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Canon SD1100 IS Overview

by Tony Gomez
Review Date: 05/15/08

The Canon SD1100 IS Digital ELPH includes an eight megapixel 1/2.5" CCD imager and a Canon-branded 3x optical zoom lens with image stabilization, which covers a fairly standard range of 38-114mm equivalent -- a moderate wide angle to a moderate telephoto.

Exposure is fully automatic, but the user can tweak it with 2.0EV of exposure compensation and four metering modes to handle difficult lighting, including a mode which ties metering to the camera's face detection system.

Thirteen scene modes keep the camera approachable for beginners. A long-exposure mode in the Canon SD1100 IS ELPH lets you set exposure times as long as 15 seconds manually, and a 2.5" LCD display plus an real-image optical zoom viewfinder -- rather rare on digicams these days.

The Canon SD1100 IS sports a fairly wide ISO sensitivity range, from 80 to 1600. The PowerShot SD1100 IS is PictBridge compliant, and so is able to print to any printer that supports PictBridge directly, without the need for a computer in the middle. Images are stored on SD/SDHC/MMC memory cards with a not-so-generous 32MB card in the product bundle, and power comes from a proprietary NB-4L lithium-ion rechargeable battery.

Available from March 2008, the Canon SD1100IS Digital ELPH retails for under US$250. Five body colors are available: silver, gold, brown, blue and pink.

 

Canon SD1100 IS
User Report

by Tony Gomez

Canon's new SD1100 IS has just about all the bells and whistles you could imagine for a camera that's about the size of a pack of cards.  To start, there's a healthy 2.5-inch LCD monitor, built-in optical image stabilization (that's the IS designation), Face Detection, a small, but still quite useful optical viewfinder, 8 megapixel still capture mode, an excellent 640 x 480, 30 frames per second movie mode, a 3X optical zoom (expandable by 1.6X and 2X), and a host of other cool features that we'll get into later in this report.

Look and feel. The Canon SD1100 has a simple, yet supple feel. Corners taper softly, quite a change from the SD1000's hard angular design. It's actually a little thicker than the SD1000, perhaps to accommodate the new image stabilization system inside; but the controls are essentially unchanged. The shutter button is flat and easy to find, with the zoom toggle surrounding it. On the back you'll find the 2.5-inch LCD and a selection of controls. The mode switch is on the upper right, with choices of Still Record, Movie Record, and Playback modes. The other buttons and the multi-controller are flush mounted, and a soft press activates them.

One feature in particular that I appreciate is the way you can reprogram the function of the Transfer button just right of the LCD screen. You can set it to one of a number of functions, including Face Select, EV compensation, White Balance, Custom White Balance, Red-Eye Correction, Digital Tele-converter, Display mode, Record Movie, Display Off, or Play Sound Effect. Because I often switch between Still and Movie mode, I chose Record Movie, which instantly drops me into Movie mode and starts recording.

An optical viewfinder also graces the SD1100. This is a rarity in digital cameras in this size category, and Canon is to be commended for keeping it in such a small digital camera. There are many scenarios in which having an optical viewfinder is huge benefit, such as in overly bright environments where you can't see the LCD screen very well, or in very dark places where it's hard to judge framing.

Of course, these viewfinders are seldom accurate, so be aware that you're going to capture more than you see through the optical viewfinder. According to our tests, you see 84 percent of the view at wide angle, and only 82 percent at telephoto.

On the bottom of the Canon SD1100 is a nice surprise: a metal tripod socket that replaces the plastic one on the SD1000.

Lens. The zoom is a 3X optical zoom equivalent to a 38-114mm lens, with digital enhancements of 1.6X and 2X. This means that effectively the zoom is about 60mm on the wide end at 1.6X digital zoom, and 182mm on the telephoto end. From a practical standpoint, I'd keep the digital zoom at 1.6X maximum because digital artifacts start creeping in if you blow the images up significantly. Another problem is that using this digital zoom mode eliminates your wide angle photography ability, so it's probably best to stick to the traditional digital zoom if you use it at all.

Canon pioneered Optical Image Stabilization many years ago in its camcorders and in special IS lenses made for its larger EOS digital SLRs. It's a tribute to their genius that they have evolved the design of their image stabilization hardware to fit inside the Canon SD1100 IS, the smallest of their pocket digital cameras. Canon uses optical image stabilization, where the actual elements of the lens are shifted to stabilize any shaking. This form of image stabilization is arguably the better of the various forms of IS available today.

Function. The Function menu sets commonly-changed items.

Menu. The Main menu sets everything else.

Interface. The menu system in the Canon SD1100 is a little confusing unless you're already familiar with Canon cameras. It's the Menu system that must be mastered before you can become really adept at setting up the camera for the many shooting conditions you might encounter. There are two menus, and two ways to enter them. To enter the Function menu, you must press the Func./Set button. You are presented with a left column and a lower row that is used to set all the controls for the Canon SD1100. At the lower row are the menu controls for selecting either the Automatic or Manual mode.

