logo on my arm. Maybe not, but you get the idea.

Canon PowerShot TX1
Image Courtesy of Canon

Optical & Digital Zoom

One of the more important aspects of a camera/camcorder is the level of Optical Zoom. Though some camcorders come with 32X and higher optical zoom, the TX1 has a 10x optical zoom. Highly inquisitive people will ask, “Ten times what?” The TX1’s optics are roughly equivalent to a 39mm lens when zoomed all the way out. 10x optical zoom increases the optical length to that of a 390mm lens.

The TX1 also has a digital zoom to augment the optical zoom with 1.5x and 1.9x and “standard” magnification. With 1.5x digital zoom, the range becomes roughly 58-585mm. With 1.9x digital zoom, the range is about 74-741mm. Standard zoom, which equates to about 40x zoom (40 x 39mm), brings the zoom capability to an ultra-crazy 39-1560mm. Good grief!

For those who don’t already know, optical zoom takes advantage of the analog nature of lens glass thus rendering a near-perfect image, even when zoomed way in. Digital zoom uses complex mathematics and other voodoo magics to interpolate (guesstimate) how the image should look based on the maximum optical zoom the camera reaches before going into digital zoom mode. It’s sort of like seeing a pretty girl from 100 yards away and guessing what she looks like up close based on the very distant features you can make out. You may be fairly close in your estimation, but it’s absolute fact that you won’t be able to see any of the fine details that accurately represent her visage and character.

The native 10X optical zoom on the TX1 is very good. The HD nature of the TX1 augments the quality of fully-zoomed images. (For frame of reference, I recently reviewed the Samsung SC-DC564 digital camcorder that had 26X optical zoom. The TX1 absolutely blows that camcorder’s supposedly “superior” zoom out of the water.)

Audio Recording & Quality

The Powershot TX1 records high quality stereo audio. In every test that I performed, the TX1’s audio recording matched or surpassed every other consumer-grade camcorder I’ve used in the past three years, some of which were easily double or triple the price. Being such a dramatically compact HD camera, the TX1 doesn’t come with a jack for external audio sources (boom microphones, etc.). This would normally be a “negative,” but the TX1 performs well enough to exonerate itself from this missing feature.

The TX1 will also record high quality audio without video. This means that it can be used as a voice-memo recorder; ideal for journalists doing research & interviews, for personal and business to-do lists, etc. Depending on the size of the SD card you use, the TX1 can record up to 120 minutes per recording. With a 4GB card like the one I’m using, I can record upwards of 25 hours of audio. Wow!

With the TX1, I can also take a photo and then make an audio recording describing the image. The TX1 allows me to “attach” or link the audio recording to the target image for easy organization and playback once the SD card contents are downloaded to my computer.

Included Software

The TX1 comes with a software CD compatible with both Mac and Windows systems. For the PC, there is Canon’s ZoomBrowser EX 5.8, PhotoStitch 3.1, Camera TWAIN Driver 6.7, EOS Utility 1.1 and Quicktime 7 (though not QT Pro). The Mac software is slightly scaled back, mostly because the Mac already performs several of the necessary functions in the PC software. Mac users get Canon’s Image Browser 5.8, PhotoStitch 3.1 and EOS Utility 1.1.

For Mac and Windows, the Canon software is easy to set up and even easier to use. Photos and videos can quickly be downloaded, browsed, archived, etc.

Shake Shake Shake!

Do you remember the nauseating shakiness of the cameras used in The Blair Witch Project? Have you ever shot video at a birthday party, wedding or corporate event and wound up disappointed with the final footage because everything, including your own heartbeat, seemed to jar the camera? How many millions of hours of video have been lost due to the shakes?

Well, Canon was aware of the global pain we camcorder geeks have been feeling. They responded by endowing the TX1 with a continuous mode image stabilizer! While it may not keep the camera dead-still during an earthquake or while riding down a bumpy country road, it keeps the human-jitters and minor shakes from ruining your shots. The TX1 also has “Shoot Only” and “Panning” modes for the image stabilizer, which give more specific stabilizing effects for different types of filming.

