Canon's first foray into touch screen territory comes in the form of the PowerShot SD980 IS. It falls into line style-wise with the current generation of Digital ELPH cameras and it won't look out of place sitting side-by-side with your iPod and your touch screen smartphone - it's curvy, boldly colored, and relatively slim for a camera housing a 5x optical zoom lens.
Like the Panasonic Lumix FX580, the SD980 keeps all of the physical buttons and offers the touch screen as a kind of supplement in terms of camera operation. The result is more of a hybrid than a total touch screen makeover. There are three major areas where the touch screen will come into play: image review, touch-selected auto focus lock, and shooting mode selection.
It's a new interface for the PowerShot lineup, but there are plenty of familiar features here as well. The DIGIC 4 processor, optical image stabilizer, and 12.1 megapixel 1/2.3 inch CCD are carried over from previous Digital ELPHs. Slow, steady enhancements to an existing, capable platform have been the trend for Canon in recent years. Does the SD980 follow the trend, or is it just another pretty interface?
BUILD AND DESIGN
The PowerShot SD980 IS is immediately identifiable as a Canon compact by virtue of its shape, build, and color alone. There are a couple of style updates, though, to keep the face of the Digital ELPH fresh. The buttons on the back panel are curved slightly, and the buttons on top of the camera are lined up along a dark bowtie-shaped band.
The wide aspect 3.0 inch display is another updated touch, and it's roomy enough to facilitate sliding your finger across the screen to flip through captured images. The whole package is a little heavier than it looks, but then again, it doesn't look very heavy at all. I didn't think twice about it carrying it in my bag for the past few weeks.
Ergonomics and Controls
The SD980 control layout is simple and familiar. Two buttons on the back panel offer shortcuts to photo review and the main shooting/camera menu. A control dial, with a rotating ring around it (big fan of that ring), provides quick access to self-timer, flash, focus mode, and display options. The function button at the center pulls up a quick menu of shooting options including image size, compression, white balance, and ISO setting.
Up on top is the shutter release encircled by the zoom lever, the on/off button, and a shooting mode switch. Around to the bottom you'll find the battery and memory card compartment. On the side, a very neatly angled wrist strap hook adds another touch of visual interest. It's flanked on either side by the HDMI and A/V out ports.
Overall, it's a comfortable layout, though it's not the ideal build for one-handed shooting. Two very small, raised lines to the left of the playback button offer a little bit of traction for a right-handed grip, but this positions the thumb right on top of the control dial. It's not hard to find yourself accidentally resetting the focus mode while trying to grab a shot with one hand. I didn't have any trouble using the camera with two hands and found it generally easy to handle.
I would also recommend use of the wrist strap. The curved edges can cause it to slip on occasion.
Menus and Modes
The PowerShot SD980 offers three basic shooting modes. They're all accessed via the sliding, wedge-shaped mode switch on top of the camera:
Other scene modes include the usual suspects like portrait and night snapshot. Canon also brings back the fun color swap and color accent modes.
The main camera menus don't use the touch interface, and it's a good thing too. The menu options would need to be much larger, which would add length, and nobody likes that. As they are, the menus are standard fare from Canon - concise and fairly intuitive. The only shooting menu to employ touch screen interaction is shooting mode selection, where the user will select from several screens of large, pictorial icons. In program mode, the main shooting screen displays touch options along the right side for flash and exposure compensation.
The PowerShot SD980 also employs something Canon calls Active Display, allowing the user to advance images in playback mode by flicking the wrist. This feature took a little practice to master, and you'll definitely want a firm grip on the camera if you use this functionality.
The PowerShot SD980 uses a wide aspect 3.0 inch LCD as the only means of shot composition. Other recent Digital ELPH models have offered a very small viewfinder, but the SD980 isn't one of them. Once I'd spent a few minutes using the touch screen, I rarely had trouble using it. I found that it required a firm touch when using it to flip through photos in image playback, as if I was actually pressing and sliding a card across a flat surface. Once I had the hang of it, the touch screen rarely let me down. Users can access a calibration tool in the main camera menu.
Yes, the LCD can be overwhelmed in bright sunlight, but I think that an optical viewfinder would have felt a little out of place here. The set interested in touch screen interface are not likely to miss it. As a 230k dot resolution monitor, the LCD on board the SD980 is sufficiently sharp, bright, and accurate.
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