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Canon PowerShot SD970 IS
Overview

by Stephanie Boozer
Review Date: 12/10/09

Canon's Digital ELPH series of cameras has long been a favorite among consumers, as these compact models offer pocketable dimensions backed up by great image quality, good color, and excellent overall performance. Among the newer additions to the line is the PowerShot SD970 IS, which offers a 12.1-megapixel CCD image sensor, a 5x optical zoom lens, an updated DIGIC 4 image processor, and the newest versions of Face Detection, Blink Detection, and Motion Detection technologies.

Biased toward telephoto rather than wide-angle performance, the Canon SD970's zoom ranges from 37 to 185mm (for the comparable PowerShot biased toward wide-angle, try the SD980, whose wide end starts at 24mm).

The Canon PowerShot SD970's smooth contours and small size make it easy to stash in a purse, backpack, diaper bag side pouch, or really just about anywhere you want to take it. Gentle curves ensure it won't snag on pockets, and an included wrist strap provides a little added security when you're on the move. Minimal external controls make the Canon SD970 IS easy to maneuver, while its range of intelligent automatic settings yield great results even when you don't want or have the time to twiddle with the controls. No less than 18 preset shooting modes are available to choose from, or you can let the Smart Auto mode do that for you as well. New to Canon's standard preset scene offerings are Zoom Blur and Creative Light Effect modes, which will no doubt provide some refreshing creative tools for consumers.

More advanced users will appreciate the small range of exposure options that the Canon SD970 does offer, including ISO (up to 3,200), white balance, and metering mode, among others. The Canon SD970's Playback menu offers an iContrast mode, which automatically adjusts the tonal distribution if necessary (you can let the camera be the judge here, or select the amount of correction you think you need). Other impressive offerings on the Canon SD970 IS include the 3.0-inch PureColor LCD monitor with Active Display and an HD movie capability with HDMI output.

Ready to hit the town or country, the Canon PowerShot SD970 IS weighs in at just 6.7 ounces (189g) and measures just 3.7 x 2.2 x 1.0 inches (95 x 57 x 26mm). The Canon PowerShot SD970 is currently available at a suggested retail price of US$379.99, but be sure to check our links for the best price online!

 

Canon SD970 IS
User Report

by Stephanie Boozer

The Canon PowerShot SD970 IS replaces the previous SD890 PowerShot model, compact in size and boasting an easy to learn point-and-shoot interface. Canon's Digital ELPHs typically prove to be of good quality, with sensible control layouts and menus, and the Canon SD970 follows this trend amiably. It's definitely small and sleek, with gentle curves and comfortable dimensions, and it's great to shoot with.

Look and feel. Ranking among the smaller PowerShot models, the SD970 IS has smooth contours that are both comfortable in the hand and perfect for pockets. It's a trifle to carry, at just 6.7 ounces (189g), and its measurements of 3.7 x 2.2 x 1.0 inches (95 x 57 x 26mm) are small enough to fit into evening bags, jeans pockets, and shirt pockets. Because the SD970 IS' contours are so smooth, and there really is no handgrip to speak of, I strongly recommend attaching and using the wrist strap for better peace of mind when actively shooting. The Canon logo on the front panel is raised and textured just slightly, giving fingers some purchase as they cradle the right side, but other than that, there's no true grip to speak of.

Controls. A tiny Power button on the Canon SD970's top panel activates the camera, flanked on either side by the sliding Mode switch and the Shutter button / Zoom lever combo. It's so small that it requires a deliberate press, and you won't easily mistake it for the Shutter button. All three of the top controls are easy to reach one-handed. Your thumb rests in a small recessed area on the back panel, overlapping the Print and Playback buttons a little, though these also require a fairly strong press to activate.

