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Canon PowerShot SD400 Digital ELPH Camera

Canon PowerShot SD400 QuickLook
Review Date
06/22/2005
User Level
Novice to Advanced
Product Uses
Family / Travel / Special Events
Digital Camera Design
Automatic Exposure Control
Picture Quality
Very Good, 5.0-megapixel CCD
Print Sizes
11x17s or 8x10s with heavy cropping
Availability
March 2005
Suggested Retail Price
(At introduction)
$399.99

 

Introduction

Canon PowerShot SD400
Review Links
Overview
Picky
Details
Design
Operation
Recommended Accessories
Test Images
Specifications
Conclusion
The Canon PowerShot SD400 Digital ELPH was unveiled as part of Canon's wide ranging digital camera announcements at this year's Photo Marketing Association tradeshow. The Canon SD400 is a lot like an SD-card based version of the prior PowerShot S400 in Canon's popular, diminutive Digital ELPH camera line. The Canon SD400 and SD500 models both offer extremely unusual (and frankly, rather cool) "My Color" modes that allow you to selectively replace any color in your photo with a different one, or to make the image black and white with the exception of a single color. The Canon PowerShot SD400 features a high resolution 5.0-megapixel CCD imager, big two-inch LCD, and use of the (very fast) Canon DiGIC II processor. Overall, one of the more appealing subcompact digital cameras we've seen to date. Read on for all the details!

 

Camera Overview

Sleek and trim, with an elegant body design, the new Canon PowerShot SD400 features the great looks and sharp design that are a signature of Canon's ELPH cameras. Very compact and quick on the draw (thanks to a smoothly operating retractable lens design), the Canon SD400 is a convenient point-and-shoot digital camera with a handful of extra exposure features for added flexibility, including a few features that you might not use every day, but that add some "wow" factor. With the lens retracted, the Canon SD400's front panel is smooth and pocket friendly, and its all-metal body rugged and durable. Equipped with a 5.0-megapixel CCD, the Canon SD400 captures high quality images, suitable for making sharp prints as large as 11x17 inches, or 8x10 inches with some cropping. Smaller image sizes are also available for email transmission or Web applications, and a movie mode captures video clips with sound.

The Canon PowerShot SD400 features a 3x, 5.8-17.4mm zoom lens, equivalent to a 35-105mm zoom on a 35mm camera. 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 4x digital zoom option increases the SD400's zoom capability to 12x, 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 when using 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. Since the digital zoom only normally functions once the optical zoom has reached its telephoto setting, but macro focusing is closest at the wide-angle setting, a Digital Macro mode allows use of the digital zoom with the lens locked at wide angle. As with the regular digital zoom, this is obviously with a decrease in overall image quality. An Infinity fixed-focus mode is also available. The Canon SD400 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 Canon SD400 is an AF assist light - a very bright orange LED - which aids the focus mechanism in low light when it's enabled via a menu option. For composing images, the SD400 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 Canon PowerShot SD400 sticks to this trend, with a series of unique Scene modes, but does provide a handful of manual adjustments. Main camera modes are controlled by a mode switch at the top right of the camera's rear panel. Choices include Playback, Movie, and Still Record settings. Through the Function menu in Still Record mode, you can choose Auto, Manual (similar to Program Auto), Digital Macro, Portrait, Night Snapshot, Kids & Pets, Indoor, Underwater, and My Colors exposure modes. 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 handful of preset scene modes tweak exposure variables to accommodate common photographic situations. In Portrait mode, the camera opts for a large aperture to blur the background, making the subject stand out. Underwater mode - designed for use with an optional underwater housing - uses a white balance setting appropriate for correcting the cold tones of an underwater photo, and also attempts not to use the camera's flash. Indoor mode biases the white balance system towards tungsten or fluorescent lighting, and attempts to reduce camera shake with wider apertures and higher sensitivity, and avoids using flash where possible. Kids & Pets mode opts for a faster shutter speed to freeze quick motion. Night Snapshot mode uses the camera's flash and higher sensitivity if necessary to try to obtain an exposure with your subject and a dark background correctly exposed.

