- Small size
- Good build quality
- HD video
- Soft at high ISO
- Some chromatic aberration
- Smaller controls
When I first set eyes on the Canon PowerShot SD940 IS (also known as the IXUS 120 IS), one of Canon’s newest Powershot ELPH cameras, I asked myself, “Haven’t I seen this before?” In fact, it looks almost identical to the PowerShot SD780 IS, released this past February and reviewed by this website in March. The similarity isn’t a bad thing, considering that the SD780 IS was awarded an “Editor’s Choice.”
On closer inspection there are some differences. The most obvious is that the newer camera lacks the optical viewfinder of the SD780 IS. It can be argued that this is no great loss though, as that viewfinder was tiny and often difficult to use. There are other, more subtle differences as well. The newer camera has a wider angle lens and longer optical zoom, 28-112mm (35mm equivalent) compared to 33-100mm in the older camera, and a larger LCD – 2.7 inches compared to 2.5 inches.
The SD940 IS also has a wider maximum aperture. Another difference becomes evident when you pick up the camera. The SD940 IS is very light in weight, only 120 grams, about 40 grams lighter than the previous camera. In fact, it’s one of the lightest cameras available today. So the SD940 IS creates a very positive first impression. But does it live up to the reputation of its award-winning predecessor? Let’s find out.
BUILD AND DESIGN
In addition to being a very lightweight camera, the SD940 IS is very small – only 3.5 inches wide, 2.2 inches high and 0.8 inches thick. It’s so small it can easily be carried in any pocket or purse. But its small size and light weight do not mean it’s a shoddily built camera – far from it.
Its body is mostly metal and it has a very solid feel, though the covers to its HDMI/USB port and battery/memory card compartment are plastic and should be opened and closed with care. There’s a sturdy metal tripod mount in roughly the center of the camera’s bottom. The camera comes in four colors – light blue, silver, brown, and black, the color of the camera I reviewed.
Ergonomics and Controls
Despite its small size, the SD940 IS is easy to hold. The front of the camera is largely metal, with a slightly rough surface, providing a good place to put your fingers while your thumb grips the plastic port cover located at the top right, rear of the camera.
While I could shoot with one hand I felt more comfortable using my left hand to steady the camera. The front of the camera contains the lens, an auto focus assist lamp and a thin flash. I had to be careful when I used the flash so as not to block it with the fingers of my left hand.
The top of the camera contains a relatively large shutter button which incorporates the zoom control. Next to it is a tiny, recessed power button which I sometimes had to push repeatedly to get to work. Next to that are pinhole openings for the microphone and speaker.
The rear of the camera contains Canon’s usual four-way circular control panel. Pressing the up directional button lets you change exposure compensation (in program mode only), right accesses the flash controls, down enables activation of the self-timer (and deletes the picture in photo review mode), and left adjusts the distance from macro to normal and infinity (in program mode only).
In the center is the function/set button, which accepts menu selections as well as gives you access to the function shortcut menu. Beneath the control panel are a button for displaying information on the LCD screen and another button activating the main menu. At the top left of the panel is a photo review button, next to which is a three-way selector for auto, program and movie modes. Most of the controls are recessed and were sometimes difficult for me to use, especially the circular control panel.
Canon provides a small “Getting Started” guide, which is enough to cover the basic functions of the camera. A more detailed User Guide is found on the accompanying CD.
Menus and Modes
The SD940 IS uses Canon’s traditional combination of two different menu systems. The main menu is accessed by the dedicated menu button and contains two columns – one for shooting settings and the other for basic camera settings. These are settings that won’t be changed often. The shortcut menu system is activated by pressing the function/set button, which brings up a menu that contains settings that are changed more frequently, although most of the settings are only accessible in program or movie mode. Menu choices are accompanied by a brief, helpful explanation.
As mentioned earlier, the rear of the SD940 IS has a selector switch which activates three shooting modes, as follows:
- Smart Auto: In this mode, the camera will choose from numerous predefined shooting situations including scene modes (macro, landscape, portrait, night snapshot, kids and pets, indoor, sunset, fireworks, beach, underwater, aquarium, foliage, snow and high ISO), “i-Contrast” (contrast compensation), servo AF (which keeps focus adjusted on moving objects), face-detection and continuous optical image stabilization. This works well for most shooting situations.
- Program: Once you are in program mode, pressing the function/set button will allow you to access a menu containing many shooting functions such as light metering, white balance, ISO, scene modes, drive modes (such as continuous shooting), image recording size, image quality (amount of compression used) and Canon’s “my colors” mode, which lets you make adjustments to the color. I enjoyed playing with the various settings in the my colors mode, including settings for vivid, neutral, sepia, black and white, and custom color. The menu also allows access to “color accent,” which allows you to keep a selected color and change the others to black and white, and “color swap,” which permits you to change one color to another. The menu does not contain options for controlling aperture and shutter speed, however – the SD940 IS does not permit direct control of these functions.
- Movie: When in this mode, the function/set button activates a menu that lets you choose to record at three different quality levels at 30 fps: 1280×720 HD, 640×480, and 320×200. There’s also an HDMI port so that you can send your HD movies directly to an HD television. You can incorporate color accent and color swap into your movies as well. Maximum movie length is 10 minutes for HD and an hour for the other modes, though the maximum recording size is 4GB. The User Guide notes that shooting movies may result in the camera becoming warm, and I found that to be the case.
The SD940 IS has a 2.7 inch diameter LCD with 230,000 dots of resolution. It can be adjusted to five brightness levels. I found it to work well in most shooting situations. There is no viewfinder but, considering the high quality of the screen, a viewfinder isn’t necessarily needed.