Canon PowerShot SD700 IS Overview
By: Dan Havlik
Review posted: 06/30/06
Along with its low-light potential, the SD700 IS has several deluxe features that suit its Digital ELPH flagship status. In a relatively slim body, the camera has a 4x optical (35mm-140mm in 35mm equivalent) extending zoom lens that's fast at f/2.8-f/5.5. The SD700 IS also has Canon's DIGIC II image processor, a 2.5-inch LCD with decent resolution and a wide-viewing angle, 16 shooting modes, widescreen (16:9) still recording, and a new attractive three-tone design that's distinctively curved and pleasing to hold. Do all these high-end features justify its high starting price tag? Read on and find out.
Canon SD700 User Report
By: Dan Havlik
Though in a previous review of the SD600, I had said I felt the classic Digital ELPH "box and circle" design was getting a little long in the tooth, the SD700 IS offers a nice refresh. The SD700 IS is an extension of the "Perpetual Curve" design introduced on the SD550 about a year ago, but with three different colored materials -- brushed silver, beige satin, and black gloss -- contoured together to form one unit. Despite the various tones, there's a luxurious subtlely to the design, which Canon has dubbed "Curvature and Stream." Though the name's a bit unusual, the SD700 IS does have a great look and feel to it with the camera's various lines blending together artfully. Even though its a bit thicker than some competing models on the market, the camera slides easily into your pocket, with the smooth curving design preventing snags. The camera weighs in at about six ounces without the battery, so while it's not heavy, it has enough heft to give it some balance. The SD700 IS extends slightly on the right side (from the user's perspective) with the right edge of the camera slanted inward to provide a good place to grip the camera. Even though this is a camera designed for size and style, it's fairly easy to hold.
Control placement does not deviate much from other Canon Digital ELPHs except for the placement of the mode dial which is embedded in the right corner of the back of the camera instead of being exposed in the middle. While this allows you to rest your thumb on the back without covering the dial, the dial itself is a little tricky to operate. First of all it's very small, so discerning which mode you're in requires looking closely at the tiny icons. Also compared to the high-end construction of the rest of the camera, the dial is made of plastic and turns raggedly. Otherwise, the controls are fine overall, but small, which is the continuing trade-off of putting larger screens on small cameras.
One trade-off the SD700 IS did not have to make concerns the optical viewfinder. Despite having a 2.5-inch LCD that takes up most of the rear of the camera, there's still a microscopic porthole on the back that serves as the optical viewfinder. While Canon should be commended for keeping this "old-school" touch, it's difficult to see how anyone would prefer this to the generous display screen on back. With 173,000 pixels of resolution, the screen does a decent job of rendering an accurate live preview and sharp image playback. The screen has a wide angle of view which allows you to still see the display when shooting overhead or from a low angle. One other subtle point about the viewfinder is that the lacquered black finish surrounding the screen serves as a nice frame, making the pictures stand out better during playback.
Power It Up
Though it takes slightly longer to start up the SD700 IS than the SD630 and SD600, that's because the lens on the SD700 IS takes a split second longer to extend its larger 4x zoom, compared to the other two models' 3x zooms. When pre-focusing and shooting without flash, shutter lag pretty much disappears completely. We clocked it at 0.075 second, which is among the fastest we've tested. Shot to shot, the camera is also quick even when shooting in Continuous IS mode which keeps the Image Stabilizer on even when you're framing a shot (more on this later.) The camera can shoot every 1.36 seconds for large/fine JPEGs with the buffer clearing almost immediately after each shot. In Continuous Shooting mode, you can capture 2.18 frames per second, which is about average for this class of compact digital cameras. DIGIC II combined with Canon's snappy 9-point AiAF focusing system go a long way to eliminating the sluggishness in digital cameras which turned off consumers in the past.
A Low-Light Killer
When shooting at high ISO light sensitivity levels with the Image Stabilizer turned on, the SD700 IS just might change how you think about digital photography. With Canon's advanced amateur and professional Digital SLRs, the ability to shoot in low-light without a flash is part of the reason for their popularity. In addition to some of the recent achievements Canon's made with low-noise CMOS sensors in its DSLRs, it's offered IS in its interchangeable lenses for quite some time now, as well as on its S-Series ultrazoom models. The combination of both technologies has been very effective in letting photographers shoot at slower shutter speeds while keeping their images sharp. While it doesn't match the low-light abilities of those more advanced cameras, the SD700 IS is not far behind. That is quite an achievement. I shot some wonderful flashless, low-noise images with the SD700 IS in a dimly lit sake bar in New York City that would have been impossible for most cameras outside of professional digital SLRs.
