DigitalCameraReview.com
Canon Powershot SD850 IS Review
by Jim Keenan -  6/20/2007

When the Canon Powershot SD850 IS (IXUS 950 IS in Europe) arrived for this review, I presumed it was a follow-on or variant to the SD800 IS (IXUS 850 IS). However, it's actually the successor to the Powershot SD700 IS, since the SD700 IS has the older DIGIC II processor and they both have a 35-140mm (equivalent) focal length. The SD800 IS has a wider angle lens (28-105mm equivalent), so is a slightly different place in the market (at least according to Canon) than this SD850 IS model. I'm sure that things are as clear as mud now, but don't worry, it's really not that big of a deal.

canon powershot sd850 IS
(view large image)

For some reason, this numbers game brought to mind Abbott and Costello’s classic “Who’s On First” comedy routine. In 1999, Time Magazine voted this routine the best comedy sketch of the 20th century. The SD850 IS may not be voted the best point and shoot (P&S) of the 21st century, but it’s plenty good enough to provide quality images and color no matter who presses the shutter.

The camera features a 4x Canon optical zoom lens that provides a 35 to 140mm (35mm film equivalent) focal length range and image stabilizer; a Digic III processor which Canon reports provides improved image quality and functionality, particularly with the Face Detection and Red-Eye Correction technologies; ISO sensitivity to 1600, and an 8 mega pixel sensor and 2.5 inch LCD monitor along with a viewfinder.

A CLOSER LOOK 

The SD850 IS targets that portion of the P&S market whose members don’t need or want manual controls. There is the capability for the shooter to make some adjustments to the images produced by the camera in areas such as color, saturation, sharpness, ISO sensitivity, etc., but primarily the SD850 IS was designed to permit the shooter to capture images with minimal fuss on his or her part.

Canon provides a rechargeable lithium battery pack and charger, 32MB SD memory card, wrist strap, CD-ROM

Software, and USB interface and AV cables with each camera.

The camera will accept SD/SDHC memory cards or a MultiMediaCard.

Camera dimensions are 3.56 x 2.22 x 1.04 inches with a shooting weight (battery and SD memory card installed) of about 6.4 ounces.

The SD850 IS will capture still JPEG images in seven pixel sizes: L (3264 x 2448), M1 (2592 x 1944), M2 (2048 x 1536), M3 (1600 x 1200), S (640 x 480), Postcard (1600 x 1200) and Widescreen (3264 x 1832).

Movies may be captured in any of six modes: standard, color accent or color swap at 640 x 480 or 320 x 240 pixels and either 15 or 30 frames per second (fps) to a maximum of 4GB; fast frame rate of 320 x 240 pixels at 60 fps for a maximum of one minute; compact 160 x 120 at 15 fps for a maximum of three minutes; and interval of 640 x 480 at .5 or 1 fps for a maximum of 2 hours.

CAMERA FEATURES AND LAYOUT 

The front of the camera houses the 4x Canon zoom lens, a microphone, flash, viewfinder window and the AF-assist beam/red-eye reduction/self-timer lamp.

canon powershot sd850 IS
(view large image)

The 2.5 inch monitor takes up much of the camera back along with the viewfinder, status indicators, power lamp and button, mode dial and a host of other buttons: display, print/share, menu and function/set . The touch control dial operates a number of settings, including macro and infinity, ISO,  flash and single image erase/continuous shooting/self timer.

canon powershot sd850 IS
(view large image)

The speaker, shutter button and zoom lever are found on top of the body.

canon powershot sd850 IS
(view large image)

A threaded tripod socket and the cover to the battery/memory card slots make up the bottom of the camera.

canon powershot sd850 IS
(view large image)

The cover for the DIGITAL and AV/OUT terminals and a lug attachment point for the  strap are located on the camera’s right side.

canon powershot sd850 IS
(view large image)

SHOOTING WITH THE SD850 IS

Auto Mode 

Default settings for the SD850 IS in auto mode include evaluative metering, auto ISO, auto flash, continuous image stabilization and large file size at Fine quality compression. Except where otherwise noted, all shots made by the SD850 IS for illustration purposes in this review were at the Large/Superfine compression settings.

