The Imaging Resource
Canon PowerShot SD300 Digital ELPH Camera
|Good, 4.0-megapixel CCD|
|11 x 14 inches,
or 8x10 with some cropping
Suggested Retail Price
Slightly smaller than many preceding Canon Digital ELPH models, the PowerShot SD300 features the great looks and sharp design that are the ELPH signature. Very compact and quick on the draw (thanks to a smoothly operating retractable lens design), the PowerShot SD300 is a convenient point-and-shoot digital camera with a handful of extra exposure features for added flexibility, and a larger LCD display than previous models of this size in Canon's lineup. With the lens retracted, the Canon SD300's front panel is flat and pocket friendly, and its all-metal body rugged and durable. Equipped with a 4.0-megapixel CCD, the SD300 captures high quality images, suitable for printing snapshots as large as 11x14 inches, or 8x10 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.
Taking advantage of Canon's advanced "high index" lens technology, the Canon SD300 features a new 3x, 5.8-17.4mm zoom lens, equivalent to a 35-105mm zoom on a 35mm camera (previous ELPH cameras of this size were limited to 2x optical zoom). Aperture is automatically controlled, but the maximum setting ranges from f/2.8 at full wide angle to f/4.9 at full telephoto. A maximum 3.6x digital zoom option increases the SD300's zoom capability to 11x, but keep in mind that digital zoom decreases the overall image quality, because it simply crops out and enlarges the center pixels of the CCD's image. Image details are thus likely to be softer with digital zoom. Focus ranges from 1.0 feet (30 centimeters) to infinity in normal AF mode, and from 1.2 inches to 1.6 feet (3 to 50 centimeters) in Macro mode. A new Digital Macro mode allows a user to zoom in on their macro subjects, effectively cropping the digital image to save only the most important central area. An Infinity fixed-focus mode is also available. The SD300 employs a sophisticated, 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 and have been happy to see continued). Through the Record menu, you can turn AiAF off, which defaults the autofocus area to the center of the frame. Also built-in to the SD300 is an AF assist light, which aids the focus mechanism in low light when it's enabled via a menu option. For composing images, the SD300 offers a real-image optical viewfinder, as well as a large 2.0-inch color LCD monitor. The LCD reports a fair amount of camera information, but excludes exposure information such as aperture and shutter speed. In Playback mode, a histogram display reports 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, increasing the line's appeal to point-and-shoot users. The SD300 sticks to this trend, with a series of unique Scene modes, but does provide a handful of manual adjustments, plus several enhancements to the PictBridge direct print functionality. Main camera modes are now controlled in the Function menu, accessed by pressing the Set button in the center of the 5-way nav array. Using the left and right arrows, users can select from Auto, Manual (similar to Program Auto), Digital Macro, Portrait, Night Snapshot, Kids&Pets, Indoor, and Underwater (used when camera is operated in an underwater housing, available separately). 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. Manual mode provides more hands-on control, with White Balance, Exposure Compensation, ISO, and some creative effects, but it is not a true manual control, because the user is not allowed to set--or even to know--the aperture or shutter speed settings. 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 the small LEDs next to the optical viewfinder let you know when the camera is ready to take the picture.
The SD300 uses an Evaluative metering system by default, which means that the camera divides the image area into zones and evaluates both contrast and brightness among all the zones 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 SD300 also offers a creative Photo Effects menu, which adjusts sharpening, color, and saturation. Sensitivity equivalents include 50, 100, 200, and 400 ISO settings, as well as an Auto setting. The SD300's built-in flash operates in Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced On, Suppressed, 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 and activating an "FEL" icon in the LCD monitor until the Shutter button is released or fully pressed.
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 SD300'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 with the accompanying software. The SD300 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, at either 30 or 15 fps, until the card is full. A special fast frame rate movie mode can capture 320 x 240 moving images at 60 frames/second for one minute. Finally, a Continuous Shooting mode captures a series of consecutive images (much like a motor drive on a traditional camera), at approximately 2.4 frames per second, for as long as the Shutter button is held down. The actual frame rate varies slightly with the resolution setting, and the maximum number of images will also depend on the amount of memory card space and file size. (Depending on the speed of the SD memory card you're using, the camera will eventually slow somewhat, having to wait for the memory card after is "buffer" memory is full. With a 32x Lexar-brand SD card, we found we could shoot upwards of 17 consecutive images before the camera slowed to an average of 2 frames/second, still very fast.)
