Canon PowerShot SD960 IS
by Stephanie Boozer
Review Date: 07/23/09
Following in the trend toward more colorful, expressive digital camera bodies, the Canon PowerShot SD960 IS Digital ELPH features smooth contours for a very comfortable hold, with a compact body and capable exposure system that recommends it well for travelers. Available in soft pastel tones of blue, pink, gold, and silver, the PowerShot SD960 caters to both masculine and feminine sensibilities. Equipped with a 12.1-megapixel CCD and 4x optical zoom lens, the PowerShot SD960 Digital ELPH offers HD video capture and intelligent automatic processing systems to handle just about any challenge.
The PowerShot SD960 Digital ELPH's 4x optical zoom lens offers a nice maximum wide-angle setting at its 28mm equivalent, which offers a little more flexibility than the standard 35mm. The PowerShot SD960 also offers true optical image stabilization, to help reduce blurring when shooting at full telephoto, or in dim lighting. The camera has a range of useful automatic features, including a Smart AUTO mode in which the camera selects the optimum settings based on 18 predefined shooting situations, plus Canon's improved DIGIC 4 processor with evolved Face Detection for subject tracking.
For shooting videos, the PowerShot SD960 Digital ELPH features HD video recording at 1,280 x 720 pixels, with a mini-HDMI connector for direct connection to an HD monitor. Another interesting update on the PowerShot SD960, which mimics iPhone technology, is Active Display, meaning you can shake the camera to switch between images during playback (as opposed to simply scrolling with the arrow keys). Outside of these updates, the PowerShot SD960 features most of Canon's standard digital camera inclusions, such as user-adjustable white balance, exposure compensation, My Colors, iContrast, metering, and ISO.
Light, compact, and pocket-friendly, the Canon PowerShot SD960 Digital ELPH weighs in at just 5.7 ounces (162g) with card and battery, and measures just 3.9 x 2.1 x 0.9 inches (98 x 54 x 22mm). The Canon PowerShot SD960 is currently available at a suggested retail price of US$329.99.
Canon SD960 IS User Report
by Stephanie Boozer
The Canon PowerShot SD960 is small and cute, with fun body colors and the trademark ease-of-use that the ELPH name has come to symbolize. Canon ELPH cameras are almost always great performers, with good exposure, color, and quality, always in a very compact package.
Look and feel. With its smooth contours and compact size, the Canon SD960 is very comfortable in the hand. It is pocket-friendly, with only a handful of controls to twiddle with. The glossy finish on the front panel definitely deserves a soft case for protection, as scratches will be pretty obvious in its perfect nail-polish-like shine. There isn't much handgrip to speak of, though the very slightly raised Canon logo on the front panel provides a precious little texture for your fingers to stick to. Thus, I'd recommend keeping the wrist strap securely around your wrist when shooting, as this slick little camera could easily slip out of your grasp. At just 5.7 ounces (162g) with a memory card and battery, the Canon SD960 is definitely not a burden to carry (its light weight is even more reason to keep the wrist strap attached).
Because of the Canon SD960's small size and compact dimensions, larger hands might have some trouble negotiating the controls when shooting one-handed. However, I found it quite comfortable in my medium-sized hands, and kids will have a perfect grip.
Controls. Controls are sparse on the Canon SD960, which is part of its charm. The top panel features the sliding Record Mode switch, Power button and the Shutter button/Zoom lever combo. Pretty straightforward. On the rear panel are the Playback and Menu buttons, and a multi-purpose Function dial surrounding a smaller Function/Set button. The Canon SD960's Function dial can be rotated or pressed up, down, left, or right (similar to multi-controllers on other digital cameras), and comes into play during a variety of camera operations.
Pressing lightly on the dial brings up an onscreen legend to describe the available options. For example, in normal Program AE shooting mode, pressing 'up' on the dial activates the self-timer mode, while pressing 'down' controls the LCD display. A 'left' press enables Macro or Infinity AF modes, while a 'right' press controls flash mode. While in a menu screen, you can either press the directional edges of the dial, or turn it to select options. As on most other PowerShots, the Canon SD960's Function/Set button calls up the camera's Function menu (ISO, resolution, white balance, etc.) or confirms menu selections.
The remaining controls on the Canon SD960 are simple to navigate and actuate. The rear-panel Playback button not only enters Playback mode, but will also power on the camera and place it into Playback mode. To jump back into Record mode, just half-press the Shutter button.
The flash is activated through a right press of the Function dial, with a selection of operating modes available depending on the shooting mode. The Canon SD960's flash is powerful enough for use within about eight feet in Auto mode at the full wide-angle lens setting, but diminishes from there.
