Canon SD980 IS Review

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Basic Specifications
Full model name: Canon PowerShot SD980 IS
Resolution: 12.10 Megapixels
Sensor size: 1/2.3 inch
(6.2mm x 4.6mm)
Lens: 5.00x zoom
(24-120mm eq.)
Viewfinder: LCD
Extended ISO: 80 - 3200
Shutter: 1/3000 - 15 sec
Max Aperture: 2.8
Dimensions: 3.9 x 2.1 x 0.9 in.
(100 x 53 x 23 mm)
Weight: 5.4 oz (152 g)
includes batteries
MSRP: $330
Availability: 10/2009
Manufacturer: Canon
Full specs: Canon SD980 IS specifications

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Imaging Resource rating

4.5 out of 5.0

Canon PowerShot SD980 IS

by Stephanie Boozer
Review Date: 12/17/09

At long last, Canon has finally adopted touchscreen technology. And fittingly, they opted to debut this new functionality on one of the more unique members of the Digital ELPH line, the PowerShot SD980 IS. The Canon SD980 is unique because it's the first ELPH to feature a 24mm lens. Also sporting a 12.1-megapixel CCD image sensor, 5x optical zoom lens, DIGIC 4 image processor, and the newest versions of Face Detection, Blink Detection, and Motion Detection, the Canon SD980 has a lot to offer.

The Canon PowerShot SD980's smooth contours and small size make it easy to stash. Gentle curves ensure it won't snag on pockets, and a wrist strap provides a little added security when you're on the move, and the SD980's strap integrates a small stylus to help you with the new touchscreen if necessary. Minimal external controls make the Canon SD980 IS easy to use, while its range of intelligent automatic settings yield great results even when you don't have the time to figure out exposure settings. No less than 20 Shooting modes are available to choose from, or you can let the intuitive Smart Auto mode do that for you, as it automatically selects from among 22 predefined shooting situations to select a suitable exposure mode.

More advanced users will appreciate a few of the exposure options that the Canon SD980 IS offers, including ISO (up to 3,200 via a special scene mode), white balance, metering mode, and image stabilization, and iContrast, among others. For post-capture effects, the camera's Playback menu also offers an iContrast mode, which automatically adjusts the tonal distribution if necessary (so you can let the camera be the judge before exposure, or select the amount of correction you think you need afterward). Other impressive offerings on the Canon SD980 IS include the wide-aspect 3.0-inch PureColor LCD monitor with Active Display and a limited touchscreen function, and 720p HD movie capability with true HDMI output.

Weighing in at only 5.4 ounces (152g) and measuring a very pocketable 3.9 x 2.1 x 0.9 inches (100 x 53 x 23mm), the Canon PowerShot SD980 IS is definitely meant to go places. Available at a MSRP of $329.99, the SD980 IS is available in traditional silver, or in gold, light blue, or purple body colors. Be sure to use our shopping links to check for the lowest prices!


Canon PowerShot SD980 IS
User Report

by Stephanie Boozer and Shawn Barnett

The Canon PowerShot SD980 IS is the first in Canon's Digital ELPH line to include an LCD touchscreen, and though we're not always fond of touchscreens, we think Canon did this one well, limiting its purposes and still including some control buttons. Fairly compact, with an easy-to-learn point-and-shoot interface, the Canon SD980 offers the same great usability and performance we've come to expect from the PowerShot line.

Look and feel. Ranking among the smaller PowerShot models, the Canon SD980 IS has smooth contours that are both comfortable in the hand and perfect for pockets. At just 5.4 ounces (152g), the Canon SD980 measures only 3.9 x 2.1 x 0.9 inches (100 x 53 x 23mm), definitely small enough to fit into evening bags, pants pockets, and shirt pockets.

Because the Canon SD980's contours are so smooth and is too small to include a handgrip, I strongly recommend attaching and using the wrist strap to prevent the camera from slipping through your fingers. The Canon logo on the front panel is raised just slightly, giving fingers some purchase as they cradle the right side, but that's about all you get.

