Canon SD780 IS Review

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Basic Specifications
Full model name: Canon PowerShot SD780 IS
Resolution: 12.10 Megapixels
Sensor size: 1/2.3 inch
(6.2mm x 4.6mm)
Kit Lens: 3.00x zoom
(33-100mm eq.)
Viewfinder: Optical / LCD
Extended ISO: 80 - 3200
Shutter: 1/1500 - 15 seconds
Max Aperture: 3.2
Dimensions: 3.4 x 2.1 x 0.7 in.
(87 x 55 x 18 mm)
Weight: 4.7 oz (132 g)
includes batteries
MSRP: $280
Availability: 03/2009
Manufacturer: Canon
Full specs: Canon SD780 IS specifications
3.00x zoom 1/2.3 inch
size sensor
image of Canon PowerShot SD780 IS
Front side of Canon SD780 IS  digital camera Front side of Canon SD780 IS  digital camera Front side of Canon SD780 IS  digital camera Front side of Canon SD780 IS  digital camera Front side of Canon SD780 IS  digital camera
Imaging Resource rating

3.0 out of 5.0

Canon PowerShot SD780 IS

by Shawn Barnett
and Mike Tomkins
Review Date: 04/01/09

Though it looks completely different, the Canon PowerShot SD780 IS replaces the previous SD770 model in the company's lineup. The Canon SD780 IS is at first strikingly small and slim, and it includes much of what makes Canon PowerShots so very popular: high build quality, fast and reliable autofocus, innovative features, and optical image stabilization. New to the list of features is High Definition movie capability. This little camera is capable of capturing 1,280 x 720 pixel movies which you can play on your television or computer later.

The Canon SD780 IS is based around a 1/2.3-inch, 12.1-megapixel CCD image sensor, a DIGIC 4 image processor, and a Canon-branded 3x optical zoom lens. The Canon SD780 IS's lens offers focal lengths ranging from 33 to 100mm equivalents, and features true optical image stabilization. Maximum aperture varies from f/3.2 to f/5.8 across the zoom range, and macro focusing is possible to just three centimeters. Continuous shooting is possible at one frame per second.

In addition to a very small, but true optical viewfinder, the Canon SD780 IS offers a 2.5-inch LCD with 230,000 pixels. The maximum image dimensions are 4,000 x 3,000 pixels, and 30 frames-per-second 720p (1,280 x 720) movie recording is also possible with the Canon SD780.

Sensitivity ordinarily ranges from ISO 80 to ISO 1,600 equivalents, and can be extended to ISO 3,200 equivalent in a high sensitivity scene mode. A built-in flash strobe is rated as good to 11.5 feet (3.5 meters) at wide angle, and 6.6 feet (2 meters) at telephoto. Images and movies are stored on SD cards, HDMI high-definition and NTSC / PAL standard definition video output plus USB 2.0 High-Speed computer connectivity are on offer, and the Canon PowerShot SD780 draws power from a proprietary NB-4L lithium-ion rechargeable battery.

Available in black, red, silver or gold body colors, the Canon SD780IS ships from mid-March 2009 with pricing of US$280.


Canon SD780 IS
User Report

by Shawn Barnett

With its extremely rounded edges and slim profile, the Canon SD780 IS is the very definition of an alluring digital camera. Though it's actually about the same height, width, and thickness as the company's SD1000 and SD1100, the Canon SD780 seems quite a bit slimmer, and slips into a shirt pocket with greater stealth than any Canon PowerShot in history.

Look and feel. Available in four colors, the Canon SD780 IS nevertheless takes a monochromatic approach to each, with every part taking on the main color, including the lens bezel and protruding parts; the only exception being the black center piece that separates the two main shells, front and back. The effect is not quite as dramatic here, because silver cameras are the norm, but the Red, Black, and Gold models are more striking. The soft sheen of the SD780's skin diffuses light, and also feels soft to the touch.

Though the Canon SD780 does pocket well, we always recommend a case for any camera you want to keep working well and looking nice. This digital camera is light, weighing just 4.6 ounces (132g). There is no grip at all on the Canon SD780 IS, neither front nor back, so I recommend attaching and using the included wrist strap for security.

Controls. Powering on the Canon SD780 is done with the ON/OFF button on the top deck, which makes the lens extend regardless of the mode switch's setting. Unlike past cameras in the SD-series, the PowerShot SD780 does not include Playback mode on its Mode switch. This is a welcome change, because it means that the camera always powers up in the Record mode, and returns to the Record mode with a half-press of the shutter button. Of course, if you want to power it up in Playback mode, just press the Playback button on the back. Getting back to the top deck of the Canon SD780, the Zoom ring surrounds the shutter button, making for quick and easy framing with your right index finger. Just below the words IMAGE STABILIZER is the Canon SD780's speaker for movie playback.

