Canon SD850 IS Review
Canon PowerShot SD850 IS Exposure
Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Very good color, with good overall saturation. Some slight shifts in cyans and reds, and a small amount of oversaturation in strong reds and blues, but still very good results.
Saturation. The Canon PowerShot SD850 IS pushes the strong red tones just a bit, but overall results are very pleasing. Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life.
Skin tones. The SD850 IS again does a good job, and produces natural skin tones with just a hint of warmth. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc.
Hue. Though the SD850 IS pushed reds toward orange slightly and cyans toward blue by quite a bit, overall results are pretty accurate, and its color is quite pleasing. The other important part of color rendition is hue accuracy. Hue is "what color" the color is.
| See full set of test images
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images
Exposure and White Balance
Indoors, incandescent lighting
Good color with the Manual white balance setting, though a hint magenta. Average positive exposure compensation required.
|Auto WB +1.0 EV||Incandescent WB +0.7 EV||Manual WB +0.7 EV|
Color balance indoors under incandescent lighting was just a hint warm with the Auto white balance setting, but more magenta and pink with the Incandescent option. Results are just a little pinkish with the Manual white balance, but overall color is the most accurate. The Canon PowerShot SD850 IS performed pretty well in terms of exposure, requiring a bit less than the average amount of positive exposure compensation for this shot, at +0.7 EV. Despite the slight pink tint in Marti's skin tones, overall color with the Manual white balance setting looks good, though the blue flowers do show some slight purplish tints. (Many digital cameras have trouble here.) Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulbs, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the U.S.
Slightly better than average exposure accuracy. Bright colors outdoors with good hue accuracy.
|Auto White Balance,
|Auto White Balance,
Outdoors, the Canon PowerShot SD850 IS performed well, with good overall color and exposure. The outdoor house shot has vibrant greens and good overall color balance. Detail is strong in both the highlights and shadows.
|Auto White Balance
Lowest Contrast Setting,
In the Outdoor Portrait, the camera handled the harsh lighting pretty well, requiring less than the average amount of exposure compensation. The default contrast is slightly high, but the camera's adjustable contrast setting did help to decrease contrast while dimming the exposure slightly. It also managed to increase detail in the lighter shadows as well. Overall, good performance.
High resolution, 1,400-1,500 lines of strong detail.
|Strong detail to
1,500 lines horizontal
|Strong detail to
1,400 lines vertical
Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,500 lines per picture height horizontally, and to about 1,400 vertically. Extinction occurred at around 2,000. Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail.
Sharpness & Detail
Sharp images overall, with excellent detail. Minimal edge enhancement on high contrast subjects, and only slight noise suppression artifacts in the shadows.
|Very good definition of high-contrast elements, though with visible edge enhancement.||Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur detail in areas of subtle contrast, as in the darker parts of Marti's hair here.
Sharpness. The Canon PowerShot SD850 IS captures sharp images with very nice detail. Some edge enhancement artifacts are visible on high-contrast subjects such as the crop above left, but results are still quite good, and the camera does an excellent job of preserving fine detail. Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.
Detail. The crop above right shows a small amount of noise suppression, though detail is quite good in the shadows (much better than average). Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears.
ISO & Noise Performance
Moderate noise at the normal sensitivity settings, though a big jump in noise with very strong blurring at the high settings.
|ISO 80||ISO 100||ISO 200|
|ISO 400||ISO 800||ISO 1,600|
Noise levels are moderate at the Canon PowerShot SD850 IS's lower sensitivity settings, with slightly high noise at ISO 200. At ISO 400, noise pixels brighten and affect fine detail, and noise becomes very high at ISO 800. At ISO 1,600, noise is so strong that fine detail is completely lost.
Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
High resolution with strong overall detail. Slightly high contrast, though still pretty good shadow detail. Excellent low-light performance, capable of capturing bright images in near darkness.
|+0.3 EV||+0.7 EV||+1.0 EV|
Sunlight. The Canon PowerShot SD850 IS performed pretty well under the harsh lighting of the test above, though it produced slightly high contrast with dark shadows. That said, detail is reasonable in the shadows, even without the low contrast adjustment. The camera's contrast adjustment did taper down contrast somewhat, though it dimmed the exposure as well. Some areas look a little dark at +0.7 EV, but I felt the highlights were too strong at the +1.0 EV setting.