The "My Colors" mode in the Canon PowerShot SD400 first appeared on the SD500, and offers nine settings - Positive Film, Lighter Skin Tone, Darker Skin Tone, Vivid Blue, Vivid Green, Vivid Red, Color Accent, Color Swap, and Custom Color. The Positive Film setting attempts to replicate the bold colors of positive film in the red, green and blue channels. The Lighter Skin Tone and Darker Skin Tone settings attempt to alter skin tones appropriately, without affecting the rest of the photo. The Vivid Blue, Vivid Green and Vivid Red options emphasize saturation in one channel only. Most unusual are the Color Accent and Color Swap features, however. In Color Accent mode, you place a small square in the center of the camera's LCD over a color you want to accent, and press the left arrow on the Four-way navigation controller. A narrow band of colors surrounding the color you selected will remain untouched in the final image; the rest of the photo will be in black and white. In Color Swap mode, you similarly select two colors with the square at the center of the LCD (one by pressing the left arrow; the other with the right arrow). The camera will then replace one color with the other in your final image - for example allowing you to make a green car appear blue. Both effects allow a little fine control over the color you selected using the left arrow key; you use the up and down arrows to slightly adjust the color you want to accent or swap. You can't, however, fine-tune the color you want to replace the swapped color with for Color Swap mode. Both the Color Accent and Color Swap modes are rather fun, and they're definitely very unusual, but the effects can be rather unpredictable. You generally end up with a slight fringe of the old color surrounding your replaced color in Color Swap mode, and it can be difficult to control the exact color you want to affect in both modes. For this reason, it is rather nice that Canon has provided the ability to set the camera through the Record menu to capture a duplicate copy of images captured in My Colors mode, without any color changes made. If you end up throwing away your color-altered image, you'll still have your original source image to change with an image editor, or just enjoy in a more normal manner. Finally, the Custom Color mode allows you to manually fine-tune the saturation of colors in the Red, Green and Blue channels (plus the saturation of skin tones), with five steps of control over each.

The Canon PowerShot SD400 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 Canon SD400 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 SD400's built-in flash operates in Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced On, Red-Eye Reduction Forced, Suppressed, and Slow-Synchro modes.

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. In addition, a Custom timer function allows you to set the camera for a delay from 0 to 30 seconds, and a number of photos to be captured once the delay has been elapsed (from one to ten). After the timer expires, the camera will capture the number of photos requested with an interval of approximately one second between photos, and the flash does recharge quickly enough to capture 10 photos in a row with flash. This could be rather nice for people trying to take photos of a large family gathering - 30 seconds gives you plenty of time to get into your photo, and with the ability to capture ten images with one press of the shutter, there's a better chance you'll get a shot where nobody blinked or made a funny face.

Stitch-Assist mode is the Canon PowerShot SD400's panoramic shooting mode, which lets you shoot as many as 26 consecutive images. As each image is captured, a portion of it appears alongside a live preview of the current scene, helping you to line the next image up with a proper overlap. The series of images can then be "stitched" together into a single panoramic frame with the accompanying software. A Continuous Shooting mode captures a series of consecutive images (much like a motor drive on a traditional camera), at approximately 2.1 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.

The Canon PowerShot SD400 also has a Movie Record mode, which records moving images with sound for as long as there is available battery life and flash card space, depending on the resolution setting. Movies are recorded at either 640 x 480, 320 x 240, or 160 x 120 pixels, at either 30 or 15 fps. The smallest resolution setting is only available as a "Compact" setting, meaning the resulting file is suitable for e-mail transmission. A special fast frame rate movie mode can capture 320 x 240 moving images at 60 frames/second for as long as the memory card has space available. The camera's Playback mode allows cropping of movies, with a minimum length of two seconds for the cropped movie. You can preview the change, and opt to save the new movie over the old one, or as a new file. During playback, you can also step through images frame by frame, and you can play them at one of four reduced frame rates (without sound).

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 PowerShot SD400 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 SD400 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, so you don't miss any shots. These days, 128 - 256 MB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity. The camera utilizes a rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack for power, which accompanies the camera, along with the necessary battery charger. Because the Canon SD400 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 kit 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. A software CD accompanies the camera provide the necessary drivers and editing software, both compatible with Windows and Macintosh platforms. The CD holds Canon's Digital Camera Solution Disk version 23.0 and also features ArcSoft's PhotoStudio version 4.3. Finally, an A/V cable connects the SD400 to a television set, for reviewing and composing images. The Canon SD400 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.

Basic Features

  • 5.0-megapixel (effective) 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 4x 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 six modes.
  • SD memory card storage, 16MB card included.
  • Power supplied by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack (charger included) or optional AC adapter kit.
  • Canon Digital Camera Solution Software v23.0 with ArcSoft PhotoStudio 4.3, and USB drivers included for both Windows and Mac platforms.
  • Print/Share button.

