Canon SD940 IS Review

Camera Reviews / Canon Cameras i Express Review
Basic Specifications
Full model name: Canon PowerShot SD940 IS
Resolution: 12.10 Megapixels
Sensor size: 1/2.3 inch
(6.2mm x 4.6mm)
Lens: 4.00x zoom
(28-112mm eq.)
Viewfinder: LCD
Extended ISO: 80 - 3200
Shutter: 1/1500 - 15 sec
Max Aperture: 2.8
Dimensions: 3.5 x 2.2 x 0.8 in.
(90 x 55 x 20 mm)
Weight: 4.9 oz (140 g)
includes batteries
MSRP: $300
Availability: 09/2009
Manufacturer: Canon
Full specs: Canon SD940 IS specifications

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Imaging Resource rating

4.0 out of 5.0

Canon PowerShot SD940 IS

by Theano Nikitas
Review Date: 12/23/2009

The Canon PowerShot SD940 IS offers basic snapshot shooting in a petite body that fits easily into most pockets. With the always-attractive Digital ELPH styling, the SD940 IS is as appealing for its looks as it is for its ease of use. Although similar to the Canon PowerShot SD1200, the SD940 IS offers higher resolution with its 12.1 megapixel sensor, a cleaner design and generally better image quality at around the same price.

Another point of difference between the SD940 IS and its subcompact Canon SD siblings is its wide-angle 4x optical zoom lens, which starts at 28mm and extends to 112mm. At wide-angle, the f/2.8 lens is fast enough (has a wider aperture) to allow more light to enter the camera than other models, although at telephoto it slows to f/5.9. Combine the fast lens with the camera's image stabilization (IS) and the SD940 IS has a little extra edge when shooting in low light and at slower shutter speeds. A 12.1 megapixel sensor provides enough pixels to make large prints without overwhelming your computer with huge image files.

You won't find manual exposure controls on the point-and-shoot Canon SD940 IS. Instead, the camera is outfitted with totally automatic shooting options, including Canon's Smart Auto mode, Intelligent Contrast Correction, Face Detection, Blink Detection, and a wide range of scene modes. For photographers who want a little more control over their images, the Canon SD940 IS also offers a Program Auto mode, which allows you to choose a number of settings including white balance, metering and ISO. The camera's movie mode is capable of shooting up to 720p HD movies with sound and an HDMI port makes it easy to connect the camera to an HDTV for large screen viewing.

Like most compact and sub-compact cameras, the Canon SD940 IS does not have an optical viewfinder. Its 2.7-inch LCD offers plenty of room for composing and a wide viewing angle allows you to more easily view and share images on the LCD.

Available now for US$299.99, the Canon SD940 IS comes in soft metallic blue, black, silver, or brown.


Canon SD940 IS
User Report

by Theano Nikitas

In a world where digital SLRs are grabbing the headlines, the petite Canon PowerShot SD940 is a refreshing change of pace. It's small enough to fit into some of the slimmest pockets and comfortable to wear around your neck with a lanyard as a fashion accessory. Good looks are nothing without substance, of course and although it's a point-and-shoot model, the Canon SD940 is outfitted with enough simple-to-use and intelligent features to deliver both function as well as form to the casual snapshot photographer.

Look and Feel. Measuring only 3.52 x 2.16 x 0.79 inches and weighing a mere 4.23 ounces (body only), the subcompact Canon SD940 is the perfect take-anywhere camera. It's small enough to travel whether you're heading out for a quick walk in the neighborhood or going on vacation. Unless you're wearing second-skin tight jeans, there are very few pockets that the Canon SD940 won't fit into.

Despite the camera's small size, it's very well built and feels solid in the hand. At first glance, the SD940 IS looks (and may feel) like its difficult to hold because there's no grip. However, the camera's smooth surface actually provides a little bit of traction and there's space to rest your thumb to the right of the LCD with your forefinger on the front panel for single-handed shooting. For a steadier grip, also place the forefinger of your left hand on top of the camera and support it at the bottom with your left thumb. You'll still want to use a wrist strap or lanyard when shooting so it doesn't accidentally slip from your hand. You'll help keep the camera scratch-free by stowing it in a small case when it's being transported in a purse or small camera bag.