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 SD300 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 SD300 stores images on SD memory cards (hence, the "SD" in its name). A 16MB card accompanies the camera, but I highly recommend picking up a larger capacity card, at least 64 megabytes, so you don't miss any shots. The camera utilizes a rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack for power, which accompanies the camera, along with the necessary battery charger. Because the SD300 does not accommodate AA-type or any other off-the-shelf battery format, 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 SD300 to a television set, for reviewing and composing images. The SD300 is Digital Print Order Format (DPOF) and PictBridge compatible, with detailed print settings in the Playback menu. Canon offers a selection of direct-connect printers as well, which simplifies printing even more.
- 4.0-megapixel CCD.
- Real-image optical viewfinder.
- 2.0-inch color TFT LCD monitor.
- 3x, 5.8-17.4mm lens, equivalent to a 35-105mm lens on a 35mm camera.
- Maximum 3.6x 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 to f/4.9, depending on lens zoom position.
- Built-in flash with five modes.
- SD memory card storage, 16MB 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.
- New Print/Share button.
- Movie mode with sound. (Up to 640x480 pixels, at up to 30 frames/second.)
- Fast Frame Rate movie mode with sound, for 60 frames/second capture at 320x240 pixels, one-minute maximum recording time.)
- Continuous Shooting modes.
- 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.
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 SD300 Digital ELPH updates the line with special features designed to ease printing direct from the camera, and sports a 4.0-megapixel CCD for high resolution images. Although exposure control is mainly automatic, the availability of exposure times as long as 15 seconds and adjustable ISO increases the camera's exposure versatility a great deal. Plus, the uncomplicated user interface helps novices and more advanced amateurs alike feel at home, with enough variable exposure control to make both happy. The Canon SD300 makes a great "all around" camera for anyone, and would make a good "second camera" for enthusiasts for those times when they don't want to lug along their full-size all-the-bells-and-whistles camera.
With more rounded edges, a slightly slimmer size and a much larger LCD than preceding members of the ELPH line, the SD300 nonetheless features the characteristic ELPH styling that has proved so popular among consumers. The compact size is perfect for quickly stashing in a pocket or purse without worrying about damaging the rugged, all-metal body (though if you want to maintain that gorgeous finish, you'll want to put it in a protective case first, because it can get scratched). 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 3.4 x 2.1 x 0.82 inches (86 x 53 x 20.7 millimeters), the SD300 should easily fit into the average shirt pocket. The camera weighs 5.26 ounces (149 grams) with battery and memory card.
Several distinctive ELPH features identify the front of the SD300, with the lens off-center slightly toward the right, and viewfinder and flash just above it. A light emitter, next to the optical viewfinder, serves multiple purposes, including autofocus assist, red-eye reduction, and the 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. (Startup time is a very fast 1.5 seconds.) To the left of the lens is a hole for the camera's tiny microphone. No real finger-grip is provided, so be sure to attach the accompanying wrist strap.
The Shutter button, Zoom ring, and Power button are all on top of the camera, with the former two protruding dramatically from the surface.
On the right side of the camera (as viewed from the rear) are the AV Out and USB port concealed by a chrome-coated soft plastic door. Below that is the wrist strap attachment eyelet.
The opposite side of the camera is completely bare.
The remaining camera controls are on the rear panel, along with the optical and LCD viewfinders. The LCD monitor is huge for such a small camera, measuring 2.0 inches diagonally. Because of the large screen, all controls have been moved off to the right. A three-way switch selects between Playback, Movie, and Record modes. Below this are the Menu button and speaker holes. An enhanced multi-functional Five-Way Arrow pad incorporates most of the quick settings, with the outside buttons handling both navigation and items like Macro and flash modes. The Function button has been nestled in the middle of the Five-way, also serving as the Set button for making menu selections. Below this arrangement are the Display button and Print/Share button, which glows blue when connected to a computer or PictBridge printer. Two LED lamps next to the viewfinder report camera status, lighting to indicate when focus is set or the flash is fully charged.
The SD300 features a nice, flat bottom panel, which holds the metal tripod mount and the battery/memory card compartment. The tripod socket is almost exactly below the lens barrel, a good choice for panorama shooters, and is close enough to being centered on the body as a whole that the camera should set level on most tripod mounts. Inside the compartment, the battery and SD memory card slots line up side by side. The locking compartment cover slides open and then outward, with a small, rubber flap in its center. This flap covers a hole in the compartment cover that accesses the connector jack in the "dummy battery" used in the AC adapter kit. (Like many other Canon digicams, the SD300's AC adapter scheme employs a dummy battery that fits into the battery compartment, and which provides a plug for the AC power converter's cable.)
