Canon PowerShot SD850 IS Overview
by Mike Pasini
Review Date: 9/16/07
The Canon PowerShot SD850 IS is an 8 megapixel update of the 6 megapixel SD700 IS. Among other improvements, the SD850 IS is equipped with the company's current DIGIC III processor in place of the older DIGIC II. The new DIGIC offers the latest must-have feature: face detection autofocus, and yields a step up to a maximum ISO sensitivity of 1,600 (vs. 800 in the older camera), thanks to improved noise reduction. There's also a new "Aquarium" scene mode.
The Canon SD850 IS can now record movie clips to a maximum of 4GB, where the previous camera was limited to 1GB. It should be noted, however, that the one hour clip length limitation of the SD700 has been carried over to the new model, so you'll only be able to take advantage of the increased clip size if you don't hit the one hour limit first.
Other Canon SD850 IS improvements include a higher-resolution LCD display with 230,000 pixels in place of the previous 173K- pixel display, as well as support for the newer SDHC (Secure Digital High Capacity) card format on top of the existing SD/MMC card support. A new time-lapse movie mode allows you to capture frames at 0.5 or one frame per second for up to two hours -- the one time you'll be able to shoot a movie clip longer than an hour -- with the resulting clip tagged as 15 frames per second (and hence playing at either 15 or 30 times real speed).
The Canon SD850 is rather slower in continuous mode than its predecessor, managing just 1.3 fps in large/fine mode where the SD700 IS was capable of 2.1 fps. One final change of note is that where the SD700 IS offered a small (15cm) overlap between the regular and macro AF modes, the Canon SD850 IS now has a clear cutoff -- regular focusing stops at 50cm, and the macro focusing range extends up to exactly that same point.
The Canon PowerShot SD850 IS shipped mid-June 2007, priced at $399.99.
Canon PowerShot SD850 IS
by Mike Pasini
Intro. From the start, I couldn't keep myself from referring to the Canon SD850 IS as the SD800 IS. I set up my review folder that way and continued the mistake with my gallery shot folder name and so on. Even the Overview seemed to make the same mistake, referring the SD850 IS's predecessor as the SD700 IS, ignoring the SD800 IS all together.
But Canon insists the SD850's direct predecessor really is the SD700 because both cameras offer a 35-140mm zoom. The SD800 sets itself apart with its 28-105mm zoom. But other than that and an optical zoom range improved from 3.8x to 4x, the Canon SD850 is an SD800. Think of it as a choice of lenses at the top of the Digital ELPH line.
That's a line that has established itself at the top of the digicam heap where image quality and user experience are the measures for all other comers. But the other defining feature of this line may be a disadvantage to some: no manual control of aperture or shutter speed. If you're looking for a good digicam and don't want to worry about things like that, though, the Canon SD850 is your baby.
Design. From a physical point of view, the Canon SD850 is almost exactly the same camera as the SD700. The main differences are on the back panel. The dark mask around the SD700's LCD has been replaced by a gray mask on the Canon SD850, and the elliptical buttons on the SD700 are now round on the Canon SD850. There is a small thumb grip on the Canon SD850, a grid of nine tiny bumps.
The color scheme and use of chrome highlights still strike me as modern, even fresh; and the Canon SD850 can sit up on its side so all the type reads right.
It isn't as svelte a camera as many ultracompacts like the Sony T series, Nikon S series or Fujifilm Z series, but heft is helpful in a small camera when you actually press the shutter. It stabilizes the body of the camera. The Canon SD850 ranks average in weight among entry-level cameras, but it's on the high end of average. So it's a little awkward in a shirt pocket, but fine in your jacket.
As grips go, the Canon SD850's is minimal. The raised type spelling "Canon" on the front and the small bumps on the back are it. But here again, the heft helps, providing something to get your hand around. No complaint from me about this grip.
Like other ELPHs, the Canon SD850 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. The Canon SD850's Power button is not quite as convenient until you learn to press it with your thumb.
The SD series is small, relying on a tiny lithium-ion battery and miniature SD memory cards to make a compact package you can take anywhere in any pocket. The Canon SD850 is rugged enough that 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. Unlike most small digicams, the Canon SD850 gives you both a large LCD and an optical viewfinder. Optical viewfinders are not as accurate as LCDs, they're harder to see through and they don't change with the aspect ratio. But one thing they all do well is let you compose your shot in bright sunlight, something not every LCD can manage.
