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Canon PowerShot SD20 Digital ELPH Camera

Camera QuickLook
Review Date
3/1/2005
User Level
Novice to Intermediate
Product Uses
Family / Travel / Take Everywhere
Digicam Design
Automatic Exposure Control
Picture Quality
Very Good, 5.0-megapixel CCD
Print Sizes
11x17s and smaller
(8x10 even with heavy cropping)
Availability
Now
Suggested Retail Price
(At introduction)
$349

Introduction

Canon PowerShot SD20
Review Links
Overview
Picky
Details
Design
Operation
Recommended Accessories
Test Images
Specifications
Conclusion

The Canon PowerShot SD20 is the latest in a long line of digital cameras from one of the true powerhouses of photography. Canon in recent years has taken the digital camera market by storm, with a large, ever-changing array of cameras that covers the market from consumer to professional. The Canon SD20 is the latest in a line of ultra-compact Canon digital cameras, marked under their ELPH brand name. The Canon SD20 is replaces the SD10 introduced in early 2004, boosting resolution to 5 megapixels, as well as updating features somewhat. The Canon PowerShot SD20 is one of the smallest and sleekest-looking digital cameras on the market, but manages to take very good photos, and offer a fair range of control in an impressively small, purse- (or pocket-) friendly design. Read on for all the details, this is an excellent little camera for style-conscious consumers.

 

Camera Overview

Quite a bit smaller than most Canon Digital ELPH models, the Canon PowerShot SD20 realizes more of the advantage offered by the smaller SD card format than the ELPH that first entered the SD space, the SD100. Up until the SD100, all ELPH digital cameras used Compact Flash cards. The Canon SD20 is actually an update to the nearly identical SD10, only now this nice little camera has a 5.0 megapixel sensor, and a slight reshuffle of the available features. With the lens retracted, the Canon SD20's front panel is flat and pocket friendly, and its all-metal body rugged and durable. The SD20 captures high quality images, suitable for printing snapshots as large as 11 x 14, or 8 x 10 inches with some cropping. Smaller image sizes are also available for email transmission or Web applications, and a movie mode captures short video clips with sound. Coming in four colors, the SD20 has one more important feature: Style. It was designed as the ultimate fashion accessory, now with four new colors to prove the point. There's Garnet, Midnight Blue, Zen Gray, and Silver.

The Canon PowerShot SD20 features a 6.4mm fixed focal length lens, equivalent to a 39mm lens on a 35mm camera. Aperture is automatically controlled, f/2.8 wide open. A maximum 6.5x digital zoom option adds zoom to the SD20, but keep in mind that digital zoom decreases the overall image quality, as it simply crops out and enlarges the center pixels of the CCD image. Image details are thus likely to be softer with digital zoom. Focus ranges from 4 inches (10 centimeters) to infinity in normal AF mode, and from 1.2 inches to 4 inches (3 to 10 centimeters) in Macro mode. The SD20 employs a nine-point AiAF (Artificial Intelligence Autofocus) system to determine focus, which uses a broad active area in the center of the image to calculate the focal distance (a feature I've been impressed with on many ELPH models have been pleased to see continued). Through the Record menu, you can turn AiAF off, which defaults the autofocus to the center of the frame. Also built-in to the Canon SD20 is an AF assist light, which aids the focus mechanism in low light. For composing images, the SD20 has only a 1.5-inch color LCD monitor, no optical viewfinder. This allowed the designers to make a smaller camera, and will not likely be missed by the target audience. The LCD reports a fair amount of camera information, but excludes exposure information such as aperture and shutter speed. In Playback mode, users can choose to display a histogram to report the tonal distribution of a captured image, useful in determining any over- or under-exposure.

