As I unboxed the Canon PowerShot SD1400 IS I asked myself, "Didn't I just review this camera?" This past October, I critiqued the Canon SD940 IS, an ultra-compact camera with some fun features. Apparently Canon decided it was time for an update, though aside from a resolution increase from 12 to 14 megapixels, I was hard pressed to find major differences between them. That's not necessarily a bad thing, considering the high quality of the previous version. However, one welcome change is that the SD1400 IS has a lower introductory list price, $249.99.
When an email arrived from DCR asking if I'd be interested in reviewing the PowerShot SD1400 (also called the Ixus 130 IS in some parts of the world), I was warned that the camera was "very, very pink." Sure enough, the camera is a deep, metallic pink, almost magenta, and is rather attractive. In addition to the traditional silver and black, Canon also offers the camera in bright orange. Its bright colors and appealing size makes the SD1400 IS well-suited for young people and anyone who wants an attractive, slim camera that can be easily transported in a pocket or purse.
BUILD AND DESIGN
The PowerShot SD1400 IS is very small, only 92x56x18mm (3.6x2.2x0.7 inches), with a weight of 133 grams (4.7 ounces). According to Canon, it's the thinnest PowerShot to date. Despite its small size, it's sturdy, with a body that's mostly metal. The SD1400 IS is tapered at the sides and all controls are recessed to allow the camera to easily slide in and out of a pocket.
The most vulnerable part of the camera is the thin, plastic latch for the battery and memory card, located at the bottom. Of course care should always be taken to avoid damaging the 2.7-inch LCD screen, which means using a case is probably a good idea.
Ergonomics and Controls
The SD1400 IS can be held with the right hand. The camera's front panel has a wide area at the left to grip with your fingers, while the back of the camera contains an A/V out and an HDMI latch on the upper right hand corner, which is a good place to put your thumb. However, if you're a person who likes to shoot with two hands (like me), you have to be careful so your left hand doesn't block the thin flash on the upper left edge of the front of the camera.
The camera body houses a 4x optical zoom lens, 5-20mm zoom length (28-112mm, 35mm equivalent), which is recessed when not in use, an auto focus assist lamp and the aforementioned flash. The top of the camera contains pinholes for the microphone and speakers, an on/off button, the shutter, and a small zoom toggle switch. Despite my initial misgivings (I really like a zoom ring), I found the toggle worked well.
The rear of the camera is dominated by the 2.7-inch LCD screen (230,000 dots), with the camera's controls at the right of the screen. They consist of a four-way circular panel for controlling flash on the right, delete picture button and self-timer at the bottom, distance modes (macro, regular and infinite) on the left and exposure compensation at the top. In the center is the function/set button, which accepts menu selections and allows access to the function shortcut menu.
Beneath the control panel are a button for displaying information on the LCD screen and another button for activating the main menu. At the top left of the panel is a photo review button, next to which is a three-way selector for auto, program and movie modes. Many of the functions around the circular panel and in the regular menu and shortcut menu will not activate while the camera is in auto mode. The camera's bottom contains a combination battery/memory card compartment and a solid, metal tripod mount.
Canon provides a brief "Getting Started" pamphlet, with a comprehensive 178-page user guide in the form of a PDF file located on a CD (which also contains the Zoom Browser EX photo management software and Photostitch software for making panoramas).
Menus and Modes
The S1400 IS uses Canon's two menu system,a main menu accessed by the menu button and a shortcut menu accessed by the function/set button. The main menu contains two columns: one for shooting settings and the other for basic camera settings. While both the shortcut and main menus offer several options, many of them are inaccessible many when the camera is in auto mode (you'll need to be in program mode to access them). Menu selections are accompanied by brief, but helpful, explanations.
The three shooting modes activated by the three-way selector are as follows:
The SD1400 IS has a 2.7-inch LCD with 230,000 dots of resolution and 100% coverage. It can be adjusted to five brightness levels. There is no viewfinder, which is par for the course with most recent small cameras.
The PowerShot SD1400 is a quick, responsive camera that's fun to use. Its extreme portability is very appealing to photographers who don't want to carry a heavy camera draped around their neck or shoulder.