Special Features

  • Movie mode with sound. (Up to 640 x 480 pixels, at up to 30 frames/second.)
  • Fast Frame Rate movie mode with sound, for 60 frames/second capture at 320 x 240 pixels, one-minute maximum recording time.)
  • Continuous Shooting mode.
  • Stitch-Assist panorama mode.
  • Infinity and Macro focus modes plus "Digital Macro" mode.
  • Customizable "My Camera" settings.
  • Two- or 10-second Self-Timer for delayed shutter release, plus custom timer with multi-shot feature.
  • 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 and My Colors menus for color adjustment.
  • Unusual Color Accent and Color Swap features for special effects in still images or movies.
  • Adjustable ISO setting.
  • DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) and PictBridge 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 digital cameras continues to be a popular option for many consumers, given its tiny size and reputation for great quality. The Canon PowerShot SD400 Digital ELPH updates the line with attractive new styling, a new 5.0-megapixel CCD for high resolution images, and a Secure Digital memory card slot rather than the larger CompactFlash slot found on earlier ELPH models. 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. The uncomplicated user interface and smooth styling helps novices and more advanced amateurs alike feel at home, with enough control over the exposure to make both happy. The Canon SD400 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. All in all, one of the better subcompact digital cameras currently on the market.

 

Design

Slim and trim, the Canon PowerShot SD400 appears very sleek, and is actually among the smallest ELPHs currently available. The SD400's thin body is perfect for quickly stashing in a shirt pocket or tiny purse without worrying about damaging the rugged, all-metal body (though if you want to maintain that attractive flat silver finish, you'll want to put it in a protective case first, to prevent any scratches). 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 a mere 3.39 x 2.09 x 0.82 inches (86 x 53 x 21 millimeters), and a weight of 5.3 ounces (151 grams) without battery and memory card, the Canon SD400 is hardly a burden.

Several distinctive ELPH features identify the front of the Canon SD400, with the lens off-center slightly toward the right, and both the 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, projecting an inch from the front of the camera when powered on, and retracts fully within the camera when switched off to maintain a flat profile. A decorative lens surround gives the SD400 a fashionable air. 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 located at the right of the camera's top, with the former two protruding slightly from the surface, while the latter is almost flush with a small LED behind it that lights when the camera is powered on.

On the right side of the camera (as viewed from the rear) is the shared AV Out and USB port, concealed by a well-disguised plastic door that flips upward. The door features a shiny silver finish, and fits very snugly back into place with a gentle press - unlike many such doors on digital cameras that seem impossible to ever get properly closed after they've first been opened. Below the door is the wrist strap attachment eyelet.

The opposite side of the camera is basically bare, with only a couple of screws visible, plus four tiny protrusions in the corners that let the camera stand vertically on its end (although we wouldn't advise trying this on anything other than a perfectly level, smooth surface - and even then not near an edge, as the camera could fall off!).

The remaining camera controls are on the rear panel, along with the optical and LCD viewfinders. The LCD monitor is large for a subcompact camera, measuring 2.0 inches diagonally. Because of the screen size, all controls are located to the right. A three-position Mode switch at the top right of the camera's rear selects between Playback, Movie, and Still Record modes. Below this is the camera's Menu button, adjacent to a seven-hole grille for the camera's speaker. A Four-Way Multicontroller incorporates most of the quick settings, with the up, down, left, and right directions handling both menu navigation and items like Macro and flash modes. The Function button nestles in the middle of the Multicontroller, also serving as the Set button for making menu selections. Below this arrangement are the Display and Print/Share buttons. Finally, two LED lamps next to the viewfinder report camera status, lighting to indicate when focus is set or the flash is fully charged.

The Canon SD400 features a nice, flat bottom panel, which holds the metal tripod mount and the battery / memory card compartment. The tripod socket is almost exactly centered beneath the lens, good for panorama shooters. Inside the battery / memory card compartment, the battery and SD memory card slots line up side by side. A small spring-loaded latch ensures the battery won't accidentally fall out when you open the compartment cover. The cover itself 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 optional AC adapter kit. (Like many other Canon digital cameras, the SD400'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.)