The SD300's user interface is straightforward and relatively uncomplicated, with a similar menu setup and basic control philosophy as the rest of the current ELPH series. Most of the camera's functions are controlled by buttons on the top and rear panels, 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, the image with a limited information display, or no display at all. Pressing the Display button cycles through the available displays. 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).
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.
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.
Zoom Lever: Surrounding the Shutter button on the camera's top panel, this lever controls the optical and digital zoom in any record mode. In Playback mode, the wide-angle end activates an index display, while the telephoto setting zooms in on captured images for closer inspection of fine details.
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 below the shutter button, but on the rear panel, this dial 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, which in almost all modes will record as long as there is space on the card (the exception is the 320 x 240 at 60 frames per second mode, which will only record 60 seconds of video at a time).
- Record Mode: For still image capture. Which specific mode (Auto, Manual, etc.) is determined through the Function menu.
Five-Way Arrow Pad: This five-way rocker button is located to the 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 cycles through Evaluative, Center-Weighted, and Spot metering modes. The left arrow controls Macro and Infinity focus modes, and cycles back around to the normal AF mode. The right arrow accesses the camera's flash modes, cycling through Automatic, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced On, Forced Off, and Slow-Sync settings. Finally, the down arrow key activates the Self-Timer and Continuous Shooting modes, or returns to the normal exposure mode. In Playback modes, it also serves as the Delete button. Set and function buttons are also embedded here as the center button, and will be explained in the next item.
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.
Function / Set Button: Occupying the center of the Five-way arrow pad, this control activates the Function menu in any record mode, and confirms selections once any menu has been invoked. When used to activate the Function button, the following options are available:
- Shooting Mode: Selects among eight shooting modes, including Auto, Manual, Digital Macro, Portrait, Night Snapshot, Kids&Pets, Indoor, and Underwater. In Movie Mode the options are Standard, Fast Frame (60 fps), and Compact.
- Exposure Compensation: Increases or decreases the exposure from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments.
- Long Shutter: Accesses longer shutter times, from one to 15 seconds. (Only appears when enabled through the Record menu, and is accessed by pressing the Menu button while the Exposure Compensation option is highlighted.)
- White Balance: Controls the color balance of images. Options are Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, and Custom (manual setting).
- ISO Speed: Sets the camera's sensitivity to Auto, or to 50, 100, 200, or 400 ISO equivalents.
- Photo Effect: Enables Vivid Color (high color saturation), Neutral Color (low color saturation), Low Sharpening, Sepia, or Black-and-White picture effects.
- Compression: Sets the JPEG compression to Superfine, Fine, or Normal.
- Resolution: Specifies the image resolution. Still image resolutions are 2,272 x 1,704; 1,600 x 1,200; 1,024 x 768; and 640 x 480 pixels; a Postcard mode also takes the resolution to 1600 x 1200 and locks the resolution to Fine for smaller file sizes; a date stamp can be printed on the image in this mode. Movie resolutions are 640 x 480, 320 x 240, and 160 x 120 pixels.
Display Button: Lower left of the Five-way nav, this button cycles through the LCD image and information displays and includes an LCD Off state for power savings when desired. In Playback mode, this button controls the information display only, and activates a histogram display of the captured image.
Menu Button: Upper left of the Five-way nav controls, this button accesses the LCD menu system in both Record and Playback modes.
Print/Share Button: The Print/Share button is used for activating uploads to Windows computers or connections to Exif Print enabled printers. The button glows blue when ready to print or transfer images, and flashes blue when printing or transferring images.
Camera Modes and Menus
Playback Mode: 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.
Movie Mode: Records short movie clips with sound, at either 640 x 480, 320 x 240, or 160 x 120 pixels. The actual amount of recording time in all but Fast Frame Rate mode is limited only by the capacity of the SD card in the camera (and of course the relative battery life). (Recording time is limited to 60 seconds per clip in Fast Frame Rate mode.) A handful of exposure controls are available in this mode, although options like flash mode, Continuous Shooting, and digital zoom are disabled.
Record Mode: Sets camera in Still capture mode; specific record modes are set via the Function Menu.
Record Menu System: 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.
- 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 the digital zoom function, which is engaged by zooming past the optical zoom range. Also disables digital zoom.
- 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. (Still images only.)
- Long Shutter: Activates Long Shutter mode, so that it appears in the Function menu.
- Stitch Assist: Enables Stitch Assist mode (the SD300's panoramic shooting mode), and lets you choose a shooting direction (to the right or the left). After pressing the Set button to start the sequence and taking the first shot, blue grid lines appear in the LCD monitor to help you line up each subsequent shot. Exposure is locked for the sequence which ends when you press the Menu button. The final series of images can be stitched together as one image on a computer via the accompanying software.