The camera starts up and closes down almost instantaneously. As clearly outlined in the performance tables, the camera's times for shutter lag and auto focus acquisition are short, though a little longer than others I've seen. I found auto focus to be reliable, both outdoors and in low light. Time between shots averaged from two to three seconds with an extra second or two added when the flash was used. The SD1400 IS is slow when it comes to continuous shooting, so avoid using it for multiple quick shots, like at sporting events. The camera never paused to write to the memory card.
Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1||0.01|
|Casio Exilim EX-G1||0.01|
|Canon PowerShot SD1400 IS||0.02|
|Nikon Coolpix S70||0.02|
AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)
|Casio Exilim EX-G1||0.20|
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1||0.26|
|Canon PowerShot SD1400 IS||0.43|
|Nikon Coolpix S70||0.67|
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1||10||11.4|
|Nikon Coolpix S70||2||1.5|
|Canon PowerShot SD1400 IS||∞||0.9|
|Casio Exilim EX-G1||∞||0.5|
*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.
The flash on the SD1400 IS may be tiny, but it works well. According to Canon, it can cover 13 feet at wide angle and 6.6 feet at maximum telephoto, which I have little reason to doubt. The flash can be set to auto, red-eye reduction (using the auto focus assist lamp), flash on, flash off, FE lock (for a flash shot of consistent intensity) and slow synchro (slows shutter speed to brighten the background).
The PowerShot SD1400 IS uses Canon's NB-4L rechargeable lithium-ion battery which Canon rates for 230 shots. Even after shooting 125 photos, several movies, and examining the menus for awhile, the "low battery" icon never showed up, so I suspect Canon's assessment is accurate. However, shooting movies and using the flash will reduce the battery life. If you're going to be shooting all day, it's wise to bring along some extra batteries.
The 4x optical zoom lens (28 to 112mm) is slightly longer than you'll find in cameras of similar size and weight. It has a fairly wide maximum aperture of f/2.8 at wide angle and f/5.9 at telephoto, which helps in low light shooting.
The lens consistently produced sharp pictures with only minor softening in the corners. Chromatic aberration (purple and sometimes green fringing) occasionally appeared in high contrast shots like with trees or buildings against a bright blue sky.
As is evident from the photos below, there was some barrel distortion at wide angle but no pin cushion distortion at maximum zoom:
HD movies are smooth with good sharpness, color, and decent sound. Optical zoom cannot be used in movie mode, but digital zoom is an adequate substitute if not zoomed in too close. Our sample movie below was shot in the Library of Congress, located in downtown Washington, D.C., across the street from the U.S. Capitol.
The image quality of Canon's small cameras is consistently good, and the SD1400 is no exception. Colors are strong, but realistic. The images are sharp, thanks to the high quality lens. Overexposure sometimes affected the photos because the SD1400 IS's (1/2.3 inch type) small sensor has a limited dynamic range. However, Canon's i-Contrast feature helps to compensate for the setback, as demonstrated by the photos below:
The SD1400 IS has white balance settings for daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent and fluorescent H. I mostly used auto white balance though occasionally I found that auto was a bit yellow under incandescent light.
Auto White Balance, 3200k incandescent light
Image quality is very good through 200 ISO, with some softness present at 400 ISO that gradually increased through 800 ISO and 1600 ISO. Canon has clearly decided that aggressive noise reduction resulting in softer photos is preferable to minimal noise reduction and sharper but noisier photos. I'm not sure I agree with that decision, but I have to admit the higher ISO results from the SD1400 IS aren't too bad, especially since the camera does a good job of retaining color at the higher ISO settings.
ISO 80, 100% crop
ISO 100, 100% crop
ISO 200, 100% crop
ISO 400, 100% crop
ISO 800, 100% crop
ISO 1600, 100% crop
Additional Sample Images
Like its predecessor, I enjoyed spending time with the SD1400 IS. It's small, sleek and easily transportable, and has very good build quality. It takes nice-looking photos and movies and has many interesting features. It has a high-quality lens that takes sharp pictures with small amounts of distortion.
The camera does have some limits: low light ability, relatively short focal range, and limited manual controls. But it's a solid buy if you're looking for a first-rate snapshot camera or a pocket-sized companion to a DSLR.