The folks at Canon have lots of experience building ultracompact, feature-rich digital cameras, and their SD series Digital Elph digicams have consistently been among the most successful competitors in the photography marketplace. That success stems, in large part, from the fact that Canon SD digital cameras reliably deliver truly impressive ease of use, "class champ" performance, and very good image quality – all shoehorned into stylish metal alloy bodies that are small enough to be dropped into a shirt pocket (or small purse) and tough enough to go just about anywhere.
Last year's retro-minimalist Canon PowerShot SD1000 got rave reviews from both professional camera reviewers and ordinary consumers because it delivered everything an ultracompact digicam could reasonably be expected to provide. What made the SD1000 unique in a flood of generally competent but mostly uninspired mini-cams was not its old school style or its flashy collection of features, but its proficiency and dependability as a digital image-maker. Updating a very popular digital camera like the Canon PowerShot SD1000 is an especially tough job, but the new Canon PowerShot SD1100 IS, which replaces the SD1000, retains most of what made its predecessor one of the mini-cam sales leaders of 2007.
Canon's update of the popular SD1000 is evolutionary and cosmetic – the SD1100 IS gets a resolution boost from 7 to 8 megapixels, adds a new anti-reflection coating to the LCD screen, and, unlike its precursor, offers optical image stabilization. The SD1100 IS also sports Face Detection AiAF (Advanced intelligent Auto Focus), Canon's famous DIGIC III processor, Canon's exclusive iSAPS Scene technology, user-selectable ISO sensitivity settings from ISO 80 to ISO 1600, 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio (for HDTV display), and automatic red-eye correction. Finally, the SD1100 IS features a different lens than its predecessor; more about this change later in the review.
Canon includes a lithium-ion battery and charger, USB and A/V cables, a software CD-ROM, a wrist strap, a "quick start" guide, a printed user's manual, and a 32MB "starter" memory card in the box with the camera.
The SD1100 IS provides four shooting modes:
Viewing captured images is simple – the handy slider switch (allowing users to instantly shift from shooting mode to review mode) is perfectly located directly under where the right thumb naturally rests when holding the camera. The image magnification (zoom in/zoom out) and delete functions are straightforward, making reviewing and then deleting an image immediately after capture a snap.
For a detailed list of specs and features, see the specifications table at the bottom of this review.
FORM, FIT, AND FEEL
The SD1100 IS is an ultracompact point-and-shoot digicam. While the Digital Elph tribe exhibits some variation in individual model specifications, styling subtleties, colors, and body proportions, Canon's little cameras all bear a strong family resemblance to the original Digital Elph (the S100) introduced in 2000. The new Canon PowerShot SD1100 IS looks, feels, and behaves very much like its predecessors and SD-series siblings.
Styling and Build Quality
The pocket-sized SD1100 IS eschews the SD1000's "retro" look in favor of a smoother, rounder, and more conventionally fashioned footprint. Build quality is first rate – tough enough to stand up to the rigors of modern life – but like all complex electronic devices, dust, water, and rough treatment should be avoided.
The SD1100 IS is available in a plethora of trendy colors including Rhythm & Blue, Pink Melody, Bohemian Brown, Golden Tone, and Swing Silver.
Ergonomics and Interface
The ultracompact SD1100 IS weighs in at 5.1 ounces (with battery and SD), and the physical dimensions are 2.2 inches by 3.4 inches by 1.0 inches. The user interface is uncomplicated, and all controls are logically placed and easily accessed – operation quickly becomes intuitive. The FUNC menu provides direct access to the most commonly changed/adjusted features/functions. Most users will have no difficulty using the SD1100 IS right out of the box.
The Canon PowerShot SD1100 IS's menu system is essentially identical to the menus of its SD siblings. The most commonly changed/adjusted operations and functions can be accomplished via the traditional controls and the FUNC menu, but when general menu access is required, the SD1100 IS's menus are simple, easy to read, and logically laid-out. With the SD1000, if the user didn't choose an option within a couple of seconds, the menu closed, but that frustrating little design glitch seems to have been corrected with the SD1100 IS.
I much prefer using optical viewfinders for composition, because (unlike LCD screens) they narrow the photographer's vision of the world by eliminating everything except the approximate field of view of the camera's lens. The Canon Powershot SD1100 IS's real-image coupled (zooming) optical viewfinder is so small that it is essentially useless as a compositional tool, especially so for those who wear eyeglasses. The SD1100 IS's squinty little viewfinder only shows about 80 percent of the image frame.