The TX1 Weighs In

Although the TX1 is a very compact camera/camcorder, it seems to weigh a lot for its diminutive size. Specifically, the TX1 weighed in at 8.6 ounces. In comparison, the similar-sized Sanyo Xacti VPC-C5 camcorder weighs 5.8 ounces. The extra 2.8 ounces doesn’t seem like a lot on paper, but holding the TX1 in your hand gives you a definite feeling that the TX1 is built tough.

ISO Happy

The Powershot TX1 has an unusually wide ISO range. The ISO settings are as follows: Auto ISO, High ISO, then 80, 100, 200, 400, 800 and a mind-blowing 1600 ISO. Auto ISO, the TX1’s default setting, allows the camera to estimate the proper ISO for the current conditions. High ISO is an automatic ISO setting, but it forces the TX1 to use a slightly higher ISO than would normally be used so that lower light conditions can be filmed or photographed without risk of blurred images or poor light rendering. Images may wind up a little grainier than with Auto ISO, but this is anticipated and expected. The rest of the ISO settings can be selected by more advanced photographers who want ultimate control over lighting and final image/video quality.

As for the 1600 ISO capability of the TX1, I have to tip my hat to Canon for such an awesome spec. Using 1600 ISO, I was able to shoot in near darkness and the resultant video was surprisingly good (though grainy, as expected).

Webcam Functions

There are quite a number of camcorders on the market today that double as webcams when properly hooked up to a computer system. Typically, these cameras connect using Firewire cables. The TX1 uses USB 2.0 for data transfer and, unfortunately, Canon makes no mention of the TX1 being capable of webcam use.

Macro Mode

The Powershot TX1 clearly has a great zoom capability. Want more? The TX1 can shoot stills and video in Macro mode, allowing you to get right up close and personal with your subjects. So close, in fact, that you could shoot video of a ladybug crawling on a flower petal.

Direct Printing

As if the TX1 didn’t have enough features already, Canon added PictBridge direct printing capabilities. So long as you have a PictBridge-capable printer (many HP, Canon and other printers have PictBridge support) you can connect the TX1 to the printer by means of the mini-USB cable. Depress the Print/Share button and select the photos you want to print. There are several choices for printing modes. TX1 will even let you select single frames from high-def video recordings for printing to paper!

Canon PowerShot TX1
Image Courtesy of Canon

Setup and Use

As if I wasn’t happy enough with just having the TX1 in my possession, I was even more satisfied by the simple setup process. After opening the surprisingly small TX1 packaging, I found all the aforementioned contents neatly arranged in such a fashion that the critical setup items were closest to my grasp. I removed the TX1 from its plastic wrap and set it on my desk. Next, I popped the super thin battery into the wall charger and plugged it in. I then gave the camera a good, close inspection, checking out all the buttons and controls, the battery and SD/MMC card compartments, etc.

Once the battery had charged sufficiently (about an hour), I slipped it into the battery bay on the bottom of the TX1, then inserted a high speed Sandisk Ultra II 4GB SD HC memory card, perfect for use with the high-data-rate HD recording produced by the TX1.

After a secondary search to find the power button (top left of the body), I powered the camera up. My first impression – “Wow! The power button lights up when the TX1 is on!” A neat feature, for sure.

My second impression -“Hmm, that screen is pretty small.” True, the TX1 has a small 4:3 LCD screen (1.8 inches), but this is due to the terribly obvious fact that the TX1 is a very compact camera. And for those who say “size doesn’t matter,” you’re absolutely right – about the TX1. The TX1’s LCD screen produces beautiful and crisp images with amazing color quality for a camcorder screen. The LCD screen also rotates 270 degrees for easy viewing at many angles. It may be too small for some people, but I found it sufficient.

With the TX1 all prepped and ready to go, I set out to take lots of video and still images.


Understand that the TX1 isn’t the ultimate HD camcorder on the market. It isn’t meant for high-level pro or studio use. Canon has better, more expensive HD camcorders available to professionals. The TX1 is a compact, pocket-sized camcorder that retails for about $499 USD, and it gives very impressive results. It could be used as a worthy substitute for a higher priced HD camcorder, especially by budding videographers and by scores of individuals who want beautiful video for personal and business use.