Because the ELPH line capitalizes on ease of use, exposure control is typically automatic to increase the line's appeal to point-and-shoot users. The Canon SD20 is completely automatic, but there is a Manual mode of sorts. Though it doesn't give you aperture or shutter information, it does allow you to adjust +/-2 EV in third stop increments, as well as adjust white balance, ISO, and select among metering methods. The adjustments menu is brought up by pressing the Set/Function button while in shooting mode, and stays up as you make changes, coming back after each shot. This makes it easier to reach the setting you desire. Shutter speeds range from 1/1,500 to 15 seconds, with the one- to 15-second end of the range only available in Long Shutter mode (which also automatically invokes a Noise Reduction system to eliminate excess image noise in longer exposures). In straight Auto mode, the camera controls everything about the exposure except for file size, flash, etc. Camera operation is straightforward, as you typically just point and shoot most of the time. Pressing the Shutter button halfway sets focus and exposure, and a small LED next to the LCD viewfinder, along with a confirmation beep and green onscreen focus point let you know when the camera is ready to take the picture, as well as which areas will be in focus. The camera also has a function called QuickShot. When enabled, QuickShot allows the user to capture a shot more quickly, apparently by setting the lens to its "hyperfocal" distance, in which subjects will be in focus at the broadest possible range of distances. This does limit its use to camera-subject distances of 1.5 foot or greater though. Inside 1.5 feet, according to the manual and our testing, images are most often out of focus and overexposed.

The Canon PowerShot SD20 uses an Evaluative metering system by default, which means that the camera divides the image area into zones and evaluates each zone to determine the best overall exposure. A Spot metering option ties the exposure to the very center of the frame, and is useful for off-center or high contrast subjects, letting you pinpoint the exact area of the frame to base the exposure on. There's also a Center-Weighted metering option, which bases the exposure on a large area in the center of the frame. Exposure Compensation increases or decreases the overall exposure from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third step increments. A White Balance option offers Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, and Custom (manual) settings. The SD20 also offers a creative Photo Effects menu, which include Vivid, Neutral, Low Sharpening, Sepia, and Black and White modes. Sensitivity equivalents include 50, 100, 200, and 400 ISO settings, as well as an Auto adjustment. The SD20's built-in flash operates in Auto, Forced On, Suppressed, Red-Eye Reduction, and Slow-Synchro modes. You can also lock the flash exposure in the same way you can lock normal exposure. Pressing the Shutter button halfway and keeping it pressed initiates the exposure lock, signaled by two beeps.

A two- or 10-second self-timer option counts down by flashing a small LED on the front of the camera before firing the shutter, giving you time to duck around the camera and get into your own shots. Stitch-Assist mode is the SD20's panoramic shooting mode, which lets you shoot as many as 26 consecutive images. The series of images can then be "stitched" together into a single panoramic frame on a computer with the accompanying software. The SD20 also has a Movie Record mode, which records moving images with sound for as long as three minutes per clip, depending on the resolution setting and amount of memory card space. (Movies are recorded at either 640 x 480, 320 x 240, or 160 x 120 pixels.) Finally, a Continuous Shooting mode captures a series of consecutive images (much like a motor drive on a traditional camera), at approximately one frame per second, as long as the Shutter button is held down. The actual frame rate varies with the resolution setting, with the total number of images also depending on the amount of memory card space and file size.

The My Camera settings menu lets you customize camera settings to a specific theme. Everything from the startup image to operating sounds can be assigned to a theme, either one of the pre-programmed themes or one downloaded from the camera software or stored on the memory card. The SD20 also lets you record short sound clips to accompany captured images, via the Sound Memo option, great for lively captions to vacation photos or party shots.

The Canon PowerShot SD20 stores images on SD memory cards (hence, the "SD" in its name). A 32MB card accompanies the camera, which is twice the size of the card that came with the SD100, but I still recommend picking up a larger capacity card, at least 64 megabytes, so you don't miss any shots; 128 is even better. The camera utilizes a rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack for power, which accompanies the camera, along with the necessary battery charger, a small brick with flip out power prongs. Because the SD20 does not accommodate AA-type batteries in any form, I strongly advise picking up an additional battery pack and keeping it freshly charged. The optional AC adapter is useful for preserving battery power when reviewing and downloading images, and actually uses a "dummy" battery that inserts into the camera's battery compartment. A USB cable and interface software are also packaged with the camera, for downloading images to a computer and performing minor organization and corrections. Two software CDs provide the necessary drivers and editing software, both compatible with Windows and Macintosh platforms. One CD holds Canon's Digital Camera Solution Disk version 21.0 and the other features ArcSoft's Camera Suite version 1.3. Finally, an A/V cable connects the SD20 to a television set, for reviewing and composing images. The SD20 is Digital Print Order Format (DPOF) compatible, with detailed print settings in the Playback menu. PictBridge allows easy printing without a computer, and works with many Canon printers, as well as PictBridge-enabled printers from other manufacturers.

