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Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS
Overview

by Stephanie Boozer
Review Date: 11/02/09

Color is the name of the game with compact digital cameras, as more and more subcompact models debut not only in standby silver or no-nonsense black, but come in a host of vivid hues that make them as much a personality statement as an imaging tool. The Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS isn't about to be outdone at this game, as it comes in one of six color options, which include green, blue, hot pink, and a spicy orange in addition to the more modest black and silver options. But aside from its fashionable flair, the PowerShot SD1200 IS backs up its looks with true-blue Canon technology, from an intelligent Smart Auto mode to Face Detection to Optical Image Stabilization. It also features a capable 10-megapixel CCD and improved PureColor LCD monitor for even better image review.

The Canon SD1200 is definitely intended for those who want the luxury of a few manual exposure controls, but really want to let the camera do the work the majority of the time. Its Smart Auto mode senses available lighting, faces, color, and distance to select the best preset Scene mode it has to offer (one of 17). Alternatively, you can place it into standard Program mode, and set options like white balance and exposure compensation. But given the highly portable, fun nature of this digital camera, and the very good performance of its Auto mode, why would you? This is definitely the camera to throw into a bag or a pocket, head out the door, and just have some fun.

On the nuts and bolts side, the Canon PowerShot SD1200 is equipped with a fairly standard 3x optical zoom, encompassing a zoom range equivalent to 35-105mm. An additional 4x digital zoom is available as well. Canon's Optical Image Stabilizer Technology is an automatic feature on the SD1200 IS, coming into play whenever the camera senses that an image could be blurry due to slight camera movement - such as minor shakes at full telephoto or in dark conditions where the shutter speed is a little too slow for safe hand-holding. Also built into the PowerShot SD1200 is Canon's powerful DIGIC 4 Image Processor, which has even more finely-honed Face Detection and subject tracking, and incorporates this into a Face Detection Self-timer option.

Tiny and super-compact, the Canon SD1200 measures only 3.48 x 2.16 x 0.86 inches (89 x 55 x 22mm) and weighs in at a trifling 4.23 ounces (120g). Definitely pocket friendly. The Canon SD1200 is currently available at a suggested retail price of US$229.99.

 

Canon SD1200 User Report

by Stephanie Boozer

The Canon SD1200 continues the long line of ELPH digital cameras that have become a mainstay in the subcompact digital camera market. Known for quality, value, and overall good performance, the Canon ELPHs are typically a sure-bet. The latest generation of ELPHs features improved processing, updated LCD displays, and intelligent automatic modes that do all of the work for you, underscoring the line's appeal to consumers.

Look and feel. Because of the Canon SD1200's very tiny size and smooth body panels, it's definitely a pocket-worthy model that can go anywhere. But that small size also means you'll want the security of the wrist strap, as there's really no hand grip to speak of. Your fingers might find some purchase on the slightly raised Canon logo on the front panel, but there's no strong thumb hold, and larger hands might have trouble getting a firm grip. Still it was quite comfortable in my medium sized hands, though even I had to switch to a two-handed grip in many cases to make settings changes. I definitely recommend picking up a small camera case for protection.

When powered off, the Canon SD1200's lens retracts flush with the camera body, and there are really only very minor protrusions elsewhere (such as the Shutter button up top), so the camera shouldn't hang on pockets. Controls are very limited, due to the mostly automatic design, and the few present are clearly labeled.

Controls. Powering on the Canon SD1200 is done with a small silver button on the top deck. It's not exactly easy to reach one-handed, since its basically flush with the camera and a little close to center in a one-handed grip, but this also makes it hard to accidentally trigger. Zoom and the Shutter button are really the only controls easily reached one-handed, since the zoom ring surrounds the Shutter button. Instead of a Mode dial, the PowerShot SD1200 IS has a sliding Mode switch in the top right of the rear panel, which is pretty difficult to accidentally actuate when shooting. The only control I found myself accidentally hitting was the Playback button, and that was infrequent.

There is no thumb rest to speak of on the PowerShot SD1200's rear panel, and I had to frequently fight to keep my thumb off of the top right corner of the LCD monitor where it created a large smudge. There are always some tradeoffs with tiny cameras, and the PowerShot SD1200 IS' are really very trivial. A small but usable optical viewfinder is available just above the LCD monitor, though framing is much less accurate, as the LCD gives you a much better sample of what you'll get when you press the shutter.

A small flash resides just above the lens, which becomes a problem in super macro shots, as the lens blocks part of the flash. The left button of the multi-directional rocker button controls flash mode, and the flash is powerful enough for use within about 14 feet in Auto mode at wide-angle, but only to just shy of 8 feet with the lens at full telephoto.

