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Canon Powershot SD1000 Digital Camera Full Review
by Howard Creech -  4/30/2007

At the dawn of the 20th century most amateur photographers still captured images with large, unwieldy, and very slow (tripod mounted) glass plate cameras, but the introduction of the boxy little Kodak "Brownie" roll film camera changed all that.  The "Brownie" was simple to use, didn't have to be mounted on a tripod, and was (compared to what had gone before) very compact.  Photography was never the same. 

canon powershot sd1000
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World War II spawned the development of truly tiny spy cameras like the Riga Minox.  After WWII, amateur photographers who wanted miniature cameras could buy models like a Mamiya 16 or a Stecky IIIB, but these pseudo spy cameras were expensive and very complex in use, more novelties than true imaging tools. By the sixties, true ultra-compact cameras like the Rollei 35 were available, but they were expensive and none of them were really easy to use.  Cameras kept getting smaller and the last quarter of the 20th century saw the introduction tiny, feature rich, and easy to use 35mm film cameras like the Minox 35GL and the Contax T.  By the turn of the 21st century roll film cameras were on their way out; digital cameras were the new photographic gold standard.

For the past decade, Canon’s product development folks have been creating tiny feature rich high performance digital cameras that make taking photos a snap. Canon's newest Digital Elph, the Powershot SD1000, may be the "Brownie" box camera for a new century, but this ain't your father's mini-cam - this new box camera for the masses is much smaller, much faster, much more capable, much more powerful, and much simpler to use.

NUTS & BOLTS

LCD/Viewfinder

The Canon Powershot SD1000's real-image coupled (zooming) optical viewfinder is tiny/squinty and it only covers about eighty percent of the image frame.  It is so small that it is (to all intents and purposes) useless as a compositional tool, especially so for eyeglasse wearers - plus there's no diopter correction.

canon powershot sd1000
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I much prefer using the optical viewfinder for composition because optical viewfinders narrow the photographer's vision of the world by eliminating everything except the field of view of the camera's lens and that’s a good thing (it forces shooters to see photographically). Arms length LCD screen composition causes shooters to see their images as a picture within a picture, a smaller part of the whole rather than as a completely self-contained mini-environment and that is a crucial distinction, in creative terms.  The SD1000's optical viewfinder is so difficult to use that I found myself relying on the LCD screen as my primary viewfinder.
 
The SD1000's 2.5 inch (230,000 pixels) wide viewing angle LCD screen dominates the camera's rear deck. LCD images are bright, sharp, hue accurate, fluid, and the display gains "up" (automatically brightens) in dim lighting - users can also manually boost LCD screen brightness. The LCD screen shows 100% of the image frame and is useable (very good anti-glare coating) in bright outdoor lighting. The LCD info/status display provides all information (shooting mode, exposure compensation setting, white balance setting, ISO setting, flash setting, the light metering option selected, and resolution/compression data) the SD1000's target audience is likely to need.

Zoom

The SD1000 features an f2.8-4.9, 5.8mm-17.4mm (35-105mm – 35mm equivalent) all glass 3X optical zoom. When the camera is powered up, the lens automatically telescopes out of the camera body. When the camera is powered down the lens is fully retracted into the camera and a built in lens cover slides into place to protect the front element. The SD1000's zoom exhibits minor, but noticeable barrel distortion (straight lines bow out from the center) at the wide-angle end of the zoom range, some minor softness in the corners, and very minor pin cushioning (straight lines bow in toward the center) at full telephoto. Chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is slightly above average at the wide-angle end of the zoom range and I also noticed some very minor vignetting (darkened corners). Minimum focusing distance (in Macro mode) is 1.2 inches (close enough for frame filling bugs and flowers shots). Zoom operation is fast, smooth, and relatively quiet.

canon powershot sd1000 sample image
(view medium image) (view large image) For a such a tiny camera, the SD1000 does an excellent job in the macro/close-up department

Auto Focus (AF)

The SD1000 utilizes Canon's proven 9 focus point Contrast Detection AiAF (Advanced Intelligent Auto Focus) AF system. The AiAF system analyzes the scene in front of the camera and then calculates camera to subject distance to determine which of the 9 AF points is closest to the primary subject and then automatically locks focus on that AF point (closest subject priority), even when the subject is not centered in the viewfinder. Shooters can manually line up a specific AF focus point with the most important element in the image or they can (when shooting group, formal, or informal portraits) opt for Canon's Face Detection AF.