Basic Features

  • 5.0-megapixel CCD.
  • 1.5-inch color TFT LCD monitor.
  • 6.4mm fixed focal-length lens, equivalent to a 39mm lens on a 35mm camera.
  • Maximum 6.5x digital zoom.
  • Automatic exposure control, with Long Shutter mode for longer exposures.
  • Shutter speeds from 1/1,500 to 15 seconds.
  • Maximum aperture of f/2.8.
  • Built-in flash with five modes.
  • SD memory card storage, 32MB card included.
  • Power supplied by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack (charger included) or optional AC adapter.
  • ArcSoft Camera Suite 1.3, Canon Digital Camera software, and USB drivers included for both Windows and Mac platforms.

Special Features

  • Movie mode with sound.
  • Continuous Shooting mode.
  • Stitch-Assist panorama mode.
  • Infinity and Macro focus modes.
  • Customizable "My Camera" settings.
  • Two- or 10-second Self-Timer for delayed shutter release.
  • Sound Memo option for recording captions.
  • Spot, Center-Weighted, and Evaluative exposure metering.
  • White balance (color) adjustment with seven modes, including a Custom setting.
  • Photo Effect menu for color adjustment.
  • Adjustable ISO setting.
  • DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatibility.
  • USB cable for connection to a computer (driver software included).
  • A/V cable for connection to a television set.

 

Recommendation

The Canon ELPH series of digicams continues to be a popular option for many consumers, given its tiny size and reputation for great quality. The PowerShot SD20 Digital ELPH shrinks the line even further, taking advantage of that small SD memory card image storage, and sports a 5.0 megapixel CCD for high resolution images. Although exposure control is mainly automatic, the availability of exposures as long as 15 seconds and adjustable ISO increases the camera's exposure versatility a great deal. The uncomplicated user interface makes novices and more advanced amateurs alike feel at home, with enough variable exposure control to make both happy. This is a good all-around camera, particularly for style-conscious users. If you can handle a slightly larger package, the larger Canon Digital ELPHs give you a zoom lens, which is much to be desired. For the ultimate in svelte design though, the SD20 wins hands down.

 

Design

The Canon PowerShot SD20 takes the ELPH to new levels of portability while maintaining the same sharp metallic look and feel that has given the line such a sense of quality. The compact size is perfect for quickly stashing in a pocket or purse; and even in a case the camera is smaller than any other ELPH. The retracting lens is a smart design that keeps the camera front completely flat when the camera is off, underscoring the camera's pocket friendly design, while an automatic lens cover means you don't have to worry about smudging the lens or losing a lens cap. Measuring 3.56 x 1.85 x 0.73 inches (90.3 x 47 x 18.5 millimeters), the SD20 will easily fit into any pocket a clothing manufacturer is likely to make, including the "fifth pocket" on most jeans. The camera weighs 4.3 ounces (122 grams) with battery and memory card.

Several distinctive ELPH features identify the front of the Canon SD20, with the lens off-center toward the right and a raised metallic circle around the lens, but one in particular is missing: the optical viewfinder window. All that remains are the mic, light emitter, and flash just above it. The light emitter serves multiple purposes, including autofocus assist, red-eye reduction, and it flashes during self-timer countdown. The camera's telescoping lens moves into place quickly when the camera is powered on, and retracts fully within the camera to maintain a flat profile. Just beneath the flash is the camera's tiny microphone. The wrist strap is mounted on a piece of metal that tapers up from the front, with a loop and the Canon logo molded deeply into the metal.

The power button, speaker, and shutter release are on top, with only the shutter release protruding slightly from the surface.