Control space on the back is cramped, but the buttons are flush with the surface, meaning you can have your thumb covering several of the buttons without their activating. The Canon SD780's Four-way navigator is quite small, requiring me to angle my thumb inward somewhat to press the outer navigation buttons without instead activating the center Function/Set button. It doesn't take long to master, though.

The Canon SD780's 2.5-inch LCD is a little more contrasty and has a wider viewing angle than the SD1000's screen of the same size. Though it's nice that the Canon SD780 IS has an optical viewfinder, it shows the absolutely smallest image we've seen in a point and shoot digicam.

The upper right corner of the Canon SD780 IS is where they decided to put the connector cover; beneath you'll find the HDMI cable connector and the new hybrid USB/AV-out connector. The good news is that though the connector is a little different, it remains compatible with the standard Mini-B USB connector, and Canon includes both a USB cable and a special AV-out cable, shown at left.

On the right of the Canon SD780's body is the lanyard loop, recessed into the black plastic mid-piece, further emphasizing the flush theme to the camera's controls.

The overall feel of all controls is excellent, with the only exception being the very cheap plastic door that protects the battery and SD card. Use care when changing the battery and SD card, and this will still serve quite well.

Lens. The PowerShot SD780 IS's lens is a very standard 3x zoom, ranging from 33-100mm equivalent. It seems to be quite a bit smaller than other SD-series digital cameras, and has a small starting aperture of f/3.2-5.8. Surely this accounts for the SD780's slim profile, but it also unfortunately limits the camera's image quality considerably. Not just in low light, though that also is affected.

Canon's optical Image Stabilization helps the camera in low light, however, with stabilization that you can see onscreen if you choose Continuous in the IS menu. IS is especially helpful when shooting HD movies with the Canon SD780.

Modes. The Mode switch selects among the three major modes for the Canon SD780 IS: Auto, Program, and Movie mode.

Auto mode is actually quite impressive when compared to past Auto modes on PowerShot cameras. Canon has integrated intelligence into the Canon SD780, allowing it to analyze a scene and decide what you're framing on, then it sets the appropriate Scene mode to get the best picture possible. It's remarkably fast compared to other systems I've seen.

If the Canon SD780 notes nothing special about the scene, it just stays in Auto mode. Present it with something close, and the camera automatically switches into Macro mode, allowing the lens to focus into the macro zone without user intervention. Point it next at some faces, and the camera leaves Macro mode, switching to Face-detection mode. Here's where it gets really cool. Once a face is detected and you half-press the shutter button, the camera opens an onscreen window that shows the face in closeup so you can verify focus, exposure, and even expression.

Of course, you don't have to leave it in Auto, you can instead switch to Program mode, which allows you to make your own settings, within reason. You can't set aperture or shutter speed, but you can choose which Scene mode you want, as well as open up your options to manual ISO settings, white balance, My Colors options, metering modes, continuous modes, and various resolution settings via the Canon SD780's Function menu.

The Canon SD780's HD Movie mode will capture high definition movies up to 1,280 x 720 pixels at 30 frames per second. Other modes include 640 x 480 at 30 fps and 320 x 240 at 30 fps. After capture you can just plug the SD780 into your HDTV via the Mini-HDMI connector. You'll need to buy a Mini-HDMI to HDMI cable, however, because the SD780 doesn't include a cable (no other digital camera with an HDMI connector has shipped with an HDMI cable to date, so this is not unusual).

Menu. The Canon SD780's menu is confined to two screens: a Camera menu and a Settings menu. Pressing the Menu button in Playback mode opens the Playback, Print, and Settings menu. New options include Blink detection, Servo AF, and AF-point zoom in the Record menu, and several in-camera photo editing options in Playback mode, including the ability to apply i-Contrast (intelligent contrast), Red-eye correction, trimming, and My Colors to photos you've already captured.

Storage and battery. The Canon SD780 IS stores images on SD/SDHC memory cards. A 4 to 8GB card should be sufficient for stills, unless you plan to shoot a lot of video with the Canon SD780.

Such a slim camera requires a small, slim battery. Canon chose their existing NB-4L to power the SD780 IS, a 3.7 volt 760 mAh lithium-ion cell. It is rated to capture up to 210 still shots on a single charge, which is actually below average for most digital cameras. Playback mode is also expected to deliver about 300 minutes; no figure is published for video recording, however. If you plan to use the SD780 for video, I suggest buying a spare battery.

