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Canon PowerShot SD4500 IS Review
by Andy Stanton -  11/15/2010

The Canon SD4500 IS is the newest of Canon's small "ELPH" cameras, which have developed a reputation for consistent quality over the years. It is also the latest Canon compact to incorporate a back-illuminated CMOS sensor, succeeding the SD4000 IS which was released only a few months ago (and received a very positive review from this website).

Canon PowerShot SD4500 IS


The advantages of a back-illuminated CMOS sensor are better image quality in low light and faster continuous shooting speed. Since point-and-shoot cameras, with their small sensors, are not known for their low light image quality, a back-illuminated CMOS sensor seems to make a lot of sense. In fact, most of the major camera manufacturers have been releasing point-and-shoot cameras with such sensors over the past two years and the trend is likely to continue. The SD4500 IS also contains Canon's latest processor, the DIGIC 4.

The SD4500 IS has two major advantages over the SD4000 IS. One is that the SD4500 IS has an improved movie mode, which has been upped to full HD, 1920x1080, at 24 frames per second. Another is that it has significantly more optical zoom than the older camera, 10x compared to 3.6x. This gives the SD4500 IS a maximum telephoto of 360mm (35mm film camera equivalent), which is by far the longest focal length of any ELPH camera.

Canon SD4500 Test Image
Wide Angle, 36mm

Canon SD4500 Test Image
Telephoto, 360mm

On the other hand, the SD4500 IS seems to fall short of the earlier version in a couple of ways. First, its wide-angle capability is only 36mm, while the older camera has a maximum wide angle of 28mm. Secondly, the SD4500 IS has a narrower maximum aperture of f/3.4, compared to f/2.0 for the SD4000 IS. A wider aperture is an advantage when shooting in low light. The newer camera is also a bit heavier at 190g, compared to 175g. Fortunately the SD4500 IS keeps the number of megapixels at 10, resisting the urge to compete in the megapixel race.

Overall, does the SD4500 IS uphold the high standards set by the SD4000 IS? Let's find out.

BUILD AND DESIGN
Canon's small cameras have always had a clean, conservative look about them. For some reason, Canon apparently decided that the SD4500 IS should deviate from this standard a bit as its basic rectangular shape has been altered by cutting off the corners. This looks rather strange to me but some may find it appealing. On the other hand I was impressed by the solid feel of the mostly metal body. I also was very pleased with the color of the camera I reviewed, an attractive chocolate brown. The camera is available in traditional silver as well.

Canon PowerShot SD4500 IS

The SD4500 IS is large for an Elph camera at 6.7 ounces (190g), including battery and memory card, but its dimensions of 3.99x2.3x0.88 inches definitely put it into the small camera class. Canon claims it is the thinnest camera with a 10x optical zoom lens and I have no reason to doubt it. The SD4500 IS is shipped with an NP-9L lithium ion battery, battery charger, USB cable, AV cable, wrist strap, a CD containing a new version of Canon's photo organizing software, ZoomBrowser EX, and a brief paper manual. A comprehensive 180 page User Guide is contained on the CD. You can buy the camera direct from Canon for $349.99 but I've seen it online from reputable retailers for under $300.

Ergonomics and Controls
Apart from its cut-off corners, the SD4500 IS has a very traditional appearance with a large, centrally-located lens at its front and a 3.0-inch TFT LCD monitor dominating the rear. Other than the lens, the front of the camera contains only a thin flash in the upper right-hand corner, two microphone openings for its stereo sound capability, and an AF assist/self timer lamp. The corner location of the flash means the owner will have to be careful of blocking it when using the left hand to support the camera.

One side of the SD4500 IS contains the mount for the wrist strap. The other contains a port for connecting the AV and USB cables as well as a separate connection for an HDMI cable. The plastic port cover is attached to the camera body by a thin piece of rubbery material, so care must be taken when handling it.

Canon PowerShot SD4500 IS

The bottom of the camera contains a plastic tripod socket located toward the side of the camera. A metal tripod socket is preferable to one made of plastic as the metal socket is less likely to wear out. The camera's bottom also contains a compartment for the battery and a second compartment for the memory card. The compartment covers are plastic but fairly sturdy. The SD4500 IS can use several different memory cards - SD, SDHC, SDXC, MultiMediaCard, MMCplus, HC MMCplus and Eye-Fi.

