Canon PowerShot SD800 IS Digital ELPH Overview
by Mike Pasini
Hands-On Preview: 11/10/06
Full Review: 01/08/07
The Canon SD800 IS Digital ELPH features a compact, stylish case with rounded horizontal edges, and a retracting lens to make it pocket-friendly. The Canon SD800IS includes a 7.1 megapixel imager, and a Canon-branded 3.8x optical zoom lens covers an optimized range of 28-105mm equivalent, a good wide-angle to moderate telephoto.
What's really cool, though, is that the Canon ELPH SD800 IS incorporates Canon's excellent Image Stabilization (hence the "IS" in the model name) technology that drastically reduces the effects of camera shake at slow shutter speeds, or long zoom settings. This means that with the SD800 IS Digital ELPH, you can shoot in low light without having to put the camera on a tripod to avoid the camera shake. IS typically lets you take crisp shots under light conditions four times darker than you could manage without it.
Exposure is fully automatic, but the user can tweak it with 2.0 EV of exposure compensation, and three metering modes to handle difficult lighting, while 10 scene modes keep the camera approachable for beginners. A long-exposure mode in the Canon SD800 ELPH also lets you manually set exposure times up to 15 seconds long, and a large 2.5 inch LCD display plus an optical viewfinder -- rather rare on digicams these days -- gives you a choice when framing images. The Canon SD800 Digital ELPH also sports a rather wide ISO sensitivity range, from 100 to 1,600.
Canon also manufactures a line of photo printers, and prides itself on the level of integration between its cameras and printers. The Canon Digital ELPH SD800 IS is PictBridge capable, so is able to print to any printer that supports PictBridge directly, without the need for a computer in the middle. When connected to a Canon printer, though, you can set paper size, print quality, and a number of other parameters; capabilities lacking in basic PictBridge connections.
Canon SD800 IS
by Mike Pasini
Intro. The joy of taking pictures has been dampened since the beginning by the same annoying problem. Your eyes can see a lot better than any lens. In dim light, you can see things your camera can't capture.
There have been three technical assaults on that problem. The first was flash, and that worked pretty well when film was black and white. With color captures came red-eye. The second was increased sensitivity of the recording medium. Just as film got faster, sensors have become increasingly more sensitive, achieving ISO equivalents as high as 3,200. But those high ISOs come at a pretty steep price, including high noise, low detail, and desaturated color.
The third approach was image stabilization. By breaking the rigid connection between your grip and the sensor, letting the lens float free, the lazy shutter speeds that inevitably captured camera movement along with the image were able to eliminate camera shake, delivering sharp images up to four stops slower. Without red-eye and with natural color.
Like Canon's A-Series A710 IS, its SD800 IS is an image stabilized solution. But it goes the A710 a stop better with a top ISO of 1,600. There's no reason you can't combine the two, after all.
The flagship Canon SD800 doesn't skimp on other features, either. Its 7.1 megapixel sensor has enough resolution for very large prints and its DIGIC III image processor makes it an unusually responsive camera while delivering exceptional image quality even in difficult situations.
Like the SD900, the Canon SD800 also features Face Detect focusing in any mode. This is one of those gotta-have features. As soon as you try it, you won't want to be without it. Set the AiAF option to Face Detect, and the camera identifies the closest face, focusing on it when you half-press the Shutter button. You can even have the Canon SD800 automatically tag the images with a People category for easy retrieval during playback later.
Face Detect focusing is just one more example of why the SD series is the perfect solution for people who love taking pictures, but don't want to get into the fine points of apertures and shutter speeds. It takes care of that for you. And the Canon SD800 IS does it better than any SD-series Canon yet. Fortunately, its attractively small design means you'll never think twice about taking it with you.
Design. Canon's Perpetual Curve design isn't the trimmest form factor around, but it's more comfortable in your hand than many of the ultra-thin designs I've played with. Part of that comfort is due to the SD800's heft. It isn't heavy but it isn't a feather-weight either. You won't forget you're holding it. It's a blend you grow to appreciate.
