Canon SD890 IS
by Theano Nikitas
Review Date: 05/27/08
The Canon SD890 IS is a 10 megapixel point-and-shoot camera that features a 5x optical zoom lens equipped with Canon's image stabilizer that actually shifts the lens elements when movement is detected to help avoid blurry images. In addition to the basic point-and-shoot features found on other cameras the Canon SD890 IS also offers adjustments to sharpness, contrast, and saturation as well as a bevy of color options ranging from emphasizing certain colors to lightening or darkening skin tones. Equipped with both a 2.5-inch LCD and an optical viewfinder (a rarity these days), the Canon SD890 IS works well both indoors and outdoors. Thanks to its above-average high ISO performance and image stabilization, the Canon SD890 can capture images in low light as well.
On the technical side, the Canon SD890 IS is equipped with Face Detection that recognizes faces in a scene and automatically adjusts exposure, flash output, and white balance to help ensure that you take the best photo possible. The camera also features a Face Detection & Track option, which homes in on your subject and tracks the face if he or she moves while you're taking the picture.
Its 5x optical zoom provides a better than average telephoto reach with a focal range of 37mm-185mm (35mm-equivalent). This camera allows photographers who want a pocketable snapshot camera to expand their picture-taking capabilities without the bulk and expense of a larger digital camera or add-on lenses.
The Canon PowerShot SD890 IS Digital ELPH began shipping from April 2008, with a suggested list price of about US$400.
Canon SD890 IS
by Theano Nikitas
Second from the top in Canon's Digital ELPH line, and bested only by the 12 megapixel SD950 IS, the 10 megapixel Canon SD890 IS stakes its claim to fame with the 5x optical zoom that sets it apart from its siblings, and from most of the competitive models on the market. With a 35mm-equivalent focal range of 37mm to 185mm, the Canon SD890 IS can handle most photo opportunities, and rounds out the Digital ELPH line, especially when compared to the wide-angle Canon SD870, with its 28mm lens. The fact that this compact camera is pocketable and easy to use makes it even more appealing for point-and-shooters.
Rather than touting the intelligence of the SD890 IS, Canon lets the technology work in the background. Face Detection, as mentioned earlier, not only recognizes faces but engages other aspects of the camera's capabilities to ensure the proper exposure and white balance and can be enhanced when activating the Face Detection & Tracking function.
A solid selection of Scene Modes and other point-and-shoot basics are available for easy shooting, but there are enough tweaking options to appease snapshooters who want a little bit of control without moving to a camera with full manual exposure controls.
Look and Feel. The Canon SD890's curved matte-silver body is the latest iteration of the classic ELPH design. Its unique look is definitely eye-catching, and thanks in part to its curved body, the Canon SD890 is comfortable to hold despite the lack of a traditional grip or thumb rest.
Weighing in at about 6.4 ounces with battery and memory card, the Canon SD890 IS is a shade heavier than other compact point-and-shoot models but the extra heft simply makes it easier to hold the camera steady--a bonus, even with its image stabilizer. Measuring 3.76 x 2.26 x 1.08 inches, the Canon SD890 IS isn't the slimmest or thinnest on the market either, but that means it won't feel like a toy in larger hands. The Canon SD890 IS is certainly compact enough to fit easily in pocket or purse; just don't plan on slipping it into the pocket of your tightest jeans. To avoid fingerprints and scratches, I prefer to carry the SD890 in a small pouch or camera case so I can throw it in my bag without worry.
A 2.5-inch, 230,000 pixel LCD graces the back of the Canon SD890 IS, but leaves ample room for a logical control layout. There's even room for a small, albeit grossly inaccurate, optical viewfinder. Granted, having an optical viewfinder helps save battery life since you can turn off the LCD if you're running low on power. The viewfinder also comes in handy when bright sunlight makes it difficult to see the LCD, which wasn't much of a problem with the Canon SD890 IS. However, the viewfinder is so off in its framing that composing a tight shot of a calendar on the wall turned out to show more wall below the camera than what we saw in the viewfinder; and in our laboratory tests, the viewfinder was not only off, but tilted. Be prepared for your image to include the area below your subject and, possibly, shifted to the right. This off-kilter view probably won't be as noticeable in a wide-angle landscape, but beware if you try to capture a tightly framed photo; use the LCD instead.