With such small real estate available, the PowerShot SD970 doesn't have a lot of external controls. Most of the common functions are accessed via the Multi-controller or LCD menu, and all of the controls are fairly negotiable when shooting one-handed. Canon left off the optical viewfinder on this model, making the most of a 3.0-inch PureColor LCD monitor, which provides about 100% frame accuracy at both zoom settings. An interesting feature here is the LCD's Active Display mode, which in Playback mode lets you move between pictures by giving the camera a firm shake (be sure you have the wrist strap attached and around your wrist, because it does require quite a jolt to work).

A very tiny flash is in the extreme left corner of the camera's front panel, and its operating modes are controlled by the left arrow on the rear-panel Multi-controller. The Canon SD970's flash is just powerful enough for use within about 11 feet in Auto mode at full wide-angle, though its capability decreases in telephoto mode. (We also noted that the Canon SD970 IS had to increase the ISO just a little, to 250, to get fair results at its stated distances.)

Lens. Ranging from 37 to 185mm equivalent, the Canon Canon SD970's 5x zoom offers good quality and a better than average zoom range for this size digital camera. Blurring in the corners is really quite low, compared to many other subcompact point-and-shoot models, with the strongest occurrence at the full wide-angle setting. The effect doesn't extend far into the frame, and is thus not terribly noticeable in many of the Canon SD970's wide-angle images.

The Canon SD970's lens employs Canon's Optical Image Stabilizer technology for relatively blur-free shots in low lighting, or when shooting at full telephoto. The camera's intelligent autofocus system also adds improved Face Detection and Blink Detection technologies, as well as Motion Detection for moving subjects. By combining Face Detection and Motion detection with the self-timer, you get accurately-focused self-portraits as well, since the camera locks onto your face as soon as you enter the frame.

Modes. The sliding mode switch on the top panel accesses only the Movie, Program, and Smart Auto shooting modes, as Playback mode is accessed via its own button on the back panel. Smart Auto mode selects from among 18 predefined shooting modes, depending on a range of variables such as lighting, subject contrast, faces, etc., ultimately choosing the mode it thinks will best handle your subject. This is great for users who appreciate having so many automatic presets available, but are really unsure of when to use them. This is particularly useful if you're on an outing where your environment changes fairly quickly, such as a sightseeing tour where you may wander in and out of doors, and would like the camera to keep up.


Ports. Mini-HDMI on top, AV/USB below.

In Program mode, you can opt to stay in the standard Program AE shooting mode, or select one of the preset Scene settings yourself. Preset modes include Portrait, Night Snapshot, Kids&Pets, Indoor, Sunset, Creative Light Effect, Fireworks, Long Shutter, Beach, Aquarium, Foliage, Snow, ISO 3,200, Digital Macro, Zoom Blur, Color Accent, Color Swap, and Stitch Assist (panorama). Staying within the Program AE mode gives the user control over a handful of slightly more advanced exposure options, including ISO, metering, resolution, quality, white balance, and image stabilization.

The Canon SD970's Movie mode shoots in 720p high definition, with a true HDMI output for HDTV sets (NTSC/PAL video outputs still possible as well). Shooting at 30 frames per second, the Canon SD970 IS offers movie resolutions as high as 1,280 x 720 pixels. There is also a Continuous shooting mode, though its performance is a maximum of one frame per second, slower than average.

Menu. The Canon SD970's menu is straightforward and easy to navigate with a simple system of tabs and list options. Anyone already familiar with Canon's typical menu setup will find the Canon SD970 menu familiar, and anyone new to Canon should easily find the features they need with just a cursory look through manual for reinforcement. The rear-panel Multi-controller features an external spinning dial that scrolls up and down through menu items, or you can go the traditional route of using the directional arrow keys.

In addition to the regular menu system, the Canon SD970 IS has a Function Menu, which is launched with a press of the Func./Set button at the center of the Multi-controller. Things like shooting mode, white balance, resolution, ISO, etc. are accessed here. Again, anyone already familiar with Canon's typical PowerShot setup will feel at home, as the Function menu hasn't changed much. The sidebar display now moves as you scroll up or down, but the basic layout is just as straightforward as on previous models.

Storage and battery. The Canon PowerShot SD970 IS stores images on SD 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 PowerShot SD970 IS.

