Well I went and got the SX280, I figured even with its many shortcomings the ultimate goal of a camera is to take good photos and the SX280 is supposed to be best in class in that regard.
While the image quality is ok (but could be better) its the rest of the camera I really don't like. My biggest gripe is with the awful menu system and lack of control in manual/program modes. The menus are just plain bad, setting image options in the various modes is the worst as you have to scroll through them one by one. Comming from the Panasonnic FZ-35 I was used to a clean and concice list of settings that I can quickly review and modify for each mode but in this camera its just a pain.
THe modes dont make much sense either, Auto mode doesn't even let you set image aspect or jpeg quality, manual and program modes only allow you to change ISO/light metering and really nothing else.
Wifi was really annoying implemented, gps is useless as it doesnt display maps.
Batter life is sub par, but then every Cannon camera we've ever owned has had terrible battery life.
I really hope something better goes on sale in the next 30 days because this is most likely going back.
Browse the forum and you'll see people have returned the 280 for various reasons (myself included). For many this seemed to be because of a (still unresolved) very specific battery/meter issue which you don't really mention. Kind of the opposite of you, after returning the 280 I went to a store to have a look at a Panasonic but I found the menu layout confusing, especially since I was used to the Canon layout from my other Powershots. While I am sure each of us has our own laundry list of things we would like to see changed, sometimes it's a matter of preference. I remember one reviewer giving the 280 a downcheck because you couldn't charge it from USB. I bought the 280 precisely because I didn't have to charge the battery in the camera (or pay another $50+ for an external charger) and could have a spare battery charging at the same time I was busy using the camera. That's one of the things making me hesitate about a Panasonic.
Auto mode isn't really supposed to have any options. It has even fewer options than the auto mode on my 1300is. It is truly no-brain mode - the camera does it all (well, I recall you can override the flash settings which is a good thing because otherwise you have that stupid flash popping up all the time, but of course then it isn't there when you need it for a snap shot). Some of the things you mention wanting in auto mode are there but you get to them via the menu button.
Realize that manual mode is good old-fashioned fully manual. Remember the old fully manual SLRs with a light meter and ISO dial and you set both shutter speed and aperture by hand, and that was all there was? The other two manual modes are like good old shutter and aperture priority modes from "automatic" SLRs. That was pre-digital "program" and is what those modes are supposed to offer.
Program "P" mode lets you set more, except on the 280 they moved some things out of the "P" mode and onto the dial itself, e.g., the sport setting. I used the dial settings a lot but even with my small hands I kept on slipping up and started a movie accidentally. I am also used to having all the program mode features in "P" rather than scattered about and it took me a long time to find some of them when I was using the camera on vacation and had no access to the manual.
As for GPS, I don't think a camera is really a navigation device. Those GPS maps you mention on other cameras take up several GB of card space, and have to be loaded onto each card you use. I'm not sure how frequently they are or can be updated, nor are they (according to reviewers) detailed. I probably have as good an idea of where I am in a general sense than those maps offer. Frankly I kept the GPS turned off almost all the time because it drains the battery constantly. The only time I needed it was when I was hiking and wanted record of exactly where I had taken a photograph (probably of a flower on the ground). In most cases I usually know where I have taken a photograph and don't need the detail of GPS.
Really? I find the Panny menus so much nicer, especially when setting image options, you go into the program/manual mode and hit menu and you get a cohesive list of all the options you can set, all visible at a glance and you dont have to scroll through the options 1 by 1 trying to figure out where the setting you want is, missing it 5 times before you finally find it.
The problem with the manual mode is it doesnt let you set apature or shutter speed, just iso and light metering, photos are always dark even at max iso, maybe I'm missing it but I sure cant find the settings.
Auto, yes it should be no brains but what good is it if you cant set your image aspect or file quality? Its totally useless, I dont like shooting in 4:3 and almost never use it but thats all that auto lets you do.
The GPS maps, you can get 64gb memory cards, heck I bought a 32gb for $20 the other day, space is not an issue and I can happily spare a coulg gb on my card to get maps on there and have no problem loading them to the card myself - its a non issue. It would be grat to have maps as we use our camera most frequently on trips and when we're out and about, it would be great to be able to pop up a map to see where you are and figure out where you want to go from there, this feature should be a no brainer in camera.
As per the battery life, I havent had any battery meter issues but then I havent taken any videos. However, I do find the battery life to be generally lack luster but I was expecting this as Cannon seems to consistantly have worst in class battery life, alteast from every cannon camera I've ever owned or seen.