As a practical matter, I found the image quality at Superfine, Fine and Normal compression ratios to be largely indistinguishable for real world images. If you want to maximize image capacity on your memory card, shooting at the fine setting saves memory with no apparent loss of quality over superfine.

Here are shots at Superfine, Fine and Normal compression settings and a few at the “auto” setting.

canon powershot sd850 IS sample image
Superfine quality (view medium image) (view large image)
canon powershot sd850 IS sample image
Fine quality (view medium image) (view large image)
canon powershot sd850 IS sample image
Normal quality (view medium image) (view large image)
canon powershot sd850 IS sample image
Auto (view medium image) (view large image)
canon powershot sd850 IS sample image
Auto (view medium image) (view large image)
canon powershot sd850 IS sample image
Auto (view medium image) (view large image)
canon powershot sd850 IS sample image
Auto (view medium image) (view large image)

Shooting Modes/Special Scene Modes 

In addition to the auto mode, the SD850 IS offers manual, digital macro, color accent, color swap and stitch assist shooting modes, as well as the following special scene modes: portrait, night snapshot, kids & pets, indoor, creative light effect, foliage, snow, beach, fireworks, aquarium and underwater.

Here’s a couple of “night snapshots” at our local county fair’s “fun zone, and a couple of foliage shots – one in “auto” mode and the other in “foliage” mode. To my eye there’s not a lot of difference between the two foliage images, which should serve as a reminder how versatile the “auto” mode is, at least with well-lit subjects.

canon powershot sd850 is sample image
(view medium image) (view large image)
canon powershot sd850 is sample image
(view medium image) (view large image)
canon powershot sd850 is sample image
Auto mode (view medium image) (view large image)
canon powershot sd850 is sample image
Foliage mode (view medium image) (view large image)

In-Camera Editing Tools 

The SD850 IS allows you to delete portions of recorded movies, manually correct red eye, add color effects to recorded still images and attach sound memos of up to one minute in length to recorded still images.

Exposure Compensation 

Exposure compensation of +/- 2 EV is available in 1/3 EV increments. 

Light Metering 

The SD850 IS provides three metering options: evaluative (the default setting), center weighted, and spot. There’s a reason evaluative is the default – it works across a wide range of lighting conditions and is the best choice for most shooting situations. 

Focus/Macro Focus 

There are three focus options available on the SD850 IS: normal, macro and infinity. 

Normal focus range extends from 1.6 feet to infinity. Macro focus is 0.8 inches to 1.6 feet at wide angle and 1.3 inches to 1.6 feet at telephoto. Infinity ranges from 9.8 feet to infinity.

canon powershot sd850 is sample image
Macro (view medium image) (view large image)
canon powershot sd850 is sample image
Macro (view medium image) (view large image)

Monitor/Viewfinder 

The 2.5 inch LCD monitor features a 230,000 dot composition and is adjustable for five stops of brightness. Image quality of the monitor is excellent for image composition or review under good light, and I found this monitor to be slightly better than the other 2.5 inch P&S monitors I’ve reviewed for use in the bright outdoor conditions that typically play havoc with image composition. Canon hasn’t cured the problem, but this monitor and the 3 inch model on Nikon’s S50 have been a bit more usable than the others.

Even if the light makes the monitor unusable, there’s always the viewfinder to fall back on, and if power levels are a concern, shutting off the monitor and shooting using only the viewfinder is a good way to stretch battery life. The viewfinder is inaccurate, which is not unusual in a p&s camera – in the shot that follows, the image was composed in the viewfinder so the edges of the picture filled the viewfinder. You can see that a lot of wall has appeared in the image that was actually captured.  The error seems more pronounced at the telephoto end, but there’s a fair amount at wide angle as well.

canon powershot sd850 is sample image
(view large image)

Flash 

Canon lists a flash range of 1.6 to 11 feet at wide angle and 1.6 to 6.6 feet at telephoto, figures which seemed about what I experienced.