On the right side of the camera (as viewed from the rear) are the wrist strap attachment and the battery/SD access door. This door opens with a pull to the rear, and swings open. The battery is held in place with a latch, and the SD card must be first pressed in, then grabbed with a thumbnail to remove it. The door only swings open to 90 degrees, preventing the card from being grabbed with two fingers until it's all the way out.

The opposite side of the camera has only a single screw head visible.

The remaining camera controls are on the rear panel, along with the LCD viewfinder. A mode switch is above the LCD, selecting between playback, movie, and capture modes. To the right of the LCD are the Menu, and Set/Function buttons, with a multi-functional Four-Way Arrow pad just to the right of these. An LED lamp next to the viewfinder reports camera status, lighting to indicate when focus is set or the flash is fully charged; it also flashes until the buffer is clear. To the lower right of this back plate is the rubber door concealing the AV Out and USB ports.

The bottom panel of the Canon SD20 has only the metal tripod mount and the camera's model and serial number. The tripod socket is center-mounted.

 

Camera Operation

The Canon PowerShot SD20's user interface is straightforward and relatively uncomplicated, with the same menu setup and basic control layout as the rest of the current ELPH series, though some have been shuffled and consolidated to accommodate for the smaller surface area all around. Most of the camera's functions are controlled by buttons on the rear panel, while a handful of settings are controlled through the LCD-based Record menu. A Function menu provides faster access to basic settings like image size, quality, and exposure compensation, without the need to sift through menu screens. The LCD menu system itself is quite efficient, as you view menu items organized in tabs instead of through a series of pages. Additionally, the Setup and My Camera menus are always available, regardless of the camera mode. With the instruction manual in-hand, it shouldn't take more than a half an hour to an hour to get comfortable with the camera.

Record Mode Display: In any record mode, the LCD display shows either the image area with no information or the image with a limited information display. When the information display is active, it reports resolution and image quality settings, the number of available images, Record mode, orientation, and a handful of exposure settings (although not aperture or shutter speed). In either mode, once the shutter is depressed half way, only the chosen focus area is highlighted with a green square (sometimes multiple squares can be highlighted). In this case, a camera shake warning is also active. Pressing and holding the Set/Function button brings up a date and time screen. The duration of its display can be set in the menu.

Playback Mode Display: Playback mode also offers three display modes, including the image only, the image with information, and the image with expanded information and a histogram. You can also display as many as nine thumbnail images at a time on-screen with the index display mode, or zoom in on captured images to check fine details, focus, or framing. To zoom in, you press the top button on the four-way navigator, and to pan around you press the function button.

External Controls


Shutter Button
: Located on the top panel, this button sets focus and exposure when halfway pressed and fires the shutter when fully pressed. If the Self-Timer is activated, a full press of the Shutter button triggers the countdown.


Power Button
: To the left of the Shutter button on the camera's top panel, this button turns the camera on or off.


Mode Switch
: Just above the right corner of the LCD panel, this three-position switch controls the camera's operating mode, offering the following selections:

  • Playback Mode: Replays captured images and movies, with options for image management and printing.
  • Movie Mode: Captures moving images with sound, with a maximum recording time of three minutes (depending on the resolution setting and available memory card space).
  • Capture Mode: Places the camera in whatever capture mode was chosen in the Function menu, with the last settings made on the camera.


Four-Way Arrow Pad
: This four-way rocker button is just right of the LCD monitor, and serves multiple functions. In any Settings menu, the arrow keys navigate through menu selections. In Record mode, the top arrow and bottom arrows control the digital zoom. The left arrow toggles between capture modes; if the camera is operating in full Auto mode, these are confined to single shot and self-timer modes. In Manual mode, continuous is included as well. The right arrow accesses the camera's flash modes, cycling through Automatic, Forced On, Forced Off, Red-Eye Reduction, and Slow-Sync settings. Finally, the down arrow key activates the Self-Timer and Continuous Shooting modes, or returns to the normal exposure mode. Immediately after an image is captured, the down arrow can also be used to delete the image.

In Playback mode, the right and left arrow keys scroll through captured images and movie files. When you zoom in on an image, all four arrows pan the view, but only after you press the function button.

