The Canon PowerShot SD780 IS was just announced on Tuesday, but Canon's rapid-fire shipping department had a production-ready review unit in our waiting hands yesterday afternoon.
Updating the small but anonymous SD770, the SD780 turns a new corner for Canon in terms of miniaturization. Billed as the thinnest SD model ever built by the manufacturer, the SD780 measures a mere 0.7 inches thick., catapulting the PowerShot SD series back into the running among the smallest of the small. Add in a 12.1 megapixel sensor and 720p video shooting to spice up this model's otherwise run of the mill specs sheet and you've got the makings of a strong argument for the notion that smaller really can be better.
Shirt-pocket size, full-size ergos
I've always enjoyed shooting with Canon's small PowerShots, but I've never found them particularly comfortable for hauling around in, say, a shirt pocket. Until the SD780 IS came around, that is.
Finally, there's an SD model to rival the absolutely smallest ultracomapcts from the likes of Nikon, Sony, and Samsung.
At the same time, though, someone on Canon's design staff deserves a medal for making sure that as the camera body itself shrank to almost unbelievably small proportions, the buttons and controls weren't reduced proportionally.
Yeah, it's still a little cramped back there, especially if you have larger hands. But the SD780's interface is infinitely more forgiving than many ultra-ultracompacts we've looked at in terms of control access. A nonstandard three-position mode switch is a bit fiddly for those with thick fingers, but given the SD780's highly limited range of shooting modes, you probably won't spend too much time fighting with this control anyway.
Premium SD build quality, hardware
In general, the SD780 is one robust little camera, with a brushed metal body that exudes the kind of quality we expect from Canon's Digital ELPH ultracompacts. The package is stitched together with a few plastic materials, but other than feeling like a few corners were cut on this SD's terribly flimsy battery/card door and pop-in plastic HDMI port cover, the SD780 is a very appealing little device that evidences a lot of careful stylistic and functional planning.
Purists will rejoice: the SD780 keeps an optical viewfinder intact – well, sort of. I wouldn't have thought it possible to make a viewfinder this small, but Canon in their infinite engineering wisdom somehow figured out a way. With a linked view window that's basically impossible to use if you wear glasses, it's hard to see much of anything through the SD780's tiny viewfinder beyond the most basic of basic shot framing concerns. Constrained by space in every direction, it's almost as if Canon is saying back to those of us who've lamented the loss of optical viewfinders on tiny cameras, "Well, you asked for it."
The SD780's 2.5 inch LCD is nothing to write home about either, but it gets the job done admirably just the same: it's sharp, smooth, refreshes fast, and (based on my limited time with the camera so far) seems to handle low light alright as well. Like the SD780's familiar, four-way controller driven physical interface, this camera's menus and quick access functions are straightforward and easy to grasp in use.
While wide angle lenses and long zooms are all the rage this season, the SD780 keeps a conventional, modestly wide 3x lens. The zoom covers the equivalent of 33-100mm in this case, and while this kind of range won't score many points with enthusiasts, some time with the SD780 is a good reminder that, for casual shooting and family snapshots at least, a 3x lens with average specs is really all you need.
And although it's not particularly fast on the aperture side (f/3.2 being your maximum ap at wide angle), the SD780's optic does manage to pack in Canon's improved lens-shifting image stabilization as well.
In the field
I spent the morning dashing off some snaps with Canon's latest, and much of what I'm learning about the SD780 so far is to be expected. There are a limited number of quick access controls here, but more serious photographers will appreciate the fact that exposure compensation and flash mode options have both been left on dedicated buttons – meaning you don't have to dive into the function menu to access these most basic options.
One thing that the SD780 seems to do better than many of its competitors at this size is macro shooting: close focusing is effective down to right around an inch in our initial testing.
Hence, while it may not shine as an enthusiast's pocket camera, the SD780, with its nicely balanced list of My Colors in-camera color/processing presets and multiple metering and focus modes (including a continuous Servo AF setting) proves to be surprisingly versatile – if you first accept, of course, the limitations of its zoom lens.
Thus far the weather hasn't been conducive to lots of outdoor shooting, but what we've seen from the DIGIC IV equipped SD780 suggests that processing remains typical for Canon's point-and-shoots, with vibrant colors and lots of contrast that enhance fair-weather outdoor shots nicely. The SD780's lens seems fairly sharp on first inspection, and I'm liking what I see so far from Canon's 12.1 megapixel CCD sensor as well.
More to come...
As always, this is just the beginning of our exploration of what this particular PowerShot has to offer. We'll dive into speed, overall performance, and image quality at much greater depth in our full review, so check back in coming weeks for that.