DigitalCameraReview.com
Canon Powershot SD900 Review
by Jim Keenan -  2/16/2007

If it’s true that you can’t tell a book by its cover, then the diminutive Canon Powershot SD900 just seems too small and compact to be packing a 10 megapixel wallop. But large file size is only part of the story for a little camera that produces excellent images and color right out of the box.

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Actually, the cover is pretty cool on its own – the SD900 case is titanium, with its medium grey sheen complemented nicely by bright chrome and flat black accents. Build quality, fit and finish appear first-rate. The camera features a 2.5” LCD monitor and an optical viewfinder, a 10 megapixel sensor and 3X optical Canon zoom lens that provides a 35mm film equivalent focal length range of 37 to 111 mm. Canon claims the DIGIC III image processor provides improved image quality, speed of operation and battery performance over earlier processors.

A CLOSER LOOK 

The SD900 is a new addition to the Powershot line and like many point and shoot cameras in the Canon SD line, it offers virtually no manual controls. The ability to produce images with large file sizes seems tailored for those who wish to print big enlargements or aggressively crop their shots to produce the desired result.

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Canon provides a wrist strap, battery charger, battery pack, AV and interface cables, a 32MB SD memory card and CD-ROM software with each SD900. With a 10 megapixel sensor that 32MB card won’t last long, so plan on buying one with more capacity. A 4GB card allows for some 950+ images at the largest file size and image quality settings, at least according to the camera’s counter.

The SD900 measures approximately 3.6 x 2.35 x 1.1 inches and weighs about 6.5 ounces with battery pack and memory card. It can capture still JPEG images in seven different pixel sizes, and Motion JPEGS at 160 x 120, 320 x 240, 640 x 480 or 1024 x 768 pixels at 15 and/or 30 frames per second.

CAMERA FEATURES AND LAYOUT 

The front of the camera features the 3x optical zoom lens, flash, viewfinder window, self-timer/red-eye reduction/AF-assist beam lamp and a microphone.

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The camera back is dominated by the 2.5” LCD monitor, but also houses the viewfinder, indicator lamps, the mode dial, print/share, display, function/set and nenu buttons, and the touch control dial.

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The top of the camera includes a speaker, power lamp and power button, shutter nutton and the lens zoom lever.

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A threaded tripod socket, memory card slot/battery cover lock release switch, DC coupler terminal cover and memory card slot/battery cover are found on the camera bottom.

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canon powershot sd900
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A digital terminal and A/V out terminal can be found beneath the terminal cover on the camera’s right side.

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SHOOTING WITH THE SD900 

Auto Mode 

The SD900 powers up fairly quickly – the lens extends to wide angle mode and the camera is ready to acquire focus about 1 second after pressing the power button. Default settings for Auto mode include normal color and compression, auto white balance, large file size and evaluative metering for exposure. Image quality and color rendition were quite good for shots of normally lit scenes at the Auto setting.

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canon powershot sd900 sample image
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Manual Mode 

While the SD900 provides a “manual” mode, it really only allows you to select exposure compensation, white balance and ISO speed as manual inputs. The camera is still doing virtually all the work.

There are also four other shooting options accessed via the “manual” mode: Digital Macro, Color Accent, Color Swap and Stitch Assist. The color options involve selective color manipulation of images, and Stitch Assist helps produce panoramic images.

Special Scene Modes 

There are eleven Special Scene selections available in the SD900 – Portrait, Night Snapshot, Kids & Pets, Indoor, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Aquarium, Underwater and ISO 3200. Canon makes a “waterproof case” for the SD900 and recommends using it to shoot at ski resorts or beaches.

A word here about ISO 3200: a simple rule of thumb with any digital camera is that image noise increases as does the ISO level. Because the sensors in compact cameras may be dimensionally smaller than those in their larger brothers, this noise may become more apparent at lower ISO levels in compacts. In the SD900, ISO 3200 would be the choice for venues where flash is either inappropriate or ineffective given the distance to the main subject – it literally becomes the final option, the “when a really noisy image is better than no image at all” setting. In the photos below, one was shot in “Indoor Mode” and the other at “ISO 3200” – the results speak for themselves.

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Another consideration in selecting ISO 3200 in the SD900 is that the camera defaults to the 1600 x 1200 pixel level. Practically speaking, this means that the enlargement/cropping options offered by images captured at higher resolutions are not available at ISO 3200 – you will be producing an image best suited to postcard-sized prints, or slightly larger. 

Exposure Compensation 

In Manual and many of the Special Scene modes, the SD900 will accept manual input of +/- 2 EV exposure compensation in 1/3 EV increments.

Light Metering 

Evaluative metering, which Canon says is appropriate for standard lighting conditions, including backlight, is the camera’s default setting. Center-weighted and spot metering may also be selected. In the photo below, evaluative metering did a good job of exposing this backlit roadway billboard.