There are also special Scene Modes for selecting shooting conditions that will help you take better pictures under specific shooting conditions: Portrait, Night Snapshot, and Kids and Pets. The Manual mode allows even more controls, with selections for JPEG resolution: Superfine (least compression), Fine (moderate compression), or Normal (the most compression). The lower row also controls the capture image size.

For the finest print quality, images should be captured at Large/SuperFine resolution. For sharing images on the Internet, you select select Small/Normal for images that are lower in resolution, but very quick to upload and download, but if you ever plan to enlarge your images, be sure to stick with the Large/Superfine resolution, since images shot at lower resolutions, or compressed too much can never be upsampled. 

Along the left column you also select the type of metering (Evaluative, Center Weighted, or Spot). Evaluative is the default metering mode, but the Spot setting is great for difficult lighting situations. White Balance is also selectable here (Automatic, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Manual). Finally, manual exposure override can also be selected through 12 different offsets in 1/3EV settings.

Face Detection. Before you even half-press the shutter, the Canon's Face Detection finds and brackets all the faces it it recognizes. When you press the shutter release, it picks the faces it can keep in focus and puts a green box around them. After capture, it zooms in on the most clear face it found so you can check focus and exposure. You can use the zoom toggle to get in closer, and press the Set button to switch between the faces to check them all.

Special Features. Face Detection is the newest buzzword for most of today's point-and-shoot digital cameras. Canon's version of face detection performs very well in scenes that have a moderate amount of light. The Canon SD1100 found faces quickly and accurately, even from a surprising distance. The Canon SD1100 not only sets autofocus with its face detection algorithm, it also sets exposure; quite useful since having the face exposed properly is key to a good portrait.

We live in the era of High-Definition TV, so it was really nice to see that the SD1100 IS has two features that make it easy to capture shots ideal for viewing on your wide-screen HDTV: the Widescreen mode and the Stitch Assist Mode. Widescreen is a special mode that captures an image at a 5-megapixel resolution of 3264 x 1832 pixels. When you view this image on the SD1100's built-in LCD monitor you'll see black bars at top and bottom, the so-called letterbox mode. This is OK because the LCD monitor was only designed to show images that were captured in the more standard 4 x 3 capture mode. But when you watch the Widescreen captured images on your HDTV set, thanks to a provided AV output cable, it will look much more dramatic. You'll still see a black bar at the top and bottom because all widescreen TV's have a larger screen size. 

To enter the Canon SD1100's Widescreen capture mode, you press Func./Set and select WS (Widescreen) from the row at the bottom of the LCD screen. This is where you also select the six other image size modes (including the 8-megapixel maximum size for best print quality, all the way down to low resolution 640 x 480 for quick uploading and downloading). In my opinion, once you start shooting in Widescreen mode, you may never want to go back to the normal mode, especially if you watch the image playback on HDTVs, or if you make DVD slide shows based on these widescreen images.

The Canon SD1100 IS also has a great movie mode -- 640 x 480 resolution at 30 frames per second -- but they also have several lower resolution versions that are very useful if you were shooting video for e-mail or for websites. The image quality rivals MiniDV recordings on camcorders.

Storage and battery. The video recording time at the highest quality is about 16 minutes for a 2GB SD card. So if you want to shoot an hour epic, be prepared with an 8GB SDHC card.  These cards are essentially commodities today at under $100, with 16GB and 32GB versions becoming available later in 2008. A 4GB SDHC card will also hold about 1118 Large/Superfine shots.

The Canon SD1100 uses the same NB-4L 3.7V 760mAh lithium-ion battery as its predecessor, which can capture 240 shots, which is about average. Note that the plastic battery door seems quite fragile, but should be fine if the camera is treated with the care that all camera components demand.

Another feature that Canon has been promoting for almost as long as they have been making digital still cameras is the Stitch Assist mode. In this mode you can shoot a sequence of overlapping images and have the bundled Stitch Assist program stitch or blend them into a new, seamless, wider-than-widescreen image. The trick to make this work right is to shoot with the right amount of overlap. Canon makes this easy by retaining a small amount of the previous image to allow you a fast way of getting the proper overlap.

Stitched. Making a quick panorama is easy with the Canon SD1100, and tells a better story about your surroundings. (Images are stitched in the computer after capture.)

Stitch assist works in the horizontal mode, and you can shoot successive images in either a left or a right direction. If your overlap doesn't fall within the proper range, you will get a noticeable seam at the overlap points. The panoramic stitched effect is startling. It can even be made comic if you have a person staging themselves in different parts of captured images -- a process that can have your friend and their many digital clones reacting in the same panoramic scene. 

Image Quality. As with any digital camera that's as small as the Canon SD1100 IS Digital ELPH, there are compromises. But thankfully I didn't find many compromises in the nature of image quality, which was excellent. Naturally, as ISO increases, quality degrades, but we found the printed results to be quite good, with even the ISO 1,600 image preserving enough quality for a decent 4x6. The ISO 80 and 100 images were capable of withstanding up to 13x19-inch print sizes, despite a little softening in the corners.

There is some chromatic aberration in the wide angle shots, but it's not very bright, so it's not very noticeable except at high magnification or large print sizes. And despite the slight softening in the corners at wide angle, the rest of the frame at is quite sharp, ditto for telephoto. Macro mode was good, capturing a very small area (smaller is better, meaning that you can get closer to your subject), though the flash did overwhelm the exposure system at this distance, an unsurprising result.