There is no obvious grip, but there are sensory clues your hand responds to like the slightly extended chrome edge and the raised lettering on the front that prevent the SD800 IS from slipping out of your grasp. On the back, there's no thumb grip but the Mode dial, with a small raised notch on its sculpted face that functions even better than a grip. You can easily switch from any of the Record modes to Playback without changing your grip.
Like other ELPHs, the SD800 is comfortable not only to carry but to shoot with, easily managed with just your right hand. The Control dial icons are large and clear, and there are just four buttons to learn, two of which do the heavy lifting.
You'll never have to hunt for the large Shutter button or the Zoom lever surrounding it. And I even liked the new, large Power button that lights up green to remind you the Canon SD800 is on.
The SD series is small, relying on a small lithium-ion battery and small SD memory cards to make a compact package you can take anywhere in any pocket. The Canon SD800 is rugged enough you don't need to protect it in a case, but you'll probably want to anyway. And small as it is, it's still large enough for a big 2.5 inch LCD so you can enjoy your photos as soon as you take them.
Display/Viewfinder. That 2.5 inch LCD on the Canon SD800 has a little less resolution than the one on the SD900, but just a little at 207,000 pixels. It's big enough to show you detail even in Wide screen 16:9 shots, and big enough to let you know if image stabilization captured a sharp image even when you're using digital zoom.
But the SD800 IS also includes an optical viewfinder. The advantage of the optical viewfinder is undeniable. In bright sun when you can't see what's on the LCD or in darkened venues where a bright LCD is not welcomed, an optical viewfinder lets you get the shot. As Luke noted when shooting the test shots, the Canon SD800's optical viewfinder offers a quite limited and somewhat distorted view, but having one is better than not. True, it shows about 80 percent of what the sensor will capture, but that's enough to center the subject and get the shot. Just remember there's more to the image than what it shows, and crop later if you like.
If you rotate the camera during playback, the LCD is smart enough to turn the image upright. So if a quick twist of the wrist can fill the screen with a portrait shot instead of displaying it as tall as the screen is wide.
Performance. The SD800 IS ranks above average (and well above) for startup time, shutdown time, autofocus shutter lag, prefocus shutter lag, cycle time, and download speed.
The only categories it ranks average in are its flash cycle time, weight (which I find advantageous), and its 3.8x zoom (which is a bit better than the standard 3x zoom ratio these days). The Canon SD800's 3.8x optical zoom is buttressed with a very useable 4x digital zoom for a 15x total zoom ratio. That got me onto the field at a recent college football game.
And as for the flash, considering how powerful it is, having an average cycle time is a miracle. Luke's flash tests tell the whole story, but my informal shooting around the house impressed me by how well the flash lit up even large rooms.
But with image stabilization available, I avoided flash shots. I left IS on all the time except when I was shooting a comparison test. The only time you really should turn it off is when you have the camera mounted on a tripod. In full sunlight, IS helped stabilize the inevitable camera shake of a 15x digital zoom shot (and I took a lot of them). In dim lighting, it stabilized the slow shutter speeds that let me capture exactly what I was seeing. It did it so well, the Canon SD800 never had to increase ISO sensitivity above 100 when using IS.
The lens tests below speak to the sharpness of this optic, slightly revised from previous ELPHs. The Canon SD800's lens isn't quite as sharp as the lens on the SD900, but it's still sharp. Chromatic aberration was there at wide angle, but this is a real wide angle at 28mm, not the barely wide 35mm or so you usually find. Distortion at wide angle was minimal, too. And at telephoto, neither were noticeable.
Macro performance was a delight, too. You don't have to get right on top of a subject to shoot macro. I engaged it for most of my full frame flower shots to capture the texture of the petals, for example.
Movie mode doesn't offer a 16:9 option (which only captures 15 fps on the SD900 anyway), but it does offer a Fast Frame Rate of 60 fps, twice the broadcast standard of 30 fps. That means you can shoot slow motion with the Canon SD800.