While not really a control, the Canon SD960 features what Canon calls Active Display. All this means is that you can shake the camera in Playback mode to make it scroll through captured images, rather than use the arrow keys or Function dial. More a cute gimmick than anything, it's fun to play with for a little while and definitely worth mentioning. Because the camera is small and somewhat slick, though, you should be careful not to accidentally throw it across the room.
Lens. Ranging from 28 to 112mm equivalent, the Canon SD960's 4x zoom offers a nice wide-angle view with a decent telephoto. There's very little barrel distortion at full wide angle, which is historically rare, so the Canon SD960's intelligent processor is definitely at work here. Chromatic aberration is visible at both zoom settings, and blurring in the corners is mild to moderate at wide angle.
The Canon SD960's lens has Canon's optical Image Stabilizer, which works automatically to reduce any blurring from camera movement. This is a good feature for full telephoto shots, and indoor shots, helping minimize the amount of blur due to camera motion.
Modes. A sliding Record Mode switch on the Canon PowerShot SD960's top panel controls its shooting modes, while the Playback button on the rear panel enables image review. The Canon SD960 IS operates in either Movie, Program AE, or Smart Auto shooting modes, with varying levels of user adjustment in each mode. Exposure is automatically controlled in all shooting modes.
The Canon PowerShot SD960 IS offers a range of preset Scene modes to choose from, but its Smart Auto mode will automatically assess the conditions and choose what it decides is the most appropriate scene setting. Preset Scene modes include Portrait, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Sunset, Fireworks, Aquarium, Underwater, ISO 3,200, Indoor, Kids & Pets, Night Snapshot, Long Shutter, Color Accent, Color Swap, Digital Macro, and Stitch Assist. Smart Auto mode also automatically optimizes each exposure for faces, color, saturation, distance, and movement, and will switch modes as your scene changes. Since most people won't necessarily delve into the Scene selection menu to find the best setting, this is a much more intelligent approach.
The Canon SD960 is also equipped to shoot high-definition video, and also features mini HDMI connector for crisp, clear playback on an HD television set.
Menu. The Canon PowerShot SD960's menu follows in the footsteps of previous PowerShot Digital ELPH models, with a top-tabbed interface and vertical list of options to scroll through. It's easy to navigate, and options are fairly limited on this model, so you won't spend a great deal of time fishing through the screens. The majority of shooting options are accessed through the new Function menu, which is also straightforward, if a little less so than its predecessor.
Storage and battery. The Canon PowerShot SD960 IS 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 Canon SD960.
The Canon SD960's battery is a 760mAh, 3.7-volt lithium-ion design, model number NB-4L. The rectangular battery latches in place next to the memory card beneath the sliding, hinged plastic door. A fully-charged battery is good for about 200 exposures, which is a bit below average, so a spare backup battery is always a good idea for extended outings.
Shooting. The Canon ELPH series of digital cameras is designed around ease of use, and the PowerShot SD960 is no exception. With minimal controls, a handful of user-adjustable options, and an intelligent autoexposure system, the Canon SD960 is a very user-friendly digital point-and-shoot.
Canon's Image Stabilizer definitely helps out when shooting conditions are less than ideal, and the Smart Auto mode is pretty good at assessing the exposure conditions and selecting the best preset mode. I found that it quickly identified faces and selected the best preset mode, and just about as quickly changed modes when a person walked out of the shot or the lighting changed. It wasn't lightning quick in making these decisions, but still fast enough to ensure I didn't miss anything.
The PowerShot SD960's zoom is quiet and smooth, but does want to zoom in fairly large steps, making it a little harder to be precise when zooming.
Outdoors, the camera's LCD was bright under normal conditions, but definitely hard to see very well in bright sunlight. It's also reflective, which caused some glare in harsh sun.
Overall though, the Canon PowerShot SD960 is fun to shoot with. It's small, fairly quick, and quiet. Limited user controls and limited options make it that much easier to work with, perfect for novices or younger photographers.
In the Box
The Canon PowerShot SD960 IS kit ships with the following items in the box:
- PowerShot SD960 IS Digital ELPH camera
- NB-4L Lithium-ion Battery Pack
- CB-2LV Battery Charger
- WS-DC7 Wrist Strap
- Digital Camera Solution CD-ROM
- IFC-400PCU USB Interface Cable
- AVC-DC400M AV Cable
Canon SD960 IS Lens Quality
Wide: Sharp at center
Wide: Quite soft, upper left
Tele: Sharp in center
Tele: Softest at lower right
Sharpness: The Canon PowerShot SD960's wide angle setting shows only mild softening in most of the corners, though the upper left corner is much softer than the others. At full telephoto, results are similar, with minimal blurring in all but the lower right corner, which is much softer. In both cases, the softness doesn't extend very far into the frame.