Since most controls are almost flush with the camera body, its unlikely that the camera will be accidentally powered on when taking it out of your pocket or bag. The only exception might be the shooting mode switch, which protrudes slightly from the back panel, so be sure to check its position before shooting.

Controls. The SD940 IS' control layout is fairly standard for this class of camera. A small, flush-to-the-surface Power button sits along the top edge of the camera. Because of its flush position, though, the Power button was difficult to press with the pad of my forefinger so I had to use the tip of my fingernail instead. To the right of the Power button is a good-sized shutter button, which is surrounded by the zoom lever.

The 2.7-inch LCD occupies about two-thirds of the Canon SD940's rear real estate, leaving the remaining space for the camera's external controls. On the upper right you'll find the connector cover for the HDMI and AV-out connectors (an interface cable and AV-cable are included so you can connect the camera to your computer or TV).

Below the connector you'll find the Playback button, which also powers on the Canon SD940 into Playback mode. To put the camera into Record mode from Playback, just half-press the shutter button.

Rather than a mode dial, the Canon SD940 has a three-position Mode Switch to set Auto, Program, or Movie mode, each of which we'll address in the next section.

The Four-way controller, which surrounds the Canon SD940's Function/Set button, is the largest of the camera's controls and falls within easy reach of the thumb. Photographers with large hands may find it a little awkward to use, but I was able to accurately navigate settings for Exposure Compensation, Flash, Self-Timer/Delete, and Focus (Macro/Normal/Infinity) with my smaller hands.

Perhaps the most-used control is the center Function/Set button, which provides quick access to most-often changed settings. On the Canon SD940 IS, the Function menu includes: Light Metering, My Colors (for Canon's special color effects), White Balance, ISO, Record Mode (including Scene modes), Drive Mode, Recording pixels (image resolution), and Compression (image quality).

The final two controls on the rear panel are the Display and Menu buttons. Press Display to switch between having no data or having basic shooting information listed on the LCD. The former shows information such as battery level, shooting mode, flash setting, and ISO speed. Regardless of the display setting selected, the shutter speed and aperture settings are shown on-screen when the shutter button is half-pressed so you can judge whether or not the shutter speed is fast enough to hand hold.

The Menu button, of course, calls up the Canon SD940's internal menu system (discussed below).

Modes. The Mode Switch on the back of the camera offers three options: Auto, Program, and Movie. The Auto mode is the simplest of the three, with limited manual options for an easy shooting experience. For example, in Auto mode, the Function menu allows access to only image resolution and compression; flash options are limited to Auto and Off. As the Auto mode name implies, the camera does most of the work and this is where the Canon SD940 shows its intelligence. After analyzing the scene you're shooting, the camera selects the appropriate settings depending on what cues--if any--it finds. If the camera sees a face, for example, Face Detection is automatically engaged, placing a small box outline around the face(s), which will follow them as they move. When Face Detection locks in on a face, half-press the shutter button and an enlarged portion of the person's face appears on the LCD so you can check focus and expression. At the same time, the camera also chooses the appropriate exposure, white balance, and if necessary, flash setting. Move the camera close to an object and the Canon SD940 automatically switches into Macro mode. If there's nothing in the scene to trigger one of the camera's special functions, it will simply select the best focus and exposure.

HD Movie. 1280 x 720 pixels at 30 frames per second. Optical zoom is not supported, though digital zoom is. (Apologies for the incorrect white balance setting. Click to view/download 20MB MOV file.)

In Program mode, the camera automatically selects the aperture and shutter speed for exposure control but the user can manually change a number of different settings including Light Metering, ISO, White Balance, Resolution, and Compression. This shooting mode also provides access to the camera's scene modes including Portrait, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Sunset, Fireworks, Aquarium, Underwater (for use with an optional underwater housing), ISO 3,200, Indoor, Kids & Pets, Night Snapshot, Color Accent, Color Swap, Digital Macro, Long Shutter, and Stitch Assist (for panoramas).

The third recording option is Movie mode. Three resolution options include HD at 1,280 x 720 pixels, as well as standard definition at 640 x 480 pixels or 320 x 240 pixels, all at 30 frames per second. Movies are recorded to MOV files up to 4GB in size, with efficient H.264 encoding. Optical zoom is not supported while recording movies, but digital zoom is available. Focus is fixed at the start of the movie. Although its video clips won't win any contests, the Canon SD940 offers some interesting movie options including the ability to set white balance and image stabilization. You can also opt to utilize Canon's color effects including b&w, sepia, selective color (you choose a single color from the scene and everything else will be in black and white), as well as a number of custom settings. If you plan to view the video footage on an HDTV, you'll need to purchase a Mini-HDMI to HDMI cable.