Controls. On the left of the top panel is a triangular Mode switch that chooses among Movie, Program, and Full Auto modes. A tiny, triangular Power button on the Canon SD980's top panel activates the camera, with a startup time of about 1.7 second, a little better than average. The smooth silver shutter button is surrounded by a zoom toggle. All of the top controls are easy to reach one-handed except for the Mode switch, which is just a little too far to the left. Your thumb rests in a small recessed area on the back panel, overlapping the Playback button, with two sculpted ridges to the left of the button serving as a small grip.

The Canon SD980 has fewer external controls on its rear panel than most ELPH designs, assuming you'll also interact with the LCD touchscreen. Most of the common functions are accessed via the Multi-controller or on-screen menus, and all of the controls are fairly negotiable when shooting one-handed. The wide, 3.0-inch PureColor LCD monitor provides about 100% frame accuracy at both zoom settings, and features virtual buttons on either side in its touchscreen capacity.

You can adjust the shooting mode, exposure compensation, flash mode, or move the AF area target around simply by touching the LCD. However, the Canon SD980 IS does not provide touch access to its standard Record and Function menus, which still require the Multi-controller for navigation. Also worth mentioning here is the LCD Active Display mode, which we've seen on previous models, that lets you switch between Playback images simply by giving the camera a firm shake (not too firm, however, or a warning appears onscreen to be gentle). Additionally, quickly moving the camera forward activates a Focus Checker frame. Using the same action in Playback mode, you can pause or restart movie playback.

A very tiny flash is in the extreme left corner of the camera's front panel, and its operating modes are controlled either by the right arrow on the rear-panel Multi-controller or via the touchscreen virtual button. The PowerShot SD980 IS' flash is rated effective to about 11 feet at full wide-angle, and to about 4.9 feet at telephoto. However, we noted that the camera had to raise the ISO to 250 to qualify the rating.

Lens. Ranging from a nice, wide 24 to 120mm equivalent, the Canon PowerShot SD980 IS' 5x optical zoom offers good quality and a better than average zoom range for this size digital camera. Blurring in the corners is only a minor issue at full wide-angle, but is inconsequential at telephoto. What blurring is present at full wide-angle does not extend very far into the frame.

You're more likely to run into extreme perspective distortion with such a wide angle, where people close to the lens edges are stretched abnormally compared to the center of the frame.

The PowerShot SD980 IS' lens employs Canon's Optical Image Stabilizer technology for relatively blur-free shots in low lighting, or when shooting at full telephoto. The camera's intelligent autofocus system also factors in the latest versions of Face Detection and Blink Detection technologies, as well as Motion Detection for moving subjects. By combining these features with the self-timer, you get accurately-focused self-portraits as well, since the camera locks onto your face as soon as you enter the frame.

Modes. The sliding mode switch on the top panel accesses Movie, Program, and Smart Auto shooting modes, while Playback mode is accessed via its own button on the rear panel. Smart Auto mode selects from among 22 predefined shooting situations, depending on a range of variables from lighting and subject contrast to faces and subject movement, ultimately choosing the mode it estimates will best handle your subject. This is great for users who appreciate having so many automatic presets available, but are unsure of when to use them. In this case, the Canon SD980's Smart Auto has the brains to figure it out.

In Program mode, you can opt to stay in the standard Program AE shooting mode, or use your own judgment to select one of the preset scene settings yourself. Preset modes include Portrait, Night Snapshot, Kids&Pets, Indoor, Sunset, Fireworks, Beach, Aquarium, Foliage, Snow, ISO 3200, Digital Macro, Color Accent, Color Swap, Stitch Assist (panorama), Creative Light Effect, and Long Shutter. Staying within the Program AE mode gives the user control over a handful of slightly more advanced exposure options, including ISO, metering, resolution, quality and white balance, and image stabilization.

The Canon PowerShot SD980 IS' movie mode shoots in high definition at 720p HD with a mini-HDMI connector for HDTVs. Shooting at 30 frames per second, the SD980 IS offers movie resolutions as high as 1,280 x 720 pixels. There is also a Continuous shooting mode, though its performance is a maximum of 0.8 frames per second, much slower than average.

