Concept: 2 out of 5
Execution: 1 out of 5
Yeah, but: A lot can change in a year.
The Long Version: I reviewed the SX20 almost exactly a year ago, and there are a few differences this time around. For one thing, I don't own the SX30, and I never will. I also don't own the SX20 any more, having sold it after getting the GH1 which is a superzoom done right. Of course, the SX30IS has the spiffy new 35x 24-840mm-e lens with an image-stabilization system that really does work, which will be the reason why people buy it. Maybe the rest won't matter.
The other big change from the SX20 is the battery. Gone are the four AA batteries, replaced by the same proprietary rechargeable batteries that are used in the G11/G12. The lens is also lighter, making for a camera with very different handling than the previous models. For most people this will be a good thing, good enough that they'll overlook the memory card moving back into the battery compartment. That's the way most compact cameras work, and even a bad design can benefit from the comfort of familiarity.
But man, is this camera ever ugly.
The hand grip is awkward, being simultaneously angular and hard to hold. The SX20 had a substantial grip, partly thanks to the jumbo battery compartment, but the SX30 is too small for my hands without the benefit of it being a diminutive camera. While Canon's SLR's have all been borrowing from the swoopy-slabby stealth-fighter aesthetic recently, this long-zoom plastic case looks like an F22 that's crashed into the ocean, been eaten by a shark, and pooped out the far end. The mode dial is dished out in a way that's unique to the SX30, and there's a red detailing to it that adds to its disco points. And just in case you forget what camera you own, the SX30 has added another branding location on top of the flash, facing backwards, so that there's no escaping this camera at all.
Someone once said that the best the best thing about driving a Pontiac Aztek is that you can't see the cars' exterior. That gives the automotive horror a real advantage over the Canon, because looking through the SX30IS is actually worse than looking at it. It has a mediocre-average 230K 2.8" LCD screen, and the worst electronic viewfinder I've seen in years.
Really, really bad.
The rise of mirrorless cameras has created a renaissance for electronic viewfinders. People who swore they'd never use an EVF are coming around, and many cameras have genuinely good ones. This one is nowhere near the Panasonic m4/3 options, and is years behind what Sony has on their upcoming "SLT" A55 camera. In the SX30's own long-zoom class, the arch-rival Panasonic's viewfinder is considerably better than the SX30, and even the Nikon Coolpix P100, which is otherwise an uninspiring little machine, does better. Considering how important the EVF is for controlling and aiming long telephoto lenses, this is a huge problem. Adding additional humiliation, 2003-vintage Sony F828 has a visually larger viewfinder, and it even has 30,000 dots - 15% - more resolution than the 2010 Canon camera. It's appalling. I've never said this about anything before, but from an aesthetic and ergonomic point of view, I'd rather have a Sony Alpha A330. Even people who love Sony don't like that camera - the SX30's viewfinder really is that bad.
As far as the performance goes, there's not much to say. It's a Canon superzoom, so the image quality averages out to a decent but not outstanding result. The big deal is the lens, which is longer than anything else on the market (at the moment). This is something like having a talking dog - it really doesn't matter what it says, its mere existence is remarkable. I can also say that its image stabilization works very well, holding the picture very steady even when at the monstrously long zoom extension. The photo above, of the man with his hand in his pocket as he enters an 'adult entertainment' venue, was taken from the far side of the street and hasn't been cropped at all. The camera handles its primary task as well as anyone could ask, given its intended purpose and market. Those who are able to withstand their first encounter will probably be quite happy with it, or at least grudgingly accept its compromises. But whatever you do, don't even think about buying it without trying it first.
In the immortal words of Opus the Penguin: "Okay, maybe it wasn't that bad, but Lord, it wasn't good." Time could prove me wrong. Style is personal, and some say that taste can't be taught. But man, that viewfinder stinks.