Lens. Ranging from 35 to 105mm equivalent, the Canon SD1200's 3x zoom is pretty run-of-the-mill, but offers good quality overall. Featuring Canon's Optical Image Stabilizer technology, the PowerShot SD1200 IS automatically counteracts any blurring that might occur from minor camera shakes. It has four modes: Off, Continuous, Shoot only, and Panning. Optically, the Canon SD1200 exhibited a few characteristics that are not unusual for a pocket camera. At wide-angle, we noticed some fairly strong blurring in the left corners of the frame, and barrel distortion was noticeable, though results at telephoto were much better (see below).

Modes. The Mode switch in the top right corner of the rear panel features only Smart Auto, Program, and Movie modes, as the Playback mode is activated by a separate button just left of this switch. The Playback button also powers on the camera, and you can instantly switch to Record mode by pressing the Shutter button halfway.

The Canon SD1200's Smart Auto mode is the one a lot of users will prefer to stay in, as the camera automatically assesses the scene and chooses from a long list of preset modes before taking an exposure. The camera employs Face Detection to determine if any people are in the shot, but also automatically assesses color, distance to the subject, contrast, and movement. The available scenes are Portrait, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Sunset, Fireworks, Aquarium, Underwater (for use with a housing), ISO 3,200, Indoor, Kids & Pets, Night Snapshot, Long Shutter, and Digital Macro. In Program mode, the user has access to the same scene selection (through the Function menu), but also has the ability to adjust things like white balance, ISO, color mode, metering and exposure compensation.

The PowerShot SD1200 IS' Movie mode can capture VGA and QVGA movies with sound, at 30 frames per second for up to one hour (or 4GB per clip). Video quality is pretty good, easily replacing the family camcorder for simple video snippets.

Menu. The Canon SD1200' menu is basically the same as preceding Canon PowerShot models, with a vertical list of options and a couple of tabs across the top. You simply scroll up and down with the arrow keys and hit the center of the multi-controller to make a selection. Pretty straightforward. The more commonly-accessed options are available through the Function menu, which includes the Mode setting (Program or the Scene modes), ISO, White Balance, My Colors, Metering, and the Quality and Resolution choices. Overall, it's a straightforward design that shouldn't take too much time to learn, whether you're already familiar with Canon menu systems or not.

Storage and battery. The Canon SD1200 stores images on SD/SDHC memory cards, for a current maximum capacity of 32GB per card. That'll be sufficient for most needs with this camera, and indeed a 4 to 8GB card should be sufficient unless you plan to shoot a lot of video with the PowerShot SD1200 IS.

The Canon SD1200' battery is a 1,000mAh, 3.7 volt lithium-ion design, model number NB-6L. The rectangular battery latches in place next to the memory card beneath a small hinged door. A single charge is good for about 260 shots. That's about average for its class, so definitely consider picking up a spare battery.

Shooting. The Canon SD1200' bright color options give it some personality, which adds to the fun when shooting with it. But aside from its playful image, it's also just pleasant to shoot with, mainly because everything is so easy. The Smart Auto mode really is pretty smart, which takes just about all of the work out of photography. All you're responsible for is lining up the shot and making sure that everything you want is in the frame. Oh, and you have to push the Shutter button when you're ready to take the picture -- we haven't come that far yet.

The Canon SD1200' zoom isn't super speedy, and does want to zoom along in blocks, but it operates pretty well under most circumstances. Given its 3x range, you really don't need zoom segments to be that small in most cases anyway.

Canon's latest digital cameras have removed the Playback mode from the Mode switch, which is excellent. Most digital SLRs are like this, allowing you to view your images between shots, yet quickly leave Playback mode with a half-press on the shutter button if a photo-op arises.

Overall, the Canon SD1200 is a slick little camera with a well-honed feature-set and a quality, tight build. We go into more detail on image quality below, but the Canon SD1200's quality is good enough as a pocket snapshooter, probably not great for photography enthusiasts, however. It's another case of the sensor resolution rising while the lens quality stays about the same, and corner softness that didn't look so bad on a 7-megapixel sensor suddenly looks quite soft to a 10-megapixel sensor. It all hinges on print size. Most SD1200 users won't enlarge more than 8x10, but it turns out that the Canon SD1200's image quality is good enough for an 11x14 at ISO 100. I think most consumers will be fine with that; all but the enthusiasts. Canon makes other cameras for them. So bear that distinction in mind when looking at the crops and comments below.

 

Canon SD1200 Lens Quality


Wide: Sharper at center
Wide: Very soft, upper left corner
Tele: Sharper at center
Tele: Barely soft, lower left corner

Sharpness: The wide-angle end of the Canon SD1200's zoom is very blurry in the corners of the frame, particularly in the left corners. However, at full telephoto, softening in the corners is only minimal.


