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Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS Review
by Whitney Downing -  5/6/2009

The Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS is an affordable answer to a need for a lightweight, responsive camera that is easy for the amateur to use, but has enough features for the more knowledgeable photographer to get a precise shot.

Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS


This digital ELPH camera comes in a variety of colors for the fashion-savvy, and has plenty of options available for the serious shutterbug. While it is a relatively simple camera when compared to a DSLR, the unit is well-equipped to handle everyday shots.


FEATURES OVERVIEW
This camera comes with a number of features that make it easy to use. With Canon's newer DIGIC 4 processor and 10.0 megapixels, it is well-equipped to take on any casual photographic occasion. Focally, the camera has a 3x optical, 4x digital, 12x combined zoom, which gives the photographer anywhere from 35 to 105mm zoom.

Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS

This is not much zoom power, but is plenty for the amateur photographer. The camera also features a sizable 2.5 inch 16:9 widescreen LCD screen, making it easy to view shots and show them off to others. The SD1200 still has an optical viewfinder.

The SD1200 has a feature called Smart AUTO, which intelligently chooses the camera shot settings based on a list of 18 predefined shooting situations. This feature allows the beginner photographer to get a good shot without having to change settings based on the situation. I tested this feature out and it is responsive, but it often took some time to recalibrate based on what the sensor found.

Some of the features of the SD1200 include:


FORM, FIT, AND FEEL
Smaller than a pack of playing cards, the SD1200 is easy to fit in a pocket. It actually rivals the size of most flip cell phones at 3.48 x 2.16 x 0.86 inches, and at 4.23 ounces. The camera is available in a number of fruity colors including pink, orange, green, blue, light and dark gray, making it fit any number of lifestyles and color preferences.

Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS

Ergonomics and Interface
The camera is set up simply, with buttons that are flush with the casing and easy-to-use controls. The on/off button is on top of the camera as well as the trigger button, which has a toggle for zoom.

Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS

There is a switch on the right hand side of the camera that controls if the camera is on Auto mode, mode picker, or movie mode.

Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS

In Auto mode, none of the specifications can be set except for resolution. Mode picker allows the photographer to set which of the modes the camera will be used in. However, it is difficult to find all 18 modes. It took me three days to finally notice that you have to press the Disp button when on the very last mode in mode picker in order to get the full list of the 18. Otherwise, only a few modes are shown. This is not good interface planning as it is not easy to find what I need, and it is not intuitive for the user.

There are three other buttons and a navigation circle on the back of the camera next to the LCD screen. One of the buttons is to toggle playback mode, one is to set the display, and one brings up the main menu. The navigation circle has a button in the center that serves not only as a de facto "OK" button, but also as a Function Set button which brings up the main modes and features available to the photographer.

Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS

The circle is a four-way directional button, with the top toggling exposure when in camera mode and photo rotation in playback mode. The right-hand directional serves as the flash toggle button. The bottom directional sets the self timer and is the trash button for playback mode. The left-hand directional sets macro, normal, or infinity settings for the photograph. The circle also serves as a compass, with each directional performing scrolling actions onscreen.

Display/Viewfinder
The SD1200 does have a nearly useless linked optical viewfinder, which was stuck on top of the camera, sacrificing more LCD space. The LCD is large at 2.5 inches, but could have been larger as it appears some space was wasted on the back of the camera. Linked optical viewfinders are just about obsolete these days as everyone uses the handier LCD screen for framing shots. Unfortunately, no one seems to have notified Canon of this phenomenon, and they have, in this photographer's opinion, wasted precious space on the back of the camera for this feature.

Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS

The LCD screen has a 16:9 widescreen viewing angle, which is impressive. It also has the PureColor LCD II coating on the screen, which supposedly keeps scratches and smudges from happening. However, as I write this I look over at the dusty, fingerprinted screen of the camera and know that this is not necessarily true. It cleans easily, though, and has clear, good color for image playback. You can zoom in on photos during image playback by using the zoom toggle, and the LCD screen displays zoomed in areas as crisply as a computer would.