Shooting. The Canon SD780 is very fast. This becomes apparent when shooting in Auto mode more than anywhere else, because Scene modes are selected almost before you press the shutter button. Face detection also happens almost instantly, as does the face detect magnification.

I found all the controls and buttons easy to use, and though the SD780 IS was somewhat slippery, I found it about as easy to hold as the SD1000 once I got it under control. I'd definitely use a wrist strap with this little guy.

Shooting outdoors in daylight I had no trouble at all with the Canon SD780 IS. Indoors, however, the SD780 IS produced far fewer sharp shots, despite its image stabilization. All my handheld shots of our indoor test target were soft. Some were soft because the camera had to raise the ISO to 800 to get a good exposure (thanks to the f/3.2-5.8 lens), and others we soft because of motion blur. It wasn't until I switched to flash mode that I got good, sharp shots. ISO is raised to only 250, which allows a shutter speed of 1/60 second. Switching to Slow-synchro flash mode allowed more of the ambient light to illuminate the scene, and I got about 50/50 sharp and motion-blurred shots at 1/5 to 1/6 second, again at ISO 250. That's not bad. It doesn't account for subject movement, however, which is also important to consider when photographing people indoors and at night.

Bottom line, the SD780 IS for all its good looks really isn't a great indoor or night-time digital camera, despite the built-in optical image stabilization.

Likewise, the overaggressive noise suppression of the SD780 IS really muddies fine detail, especially among colors with texture. Many images also suffer from lens flare across the image and softening in the corners. You can see more detail in the crops below, but I was curious whether the problem was the SD780's smaller lens, since this is a big part of how Canon managed to make the SD780 their slimmest camera to date.

Since the SD1000 was close at hand, and we've recently previewed the 10-megapixel SD880 IS, both already Dave's Picks, I thought I'd compare their images to the SD780's. The results were startling.

SD780 SD1000 SD880
Detail. Comparing the 12.1-megapixel SD780, it's clear that this little camera can't capture the detail that the 7.1-megapixel Canon SD1000 and 10-megapixel Canon SD880 can, thanks mostly to the SD780's soft lens and overaggressive noise processing. The two lower-res camera images were upsampled equal the SD780's 4,000 x 3,000 pixel image size, and they were not sharpened after the fact, which you should normally do after resizing, further emphasizing the markedly reduced resolving ability of the SD780.
Flare. The Canon SD780's overall contrast is affected by its lens's tendency toward flare. Note the glow coming off the top of the label above left, and compare it to the images from the SD1000 and SD880, both again resampled to equal the SD780's pixel size. Next look at the green field and see how it affects the contrast surrounding the white letters.

While it's true that the Canon SD780 is the company's slimmest digital camera, they did have to make some compromises to gain just 0.031 inches 0.8mm over the SD1000 in terms of thickness, most of them optical compromises. We expect some reduced image quality, but reduction in both detail and contrast is a lot to take.

Canon SD780 IS Lens Quality

Wide: Sharp at center
Wide: Very soft upper right
Tele: Sharp in Center
Tele: Soft upper right corner

Sharpness: As is normal for pocket digital cameras, the SD780's images are sharper in the center than in the corners. At wide angle there's a little more softening than normal, especially in the upper-right corner. Telephoto is considerably better, though again the upper right corner is softer than the others.

Wide: Lower than average barrel distortion
Tele: Very little barrel distortion

Geometric Distortion: There is lower than average barrel distortion at wide-angle (0.5%), and almost no perceptible distortion of any kind at telephoto.

Wide: Moderate
Tele: Lower

Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at wide-angle is moderate and noticeable. Telephoto is also moderate, but is less noticeable in printed pictures.

Macro with Flash

Macro: The Canon SD780's Macro mode captures a very sharp image at the center, with softness and chromatic aberration radiating out from the center. Overall, though, it doesn't soften terribly, looking pretty good across the frame. Minimum coverage area is 1.36 x 1.02 inches (35 x 26 mm). The flash does not throttle back well at the closest focusing distance.


Canon SD780 IS Image Quality

Color: Color is somewhat muted in some respects, especially yellows, some of which have a slight green tint. Blues are pumped more than reds, but color looks mostly accurate, rather than the usual tendency toward oversaturation that most companies employ to appeal to consumers. Hue is also a little off for colors like yellow and cyan. Dark skintones are a little more saturated, but lighter tones are pretty spot on.