Note: Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here.) In "real life" though, be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown above; it's better to shoot in the shade when possible.
Low light. The Canon PowerShot SD850 IS captured bright images down to the 1/16 foot-candle light level (about 1/16 as bright as average city street lighting at night) at just about all of its sensitivity settings, except for ISO 80. Color looks good with the Auto white balance setting, without any strong color shifts from the dim lighting. The camera's autofocus system performed fairly well, able to focus unassisted as low as 1/8 foot-candle (so anything darker may need additional lighting for focusing). Do keep in mind though, that the very long shutter times necessary here absolutely demand the use of a tripod or other camera support to get sharp photos. (A useful trick is to just prop the camera on a convenient surface, and use its self-timer to release the shutter. This avoids any jiggling from your finger pressing the shutter button, and can work quite well when you don't have a tripod handy.)
How bright is this? The one foot-candle light level that this test begins at roughly corresponds to the brightness of typical city street-lighting at night. Cameras performing well at that should be able to snap good-looking photos of street-lit scenes.
NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) For such applications, you may have better luck with a digital SLR camera, but even there, you'll likely need to set the focus manually. For information and reviews on digital SLRs, refer to our SLR review index page.
Coverage and Range
Somewhat dim exposure at the default exposure setting; the camera required slightly less than average exposure compensation for flash exposures, however. Pretty good range.
|35mm equivalent||140mm equivalent|
|Normal Flash +0.7 EV||Slow-Sync Flash +1.0 EV|
Coverage. Flash coverage was uneven at wide angle with dark spots in the corners of the frame. At telephoto, coverage was more even, though the exposure more dim. Indoors, under incandescent background lighting, the SD850 IS's flash underexposed our subject a slightly at its default setting, requiring a +0.7 EV exposure compensation adjustment to get bright results. (Actually a little better than average.) The camera's Slow-Sync flash mode required a little more positive compensation at +1.0 EV, though overall coverage is more even. However, the longer shutter speed results in a stronger orange cast from the background lighting.
ISO 100 Range. The PowerShot SD850 IS's flash was pretty bright and powerful, with good intensity all the way to 16 feet at wide angle and ISO 100. At telephoto, however, it never really reached a good exposure, even at 6 feet. It would probably be acceptable, depending on the subject between 6 and 8 feet, but mildly underexposed overall.
|Manufacturer-Specified Flash Range|
Auto ISO 200
Auto ISO 200
Manufacturer Specified Flash Test. In the shots above, the PowerShot SD850 IS seems to perform exactly as Canon says it will, though the camera boosts the ISO to 200.
Note: Our standard test method for flash range uses a fixed setting of ISO 100, to provide a fair basis of comparison between cameras. We've now also begun shooting two shots using the manufacturer-specified camera settings, at the range the company claims for the camera, to assess the validity of the specific claims.
Good print quality, great color, good 11x14 inch prints. ISO 400 and 800 images are grainy but usable at 8x10, ISO 1,600 shots are contrasty and grainy but usable at 5x7 and 4x6.
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 Pro 9000, and on the Canon iP5200 here in the office. (See the Canon PIXMA Pro 9000 review for details on that model.)
With the Canon PowerShot SD850 IS, we found that it had enough resolution to make good looking 11x14 inch prints. At 13x19, its prints were softer, but probably fine for wall or table display. Chroma noise sneaks into the shadows starting at ISO 200, but it's not noticeable at arm's length at this size. 11x14 inch prints were usable up to ISO 400. Results are better for 400 and 800 at 8x10. At 5x7 and ISO 800, you don't notice it's a high ISO shot. ISO 1,600 is grainy, and takes a jump in contrast, but still looks good at 5x7 and a little better at 4x6. Overall, I recommend you stick to ISO 800 and below, especially indoors, which presents more of a challenge to the sensors.
The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Canon PowerShot SD850 IS Photo Gallery.
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...
Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Canon PowerShot SD850 IS 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!
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Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.