PERFORMANCE

Timings and Shutter Lag

The PowerShot SD1200 is pretty middle-of-the-road when it comes to shutter lag. Still, only .01 seconds behind the next highest competitor is nothing to sneeze at.

Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)

Camera Time (seconds)
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T700 0.02
Nikon Coolpix S230
0.02
Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS
0.03
Pentax Optio P70 0.05
Casio Exilim EX-Z150 0.22

AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)

Camera Time (seconds)
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T700 0.23
Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS 0.34
Nikon Coolpix S230 0.51
Pentax Optio P70 0.87
Casio Exilim EX-Z150 1.15

Continuous Shooting

Camera Frames* Framerate*
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX37
3 3.6 fps
Nikon Coolpix S230
2 2.2 fps
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T700
10 1.6 fps
Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS
1.5 fps
Casio Exilim EX-Z150 13 1.3 fps

* Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera's fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). "Frames" notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.

My field tests showed about the same timing. In auto focus, the SD1200 is fast, coming in behind the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-T700 at 0.34 seconds. This number means that it takes very little time for the camera to auto focus, with a combined 0.37 seconds between the time the button is hit and the picture is taken. In continuous shooting mode, the SD1200 is somewhat slower with a frame rate of 1.5 frames per second. However, it still performs well and I like that the camera takes an infinite amount of photos, allowing me to get that perfect motion shot without being constrained to a number.

Auto Focus
The SD1200 has two auto focus modes: center and Face AiAF. Face AiAF mode is connected to the Face Detection technology, meaning that the camera looks all over the frame for faces and then focuses based on what it finds. Center will focus only on the center of the shot.

This camera has Canon's newer AiAF technology, which allows the camera to detect faces while setting the white balance, exposure, and focus of the shot. I like how this technology works, although sometimes the camera had difficulties finding faces that were not straight on.

I found the camera to be very fast in finding its focus. It did not have to do a lot of maneuvering to find focus for a shot, and as the timing tests show, it has a very fast rate of focus. I was pleased with how the camera performed in a number of different settings, including night shots.

Lens and Zoom
The SD1200 has an optical zoom of 3x, but the digital zoom of 4x gives the camera a combined 12x zoom. This zoom gives you a focal length of 6.2-18.6mm f/2.8-4.9, which is 35-105mm in 35mm film equivalent. This number is not too shabby and means that the camera can get anywhere from wide angle to short telephoto lens coverage. The aperture range is well-balanced for this camera, with the 4.9 maximum being about the limit of the short telephoto lens range.

The zoom of the camera is quiet and speedy, and the lens does not make the unit unwieldy even when it is in motion. A neat feature of the camera is that the lens retracts into the body when I am reviewing photos, which kept me from accidentally touching the lens while I was handling the camera. The only problem I found with this feature is the camera turns itself off when you are finished looking at photos, and I had to turn it back on again in order to get my lens back!

Flash
The unit comes with a built-in flash. It has four flash modes: auto, on, slow synchro, and off. Auto will choose whether to use the flash or not, on means that the flash is always on, slow synchro gives the photo a fill flash that works well for dark situations, and off means that the flash does not fire when a photo is taken.

The flash has a stated range of 14 feet at a wide angle setting, and 7.9 feet when telephoto. This is pretty standard for most ELPHs, and the flash works well although it is not an outstanding feature of the camera. There is a high-power flash unit available for purchase that goes with the unit if more flash power is needed.

Image Stabilization
This camera has an internal image stabilization system that gets rid of the "shaky hand syndrome" that many photographers have, including yours truly. Image stabilization works by means of a small component within the lens of the camera. This component recognizes movement on horizontal or vertical planes, and moves the lens to compensate.

There are four Image Stabilization modes that can be chosen from, including continuous, shoot only, panning, and off. Continuous means that the camera is always running the IS feature, even when just framing the shot. This option is somewhat draining to the battery, so I suggest only using it sparingly. Panning is used for horizontally moving subjects, so that the IS lens moves to correct shake on a horizontal plane. Shoot Only only activates the IS when the shutter is half-depressed, which is probably the best setting to have for normal shots.

