Canon SD630 Review

 
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Basic Specifications
Full model name: Canon PowerShot SD630
Resolution: 6.00 Megapixels
Sensor size: 1/2.5"
Lens: 3.00x zoom
(35-105mm eq.)
Viewfinder: LCD
ISO: 50-800
Shutter: 15-1/1500
Max Aperture: 2.8
Dimensions: 3.5 x 2.2 x 0.8 in.
(90 x 57 x 20 mm)
Weight: 5.1 oz (145 g)
MSRP: $400
Availability: 04/2006
Manufacturer: Canon
6.00
Megapixels
3.00x zoom
1/2.5"
size sensor
image of Canon PowerShot SD630
Front side of Canon PowerShot SD630 digital camera Back side of Canon PowerShot SD630 digital camera Top side of Canon PowerShot SD630 digital camera Left side of Canon PowerShot SD630 digital camera Right side of Canon PowerShot SD630 digital camera

Canon SD630 Overview

By: Stephanie Boozer & Dan Havlik
Review posted:
08/31/2006

Canon makes some of the most consistently appealing compact cameras around, mostly because they don't skimp on image quality. With the new PowerShot SD630 Digital ELPH, that steady attention to imaging detail continues with several new small but substantial improvements. In particular, the SD630 tackles one of the hottest issues in digital cameras right now: low-light shooting.

To allow flash-free photography in low light, the Canon SD630 offers selectable ISO settings up to 800, an extraordinarily high sensitivity rating, previously available only on higher-end and professional cameras. If you're less inclined to be fiddling around with ISO while taking pictures, there's also a new High ISO Auto setting (along with regular ISO Auto) which automatically sets exposure using the higher (400 and 800) ISO levels. For quick access to these settings there's a dedicated ISO button on the multi-controller on the back of the camera. While improving low-light performance has the potential to be revolutionary for consumers, in other areas, the SD630 plays it safer.

 

Canon SD630 User Report

The new PowerShot SD630 features a lot of the same digital ELPH design elements we've seen over the years, but the SD630's design is enhanced by a slightly more elegant appearance. Super thin and sleek, the SD630's controls are extremely low profile and subtle, directing your attention back at that good-looking case. The rear panel sports a very large 3.0-inch LCD monitor that's clear and bright, leaving room for only a sprinkling of control buttons, and eliminating the optical viewfinder entirely. The SD630 and its cousin, the SD600 are virtually the same camera, though with a few modifications on the SD630's design. Both feature 6.0-megapixel sensors, 3x optical zooms, Canon's DIGIC II image processors, and all the high ISO capabilities that make them ideal for shooting in low-light without a flash. However, at just $50 more than the SD600, the SD630 offers the larger LCD monitor, and its more stylish body will definitely turn more heads.

The SD630 is trim and compact at 3.56 x 2.24 x 0.80 inches (90.3 x 56.8 x 20.2 millimeters), discreetly slipping into shirt pockets and tiny evening bags with ease. The largely metal composition of the SD630 also gives it enough weight -- about 5.71 ounces (162 grams) with the battery and card -- and balance to let you know you're not dealing with a toy. Because the SD630 has very few protrusions with the lens retracted, there's no danger of it getting hung on a pocket, making it quick on the draw when combined with its quick startup speed. While the SD630's larger 3.0-inch LCD offers more real estate than its cousin, the SD600, it has the same 173,000 pixels of resolution, which means playback and live view won't appear as sharp as on the SD600's 2.5-inch LCD monitor. However, in terms of playback, both cameras come equipped with great new transition effects. One setting darkens and then brightens each image as you scroll through, and another slides one image over the other like shuffling through a deck of cards. It has a high cool factor. In the same coolness category, the SD630 also sports a Touch Dial feature. What this means is that the camera's multicontroller on the rear panel can be set through the Setup menu to respond simply to the touch of a finger. Merely touching the dial displays a digital replica of the dial in the LCD monitor, with the function icon closest to your finger enlarged. While this doesn't really speed up the actual process of changing menu selections, it's a quick way to verify you have your finger on the right button. On such a small controller disk, it's actually helpful. Once the icon is enlarged, pressing down on the button lets you change the setting. Again, not a super important innovation in the world of digital cameras, but definitely an interesting feature that adds a sense of grace to the SD630.

