Canon PowerShot SD980 IS Performance, Timings, and Image Quality

December 15, 2009 by Allison Johnson Reads (1,702)

Even with that glorious wide-aspect touch screen at your fingertips, the PowerShot SD980 IS handles about like any other digital compact Canon has released in the past year. The dedicated buttons make the touch screen optional, so operating the SD980 with or without touch is pretty seamless.

When I did take advantage of the touch options while shooting, I generally liked using it. After that little “getting to know you” period, I found the touch screen responsive and best of all, easy to forget that you’re using. With or without the touch screen, the SD980 is another dependable compact from a manufacturer we’ve come to rely on for dependable compact cameras.

Shooting Performance
For its size and price tag, the PowerShot SD980 performs well. Our lab tests show it coming in better or nearly as fast as the competition in shutter lag and auto focus acquisition speeds. Continuous shooting was really lackluster, but this may not be a major concern for potential SD980 owners.

Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)

Camera Time (seconds)
Fujifilm FinePix F70EXR 0.01
Canon PowerShot SD980 IS 0.01
Nikon Coolpix S640 0.04
Samsung TL225 0.04

AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)

Camera Time (seconds)
Nikon Coolpix S640 0.29
Canon PowerShot SD980 IS 0.32
Samsung TL225 0.41
Fujifilm FinePix F70EXR 0.42

Continuous Shooting

Camera Frames Framerate*
Fujifilm FinePix F70EXR 3 2.6 fps
Nikon Coolpix S640 2 2.2 fps
Samsung TL225 7 1.0 fps
Canon PowerShot SD980 IS 0.7 fps

* Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera’s fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). “Frames” notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.

Equally as important as lab results is the way the SD980 handled in the field. I can say that it was just as fast as I needed it to be, with about a second start-up time and less than two seconds from shot-to-shot. Flash performance was as good as I expected. After a full discharge, recycle times stretched as long as six seconds. Firing off shots while using it for fill, the flash recycled in under three seconds. Battery life was also satisfactory. Rated for a CIPA compliant 240 shots, I averaged about the same on a fully charged Li-ion battery.

Auto focus options in program mode include a face priority Face AiAF setting or fixed frame. The closest distance that the SD980 will pick up focus in normal AF mode is about a foot and a half. Macro Mode will focus on an object as close as two inches away.

Touch screen interface comes into play when selecting a focus target. Users can rely on the traditional AF system to select a focus point, or they can override it by selecting one on screen. Once a focus target had been selected, the camera was usually pretty reliable in holding on to that point if it moved around in the frame. Overall, the auto focus system performed best in bright light. It struggled notably in dim conditions, though not any more than other cameras of similar size and ability. The auto focus assist lamp helps reduce problems of finding focus in darker conditions, but doesn’t eliminate them.

Activating AF-Point Zoom (available in the main shooting menu) allows the user to view a magnified thumbnail of a selected focus point. Touch the screen where you’d like the camera to focus, press the shutter button halfway, and voila, a magnified thumbnail appears on the screen. A nice option for those looking for a little more assurance that their target is in focus.

Lens Performance
The SD980 features a 5x optical zoom, starting at an equivalent 24mm for a nice wide angle and extending to 120mm. It’s a reasonably fast lens, with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 at wide angle. Maximum aperture at telephoto is f/5.9. Zoom operation is a little bit noisy, which is perhaps one of the reasons why optical zoom isn’t available in video recording mode.

Barrel distortion cropped up more often than pin cushioning. The vertical lines of the window in the wide angle image below bow outward slightly. In the telephoto image, there’s not as much evidence of distortion.

Canon PowerShot SD980 IS
Wide angle

Canon PowerShot SD980 IS

Images were slightly soft at the edges of the frame, but sharply focused at center. Chromatic aberration was well-controlled, though it still cropped up in high-contrast areas. At 100%, a purple line is visible along the outline of the white frosting in the image below. Generally speaking though, the lens performs as well as most others in this weight class.

Canon PowerShot SD980 IS

Video Quality
Video at the highest quality setting, 720p at 30 fps, is about average. It won’t rival the quality of a dedicated camcorder, but high def video capture feels right at home next to that trendy new touch screen. Video resolution can be turned down to 640×480 or 320×240, both at 30 fps. Color swap and color accent modes are also available in movie recording.

Image Quality
The get-up-and-go PowerShot SD980 takes some very nice images right out of the box. Colors are bright, in the traditional vein of Canon’s consumer digitals, and somewhat saturated. The neutral setting, one of the options available under the “My Colors” submenu, will bring saturation down a notch. Adjustments can also be made to color, saturation, and sharpness and saved as a custom setting under the “my colors” submenu.

Canon PowerShot SD980 IS

Canon PowerShot SD980 IS

Default metering settings generally produced a nice exposure, though I found the SD980 tending to overexpose and lose some highlights in situations with mixed lighting. As predicted, the SD980 shot pretty warm under incandescent studio lights. Auto white balance turned in the best results under natural outdoor lighting.

Canon PowerShot SD980 IS
Auto White Balance, 3200k incandescent light

It should also be noted that though the SD980 boasts 16:9 wide-aspect image capture, you won’t be able to utilize it at the camera’s highest resolution. The wide images are roughly 9 megapixels.

Our studio images show noise beginning to appear starting at ISO 100, though it’s very faint in the cropped image. ISO 400 displays more distortion, though the thumbnail image still looks fairly good.

Canon PowerShot SD980 IS
ISO 80
Canon PowerShot SD980 IS
ISO 80, 100% crop
Canon PowerShot SD980 IS
ISO 100
Canon PowerShot SD980 IS
ISO 100, 100% crop
Canon PowerShot SD980 IS
ISO 200
Canon PowerShot SD980 IS
ISO 200, 100% crop
Canon PowerShot SD980 IS
ISO 400
Canon PowerShot SD980 IS
ISO 400, 100% crop
Canon PowerShot SD980 IS
ISO 800
Canon PowerShot SD980 IS
ISO 800, 100% crop
Canon PowerShot SD980 IS
ISO 1600
Canon PowerShot SD980 IS
ISO 1600, 100% crop

It seems that noise suppression really kicks in at ISO 800. By ISO 1600, details are quite smudged. The thumbnail image at 800 and 1600 could be used, but a full-size image at ISO 1600 will certainly display some smoothed-over noise.

Additional Sample Images

Canon PowerShot SD980 IS
Canon PowerShot SD980 IS
Canon PowerShot SD980 IS Canon PowerShot SD980 IS



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