The camera's top portion contains the shutter button encircled by a zoom control ring, a power button, a mode switch with settings for movies, program and auto, and a speaker hole. The controls worked well overall, but I noticed a slight hesitation every time I used the zoom control.

Canon PowerShot SD4500 IS

The rear of the camera contains the aforementioned 3.0-inch TFT LCD monitor. To the right of the LCD are two grooves which aid the thumb in gripping the camera. Next to the thumb grip is a dedicated movie button, which starts recording a movie when pressed and ends the movie when pressed again. This has become increasingly common in newer digital cameras and for a good reason. Taking movies is usually something that users will do on the spur of the moment, and it is much quicker to simply press a movie button than wading through the camera's menu trying to find the movie mode.

Below this is a circular controller, which can be turned to change settings and pressed to bring up certain options - left for macro, up for self-timer, right for flash and down for display. A func/set button in the center of the controller allows you to select a menu option or bring up the shortcut menu. Below the controller is a menu button, to call up the camera's menu system, and below that a playback button, to review photos that have already been taken.

Canon PowerShot SD4500 IS

These buttons are nice and large and would seem to be easy to manipulate but, for some reason, I often had a tough time pressing the menu button strongly enough to have it take effect. With the exception of the difficult menu button, the system is one that is tried and true works well.

Menus and Modes
The SD4500 IS uses Canon's dual menu system - a comprehensive menu activated by the menu button and a shortcut menu called up by pressing the func/set button. The menu options differ based on the shooting mode, and menus are logically set forth and easy to understand.

Here are the various shooting modes:

Display/Viewfinder
The SD4500 IS has a 3.0-inch LCD in a 16x9 configuration with approximately 230,000 dots. The monitor can be adjusted to one of five different levels of brightness. The monitor displays bright colors but it can be hard to see in sunny conditions. As is the case with virtually all small digital cameras, the SD4500 IS lacks a viewfinder.

PERFORMANCE
While not a speed demon, the SD4500 is a solid performer. It takes about three seconds to both start up and shut down. Its shot-to-shot time for successive pictures also averages about three seconds. Menu operations are quick and the optical zoom operates smoothly, albeit with the initial hesitation I referred to earlier.

Shooting Performance
The performance tables show that the SD4500 is a fairly quick operator. Its shutter lag, when pre-focused (when the shutter is pressed halfway down), was negligible at 0.02 seconds. Its auto focus acquisition, the time it takes between pressing the shutter and taking the shot, was 0.49 seconds, a solid middle of the road figure. The SD4500 IS has faster continuous shooting ability than most small Canon cameras, at 3.3 frames per second (8.8 frames per second is possible using high speed burst mode). This is reasonably quick performance.

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

Camera Time (seconds)
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX75 0.01
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55 0.01
Canon PowerShot SD4500 0.02
Nikon Coolpix S8000 0.05


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

Camera Time (seconds)
Nikon Coolpix S8000 0.26
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55 0.28
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX75 0.28
Canon PowerShot SD4500 0.49

Continuous Shooting

Camera Frames Framerate*
Canon PowerShot SD4500 3.3 fps
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX75 3 2.6 fps
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55 4 1.9 fps
Nikon Coolpix S8000 10 1.2 fps

As important as quickness is accuracy. The SD4500 is very good in that respect as it rarely failed to find focus, even when shooting in low light or at the long end of the zoom lens.

One area where the SD4500 disappoints, however, is its poor battery life. Canon claims its NP-9L lithium ion battery delivers only 150 shots, which is very short, as most small cameras can shoot at least 200 images. Navigate the menus for a little while and record a movie and you will find your battery charge reduced to 50%. A back-up battery or two is essential if you plan to spend the day taking pictures and movies with the PowerShot SD4500.

Lens Performance
This is an area of strength for the Canon SD4500, as I felt the images had a very pleasing combination of sharpness and low distortion, both at the medium zoom and even at the long end of the zoom. I found minimal chromatic aberration, no vignetting and only minor corner blur.

