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Review: Canon PowerShot SX730 HS For Live Music Photography

Canon PowerShot SX730 HS example photograph taken in a live music situation.

I’ll start by saying that, as a professional real estate photographer, I would never have bought the Canon SX730 HS as I don’t believe any point and shoot camera has the image quality I require. But, now I have recently gotten back into live music, I needed to buy something that venues would allow, the majority of venues only allow compact point and shoot cameras, so I bought the $400 SX730 HS for this purpose.

The Canon PowerShot SX730 HS works well enough in outdoor and well-lit scenarios which require lower ISO’s and faster shutter speeds. But, since I purchased the PowerShot SX730 HS compact camera for the single purpose of live music photography, my review will be based on this use case scenario.

Last night was my first opportunity to use the Canon SX730 HS in a live music scenario at the Orpheum Theater in Wichita, KS for Halestorm, Starset and New Years Day. Let’s get straight to the point, if you are looking for a live gig shooter, look elsewhere, at $400, I expected infinitely better from Canon. I’m a long time Canon customer, I have three Canon DSLR’s, so the SX730 HS seemed like a natural choice to me.

The two things you need for live music photography is good low-light performance, which in darker environments means pushing the ISO and a fast(er) shutter speed to freeze the action. To be able to set any sort of decent shutter speed, 1/125 of a second, I need to push 3200 ISO, which has high levels of grain, which destroys the detail of any shot. Additionally, when zooming in 40x, you lose two stops of light, which means that you need to slow the shutter from 1/125 to 1/30 of the second to compensate.

The Canon SX730 HS’ focus system is slow and often fails to focus, especially when zooming in by a factor of 25x or more. I missed countless shots because the camera refused to focus, even on a subject lit by a bright spotlight. I would estimate that it failed three times before being able to get positive focus lock. Even then, the auto focus still missed the targeted focus point, despite the double beep confirmation.

Shutter reaction time is laughable, again I missed hundreds of shots because of the lag time between pressing the shutter button and the photo being taken. It seemed like there was a delay of 1/2 a second between pressing the shutter button and the shutter actuating. Resulting in blurry or even a shot of an empty piece of the stage as my subject had moved in the time it took the camera to react to my action.

Please see 1:1 example of the grain and focus issues at the top of this review…

I shoot in manual mode, however, I did try the auto mode and it bumped the ISO upto max and set a super slow shutter, which made everything nice and bright, but was ultimately useless as everything was blurry between my hand movement and the fast-paced action on stage even with the image stabilization enabled. Another bugbear is that I am unable to shoot in RAW image format, this is a feature I expect in a $400 camera, entry level DSLR’s at this same price point can shoot RAW, so why can’t the SX730 HS?

Maybe I have been spoiled by DSLR’s over the years and I am being harsh on the Canon PowerShot SX730 HS; but with the exception of the telephoto lens, my LG V20 gives me the same results in terms of quality. I would have expected a $400 camera to be better than a camera built into a multi-function device like a smartphone. Maybe, smartphone cameras have improved while digital cameras have not?

If I had just bought the SX730 HS, I would box it up and return it to the store, however, I have had the camera for six weeks, bought shortly after the last gig I attended, where I used my V20 smartphone. It is not faulty, so I am stuck with it, selling it would probably result in 50% financial loss, so I will hang onto it and use it as a pocket camera for family outing and such, where carrying a DSLR is cumbersome.

UPDATE [Oct, 9 2017, 22.18]: I went to another gig, this time at The Cotillion and the results are the same, so definitely not a live gig camera, slow and often missed focus, very poor low light performance and very noisy / grainy photos. Honestly, I am on the fence about whether to bother taking the PowerShot SX730 HS to gigs any more, it’s just more stuff to carry and the results are not worth the hassle.

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