Unfortunately the tripod mount is also right alongside the battery / card compartment door, meaning that you'll have to remove the camera from a tripod if the battery life or flash card space is exhausted (although in fairness, this is hardly a camera you'll shoot with in a studio anyway). Likewise, the rubber flap for the AC adapter kit is close enough to the tripod mount that when using AC power, you likely won't be able to use a tripod.

 

Camera Operation

The Canon PowerShot SD400'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. The maximum zoom magnification is high enough to check/verify focus with, a nice capability.


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.

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 first a nine-image index display, and then a "jump" mode that allows you to page through screens of nine thumbnails at once. 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. A tiny green LED behind the button illuminates whenever the camera is powered on.


Mode Switch
: Just below the Shutter button, but on the rear panel, this sliding 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, which in almost all modes will record as long as there is space on the card, and as long as the card you're using is fast enough (the exception is the 320 x 240 at 60 frames per second mode, which will only record 60 seconds of video at a time).
  • Still Shooting Mode: Sets the camera for image capture, with a range of exposure and shooting options available through the LCD menu.

 


Menu Button
: Below the Mode switch, this button accesses the LCD menu system in both Record and Playback modes.


Four-Way Multicontroller
: This four-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 arrow buttons control various exposure-related functions, with not all options being available in all modes. The up 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, Red-Eye Reduction Forced, 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 mode, the up arrow calls the Jump menu, and the down arrow calls the Delete menu, while 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 (see image above): Occupying the center of the four-way arrow pad, this control activates the Function menu in any record mode, and confirms selections once any menu has been invoked. In any camera mode, pressing and holding down this button pulls up the camera's date and time setting. When used to activate the Function button, the following options are available (not all options being available in all modes):

  • Shooting Mode: Selects among the available shooting modes: Auto, Manual, Digital Macro, Portrait, Night Snapshot, Kids & Pets, Indoor, Underwater, and My Colors. In Movie Mode the options are Standard, Fast Frame Rate, Compact, and My Colors.
  • 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, with thirteen steps 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, or disables the effects altogether.
  • My Colors Options: (Replaces the Photo Effect option when My Colors mode is enabled.) Sets the My Colors mode to Positive Film, Lighter Skin Tones, Darker Skin Tones, Vivid Blue, Vivid Green, Vivid Red, Color Accent, Color Swap, or Custom Color. Color Accent lets you choose a color from your subject and then either boost or cut its saturation in the final images. Color Swap lets you choose two colors from the subject (or anything else you choose to point the camera at) to swap with each other. Finally, Custom Color lets you adjust the red/green/blue/skin tone balance of your images. These color adjustment modes are pretty unique, and were fun to play with. Some may have serious application (Color Accent, for instance), while others are purely for fun, but overall we're happy to see this capability in Canon's cameras this year.
  • Compression: Sets the JPEG compression to Superfine, Fine, or Normal.
  • Resolution: Specifies the image resolution. Still image resolutions are 2,592 x 1,944; 2,048 x 1,536; 1,600 x 1,200; and 640 x 480 pixels; a Postcard mode also takes the resolution to 1600 x 1200 and locks the resolution to Fine; a date stamp can be printed on the image in this mode, and the top and bottom of the screen are greyed out when you half-press the Shutter button, showing the portions of the image that won't fit on a 4x6 postcard. Movie resolutions are 640 x 480, 320 x 240, and 160 x 120 pixels.


Display Button
: Lower left of the Four-way nav, this button cycles through the LCD image and information displays and in Record mode includes an LCD Off state for power saving when desired. In Playback mode, this button cycles through the image only, information display, and info display with histogram modes.


Print/Share Button:
Located to the right of the Display button, the Print/Share button is used for activating uploads to Windows computers or connections to a variety of compatible printers, including those complying to the PictBridge standard. 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, set up images for printing on DPOF compatible devices, as well as play and crop movies.

Movie Mode: Records short movie clips with sound, at either 640 x 480, or 320 x 240 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 remaining 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 optical / digital zoom are disabled.

Still Record Mode: Sets the camera for still image capture, a range of exposure modes available. A full Auto mode keeps the camera in control of the entire exposure, while a Manual option provides access to the exposure compensation, metering, etc. options. Also available are a handful of preset scene modes, including Digital Macro, Portrait, Night Snapshot, Kids & Pets, Indoor, Underwater, and My Colors

Record Menu System: Accessed by pressing the Menu button in any record mode (some options are not available in all modes). Three menu tabs appear, one each for Record, Setup, and My Camera sub-menus.