Along with low-light situations, the camera's IS is effective in reducing blur when shooting all the way at 4x without a flash. Shake during Macro photography is also reduced with IS turned on. The Image Stabilizer on the SD700 IS comes in three flavors -- Continuous, Shoot Only and Panning. In Continuous mode, the IS stays on so you can check the effect on the LCD monitor when you're setting up your shot. The only downside to this mode is that since it's on all the time, the battery takes a bigger hit. On the plus side, Continuous IS can also be used in the movie mode but the other two IS settings cannot. In Shoot Only mode, the Image Stabilizer turns on only when the shutter button is pressed; and in Panning IS mode, the camera only stabilizes for up and down movements which helps, for instance, if you're panning the camera horizontally when shooting sports.
Overall, I found the IS on the camera to be very effective, particularly when used in combination with the ISO HI auto setting or when shooting at ISO 400 or 800 in low-light. Since it didn't drain the battery as much, I kept the camera locked in on the Shoot Only IS mode. The one quibble: I wish there were a dedicated IS button on the SD700 IS; instead, you can only change settings through the menu.
High ISOs, Low Noise
As mentioned in a previous review of the Canon SD600, images I shot indoors without a flash at ISO 800 on these latest Canons had less digital noise than images shot with competing models at ISO 400. Furthermore, shots taken at ISO 400 were on par with most competitor's ISO 200 or even 100 settings.
With these new ELPHs it appears Canon has been able to bring its low-noise/high ISO expertise to a non-professional audience; very good news for consumers. Most people have gotten so used to shooting with a flash in low light that they're amazed when they see the results without one. Instead of blown-out faces and blacked out backgrounds you have nice natural skin tones and details of the room behind your subject. It looks more like what your eye sees. While there's still a greater chance of blur when you shoot without a flash -- even at the SD700 IS' speedy ISO 800 setting -- if you keep the Image Stabilizer on, low-light shots can be impressively sharp.
The effect became even clearer when I printed 4x6s of my low-light shots with the presence of noise barely detectable and good general sharpness. The one criticism I could level at the SD700 IS -- which went the same for the SD 600 -- is on the somewhat confusing choice of ISO settings. Along with being able to select between ISO 80, 100, 200, 400 and 800, you can pick from two automatic settings -- ISO AUTO or ISO HI. After a bit of investigation, it appears that in regular lighting conditions both the AUTO and HI settings perform similarly, it's only in lower lighting that the HI setting automatically cranks up the ISO to 800. According to Canon, the only other difference between the two settings is that the HI ISO setting will almost always yield a higher shutter speed than ISO Auto. If you want to play it safe, I'd say always go with the HI ISO setting since the benefits are greater. Canon's thankfully included a dedicated ISO button on the camera's multi-selector on the back, so accessing all these settings is easy.
Though the camera's low-light shooting abilities are clearly the story of this camera, the SD700 IS also performed well in regular daylight conditions. The lens produced decent sharpness to the corners of the images and its 6-megapixel CCD captured accurate color that was well saturated, but not overly so, as is the tendency in some competing consumer models.
The SD700 IS has 16 special modes including most of the basics such as Digital Macro, Portrait, Night Snapshot, Kids & Pets, Indoor, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, and Underwater. Canon's My Color Modes are useful for changing settings to mimic various picture styles including Sepia, B&W or Positive film which makes reds, greens, and blues more intense -- along with a host of other lighter, darker, and more vivid color settings -- but I've found using the unusual Color Accent and Color Swap features to be somewhat frustrating with the results just mixed. In Color Accent you can pick a specified color in the LCD and have it retain its tone while the rest of the scene becomes black and white. Using Color Swap you can switch colors in a scene so, for instance, an apple becomes purple and a sweater becomes red. While these features are unique to Canon's cameras, I doubt many people actually use them. The SD700 IS also has four movie modes with sound and a maximum size of 640 x 480 at 30 frames per second. If the My Colors modes are your thing, there's a movie feature that lets you shoot with Color Accent or Color Swap.
One other special mode that's worth noting is the SD700 IS's ability to shoot in 16:9 "widescreen" format for its still images so they can be played back on widescreen TVs. This appears to be a carryover from Canon digital camcorders which all have 16:9 modes now. Why Canon decided to import 16:9 Widescreen for its still images on the latest Digital ELPHs but not for its movies is a bit of a mystery.
Overall navigation is fairly straightforward and hasn't changed much from previous ELPH models. Manual control is still fairly limited, and don't be fooled by the M for Manual setting, which gives you just limited control over things like exposure compensation, white balance, and various photo effects. If you want more manual features, look to Canon's A-series cameras which offer great creative options but are not as small and sleek as the ELPHs.
Battery life on the SD700 IS is better than on the SD600 and SD630, capturing an impressive 240 images with the LCD monitor on, based on CIPA standards. With the LCD Monitor off, you'll get about 700 images. You'll also get approximately six hours of image playback on the SD700 IS' fully charged battery.