Zoom Control (see image above): Integrated into the four-way navigator, these buttons control the digital zoom in any record mode. In Playback mode, one can zoom in on pictures by pressing the plus icon, and back out by pressing the minus icon. Once you've zoomed all the way out, however, the next press on the zoom out button will ask if you want to erase the picture, so users should be careful.


Function / Set Button
: To the left of the arrow pad, beneath the lower left corner of the LCD display, this control activates the Function menu in any record mode. The following options are available:

  • Exposure Mode: Selects between Auto, Manual, Macro, Portrait, Landscape, Night Snapshot, Indoor, and Underwater modes.
    • Auto: The camera assumes control over most exposure parameters, making for simpler use, but fewer creative options.
    • Manual: The full range of exposure controls and options are available.
    • Macro: The camera's focusing range is shifted to permit capture of very close-up subjects.
    • Portrait: Biases in favor of wider apertures to blur the background for better portraits.
    • Landscape: Sets focus to infinity and biases toward smaller apertures for greater depth of field.
    • Night Snapshot: Uses flash and a slow shutter speed to capture more of a subject's background in night pictures.
    • Indoor: Sets white balance to compensate for indoor lighting, including tungsten and florescent. Tries to avoid using flash, while avoiding image blur due to slow shutter speeds.
    • Underwater: For use when shooting with the AW-DC10 All Weather Case in underwater settings. Aims to reduce bluish tones common in underwater photography.

  • Exposure Compensation/Long Shutter Mode: +/- 2EV; or press the Menu button and access the Long Shutter Mode, where you can select between 1 and 15 second exposures.
  • White Balance: Controls the color balance of images. Options are Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, and Custom.
  • ISO: Sets the camera's sensitivity to Auto, 50, 100, 200, 400
  • Photo Effect: Off, Vivid, Neutral, Low Sharpening, Sepia, Black and White
  • Light Metering: Evaluative, Center-weighted Average, Spot
  • Resolution/Compression: L = 2,592 x 1,944, M1 = 2,048 x 1,536, M2 = 1,600 x 1,200, S = 640 x 480, and Postcard (1,600 x 1,200; date and time stamp can be set to appear in the Menu when this mode is activated). Pressing the Menu button with this menu item selected allows you to change the compression level for the selected resolution size. Choices are Superfine, Fine, and Normal.

In Playback mode, this button is primarily used as the SET button, confirming menu selections. In Record mode, holding this button down brings up a clock that takes up the whole screen and displays the date, and the time in 24 hour format. (The clock has a few cute "Easter egg" features to it as well: Hold the camera vertically, and the clock's digits will rearrange themselves for vertical viewing. Shake the camera gently, and the background color on the LCD screen will cycle through a number of hues.)


Menu Button
: Above the Set button and focus confirmation lights, this button accesses the LCD menu system in both Record and Playback modes.

 

Camera Modes and Menus

Movie Mode: Records short movie clips with sound, at either 320 x 240, or 160 x 120 pixels. The actual amount of recording time varies with the resolution setting and amount of memory card space, but the longest clip time is three minutes. A handful of exposure controls are available in this mode, although options like flash mode, Continuous Shooting, and digital zoom are disabled.

Manual Exposure Mode: Does not let you control shutter speed or aperture, but it does let you adjust the flash mode, image quality, shooting method (Single, Continuous, or Self-Timer), Macro mode, Infinity Focus mode, Exposure Compensation, White Balance, Photo Effect, Metering, and ISO.

Automatic Exposure Mode: Places the camera in charge of all exposure settings. You can select only the digital zoom option, certain flash modes, the self-timer, and Macro mode.

Playback Mode: Activated with a switch, this mode allows you to scroll through captured images and movies, write-protect images, view a nine-image index display, zoom into a captured image, delete unwanted images, rotate images, and set up images for printing on DPOF-compatible devices.

Record Menu: Accessed by pressing the Menu button in Automatic, Manual, Stitch Assist, and Movie modes (some options are not available in all modes). Three menu tabs appear, one for Record, Setup, and My Camera sub-menus.