Menu. The Canon PowerShot SD980 IS' standard Record menu is straightforward and easy to navigate with a simple system of tabs and list options. Anyone already familiar with Canon's typical menu setup will find the SD980 IS' menu familiar, and anyone new to Canon should easily find the features they need with just a quick read through the Getting Started Guide (a PDF of the full manual is included on a CD-ROM).

The Record menu is not part of the touchscreen capability, something Shawn thinks is a refreshing approach because so many other cameras have been frustrating to use. Stephanie, on the other hand, thinks companies should go all the way if they're going to use a touch screen at all. Your opinion may vary too. Certainly the most successful smartphones have gone nearly all touch.

For navigating menu screens, the Canon SD980 features the same Multi-controller we've seen on other models, featuring an external spinning dial that also scrolls through menu options. You can use the up, down, left, and right directional arrows to navigate as well.

In addition to the regular menu system, the PowerShot SD980 IS offers Canon's new standard Function Menu, which is launched with a press of the Func./Set button at the center of the Multi-controller. Options like shooting mode, white balance, drive mode, resolution, metering, and ISO are accessed here. The sidebar display moves as you scroll up or down, keeping the main selection at the center of the frame, and the left or right arrow keys allow you to make changes. The new Function menu is a little odd to use compared to the old one, oriented as two rolling menus that appear on the left of the screen. You have to press the right arrow to move to the secondary menu so you can scroll through that. The old design took up the whole screen, but you could start moving from wherever the selection point was using the left and right arrows without having to first jog right. You could also see more of the options with the old method. It's strange that Canon introduced this new Function menu at a time when many other companies are emulating their old one.

Storage and battery. The Canon PowerShot SD980 stores images on SD/SDHC memory cards, for a current maximum capacity of 32GB per card. That'll be sufficient for most needs with this camera; even a 4 to 8GB card should do, unless you plan to shoot a lot of video with the PowerShot SD980 IS.

The PowerShot SD980's battery is a 1,000mAh, 3.7-volt lithium-ion design, Canon model number NB-6L. The rectangular battery pops into place beneath a sliding, plastic door with the metal hinge, and is kept in place by a small pressure switch. A single charge is good for about 240 shots. That's about average, so consider buying a spare battery and keeping it on the ready for longer outings.


Shooting the Canon SD980

by Shawn Barnett

Canon ELPH cameras usually perform well, and the PowerShot SD980 keeps that tradition. Its small size, generally easy user interface, and comfortable control layout make it a good companion when you're out and about. I used the Canon SD980 to record my latest child's birth, so I got some real-world experience with it.

Range. Shown here with the Wide aspect ratio chosen, you can see that the SD980's zoom range is pretty impressive, especially for a wide lens, ranging from 24 to 120mm.

The large LCD monitor is quite reflective, and susceptible to smudging and scratching, worsened by the thin film that makes up its touchscreen. You can easily wipe it clean with a soft cloth, but of course the scratches remain, so I recommend a good case for carrying the Canon SD980. Framing images in direct sunlight is still reasonably good.

Activated too often accidentally, the touchscreen was a bit of a burden when trying to hold the Canon SD980 with one hand. The thumb has a tendency to slide onto the upper right corner of the LCD. The Canon SD980 can often sense this and ignore the press, but not always. If you accidentally launch the Mode menu, though, a half-press of the shutter button returns you to shooting mode. A tiny yellow exclamation point tells you that the camera thinks you're accidentally touching the screen.

In order to take advantage of the 12-megapixel sensor, you have to shoot the Canon SD980 in L mode, which is a 4:3 aspect ratio. But that leaves black bars left and right on the widescreen LCD, and objects that are quite small thanks to the 24mm lens are harder to see. I really preferred to shoot the Canon SD980 in Widescreen mode, to match the 16:9 aspect ratio of the LCD. 16:9 offers a new way of looking at the world that makes photography a little more fun, something HD has also done for video capture; it was also easier to confirm focus before shooting. Widescreen mode delivers an 8.9-megapixel image that looks just fine to me, and the 24mm lens gives the image some significant impact. Printing and framing such images is a little harder than normal, though, so bear that in mind when choosing to compose in Widescreen mode.