They just made some really bad choices with the camera and could have really made it much better without actually spending any extra money doing it, there's no excuse for ommiting the features that they left out or for the awful UI and lack of options.
I have returned the camera so I can't check it now but the manual settings are definitely there. I used them less than a month ago. I think you had to press one of the sides of the ring shaped button. It wasn't immediately obvious how to get to the manual settings, nor how to toggle between them. Again it was one of those things I didn't try until on vacation when I didn't have my computer with me so I could check the user manual. I would find it, then need to find it all over again a day later. Probably if I kept the camera I would have memorized it evetually. In your case you might actually need to read the manual!
One of the dial settings is for full manual, then there's one for shutter priority and another for aperture priority (I recall one said something like Tv which i found a bit confusing, being an old SLR owner of many years).
I shot some video too and you definitely notice the misbehavior of the battery indicator there, even with the firmware upgrades. On the battery life issue, I always have a spare battery with me (even with my 1300is) and figured that with heavy-duty vacation shooting I was going to need a spare daily. Fortunately I was able to recharge daily. My original intention was with the battery that came with the camera + the ones that came with my 1300is + a spare I already owned that I would be able to go 3 days without recharging (we were car camping in 3 day stretches). I soon found batteries to only last me through mid-afternoon so I am very glad I was able to charge them from the car battery (and not kill the car in the process).
Here's a workaround for your map issue. Take a photograph of a map before leaving home. I would take photos of trailhead maps before heading out on a hike (usually the trails were pretty much impossible not to follow). There's no dot saying "You are here" all the time, but as I said before, I usually know where I am anyway. Also remember, having a map on the camera is handy but I don't trust any technology utterly and will always have a real map if I need serious navigation. Yes, I have a GPS but my compass comes with me all the time too. Trailhead maps make nice photos when constructing a photo album to both show the path you took as well as often including other information such as trail descriptions. I may sometimes not take a real map if a trail is very simple but having a trailhead signpost map photo on the camera can be handy just in case.
Again I no longer have the camera so I can't go poking around, but I am pretty sure you can set image aspect and possibly photo quality pretty universally using the menu buttton setup options. That was one thing about the camera is there are so many features and functions that I can't remember them all, even after having taken probably 1000 photos.
I do have the camera here infront of me and I can tell you that these options arent there, unless there's a secret button I'm missing. The UI is just so incredibly un-intuitive and all the lables and "hints" vanaish before you can even focus your eyes on then let alone read then, its all incredibly frustrating.
As for the GPS work around, that's not really helpful, it wont show you your position on the map, it won't give you a bearing on your heading or anything.
I really wish the Sony HX50 would go on sale.
You already have my take on GPS. If I want navigation I want a proper GPS. Even Panasonic uses simplified maps which a reviewer says are not the same as using Google Maps or whatever to get around. Additionally, I don't know how or even if they get updated. It's rare that I don't know where I am to the extent that a camera's rough maps will help. We're also taking issue with Canon about short battery life. Many of my photos are done where I cannot easily recharge camera batteries. I don't want to use up my camera's batteries on navigation, especially where I have my proper GPS which takes easily replaceable AA batteries.
Canon, in its wisdom, has deemed to require I use AdobeReader to open its PDF version of the manual (which I downloaded off Canon's web site), and then to not allow me to copy and paste text with Reader, otherwise I'd just copy the section here. Chapter 6, page 98 has, for example, instructions on how to use M mode. Set mode dial to M. Use the UP arrow (top of ring dial, not the mode dial) to enter settings mode. It doesn't say so in the manual but I think if you press UP again to get to the other one of shutter speed or aperture. Rotate the ring dial (it has little ridges allowing you to do so) to adjust the setting. For the aperture and shutter modes all you have to do is rotate the ring dial.
When we're out and about we really dont want to be carrying around a miriad of devices around and constantly switching between things. There's no reason they cant have a simple but effective gps implementation, its just laziness on their part not to have it.
I think cannon keeps their battery life short to get you to buy more batteries, I'm sure they could put a higher capacity battery in there but they insisit on using those awful square ones that they've been using forever. If other compaies can get noticably better battery life then why can't canon?
I think the moral of the story here for me is just not to buy Canon cameras. They're making no visible effort to improve the awful UI, there's been no updates to the poor wi-fi implementation, they've taken features out of the camera that there really is no excuse for having removed (eg. panorama). Just a waste of money, they'll be getting this one back soon enough.