A 16:9 wide aspect ratio is available on the Canon SD800 for still shooting, however; although you can't tap into digital zoom when you're using it. It's somehow a more pleasing aspect ratio to me, more the shape of your two eyes than the 4:3 ratio (or even the traditional 3:2) that frames a print so well.
A full charge on the Canon SD800's battery delivers about 270 shots, according to Canon. If you turn off the LCD (an option since you have an optical viewfinder) that jumps up to 600. So if battery power is running low, turn off the LCD to extend shooting time. Playback is good for six hours, Canon claims. That far exceeds my performance for a day's shooting.
Shooting. With the Canon SD800's image stabilization, you can be a bit bolder about taking pictures than you ever have. For example, there are two dolls in the garage awaiting restoration that are lit only by a small window with diffused glass on the shady side of the house. I can barely see them myself and wouldn't bother turning on most cameras to take their picture.
But the SD800 IS didn't even budge from ISO 100 to capture them at a third of a second at f/2.9. Noise is at a minimum at ISO 100 yet the image is sharp enough at one-third a second shutter speed to show the eyelashes painted on the bottom doll's face. No tripod, remember.
But if you're daring enough to fudge the ISO up a bit yourself (or just set it to ISO High), you can do even better, as our second shot of the dolls shows. ISO High resulted in a 1/15 second shutter speed and very sharp eyelashes. The reported ISO 100 is probably not accurate (I'm guessing ISO 800). When set to ISO 1,600, the shutter speed was just 1/30, but we got more noise.
We took the Canon SD800 IS to the Cal-UCLA football game in Berkeley on a lovely fall afternoon. Game time was 5 p.m. to appease the television gods, which meant I'd be shooting under the dim temporary lighting at Memorial Stadium, which doesn't have a lighting system.
I demonstrated Face Detection to my stadium buddies at Pyramid Brewery. Universal acclaim and delight. A bit of disbelief, too. But everybody's had this problem and everybody appreciated how well the Canon SD800 solved it. I did get tired of posing, but that's life.
I managed to get some blurry shots on the way to the stadium, probably because I was walking pretty fast and shooting away without trying to steady the camera. Where the shutter speed was fast enough, that wasn't a problem.
The real test was in the stadium. The first thing I appreciated was the 28mm view, capturing the rim of Memorial Stadium as I walked down to my seat. The second thing I appreciated was how close the Canon SD800's 15x digital zoom could get. It was as if I was right on the field with the team during warmups. In the dying light of the late afternoon, these shots were taken at 1/60 second or so, not fast enough to stop motion.
But that was my third thrill. Mixing still subjects with blurred moving subjects was fun. The shots of the band dashing onto the field while people watched from the sidelines are just one example. The Cal Bears coming onto the field through a haze of dry ice was another.
I took some short movies with the Canon SD800, too, and was impressed later watching them on the computer. They were sharp with good sound. I'd wished I'd taken more, actually.
The Canon SD800 IS's Category feature seems, at first glance, like something no one needs. It's bad enough to have to keyword images to organize them on your computer (so nobody really does). Why let that nuisance into your camera too? Especially if no other software knows about it.
Well, the advantage -- which can be compelling -- is in organizing playback options in the camera. And those can include slide shows and PictBridge printing as well as image searching (using the Jump feature) and management (like erasing). The preset categories are People, Scenery, Events, Categories 1 to 3, and To Do. An image can be assigned more than one category, too. If you use the Auto Category option in the Record menu, this can happen as you shoot. Otherwise, you can assign categories during playback.
Another favorite feature on the Canon SD800, although an oldie, is Grid display. For some reason my gyroscope is off a bit and I have a hard time taking level shots. Having the grid display on the LCD helps a lot. The dark gray lines are really not obtrusive and help compose images too if you play by the Rule of Thirds.
But if I ever meet the guy who concocted Canon's rotation "feature," I will shake more than his hand. It "suggests" rotation, setting an obscure tag in the header, but doesn't actually do it, so sometimes your images look rotated and mostly they don't. It really wouldn't be a big deal to actually rotate the images. To avoid confusion, I leave this feature off.