Enable the SD1000's Face Detection AF/AE/FE function (which recognizes and focuses on faces in the image frame) and the camera will isolate, lock on, and follow (multiple) human faces - just push the shutter release button half-way and the camera's processor (in conjunction with the iSAPS Scene program and auto Red-eye Correction feature) will optimize focus, all exposure parameters, white balance, sensitivity, and flash automatically. Face Detection AF only works when the subject(s) are facing the camera (so it won't help with those dramatic/artistic profile portraits).  Users can turn AiAF off and default to the center AF point for traditional looking landscapes and classic portraits. The SD1000 also provides an AF assist beam for quicker and more accurate focusing in dim/low light. AF is consistently fast and accurate.

Manual Focus (MF)

The SD1000 doesn’t provide any manual focus capability

Flash

The SD1000's built-in multi mode flash is adequate, but a bit underpowered. Flash options include: Auto (fires when needed), On (fill flash), Red-Eye Reduction, Slow Synch, and off. Canon claims the maximum flash range is 12 feet (3.3 meters), but realistically anything beyond 8 or 9 feet is going to be fairly dark unless shot against very light colored backgrounds with lots of ambient lighting. Canon's optional HF-DC1 auto (slave) flash will extend maximum flash range to about 30 feet.  Recycle time for the SD1000's built-in flash is (dependent on battery status) between 7 and 10 seconds.

Image File Storage Media

The Canon PowerShot SD1000 utilizes SD/SDHC/MMC memory media to save captured images. Canon includes a 32MB SD card in the box, but SD1000 purchasers should factor the price of a much larger SD/SDHC card (512MB minimum) into their final cost calculations.

Image File Format(s)

JPEG

Connectivity

USB 2.0 (HS) out, A/V out, DC in

Power

The SD1000 draws its juice from a proprietary Canon NB-4L (3.7v 790mAh) rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack. Canon claims a fully charged NB-4L is good for up to 210 exposures (full time LCD use) or 600 exposures (full time optical viewfinder use). I didn't keep precise track of exposures so I can’t quibble with Canon's numbers. Realistically, micro-cam batteries (since they must be very small) can't store as much power as larger batteries. Based on my admittedly unscientific tests, a fully charged NB-4L should be good for something like 120-125 exposures (full time LCD use) and 400-450 exposures (full time optical viewfinder use). Many micro-cam users set the flash to auto (lots of flash use will dramatically lower battery life), rarely use the optical viewfinder, and review every image they shoot - so power depth/duration can/will vary substantially. Shooters who plan on taking the SD1000 along on extended trips or long weekend outings should probably purchase a back-up battery. The included charger (which plugs directly into the wall) needs about 90 minutes to fully charge the battery.

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EXPOSURE


Canon's ultra-compacts are popular with a broad range of users because they are stylish, sturdy, small enough to be dropped in a pocket, incredibly easy to use, feature a remarkably simple auto exposure system, and provide dependably excellent results. The SD1000 continues that tradition - providing casual photographers (user input into the exposure process is very limited) with a useful range of exposure options including Full Auto, Manual mode (which is actually Programmed AE mode), and Movie mode.

Canon’s exclusive iSAPS (Intelligent Scene Analysis based on Photographic Space) technology produces dependably very good to excellent exposures in all scene modes. The camera instantly matches the scene in front of the lens with an on board database of known scene types and then compares that information with the specific scene's subject distance, white balance, contrast range, lighting, and color (just before the image is recorded) to determine the best exposure.  The Canon PowerShot SD1000 provides users with a full slate of Scene mode options including:Snow, Beach, Indoor, Foliage, Aquarium, Fireworks, Color swap, Underwater, Kids & pets, Color accent, Digital macro, Portrait, Stitch assist, and Night snapshot.