The Canon SD970's battery is a 1,120mAh, 3.7-volt lithium-ion design, Canon model number NB-5L. The rectangular battery pops into place beneath a sliding, plastic door with the metal hinge, and is kept in place by a small pressure switch. A single charge is good for about 270 shots. That's about average, so consider buying a spare battery and keeping it on the ready for longer outings.

Good zoom range. I loved how the SD970 got in close. There's some lens flare on the highlights, but I like the effect in this case.

Shooting. The Canon Digital ELPH series is always a good performer and pleasant to shoot with, and the PowerShot SD970 IS doesn't disappoint here. Its small size, easy user interface, and comfortable control layout make it a natural when you're out and about. The large LCD monitor features an anti-glare coating that definitely helps cut down on distracting reflections when shooting outdoors. It's also fairly easy to see under bright, midday sunlight.

The Canon SD970's zoom is quiet and smooth, though not super fast. It wants to zoom in large blocks, which makes framing your image precisely a little more difficult, particularly with moving subjects. Still, performance is good overall, and definitely not slow enough to be a problem in most cases.

The ability to shake the camera to move between images in Playback mode is a little odd, though, because you have to shake it so hard. The lack of a grip makes it more likely that you'll just drop the Canon SD970 while trying to show off this semi-cool trick.

Detail. The Canon SD970's sensor captures some great detail, though it does blow out the reds just a tad. Quite common, though, and this image doesn't suffer for it.

The Canon SD970 rides a little thick in a shirt pocket, but it goes great in a bag with one of Canon's nice PSC-55 leather cases, which we've tested ourselves and found to be quite nice, preventing scratches on the cameras for years; it also rides on a belt quite well. The SD970 comes out quickly and is ready to play. The image stabilization is very useful in low light, and it's easy to shoot the camera in Program mode with Auto ISO active, or just in Smart Auto for thought-free shots all day.

The rear Control dial is sometimes activated accidentally, but it doesn't do anything by default in either Program or Full Auto (unlike the recently reviewed Canon S90), and it has good detents that tell you clearly when the next activation will take place, be it a photo change, an EV adjustment, or a switch to another photo.

The large triangular buttons don't activate so easily that they're a problem while shooting, and the other controls are pretty straightforward.

It's also worth noting that the Canon SD970's new PureColor LCD is bright and vibrant, great in the sun, and sports even more resolution than the usual, around 461,000 dots.

Overall, shooting with the Canon SD970 is a pleasure, and the image quality is great, too. See below for our image analysis and conclusion.

 

Canon SD970 IS Lens Quality


Wide: Sharp at center
Wide: Quite soft upper left
Tele: Sharpest at center
Tele: Softest lower left corner

Sharpness: The wide-angle lens setting on the Canon PowerShot SD970 IS shows fairly strong blurring in the extreme corners of the frame, though blurring doesn't extend very far inward. At telephoto, only slight softening is noticeable.


Wide: Moderate barrel distortion; noticeable
Tele: An average amount of pincushion distortion

Geometric Distortion: At the Canon SD970's full wide-angle lens setting, barrel distortion is slightly higher than average (~0.9%), and quite noticeable. At telephoto, an average amount of pincushion distortion is present (~0.2%), and is slightly noticeable.


Wide: Moderately high; bright
Tele:
Fairly low

Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at wide-angle is moderately high, with bright cyan and reddish pixels on either side of the target lines. (Note though, that some blurring is likely intensifying the effect here.) At telephoto, the distortion is much less noticeable, though some bright bluish pixels are visible.


Macro
Macro with Flash

Macro: The Canon SD970's Macro mode captures a very sharp image overall, with minor blurring in the extreme corners and along the edges of the frame. Minimum coverage area is 1.13 x 0.85 inches (29 x 22 mm). The camera focuses so closely that the flash is blocked by the lens at the most extreme close-up, and thus, good external lighting will be your best bet when shooting this close.


