I thought that the PowerShot SD980 would take the prize as my favorite touch screen point-and-shoot model after I reviewed it earlier this year. I liked that the responsive touch screen is supported with a few physical buttons, and that the user doesn't need to rely entirely on touch interface.
Will I eat my words after I'm finished reviewing the touch-only, "look ma, no buttons" PowerShot SD3500? It's hard to say. I've had a couple of weeks to play with it and organize some preliminary impressions, and so far I'm impressed.
The PowerShot SD3500 is easily pocketable, and not just in theory - I carried it around a party in the pocket of my shorts. It's no bigger than your average smartphone, though definitely heavier. The few controls on the top are the only actual buttons on the camera - a playback button, shutter release with zoom ring, on/off, and a sliding shooting mode switch. Other scene modes are available within the Program mode, which is the middle stop on the switch. Movie mode and auto scene selector are the other two options.
The touch interface seems to be the same one employed by the SD980. Large icons on each side of the screen offer access to shooting and flash/self timer settings. All of the buttons on your typical four-way compass switch have been placed around the main shooting screen. A "Func." button pulls up a quick menu with settings for ISO, white balance, processing mode, metering, AF setting, drive mode and compression quality.
Here's where the touch screen can come in handy. Say you're at the bottom of the quick menu at compression and you want to jump up the vertical menu to change the AF mode. On a traditional point-and-shoot, you'd press the up button a few times to navigate up the menu. On a touch screen camera, you can directly press the setting that you want to change and the sub-menu is brought up immediately. Maybe that's only impressive to someone who messes around with cameras all day, but it cuts down on time spent clicking through the menu.
Take a look at the hands-on video preview below to see the SD3500 in action.
I've been having some fun with the Miniaturize setting. It saturates color and forces a tilt-shift perspective that makes objects and buildings look like tiny models. Using it for this purpose, you'll end up with pictures that look something like the one below.
I've also discovered it's kind of a cheap trick to mimic a shallow depth of field look when photographing any object in close range. You won't fool anyone into thinking you were working with an expensive f/1.8 prime, but it's another fun way to use the SD3500.
So far, I've noticed a few expected flaws. Barrel distortion seems to crop up at any wide focal length I use. A dark shot indoors at ISO 800 produced a usable downsized image that was fairly noisy when enlarged.
I also saw some highlight burnout in scenes that challenged the camera's metering system.
I'm impressed, though, with the SD3500's ease of use so far. I'm eager to find out if that sentiment will wear away and I'll be clamoring for real buttons after I spend more time with it, or whether a few weeks relying solely on the touch screen will turn me into a believer. Check back for our full review and find out.
Additional Sample Images