The SD1000's integrated auto exposure system (iSAPS is coupled to the DIGIC III processor and AiAF auto focus system) does much more than just average exposure data - so images are noticeably better than average, but there is a slight tendency toward over exposure in bright outdoor lighting.
 
Movie Mode

SD1000 users can record video clips (with mono audio) at 640x480 @ 30 fps up to 4Gb (with a high speed SD card) in duration. The camera can also record up to 60 seconds of fast frame rate (320X240) @ 60 fps video clips and several lower resolution video options. Focus and (optical) zoom are locked at the first frame. Movies can be edited in-camera (in Playback mode) and then previewed – users can then opt to save the edited video clip, the original video clip, or both. The SD1000 also provides a voice-notation mode that allows users to add audio notes (up to 60 seconds).

Metering

The SD1000's (default) evaluative metering system is dependably accurate in all but the most challenging lighting; casual shooters won’t have to worry about metering at all. The camera's evaluative metering system divides the image frame into zones and separately evaluates each zone to determine the best overall shutter speed/aperture combination. More experienced photographers can opt for either spot metering or center-weighted averaging metering for more demanding/creative compositions.  Like all Canon digicams, the SD1000’s evaluative/default metering system is calibrated to preserve shadow detail at the expense of highlight detail. That built-in exposure bias results in occasional clipping (burnt out highlights).

White Balance (WB)

Canon PowerShot SD1000 provides users with an adequate selection of white balance options. WB settings include TTL Auto, Day Light, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, and Custom (manual) mode that allows savvy shooters to use a white card (or white wall or ceiling) to insure accurate color. At the auto WB setting the SD1000's native color interpolation is bright, a bit warm, and slightly over saturated. At the Daylight and Cloudy settings colors are slightly warmer. I didn't try the other WB settings.

Sensitivity

The Canon PowerShot SD1000 provides an excellent range of sensitivity options, including Auto, High ISO Auto, and user selectable settings for 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, and 1600 ISO.

In-Camera Image Adjustment

The SD1000's target audience probably won't utilize this digicam's in-camera image adjustment capabilities much, but more advanced shooters will appreciate the useful range of creative photography options because in-camera image adjustments are always easier than post-exposure image modifications.

Very light or very dark subjects can trick light metering systems into underexposing or overexposing images. The SD1000's Exposure Compensation function allows users to subtly adjust exposure parameters over a 4 EV range (+/-2 EV in 1/3 EV increments) to compensate for difficult lighting and subject/background reflectance/non-reflectance problems or to compensate for environmental exposure variables by quickly and easily lightening or darkening images incrementally.

The SD1000's My Colors mode provides several creative color options: Positive Film (mimics slide film color, saturation, and contrast), Neutral Film (mimics print film color, saturation, and contrast), Lighter Skin Tone, Darker Skin Tone, Vivid Blue, Vivid Green, Vivid Red, Color accent (shifts images to B&W, except for one user selected color), color swap (allows users to switch one color for another), custom color (users can adjust color balance for red, green, blue, and skin tones +/-2 arbitrary steps in 1 step increments), and Photo effects (vivid or neutral color saturation, low sharpening, sepia, and B&W).

DESIGN, CONTROLS, & ERGONOMICS

The SD1000 is a stylish retro look ultra compact (3.38” wide x 2.11” high x .76” thick) P&S (point & shoot) auto exposure micro-cam.  The metal alloy body engenders the sort of confidence one expects when using a camera at the upper end of the micro-cam price range. The camera exudes an aura of toughness and durability, but the wrist strap should be used at all times – small lightweight (5 ounces with battery and SD card) smooth contour cameras are easy to drop. The brick shaped little Canon PowerShot SD1000 bears a strong family resemblance to the other members of Canon’s SD tribe, but it is a bit boxier than its siblings. 

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The brain of the new Canon Powershot SD1000 is its third-generation DIGIC III processor. DIGIC (Digital Imaging Integrated Circuit) technology combines image processing, power management, and most primary camera functions (Auto Exposure, White Balance, Sensitivity, JPEG compression, and gain control) in one chip to more efficiently manage camera operation. DIGIC III images are optimized for sharp resolution, balanced contrast, lower noise, and bold bright colors.