DIGIC fast. Canon's DIGIC processors (now DIGIC II) have become so accepted as the standard bearers of speed it's almost easy to take them for granted. If you've ever used a camera from a competitor with a lesser processor you'll recognize the difference right away. The Canon SD630's predecessor, the SD450, also used DIGIC II and speed results are about the same, with the new model powering on in 1.3 seconds (time to first shot). If you prefocus the SD630, shutter lag is virtually non-existent, clocking in at 0.074 second. Shot to shot, the SD630 outperforms most cameras in this class, registering about 1.62 seconds for large/fine JPEGs with the buffer clearing almost immediately after each shot. In Continuous shooting mode, you can snap off just over two frames per second on the SD630, which is about average for this class; but since the buffer clears immediately, you're ready to go again much faster than most rival models. Since speed issues are the number one digital camera complaint by consumers, the Digital ELPH series and their DIGIC II processors working in concert with Canon's nine-point AiAF focusing system have consistently been a good antidote to sluggish snappers.

Low-Light Greatness. In most reviews, compact digital cameras score high in outdoor daylight settings while seriously lagging in low light. Where most entry-level digital cameras struggle in flashless photography at high ISO is in the amount of "noise" that appears in the images, which some people have compared to "film graininess" in traditional photography. I think the grain comparison is actually being too kind. To me, digital noise has always resembled that obnoxious snowy fuzz you get on your TV when it's stuck between channels. The triumph of Canon's recent digital SLRs is that they've been able to shoot at high ISOs with low incidence of noise. With these new ELPHs it appears Canon has been able to bring its low-noise/high ISO expertise to a non-professional audience which is very good news for consumers. Most people have gotten so used to shooting with a flash in low light that they're amazed when they see the results without one. Instead of blown-out faces and blacked out backgrounds you have nice natural skin tones and detail of the room behind your subject. While there's still a greater chance of blur when you shoot without a flash -- even at the SD630's speedy ISO 800 setting -- if your subject's relatively still, results with the Canon SD630 look sharp.

Along with being able to select between ISO 80, 100, 200, 400, and 800, you can pick from two automatic settings -- ISO AUTO or ISO HI. After a bit of investigation, it appears that in regular lighting conditions both the AUTO and HI settings perform similarly; it's only in lower lighting that the HI setting automatically cranks up the ISO to 800. According to Canon, the only other difference between the two settings is that the HI ISO setting will almost always yield a higher shutter speed than ISO Auto. If you want to take advantage of the SD630's low light capabilities, I'd say always go with the HI ISO setting since the benefits are greater. Conversely, if you want to avoid the higher noise, stick with Auto ISO. Canon's thankfully included a dedicated ISO button on the camera's multi-selector, so accessing all these settings is easy.

Modes galore. The ELPH series aren't the best cameras for changing quickly between scene modes, because they are hidden within a couple of menus. The SD630offers a range of preset scene modes in addition to its Auto and Manual exposure mode options, including Digital Macro, Portrait, Night Snapshot, Kids & Pets, Indoor, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Underwater, Color Accent, and Color Swap. To get to the special scene modes, though, you have to first hit the Function key, then scroll down to the shooting modes selection, slide over to the right till you get to "Kids & Pets," and then hit Menu to find the rest. The Canon SD630's relatively spartan interface with few buttons and knobs does have its limitations.

Canon's My Color Modes are useful for changing settings to mimic various picture styles including sepia, B&W, or "positive film," which makes reds, greens, and blues more intense -- along with a host of other lighter, darker, and more vivid color settings -- but I've found using the unusual Color Accent and Color Swap features to be somewhat frustrating with the results just mixed. In Color Accent you can pick a specified color on the LCD and have it retain its tone while the rest of the scene becomes black and white. Using Color Swap you can switch colors in a scene so that an apple becomes purple and a green sweater becomes red.

The Canon SD630 also has four movie modes with sound and a maximum size of 640 x 480 at 30 frames per second. If the My Colors modes are your thing, there's a movie feature that lets you shoot with Color Accent or Color Swap.

One other special mode that's worth noting is the SD630's ability to shoot in 16:9 widescreen format for its still images so they can be played back on widescreen TVs. This appears to be a carryover from Canon digital camcorders which all have 16:9 modes now. Why Canon decided to import 16:9 Widescreen for its still images on the SD630 but not for its movies is a bit of a mystery.

Limited exposure control. Overall navigation is fairly straightforward and hasn't changed much from previous ELPH models. Manual control is still fairly limited; and don't be fooled by the M for Manual setting, which gives you just limited control over things like exposure compensation, white balance and various photo effects, not true control over aperture or shutter speed. If you want more manual features, look to Canon's A-Series cameras which offer great creative options but are not as small and sleek as the ELPHs.