Perspective distortion. Some of the distortion here is lack of sleep for 36 hours, the rest is the 24mm lens doing what it does best. Other shots were significantly worse.

Another potential bugaboo is that wonderful 24mm lens. It's great to have a lens that can get it all in, but you also have to deal with the effects of spatial distortion. The first shots of me with my new baby are embarrassingly distorted such that my head is a good ten times bigger than it should be (note that you don't see the worst example here: it's too distorted for my pride). I would have made the angle adjustment to prevent that from happening, of course, but I couldn't expect the nurse to do that, since her specialty lies in another field. I should have handed it to her slightly zoomed, in retrospect. Handheld self-portraits will suffer as a result, though, with the nearest person seeming grossly larger than the further, usually with one eye bigger than the other.

Still, the Canon SD980 performed admirably, capturing the birth and subsequent events with aplomb. I switched between stills and video, and the 24mm lens allowed me to capture the entire room in a single shot, preserving our experience uniquely. And the telephoto end was good enough to reach across the room to where the baby was being cleaned up. It's a versatile lens to be sure.

Wide view. Here the nurse whisks my new baby from the scale to the exam table while the Canon SD980's 24mm lens takes it all in. Turns out this was unauthorized video, so I can't show more than this reduced screen shot.

Video was easy to shoot with the Canon SD980, though there were no focus indicators when you half-press the shutter button to start recording. Playback on the Canon SD980's screen is smooth and great quality, but you need a faster computer to play the HD videos back without jerkiness. My home computers are insufficient to the task, so playback and editing are left to more powerful processors. Meanwhile, I switched to 640x480 for the rest of my videos from the hospital on subsequent days and those worked fine. The 24mm lens gave the HD videos a very cinematic look, though, a perspective I'm used to seeing only on documentaries. Turns out I wasn't supposed to shoot video of my daughter's recovery-room reception, so I can't share those videos here.

The Canon PowerShot SD980 IS' zoom is moves fluidly, though response is a bit sluggish when you first activate the zoom lever. It wants to zoom in large blocks, which make framing your image precisely a little more difficult, particularly with moving subjects. While recording video, the Canon SD980 can only zoom digitally, toward telephoto from wherever the lens is set. It's better to just zoom optically and leave the lens where it is; if you need to zoom, use your feet or stop recording, zoom, and restart.

iContrast. I wasn't happy with how the wall that held the wreath was so dark in the foreground, so I turned iContrast on. While I like the results in the foreground, the bricks and pillars are a little brighter than I'd like.

I forgot to mention that you can tap on the screen to choose an AF point, a novel idea that works fairly well. Of course, I also forgot to mention it because I could find no practical use for it in real life. I suppose if I had the camera mounted on a tripod and I wanted to get a specific place in focus, I'd use it, but it's new enough that it didn't occur to me out in the field.

Another odd touchscreen element is the virtual shutter release button that appears when you turn the Canon SD980 to vertical. Our best guess is that it works more like a cell phone; there's that cell phone comparison again.

I was also interested in seeing how the Intelligent Contrast mode worked, so I snagged a few shots to show that feature as well, shown at right. It worked pretty well, but since it's also available after capture, I recommend waiting to apply it later if necessary. Then you'll still have the original if the iContrast tool overdoes it.

Playback. After shooting, you have various ways of looking at your pictures. First, you have to press the Playback button, of course. From there you can shake your way through images (a dangerous practice, in my opinion) use the Control dial to scroll through images, or use your finger to swipe left or right one image at a time. The shake method is the least intuitive, especially since you're ill-advised to shake any electronic device, let alone hard enough to throw it; but that's what you have to do to make the accelerometer inside detect your intent. You can also start and stop movie playback by swinging the camera away from you rapidly; another bad idea. I much prefer the Control dial or finger swipe. All of them look cool, though, so take your pick.