Recording Modes

All videos are recorded in AVI format. When the TX1 is in 4:3 mode, it records video at 640×480 pixels and at 30 frames per second. With a slight tweak, the TX1 can also record 320×240 video at either 30 frames per second or a dizzying 60 frames per second. Recording at 60 frames per second may not be useful for everyone, but I can imagine that filming fast-moving objects (hummingbirds, a baseball pitcher, a race car, etc.) would render much better. Slowing down the 60 frames per second would also render a cool slow-mo effect.

Approximate file sizes for 4:3 modes are as follows:

• 640×480 30fps 1960 KB/sec approx. 30 min. on 4GB SD card
• 640×480 30fps 1020 KB/sec (LP mode) approx. 56 min. on 4GB SD card
• 320×240 60fps 1370 KB/sec approx. 42 min. on 4GB SD card
• 320×240 30fps 746 KB/sec approx. 75 min. on 4GB SD card

When in 16:9 mode, the TX1 records beautiful video at 1280×720 pixels and 30 frames per second. There’s no 60 fps option in 16:9 HD mode, but you’ll undoubtedly find that the 16:9 video is quite impressive at 30 fps. When I made my first dozen recordings, I was amazed at how the final video was almost lifelike in quality. I recorded in varying conditions – indoors, outdoors in bright light, outdoors at dusk, in the rain, etc. No matter who, what, where or when I recorded, the video was better than that of previous camcorders.

Approximate file sizes for 16:9 modes are as follows:

• 1280×720 30fps 4480 KB/sec approx. 14 min. on 4GB SD card
• 1280×720 30fps 2280 KB/sec (LP mode) approx. 26 min. on 4GB SD card

Before the TX1 was released by Canon, several tech websites berated the TX1 for its limited recording time. 14-26 minutes of HD content doesn’t seem like very much at all, but I think the average camcorder user isn’t necessarily going to be recording hour-long videos at a single sitting. If YouTube is any sort of indicator of how long average home-movie clips are, 14-26 minutes of HD may be fine. Of course, 4GB SD HC cards can be found for as little as $40 USD, and 8GB SD HC cards cost $65 to $100 USD. An 8GB card will allow for 28-52 minutes of HD recording.

Still Images

The Powershot TX1 doubles as a 7.1 megapixel camera. 7.1 megapixels is impressive in its own right, but I found something more impressive than that. The TX1 will take gorgeous images in 4:3 mode AND mind-tripping 16:9 mode. As an avid photographer, I was not prepared for the intrigue of seeing native 16:9 stills right out of the camera. I’m used to cropping images in Photoshop in order to get a 16:9 ratio. I am impressed by this feature and I’m sure that other TX1 users will be, as well.

Whether in 4:3 or 16:9 still mode, the TX1 offers three quality settings: Standard, Fine, Super Fine. Standard mode is good for day-to-day photos that’ll likely remain on a computer. It’s also great for eBay pics and blogging. Fine mode saves images in less-compressed JPG format, ideal for photo printing (at home, at camera shops and via online services like Super Fine mode is best reserved for folks who want the absolute best quality JPG images from the TX1. The TX1 also offers five images sizes in 4:3 mode: Large (3072×2304 pixels), Medium 1 (2592×1944 pixels), Medium 2 (2048×1536 pixels), Medium 3 (1600×1200 pixels), and Small (60×480 pixels). With the increase in image quality and size comes a dramatic increase in file size and a resultant decrease in the number of photos that can fit on an SD card.

Roughly speaking, the TX1 will provide the following:

Large 4:3, Super Fine 1,248 images on a 4GB SD HC card
Medium 1 4:3, Super Fine 1,520 images on a 4GB SD HC card
Medium 2 4:3, Super Fine 2,360 images on a 4GB SD HC card
Medium 3 4:3, Super Fine 3,768 images on a 4GB SD HC card
Small 4:3, Super Fine 14,216 images on a 4GB SD HC card
16:9 mode, Super Fine 1,656 images on a 4GB SD HC card

Moving Content to Computer

After recording video clips and taking still images, it’s necessary to transfer them from the TX1 to your computer. The fastest and easiest way to do this is to remove the SD card from the TX1 and insert it into an SD card slot or a USB SD card reader attached to your computer. Once connected, the SD card will show up as a portable drive. Whether you use Mac OSX or Windows, the basic action of copying the files from the SD card to a destination folder is pretty universal – copy the Folder “100CANON” to your desktop or Photos folder or just use a photo importing program like iPhoto or Picasa to transfer files.