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The SD1000’s user interface is uncomplicated and quickly becomes intuitive; all controls are logically placed and easily accessed. The compass (4-way) switch and the FUNC menu provide direct access to the most commonly changed/adjusted features/functions. Most users will have no difficulty using the camera right out of the box. The SD1000 (like it’s predecessors) will appeal to casual photographers, snap-shooters, travelers, bikers, and backpackers who value style, compact size, fast operation, and point & shoot ease of use.

canon powershot sd1000 sample image
(view medium image) (view large image) The SD1000 is small, unobtrusive, very fast, and produces dependably excellent results.  This makes it a very good choice for street/event/candid and informal/environmental portrait shooters

Technical Specifications

Included

Wrist strap, A/V cable, USB cable, 32MB SD memory card, NB-4L lithium-ion battery pack, Battery charger, Software CD, printed manuals

PERFORMANCE


Image Quality

The SD1000's auto exposure system is generally accurate, but highlights are sometimes blown out – especially in brightly lit contrasty scenes. Images are consistently sharp in the center of the frame, but corners tend to be slightly soft. 

canon powershot sd1000 sample image
(view medium image) (view large image) The SD1000 produces dependably very good to excellent images even when conditions are not optimal (note burnt out area AND blocked up shadows in the Kitten’s fur) like this harshly lit mid-day shot

I really liked the SD1000's color interpolation – low ISO JPEG images look like 35mm slides.  Colors are bold, vibrant, and slightly oversaturated.  For a guy who shot slow speed 35mm slide film for over thirty years the SD1000's straight from the camera images look a lot like Ektachrome transparencies.

Images shot at ISO 80 show extremely low noise levels (ISO 100 images are identical to those shot at ISO 80), vibrant color, tack sharp resolution, decent highlight detail, and very good shadow detail. At the ISO 200 setting noise levels begin to rise a bit, but image quality is still very good. ISO 400 images are noticeably noisy, but still usable. ISO 800 images are soft, colors are flat, and detail loss is obvious. ISO 1600 images are so noisy they're actually a bit mushy looking with flat under saturated colors.

The tiny high pixel density sensors found in micro-cams generate more image noise than larger less crowded sensors (like those found in dSLRs). Built-in noise reduction (NR) blurs away the worst image noise, but (depending on how aggressively NR is applied) it can also blur away important image detail. The SD1000 has one of the most effective noise reduction programs I've seen in any Canon digicam to date.

Timing/Shutter Lag

The Canon PowerShot SD1000 is surprisingly fast for an ultra-compact P&S digicam. The boot-up cycle (about one second), shutter lag (half a second or less), shot to shot times, and write to card times are all faster than average. AF lag  (with pre-focus) is virtually non-existent and from scratch the SD1000 needs less than half a second to lock focus and fire the shutter.

canon powershot sd1000 sample image
(view medium image) (view large image) The SD1000 is very fast, especially for an ultra compact digicam, as this mid-air shot of a very quick young skateboarder shows

A Few Concerns

I don’t have any serious concerns with the SD1000. Chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is a bit higher than average at the wide-angle end of the zoom range (especially at the maximum aperture) and corners are a bit soft across the board. Battery life is acceptable, but nothing to write home about.

Conclusion

There really isn’t anything new here.  Canon is the most modular of the major digicam manufacturers and their product development folks have a broad catalog of proven components (sensors, zoom lenses, LCD screens, processors, etc.) to draw from when creating new models. This impressive level of component interchangeability (modularity) allows Canon's product development folks to create new models easily and cheaply.  The SD1000 is a very good example of just how well this modular design philosophy works.  

Canon's Digital Elph digicams have been best sellers since the S100 (the first Digital Elph) hit store shelves in 2000 and I suspect the SD1000 will sell very well, too.  The SD1000 is an excellent choice for snap-shooters, casual photographers, and first time digital camera buyers who want a camera that is small enough to be dropped in a pocket and taken along just about anywhere and used easily by just about anyone.

Pros

Fast, stylish, ultra-compact, user friendly, excellent photo quality, 2.5 inch LCD, 7 megapixels

Cons

Mediocre battery life, auto exposure only, chromatic aberration, very noisy ISO 1600 images, redeye