Record Menu:

  • 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, or lets you specify a "custom" timer. The custom timer can have a delay of 0 - 10, 15, 20, or 30 seconds, and allows multiple shots (from one to ten in total) to be captured. If the camera is set to capture multiple shots, these are captured with an interval of about one second between shots, enough time for the flash to recharge if required. Focus and exposure are locked from the first shot. (A very handy feature for getting good shots of groups, as someone invariably blinks right as the shutter goes off.)
  • AF Assist Beam: Turns the AF assist light on or off. If on, the bright orange LED on the camera's front automatically illuminates in low lighting, to help the camera focus.
  • Digital Zoom: Enables the SD400's 4x digital zoom function, which is engaged by zooming past the optical zoom range. Alternately, disables digital zoom.
  • Review: Turns the instant review function on or off, sets the amount of time that the captured image is displayed on the screen from two to 10 seconds, or allows a "Hold" mode where the image remains on the screen until the shutter button is half-pressed. The instant review function applies to still images only.
  • Date Stamp: Activates the Date Stamp feature, which imprints the date (and optionally, the time) on the lower right of images captured in "Postcard" mode only.
  • Save Original: (Only present when in My Colors mode.) When in My Colors mode, sets the camera to save an unmodified version of each still image captured, as well as the version modified by the My Colors function.
  • Long Shutter: Activates Long Shutter mode, so that it appears in the Function menu. (When enabled, it appears as an option under the Exposure Compensation adjustment function.)
  • Stitch Assist: Enables Stitch Assist mode (the Canon SD400'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, a portion of the previous image appears alongside a live preview of the current scene in the LCD monitor, helping you to correctly overlap the images. 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.

Setup Menu:

  • Mute: Turns the camera's beep sounds on and off.
  • Volume: Individually sets Startup, Operation, Self Timer, Shutter, and Playback volumes. Five steps are available for each item, or the sound for each item can be disabled individually.
  • LCD Brightness: Adjusts the brightness of the LCD backlight, with 15 steps of control available.
  • Power Saving: Toggles the camera's automatic shutoff function, which turns off the camera after a length of inactivity. Also sets display shutdown time to 10, 20, or 30 seconds, or to 1, 2, or 3 minutes.
  • Date/Time: Sets the camera's internal calendar and clock, as well as the format for dates (mm/dd/yy, dd/mm/yy, or yy/mm/dd).
  • Clock Display: Controls the clock display option, which shows the current time (but not the date) for a period of 0 - 10, 20 or 30 seconds or for 1, 2 or 3 minutes when the Function key is pressed and held for two seconds. (Handy if you forgot your wristwatch, I guess.) If set to zero, the clock is displayed only while the Function button is held in.
  • Format: Formats the Secure Digital card, erasing all files (even those marked for write-protection). An optional is available to low-level format the card.
  • File No. Reset: Resets file numbering with each new Secure Digital card. If disabled, the camera continues numbering in sequence, regardless of memory card.
  • Auto Rotate: Toggles Auto Rotate feature on and off. The camera can detect when the camera is held approximately level, or when it is rotated left or right beyond approximately 45 degrees. If you aim the camera vertically up or down, it will remember the orientation before you did so - hence letting you control which orientation an image is tagged with even for shots where the camera is tilted enough vertically to prevent the sensor working.
  • Language: Sets the camera's menu language to one of a whopping 21 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.

Playback Menu:

  • 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. The first press gives a 90 degree clockwise rotation; the second press rotates the image 90 degrees counterclockwise from the original position. On the third press, the image returns to its original orientation. The image data is not actually rotated; the camera actually sets a tag in the EXIF header, hence your software must recognize this tag to be able to recognize the orientation set in-camera.
  • 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 Canon SD400 to a PictBridge, Canon Direct Print, or Bubble Jet Direct-compatible 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 SD400 are the following items:

  • Wrist strap.
  • Video cable.
  • USB cable.
  • 16MB SD memory card.
  • NB-4L lithium-ion battery pack.
  • Battery charger.
  • Canon Digital Camera Solution Disk v23.0 software CD.
  • Operating manuals and registration card.

 

Recommended Accessories

  • Large capacity SD/MMC memory card. (These days, 128 - 256 MB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity.)
  • Additional NB-4L lithium-ion battery pack.
  • AC adapter kit.
  • Small camera case.