The SD1100 IS's PureColor II LCD appears to be the same unit used on the SD1000 with the addition of a new scratch/ fingerprint resistant antireflective coating, and the SD1100 IS's wide viewing angle 2.5 inch LCD dominates the camera's rear deck. LCD images are bright, sharp (230,000 dots), hue-accurate, and fluid. The LCD gains up in dim lighting, and users can manually adjust screen brightness as well. The LCD screen shows approximately 100 percent of the image frame and is useable in bright outdoor lighting; the new anti-reflective coating is very effective. The LCD info/status display provides all information (shooting mode, exposure compensation setting, white balance setting, ISO setting, flash setting, the metering option selected, and resolution/compression data) that the camera's target audience is likely to need.
Canon's ultracompact digicams are popular 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 SD11000 IS continues that tradition.
Timing and Shutter Lag
While it's obviously a subjective observation, the SD1000 seemed slightly quicker across the board than the SD1100 IS. With the new camera, the boot-up cycle is about 2 seconds. In continuous shooting mode, the SD1100 IS can capture 2 frames in around 1 second at maximum resolution; the camera then slows to about 1 shot per second. Pre-focused shutter lag – the time elapsed between pushing the shutter button after locking focus on a particular subject and when the shutter actually fires – is 0.1 seconds. Shutter lag from scratch – the time elapsed between pushing the shutter button without pre-focusing first and the time when the shutter actually fires is 0.5 seconds. Shot to shot timing at maximum resolution is about 1.5 seconds.
The SD1100 IS was quick enough to freeze this exuberant young sled jockey... (view large image)
...but it wasn't quick enough to freeze this BMX biker in mid-air (view large image)
Lens and Zoom
The SD1100 IS sports a 38-114mm (35mm equivalent), f/2.8-4.9 zoom. When the camera is powered up, the lens automatically telescopes out of the body. When the camera is powered down, the lens is fully retracted into the camera body and a built-in iris-style lens cover closes over the front element. By contrast, the SD1000 featured a 35-105mm zoom, and some folks will likely complain that Canon didn't retain the wider angle zoom for the SD1100 IS. In most normal use, however, the variation between 35mm and 38mm is really inconsequential.
Zoom operation is fast, smooth, and relatively quiet.
The SD1100 IS utilizes Canon's standard 9-point contrast detection AiAF (Advanced Intelligent Auto Focus) AF system. AiAF 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. AF in the default mode is consistently quick and accurate.
Enable the SD1100 IS's Face Detection AF function and push the shutter release half-way down and the camera will isolate, lock on, and follow single or multiple human faces in the image frame. In addition to optimizing focus, the camera's processor automatically adjusts exposure parameters, white balance, sensitivity, and flash for portrait subjects. The SD1100 IS provides an automatically enabled AF assist beam for quicker and more accurate focusing in dim/low light.
Minimum focusing distance (in macro mode) is 1.2 inches.
Like its Digital Elph siblings, the SD1100 IS's macro capabilities are impressive (view large image)
The SD1100 IS's built-in multi-mode flash is adequate, but a bit underpowered. Canon claims the maximum flash range is 12 feet, but realistically anything beyond 8 or 9 feet is going to be fairly dark unless shot against very light colored backgrounds or 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 SD1100 IS's built-in flash is between 3 and 10 seconds, depending on battery status. The SD1100 IS's on board flash is a bit harsh up close with a tendency to burn out detail, but at slightly longer distances flash-lit shots show accurate color and acceptable detail capture.
Optical image stabilization is a useful feature, reducing blur in captured images by quickly and precisely shifting a lens element in the zoom to compensate for involuntary camera shake. IS allows photographers to capture sharply focused images at slower shutter speeds than would have been possible without it. The SD1100 IS provides four IS modes: continuous (IS is on full-time), shoot only (IS is only activated when the shutter button is half-pressed), panning (IS only stabilizes for up-and-down motion), and IS off. In addition to IS, the SD1100 also features Canon's motion detection technology: if the camera senses motion during exposure, it will automatically boost sensitivity to compensate.
The SD1100 IS is powered by a proprietary 790 mAh rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack. Canon claims a fully charged battery is good for up to 240 exposures with full-time LCD use. I didn't keep track of exposures, so I can't argue with Canon's numbers, but based on my experience, 150 to 175 shots is probably more realistic. The included charger (which plugs directly into the wall) needs about 90 minutes to fully charge the battery.
Exposure, Processing, and Color
The SD1100 IS's auto exposure system is generally accurate, and in good lighting the camera produces dependably very good to excellent images.