And I can't help repeating that I miss a real Manual mode plus Shutter and Aperture Priority on the Canon SD800. But for that, I just have to go to Canon's A-Series. I do wish Canon would enable EV compensation in Auto mode, however. It was surprisingly easy to blow out the highlights even on an overcast day. Adjust EV would have helped.
Appraisal. The Canon SD800 IS is designed for the person who doesn't want to worry about shutter speeds and apertures to get good pictures. If Auto mode doesn't do the trick the Programmed Auto (M) accesses options like White Balance, EV compensation, and Metering. And if that's too much trouble, there's a healthy selection of 10 Scene modes to solve almost any problem.
That ease of use is reflected in the Canon SD800 IS's cleverly sculpted shell, which seems to have an invisible grip, and its simple control layout. And it extends to features like Face Detect autofocus and its excellent image stabilization that helps get sharp shots at its 15x digital zoom limit and in low light situations, too.
The Canon SD800 is an excellent performer no matter what aspect you consider, with superior focusing and low light performance matched with a powerful flash that doesn't make you wait all day to recharge. And with a day-long battery, you couldn't ask for a better companion no matter where you're going.
- 7.1-megapixel CCD
- 2.5-inch color TFT LCD monitor with 207,000 pixels
- 3.8x, 4.6-17.3mm lens, equivalent to a 28-105mm lens on a 35mm camera
- Maximum 4x digital zoom
- Automatic exposure control, with Long Shutter mode for longer exposures
- Shutter speeds from 1/1,600 to 15 seconds
- Maximum aperture of f/2.8 to f/5.8, depending on lens zoom position
- Spot, Center-Weighted, and Evaluative exposure metering
- White balance (color) adjustment with seven modes, including a Custom setting
- Built-in flash with seven modes
- SD memory card storage, 32MB card included
- Power supplied by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack (charger included) or optional AC adapter kit
- Canon Digital Camera Solution Software v29.0
- Print/Share button
- Image stabilization
- Face Detect mode
- Category tagging
- Canon's attractive Perpetual Curve design
- DIGIC III image processor with face detection technology
- True 28mm equivalent wide angle focal length on zoom
- Adjustable ISO settings of up to 1600, plus Auto and ISO HI settings
- 16:9 Widescreen still image capture mode
- 10 preset Scene modes
- Five Movie modes with sound up to 640 x 480 at 30 fps or 60 fps at 320 x 240
- Continuous Shooting mode
- Stitch-Assist panorama mode
- Infinity, Macro and Digital Macro focus modes
- 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
- 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
The Canon SD800 IS ships with the following items in the box:
- Canon SD800 IS digicam
- NB-5L lithium-ion battery pack with cover
- Battery charger CB-2LX
- 16MB SD memory card WSDC-16M
- Wrist strap WS-700
- Canon Digital Camera Solution Disk v29.0 software CD
- USB cable IFC-400PCU
- AV cable AVC-DC300
- Operating manuals and registration card
- Large capacity SD/MMC memory card. These days, a 512MB or 1GB card is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity.
- Small camera case for outdoor and in-bag protection
Canon Accessories for the SD800 IS include:
- High Power Flash HF-DC1
- Side Pack PSC-1 carrying case
- Metal Neckstrap 1
Featuring a 7.1-megapixel CCD, 3.8x optical zoom lens, image stabilization, and well-designed user interface, the Canon PowerShot SD800 IS updates the popular PowerShot line with a compact body style well suited for travel. Exposure remains under automatic control, something novices will appreciate, and the Canon SD800's 10 pre-programmed Scene modes help with more tricky subjects. The SD800 is a very responsive camera, with low shutter lag in daylight conditions, and excellent shot-to-shot speeds. It also sports very good battery life, a very capable Movie mode, and excellent download speed. The bright 2.5-inch color LCD monitor is excellent for framing and reviewing shots, and the overall design and layout of the SD800 IS is user-friendly and hassle-free. If you're looking for a good take anywhere camera with great versatility and good color and tonality, the Canon SD800 IS deserves a close look. No question, a Dave's Pick in its category.