Menu. The Canon SD940's menu system, in both Record and Playback modes, is simple to understand and easy to navigate. Activate the camera's Hints & Tips on-board help and the Canon SD940 displays a brief explanation of each menu setting so you can make a well-informed decision when setting up the camera. In Record mode, there are two menus: one for shooting features such as turning the AF-assist Beam on/off, turning on Red-eye correction and Red-eye lamp, enabling Blink detection, and many others. The second menu sets up the basics such as sounds for start-up, camera operation, shutter, etc., as well as file numbering, LCD brightness adjustment, and media card formatting, among others.

Playback menus include the same set-up menu along with a printing menu and a playback-specific menu. The latter includes features such as slideshow creation and post-processing options such as i-Contrast (which helps maintain details in shadows and highlights), Red-Eye Correction, Trimming, Resizing, and special color effects via Canon's My Colors feature.

Storage and battery. As the SD designation implies, the Canon SD940 uses SD and SDHC cards. The camera also can accommodate MultimediaCard, MMCplus, and HC MMCplus media. A 2GB SD card can hold about 626 Large/Fine images, while an 8GB card will hold slightly more than 2,500 high resolution photos. If you plan to shoot HD video, you might opt for a 4GB or 8GB card since a 2GB card can record only about 10 minutes 53 seconds of video, while you can record about 43 minutes and 32 seconds on an 8GB card. Maximum clip length is 10 minutes for HD, and 60 minutes for SD video.

Powered by a small, rechargeable lithium-ion battery (Canon NB-4L 2), the SD940's battery life is rated at about 220 shots, which is a little below average. You might want to consider picking up an extra battery, particularly if you plan to shoot a lot of video or want to take the camera on vacation.

See something interesting and the Canon SD940 is ready at a moment's notice.

Shooting. Shooting with the Canon SD940 IS was great fun. Going on a walk with a shoulder bag filled with other, larger cameras for testing, including a DSLR, I found myself reaching for the Canon SD940 more often than not. Part of this preferential treatment came from the fact that I was wearing the camera around my neck on a lanyard, putting it within easy reach. The other reason for grabbing this camera more than the others was its ease of use. Even changing ISO, white balance, and metering modes was a relatively quick and simple task, thanks to Canon's quick-access Function menu.

28mm-equivalent is a perfect focal length for landscape shots, and the 112mm end has just the right reach for well-cropped travel shots.

I also really liked having a 28mm-equivalent wide-angle lens outdoors to capture landscapes; and experimented with shooting into the sun, to backlight some of the scenery. Unfortunately, that idea wasn't as successful as I had hoped, so I put my back to the sun, or went behind a building to block the bright light. On the Canon SD940's 2.7-inch LCD, I could tell that these images were much better, with accurate exposure, well-saturated colors (for the most part) and sharper focus. Outdoors, the little on-board flash was surprisingly helpful at filling in shadows when necessary.

Macro shots of vegetation were foiled by the strong breezes that kept the subjects moving and constantly out of focus, so I tried some macro shots indoors. Shooting macro on static subjects like a Kachina doll was a mixed experience. The flash didn't provide good coverage in macro and tended to vignette, depending on the camera-to-subject distance, so I bumped up the ISO and turned the flash off to get more evenly lit photos. However, the flash provided even coverage when I exited macro mode and zoomed in or brought the camera physically closer to the subject when shooting.

It was also fun to play with My Colors and shoot in black and white, sepia, and some of the other color effects. There was no one around to test out the skin tone adjustments (lighter or darker) available in My Colors, but I went for a little more vivid color by using the Positive Film setting, which turned out some pleasing results.