Wide: About average barrel distortion; quite noticeable
Tele: Very little distortion

Geometric Distortion: Barrel distortion is moderate at wide-angle (about 0.8%) compared to most consumer digital cameras, though it is quite noticeable in many of its wide-angle shots. At telephoto, only about two pixels of pincushion distortion (<0.1%) are visible, with minimal effect.


Wide: Moderate
Tele: Moderate

Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at wide-angle is moderate, with somewhat bright cyan and magenta pixels. (Though keep in mind that blurring in the corners here is likely increasing the intensity of the effect.) Telephoto also shows a moderate level of distortion, with less bright pixels, however.


Macro: Good performance
Macro Flash: Uneven results

Macro: The Canon SD1200's Macro mode captures a sharp image at the center, with slight softening in the corners of the frame (fairly typical among digital camera macro modes). Minimum coverage area is 1.30 x 0.97 inches (33 x 25mm). The camera focuses so closely that the flash is partially blocked by the lens at the most extreme closeup, and there's a strong overexposure in the top left corner.


 

Canon SD1200 Image Quality


Color: Color is generally good from the Canon SD1200. Some yellows are pushed toward green, while orange tends toward yellow and cyans very strongly toward blue, but overall accuracy is good. Typical among consumer digital cameras, the PowerShot SD1200's red and blue tones are slightly oversaturated, to be more appealing to the average user. Dark skin tones are a little more saturated, and pushed toward orange, but lighter tones are just a hint pink with more muted saturation.


80
100
200
400
800 1,600 3,200

ISO: Noise and Detail: Detail is quite good at ISO 80 and 100, with some softening beginning at ISO 200. Chroma (color) noise is pretty well controlled at all ISOs, but luminance noise is noticeable. Detail is still fairly strong at ISO 400, but by 800 and 1,600, images are quite fuzzy. See Printed results below for more on how this affects printed images.

Some elements are soft at even ISO 80, like the red swatch in this still life image, so be aware that extremely low-contrast colors, especially reds, won't render sharply at any ISO.


Wide: Good
Tele: Good
Flash: Our manufacturer-specified testing (shown at right) shows good intensity at wide-angle at the rated distance of 14 feet, though the camera had to raise ISO to 250 to achieve this. The telephoto test came out properly exposed as well, at the rated distance of 7.9 feet, though again ISO is raised to 250. The Canon SD1200's flash will be sufficient in most situations, though, just keep your subjects within about 14 feet at wide-angle, and about 8 feet at full telephoto.

Auto WB: Good
Incandescent WB: Too red
 
Manual WB: Good

Incandescent: The Canon SD1200's Auto and Manual white balance settings handle our tungsten lighting test better than Incandescent mode, with the latter rendering a very red image. Color balance isn't perfect with Auto and Manual, but is much closer to accurate.


Printed: ISO 80 and 100 printed results are a little soft at 13x19 with good color and detail, but low contrast detail and corner softness require a step down to 11x14 before quality gets closer to good. The red swatch in our Still Life shot is still soft. ISO 200 shots look good, if a little softer at this size. Results look better at 8.5x11 (Letter-size), and ISO 400 shots also look good at this size. Some elements, particularly the corners, are softer at this size, but dropping to 5x7 is just fine. ISO 800 shots also look good at 5x7. And ISO 1,600 shots are also good at 4x6. Ultimately, those who will only ever print 4x6-inch prints have no worries about quality regardless of ISO, so long as they don't use the ISO 3,200 Scene mode, whose output is too soft for even 4x6 prints.


 

Canon SD1200 Performance


Shutter lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is good, at 0.50 second at wide-angle and 0.60 second at full telephoto. Prefocus shutter lag is 0.074 second, quite fast.


Cycle time: Cycle time is on the slow side of average, capturing a frame every 2.04 seconds in single-shot mode.


Flash Recycle: The Canon SD1200's flash recycles in an average 6 seconds after a full-power discharge.


 

Canon SD1200 Conclusion

Small, very user-friendly and capable in most situations, the Canon SD1200 upholds the ELPH reputation for style and quality. With a 10-megapixel CCD and 3x optical zoom lens, the PowerShot SD1200 IS gets high-resolution images with good quality. Its Smart Auto mode is trustworthy in its ability to assess most common shooting situations and gets better images than you would with a straight autoexposure mode. Plus, features like automatic Optical Image Stabilization and Face Detection help you get good images under more difficult circumstances without even thinking twice about it. Another plus is that the Canon SD1200 provides some manual controls when you want them, such as metering mode, white balance, and ISO. Performance is generally good, though some distortion on the lens at wide-angle makes its way into a few shots, and anti-noise processing affects detail at all ISOs. However, overall performance is quite good, with believable color and good image quality. In short, though most enthusiasts should take a look up the price range in the PowerShot line, the Canon SD1200 is a great pocket camera for most consumers looking for quality at a low price, and merits a Dave's Pick.