Recommended Software: Rescue your Photos!
Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. We get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A lot of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digital camera reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...

 

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

 

"Gallery" Photos

For those readers interested in a set of less "standardized" photos from the Canon PowerShot SD400, we've put together a "photo gallery" of more pictorial shots captured with the SD400.

 

Test Results

In keeping with my standard test policy, the comments given here summarize only my key findings. For full details on each of the test images, see the Canon SD400 "pictures" page.

For a look at some more pictorial photos from this camera, check out our Canon SD400 Photo Gallery.

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Canon SD400 Zoom 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!

  • Color: Very good color throughout my testing. The Canon SD400 produced very good color and saturation throughout my testing, and I typically found good results with all of the white balance settings I tried (with only very slight color casts). Like most popular consumer digital cameras, the SD400 oversaturates bright colors somewhat, but manages to do so without also oversaturating skin tones. The net result is very pleasing color that most consumers should find very appealing. Its white balance system handled most of my test conditions well, but had a little trouble with the difficult household incandescent lighting of my Indoor Portrait test when in the Auto mode. The Incandescent and Manual white balance options had no trouble with incandescent lighting however. All in all, very good color, and good white balance performance.

  • Exposure: Generally accurate exposure, but slightly high contrast. The Canon SD400 handled my test lighting quite well, though the camera produced contrasty shots under the deliberately harsh lighting of the "Sunlit" Portrait and the outdoor house shot. Dynamic range was slightly limited on the highlight end, though the camera held on to shadow detail fairly well. Indoors and out, the camera required about the average amount of exposure compensation on shots that normally require it. Good exposure overall.

  • Resolution/Sharpness: High resolution, 1,250 lines of "strong detail." The Canon PowerShot SD400 performed well on the "laboratory" resolution test chart. It didn't start showing artifacts in the test patterns until resolutions as low as 800 lines per picture height vertically and horizontally. I found "strong detail" out to at least 1,200 lines vertically, 1,300 lines horizontally. "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until about 1,600 lines horizontally, and about 1,700 lines vertically.

  • Image Noise: Good image noise levels at lower ISOs. ISO 400 increases dramatically, but images there look fine when printed as large as 5x7 inches. Noise in the Canon SD400's images was generally low at the lower ISO settings, and increased (as you'd expect) at higher ISO settings. Even at high ISOs though, the noise was better-behaved than that in most digital cameras, particularly some competing subcompact models. Shots at ISO 200 were quite usable for making 8x10 inch prints, something you can't always count on with a subcompact digicam. Shots at ISO 400 were soft and grainy-looking when printed at 8x10 inches, but quite acceptable at 5x7 and below.

  • Closeups: A very tiny macro area with good detail. Flash had trouble up close though. The Canon SD400 captured a small macro area, measuring only 0.97 x 0.73 inches (25 x 18 millimeters). Resolution was high, with good detail. The SD400's flash had trouble throttling down for the macro area, and overexposed the shot badly. Plan on using external lighting for your closest macro shots with the SD400.

  • Night Shots: Good low-light performance with good color, though noise was slightly high. Good low-light focusing as well. In my testing, the Canon PowerShot SD400 did pretty well under low-light conditions. It properly exposed shots down to the 1/16 foot-candle limit of my tests (about 1/16 as bright as typical city night scenes). Its autofocus system worked down to 1 foot-candle with the AF-assist light turned off, and it focused down to about 1/4 foot-candle with the AF-assist turned on. Images were a bit noisy at the lowest light levels and at high ISO settings, but not as bad as those from many subcompact digicam models. Bottom line, a fine camera for use after dark in typical urban settings.

  • Viewfinder Accuracy: A very accurate LCD viewfinder, but a tight optical viewfinder. The Canon PowerShot SD400's optical viewfinder was rather tight, showing about 78 percent frame accuracy at wide angle, and about 76 percent at telephoto. The LCD monitor proved much more accurate, showing 99+ percent frame accuracy at telephoto, though the wide angle setting proved very slightly loose, showing more than the final frame area.

  • Optical Distortion: About average barrel distortion at wide angle, a small amount at telephoto, and low to moderate chromatic aberration. Low chromatic aberration, particularly at telephoto, significant softening in the corners though. I measured approximately 0.7 percent barrel distortion at wide angle, and about 0.04 percent at telephoto, both numbers being slightly better than average. Chromatic aberration was faint at wide angle, and lower yet at telephoto. (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 SD400's biggest shortcoming was very soft corners in its image though, particularly at wide angle focal lengths.