Overall, the Canon SD980 was a pleasure to use. Because it doesn't go all the way with the touchscreen, I think it's more useful. Perhaps I like it better because you still have analog controls to choose instead for most functions. I love the wide view to match the wide screen, even if it technically only captures 9-megapixel images instead of 12. That's the only real dilemma with the Canon SD980: to shoot widescreen or full res? The wide LCD makes framing full-res images more difficult, effectively reducing the size to about a 2.5-inch screen. And shooting wide doesn't give you the full potential of the sensor. You'll need to be careful of the LCD, both touching it unintentionally and scratching it, but it is a very beautiful LCD that you'll want to use in widescreen mode most of the time. Most of those used to touchscreen smart phones will already be familiar with the concept of swiping to move between images, and touch controls should be a no-brainer. Functionally, the Canon SD980 is one of my favorite cameras of the year, despite its foibles.


Canon PowerShot SD980 IS Lens Quality

Wide: Sharp at center
Wide: Slightly soft upper left
Tele: A hint soft at center
Tele: Consistent sharpness upper left

Sharpness: The wide-angle lens setting on the Canon PowerShot SD980 IS shows slight blurring in the extreme corners of the frame, but blurring does not extend very far into the frame. Very good results for 24mm equivalent. At telephoto, the SD980 IS maintains consistent sharpness levels from the center of the frame to all four corners. Excellent results here.

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

Geometric Distortion: At the Canon PowerShot SD980 IS' full wide-angle lens setting, barrel distortion is less than average (about 0.6%), but still noticeable in some shots. At telephoto, only one pixel of pincushion distortion is visible (<0.1%), only minutely visible in compositions like the one at right. We suspect there's some clever processing going on to produce such good distortion numbers with such a wide-angle lens.

Wide: Moderate; bright
Tele: Moderate; less bright

Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration is moderate at both wide-angle and telephoto lens settings, in terms of pixel count. However, the effect is more noticeable at wide-angle because pixels are bright, with vibrant cyan and magenta pixels on either side of the target lines. The effect is much less noticeable at telephoto, where reddish pixels aren't nearly as pronounced.

Macro with Flash

Macro: The Canon PowerShot SD980 IS' Macro mode captures an average-size macro area at 2.31 x 1.73 inches (59 x 44mm). Details are sharp at the center of the image around the printed corner of the dollar bill, but blurring in the corners is noticeable and extends far into the image. (Many cameras have significant blurring in the corners in macro mode.) Flash exposure is uneven, with a strong hot spot in the upper left and a dark shadow from the lens in the lower right. So stick to external lighting for your closest shots with the Canon SD980.


Canon PowerShot SD980 IS Image Quality

Color: Overall color looks fairly accurate, with only slight shifts in saturation and hue. The PowerShot SD980 IS oversaturates bright reds, but does a good job keeping bright blues closer to reality. In terms of hue, cyans are noticeably pushed toward blue and some yellows toward green, but overall results are good. Lighter skin tones show a little added red-pink tones, while darker skin tones were nudged toward yellow-orange. Generally better than average performance here.

(1.9 MP)

ISO: Noise and Detail: Detail is well-defined at ISO 80 to 200, with noticeable blurring starting at ISO 400. Luminance noise is the main issue at ISOs 400 and up, obscuring fine detail quite a bit at ISOs 800 and 1,600. At ISO 3,200, the camera is forced to reduce the maximum resolution to preserve what detail it can, though results here are still quite soft. See Printed results below for more on how this affects images on paper.

Wide: Bright, 11 ft.
Tele: Bright, 4.9 ft.
Flash: Our manufacturer-specified testing (shown at right) shows bright results at the rated wide-angle distance of 11 feet, with the camera raising the ISO to 250. The telephoto test also came out bright at 4.9 feet, and again, the camera raised ISO to 250. The Canon PowerShot SD980 IS' flash will be sufficient in most situations, just keep your subjects within the specified distances.