- Mute: Turns the camera's beep sounds on and off.
- Volume: Individually sets Startup, Operation, Self Timer, Shutter, and Playback volumes.
- LCD Brightness: Adjust the brightness of the LCD backlight.
- Power Saving: Toggles the camera's automatic shutoff function, which turns off the camera after a length of inactivity. Also sets display shutdown time between 10 seconds and 3 minutes.
- Date/Time: Sets the camera's internal calendar and clock.
- Clock Display: Turns on clock display option for 1 second to 3 minutes when Function key is pressed and held for two seconds. (Handy if you forgot your wristwatch, I guess.)
- Format: Formats the CompactFlash card, erasing all files (even those marked for write-protection).
- File No. Reset: Resets file numbering with each new CompactFlash card. If disabled, the camera continues numbering in sequence, regardless of memory card.
- Auto Rotate: Toggles Auto Rotate feature on and off.
- Language: Sets the camera's menu language to one of 12 choices. English is the default setting.
- Video System: Sets the camera's video-out signal to conform to NTSC or PAL timing.
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. Users can also select and upload their own sounds to the camera.
- 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 System: Accessed by pressing the Menu button in Playback mode, the Playback menu also has subject tabs for the Setup and My Camera menus. Since these were described above, I won't repeat them here.
- 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.
- Slide Show: Automatically plays all captured images in a slide show.
- 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.
Print Connection: When you connect the SD300 to a PictBridge printer, a new menu option is enabled, allowing easy print to a number of basic paper sizes, all without a computer. A special icon appears in the upper left hand corner, with the word SET right next to it, telling you that to adjust settings, you should press the Set button. You can select not only the size and type of paper, but you can also crop the pictures right in the camera. If you only print one size, full frame, you need only press the Print/Share button and printing of the current image begins immediately.
In the Box
Packaged with the PowerShot SD300 are the following items:
- Wrist strap.
- Video cable.
- USB cable.
- 16MB SD memory card.
- NB-4L lithium-ion battery pack.
- Battery charger.
- ArcSoft and Canon Digital Camera Solution Disk software CDs.
- Operating manual and registration card.
- Large capacity SD memory card.
- Additional NB-4L lithium-ion battery pack.
- AC adapter kit.
- Small camera case.
See camera specifications here.
Cycle times, shutter lag, battery life, etc. can be found here.
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.
For those readers interested in a set of less "standardized" photos from the Canon PowerShot SD300, we've put together a "photo gallery" of more pictorial shots captured with the SD300.
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 PowerShot SD300'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 SD300 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 the SD300's images compare to other cameras you may be considering.
- Color: Very good to excellent color, very good white
balance performance. The SD300's overall color was very good throughout
my testing, and its white balance system also performed very well. In most
cases, each of the white balance settings tested produced good results, with
only very slight color casts. Notably, the Auto white balance setting produced
acceptable results in almost every test, even managing a passable result with
the very warm-toned household incandescent lighting of the Indoor Portrait
test. Skin tones were good, and the always-difficult blue flowers in the bouquet
were virtually dead-on. All in all, very pleasing color.
- Exposure: Average (good) exposure accuracy, but high
contrast. The SD300's exposure system handled my test lighting quite well,
accurately exposing most shots. It underexposed the very high-key outdoor
portrait shot slightly at the default setting, but a less than average amount of positive
exposure compensation (+0.7 EV) brightened the midtones appropriately. However,
the SD300 responded to the deliberately harsh lighting of that subject with
high contrast and lost highlight detail. (It lacks the contrast adjustment
of many full-sized Canon models, which would have helped here.) Indoors, the
camera required an average amount of positive exposure compensation, though
the flash exposure was quite low at the default setting. The SD300 had no
trouble distinguishing the subtle pastel tones on the Q60 target of the Davebox,
however, and shadow detail was generally good.
- Resolution/Sharpness: High resolution, 1,200 lines of
"strong detail." The SD300 performed about average on the "laboratory"
resolution test chart for its 4-megapixel class. It started showing artifacts
in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 1,000 lines per picture height
vertically, and about 800 lines horizontally. I found "strong detail"
out to at least 1,200 lines. "Extinction" of the target patterns
didn't occur until about 1,500 lines.