Relying on the LCD instead of the optical viewfinder is especially important when using the Canon SD890 IS's 5x optical zoom lens to its full focal length of 185mm in order to accurately frame the shot you want. The SD890 IS's lens above-average range is complemented by Canon's optical image stabilization system that works quite well, although I prefer the shoot-only mode (which activates the OIS only when the Shutter button is pressed instead of the battery-draining continuous mode). A panning mode is also available for stabilizing vertical movement when tracking a subject from side-to-side.
In a digital camera of this size, a 5x optical zoom is certainly an advance in engineering, but you'll have to give up something on the wide-angle end. Starting at 37mm (35mm-equivalent), the Canon SD890 IS's lens is far from the widest lens available on competitive models. The Canon SD870 IS and all Panasonic point-and-shoot cameras, for example, offer 28mm or wider lenses. If you prefer to shoot groups of people or landscapes, you might be better off with one of the latter cameras. But if telephoto is your thing, one of the Canon SD890 IS's strengths is the ability to capture those long shots.
The Canon-branded lens moves smoothly, although a bit noisily, through its focal range. It takes about eight steps to go from 37mm to 185mm; a brief pause lets you know that you're venturing into the SD890 IS's 4x digital zoom territory. You can turn off the digital zoom in the menu or set it to extend digitally only to 1.4x or 2.3x .
With a maximum aperture of f/3.2 at wide angle and f/5.7 at telephoto, the SD890 IS's lens isn't the fastest in terms of light gathering ability on the market. Fortunately, Canon's optical image stabilization system helps compensate for the slow lens.
Interface. The Canon SD890 IS's interface is a mixed bag, with design features that are lovable and a few that are questionable. On the plus side, the Shutter button atop the camera is large and easily to find by touch even though it is flush with the camera surface. The Zoom lever that encircles the Shutter button is equally easy to operate. On the back of the camera, a mid-sized Mode Dial provides a safe place to rest your thumb when gripping and camera and, as such, is within easy reach when you want to switch between Movie, Scene Mode, Manual (which simply gives you more options within the camera's point-and-shoot scope) and Auto. The dial is a little stiff, however, and can be tough to click through its positions.
Four buttons form a semi-circle to the left of the 4-way controller, beginning with the Print/Share button, which allows you to print directly to compatible Canon and other PictBridge-enabled printers. In Shooting mode this button can be customized and assigned one of the following functions for single-touch access: Face Select and Track; Exposure Compensation; White Balance; Custom White Balance; Red-Eye Correction; Digital Tele-converter; Display Overlay; Movies; Display Off; Play Sound Effect.
Next in line is the Playback button, followed by the Display and Menu buttons. Playback Mode is pretty standard and allows you to compose and play a Slideshow, apply Red-Eye Correction, Trim, Resize, Erase, and apply Color effects, among other functions.
The Display button cycles through three options for the LCD: off, image only, and data display (number of images remaining, shooting mode, image size, ISO, battery remaining, etc.). There's no live Histogram but you can check your exposure via a Histogram in Playback. But I'll trade off a live Histogram for being able to see the shutter speed and aperture settings, which the Canon SD890 IS shows when the Shutter button is depressed halfway.
The Control Dial surrounds a Function/Set button that is a necessary feature on any camera. A single press of the Function button brings up a menu with access to Exposure Compensation, White Balance, My Colors, Metering Mode, and image size/compression. The 4-way controller is your typical press up for ISO, press right for Flash settings, down for Continuous Shooting and Self-Timer and to the left for focus (Normal, Macro, Infinity).
Now for the bad news. The Control Dial really is a dial, not just a four-way controller. A dial should make it easier to scroll through menus; however, the dial itself is so free-turning that it's easy to overshoot the menu item you're trying to choose. Sometimes the dial is simply unresponsive, refusing to go back just one step. But you may have the right touch and find that it's a speedy way to go through the camera's various menu options, which are otherwise very clear and easy to navigate; and you can always just use the four-way navigation function to make your selections. Unfortunately, there is no way to disable the dial portion of the Control Dial.