Auto WB: Close, but a hint red
Incandescent WB: Much too pink
Manual WB: Also close, but a hint green

Incandescent: It's a bit of a toss-up on our tungsten lighting test between the Auto and Manual white balance modes. The Auto setting actually results in the closest numerically correct white values, though the overall image does appear a little reddish. Alternatively, the Manual setting is just a hint green. (The Incandescent setting is much too pink.)

Printed: ISO 80 and 100 shots are usable at 16x20, but really look better at 13x19. ISO 200 shots hold up well at 13x19 from arm's length, but again detail looks tighter at 11x14. ISO 400 shots are good at 11x14 inches too. ISO 800 shots are good at 5x7, except in low-contrast areas, where detail is softened by noise suppression. These images respond well to sharpening, though. ISO 1,600 are surprisingly usable at 5x7, and ISO 3,200 shots are usable at 4x6. Not a bad performance at all.


Canon PowerShot SD980 IS Performance

Shutter lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is very good, at 0.46 second at wide-angle and 0.42 second at full telephoto. Prefocus shutter lag is 0.085s, which is quite fast.

Cycle time: Cycle time is fair, capturing a frame every 2.29 seconds in single-shot mode. Canon rates the SD980's continuous mode at 0.8 frames-per-second, which is pretty slow.

Flash recycle: The Canon PowerShot SD980 IS' flash recycles in about 8 seconds after a full-power discharge, which is on the slower side.


In the Box

The retail package contains the following items:

  • Canon PowerShot SD980 IS
  • Wrist Strap WS-DC10
  • Battery Charger CB-2LY
  • Battery Pack NB-6L
  • AV Cable AVC-DC400
  • Interface Cable IFC-400PCU
  • Software CD-ROM


Recommended Accessories

  • Extra battery pack for extended outings
  • Protective case (Like the Canon Deluxe Leather Case PSC-2050)
  • Large capacity SD/SDHC memory card. These days, 4 to 8GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity.


Canon SD980 Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Very compact for a 5x zoom
  • 24-120mm eq. lens is very wide, with good telephoto reach as well
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Low geometric distortion at wide and tele
  • Better-than-average corner sharpness for a 24mm eq. zoom
  • Touchscreen control is useful and limited to a few purposes
  • Relatively simple cluster of controls
  • Excellent wideview LCD screen
  • Captures 720p HD video
  • HDMI output
  • Set AF point by touching screen
  • Good printed results
  • Smart Auto analyses each scene to pick the correct settings
  • Face, blink and motion detection
  • iContrast (capture or playback)
  • Good auto white balance performance
  • Fast shutter lag
  • Slight lens flare in bright light
  • High chromatic aberration at wide-angle
  • Difficult to hold camera without touching the LCD
  • LCD susceptible to smudging and scratching
  • Zoom control makes precise framing difficult
  • Unique Active display modes require you to move the camera in dangerous ways
  • Slightly weak flash (common in subcompacts)
  • Slow flash recycle
  • Sluggish continuous mode
  • No optical zoom while shooting video


No doubt about it, combining the Canon Digital ELPH name with LCD touchscreen technology is a powerful combination all by itself. But throw in a 12.1-megapixel CCD, powerful DIGIC 4 processor, 5x optical zoom lens with image stabilization, and you get the very capable PowerShot SD980 IS. With an ultra-compact size, limited controls to worry about, and overall good exposure and color, the Canon SD980 IS offers great quality in its tiny package. A Smart Auto mode proves useful under a variety of conditions, combining Face, Blink, and Motion Detection technologies with 22 preset situations to get the best exposure. For more experienced users, the Canon SD980 IS does offer a standard Program AE mode, with a handful of adjustable exposure variables. Noise handling and lens distortion aren't optimal, but also aren't worse than average. Overall, the Canon PowerShot SD980 performs well. There's a little dilemma about which mode to use between widescreen and 4:3, but the extremely wide-angle lens is great for landscape and whole-room shots. Currently available at an MSRP of $329.99, the PowerShot SD980 IS is definitely worth considering, and a Dave's Pick.


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