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Focus/Macro Focus 

The SD900 will focus as close as 1.6 feet in Normal mode, 2 inches at wide-angle Macro and 12 inches at telephoto Macro. There is also an “Infinity” setting that near-focuses at 9.8 feet. The camera is equipped with an auto focus assist beam to facilitate focus in low light conditions.

Monitor/Viewfinder 

The 2.5 inch LCD monitor is composed of some 230,000 pixels and is adjustable for brightness. On sunny days with direct light on the monitor and a low contrast subject, photo composition was sometimes problematic, even with the monitor adjusted for maximum brightness. Monitor performance was satisfactory in the absence of direct light and/or a higher contrast subject.

Unlike many cameras in this class, the SD900 is equipped with a viewfinder. While small, the viewfinder did provide a viable option for those times when photo composition via the monitor was difficult.

Photos composed via the monitor are captured as they appear in the monitor, but photos composed via the viewfinder tended to produce an image that covered more area than appeared through the finder. You may find yourself cropping more photos composed through the viewfinder to eliminate objects that “sneak” into the frame. 

Flash 

Canon claims a flash range out to 17 feet at wide angle and 10 feet at telephoto settings, figures which seem accurate in my experience. Red-eye reduction and slow synchro options may be enabled by the shooter. Color reproduction with the flash seemed accurate to my eye.

I was particularly pleased with the performance of the flash in conjunction with the AF assist beam. In the photos that follow, two were made in the Queen Copper Mine in Bisbee, Arizona. We were 1500 feet into the mine and about 950 feet underground, and with the exception of our small miner’s lamps and an occasional light bulb, illumination was nil. The SD900 produced some quality exposures in spite of the near pitch-black environment.

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Canon powershot sd900 sample image
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Color 

The SD900 produced accurate color reproductions to my eye throughout a range of daylight and flash conditions. The camera also features a “My Colors” mode with a number of settings that allow the shooter to modify the colors being captured: Off (Normal color); Vivid; Neutral; Sepia; B&W; Positive Film; Lighter and Darker skin tones; Vivid Red, Blue or Green; and Custom Color. Selected settings are illustrated:

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Vivid (view medium image) (view large image)
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Neutral (view medium image) (view large image)
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Sepia (view medium image) (view large image)
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B&W (view medium image) (view large image)
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Vivid Green (view medium image) (view large image)

ISO 

In addition to Auto, ISO values of 80, 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1600 may be manually selected. There is also a High ISO setting, but the camera merely selects a higher ISO than Auto which it deems appropriate if this option is chosen. As mentioned earlier, there is a ISO 3200 Special Scene Mode that may be accessed via that menu. 

White Balance 

The SD900 features auto white balance which in my experience worked well in a range of outdoor and flash lighting. There are also Day Light, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H and Custom white balance options.

Battery Performance 

Canon claims a battery life of about 230 shots with the LCD Monitor enabled, and about 700 shots using only the viewfinder. In my experience the SD900 exceeded the Canon estimate – I got about 250 shots using the monitor, with nearly 80 of those including flash as well. I did change the camera power saving settings to minimize on time for the various systems.

Shutter Performance 

Shutter performance on the SD900 is pretty good for a point and shoot. I found I could acquire focus and shoot an image in good lighting conditions in about 1.25 to 1.5 seconds, with the shutter seeming to take about .5 seconds or less to fire.

Canon claims a 2 frame per second continuous shooting rate in the Large/Fine mode. I saw 5 shots in about 3.7 seconds in the Large/Super mode.


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Lens Performance 

The 3x Canon optical zoom on the SD900 offers an aperture range of f/2.8 to f/4.9. Performance seemed good at the telephoto end of the range, but there was barrel distortion (straight lines bow out from the center) present at the wide angle end. There was also fringing (purple ghost images) present in the high-contrast boundary areas on images. The barrel distortion could be noticed in normal photos, but the fringing was most apparent under great magnification (400%). My feeling is the fringing will not be apparent unless an image is enlarged greatly or cropped severely and enlarged. Unfortunately, those are two somewhat likely scenarios with the SD900.

Images seemed pretty uniformly sharp from center to edge at both the wide and telephoto ends.

With a 35mm film equivalent focal length of 37 to 111mm, the SD900 lens is not really a “wide” wide angle, but the 111mm length is very close to the 105mm focal length many 35mm shooters favor for portrait work. 

MISCELLANEOUS 

The SD900 does not feature image stabilization and has 4x digital zoom and digital macro capabilities. The camera can print directly with PictBridge compliant printers (no computer necessary) and also features new face detection technology to identify faces in images and make them the point of focus. 

CONCLUSION 

The Canon SD900 is a compact, stylish shirt-pocket-sized camera that can produce high quality images in file sizes that lend themselves to big enlargements and/or cropping to achieve the desired result.

PROS 

CONS