  • Record Menu
    • Quick Shot: Allows quick capture of image without waiting for focus and exposure confirmation. Images inside the 1.5 foot range will likely be out of focus, since the system relies on the inherent sharpness of a wide angle lens for a more general kind of focus beyond the 1.5 foot range.
    • AiAF: Turns on the AiAF focus system. If switched off, the camera bases autofocus on the center of the frame.
    • Self-Timer: Sets the Self-Timer countdown to two or 10 seconds.
    • AF Assist Beam: Turns the AF assist light on or off. If on, the light automatically activates in low lighting.
    • Digital Zoom: Enables and disables the digital zoom function (which is the only zoom available on the PowerShot SD20).
    • Review: Turns the instant review function on or off, or sets the amount of time that the captured image is displayed on the screen from two or 10 seconds in increments of one second. (Still images only.)
    • Date & Time: Available only in PostCard mode, switches Date Stamp between Date, Date & Time, and Off.
    • Long Shutter: Allows Long Shutter exposures to be set in Function menu.
    • Stitch Assist: Enters Stitch Assist mode, useful for generating pictures to create panoramic images on a computer.

  • Setup Menu
    • Mute: Silences all sound, including voice notes and audio during video playback.
    • Volume
      • Startup Volume: Sets the volume for the camera's startup sounds.
      • Operation Volume: Controls the volume of operational sounds.
      • Self-Timer Volume: Adjusts the volume of the self-timer beep.
      • Shutter Volume: Controls the volume of the shutter noise.
      • Playback Volume: Adjusts the volume of playback sounds.
    • Info Display: Sets whether information is displayed on the screen, including Shooting Info, Review Info, and Replay Info.
    • LCD Brightness: Adjusts the brightness of the LCD display.
    • Auto Power Down: Turns on the automatic shut down, which turns the camera off after a period of inactivity. Also allows user to set a separate display off time, from 10 seconds to three minutes.
    • Date/Time: Sets the camera's internal date and time settings.
    • Clock Display: Sets timer for clock display, from one second to three minutes.
    • Format: Formats the SD card, erasing all images (even write protected ones).
    • File No. Reset: Resets file numbering with each new SD card, if enabled. If disabled, the camera continues file numbering from card to card.
    • Auto Rotate: Turns Auto Rotate feature on or off.
    • Language: Changes the menu language to one of 12 languages.
    • Video System: Establishes the type of video signal, NTSC or PAL.


  • My Camera Menu
    • Theme: Selects a common theme for each My Camera menu settings item. Four options are available, the first one being Off. When a theme is selected, all of the following settings automatically adjust to that theme.
    • Start-Up Image: Sets the startup image when you turn on the camera to: Black screen, Canon logo, Canon logo with sunset, and nature scene. You can also apply your own image using the Canon software.
    • Start-Up Sound: Sets the startup sound when you turn on the camera to: No sound, Musical tone (1), Musical tone (2), or Birds chirping. You can also apply your own sounds using the Canon software.
    • Operation Sound: Sets the sound when any control or switch is use (except the Shutter button). Options include no sound, Beep, Musical tone, and Chirp.
    • Self-Timer Sound: Sets the sound that signals you when the shutter release is two seconds away. Options include no sound, Fast beeps, Telephone ring, and Howling.
    • Shutter Sound: Sets the shutter sound that you hear when you depress the Shutter button (there is no shutter sound in Movie mode). Options include no sound, Shutter sound, Musical Tone, and Bark.

Playback Menu: Accessed by pressing the Menu button in Playback mode, the Playback menu also has subject tabs for the Setup and My Camera menus described above.

  • Protect: Marks the current image for write-protection, or removes write-protection. Protected images cannot be deleted or manipulated, except through card formatting, which erases all files.
  • Rotate: Rotates the current image 90 degrees clockwise.
  • Sound Memo: Records a short sound clip to accompany a captured image.
  • Erase All: Erases all files on the memory card, except protected ones.
  • Auto Play: Plays a slideshow of all images, 3 seconds each.
  • Print Order: Determines how many copies of the current image will be printed, with options for creating an index print, imprinting the date and time, and imprinting the file number.
  • Transfer Order: Select images for downloading to your computer.