The final nitpick about the Canon SD890 IS's interface is the Power Button. It's cool in that it lights up green when the camera is powered on. But, make sure you have at least a modestly long fingernail on your thumb otherwise you may be frustrated, as I was initially, when attempting to press the On/Off button with the pad of my thumb. It's at an odd angle and has a very thin lip of plastic to press.
Modes. As is common among compact digital cameras, the Canon SD890 IS doesn't offer manual control over Aperture and Shutter Speed settings. Of course, you can use Exposure Compensation to tweak your image capture when the camera is in Manual mode. Among other things, Manual mode (which isn't really Manual at all) allows you to access other settings such as White Balance, Metering, the full range of ISO options (80-1600, Hi and Auto), etc.
Naturally, the SD890 IS has a selection of Scene modes including Portrait, Night Snapshot, Kids & Pets, Indoors, Sunset, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Aquarium, and an ISO 3200 option. As is becoming more common among cameras in this class, the Canon SD890 IS offers automatic Face Detection, which can recognize up to nine faces in a scene and ensures proper exposure and white balance. Better yet, the camera can be set to Face Detection & Track so that once a face is identified, the camera can track a person's movement. The camera won't necessarily follow that person moving great distances, but it can track smaller movements so your subject doesn't have to stay as still as a statue.
Canon offers a My Colors mode across its line of point-and-shoot cameras and although you probably won't be activating many of the options on a regular basis, they're certainly a solid part of the camera's offerings. If the camera's default colors aren't to your liking, you can set the Canon SD890 IS to pump up the volume with Vivid colors, or make them Neutral. Other choices include Sepia, Black and White, and Positive Film. Two skin tone adjustments (Lighter and Darker) are also part of My Colors, as is the ability to emphasize Blues, Greens and Reds. Hidden away under Custom Color, within the My Colors menu, you can adjust Contrast, Sharpness, Saturation, Red, Green, Blue, and Skin Tone. Although I know where to find these adjustments after testing many Canon cameras, it would be nice to have more direct access to Contrast, Sharpness, and Saturation options. It seems unlikely that Canon will change the system since this has become the standard on these cameras. On a more positive note, My Colors is also available in the camera's Movie mode so you have some creative and practical in-camera control over your video productions.
Storage and Battery. Like most digital cameras, the Canon SD890 IS is compatible with both SD and SDHC (High Capacity), as well as MMC media cards. Unlike most cameras, the SD890 IS does not come with any internal memory. Instead, Canon bundles a 32MB SD card with the camera to get you started. But since this card holds only 6 high-resolution files, you'll need to supply a higher capacity card of your own. Keep in mind that a 512MB SD card holds 110 high resolution images or 3 minutes and 57 seconds Standard video shot at 640 x 480 pixels at 30 frames per second so you'll probably want to opt for a minimum of a 1GB card; and I recommend a 4GB or larger, especially if you want to capture video with the Canon SD890 IS.
The Canon SD890 IS comes with a NB-5L Battery Pack and CB-2LX or CB-2LXE charger. Estimated shooting capacity on a fully-charged battery is about 320 still images when using the LCD (approximately 800 with the LCD turned off) or about 40 minutes of playback time, which is above average for this class of camera. Other than the high power flash, Canon HF-DC1, there are really no other accessories for the camera. Of course, you can pick up an extra battery pack if you plan to do some heavy duty shooting with no time to recharge the battery in between or during outings.
Shooting. I've always had a fondness for Canon's Digital ELPHs--they're small, cute and take good (sometimes great) pictures. The Canon SD890 IS no exception. During testing I kept the SD890 IS in a soft pouch that was bundled with another camera or in a cute leather (leather-like?) Hoo-Jah pouch from Crumpler since the camera was always stowed in a large handbag that I take almost everywhere I go. With the SD890 IS properly protected from scratches (give me a large handbag and I'll fill it with all kinds of stuff that might be detrimental to the surface of a digital camera), I was always ready to shoot wherever and whenever something interesting presented itself--from a family get-together to the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C. Aside from the interface problems I noted above, the Canon SD890 IS was fun to use. The LCD worked well indoors and, other than some high noon attempts at shooting, it was usable outdoors as well.
Although there were times when I wished for a wider-angle lens than the Canon SD890's 37mm, I was able to capture some images of the Jefferson Memorial's columns without having to move too far back, which is a bonus when you're surrounded by crowds of tourists.