Battery Life

The TX1 documentation doesn’t really specify how long the NB-4L battery is expected to last per charge. Certainly, taking still images will use much less battery than recording 640×480 video, and recording HD video at 1280×720 will really drain the battery. To give some sense of expectation, Canon suggests that the battery will last for 160 still images and 4 hours of playback time. Based on my tests, I would estimate my battery life at about 2 hours in mixed modes of video recording. This is only a rough estimate and will probably vary from user to user.

Battery Life

The TX1 documentation doesn’t really specify how long the NB-4L battery is expected to last per charge. Certainly, taking still images will use much less battery than recording 640×480 video, and recording HD video at 1280×720 will really drain the battery. To give some sense of expectation, Canon suggests that the battery will last for 160 still images and 4 hours of playback time. Based on my tests, I would estimate my battery life at about 2 hours in mixed modes of video recording. This is only a rough estimate and will probably vary from user to user.

Drawbacks and Flaws

After pages and pages of glowing commentary, I am now obligated to focus some attention on the things that I found irksome or faulty with the TX1. Honesty is important, you know.

First and foremost, the shape of the TX1 is somewhat like a thick deck of cards. While I don’t mind the shape aesthetically, I think the unusual shape and vertical orientation result in a slightly unfamiliar grip. After holding the TX1 for a while, my hand and wrist started to grow tired.

A related problem – perhaps the most significant issue at hand – is the very awkward placement of the “record” button and menu controls. While gripping the TX1, my thumb naturally curves around the middle of the body (as opposable thumbs are prone to do). The “record” button is dead center on the back of the camcorder. To reach the button, I have to either use my other hand to hit record, or I have to shift my grip to a very unpleasant and unstable angle so my thumb can reach the record button. In future revs of the TX1, I would hope that the record button could be placed differently (like on the front of the camera, under one’s index finger). This is an issue that will likely cause some people to pass on the TX1.

The next thing that caught my attention was the flap/door that covers the SD card slot. It felt a little loose; as if a wee bit of pressure in the wrong direction might damage it. Same for the battery bay door. The rest of the TX1 feels very sturdy and tough.

Finally, for the obsessive, Monk-ish folks out there, the TX1 has a tendency to show fingerprints on its sexy stainless steel finish. It’s not distracting or garish, but it’s plain to see when fingers have been all over the TX1’s body.

That’s it, a couple minor issues and one ergonomic mess. Each user will undoubtedly find their own brand of pleasures and disappointments with any gadget. Decide for yourself if my critiques are valid or not.


As a technology writer, I have trained myself to look at gadgets and hardware with an unbiased eye, and I have to be willing to explore the good AND bad aspects of the subject item. This neutrality is a finely honed skill; one that I am proud of, even though it may come across as dispassionate at times.

That said, I found myself absolutely brimming with excitement over the Canon Powershot TX1. The TX1 is a fantastic product. The video quality, whether in 4:3 or 16:9 modes, is truly amazing. The 7.1 megapixel still images look exceptional for a point-and-shoot camera. The $499 price point is very acceptable for what you get.

Remember – this isn’t a professional-level high-def camcorder. This is a high-quality pocket-sized camera/camcorder for consumers and video hobbyists.

There are a few minor quirks and one qualified design flaw (described in detail above). Despite these imperfections, the TX1 is worthy of every last ounce of praise it receives in the press and in forums.

I highly recommend the TX1 for people looking for a pocket-sized camcorder that records surprisingly good quality video, snaps crisp and clean stills, gets decent battery life and won’t cost an arm and a leg.


• Stunning high-def video quality
• 4:3 and 16:9 recording modes
• Awesome 16:9 still photos
• Very sturdy feel
Fits in pockets


• Odd shape & location of buttons
• Slightly heavy for its small size

Editors' Recommendations

Jason Tomczak
Former Digital Trends Contributor
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