 

In the Box

Packaged with the PowerShot SD20 are the following items:

  • Wrist strap.
  • Video cable.
  • USB cable.
  • 32MB SD memory card.
  • NB-3L lithium-ion battery pack.
  • Battery charger.
  • ArcSoft and Canon Digital Camera Solution Disk software CDs.
  • Operating manual and registration card.

 

Recommended Accessories

  • Large capacity SD memory card.
  • Additional NB-3L lithium-ion battery pack.
  • Small camera case.

 

Specifications

See camera specifications here.

 

Picky Details

Cycle times, shutter lag, battery life, etc. can be found here.

 

Test Images

See the full set of my sample pictures and detailed analysis here. The thumbnails below show a subset of my standard test images. Click on a thumbnail to see the full-size photo.

"Sunlit"
Indoor Flash
Indoor
 

 

 

House
Musicians
Macro
 

 

 

Davebox
Resolution
Viewfinder Accuracy

 

Test Results

In keeping with my standard test policy, the comments given here summarize only my key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the Canon PowerShot SD20 Digital ELPH's "pictures" page.

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Maxxum 7D with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

As with all Imaging Resource product tests, I encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the camera performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how Canon SD20's images compare to other cameras you may be considering.

  • Color: Pleasing, attractive color. The SD20 produced good color, although it tended to emphasize red hues in some of our tests slightly. The color cast wasn't overly strong, however, and the camera did a very good job overall. The camera's auto white balance option had a hard time with the strongly-hued incandescent lighting of my Indoor Portrait shot, but the incandescent and manual white balance settings both produced very good results. Skin tones were pretty good, just slightly pink, and the always-difficult blue flowers of the bouquet came out nearly right as well, indoors and out.

  • Exposure: A tendency to underexpose high-contrast subjects, slightly higher than average contrast in all its images. The SD20's exposure system tended to underexpose high-contrast subjects like the Davebox target and "Sunlit" Portrait slightly, although it actually overexposed the outdoor house shot a fair bit. The camera's default contrast was also a bit higher than I'd personally prefer, leading it to lose a lot of highlight detail when confronted with harsh lighting.

  • Resolution/Sharpness: Very high resolution, 1,400 lines of "strong detail" horizontally, 1,300 vertically. The SD20 performed very well on the "laboratory" resolution test chart. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 1,000 lines per picture height, in both horizontal and vertical directions. I found "strong detail" out to about 1,400 lines horizontally and 1,300 vertically. (Although that may be stretching things a bit in the vertical direction, as there are fairly heavy artifacts present, as low as 1,200 lines.) "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until about 1,600 lines.

  • Image Noise: Low noise at low ISO settings, high at ISO 400, but prints look surprisingly good even at high ISO. Image noise is pretty low at the ISO 50 and 100 settings, becoming high and distracting at the ISO 400 setting. The grain pattern of the noise is heavy and tight, blurring detail and shifting the color balance somewhat, but in fairness, at 4x6 (the size of the vast majority of consumer photo prints), the noise is all but invisible. Even at 8x10, many consumers would likely find prints from the SD20's ISO 400 images to be entirely acceptable.

  • Closeups: An unusually tiny macro area with excellent detail. The SD20 performed very well in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of only 0.94 x 0.71 inches (24 x 18 millimeters). Resolution was excellent, and detail was very strong in the fibrous paper of the dollar bill. (The coin and brooch were soft due to the shallow depth of field resulting from the very short shooting distance, not the camera's fault.) Details were sharp and clear, but softened in the corners. The SD20's flash was ineffective at such a close shooting range, so I did not test it there. (Plan on using external lighting for your closest macro shots with the SD20.)

  • Night Shots: Good low-light performance, with nearly accurate color. Moderately good low light focus performance. The SD20 produced clear, bright, usable images down to the 1/16 foot-candle (0.67 lux) limit of my test, with good color at the 200 and 400 ISO settings. At ISO 100, images were bright as far as 1/8 foot-candle (1.3 lux), but you could arguably use the image shot at the 1/16 foot-candle light level. At ISO 50, images were bright to about 1/4 foot-candle (2.7 lux), though the target was visible at the lower light levels as well. Noise was high at the ISO 400 setting, but the grain pattern was fine and tight, and the pixels weren't overly bright. The SD20 focused moderately well in dim lighting, with the autofocus working down to about 1/2 foot-candle with out the AF-assist illuminator, and in complete darkness (on nearby objects) with the illuminator on.