I spent some time specifically trying to induce red eye with the SD850 IS, and found it difficult to do so with the default red eye reduction enabled. Switching off the feature caused some instances of red eye, but I suspect the focus-assist lamp helps reduce red eye as a by-product of obtaining focus in dim conditions. It’s not impossible to get red eye with an SD850 IS, but between the red eye reduction feature and the red eye correction tool, the problem is minimized.

Color 

Color reproduction in the SD850 IS was rich and quite accurate. 

The camera features eleven “My Colors” settings that may be used to modify the camera’s images, as well as shoot in Sepia or Black & White. The default setting for “My Colors” is off, which records colors “normally”.

ISO 

In addition to the default “auto” setting, and “high ISO auto”, ISO values of 80, 100, 200, 400, 800 or 1600 may be manually selected. The SD850 IS is fairly typical with its ISO performance: 80, 100 and 200 are quite good and fairly hard to tell apart, with a little more noise coming in at 400.  Noise continues to build at 800, with the biggest apparent increase in noise from 800 to 1600.


ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

White Balance 

The SD850 IS provides for auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, and custom white balance settings.

Battery Performance 

Canon rates the SD850 IS battery for about 230 shots. Because of the way shooting trips worked out for this review, I ended up recharging the battery on several occasions and never got a feel for actual battery life. Typically, however, you won't get the full 230 shots since those are under lab conditions. I would expect right at 200 shots in "real world" use. It would be prudent to carry a spare battery or two for all day shoots, since the SD850 IS can’t accept alternate batteries such as AA or AAA.

Shutter Performance 

The SD850 IS powers up quickly, acquires focus rapidly in good lighting conditions and once in focus fires the shutter quite rapidly once the shutter button is completely depressed. I suspect I would be gushing a bit more about the performance but I had the A570 IS for review at the same time and it seemed a tiny bit quicker. The shutter can range from 15 to 1/1600th of a second.

There is also a continuous shooting setting that provides a 1.3 frame per second capability (in the Large/Fine mode) with a high performance memory card that has been low-level formatted. Canon reports the camera can shoot at this rate until the memory card is full. I didn’t bother to fill my 1GB SanDisk Ultra III card, but after 15 shots with no sign of slowing I figured to take Canon at its word.

Lens Performance 

The Canon 4x optical zoom was pretty uniformly sharp across the frame at the telephoto end, but the corners seemed just a bit soft with perhaps just a faint hint of vignetting (darkening) at wide angle. There was some barrel distortion (lines bow out from center of image) at the wide end that could cause sharp-eyed viewers to notice some “bent’ lines in some images. Chromic aberration (purple fringing in high contrast boundary areas) was also present, but only readily noticeable at enlargement sizes that would seldom be used.  Good performance overall.

There is also a 4x digital zoom capability. 

MISCELLANEOUS 

The SD850 IS provides for a “direct print” capability to appropriate Canon printers without need for a computer, as well as non-Canon PictBridge printers.

CONCLUSION 

The Canon SD850 IS is a stylish, well-built compact digital camera that produces great quality images and color while requiring minimal involvement from its operator. The camera lacks manual controls, but offers a number of specialized scene modes in addition to the standard “auto” shooting mode, as well as image stabilization, up to 1600 ISO sensitivity and good shutter response time. The 4x zoom lens lacks the focal length to bring distant objects truly close, but for normal subjects the camera performs admirably.

canon powershot sd850 is sample image
(view medium image) (view large image)
canon powershot sd850 is sample image
(view medium image) (view large image)
canon powershot sd850 is sample image
(view medium image) (view large image)
canon powershot sd850 is sample image
(view medium image) (view large image)
canon powershot sd850 is sample image
(view medium image) (view large image)
canon powershot sd850 is sample image
(view medium image) (view large image)

PROS 

CONS