Geometric Distortion: There is surprisingly little barrel distortion at the PowerShot SD960's wide-angle zoom setting (about 0.4%), and almost no perceptible distortion of any kind at telephoto (<0.1%).
Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at both wide-angle
and telephoto zoom positions is moderately high, with bright cyan and magenta
pixels (though pixels are deeper in color at telephoto). At wide-angle, some
blurring in the corner of the frame is intensifying the effect here slightly.
Macro: The Canon PowerShot SD960's Macro mode captures a very sharp image at the center of the frame, with only minimal blurring around the corners and edges. Minimum coverage area is 1.21 x 0.91 inches (31 x 23 mm). The camera's flash produced a very uneven exposure, with a strong hot spot in the upper left and a shadow from the lens in the lower right. Thus, external lighting will be the best option when shooting this close.
Canon SD960 IS Image Quality
Color: The Canon PowerShot SD960 IS pushed saturation in
strong blue and red tones just a little, but not so strongly that these colors
dominate its imagery. Hue accuracy looks pretty good overall, with cyans pushed
a little toward blue, reds toward orange, and orange toward yellow. Lighter
skin tones show a slight pink tint, while darker skin tones have just a touch
of added orange. Overall though, great results.
ISO: Noise and Detail: Detail is quite good at ISO 80 and
100, with some softening beginning at ISO 200, though detail remains fairly
strong. At ISO 400, luminance noise and noise suppression efforts get in the
way of detail definition. By ISO 800 and 1,600, the images look like they're
being viewed through a fogged window. The camera's 3,200 ISO setting limits
resolution in an attempt to preserve some detail, but results are still quite
soft. See Printed results below for more on how this affects prints.
Wide: Fairly bright, 13 feet
Tele: Slightly dim, 6.6 feet
Our manufacturer-specified testing (shown at right) shows bright results at full wide-angle at 13 feet, though the camera had to boost ISO to 250. At telephoto, the camera again boosted ISO, this time to 320, to maintain a bright intensity at the specified range of 6.6 feet.
Incandescent: The Canon PowerShot SD960's Incandescent and Manual white balance modes handled our tungsten lighting test much better than Auto mode, which produced a very strong warm cast that appears almost sepia. Both Incandescent and Manual results look very good, if just slightly cool.
Printed: ISO 100 Printed results look good at 16x20 with good color and detail, except that the luminance noise is clearly visible where it could be a little smoother. This becomes less pronounced at 13x19 inches. ISO 200 looks good at 13x19, which is just about right for a 10-megapixel digital camera. ISO 400 shots are good at 11x14, though with some lost detail on close inspection; otherwise they're good enough for wall display. ISO 800 shots are usable at 8x10, and better at 5x7. ISO 1,600 shots are still surprisingly usable at 5x7. ISO 3,200 shots, taken in a special Scene mode that reduces resolution to 2 megapixels, are almost good enough, but still a little too soft around the edges for printing at 4x6. Depending on how well-lit the subject, however, images might be acceptable at 4x6 considering the conditions. Overall, a good performance for a pocket digital camera.
Canon SD960 IS Performance
Shutter lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is very good, at 0.42 second at wide angle and 0.46 second at full telephoto. Prefocus shutter lag is 0.077 second, not the fastest on the market, but not too shabby either.
Cycle time: Cycle time is a little slow, capturing a frame every 2.21 seconds in single-shot mode, and every 1.04 second for a burst rate of 0.96 frames per second.
Flash Recycle: The Canon PowerShot SD960's flash recycles in 9 seconds after a full-power discharge, which is a bit slower than average.
Canon SD960 IS Conclusion
With a wide-angle screen and a significantly simplified set of controls, the Canon 960 IS takes slim pocketability to new levels. It's not that the Canon 960 is so slim front to back, but the widescreen LCD makes the camera so much shorter than most of the competition. The Canon PowerShot SD960 is a good performer in a lot of categories. Image quality is pretty good at wide-angle and telephoto, with strong blurring in only one corner of the frame at each setting, and mild blurring in the others. Lens distortion is also quite low, and chromatic aberration, though moderately high and bright, really doesn't detract much from the Canon SD960's images. Color is quite good, as is exposure, though noise suppression is somewhat high at the mid-range ISOs. Shutter lag is very good, though shot-to-shot cycle times drag a bit. Despite the slower cycle times and some luminance noise at low ISO, the Canon SD960 handled our testing well enough to earn a Dave's Pick.