The Canon SD940's overall performance was at least as good as, or better, than other similar cameras. When there's good contrast in the scene, the AF locks in quickly. Like most snapshot cameras, though, the focus point wasn't always where I hoped it would be so, I would then try moving the camera slightly so it would choose to focus closer to my intended subject. When there's low or no contrast, the Canon SD940's AF frame turns yellow with a warning sign indicating that it's simply not going to focus and that you need to re-compose and/or zoom the lens out to a wider angle. Although shutter lag is about average for snapshot cameras, it's important to compose and squeeze (rather than snap) the shutter to avoid autofocus lag. The zoom is a little slow to respond, though, and you might have to pull/push the zoom lever back and forth to get the exact position you want.

iContrast. The wall that held the wreath was so dark in the foreground, we decided to employ the Canon SD940's iContrast feature, which brought up the apparent exposure of the darker areas.

Image quality, which is reviewed in more detail below, is good for a tiny snapshot camera. Colors were nicely saturated but natural looking; for more vibrant colors, check out the camera's My Colors feature. The Canon SD940 delivers better corner and overall detail than its SD1200 IS sibling. That said, prints from the SD940 IS aren't quite as good as those from the SD1200 IS. Also, SD940 IS seems to have some problems capturing low-contrast detail, especially in reds. It seems that Canon snapshot cameras are trending towards slightly more aggressive noise suppression, which tends to slightly soften details, although you probably won't notice the softer details in prints.

The lens, while capable of capturing details, seems to soften images in the upper right corner. This softness doesn't reach too far into the frame at wide-angle, and it's less likely to occur at telephoto. The lens exhibited lower-than-average barrel distortion at full wide-angle. Zoom the lens to telephoto and, if you look closely, you'll see a bit of barrel distortion instead of the usual pincushion--an effect where the image is slightly curved inward.

Given the size and specifications of the SD940 IS, I was generally pleased with my test images. Family and friends would be more than happy to receive snapshot-sized prints, and I wouldn't mind hanging a couple of 8 x 10 prints on the wall. For a camera that's so small and attractive, I'm more than willing to forego pixel-peeping to have a cool, small, easy-to-use camera to carry around for snapshots. Photography enthusiasts should probably look elsewhere, though.


Canon SD940 IS Lens Quality

Wide: Sharp at center
Wide: Quite soft upper right
Tele: Sharp at center
Tele: Slightly soft lower right

Sharpness: The wide-angle end of the Canon SD940's zoom is quite soft in some corners, mainly the upper right, though blurring doesn't extend very far into the frame. At telephoto, corners are only slightly soft compared to center.

Wide: Lower than average barrel distortion; slightly noticeable
Tele: Minimal barrel distortion

Geometric Distortion: Barrel distortion at wide-angle is actually lower than average (0.6%), which is only slightly noticeable depending on the subject. At telephoto, a trace of barrel distortion is almost imperceptible (0.2%).

Wide: Moderate
Tele: Moderate

Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at both wide-angle and telephoto is on the moderate side, with slightly bright pixels visible on either side of the target lines. At wide-angle, pixels appear green and magenta, while at telephoto, the distortion is more cyan and red.

Macro with Flash

Macro: The Canon PowerShot SD940's Macro mode captures a sharp image at the center of the frame, though there's significant blurring extending from the corners down toward the middle of the image area. Minimum coverage area is 1.53 x 1.15 inches (39 x 29mm). The camera focuses so closely that the flash is blocked by the lens at the most extreme close-up.


Canon SD940 IS Image Quality

Color: Overall color is good, with some minor oversaturation in bright reds and blues. Hue is a little off for colors like yellow and cyan, and some reds are pushed toward orange. Dark skin tones show some warmth, while lighter tones have a slight pink tint. Still, overall color is natural and appealing.


ISO: Noise and Detail: Detail is good at ISO 80 and 100, with some softening beginning as early as ISO 200. By ISO 400, details are considerably soft. Chroma (color) noise remains under control at all ISOs, but luminance noise becomes a problem. See Printed results below for more on how this affects printed images.

Wide: Bright, 13 ft.
Tele: Fair, 6.6 ft.
Flash: Our manufacturer-specified testing (shown at right) shows bright results at full wide-angle, rated effective to a distance of 13 feet, though ISO was increased to 320. At full telephoto, the camera again had to raise ISO to 320 to get fairly bright results at the rated distance of 6.6 feet. Thus, the PowerShot SD940 IS' flash should work well at close range, but will decrease in effectiveness at farther distances.

