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Canon Powershot SD700 IS Digital Camera Review
by Ben Stafford -  7/17/2006
Introduction

The current flagship of the Canon SD line is the Canon Powershot SD700 IS. It's their smallest camera to include the Canon Image Stabilization system -- a welcome addition to those people looking for better image quality and versatility in their sub-compact cameras.  Read on for our full review.

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In another sign that more megapixels is not always better, all of Canon's newest SD cameras (SD700 IS included) shoot at a resolution of 6 megapixels, which seems to be the current resolution sweet spot.  The SD700 IS also has a 4x optical zoom, 2.5 inch LCD, and still includes the optical viewfinder.  Fast operation, ease of use, and excellent image quality make the Powershot SD700 IS a top choice for a sub-compact camera, if you can afford it.

In the Box

Included in the box, along with the camera, you'll find the lithium-ion battery pack (NB-5L), batter charger, a 16 MB SD card, wrist strap, software CD, USB cable, and A/V cable.

Camera Design

The Canon SD/Digital ELPH ultra-compact line has been setting the bar for ultra-compacts for several years now.  While not super-slim like the Sony T series, or the Casio Card cameras, the Canons are still very compact and pocketable.  They're shaped more like a brick than a slim card. The lens retracts fully into the camera when powered off, but you should be a bit careful about the LCD when it's in a pocket.

The camera is very well built and feels solid and comfortable in your hand, especially for such a compact camera.  The little plastic access door to access the AV jack is a little lame, but it seems like every Canon camera has a little plastic door.  Also, most digital camera users don't use this door often, so no worries.

My one major gripe about the design of the camera is the mode dial.  Sort of embedded on the right side of the back of the camera, it's positioned well for turning, but it can be hard to tell which mode is selected by look or by feel.  A better dial/switch mechanism would be a huge improvement.

The front of the camera features the lens, flash, optical viewfinder port, microphone, and focus assist/red eye reduction / timer lamp.

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The top of the camera has the shutter release, and zoom control (ring around the shutter).

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The right side of the camera (when looking at the back) has the wrist strap anchor, flimsy plastic door to access the AV jack, and the mode dial is exposed to this side of the camera.

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The bottom of the camera provides access to the battery/SD card compartment and has a tripod mount.

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The back of the camera has the LCD, optical viewfinder with status LEDs next to it.  The power button is also located on the back of the camera.  Also on the back are a Disp button, DPOF button, 5-way directional pad (with Func. Set button in the middle), and the Menu button.

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Camera Features

The Canon SD700 IS captures images a 6 megapixels with a 1/2.5 inch CCD.  A 2.5 inch LCD with 173K pixels of resolution allows easy framing and review.  If you don't want to use the LCD, the SD700 does include an increasingly rare optical viewfinder.

Images can be captured at resolutions of: 2,816 x 2,112 (Large), 2,272 x 1,704 (Medium 1), 1,600 x 1,200 (Medium 2), and 640 x 480.  A Postcard with Date Imprint mode captures images at 1,600 x 1,200 and a Widescreen mode captures images of 2,816 x 1,584 pixels.  There are three settings for quality: SuperFine, Fine, and Normal.  Movies can be captured at 640x480 and 320x240 at 30 fps and 15 fps.

The SD700 lens has a focal length range of 5.8mm -- 23.2 mm (35mm equivalent of 35mm -- 140mm), giving the camera a 4x optical zoom.  The lens has an aperture range of f/2.8 -- f/5.5. The other big news in the lens department is that it includes Canon's Image Stabilization (IS) system; Canon's first time in a camera this small.  The IS allows you to shoot subjects at much slower shutter speeds without blur from hand shake.

There are three modes of image stabilization, in addition to just turning it off.  It can be disabled completely or enabled in Continuous, Shoot Only, and Panning modes.  In Continuous mode, the IS is enabled all the time, so the effects of the IS can be seen on the LCD.  During shoot-only, the IS is enabled at the time of the image capture, saving a little bit of battery.  In Panning mode, the IS is set to stabilize only vertical movement and is meant for horizontally moving subjects.

For storage media, the SD700 IS accepts SD and MMC memory cards.

The SD700 is powered by a lithium-ion battery pack (NB-5L).  Following the CIPA standard, with the LCD on, the camera is good for 240 shots.  With the LCD off, the camera can take 700 shots on a single charge. Charge time is right around 2 hours.