Bling. The real bling here is the SD1100's performance at ISO 800.

Optically there's some average barrel distortion at wide angle, but no detectable pincushion at telephoto, which means that the lens does pretty well for such a small design.

Color from the Canon SD1100 is pretty accurate, with only the reds and cyans being slightly oversaturated, and hue is pleasingly accurate overall.

See the Optics and Exposure tabs for more on the Canon SD1100's image quality.

Shooting. I used the Canon SD1100 in a wide variety of lighting environments, from indoor incandescent and fluorescent to bright outdoor sun. For the indoor scenario, I chose the Manual mode because that allowed me to preset a manual ISO setting.

In one particular case, I chose ISO 800 because I was shooting small items of jewelry in an antique shop in Palm Springs, California. I was handholding the Canon SD1100 and also shooting in macro mode, so I really needed the ability to shoot at higher shutter speeds to capture sharp images without significant image blur. (Many thanks to Route 66 West Antique Shop in Palm Springs, California and owner Matt Burkholz for allowing me the use of their store to shoot the great jewelry and art pieces.)

Depth and detail. Outdoors at ISO 80, the Canon SD1100 showed its full potential.

Most of these macro shots were taken with the lens wide open at f/2.8, but at speeds that varied from 1/30 to 1/400 second, depending on the lighting. Many of the captured macro images exhibit limited depth of field, but that's expected at f/2.8. If I could have selected a higher f-number like f/5.6 or f/8, I could have expanded the range of focus; but that's not possible with the Canon SD1100. Though it's called Manual mode, aperture and shutter settings are still under the camera's control.

I also used Automatic White Balance in this shop, and I was satisfied with the results. On closer inspection of the jewelry images, you can see some digital noise, but this is expected when shooting at ISO 800. It was an acceptable compromise in order to get sharp, blur-free images. 

Macro. Though the Canon SD1100 IS is still set to f/8, the closer range decreases the depth of field, making a nice portrait of this cactus blossom.

In outdoor environments, I chose the Auto ISO mode. I visited a desolate village called Pioneer City near Yucca Valley, California. Because of the bright outdoor sun the ISO was automatically set to 80. This meant the image quality would be as noise-free as possible.  This was confirmed when I zoomed in on the captured images of amazing rocks, flowering purple cactus, and other interesting plants in the area.  I would expect that large 13 x 19 blowups of these images shot at ISO 80 would be excellent, revealing all their detail.

Appraisal. The Canon SD1100 IS is a full-featured point-and-shoot digicam that really impresses. It offers all the best feature sets of 8MP resolution, Image Stabilization, Face Detection, Widescreen/Panorama Stitch, Movie Mode, Macro mode, and much more, all in the size of a pack of playing cards. If you crave compactness without sacrificing too much, the Canon SD1100 really delivers. Probably the only real compromise is the "mere" 3x zoom, while some of Canon's more expensive models offer 3.8 and 4x zooms.

 

Canon SD1100 IS Basic Features

 

Canon SD1100 IS Special Features

 

In the Box

The Canon PowerShot SD1100 IS ships with the following items in the box:

 

Recommended Accessories

 

Canon SD1100 IS Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Optical image stabilization
  • DIGIC III image processor just like the big boys
  • Facial detection for portraits and to confirm those smiles afterwards
  • Small, sleek body design
  • High resolution LCD
  • Good performance figures, especially for a bargain camera
  • Good flash performance at wide angle
  • Auto flash only raises ISO to 200 at manufacturer-specified ranges
  • Adjustable contrast settings
  • Reprogrammable Print/Share button allows for greater customization
  • Good color saturation
  • Good indoor incandescent performance
  • Good low-light performance
  • USB 2.0 Hi Speed connection
  • Good Macro mode performance
  • Images print well up to 13x19 inches at ISO 80 and 100
  • Fast prefocus shutter lag
  • Fast download speed
  • Flash washes out extreme macro shots
  • Moderate chromatic aberration at wide angle
  • Soft corners at wide angle
  • High contrast in harsh lighting
  • Flash takes just under 10 seconds to recharge after full-power shot
  • Very small MMC card included
  • Optical viewfinder is quite tight
  • Barrel distortion on the high side of average at wide angle

 

Easily the greatest bargain among pocket cameras, the Canon SD1100 has it all: small size, sleek design, optical image stabilization, a good lens, face detection, custom modes, and a low price. Though it's an improvement over last year's incredibly popular SD1000, the Canon SD1100 retains the impressive image quality, despite a slight increase in resolution from 7.1 to 8.0 megapixels. The Canon SD1100 increased in thickness just a little, probably due to the addition of image stabilization, but it's still quite comfortable to hold, and it slips discretely into most pockets. High ISO performance was reasonably good, with ISO 1,600 still producing a decent 4x6-inch print; and ISO 80 and 100 maintained surprisingly good quality at 13x19 inches. Overall, the Canon SD1100 is an improvement to an already impressive camera, and well worthy of a Dave's Pick.