DigitalCameraReview.com
Canon Powershot SD200 Digital Camera Review
by gabester -  5/22/2005

Introduction

The Canon Powershot SD200 is the entry-level model in Canon's latest line of ultra-compact digital cameras. Together with the SD300, SD400 and SD500 (although the last is a tad larger than the other three), they represent the new generation of Powershot cameras that are characterized by a thin profile, the inclusion of the second generation DIGIC processor, and the capability of capturing video with high enough quality for inclusion into homemade DVD discs. Although the SD200 if the least expensive of the group, it still shares many of the features of its higher-megapixel siblings and sports a 3.2 megapixel sensor, with enough resolution to make fine 8" x 10" prints.

The SD200 is ideally suited as a general-purpose camera for a casual amateur, or a second camera for a more serious photographer or enthusiast. For families that like to share one camera, the Auto mode should be simple enough for even little children to use although the tiny small factor and small buttons might prove to be a challenge to adults with small-to-large sized hands.

In the Box

Everything you need to get started taking photos comes with the camera, including LiIon rechargeable batter, battery charger (which conveniently plugs directly into the wall without a cumbersome cable), 16 MB Secure Digital Card (good for only about 8 full resolution/quality shots; you should purchase at least a 128 MB card), USB cable (for downloading photos to your computer), TV cable (for displaying photos on your television), wrist strap, and software (Canon Digital Solutions CD and ArcSoft Camera Suite CD).

canon powershot sd200

Specification Highlights

- 3.2 megapixel CCD sensor (1/2.5-inch size)
- 3X optical zoom (equivalent to 35-105mm on a 35mm film camera: moderate wide-angle to moderate telephoto)
- 2.0" Color TFT LCD (118,000 pixels)
- DIGIC II processor
- Autofocus: 9-point AiAF, AF assist beam
- Optical viewfinder (getting rarer these days; VERY useful in low light)
- Still shooting modes: Auto, Manual, Digital Macro, Portrait, Night Snapshot, Kids & Pets, Indoor, Underwater, Stitch Assist (Panorama)
- Video shooting modes: 640 x 480 at 30 or 15 fps, 320 x 240 at 60(!), 30 or 15 fps, until memory card is full
- Shutter speeds from 15-1/1500 seconds (15-1 seconds in manual mode)
- ISO range 50/100/200/400, AUTO
- Selectable metering mode: evaluative, center-weighted, spot (also, exposure compensation)
- Selectable white balance: daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, custom
- Flash range: 1.6-11.5 ft when ISO is set to AUTO
- Battery life: approximately 140 shots with LCD on; 400 with LCD off
- Continuous shooting: 2.4 frames per second, until memory card is full
- Dimensions: 3.4" x 2.1" x 0.8"

Features

The SD200 and SD300 are almost identical; the SD400 and SD500 add minor features like USB 2.0 high speed support, LCD gain-up in low light, and a unique "My Colors" feature that let you change and adjust photo color on the camera. Although the SD200 is the most inexpensive of the bunch, it still sports a 3X zoom lens, the very fast Digic II processor, a large 2.0" LCD screen and a high-quality video mode.

At maximum still resolution (2048 x 1536), the SD200 is the lowest of the group but can still produce an 8" x 10" print at nearly 200 dpi. It can even manage an 11" x 14" print at a respectable 140 dpi, which looks perfectly fine when held out at arm's length. If you don't need to generate prints any larger than these (or if you don't need 300 dpi photo quality), then any higher resolution will not yield better results. The higher resolution comes in handy when you want to crop your images. On the SD200, you can also take photos at lower resolution: 1600 x 1200, 1024 x 768 and 640 x 480.

On the video side, the camera takes videos at full VGA (640 x 480), 30 frames per second (fps) resolution. One outstanding feature is the 320 x 240 at 60 fps mode, especially useful for fast movement. There is no time limit on any video mode; you are only limited by the size of your video card. A fast and large card is recommended; even a 1GB SD card can hold only 8.5 minutes of VGA resolution at 30fps or 17 minutes of VGA resolution at 15fps.

The 2.0" LCD is sharp and bright, and holds up well in the bright outdoors. However, in very dim conditions it doesn't "gain up" so that you can see what you're framing - you'll have to use the convenient optical viewfinder, which is tending to disappear these days as compact cameras get even smaller. While shooting, the LCD displays such things such as shooting mode, metering mode, flash status, orientation (landscape or portrait), resolution, quality (superfine, fine, normal), ISO setting (in Manual mode), white balance setting and numbers of photos you can take on the card. While reviewing photos, the LCD shows the file number, sequence within the card (2 of 32, for example), resolution, quality, date and time taken. If the Display button is pushed, it additionally displays camera mode, exposure compensation used, white balance setting, flash setting, metering mode used, and displays a histogram to check if your photo is over or underexposed. You also have the option of having the LCD display just the image (no info) during shooting, or to have it turned off altogether (to save battery life).