A $400-500 Value?
There's no getting around the fact that the Canon SD700 IS is an expensive product. Just under $500 (as of this writing) is a lot to spend for a 6-megapixel compact digital camera when some competing models are offering 10 megapixels for the same price. But if you can look beyond megapixels -- and with the SD700 IS, you absolutely should -- this new flagship Digital ELPH is a great value. Instead of giving you extra megapixels that you're probably never going to take full advantage of unless you're creating poster-size prints, the SD700 IS gives you a very effective Image Stabilizer and the ability to shoot at High ISO light sensitivity levels with surprisingly low noise. Both of these tools might not necessarily impress at cocktail parties, but they will definitely help you take better pictures.
- 6.0-megapixel CCD
- Real-image optical viewfinder
- 2.5-inch color TFT LCD monitor, 173,000 pixels
- 4x, 5.8-23.2mm lens, equivalent to a 35-140mm lens on a 35mm camera
- Maximum 4x digital zoom
- 9-point AiAF autofocus system
- Canon's DiGIC II image processor
- Automatic exposure control with adjustable settings
- Shutter speeds from 1/1,600 to 15 seconds
- Maximum aperture of f/2.8 to f/5.5, depending on lens zoom position
- Built-in flash with six modes
- SD memory card storage, 16MB card included
- Power supplied by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack (charger included) or optional AC adapter kit
- Canon Digital Camera Solution Software v28.0 with ArcSoft PhotoStudio 4.3, and USB drivers included for both Windows and Mac platforms
- Print/Share button
- Adjustable ISO settings of up to 800 and new ISO HI auto setting
- Built-in Image Stabilizer with three modes, Continuous, Shoot Only, and Panning
- 16:9 Widescreen still image capture mode
- Four Movie modes with sound (up to 640 x 480 pixels, at up to 30 frames per second with a 60-fps Fast Frame Rate mode)
- Continuous Shooting mode
- Stitch-Assist panorama mode
- Infinity and Macro focus modes plus "Digital Macro" mode
- Customizable "My Camera" settings
- Two- or 10-second Self-Timer for delayed shutter release, plus custom timer with multi-shot feature
- Sound Memo option for recording captions
- Spot, Center-Weighted, and Evaluative exposure metering
- White balance (color) adjustment with seven modes, including a Custom setting
- My Colors menus for color adjustment
- Unusual Color Accent and Color Swap features for special effects in still images or movies
- DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) and PictBridge compatibility
- USB cable for connection to a computer (driver software included)
- A/V cable for connection to a television set
In the Box
Packaged with the PowerShot SD700 are the following items:
- Wrist strap
- Video cable
- USB cable
- 16MB SD memory card
- NB-5L lithium-ion battery pack with cover
- Battery charger
- Canon Digital Camera Solution Disk v28.2 software CD
- Operating manuals and registration card
- Large capacity SD/MMC memory card (These days, 256 to 512 MB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity.)
- Additional NB-5L lithium-ion battery pack
- AC adapter kit
- Small camera case
Though it's a pricey little camera, the 6-megapixel Canon PowerShot SD700 IS offers some great tools for improving your photos that go beyond megapixels. In particular, the camera might change how consumers think about taking low-light photos. Instead of "nuking" your subject in a flash of harsh light, turn on this camera's Image Stabilizer and set it to one of the higher ISO light sensitivity levels and you'll be able to take very nice, atmospheric shots with little blur. Speaking of high ISOs, while some competing models offer ISO settings above the SD700 IS' maximum of 800, Canon's latest models do a better job controlling noise in their images. This can make a big difference when deciding whether to keep or trash an image, especially if you're considering printing it out. In the case of the SD700 IS, images captured in low-light at ISO 800 made excellent 4x6's and not-bad-at-all 8x10s. In regular lighting at lower ISOs, things improved further with the camera providing solid image quality, good color and accurate skin tones.
The camera's Image Stabilizer -- which comes in three flavors, Continuous, Shoot Only and Panning -- also helped keep it steady when the SD700 IS was zoomed out to its full 4x; and while shooting closeups via its 2cm Macro mode. Cosmetically, the camera is a welcome refresh to the classic Digital ELPH design, which was starting to get a little long in the tooth. Blending three different colored materials on the camera's curving body gives the SD700 IS a distinctive look that's pleasing to hold. The only one gripe I had about the design was the small, plastic mode dial which is difficult to turn and doesn't seem suited to this upscale camera.
Despite some other small criticisms of the camera -- no dedicated IS button, small and inaccurate optical viewfinder -- if you want a superior compact camera that doesn't put all its resources into megapixels, you will not go wrong with the SD700 IS, making it an ideal Dave's Pick.