Overall operational performance, however, is only average. Start-up and shut down time measured about 2.0 and 1.3 seconds, respectively, and you'll have to wait about 2.1 seconds between shots for large/fine images; and shot-to-shot time drops a only a fraction of a second to 2.0 when image size is set to small/basic. Unfortunately, the flash takes about 7.4 seconds to charge after a full-power burst, so you'll need some patience; but it's not uncommon to have to wait a while for the flash to recycle in this type of camera. If you do a lot of flash shooting, you might want to spring for the HF-DC1 accessory flash, since the on-board flash is a little limited. Again, this is typical for a camera of this size, but if the Canon SD890 IS's flash range of 11 feet at wide angle and 6.6 feet at telephoto (when shooting at ISO 200) isn't enough, check out the add-on flash. Another benefit of the accessory flash is that it should help decrease the occurrence of red-eye. While none of my people pictures had horrific red-eye, there was a hint of red here and there, not all of which was eliminated with the in-camera red-eye reduction.
Full autofocus shutter lag stretched to 0.73 seconds at wide angle and 0.83 seconds at telephoto, which is slightly slower than what you'll experience on other compact cameras, but that drops to a speedy 0.07 seconds when the camera is prefocused. Add the flash, and you'll add another second or so to shutter lag due to the metering pre-flash.
In continuous shooting mode, the Canon SD890 IS averaged about 1.22 frames per second but with a fast memory cad (i.e., a Kingston Ultimate 133x SD card), the camera captured a series of 60 shots without stopping to empty the buffer, which is above average for compact cameras. I didn't--and usually don't--depend on compact cameras for shooting continuous action simply because they generally can't keep up with the type of action shooting (airshows, fashion shows, car races) that I like to do. But if the kids are playing soccer or running around the back yard, you should be able to grab a few decent action shots from a continuous shooting burst.
Image Quality. As expected, the Canon SD890 IS delivered pleasing images with colors that appealed to my aesthetics--well-saturated but natural. Exposures were generally spot-on and the camera did a surprisingly good job in some tough situations.
When shooting the columns at the Jefferson Memorial, I ended up shooting from the inside looking out; and while the sky was a slate grey, the Canon SD890 IS balanced the light colored columns against the sky quite evenly. Although marble columns aren't the most interesting nor colorful subjects, the Canon SD890 IS was also able to capture the subtle marbling of the stone columns. Yes, there was some purple fringing, but when enlarging the image to 100% on my computer, it wasn't that pronounced. Chromatic aberration decreased as the focal length increased.
Overall, the Canon SD890's lens is quite good, delivering sharp images with less softening in corners than other compact models. In fact, the softening was generally confined to extreme corners only. Kudos to Canon for incorporating a high quality lens into a compact camera. The Canon SD890 IS's image stabilizer worked very well and I was able to easily capture sharp images at 1/60th of a second--a shutter speed I usually don't dare try to handhold under any conditions, even when I haven't been buzzed out on caffeine. But with the Canon SD890's image stabilization in shooting mode (versus continuous or panning), I felt quite comfortable handholding the camera at slower shutter speeds.
The Canon SD890 IS also did quite well capturing details, especially in high contrast areas, so you'll have no problems making prints up to about 16x20. Keep in mind, though, that fine details aren't quite as visible in areas of subtle contrast, but the Canon SD890 IS still bests the competition in this regard.
You'll also be happy to hear that you can make some good prints at high ISO. Although the noise will be more visible on your computer screen, prints will look just fine. With the exception of some shadow noise at ISO 400, which probably won't be noticeable when viewing a print, images shot at this ISO will make nice-looking 8x10 prints. Bump it up to ISO 800 and 8x10-inch prints will look okay when hanging on the wall or displayed on a table, i.e., at normal viewing distances, but you might prefer the quality of a 5x7-inch photo.
Once the camera is set to ISO 1,600 or pushed to ISO 3,200 (with an accompanying drop in resolution), things go downhill pretty fast and you probably won't be happy with even 4x6 prints. Overall, however, the Canon SD890 IS offers better high ISO performance than most of the competition.