 

Basic Features

  • 6.0-megapixel CCD
  • 3.0-inch color TFT LCD monitor, 173,000 pixels
  • 3x, 5.8-17.4mm lens, equivalent to a 35-105mm lens on a 35mm camera
  • Maximum 3x 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 v28.0 with ArcSoft PhotoStudio 4.3, and USB drivers included for both Windows and Mac platforms
  • Print/Share button

 

Special Features

  • Adjustable ISO settings of up to 800, plus Auto and ISO HI settings
  • 16:9 Widescreen still image capture mode
  • 11 preset Scene modes
  • Five Movie modes with sound (up to 640 x 480 pixels, at up to 30 frames per second with a 60-fps Fast Frame Rate mode)
  • 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
  • My Colors menus for color adjustment
  • Unusual Color Accent and Color Swap features for special effects in still images or movies
  • 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

 

In the Box

Packaged with the Canon PowerShot SD630 are the following items:

  • Wrist strap
  • Video cable
  • USB cable
  • 16MB SD memory card
  • NB-4L lithium-ion battery pack with cover
  • Battery charger
  • Canon Digital Camera Solution Disk v28.0 software CD
  • Operating manuals and registration card

 

Canon SD630 Recommended Accessories

  • Large capacity SD/MMC memory card (These days, 256 to 512MB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity.)
  • Additional NB-4L lithium-ion battery pack
  • AC adapter kit
  • Small camera case

Canon offers an assortment of accessories for their SD-series cameras. Here's a list of selected Canon accessories for the PowerShot SD630, complete with shopping links:

Accessory Model No. List
Price
Function
Spare Battery
NB-4L $60
(shop)
We recommend a spare battery, especially if you're going on vacation
Waterproof Case WP-DC3 $175
(shop)
Protect and take your SD630 where you never would have with the DC3 waterproof case
High Power Wireless Flash
HF-DC1 $100
(shop)
This interesting wireless flash not only has three power settings, it zooms with the camera. It is controlled wirelessly, though it does mount to the camera with an included special bracket
AC adapter
ACK-DC10 $50-90
(shop)

Run the camera from AC power. (Frankly, not really all that necessary, given the good battery life. Might be handy for extended slide shows, with the camera sitting atop a TV though.)

Battery/charger kit
CB-2LV (shop) $29-60
Same as the charger that comes with the camera, in case you decide you need two or if you need a replacement

 

Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Good low-light performer
  • Low noise at high ISOs -- 400 & 800
  • Vibrant, appealing color
  • Good skin tones
  • Fast start-up and virtually no shutter lag if you pre-focus
  • Auto white balance handles a wide range of lighting well
  • Better than average exposure accuracy
  • Good lens, generally low distortion (some chromatic aberration at wide settings)
  • Good shutter response at wide angle settings
  • Simple user interface
  • Accurate LCD screen with good resolution
  • Effective Long Shutter mode
  • Good download speed when connected to a computer
  • Difficult to quickly access special scene modes
  • Only white balance and EV compensation options in Manual mode
  • Contrast is a little high, tends to lose highlight and shadow detail under harsh lighting
  • Large screen eliminates optical viewfinder
  • Little room on back for thumb to rest without touching controls
  • Battery life is rather short

 

While the SD630 still features a lot of the same classic Digital ELPH design elements, Canon jazzed things up a bit with the two-toned black and silver body and sleeker overall design. Along with providing solid image quality in regular lighting conditions with good color and accurate skin tones, the SD630 incorporates many of Canon's technological advances for shooting with high ISOs. Boasting an ISO 800 setting is one thing -- several rivals have also started offering these ISO levels and higher -- but Canon backs up this ISO sensitivity rating with real, usable results. Many shots I took without a flash and the ISO set to 800 on the SD630 were leaps and bounds better than images I captured with competing cameras set at ISO 400. Though other than increasing the resolution to 6MP and updating the appearance, there's little that's different on this camera from the SD450 which we rated highly last year, and that's actually a good thing. Canon's DIGIC II processors continue to produce great results in a number of areas, particularly by nearly eliminating shutter lag when you pre-focus. As with the SD630's slightly plainer cousin, the SD600, this camera is easily a Dave's Pick in terms of functionality and image quality, not to mention the camera's great style.

 

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