 

Canon SD970 IS Image Quality


Color: Overall color looks good, with only slight oversaturation in bright reds and blues. Yellows, greens, and pinks are pretty accurate, and the slight boost to reds and blues falls well within acceptable limits. (Many consumer digital cameras actually pump these colors to appeal to a popular demand for bright, vivid color.) Hue is also about right, though cyans are pushed toward blue and some reds toward orange. Lighter skin tones are about right, and darker skin tones show just a little added warmth. Good results.


80
100
200
400
 
800
1,600
3,200
(1.9 MP)

ISO: Noise and Detail: Detail is well-defined at ISO 80 to 200, with some softening beginning at ISO 400. Chroma (color) and luminance noise are pretty well controlled to about ISO 400, but by 800, the camera's noise suppression efforts take over and significantly blur the image. At ISO 3,200, the camera is forced to reduce the maximum resolution to preserve some detail. See Printed results below for more on how this affects images on paper.


Wide: 11 feet, bright
Tele: 6.6 feet, fairly bright
Flash: Our manufacturer-specified testing (shown at right) shows bright results at wide-angle and 11 feet, though the camera raised the ISO to 250. The telephoto test also came out fairly bright at 6.6 feet, and again, the camera raised ISO to 250. The Canon SD970's flash will be sufficient in most situations, just keep your subjects within the specified distances.

Auto WB: Close, a hint magenta
Incandescent WB: Too red
 
Manual WB: Very good

Incandescent: Manual white balance handles our tungsten lighting test better than either Auto or Incandescent modes. The Auto setting results in nearly accurate results, though with a slight magenta tinge overall, while the Incandescent results are much too red. In Manual mode, white values do have a very slight blue tint, but overall color is much more pleasing here.


Printed: ISO 80 and 100 printed results look good at 16x20 inches with good color and detail. ISO 200 shots start to look better at 13x19 inches, though some luminance noise starting to appear in the shadows. ISO 400 shots are good at 11x14 inches, with impressive detail at this size for this setting. ISO 800 shots are usable at 8.5x11, but a little too soft in low-contrast areas, especially reds. Images become smooth again, though, at 5x7 inches. ISO 1,600 images, too, look fine at 5x7, and ISO 3,200 images are surprisingly usable at 4x6. So the Canon SD970's 12-megapixel sensor turns in a pretty good performance for a long zoom digital camera, producing printable images at even the lowest, reduced-resolution size, something we're seeing for the first time with Canon ELPH cameras.


 

Canon SD970 IS Performance


Shutter lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is good, at 0.40 second at wide-angle and 0.45 second at full telephoto. Prefocus shutter lag is 0.078s, which is quite fast.


Cycle time: Cycle time is also fairly good, capturing a frame every 1.98 seconds in single-shot mode in our tests. Canon rates the SD970's continuous mode at approximately one frame-per-second, on the slow side.


Flash recycle: The Canon SD970's flash recycles in about 8 seconds after a full-power discharge, which is on the slower side.


 

Canon SD970 IS Conclusion

With its compact size, straightforward operation, and capable image processor, the Canon PowerShot SD970 is another excellent offering in the Digital ELPH line. Featuring a 5x optical zoom lens with image stabilization, and a 12.1-megapixel CCD image sensor, the PowerShot SD970 is a good match for most average shooting conditions, with good exposure and color under a range of circumstances. The Smart Auto mode is quite useful in combining Face, Blink, and Motion Detection technologies with 18 preset scene modes to get the best exposure under a range of conditions, though the SD970 IS does offer a little more hands-on control within the standard Program AE mode. Autofocus times are really fast for a digital camera with a relatively long zoom, and noise handling is pretty good, with Canon's latest algorithms, so the Canon PowerShot SD970 is a good performer. Printed results tell the rest of the story, with ISO 80 and 100 shots able to output 16x20-inch images, and even the highest ISO of 3,200 outputting usable 4x6-inch images. The Canon SD970 is among the higher end of sub-compact models, and a Dave's Pick.