ISO: Noise and Detail: Detail really isn't good even at ISO 80, appearing quite soft. Chroma (color) noise is pretty well controlled at all ISOs, but that is likely part of the problem: in controlling the chroma noise (random color pixels) they are softening detail. For a 12-megapixel camera, this is pretty poor detail, and I can't recommend shooting the Canon SD780 much above ISO 200. See Printed results below for more on that.

Wide: Bright
Tele: Slightly Dim
Flash: Our manufacturer-specified testing shows that the SD780 IS does as well as the company says it will in Auto-flash mode, capturing a well-exposed shot at wide angle and 11 feet, raising the ISO to 400. The telephoto spec calls for and the camera delivers a good exposure at 6.6 feet at ISO 250, though slightly dim.

Auto WB:
Very good
Incandescent WB:
Slight pink cast

Incandescent: Auto white balance handles our tungsten lighting test better than Incandescent mode, with the latter rendering a pinkish image. This is a pretty good performance.

Printed: ISO 80 Printed results are a little too soft at 13x19 inches, with the lens flare a little too noticeable, and the soft corners show up too dramatically too. Prints at 11x14 are better, though with a hint of softness even in the center. ISO 200 shots are a little softer at 11x14, and thanks to the flare and softness from noise suppression, look better at 8x10. ISO 400 shots are usable at 8x10, but still soft on close inspection. ISO 800 shots are too soft at 8x10, and still a little blurry at 5x7. It's less noticeable at 4x6. ISO 1,600 shots are too soft at 5x7, and also soft at 4x6, but they'd do in a pinch. These are remarkably poor results for a modern 12-megapixel digital camera.


Canon SD780 IS Performance

Shutter lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is a little better than average, at 0.49 second at wide angle and 0.51 second at full telephoto. Prefocus shutter lag is 0.078 second, quite fast.

Cycle time: Cycle time is on the slow side of average, capturing a frame every 2.2 seconds in single-shot mode, and about every 1 second in continuous mode.

Flash Recycle: Canon SD780's flash recycles in 6.8 seconds after a full-power discharge, which is on the long side of average.


In the Box

The Canon SD780 IS ships with the following items in the box:

  • PowerShot SD780 IS body
  • NB-4L battery pack
  • CB-2LV battery charger
  • SD memory card SDC-32MB
  • Wrist strap
  • Digital Camera Solution CD-ROM
  • USB cable IFC-400PCU
  • AV cable


Canon SD780 IS Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Very slim
  • Smooth corners make it easily pocketable
  • Optical image stabilization
  • HD movie mode
  • HDMI output
  • Face detection works well and fast
  • Auto mode switches intelligently among Scene modes
  • 2.5-inch LCD has good contrast, wide viewing angle
  • Very good Macro mode
  • Good Auto White Balance performance indoors
  • Fast download speed
  • Fast shutter lag
  • Optical viewfinder is very small
  • Small buttons may be difficult to operate for those with larger hands
  • No grip means that the camera is harder to hold
  • Below average battery life
  • Some image corners are quite soft
  • Lens flare damages overall contrast, makes white objects glow
  • Overall resolution is significantly diminished thanks to overaggressive noise processing and lens flare
  • Detail is obliterated at ISO 400 and above
  • Print quality is poor for a 12-megapixel digital camera


Conclusion. I hand-picked the Canon SD780 IS from the range of Spring 2009 digital cameras, hoping it would be a good performer, as I expect its appearance alone to make it a great seller. We've even see other sites give it a positive review. Though we really like the way the camera works, and at least two of us had it on our short list as our next pocket camera, the fact that it can't exceed the capabilities of the two-year-old 7.1-megapixel Canon SD1000 scuttled our plans. We still think the SD780 IS is a very nice digital camera to use, and that it will serve as a decent camera for serving up good 4x6-inch prints at up to ISO 800, but that 12-megapixel designation on the front of the camera makes it seem like the camera is capable of more. The lens flare, a big part of the problem with the Canon SD780, will also be noticeable in most enlargements of 8x10 or bigger; without the flare, we'd probably give the SD780 a stronger recommendation with a warning about heavy noise reduction. The exception is the SD780's movie mode, where lens flare is going to be less of an issue; so if you're looking for a very very small 720p camera, the SD780 might serve well. The Canon SD780 is a nice looking little digital camera that's slim and pretty fast, but it doesn't measure up to Canon's better current pocket cameras, like the Canon SD880 IS, which we recommend so highly that we made it a Dave's Pick before we even finished the review.


Canon SD780 IS

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