The optical viewfinder on the Canon SD850 shows just 78 percent of what the sensor captures, while the LCD shows 100 percent (even a bit more). The Canon SD850 does have a widescreen shooting mode, so the LCD is preferred for framing those shots.
The LCD on the Canon SD850, however, is usable in bright sun and quite sharp with 230,000 pixels (up from the 173,000 of the SD700). You can see the display at a rather severe angle, so you aren't shooting blind when you have to hold the camera over your head to get the shot. Of course, you can't beat an LCD when it's time to show off the shot. The big, 2.5-inch LCD is just the ticket for that.
Performance. The Canon SD850 ranks above average (and well above) for startup time, shutdown time, autofocus shutter lag, pre-focus shutter lag, cycle time, LCD size and download speed with USB 2.0 Hi-Speed support.
The only categories the Canon SD850 ranks average in are its weight (which I find advantageous), and its 4x zoom (which is a bit better than the standard 3x zoom ratio these days).
The Canon SD850's flash recycle time ranks below average at 7.5 seconds but that often points to a more powerful flash. 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 on the Canon SD850 IS, 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 16x 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 SD850 was usually able to keep ISO sensitivity below 200 when using IS.
Low light performance is really top notch. Nearly everything in our Low Light table is well exposed even down to 1/16 footcandle at ISO 200.
Macro with the Canon SD850 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, 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 SD850.
A 16:9 wide aspect ratio is available on the Canon SD850 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 SD850's battery delivers about 230 shots, according to Canon. If you turn off the LCD (an option since you have an optical viewfinder) that jumps up to 700. 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. The Canon SD850 combines some pretty powerful technology in a high performance package that takes no effort to enjoy. The Face Detection and Red-eye Correction of its DIGIC III processor, the high ISO 1,600 option and image stabilization for shooting in low light, the 4x zoom starting at 28mm, and the 8.0 megapixel sensor make this machine adept at everything from portraits in natural light to scenics of places you see once in a lifetime.
Face Detection was quick, so you won't be penalized for setting the AF mode to Face Detect. That also means it's on all the time. I didn't do that for the Gallery shots but it wouldn't have taken the Canon SD850 any longer to focus if I had. And that means Face Detection isn't limited to a special mode (like Portrait mode only). Very nice.
My Gallery shots start with two sets of the zoom range images from Twin Peaks. As the Exif data shows, the first set was shot with Image Stabilization on (Shoot Only mode). But when using a support (and I did, shooting from the top of a scope there), you should turn the Canon SD850's image stabilization off, so I did that for the second set.
I don't notice much of a penalty for keeping image stabilization on, frankly. Neither matching shot is sharper than the other. I do see a little flare in the highlights (the white roof at the bottom edge for example) that is increasingly common in small digicams.
The Canon SD850's color is saturated but still natural, although the clouds really pop out of the sky in the 5.8mm wide-angle shots. Digital zoom is disappointing, although atmospheric haze handicaps a shot of that distance. A shot like the Bay Bridge, taken a 4x digital zoom (16x total) with image stabilization is just the kind of thing you want to be able to do from Twin Peaks (or any scenic spot) so the range is nice, but the detail is quite soft.
If long range scenics were a bit disappointing in detail despite their attractive color, indoor shots were much happier. The mask shot shows little noise and sharp detail. The orchid, taken in Macro mode, shows off the detail the Canon SD850 can capture in the shadows, although the 1/60 exposure looks a little soft at f/2.8.
But for proof that image stabilization is worth the extra pesos look no further than the Grape Goddess, a small bottle cap shot at 1/11 second in a dark corner of the room at ISO 200. Despite that slow shutter speed, it's sharp (see her banner) with little noise (since the ISO didn't have to be cranked up past 200). Your average digicam can't bring home that shot. The Canon SD850 can.
What's the Canon SD850's ISO 1,600 good for then? Well the image of the corks shows both good detail and good color (a tough assignment at high ISO), though the color range of the original is quite limited. Grain doesn't hurt a shot like this (where there's lots of texture in the subject), but there isn't much of it compared to other ISO 1,600 shots I've taken.
The doll shots are also in two sets. The first set was really disappointing, given the high ISO performance and image stabilization. So I gave it another shot on a brighter day in the basement and did see detail and some color in the images. The eyelids and eyebrows on the ISO 1,600 shot are sharp and there's color in the eye as well. You can even see the cracks in the doll's face. That's pretty remarkable at 1/10 second -- but notice I was shooting at f/5.5, not wide open at f/2.8. At ISO 800, color is stronger and despite the 1/5 shutter speed the detail is still sharp enough to discern if not quite as sharp as the ISO 1,600 shot.