Appraisal. The Canon SD890 IS definitely has a lot going for it, not the least of which is its above average 5x image-stabilized optical zoom lens. Its feature set provides more than enough control for snapshooters who can switch between automatic everything and the ability to tweak parameters such as contrast, sharpness, saturation, and various color options. While the Canon SD890 IS doesn't have an on-board help system, beginners with a curious mind and the willingness to reference the manual can also step beyond automatic shooting with this camera. Family memory keepers will appreciate the Face Detection and the more advanced Face Detection and Track features when capturing images of family and friends.
Although only average in autofocus and timing performance, the Canon SD890 IS delivers better high ISO capabilities than most of the competition. High ISO quality combined with the highly effective image stabilization system will help ensure that low-light and indoor photographers will get their shots, and be able to make good prints, too.
Detail capture and image sharpness are definitely above average, which complement the Canon SD890 IS's ability to capture well-exposed and nicely saturated photos with little effort on the part of the user.
Despite a few shortcomings, such as the the awkward On/Off button, the odd Control Dial, and the inaccurate optical viewfinder, the Canon SD890 IS Digital ELPH will please both amateurs and beginners, especially those who want the extra focal length its 5x optical zoom provides.
Canon SD890 IS Basic Features
- 10.0-megapixel CCD
- 5x optical zoom lens (equivalent to a 37-185mm lens on a 35mm camera)
- 4x digital zoom.
- 2.5-inch color LCD monitor
- Optical Viewfinder
- Program Automatic Exposure
- Full Auto exposure mode
- Built-in flash with red-eye reduction
- SD/SDHC/MMC/MMC Plus Card/HC MMC Plus Card compatibility
- USB 2.0 Hi-Speed (mini-B jack) connection
- Rechargeable lithium-ion battery and charger included
- Software for Mac and PC
Canon SD890 IS Special Features
- Optical Image Stabilization
- ISO from 100-1,600; ISO 3,200 Scene Mode (at lower resolution)
- Face Detection
- Face Detection & Track
- Intelligent ISO mode
- Contrast/Sharpness/Saturation adjustments
- Color options, i.e., Vivid, Neutral, Black & White, Sepia, Lighter/Darker Skin Tones
- Custom color options, i.e., Vivid Red, Vivid Blue, etc.
- Multiple White Balance settings, including Manual
- Multiple Metering modes
- Red-Eye Correction Playback
- Resize and Trimming functions
- DPOF (Digital Print Order Format), Canon direct print and PictBridge printing compatibility
- Movie recording with sound
- Add-on wireless accessory flash available
In the Box
The retail package contains the following items:
- Canon SD890 IS Digital ELPH camera
- 32MB SD card
- Wrist strap
- Rechargeable lithium-ion battery and charger
- USB cable
- AV cable
- Printed manuals for camera and Direct Print User Guide
- Software CD with ZoomBrowser EX 6.0, PhotoStitch 3.1, Camera TWAIN Driver 6.9 and EOS Utility 1.1a (Windows); ImageBrowser 6.1, PhotoStitch 3.2, EOS Utility 1.1 (Mac); Apple QuickTime 7 (cross-platform)
- Large capacity SD/SDHC card
- Extra battery pack for extended outings
- Canon HF-DC1 high power accessory flash for extra flash power
Canon SD890 IS Conclusion
The Canon SD890 IS is a very capable camera with a few quirks that should be easily outshined (for most people) by its finer attributes, most notably its 5x optical zoom with a focal reach of 185mm; it's perfect for long shots that most pocket digital cameras can't reach. The lens is further bolstered by Canon's effective optical image stabilization system, which helps low light picture-taking as well as telephoto shots. High ISO performance that is quite good as well, making 13x19-inch prints attainable at the lower ISOs; and if you stay below ISO 800, you can also print good quality 5x7s. The Canon SD890 IS's basic point-and-shoot feature set is enhanced by the ability to tweak colors, sharpness, saturation, and contrast. The Canon SD890 also has advanced Face Detection that not only recognizes up to nine faces at a time, but can also keep track of a face in motion. Overall, it was a pleasure to shoot the Canon SD890 IS. It's an attractive little camera that makes a great companion wherever you go. If you need a quality pocket digital camera with a long zoom, the Canon PowerShot SD890 IS is a fine choice, and a Dave's Pick.