The SD line is not known for having any "manual" controls, like an aperture priority, shutter priority, or full manual mode and the SD700 is no different.  On the mode dial, you can choose Auto, a "M" mode that is actually more of a Program Auto mode, Scene (SCN) mode, Movie Capture, and Image Playback.

Full Auto mode provides the least control over the camera, but is good for the person who doesn't want to mess with any of the camera's settings.  In full Auto mode, you can adjust the capture resolution, and compression setting by using the Func. Set button in the middle of the directional pad.  The directional pad allows you to access the Macro and Infinity focus modes, the flash modes, to change the ISO setting, and the timer or continuous shooting modes.  You'll notice that some items in the Func menu are not available in full Auto mode.  You can access these by using the M mode.

In the M or "manual" mode, you can access the settings that affect white balance, exposure compensation, the My Colors menu, and sensitivity (ISO) values.  You are also able to change the metering method between evaluative, center-weighted, and spot metering.

The SCN (scene) mode on the dial lets you access the built-in scene modes.  You can choose from Portrait, Night Snapshot, Kids & Pets, Indoor, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Color Accent, Underwater, and Color Swap.

Other settings for the camera are available by pressing the Menu button.  If you've used a Canon before, this menu looks like it always has.  Here you can do things like adjust the IS mode, disable digital zoom, format the memory card, etc.

Camera Performance and Image Quality

Probably my favorite thing about the compact cameras from Canon is that they operate very quickly.  Startup times are great, shot to shot times are excellent, and shutter lag is pretty much non-existent, as long as you've achieved focus and exposure lock with a partial press of the shutter.

The SD700 was a joy to use.  The controls were comfortable and easy to use, especially for such a compact camera.  The position of the shutter release and zoom ring make it pretty easy to use with one hand.

The Image Stabilization system worked well.  Both shots below were taken with a shutter speed of 1/13th of a second.  I did a 100% crop on some detail of a globe to make it easier for you to see the difference.  While not the most dramatic demonstration, I think it works.  I guess my hands are more stable than I thought.

 
Without IS                                          With IS enabled

Focus was achieved quickly, and accurately in most cases.  If you're ok with the camera choosing a focus point and being wrong sometimes, then the AiAF focus system will work fine.  This system chooses the focus point when you partially depress the shutter.  It can be hard to predict though.  If you want more control over the focus point, then just disable the AiAF and use the center AF point.  The camera does have a focus assist light for those dimly lit situations that can challenge an AF system.

The flash range is pretty much always disappointing in small cameras.  However, with the built in Image Stabilization, the flash is not needed as much, so turn it off!  You will be surprised at how natural those former flash shots look.

The automatic white balance works well in almost all of the typical situations.  The one place that I noticed some issues was in an Apple Store in a mall.  The mixed, dramatic lighting in the store was really throwing things off.  When a white MacBook is no longer white, it's pretty noticeable.  However, it was very easy to set the custom white balance and get my whites whiter.

The image quality was excellent.  Colors were accurate (unless you play around with the My Colors shooting mode), showed good dynamic range and exposure was excellent.  Images were very sharp except for some shots taken at full telephoto where the focus might have been off just a tad.

Noise was very well controlled.  In my opinion, it's acceptable up to ISO 200 but a little too much at ISO 400, but you could probably get away with a smaller print of ISO 400.  The camera does sport an ISO 800 mode if you really need that extra sensitivity to capture a shot.  Keep in mind that the camera does employ some on-board noise reduction when the shutter speed is slower than 1.3 seconds.  See the image below for comparison.

Macro performance was quite awesome.  The picture below of mortar between bricks actually reveals more detail than I can pick out with my naked eye.

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Additional Sample Images

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Using Long Shutter mode (view medium image) (view large image)

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Specification Highlights

Conclusion

With several trade shows to attend each year, a couple of my colleagues ended up with the SD700 IS.  They don't like to carry large cameras, but were getting increasingly disappointed with the images from their older, slim cameras that didn't do well in low light.  With the SD700 IS, they get a camera that can take excellent shots of the latest and greatest electronics in the sometimes challenging light of trade show exhibits.  All while still being small enough to easily pocket and not be too noticeable.

The above example is only one of many situations where the SD700 IS feature set will come in handy.  It has excellent image quality, good battery life, and very fast operation.  While it doesn't have any true manual modes, the person that buys this camera typically isn't looking for them.  The included feature set, including the fun My Colors feature, is fun to use.  While the camera is not cheap, it is worth it if it's in your budget.

Pros

Cons