(view large image)
Highlights are sometimes blown out – especially in brightly lit contrasty scenes – and shadow detail is often lost in darker areas of dimly lit scenes. Images are consistently sharp in the center of the frame, but corners tend to be slightly soft. Colors are hue accurate, bright, vibrant, and slightly oversaturated.
The Canon PowerShot SD1100 IS provides users with an adequate selection of white balance options, including a custom user mode that allows savvy shooters to use a white or gray card to insure accurate color.
The SD1100 S features a slightly re-configured/re-designed automatic white balance mode. Most auto exposure cameras base auto WB calculations on the entire image frame or on the background of the scene, but the SD1100 IS calculates auto WB based (at least in part) on faces in the image frame as well. This is an excellent idea since the SD1100 IS's target audience (family shutterbugs/casual photographers/snapshooters) will likely shoot lots of portraits of friends and family. The SD1100IS's auto WB mode produces dependably hue-accurate and well-exposed faces in a broad variety of portrait genres – all the portraits below were recorded in auto WB mode.
Formal Portrait (view large image)
Informal Portrait (view large image)
Environmental Portrait (view large image)
The SD1100's zoom exhibits minor but noticeable barrel distortion (straight lines bow out from the center) at the wide-angle end of the zoom range and some minor softness in the corners. Native contrast is just a bit on the hard side. Chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is slightly above average at the wide-angle end of the zoom range as well, especially at the maximum aperture.
As noted, the zoom is one key difference between the SD1100 and its predecessor, and the differences extend to image quality considerations as well: the SD1000's lens was sharper and showed less color fringing. Likewise, while the SD1100 IS's apparent sharpness is very good, it's not as good as that of its predecessor, providing minimal benefit with the boost from 7 to 8 megapixels.
Sensitivity and Noise
The Canon PowerShot SD11000 IS provides an excellent range of sensitivity options for an ultracompact digicam, including Auto, High ISO Auto, and user-selectable settings for ISO 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, and 1600.
Images shot in good light at ISO 80 and ISO 100 show very low noise levels, vibrant color, decent resolution, acceptable highlight detail, and 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 a bit soft, colors are flat, and detail loss is undeniable. ISO 1600 images are noticeably soft, very noisy, with dull, pastel-like undersaturated colors and messy fine detail.
The SD1100 IS is an impressive digicam when compared to the competition, but it doesn't fare quite as well when compared to the original SD1000. Where does the SD1100 IS fail to measure up to its illustrious predecessor? Most notably, in the lens: the SD1000's zoom was sharper, slightly wider, and produced noticeably better quality images and less purple fringing than the SD1100's version.
The Canon PowerShot SD1000, like the original Olympus Stylus and the classic Rollei 35S, appealed not only to casual photographers and snapshooters looking for a truly pocketable camera, but also found acceptance with more sophisticated photographers looking for a solid walk-around camera tiny enough to be dropped into a shirt pocket, tough enough to be taken just about anywhere, and capable of producing consistently excellent images under a broad variety of lighting conditions. My conclusions and observations should not be taken to mean that this incarnation of the Digital Elph isn't a good digital camera, because that isn't the case: the Canon PowerShot SD1100 IS is a very capable device that will more than adequately serve the needs of its target audience. It just isn't the equal of the camera it replaces.
Canon PowerShot SD1100 IS Specifications:
|Sensor||8.0 megapixel, 1/2.5" CCD|
|Zoom||3x (38-114mm) zoom, f/2.8-4.9|
|LCD/Viewfinder||2.5", 230K-pixel TFT LCD|
|Shutter Speed||15-1/1500 seconds|
|Shooting Modes||Auto, Manual, Digital Macro, Landscape, Portrait, Night Snapshot, Color Accent, Color Swap, Stitch Assist, Movie
|Scene Presets||Indoor, Kids & Pets, Sunset, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Night Scene, Aquarium, Underwater
|White Balance Settings||Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Custom|
|Metering Modes||Evaluative, Center, Spot|
|Focus Modes||9-Point AF, Face Detection AF, Spot AF, Face Select and Track|
|Drive Modes||Normal Only|
|Flash Modes||Auto, Forced On, Slow Synchro, Forced Off, Red-Eye Reduction|
|Self Timer Settings
||10 seconds, 2 seconds, Off
|Memory Formats||SD, SDHC
|File Formats||JPEG, AVI, WAV
|Max. Image Size||3264 x 2448|
|Max. Video Size
||640x480, 30 fps
|Zoom During Video||No|
|Connections||USB 2.0, AV output|
|Additional Features||Face Detection, Optical Image Stabilization, DIGIC III Processor