BUILD AND DESIGN
The Canon PowerShot SD3500 IS is an attractive little digital camera that behaves much like every other Canon SD series digicam ever manufactured, but the resemblance ends there. The SD3500 IS looks more like a smartphone than the other members of its tribe.
It’s a very well built little camera; fit and finish are impressive with good dust/moisture seals and the SD3500 IS is tough enough to go just about anywhere. This little digicam is a reasonably priced choice for someone looking for a compact point-and-shoot that is simple enough to appeal to a casual shooter. The SD3500 IS would not be a good choice for a couple with one advanced amateur photographer and one casual shooter.
Ergonomics and Controls
Just a few years ago virtually every point-and-shoot manufactured had an optical or electronic viewfinder. Not anymore – optical and electronic viewfinders are expensive to produce and Americans (who drive the world market in leisure electronic devices) like cheap products. Now we are entering phase two of the re-invention of the digital camera.
Digital cameras these days are smaller; almost all of them are driven by proprietary batteries, optical and electronic viewfinders are a thing of the past, Auto exposure is almost ubiquitous, and let’s face it, touchscreens are the wave of the future. Consumers adore touchscreen electronic devices because they believe these nifty new toys are on the cutting edge of technology. Manufacturers love touchscreen devices because eliminating buttons, knobs, and switches lowers the per unit manufacturing cost thereby increasing the profit margin.
Anyone who has ever used a smartphone will feel right at home with the Canon SD3500’s touchscreen. For casual users touchscreen controls may be OK, but serious shooters will probably avoid this camera and others like it. Buttons, knobs, and switches that allow shooters to quickly and precisely control camera operation are a basic requirement for more serious shooters. The SD3500 IS doesn’t feature a mode dial, instead it utilizes a sliding Mode switch to change shooting modes. The SD3500’s minimal dedicated controls are all arrayed along the camera’s top deck and easily accessed.
Menus and Modes
The SD3500’s menus are fairly logical and they are laid out in a straightforward manner, the problem is getting to them and navigating through them. The camera’s touchscreen simply isn’t sensitive enough to provide seamless interaction between user and device. Sometimes the screen needs two or even three taps to respond. Scrolling is very imprecise and it is not a rare event to zoom right past the function you are seeking. I found myself consistently avoiding the menus.
No manual control over exposure is provided – the Canon Powershot SD3500 is an auto-exposure only point-and-shoot. This digicam offers a very basic (and very limited) selection of shooting modes including:
- Auto: Automatic scene recognition mode that instantly compares what’s in front of the lens with an on-board image database and then matches that information with the specific scene’s subject distance, white balance, contrast, dynamic range, lighting, and color (just before the image is recorded) to determine the best exposure.
- Program: Auto exposure with limited user input (ISO, White Balance, My Colors, Metering, Release Mode, and Image Size).
- Scene: Portrait, Night Snapshot, Kids & Pets, Indoor, Smart Shutter, Low Light, Color Accent, Color Swap, Fisheye Effect, Miniature Effect, Creative Light Effect, Beach, Foliage, Snow, Fireworks, and Long Shutter.
- Movie: The camera records HD video at a maximum resolution of 1280 x 720p at 30 fps for up to 4GB or 1 hour.
Like most currently available Point and Shoot compact point-and-shoots, the SD3500 IS doesn’t provide an optical viewfinder which forces shooters to utilize the LCD screen for all framing/composition, captured image review, touchscreen controls, and menu navigation chores. Most casual shooters (this camera’s target audience) don’t use optical viewfinders anyway, and in some shooting scenarios (macro, festivals, portraits), it is quicker and easier to watch the decisive moment come together on the LCD screen than it is through an optical (or electronic) viewfinder.
The Canon SD3500 IS’s 3.5-inch LCD screen (461,000 pixel resolution) completely dominates the camera’s rear deck – there’s nothing else back there at all. The screen is bright, hue accurate, fluid, automatically boosts gain (brightens) in dim/low light, and it displays almost 100 percent of the image frame. The SD3500 IS’s LCD screen performs adequately for framing, composition, captured image review, and menu navigation, but its performance as a touchscreen command pad is barely adequate.
Like all LCD screens, the SD3500 IS’s LCD is subject to fading and glare in bright outdoor lighting. The DCR test lab objectively measures LCD peak brightness and contrast ratios to assist our readers in making more informed digital camera purchasing decisions. A decent LCD contrast ratio should fall somewhere between 500:1 and 800:1. An LCD with a contrast ratio within that range should be bright enough to use the LCD screen for framing and composition in outdoor lighting and it could also provide a better sense of real world color and contrast than would an LCD screen with a lower contrast ratio. The SD3500 weighs in on the low end of that range at 515:1. Peak brightness for the SD3500 IS (the panel’s output of an all-white screen at full brightness) is 536 nits and on the dark side, the measurement is 1.04. For reference, anything above 500 nits will be fairly bright outdoors.
The default info display provides all the data this camera’s target audience is likely to want or need. I do have a compliment for the designers of the SD3500. Once you select a function its icon remains along the edge of the screen – I used this nifty feature to provide direct access to the exposure compensation function.