  • Shutter Lag and Cycle Times: Better than average shutter response, good cycle time and buffer depth. The Canon PowerShot SD400 is a pretty fast little camera, with good startup and shutdown times, and better than average shutter lag. (It's full-autofocus shutter delay of 0.48-0.55 second is better than most cameras on the market, and its lag time drops to an amazing 0.069 second when you "prefocus" the camera by half-pressing and holding down the shutter button before the shot itself.) Shot to shot cycle times are average at about 1.5 seconds for large/fine images, but that's quite a bit better than most compact digital cameras manage, and you can shoot up to 9 frames that fast before having to wait for the memory card to catch up. In continuous mode, the SD400 can grab up to 6 full-size frames at 2.11 frames/second, once again a good pace for a compact model. All in all, surprising speed for such a compact camera.

  • Battery Life: Good battery life for a compact, but still consider purchasing a second battery for extended outings. The Canon PowerShot SD400 uses a custom rechargeable LiIon battery for power. Because it doesn't have a standard external power connector, I wasn't able to conduct my usual power consumption tests on it. Taking the simple expedient of measuring run time on a freshly charged battery in the camera's worst-case power drain mode though (capture mode with the LCD illuminated), it looks like worst-case battery life should be on the order of 108 minutes. This is better than average for a digital camera that's this compact, but you may still want to consider purchasing a second battery right along with the camera, to make sure you don't run short on extended outings. Canon's own numbers for the SD400 (based on the CIPA standard test procedure) indicate that you should be able to get about 150 shots from a freshly-charged battery with the LCD on, or 400 shots with the monitor off, half of those shots using the flash. Playback time should be about 180 minutes.

  • Print Quality: Good prints to 11x14 inches, quite sharp at 8x10. High-ISO shots are rather soft and noisy at 8x10, but look fine at 5x7 and below. Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon i9900 studio printer, and on the Canon iP5000 here in the office. (See our Canon i9900 review for details on that model.) Prints from the Canon PowerShot SD400 looked good as large as 11x14 inches, although they were a tad soft at that size, noticeably sharper at 8x10. (I suspect that most users would find 11x14 prints from the SD400 to be entirely acceptable though.) High ISO shots are always the toughest challenge for print size, but the SD400 did better than average there. It trades away quite a lot of fine/subtle subject detail at ISO 400, so shots taken at that setting looked pretty soft and noisy at 8x10 inches. Dropping to a print size of 5x7 inches though, they looked just great. (Some noise, but not at all obtrusive.) Images shot at ISO 200 printed quite well at 8x10 inches. All in all, a good performance from a subcompact camera.

 

Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Good resolution
  • Very nice color, bright without being overbearing
  • Natural skin tones
  • Good shutter response, especially when "prefocused"
  • Incandescent and manual settings handle household incandescent lighting quite well.
  • Excellent close-focusing for macro shots
  • Accurate LCD viewfinder
  • Very good low light capability, both exposure and focusing
  • Excellent movie performance
  • Compact, sleek case design
  • Slightly high contrast
  • Slightly limited dynamic range on the highlight end
  • Optical viewfinder is a quite tight
  • High image noise at ISO 400
  • Quite a bit of softness in the corners of images, particularly at wide angle
  • No shutter/aperture info displayed, in either record or playback mode
  • Images on the LCD seem a little soft

Free Photo Lessons

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Canon's ELPH line of digital cameras has consistently offered good image quality, user-friendly design, and excellent build quality, and the new Canon PowerShot SD400 is no exception. When it comes to picture taking, while actual exposure control remains automatic, the ability to adjust ISO, White Balance, and access longer shutter times significantly increases the camera's shooting range. Thanks to its high-speed DIGIC-II processing chip, it's also quite responsive for a subcompact digital camera, and its movie capability goes far beyond what I'm accustomed to seeing from subcompact digital camera models. Overall, the SD400 is similar in most respects to the excellent 7-megapixel Canon SD500, coming in slightly smaller and a bit lighter, and about $100 lower in price than its "big" brother. It focuses a bit closer than the SD500, but also has a bit more trouble with soft corners in its images than does its higher-end sibling. Overall though, it's a nice camera, a good value, and a good option if the $100 higher price of the SD500 puts that model out of your price range. Bottom line, a very nice little camera, another Dave's Pick for Canon.


 

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