Battery
The SD1200 uses a 3.7 volt 1000 mAh Lithium-Ion battery. This battery is rated for 260 shots with the LCD on and 700 with it off. I found that the battery lasted about the amount that it is reported to last, although I did not test it with the LCD turned off, as I find no use in the viewfinder.


IMAGE QUALITY
The SD1200 packs 10.3 megapixels onto a 1/2.3 inch CCD sensor, giving the photographer approximately 10.0 megapixels to work with. This should be plenty of pixels for any point-and-shoot photographer to work with, and allows for a sizeable image to be printed with no problem. However, the problem with shoving too many megapixels onto such a small space is that it gets grainy and noisy at the pixel level. However, this camera has fewer megapixels than many on the market today, thus giving the photos a comparatively clearer shot than cameras that pack more megapixels onto a small CCD.

Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS
Default

This camera has quite a few settings for colors under the My Colors menu, but there aren't a lot of highly useful options. Vivid brings out some colors, mostly on the yellow range. This setting saturates colors and makes them pop, but in order to have a more natural range of colors I would use the Neutral setting.

Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS
Vivid

Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS
Neutral

The other three options in My Colors are Sepia, Black and White, and Custom. Custom allows you to set the contrast, sharpness, and saturation of the image, while sepia and black and white are pretty self-explanatory.

There are three settings for light metering: evaluative, center weighted average, and spot. Evaluative takes light metering information from the current shooting situation and applies it to the image. Center weighted average takes information from the very center of the shot and applies it across the whole image, and spot only measures light metering at the very center of the image.

As far as contrast, the SD1200 has a feature called i-Contrast that automatically corrects dark areas within a photo. I found that this feature works pretty well, although I cannot find a setting to turn the function off.

White Balance
The SD1200 has multiple white balance settings that work well. A neat feature of this camera is that it has custom evaluative white balance. I frame my shot and press Disp. while in White Balance picker mode and the camera will evaluate and set the white balance based on its own internal algorithms.

Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS
Auto White Balance, 3200K incandescent light

Lens Faults
This camera did an admirable job of keeping images sharp even when the lens was fully extended to its 12x zoom. However, it did not always take a perfectly clear image, with the magnified image having a lot of graininess and noise, but the image itself was sharp enough.

Sensitivity and Noise
This camera allows the user to choose an ISO setting, which sets the camera's sensitivity to light. The available settings are auto, anywhere from 80-1600, and an ISO 3200 setting located in the mode picker menu.

 

Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS
ISO 80
Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS
ISO 80, 100% crop
Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS
ISO 100
Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS
ISO 100, 100% crop
Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS
ISO 200
Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS
ISO 200, 100% crop
Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS
ISO 400
Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS
ISO 400, 100% crop
Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS
ISO 800
Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS
ISO 800, 100% crop
Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS
ISO 1600
Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS
ISO 1600, 100% crop

 

As shown in the sample photos, the camera performs well at 80, 100, and 200, but past that the shot begins to introduce some serious noise. By the time 1600 and 3200 are used, the shots are very grainy. This graininess is to be expected with ISO, and this camera actually performs well for its class. The ISO 3200 setting did a very good job of capturing light in darker situations, although the graininess is a problem.

Additional Sample Images

Canon PowerShot SD1200
Taken at full 12x zoom on Smart Auto. Note how the shot is somewhat grainy, but that the image is still sharp.

Canon PowerShot SD1200
Night shot using Night setting

Canon PowerShot SD1200
Program setting with all defaults using Continuous shot mode. Note the clear image even though subject is in motion.

Canon PowerShot SD1200
Kids and Pets setting

Canon PowerShot SD1200
Smart Auto setting at night

Canon PowerShot SD1200
Smart Auto setting at night


CONCLUSIONS
At a price of $230, this camera is definitely worth considering for all of the features it comes with. It is a reasonably priced point-and-shoot that gives the photographer plenty of options.


With a 12x combined zoom, Smart Auto mode, 10.0 megapixels and a sleek, small body, this camera packs much of the versatility of a larger camera into a phone-sized unit. It has its pros and cons, but on the whole I would endorse the purchase of this camera for the casual or beginning photographer.

Pros:

Cons: