Canon SD950 IS Review

 
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Canon PowerShot SD950 IS Exposure


Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Excellent overall color and hue accuracy, with minor oversaturation of some colors.

In the diagram above, the squares show the original color, and the circles show the color that the camera captured. More saturated colors are located towards the periphery of the graph. Hue changes as you travel around the center. Thus, hue-accurate, highly saturated colors appear as lines radiating from the center.

Saturation. The Canon PowerShot SD950 IS did oversaturate strong red and blue, but remaining colors are just about right. Bright reds and blues are quite typical of consumer models, but the SD950 IS handled a range of subjects quite well, with pleasing color. 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. Here, with the color balanced properly for the light source, the SD950 IS produced slightly pink skin tones. However, results were still fairly natural in appearance. 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. The PowerShot SD950 IS showed small color shifts relative to the correct mathematical translation of colors in its subjects, pushing cyan toward blue, for example. Still, overall color was much more accurate than many digital cameras we test. Hue is "what color" the color is.


See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sensor

Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
Actually pretty good results with all three white balance settings, though most accurate color with the Manual option. About average positive exposure compensation required.

Auto White Balance
+1.0 EV
Incandescent White Balance
+1.0 EV
Manual White Balance
+1.0 EV

Indoors, under incandescent lighting, the PowerShot SD950 IS' Auto white balance setting produced pretty good results, despite the slight warm cast. (Though warm, color balance here is much better than average performance for Auto white balance on consumer cameras.) Both the Incandescent and Manual settings produced more accurate results, with the Manual option producing the best overall. The Canon SD950 IS required a +1.0 EV exposure compensation boost to get a good exposure, which is about average for this shot. Overall color with the Manual white balance setting is good, though skin tones are a bit pink. Though a little dark, the blue flowers actually look pretty good as well. (Many digital cameras reproduce these flowers with a dark, purplish tint, so the SD950 IS performs well 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.

 

Outdoors, daylight
Good overall color, though slightly dark from the high contrast. Pretty good exposure as well, though high contrast results in very bright highlights.

Auto White Balance,
+1.0 EV
Auto White Balance,
Auto Exposure

Outdoors, the Canon PowerShot SD950 IS produced pretty good overall exposures, though contrast was very high, resulting very hot highlights. In both shots above, the brightest highlights show limited detail. Shadow areas show moderate detail, though with strong noise and noise suppression. The camera's low contrast adjustment produced a modest effect on overall contrast. Overall color is slightly dark, thanks in part to the high contrast, but is still pretty good. The Auto white balance setting handled both situations pretty well, though with slightly pinkish highlights on the portrait shot.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Resolution
Very high resolution, 1,700 lines of strong detail.

Strong detail to
1,700 lines horizontal
Strong detail to
1,700 lines vertical

Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,700 lines per picture height in both directions, though lines are clearest horizontally. Extinction didn't really occur. 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.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sharpness & Detail
Overall pretty good image sharpness. However, a small amount of visible edge enhancement in areas of high contrast, and a fair amount of noise suppression in shadow areas.

Very slight visible edge enhancement along high contrast lines, but at this resolution it's hardly noticeable. Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression blurs
detail in areas of subtle contrast,
as in the darker parts of
Marti's hair here.

Sharpness. The Canon PowerShot SD950 IS' captures a lot of detail, with very good definition. However, in high contrast areas some enhancement artifacts are visible, such as in the crop above left. 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 fair amount of noise suppression, with darker areas of Marti's hair showing limited detail. Individual strands fade into each other in the shadow areas, but unless you're printing a poster, you'll never notice with the 12-megapixel resolution. 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
Low to moderate noise at the normal sensitivity settings, though a jump in noise with strong blurring and loss of color at the higher settings.

ISO 80 ISO 100 ISO 200
ISO 400 ISO 800 ISO 1,600
   
  ISO 3,200
(200%) 1,600 x 1,200

At the Canon PowerShot SD950 IS' lower ISO settings, noise isn't very bad at all. But starting around ISO 200 and 400, the noise pattern picks up and pixels are more noticeable. The effect is quite strong at ISO 1,600, with significant loss of detail and color saturation. At ISO 3,200, the camera can only capture images at 1,600 x 1,200 pixels (around 2 megapixels), but the entire image is blurry, with very smudged detail. See Output Quality notes below for how all this pans out when printed.

Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
High contrast and limited highlight detail, though great resolution and detail. Good low-light performance, capable of capturing bright images in near darkness.

+0.7 EV +1.0 EV +1.3 EV

Sunlight. The Canon PowerShot SD950 IS produced high contrast in response to the deliberately harsh lighting in the test above, with limited highlight detail. However, shadow detail is pretty good, despite some noise suppression and noise artifacts. Exposure compensation was on the high side of average at +1.0 EV, creating very hot highlights on the white shirt. Though the highlights are more in check in the +0.7 EV exposure, the overall image is much too dim for my taste. Consider reducing the contrast setting with the SD950 IS, and be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown above; it's better to shoot in the shade when possible.

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.)




  1 fc
11 lux
1/2 fc
5.5 lux
1/4 fc
2.7 lux
1/8 fc
1.3 lux
1/16 fc
0.67 lux
ISO
80
Click to see SD950ISLL00803.JPG
2.1 sec
f2.9
Click to see SD950ISLL00804.JPG
4 sec
f2.9
Click to see SD950ISLL00805.JPG
7.8 sec
f2.9
Click to see SD950ISLL00806.JPG
12.1 sec
f2.9
Click to see SD950ISLL00807.JPG
12.1 sec
f2.9
ISO
100
Click to see SD950ISLL01003.JPG
1.6 sec
f2.9
Click to see SD950ISLL01004.JPG
3.2 sec
f2.9
Click to see SD950ISLL01005.JPG
6.2 sec
f2.9
Click to see SD950ISLL01006.JPG
12.1 sec
f2.9
Click to see SD950ISLL01007.JPG
12.1 sec
f2.9
ISO
200
Click to see SD950ISLL02003.JPG
1 sec
f2.9
Click to see SD950ISLL02004.JPG
1.6 sec
f2.9
Click to see SD950ISLL02005.JPG
3.2 sec
f2.9
Click to see SD950ISLL02006.JPG
6.2 sec
f2.9
Click to see SD950ISLL02007.JPG
12.1 sec
f2.9
ISO
400
Click to see SD950ISLL04003.JPG
0.4 sec
f2.9
Click to see SD950ISLL04004.JPG
1 sec
f2.9
Click to see SD950ISLL04005.JPG
1.6 sec
f2.9
Click to see SD950ISLL04006.JPG
3.2 sec
f2.9
Click to see SD950ISLL04007.JPG
6.2 sec
f2.9
ISO
800
Click to see SD950ISLL08003.JPG
1/5 sec
f2.9
Click to see SD950ISLL08004.JPG
0.4 sec
f2.9
Click to see SD950ISLL08005.JPG
1 sec
f2.9
Click to see SD950ISLL08006.JPG
1.6 sec
f2.9
Click to see SD950ISLL08007.JPG
3.2 sec
f2.9
ISO
1600
Click to see SD950ISLL16003.JPG
1/9 sec
f2.9
Click to see SD950ISLL16004.JPG
1/5 sec
f2.9
Click to see SD950ISLL16005.JPG
0.4 sec
f2.9
Click to see SD950ISLL16006.JPG
1 sec
f2.9
Click to see SD950ISLL16007.JPG
1.6 sec
f2.9
ISO
3200
Click to see SD950ISLL32003.JPG
1/23 sec
f2.9
Click to see SD950ISLL32004.JPG
1/12 sec
f2.9
Click to see SD950ISLL32005.JPG
1/9 sec
f2.9
Click to see SD950ISLL32006.JPG
1/9 sec
f2.9
Click to see SD950ISLL32007.JPG
1/9 sec
f2.9

Low light. The Canon PowerShot SD950 IS performed well on the low-light test, capturing bright images at the lowest light level with the next to lowest sensitivity setting (ISO 100). At ISO 80, the image at the darkest light level is a bit dim. At ISO 3,200, however, images get darker with the light level, as it seems the camera limits the exposure to 1/9 second, in an effort to combat image noise. Noise increases with higher ISOs, but this is expected. Color balance was good with the Auto white balance setting. The camera's autofocus system worked well also, as it was able to focus on the subject almost down to the 1/8 foot-candle light level unassisted, and down to the darkest light level with the AF assist enabled. (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 level 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.

Flash

Coverage and Range
A fairly powerful flash, with about average coverage. Our standard shots required less than average exposure compensation.

36mm equivalent 133mm equivalent
Normal Flash
+0.3 EV
Slow-Sync Flash
+0.7 EV

Flash coverage was uneven at wide angle, but more uniform at full telephoto. In the Indoor test, the Canon SD950 IS' flash underexposed our subject just a little at its default setting, requiring only a +0.3 EV exposure compensation adjustment to get reasonably bright results. Interestingly, the exposure dimmed with the +0.7 EV adjustment, and became much too bright at +1.0 EV. So, though the exposure is a little low at +0.3 EV, it was the best in the series. The camera's Slow-Sync flash mode produced slightly brighter and more even results, though with a stronger pinkish-orange cast from the room lighting. In this mode, the camera required slightly more exposure compensation at +0.7 EV.

Flash Range: Wide Angle
6 ft 7 ft 8 ft 9 ft 10 ft 11 ft
Click to see SD950ISFL06W.jpg
1/64 sec
f2.9
ISO 100
Click to see SD950ISFL07W.jpg
1/64 sec
f2.9
ISO 100
Click to see SD950ISFL08W.jpg
1/64 sec
f2.9
ISO 100
Click to see SD950ISFL09W.jpg
1/64 sec
f2.9
ISO 100
Click to see SD950ISFL10W.jpg
1/64 sec
f2.9
ISO 100
Click to see SD950ISFL11W.jpg
1/64 sec
f2.9
ISO 100
12 ft 13 ft 14 ft 15 ft 16 ft
Click to see SD950ISFL12W.jpg
1/64 sec
f2.9
ISO 100
Click to see SD950ISFL13W.jpg
1/64 sec
f2.9
ISO 100
Click to see SD950ISFL14W.jpg
1/64 sec
f2.9
ISO 100
Click to see SD950ISFL15W.jpg
1/64 sec
f2.9
ISO 100
Click to see SD950ISFL16W.jpg
1/64 sec
f2.9
ISO 100

Flash Range: Telephoto
6 ft 7 ft 8 ft 9 ft 10 ft 11 ft
Click to see SD950ISFL06T.jpg
1/64 sec
f5.8
ISO 100
Click to see SD950ISFL07T.jpg
1/64 sec
f5.8
ISO 100
Click to see SD950ISFL08T.jpg
1/64 sec
f5.8
ISO 100
Click to see SD950ISFL09T.jpg
1/64 sec
f5.8
ISO 100
Click to see SD950ISFL10T.jpg
1/64 sec
f5.8
ISO 100
Click to see SD950ISFL11T.jpg
1/64 sec
f5.8
ISO 100
12 ft 13 ft 14 ft 15 ft 16 ft
Click to see SD950ISFL12T.jpg
1/64 sec
f5.8
ISO 100
Click to see SD950ISFL13T.jpg
1/64 sec
f5.8
ISO 100
Click to see SD950ISFL14T.jpg
1/64 sec
f5.8
ISO 100
Click to see SD950ISFL15T.jpg
1/64 sec
f5.8
ISO 100
Click to see SD950ISFL16T.jpg
1/64 sec
f5.8
ISO 100

ISO 100 Range. At wide angle, flash shots at ISO 100 remained fairly bright all the way out to a distance of about 16 feet. At full telephoto and ISO 100, the target at 7 feet was just bright enough, but the images darken gradually from there.


Manufacturer-Specified Flash Range
Wide Angle Telephoto
Click to see SD950ISFL_MFR150WA0200.jpg
15.0 feet
Auto ISO 200
Click to see SD950ISFL_MFR079TA0200.jpg
7.9 feet
Auto ISO 200

Manufacturer Specified Flash Test. In the wide angle shot above, the Canon SD950 IS performs as Canon says it will, producing a a slight overexposure at the rated distance with its ISO set to Auto (which selected ISO 200). At telephoto, the camera again selected ISO 200 and the exposure looks pretty good.

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.

Output Quality

Print Quality
Good print quality, good color, clear 16x20-inch prints. ISO 200 is good to 13x19, ISO 400 images are good at 11x14, ISO 800 shots are still good at 8x10, and ISO 1,600 shots are great at 5x7.

The Canon PowerShot SD950 IS had enough resolution to make good looking 16x20-inch prints from ISO 80 and 100 shots. ISO 200 shots start to show chroma noise at that size, though, which becomes negligible at 13x19. ISO 400 shots start to go soft at 13x19, but do well at 11x14, which is amazing from a pocket camera. ISO 800 images are better at 8x10, and ISO 1,600 shots are decent at 8x10, but much better at 5x7 inches. ISO 3,200 shots really aren't usable even at 4x6 due to very mushy "detail." Overall, though an amazing performance from this pocket camera.

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 iP5200 here in the office. (See the Canon i9900 review for details on that model.)

 

The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Canon PowerShot SD950 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 SD950 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.

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