Canon SD870 IS Review

 
Camera Reviews / Canon Cameras i Review
Basic Specifications
Full model name: Canon PowerShot SD870 IS
Resolution: 8.00 Megapixels
Sensor size: 1/2.5"
Lens: 3.80x zoom
(28-105mm eq.)
Viewfinder: LCD
ISO: 80-1600
Shutter: 15-1/1600
Max Aperture: 2.8
Dimensions: 3.7 x 2.3 x 1.0 in.
(94 x 58 x 25 mm)
Weight: 6.3 oz (180 g)
includes batteries
MSRP: $400
Availability: 09/2007
Manufacturer: Canon
Full specs: Canon SD870 IS specifications
8.00
Megapixels
3.80x zoom
1/2.5"
size sensor
image of Canon PowerShot SD870 IS
Front side of Canon PowerShot SD870 IS digital camera Back side of Canon PowerShot SD870 IS digital camera Top side of Canon PowerShot SD870 IS digital camera Left side of Canon PowerShot SD870 IS digital camera Right side of Canon PowerShot SD870 IS digital camera

Canon PowerShot SD870 IS Overview

by Andrew Alexander
Review Date: 11/07/2007

The Canon SD870 IS Digital ELPH features a compact, stylish case with rounded horizontal edges, and a retracting lens to make it pocket-friendly. With an an 8-megapixel 1/2.5" imager and 3.8x optical zoom lens, the Canon SD870 covers a range of 28-105mm equivalent, a useful wide angle to a moderate telephoto. Exposure is fully automatic, but the user can tweak it with 2.0EV of exposure compensation and four metering modes to handle difficult lighting, while a generous twelve Scene modes keep the camera approachable for beginners. A long-exposure mode in the Canon SD870 IS ELPH also lets you manually set exposure times as long as 15 seconds, and a large 3-inch LCD is the sole method of framing and reviewing images, since the Canon 870 IS has no optical viewfinder.

The Canon ELPH SD870 has a rather wide ISO sensitivity range, from 80 to 1,600, for better performance in dim lighting. Canon also manufactures a line of photo printers, and prides themselves on the level of integration between their cameras and printers. The Digital ELPH SD870 is PictBridge-capable, so is able to print to any printer that supports PictBridge directly, without the need for a computer in the middle. When connected to a Canon printer, though, you can set paper size, print quality, and a number of other parameters, capabilities lacking in basic PictBridge connections.

The Canon SD870 IS Digital ELPH started shipping on September 30, 2007, and retails for about US$400.

 

Canon PowerShot SD870 IS User Report

by Andrew Alexander

Intro. The Canon PowerShot SD870 IS is the most appealing camera in Canon's high-end Digital ELPH line, thanks to its 28mm-equivalent wide angle lens. Canon's latest product strategy for the Digital ELPH is three-tiered: there is an entry level model (in this case, the PowerShot SD850), the middle-range model (the PowerShot SD870) and the high-end model (the PowerShot SD950). Each model has its own niche, and the SD870's specialty is wide angle photography.

The SD870's lens extends in one second.

The Canon SD870 improves upon the SD800, the previous wide-angle model in the ELPH line, with an upgrade from 7.1 to 8.0 megapixels, and an LCD boost from 2.5 inches to 3.0 inches. They've also upgraded the screen from 207,000 to 230,000 pixels. Optically the cameras use the same basic lens structure, a 28-105mm (35mm equivalent) lens with a minimum aperture of f/2.8 at the wide end and f/5.8 at the telephoto end. Canon overhauled the SD870's design, as well, making for a heavier, though smaller camera. Finally, the most obvious design change is the lack of an optical viewfinder, made necessary by the SD870's large LCD.

Rear controls of the SD870.

Look and Feel. The PowerShot SD870 is, legitimately, about the size of a pack of playing cards. At 180 grams (6.3 oz), there is a good heft to the camera, giving it enough weight to keep steady while shooting. It has a solid feel, and when not in use can easily fit in your hand or pocket for easy access. That said, this is not a unit you want to toss around casually. The casing is a hard plastic with a matte finish; around the lens, our review model has a handsome chrome finish that will show off fingerprints and scratches mercilessly. Also available is a model with a black matte finished ring surrounding the lens. I worry about the LCD screen, but Canon assures me that it has an anti-scratch, anti-glare coating; all the same, sticking this camera in your pocket with your car keys is probably not a good idea for the long term. A small carrying case will go a long way to protect this investment, and I don't think I'd be overly paranoid to suggest you keep the wrist strap on at all times. The lens extends about an inch out from the front of the camera while in use; when retracted, a sliding lens cover protects it.

The design of the camera is no-nonsense. Controls are laid out logically, if exclusively for the right-handed user. There isn't an obvious grip on the camera. There are no curved sections where your hand and fingers are meant to go. I generally shoot cameras with this slab design using both thumbs and forefingers, holding the four corners of the camera for optimum stability; others use a curled middle finger around the front, while their index finger rests on the shutter button, and the thumb grips from the back.

The optical image stabilization of the camera helps to allow one-handed operation, but for menu navigation main control adjustment, you need to use both hands, as the majority of the controls sit under the right thumb.

Top controls of the SD870.

The controls for the camera adorn the top and rear of the body. On the top you find the power button, operation mode selector, shutter button, and zoom dial; on the back, next to the dominating LCD screen, you have four buttons for playback, direct print, menu, and LCD display modes, divided into two groups of two by a circular four-way selector wheel and a selector button. A wrist strap attaches to the right side, the left side is blank, and there's not much to speak of on the bottom other than a tripod mount (aligned with the lens) and a single door allowing access to the battery and the SD memory card. This design, in addition to the Canon SD870's small size would make it impossible to change memory cards or a battery if the camera were mounted on a tripod.

Interface. You can turn on the Canon SD870 IS two ways: by pressing the main on/off button on the top, which brings you into shooting mode and extends the lens, or by pressing the playback button, which activates the playback mode without extending the lens. The Canon SD870 uses a fairly typical menu-driven system for managing the options and settings available in the camera. Since the average user for this camera is not going to want to have access to high-level settings or fully manual operation, the available options are fairly simple.

As with most Canon digital cameras, there are two types of menu. Technical items, like date and time settings, LCD brightness, and language are available with a press of the Menu button. Shooting settings, such as changing exposure control or the shooting mode, are accessible through the function key embedded in the four-way selector. Remembering where the relevant options are takes a little practice, but given the relatively few buttons and clear labels, you quickly get the hang of it. What I would like to see is the inclusion of an in-camera "help" system. Ideally, on any setting, you press a button and a screen full of text explains what this option will let you do. Few people keep their manual handy, and there are many menu items.

Switching modes and settings with Touch Icons.

An interesting control in the PowerShot SD870, one that's been on other high-end ELPH models, is the inclusion of a touch-sensitive system on the four-way selector. Essentially, the selector can be used either to change the shooting mode by rotating your finger around the wheel, or to display an iconic representation of the options available on the selector button itself. Personally, when trying to select a different shooting mode by rotating my finger, I could never find the correct "speed" at which to rotate and engage the camera's mode-switching capability; and when I did, it would sometimes switch, and sometimes nothing would happen. It seems you have to get used to the style of input the camera's touch-system expects. In practice, I found it much more effective to just switch shooting modes by using the function button in the middle of the four-way selector. Similarly, while the visual representation of the options available on the four-way selector was interesting at first, it quickly became annoying. In one-handed operation, your thumb rests on the four-way selector for support, and thus, the icons are always showing, obscuring your framing. While you can turn off the "touch icons" feature (which show you the representation of the selector wheel functions), the rotating selection function is always on. I suppose it could be argued that for people with poor eyesight, who can't see the small text labels on the selector wheel, having a graphic representation of the selector wheel could be useful, as the graphic presented is much larger than the wheel. But because I couldn't get the silly thing to work reliably, I found it less than useful.

Good news, Bad news. The good news is that Canon has finally realized that the direct print button is only going to be used by a small percentage of the population. For the rest of the world, there is a button on their camera that never gets used. However, Canon now lets you assign a custom function to the button while you're in Record mode: essentially, a shortcut to an operational setting of the camera. You can choose from exposure control, white balance, setting a custom white balance, activating the digital teleconverter, turning gridlines on or off, activating the movie mode, turning off the display, or playing a sound effect. Of all the above, I'm surprised to report that activating the movie mode is probably the most useful use of the button (I thought for sure it would be exposure control or white balance). But the truth is that all of the rest of those functions are easily accessible through the regular menu buttons, while changing to the movie mode requires flicking a switch on the top of the unit. With just a push of the direct print custom function, you instantly turn on the movie mode and start recording.

The SD870's LCD screen.

The bad news concerns the SD870's optical viewfinder. It doesn't have one. It's been removed from this model, ostensibly to make room for the large 3.0-inch, 230,000 pixel LCD screen. An optical viewfinder becomes useful in at least two scenarios: when you want to conserve power, and when lighting conditions make it difficult to frame a shot with the LCD. The larger the LCD screen, the more power it draws, so turning off the LCD and using an optical viewfinder instead typically gives the user much greater battery life. So the challenge to the camera designer is to produce an LCD that's both power-efficient and sun-resistant. In the case of the PowerShot 870 IS, Canon has put a lot of effort into the LCD screen, no doubt aware that without a backup system, a lot is riding on the LCD. The battery is rated to produce 270 shots, a respectable amount for a camera this size, and in practice, I found the screen to be quite easily viewable in all but the most extreme of lighting conditions. Coupled with the fact that the optical viewfinder on the SD800 IS wasn't that great (it only showed about 80% of the frame and was slightly distorted), removing it entirely isn't that great a loss. Of course, if using, or having the option to use an optical viewfinder is important in your photography, then this is definitely a factor you may need to weigh. Canon's betting that most folks want a 3-inch screen on a small camera more than an inaccurate optical viewfinder, especially since an optical viewfinder so badly shows what the SD870 IS's 28mm lens can do.

You can transfer files from the Canon SD870 with the included USB cable, which operates at a respectable 1,053 KBytes per second. You can also view images and videos on an RCA-jack-equipped television via the included A/V cable.

Modes. The PowerShot SD870 has three basic shooting modes: Movie mode, Scene mode, and Record mode, all selectable from the switch on the top of the camera.

Timelapse movies on the SD870 IS.

Movie mode is fairly simple to start: You flick the switch on the top of the camera to the left, and you're all set to take movies. There are a few options when working in movie mode including changing the color profile, the white balance, and some software-related options that let you swap or emphasize colors in the scene you're shooting. Optical image stabilization works great, and I recommend you keep it enabled while shooting a movie, given the small size and weight of the Canon SD870 IS.

The most direct use of Movie mode is in 640x480, 30 frames per second. You can also cut the resolution in half (320x240) or use "LP" mode (a higher compression rating) to increase the length of time available for shooting a movie. In this main mode optical zooming is disabled while a movie is being shot, but you can still zoom in and out digitally. Also available is a compact movie mode geared toward sending movies by email, where movies are shot at one-quarter resolution (160x120). Finally, Time-lapse video mode lets you create a movie based on frames captured every one or two seconds. Overall, I found shooting movies with the SD870 IS to be quick and efficient, and the playback quality was better than I was expecting from a small unit geared toward taking photos.

Slide the Mode switch all the way to the right, and you have several sub-mode options, including Auto, Manual, Digital Macro, Color Accent, Color Swap, Stitch Assist (Left to Right), Stitch Assist (Right to Left).

In Manual mode, you can adjust exposure control, white balance, color preferences, metering mode selection, photo size, and photo quality level. However, there's no memory of the selections used in manual mode, either; if you like shooting with center-weighted metering and switch to another mode where you can't alter the metering mode, the camera will change it back to evaluative metering and won't remember that you wanted center-weighted in manual mode.

Macro performance on the Canon SD870 IS.

Digital Macro. Flash settings are disabled in Digital Macro mode, which is fine, because it doesn't work so well with macro, anyway. In any other mode, you can enable the macro function, and the flash will work, but it doesn't work very well at any subject viewed up-close (this isn't surprising, as the light is focussed on the upper-left part of the frame; that's where it's located on the camera).

Auto. Auto mode seems to be an all-purpose scene mode, trying to adapt to any given situation and produce a well-exposed image. For the most part, the majority of photos that the camera is geared to take pictures of turn out very well: group shots, birthday parties, outdoor picnics, all are no problem for this camera.

Scene mode and camera mode are similar in operation. Scene mode, in the center of the top switch, gives you ten scene types to choose from: Portrait, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Aquarium, Underwater, Indoor, Kids & Pets, and Night Snapshot. While I like the idea of scene modes, I generally think they will only be useful for a handful of people who realize how they work and why. The entry-level user is going to enjoy this camera when it's firmly locked into auto mode, with a set-it-and-forget-it mentality. An advanced amateur is probably going to head for the manual mode and make selections based on their own preferences. Scene modes are essentially a preset combination of options that tend to work for a given situation, but again, you really have to trust the camera to get it right.

Playback. Image playback mode is selected by pressing the top right button on the back of the camera, and displays either the most recently photographed image, or the last image displayed the previous time the user entered playback mode. You can zoom in on the selected image using the zoom rocker, and zoom out to show a grid of thumbnails. Moving between images is accomplished with the left and right sides of the four-way selector button, or you can spin your finger around the touch dial and move through images rapidly. Moving between images is fairly fast, with lower-quality and lower-sized images instantly available; larger-size and larger-quality images may take a slight delay to be produced. There is a quick cross-fade transition effect between images when you shuffle through them, which was quite pleasing to my eye.

The Canon SD870 has a good system available to the user to keep images organized. The camera offers seven category types with which the user can file images for later reference. These categories include People, Scenery, Sports, three numbered categories, and To Do. You assign categories by putting a checkmark by each category for which the image in question is applicable; for example, if your image contained both people and scenery, you could check both categories. This is useful for finding images later, in that you can filter all the images on the memory card with certain categories.

The Canon SD870 has a great slideshow mode that's quite effective given the large screen. You can select all photos on the memory card or only a certain subset of images. After you've selected your images, you can select the duration of each slide and whether the slideshow should repeat when finished. Unfortunately, my lovely quick cross-fade is missing from the list of options; instead, you can choose from some rather clunky movement transitions, or use none at all.

The Canon SD870 also allows the user to configure the action of the Playback button: by default it enters and exits Playback mode. It can be reconfigured to start a slideshow, or activate the sound recorder; doing so, however, makes it less obvious how to get back to shooting mode. Fortunately, the camera is designed with shooting priority in mind, and half-pressing the shutter release button always takes you to shooting mode.

Special Features. The "IS" designation for the PowerShot SD870 IS stands for Image Stabilization, which has been a feature of the Digital Elph PowerShot series since the SD800. Canon developed the original optical image stabilization system, which uses a series of gyroscopic sensors to detect movement of the user and compensate by moving the lens in the opposite direction. It's extremely effective in reducing the blur from camera shake. I find it an absolute necessity, allowing me to take photos in more challenging situations for the camera and get much better results. In the real world, I think it works very well; I can take photos at shutter speeds as low as 1/15 second and get very crisp images.

Face detection on the SD870 IS.

Canon also features face detection on the SD870, with the ability to detect up to nine forward-looking faces. In operation, face detection works by showing you a box around the face of the person you want to photograph. When the camera can see two eyes, face detection works splendidly; however, when the subject turns their face away from the camera, to even just a slight degree, face detection doesn't lock onto the face. When it works, face detection is quite useful; it guarantees the subject's face will be in focus, and not the background. Flash settings are also adjusted automatically, with red-eye reduction, to give a more pleasing photograph. When it doesn't lock on, however, you're stuck with regular focusing, which can produce a result different from what you intend. All you have to do is tell your subject to look at the camera, the face detection box activates and locks on, and you're set. In testing, it took a fair bit of effort to fool face detection; it had no problem with eyeglasses and even sunglasses. It would rarely detect something "face-like" that wasn't a face.

The battery and SD card access for the SD870.

Storage and Battery. The PowerShot SD870 ships with a 32-megabyte SD card. Given that the camera sports an eight-megapixel sensor, the highest-resolution photograph the camera will produce results in an image that's 3,264 high by 2,448 pixels wide, and takes up an average of 3,436 kilobytes (almost three-and-a-half megabytes). According to Canon, that will give you a grand total of eight photographs on the included card. Thus, it makes a great deal of sense to get yourself a shiny new SD card, preferably in the 2 to 4GB range. Happily, as of October 2007, SD cards are about the cheapest memory you can find.

The battery provided with the SD870 is a 3.7-volt, 1,120 mAh lithium-ion battery. According to Canon, this will give you 270 shots, and in practice, I can say I used it on and off for a couple of days before getting a "low battery" warning icon. The recharger that ships with the SD870 is undeniably portable, with a sideways-folding plug that is quite ingeniously designed, at least for users in the Americas. Unfortunately, the recharger is a space hog on power-bars, though it does better on wall outlets. Recharging time was less than an hour.

One-handed shooting with the SD870.

Shooting. As I indicated earlier, I had a bit of difficulty adjusting to one-handed shooting with the SD870 IS. The SD870's design is a trade-off between a shooting camera and a camera that's convenient to carry. While it may not be ergonomically designed for optimum shooting, I cannot deny that the Canon SD870 IS is easy to take anywhere, any time, and take excellent pictures.

"The camera that gets taken is the camera that takes photos" is a maxim I usually tell people, especially when they're debating buying a point-and-shoot rather than an SLR/lens system. As much as I love my SLR, there are some places I won't bother to take it, where a camera like the SD870 is an excellent companion.

In practice, I found shooting with the SD870 to be straightforward and to the point. Power-on takes about one second, meaning that at a family gathering, I was able to grab photos of the nephews quickly and conveniently. I've always liked having the zoom rocker linked to the shutter button as opposed to a separate control, as it is more intuitive for me. It took about 1.5 seconds to go from 28mm to 105mm, and the zoom was quick and responsive to my touch. Standard Digital zooming wasn't as useful for me, as the image quality suffered (to my eyes) unacceptably. However, Canon has implemented a useful system where if you select an image size smaller than Large (ie., it uses less than the camera's eight megapixels), the camera can use the sensor to zoom rather than have to interpolate the image. For example, if you select small mode (640x480), you can zoom out as far as 15x (that's almost four times the optical zoom of 3.8x) and the image produced won't be the least bit pixelated. This results because the camera is only using a 640x480 chunk of the sensor to take the picture.

The SD870 offers a continuous shooting mode, at the stated 1.3 frames per second, regardless of whether the camera was set to record large-size, superfine compression images or the smallest size of image. This is a bit of a decrease from the SD800, which had a shooting speed  of 1.7 frames per second. You definitely get a speed increase when shooting in continuous mode; shot-to-shot in single shot mode, you can take one shot about every two seconds. You can also set a self-timer, at either 2, 10, or a custom-set number of seconds.

ISO selection on the SD870 is done by clicking the four-way selector upward, and is available only in the regular camera mode. In Manual and Digital Macro modes, you have access to the whole range of ISO speeds, from 80 to 1,600. In the other camera modes you can only select between Auto ISO shift and HI Auto ISO shift. Auto-ISO shifting is a new feature to the SD870, and it's a logical evolution that has made its way down from the world of prosumer and professional SLR cameras. Essentially, the camera is able to examine the current lighting conditions and select not only an aperture and shutter speed, but an ISO speed that's appropriate for a proper exposure. Auto ISO shift mode will also select ISO speeds outside the user-selectable range, in 1/3 EV stops. Unchecked, using Auto ISO shift mode this could lead to some noisy images, because increasing ISO speed is like turning up the volume on a radio station with poor reception; you might make out the program a little better, but you also hear more of the static, too. Therefore, regular Auto ISO shift mode is capped at ISO 200. If you want to go higher, High Auto-ISO shift mode offers automatic ISO selection up to ISO 800. If you want to max out the ISO and go to ISO 1600, you have to select it specifically from the ISO menu, and it will only be available in manual and digital macro modes.

Shoes on the line.
Exposure control comes in handy.

Exposure. The Canon SD870 IS offers exposure control in most of its modes. The user can override the camera's metered exposure selection by up to two stops in either direction, in 1/3 stop increments. This is useful where you have unusual lighting conditions, such as taking a photo of a sunset; typically, the camera will want to over-expose the sky to get a brighter image in the foreground, but there isn't as much light available and you end up blowing out the sky. Underexposing lets you get a better shot. The Canon SD870 also offers direct access to a long shutter mode while adjusting exposure control, by pressing the DISP button. Doing so will let you have direct control of the shutter speed, between one and 15 seconds. Enabling long shutter mode automatically engages a noise reduction mode, but it seems to turn off Auto-ISO shift. In long shutter mode the Canon SD870 will default to the widest aperture available, so outside of night photography, it becomes really easy to overexpose images.

AE locking is also an option on the Canon SD870. To use it, you half-press the shutter to select focus points and exposure settings, and then while holding the shutter down, you press up on the four-way selector (ISO selection). This engages the AE lock. Forget about doing it with one-hand; this is definitely a two-hand operation. It's also possible to lock the flash exposure level with a similar operation, if the flash is set to always-on mode.

Autofocus. Autofocusing results with the Canon SD870 were a bit of a mixed bag. With posed shots, I found the camera had no trouble sorting out the obvious focus points, but occasionally with more "spur of the moment" shots the camera would miss the subject. With face detection on a face-on subject, I never had a problem with the camera achieving the subject focus perfectly. However, in low-light, and especially if the subject's face was even a few degrees off from face-on to the camera, face detection wouldn't "lock on" to the subject. According to the lab setup, the camera was able to successfully focus in as little as 1/16 foot candle of light. In all cases, there is a focus-assist lamp (that you can disable) which works very well in establishing a proper focus.

As is typical of point-and-shoot digital cameras, there is a slight delay between pressing the shutter release button and the camera taking the photo. In our lab, this translated to 0.38 seconds (at 28mm) and 0.42 seconds (at 105mm). With the lens pre-focussed, the time for the camera to commit to the image was only 0.088 seconds.

For checking focus, the Canon SD870 IS has a very interesting display mode in Playback that first shows you what area the camera focused on, and it gives you a slightly zoomed version of the image in the lower right corner. If you hit the zoom toggle, that image zooms in more and more. If the shot was made in Face Detect mode, or if there was more than one AF area selected, you can press the Set button to switch between the active areas to verify focus there as well.

Image Quality. The Canon SD870 produces well-exposed, nicely-saturated photos. Looking at the shots from our test lab, colors by default are slightly over-saturated, pushing the red and blue tones a bit. Of course these are just the default settings - you can adjust through no less than eleven color presets to adjust the way colors are presented, including Vivid, Neutral, Sepia, Black and White, Positive Film, Lighter Skin Tone, Darker Skin Tone, Vivid Blue, Vivid Green, Vivid Red, and Custom.

Changing the color profile of the image, after capture.

All of these options allow the user to adjust the level and quality of color in the photos they will take. Even better, you don't have to commit to these color settings prior to shooting. Instead, you can select a new color profile in playback mode and either replace the original, or create a new copy with the new color settings. It's a bit convoluted to get there. You select menu during playback and the choose the My Colors option, which gives you the above range to set, with the notable exception of the custom profile.

In evaluating the image quality of the photos produced by the SD870, I'm going to consider a few things: sharpness, ISO noise, and noise reduction, image characteristics inherent with the lens, and flash performance.

The Canon SD870 does apply sharpening by default in all of its color modes, but doesn't go over the top in doing so. Fine image detail is well preserved in the process, and there are few indications of edge enhancement artifacts. If you want to have more control over image sharpening, you can fine-tune the effect with custom color settings, as indicated above.

Fall colors.
Color rendition is superb.

The image quality of the Canon SD870 at ISO 80 is very good, but does get noisier as the ISO rating increases. The question is, at what point does it become objectionable? Our shots in the lab show noise to be a factor beginning at around ISO 200; it interferes with fine detail at ISO 400, and by ISO 800, it destroys fine details altogether. Still, we were able to print good quality ISO 800 images at 8x10, and 11x14-inch images looked great from 80 to 400. Even the ISO 1,600 image that looks so mushy at 100% onscreen looks pretty good at 4x6. Noise reduction is applied to long-shutter images, with excellent results and very little disruption to areas of subtle contrast. At levels of higher ISO, noise reduction also kicks in, smoothing out color problems but obscuring fine detail in the process. Check out the Exposure tab for more on image quality.

The lens construction of the Canon SD870 seems to be optimized to produce a quality image at the telephoto end of the lens. At that setting (105mm) you see virtually no image distortion, chromatic aberration, or corner softness. By contrast, at the wide setting (28mm), images show significant levels of all three - 1.1% barrel distortion (to be expected on a 28mm wide angle lens), 10+ pixels of chromatic aberration on either side of target lines, and images were very soft in the corners. But corner softness was evident only in the very extreme corners; for the most part, the plane of focus was impressively flat. See the Optics tab for more detailed analysis.

Tomatoes up close.
Flash performance gets a bit sketchy.

Flash performance of the Canon SD870 is average. When dealing with the lens at its wide-angle setting, the flash is unable to cover the entire frame (this is not unusual, especially with small cameras like this). Coverage is better when the lens is zoomed in to telephoto. In both cases you need to push up exposure compensation by one stop, as the light produced by the flash underexposes the whole frame somewhat, at least in the lab. In practice you will typically be dealing with lighting a subject in the context of a background. Canon's tech specs show the flash as being good up to thirteen feet (4 meters) at wide-angle, and six feet (2 meters) at telephoto. In practice our lab shots more or less confirm these numbers; however, our results at telephoto show that you should expect to see slightly underexposed images when approaching the maximum range of the flash (six feet).

Images printed out in our lab showed excellent quality, with enough resolution to print out photos at 11x14 inches. Any higher and the prints show some image softness, but should be fine if viewed at a distance. At ISO 200 and up, you do start to see some chroma noise at subject edges, but if you print images at ISO 400 and up, you will notice image noise unless you print at smaller image sizes (for example, 5x7 prints seem to hide any noise problems due to high ISO, up to ISO 800).

Appraisal. There's a lot to like about the Canon PowerShot SD870 IS. Perhaps the best selling feature is the large and lovely 3-inch LCD screen, which makes an excellent playback device. Moms who want to carry around their own "brag book" of weddings and newborns have an excellent choice here, although I found the slideshow options a bit wanting. This is not a camera for someone new to digital photography, but rather for someone who knows their way around a digital camera: there are no in-camera help settings, the button text is concise and uses terms and an iconography that, while standard in the industry, could be confusing to new users. For people comfortable with a digital camera however, they will find themselves quickly at home with the Canon SD870. The layout of buttons and menus is intuitive, and the camera's operation is quick and responsive. As a shooting-priority camera, you can always take a photo by just pressing the shutter-release button (although the lack of a optical viewfinder may make quick framing difficult). On automatic, the camera does a good job of capturing respectable images. For photos of people, as long as the camera can see both the subject's eyes, there should be no problems at all getting a pleasing picture.

 

Basic Features

  • 8.0 megapixel sensor delivering 3,264 x 2,448 pixels
  • 28-105mm equivalent, 3.8x optical zoom; 4x digital zoom
  • 3.0-inch LCD
  • 80-1,600 ISO sensitivity with ISO Auto Shift
  • 15-1/1,600 second available shutter speeds
  • f/2.8 maximum aperture
  • SD/SDHC memory card capability
  • Powered by Pack NB-5L lithium-ion Battery (rated at 270 shots per charge)
  • 6.3 ounces (180 grams)

 

Special Features

  • Face-detection Autofocus, detecting up to nine forward-looking faces
  • Optical Image Stabilization
  • Auto-ISO Shift modes
  • 16 Scene modes: Auto, Camera M (Manual settings), Special Scene (Portrait, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Aquarium, Underwater, Indoor, Kids & Pets, Night Snapshot), Color Accent, Color Swap, Digital Macro, Stitch Assist
  • 640x480 Movie mode, capturing video at 30 frames per second, limited only by memory card size
  • In-camera editing, including cropping, digital red-eye reduction, and color modes
  • Compatible with Canon portable printers, as well as PictBridge compatible

 

In the Box

The Canon PowerShot SD870 IS ships with the following items in the box:

  • PowerShot SD870 IS Digital ELPH Body
  • Lithium Battery Pack NB-5L
  • Battery Charger CB-2LX
  • SD Memory Card SDC-32M
  • Wrist Strap WS-DC2
  • Digital Camera Solution CD-ROM
  • USB Interface Cable IFC-400PCU
  • AV Cable AVC-DC300

 

Recommended Accessories

 

Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Optical Image Stabilization
  • 28mm equivalent wide angle lens
  • Decent digital zoom that holds detail better than most
  • Auto ISO shifting
  • Large and lovely three-inch LCD
  • Face-detection, up to nine forward-looking faces
  • Photo categorization
  • Large 8-megapixel sensor
  • User-assignable DPOF button
  • Very sharp images overall
  • Great printed performance, ISO 80 to 400 produce good enough results for 11x14-inch prints
  • Excellent movie mode benefits from wide angle lens
  • Very good macro performance
  • Good battery life
  • Good color saturation
  • Auto white balance does fairly well
  • Good retention of shadow detail
  • Very good low light autofocus
  • Excellent low light performance
  • Good power-on time
  • Fast file transfer
  • No optical viewfinder
  • High chromatic aberration at 28mm
  • Above average barrel distortion at wide angle
  • Heavy coma distortion in extreme corners
  • Fine details lost at ISO 800
  • Slightly warm skin tones
  • Clunky slideshow transition options
  • Below average flash performance at telephoto
  • Poor flash coverage at wide angle (dark in the corners; not uncommon for a camera this size)
  • Touch Icons system not very useful; thankfully, this is optional
  • Proprietary battery
  • Mediocre speed in continuous mode
  • Extremely small 32MB SD card included

 

The Canon SD870 continues with the features that made the PowerShot SD800 a great camera: an excellent 28mm wide-angle lens, Face-detection autofocus, optical image stabilization, plenty of scene modes, and a few important tweaks to the overall operation of the camera. Even movie mode benefits from the wide-angle view, making personal up-close family videos quite easy and fun. The SD870's 8-megapixel sensor delivers resolution capable of delivering good quality 11x14-inch prints up to ISO 400, an impressive feat indeed. Canon has increased the size of the LCD but removed the optical viewfinder; optical viewfinders being something of a joke on most digital cameras with extraordinary optics, most users won't miss it. The 3-inch LCD more than makes up for the lack of a viewfinder, and works well in bright sunlight. At 180 grams (6.3 oz), the Canon SD870 IS can fit in almost any pocket, and uses a battery that can take a pretty decent number of photos. It's a lot of camera fit into a small package, and I think it's a great fit for the experienced digital camera user who needs a reliable, take-anywhere shooter that shows off its photos well. And I can't emphasize enough how great it is to have a 28mm wide angle lens in such a small package, making the Canon PowerShot SD870 IS a clear Dave's Pick.

 

Canon SD870 IS

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