While the Canon SD850's color seemed a bit too saturated to me, it was still well within the bounds of realism. But you might not appreciate that from the thumbnails of, say, the roses. You really have to look at the full resolution version of the image to appreciate the color capture. They're a bit oversaturated as thumbnails.
Knowing I was able to shoot in dark quarters without a flash meant I could take home some unusual shots, like the WPA murals at Beach Chalet. The Canon SD850 only had to go to ISO 200 to shoot them at f/2.8 and f/3.1 and I came home with some souvenirs many other digicams wouldn't have been able to get.
Macro shooting was a ball, too, letting me enjoy things up close at my leisure like the small cactus plant whose spikes were growing whiskers. You just don't notice details like that when you're revving up the garbage disposal and looking for the hand towel.
Appraisal. Like other digital ELPHs, the Canon SD850 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 accesses options like White Balance, EV compensation, and Metering. And if that's too much trouble, there's a healthy selection of Scene modes to solve almost any problem.
That ease of use is reflected in the Canon SD850 IS's cleverly sculpted shell, which seems to have an invisible grip, and its simple control layout. That extends to features like Face Detect autofocus and its excellent image stabilization that helps get sharp shots at its 16x digital zoom limit and in low light situations, too.
The Canon SD850 IS 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. With a day-long battery, you couldn't ask for a better companion than the Canon SD850 IS, no matter where you're going.
- 8.0 megapixel sensor
- UA lens with ultra-high refractive index glass
- 5.8-23.2mm f/2.8-5.5 (35mm film equivalent: 35-140mm)
- 4x optical zoom with 4x digital zoom for 16x total zoom
- Focus ranges: Digital Macro 0.79 in. to 1.6 ft. in wide-angle, Macro 0.79 in. to 1.6 ft. in wide-angle and 1.3 to 1.6 ft. in telephoto, and Normal 1.6 ft. to infinity
- TTL autofocus
- Shutter speed from 15 seconds to 1/1600 second
- 2.5 inch LCD with scratch resistant, anti-reflection coating
- Exposure compensation +/- two stops in 1/3 stop increments
- White balance options of Auto, Preset (Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H), and Custom
- Flash modes of Auto, Auto w/ Red-eye Reduction, Flash On, Flash On w/ Red-eye Reduction, and Flash Off
- Flash range from 1.6 to 11 ft. at wide-angle and 1.6 to 6.6 ft. in telephoto with ISO set to Auto
- Self-Timer settings of 2 and 10 seconds with a Custom option
- Continuous shooting at 1.3 fps
- Monaural audio
- Optical image stabilization
- DIGIC III image processor with improved face detection and red-eye correction
- ISO sensitivity up to 1600 with High ISO Auto option
- Six Movie modes including broadcast quality, time lapse and slow motion
- Special Scene mode of Portrait, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Aquarium, Underwater, Indoor, Kids & Pets, Night Snapshot, and Creative Light Effect plus Color Accent, Color Swap, Digital Macro, Stitch Assist, and Movie modes
- User Defined Print/Share button
- USB 2.0 Hi-Speed
In the Box
The Canon PowerShot SD850 IS ships with the following items in the box:
- PowerShot SD850 IS Digital ELPH Body
- Lithium Battery Pack NB-5L
- Battery Charger CB-2LX
- SD Memory Card SDC-32MB
- Wrist Strap WS-700
- Digital Camera Solution CD-ROM
- USB Interface Cable IFC-400PCU
- AV Cable AVC-DC300
- Large capacity SD/MMC memory card. These days, a 2GB or 4GB card is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity.
- Small camera case for outdoor and in-bag protection
With an 8.0 megapixel CCD, 4x optical zoom lens, image stabilization, and a well-designed user interface, the Canon PowerShot SD850 IS takes top spot by a nose in the popular PowerShot line with a compact ELPH body style well suited for travel. Exposure remains under automatic control, something novices will appreciate, and the Canon SD850's pre-programmed Scene modes help with more tricky subjects. The SD850 is a very responsive camera, with low shutter lag in daylight conditions, and good 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 SD850 IS is user-friendly and hassle-free. For a good take-anywhere camera with great versatility and good color and tonality, the Canon SD850 IS is an easy Dave's Pick.
Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs above or below.