Basic operation of the camera involves pushing the tiny ON/OFF button at the top of the camera selecting the camera mode by moving the selector switch on the back (Review, Movie, Stills), and choosing a shooting mode by pressing the Function button on the back and using the circular "joystick" to scroll among the options. The Auto mode works nicely in many situations, but if you want more flexibility and creativity you can enable one of the many Scene Modes, such as Kids & Pets (almost instantaneous shutter release) and Indoor (boost ISO to minimize chances of taking blurry photo, optimizes for Tungsten/Fluorescent lighting). The only thing missing that an enthusiast might wish for is a mode in which you can control shutter speed, aperture size, or both.

The SD200 employs 9 AiAF (Artificial Intelligence Autofocus) points to determine the best focus for the shot. Alternatively, you can set the focus "priority" to be the central framing area. Light metering is also selectable between Evaluative, Center-Weighted and Spot. The advantage that Canon enjoys over the competition is the DIGIC II processor - not only does it make powering on, capturing and playback considerably faster than the previous S-series (S410, S500, etc), it also includes a comprehensive database of shot parameters (focus/exposure/white balance/focal length) of known, adjusted shots. It is this database that the DIGIC II processor refers to in making its decisions when you select the AUTO mode, or employ either AiAF or Evaluative metering.

Form and Design

This is one small camera. It's not quite as thin as the Casio Exilim S100, currently the thinnest zoom ultracompact, but it'll fit in just about any pocket you might have. It feels very robust and well-constructed, with metal trim throughout (except for the plastic doors covering the cable ports and the batter/SD card compartment).

The top of the camera has (from left to right): the small Power button (a bit small for average-to-large sized hands, but certainly minimizes the chances of accidentally depressing it) and the zoom lever which concentrically surrounds the shutter release button. The very tiny Power status light is directly under the Power button.

On the front of the camera above the lens sits, from left to right: the AF Assist/red-eye reduction lamp, the optical viewfinder lens, and the flash.

The back of the camera shows (clockwise, from top left): the optical viewfinder, the camera mode selector selector, the Menu button (for choosing general settings), the combined joystick/Set button (for selecting shooting parameters or photos), the Print/Share button (with LED) for printing directly to a printer or downloading onto a computer, the Display button that controls the amount of information displayed on the LCD, and the large 2.0" LCD screen. Both the joystick and LCD are very convenient and easy to use.

The right side of the camera has the cable port (USB, TV) door; the left side has nothing of note.

 

The bottom of the camera has, from left to right: the tripod socket (which is perfectly aligned with the lens!), and the battery/SD card compartment door. The rubber flap over the door is for the DC Coupler that lets you run the camera off AC (kit sold separately).

Image Quality

Image quality is determined by two things on a digital camera: the lens and the sensor/processing electronics. Smaller cameras require smaller lenses. The lens on the SD200 is smaller than the ones on the S-series S410/500, which had excellent optical quality; as good as any other tiny digital cameras. The new lens on the SD200 uses glass that bends light more; as a consequence of the new design there is tradeoff to achieve the small size - slight chromatic aberration (purple fringing on light/dark boundaries) and corner softness (blurriness). However, these are only really evident on very large prints or on your monitor at 100%; optical quality on small-to-large prints (up to 8" x 10") is very good.

The sensor and electronics determine how well the individual pixels make up the final picture - a digital photo should have minimal jaggies (the "staircase" appearance of lines that should be straight), minimal noise (the randomly-colored specks that appear when a CCD's light sensitivity is boosted to compensate for low light) and maximum detail (minimal "over-processing" or sharpening). The SD200 excels here, with relatively low noise even at ISO200, very little traces of jaggies and lots of detail.

One note about the video mode - although the videos are sharp, detailed, clear and colorful, shooting in bright sunlight may yield occasional vertical color streaks or smudges. I have seen this before on other cameras; this may (?) be the digital manifestation of lens flare or some internal reflection in the body when the light gets past the lens. In any case the problem is minor unless the bulk of your video shooting is in very bright light.

Here are some sample images, taken outdoors and indoors at various focal lengths across the zoom range. We'll start off with a comparison of noise at different ISO settings

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As you can see, noise is relatively low for a point-and-shoot camera.


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Ease of Use

As described before, operating the camera in Auto mode is very simple, and covers most shooting situations. A child, given minimal training in operation and care of the camera, can take good photos. If you decide to get more creative, the menu system is rather intuitive and straightforward especially if you've used digital cameras before. The joystick is easy to use and feels comfortable, with positive "click" feedback. The only issue is the smallness of the buttons, especially the Power button - make sure you try this out before you purchase the camera. Here are some shots of the LCD in both capture and review mode:

 

 

 

Battery Life

Canon claims 400 shots on a charge with the LCD off, 140 with the LCD on. I was easily able to achieve this by enabling Power Saving (turns off camera after a set amount of time) and turning down the brightness of the LCD backlight. In less conservative usage you should be able to take 100 shots (an average day of picture taking) easily on a charge.

Specifications

Complete specifications from Canon can be found here: Canon Powershot SD200 Specifications

Conclusion

The SD200 is not just an excellent ultracompact camera; it's an excellent camera that just happens to be ultracompact. There are enough features here to satisfy photographers of any category except perhaps enthusiasts or professionals; if it had full manual controls it might. Image quality is very good but not excellent, an understandable tradeoff for its minuscule size. It's a fine choice for an individual or family (with training) as a general-purpose camera, or as a take-anywhere second camera for a pro or enthusiast.

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