  • Viewfinder Accuracy: A pretty accurate LCD monitor. The SD20's LCD monitor was a little loose, showing slightly more than what made it into the final frame. Still, results were very good, close to 100 percent accuracy.

  • Optical Distortion: Slightly lower than average barrel distortion. Optical distortion on the SD20's 39mm fixed focal length lens was moderate, as I measured approximately 0.6 percent barrel distortion. (This is a bit lower than that of most zoom-equipped cameras at the wide angle end of their range, but still a bit higher than I'd like to see.) Chromatic aberration was very low, showing only about two or three pixels of very faint coloration on either side of the target lines. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.) I also noticed that details softened a little toward the corners of the frame, and some light falloff was evident in the corners as well.

  • Shutter Lag and Cycle Time: Average shutter lag, slightly slower than average cycle times. With a full-autofocus shutter lag of 0.78 second, the Canon SD20 comes in on the fast side of average in that category. It's slower from shot to shot though (not uncommon among subcompact digicams), at 2.82 seconds per shot regardless of the resolution setting. In continuous mode it's still not terribly fast, at 1.16 seconds per large/fine shot. (Although it can capture 8 shots that quickly, before having to wait for the memory card to catch up.) Overall probably not a first choice for fast-paced action shooting.

  • Battery Life: Decent battery life for a subcompact digital camera. The SD20 doesn't have an external power jack that we could plug into, so we couldn't perform our usual exacting power-drain measurements. We did find that a freshly charged battery would run the camera in its worst power-drain mode (capture mode with the LCD running) for 87 minutes though. - Not bad for a subcompact digital camera, but I'd still advise purchasing a second battery along with the camera, if you plan any even slightly extended outings with it.

  • Print Quality: Sharp prints with good color. Even high ISO shots look good at 8x10. Viewing images onscreen only tells part of the story of a digital camera's performance. That's why I encourage readers to download our images and print them out on their own printers. Now, I'm considering adding a standard section to each of our reviews, discussing print quality, to hopefully save some of you that trouble. Taking the Canon PowerShot SD20 as a case in point, I printed out some of our test shots from it on the Canon i9900 printer we have in our studio. (An excellent printer BTW, with great color and high resolution.) Looking at prints from the SD20, I found its output looked great, even when printed as large as 13x19 inches. Most surprising though, was how good its photos captured at ISO 400 looked when printed at 8x10 size. The image noise that was so noticeable on-screen was really much less of an issue in the prints. True, it was still there, but at a level that I suspect most consumers would be entirely comfortable with. (Exceptions might be subjects with large areas of relatively flat tints, such as skies, solid-color walls, etc. In such instances, plan on prints no larger than 5x7 from ISO 400 images.)

 

Conclusion

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Good image quality and user-friendly design are synonymous with the ELPH name, and are the reasons why the line is so popular with a wide range of consumers. Extending the brand name's excellent reputation in the film world, members of the digital ELPH series have always impressed me with their quality and versatility. The Canon SD20 updates last year's SD10 model, with higher resolution and a minor revamp of the feature set. It retains the SD10's ultra-sleek styling and subcompact size, but there are tradeoffs, such as a fixed focal length lens (no zoom), shorter battery life, and no optical viewfinder. If you don't mind the lack of a zoom lens though (and can live with an LCD-only viewfinder), the SD20 makes an excellent traveling companion, one that'll let you bring back big, sharp, good-looking photos. In fact, the SD20 is particularly notable in that it makes almost no sacrifices in image quality to achieve its small size. Compact cameras often force users to accept sub-par optical and image performance, but the SD20's shots are clear, sharp, and colorful. Overall, the SD20 strikes me as one of the better subcompact digicam models on the market. Highly recommended, and an easy Dave's Pick.

 

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