Auto WB:
Slightly red
Incandescent WB:
Too pink
Manual WB:
Close, slightly magenta

Incandescent: Manual white balance handles our tungsten lighting test better than Auto and Incandescent modes, despite a very slight magenta tint. Auto has a small red cast, while the Incandescent setting produced very pink results.

Printed: ISO 80 and 100 printed results look good at 13x19 with good color and detail, except in the corners, which are soft. This becomes less pronounced at 11x14 inches. ISO 200 looks good at 11x14, which is just about right for a 10-megapixel digital camera, but this is a 12-megapixel camera, so it's a little disappointing. ISO 800 shots are soft but usable at 8.5x11, but better at 5x7. ISO 1,600 shots are better at 4x6. ISO 3,200 shots, available via a special Scene mode, are usable at 4x6, so long as the subject doesn't have a lot of detail. It's a reasonably good performance, but high ISO printed sizes do fall off more quickly than some other 12-megapixel pocket digital cameras.


Canon SD940 IS Performance

Shutter lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is about average, at 0.48 second at wide-angle and 0.55 second at full telephoto. Prefocus shutter lag is 0.077 second, which is pretty fast.

Cycle time: Cycle time is on the slower side, capturing a frame every 2.37 seconds in single-shot mode. Canon rates the SD940's continuous mode at 0.8 frames-per-second, which is also pretty slow.

Flash Recycle: The PowerShot SD940 IS' flash recycles in a relatively quick 4.4 seconds after a full-power discharge.


In the Box

The retail package contains the following items:

  • PowerShot SD940 IS body
  • Lithium-ion Battery Pack NB-4L
  • Battery Charger CB-2LV
  • Wrist Strap
  • Digital Camera Solution CD-ROM
  • USB Interface Cable
  • AV cable
  • Printed Guide


Recommended Accessories

  • Large capacity SD or SDHC card. A minimum of 2GB is recommended; 4GB or 8GB highly recommended if you're going to shoot video
  • Extra battery pack for extended outings
  • Underwater housing for scuba divers/snorkelers


Canon SD940 IS Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Attractive design and sturdy build
  • Tiny, pocketable size
  • Wide-angle, image-stabilized 4x optical zoom
  • HD movie mode
  • HDMI output
  • Good control layout
  • Easy to use
  • Helpful on-screen tips and hints
  • Effective Smart Auto mode
  • Responsive Face Detection
  • iContrast works well
  • Special underwater housing (optional) & Scene Mode
  • Relatively quick flash recycling
  • Below average battery life
  • Sluggish continuous mode
  • Zoom is slow to respond
  • No optical zoom while shooting video
  • Slightly weak flash (common in subcompacts)
  • Lens has some soft corners, flare, and moderate chromatic aberration
  • Details slightly soft, especially with reds
  • Prints not as good as those from Canon PowerShot SD1200


While its image quality may not stand up to higher-end cameras, the Canon PowerShot SD940 is a fun camera to shoot with and will appeal to snapshooters who want a tiny take-anywhere camera that's fashionable and easy to use. Its wide-angle, 4x optical zoom lens offers a lot of flexibility to capture landscapes at 28mm and moderate telephoto shots at 112mm. The lens/camera combination delivers good details but the lens produces some softening in the upper right corner at wide-angle and noise suppression tends to slightly soften the details.

However, the camera offers image-stabilization and, at a wide-angle, a fast lens for low light/slow shutter speed shooting. Canon's Smart Auto Mode is intelligent enough to make the right decisions when capturing an image so you don't have to, and features such as automatic Face Detection work quite well. If you want to take a little more control, the SD940 IS offers that as well with access to ISO, White Balance, and other options that affect image quality. My Colors offers an extra touch of creativity when you want it, too. Performance is a mixed bag, ranging from about average for a camera of this class to a slightly-slow-to-respond zoom and below average battery life. The latter, of course, can be remedied by picking up an extra battery. Color reproduction is generally good and printed snapshot quality is, for the most part, pleasing.

While enthusiasts will want to look for a slightly higher-end model, consumers who want a tiny pocket camera for snapshots should be pleased with the SD940 IS. You might also consider the Canon SD1200 IS, a 10-megapixel, 3x zoom model that costs quite a bit less and has better printed quality than the Canon SD940 IS, but if you want that extra zoom and wider angle, the Canon SD940 will turn out good quality snapshots at most any ISO setting.


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