- Image Noise: Very good balance between image noise and subject
detail. Canon's engineers did an excellent job with noise control
on the SD300, achieving a near-perfect balance between subject detail and
noise suppression. At low ISOs, noise was quite low, with very little loss
of subject detail. At ISO 200, its images softened somewhat, but noise remained
at acceptable levels. At ISO 400, the noise was more evident, and subject
detail softer still, but the overall effect was much better than I'd normally
expect from a subcompact digicam at ISO 400.
- Closeups: A very small macro area with great detail.
Flash has trouble up close though. The SD300 performed very well in the
macro category, capturing a minimum area of only 1.22 x 0.92 inches (31 x
23 millimeters). Resolution was very high, showing a lot of fine detail in
the dollar bill, coins, and brooch. Details were softer on the coins and brooch
due to the close shooting range, but the particles of dust on top of the coins
were actually very well defined. Details softened toward the corners of the
frame, but were fairly sharp on the dollar bill. (Most digicams produce images
with soft corners when shooting in their Macro modes.) The SD300's flash had
trouble at such close range, overexposing the top of the frame and leaving
the bottom in shadow. (Definitely plan on using external lighting for your
closest macro shots with the SD300.)
- Night Shots: Excellent low-light performance. Good color
and exposure, with low image noise, at the darkest light levels of this test.
Good low-light autofocus as well. The SD300 produced clear, bright, usable
images down to the 1/16 foot-candle (0.67 lux) limit of my test, with good
color at the 100, 200, and 400 ISO settings. At ISO 50, images were bright
down to the 1/8 foot-candle (1.3 lux) light level, though the target was visible
at the lowest light level of the test. Noise was fairly low in most shots,
and even at ISO 400, image noise was lower than I expected. Autofocus performance
was also excellent, with the camera able to focus down to 1/4 foot-candle
with no AF assist, and in complete darkness with the AF-assist light enabled.
Since city street-lighting at night generally corresponds to a light level
of about 1 foot-candle, the SD300 should do very well for after-dark photography
in typical outdoor settings with artificial lighting.
- Viewfinder Accuracy: A tight optical viewfinder, but
nearly accurate LCD monitor. The SD300's optical viewfinder was very tight,
showing about 82 percent of the final image area at wide angle, and about
80 percent at telephoto. The LCD monitor actually proved very slightly loose,
showing just a bit more than what made it into the final frame, though results
were near 100 percent accuracy. Given that I like LCD monitors to be as close
to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the SD300's LCD monitor performed pretty
well here, but its optical viewfinder could use some help.
- Optical Distortion: Moderate barrel distortion
at wide angle, very little chromatic aberration, but severe loss of
sharpness in the corners of the frame. Geometric distortion on the SD300
was a bit less than average at the wide-angle end, where I measured approximately
0.7 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end fared quite a bit better,
as I measured approximately 0.09 percent pincushion distortion (about two
pixels' worth). Chromatic aberration was virtually nonexistent, as I couldn't
really find any pixels of strong coloration. (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.) The big problem with the SD300's
images though, was the extensive blurring in the corners of the frame, worst
at wide angle, but bad at any focal length. - This extreme corner softness
was the one significant flaw in what is otherwise an excellent digicam. (Checking
sample photos from the SD300 posted on other websites, I didn't see nearly
as much softness in the corners as was apparent in our test images. I'd still
say that there was more than average, but not to the extent we found in our
own tests. - So it's possible that the sample unit we received wasn't fully
up to spec.)
- Shutter Lag and Cycle Time: Faster than average shutter response
and cycle times. The SD300 is surprisingly fast for a compact mode, with
full-autofocus shutter delays of 0.57 - 0.78 second, and a blazing shutter
delay of only 0.073 second when it's "prefocused" by half-pressing
and holding down the shutter button before the shot itself. With a reasonably
fast SD memory card (I tested with a 32x Lexar SD card), shot to shot cycle
times are 1.32 seconds for large/fine images, or 1.28 seconds for small/basic
ones, with no apparent limit due to buffer-memory capacity. In continuous
mode, it can capture upwards of 17 consecutive shots at intervals of 0.42
second, before slowing to 0.50 second. Very impressive for such a compact
- Battery Life: Slightly better than average battery life for a compact model, but think about buying a second battery anyway. Like most compact digicams, battery life on the SD300 is a little on the short side, with a worst-case run time (capture mode, with the LCD turned on) of 99 minutes by actual measurement. This is actually better than many compact and subcompact models, but I'd still strongly recommend purchasing a second battery along with the camera, and keeping it charged as a spare. (Digicam batteries always die at the worst possible times.)
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- User reviews for the Canon PowerShot SD300 on PC PhotoREVIEW