Canon SD4500 Test Image

In addition there was virtually no barrel distortion at wide angle or pin cushion distortion at maximum telephoto.

Canon SD4500 Test Image
Wide Angle
Canon SD4500 Test Image
Telephoto

Overall, I was impressed with the lens performance of the SD4500.

Video Quality
The SD4500 takes excellent quality HD videos at 1920x1080 resolution at 24 frames per second. Optical zoom can be used. The stereo audio is also top notch. In the following recording, the movement of the train is very smooth and the sound comes through loud and clear.

Recording will automatically stop when either the file size reaches 4GB or the recording time reaches approximately 10 minutes (in HD mode) or 1 hour (in standard definition mode).

Image Quality
The SD4500 IS produced very pleasing images in good light, with strong colors. Its low light images were good as well. As is always the case with Canon point-and-shoot cameras, the Canon SD4500 IS produced very attractive macro shots (it can focus as close as 3mm)

Canon SD4500 Test Image Canon SD4500 Test Image

If for some reason you don't care for the standard colors, you can select among vivid, neutral, sepia, black and white and positive film.

Canon SD4500 Test Image
Normal
Canon SD4500 Test Image
Vivid
Canon SD4500 Test Image
Neutral
Canon SD4500 Test Image
Sepia
Canon SD4500 Test Image
Black and White
Canon SD4500 Test Image
Positive Film

The SD4500 has a function called i-contrast, which will even out areas that have too much contrast. It works reasonably well.

Canon SD4500 Test Image
i-contrast Off
Canon SD4500 Test Image
i-contrast On

The SD4500 has white balance settings for auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, two types of fluorescent and custom. I used auto white balance with almost all of my pictures and found it to be very accurate overall, as demonstrated by the image below using the fluorescent setting.

Canon SD4500 Test Image
Auto White Balance, 5500k incandescent light

The flash of the SD4500 IS has ten settings, Auto, On, Slow Synchro, Off, FE Lock, Auto Red-Eye Correction, Red-Eye Reduction, Shutter Sync, Safety FE, Smart Flash Exposure. The figures for flash range given by Canon are 12 inches to 12 feet at wide angle and 3.3 feet to 6.6 feet at telephoto. The flash worked well and produced output that was appropriate for the lighting conditions. However flash recycling times were slow - it took at least five seconds for the camera to be ready for use after a flash had been fired.

Canon's back-illuminated sensor seems to have improved the quality of the low light pictures compared to Canon's other point-and-shoot cameras. As the ISO table shows, image quality with good color was excellent through 200 ISO.

Canon SD4500 Test Image
ISO 125
Canon SD4500 Test Image
ISO 125, 100% crop
Canon SD4500 Test Image
ISO 200
Canon SD4500 Test Image
ISO 200, 100% crop
Canon SD4500 Test Image
ISO 400
Canon SD4500 Test Image
ISO 400, 100% crop
Canon SD4500 Test Image
ISO 800
Canon SD4500 Test Image
ISO 800, 100% crop
Canon SD4500 Test Image
ISO 1600
Canon SD4500 Test Image
ISO 1600, 100% crop
Canon SD4500 Test Image
ISO 3200
Canon SD4500 Test Image
ISO 3200, 100% crop

It declined slightly at 400 ISO and again at 800 and 1600 ISO. Image quality deteriorated drastically at 3200 ISO, but that setting will probably never be used.

Canon SD4500 Test Image
ISO 800
Canon SD4500 Test Image
ISO 800

Additional Sample Images

Canon SD4500 Test Image Canon SD4500 Test Image
Canon SD4500 Test Image Canon SD4500 Test Image
Canon SD4500 Test Image Canon SD4500 Test Image

CONCLUSIONS
The Canon PowerShot SD4500 is a small, solid camera that does some important things very well, but falls down in several areas. When it comes to image quality and video quality, the SD4500 is one of the best point-and-shoot cameras available, even in low light. It is also a reasonably quick camera and has a high quality lens.

However, while the camera has a very long telephoto length of 360mm, its wide angle view is only 36mm, which is narrower than most small cameras on the market today. It has a poor battery life of only 150 shots. There are also a few ergonomic issues that concern me - I do not care for the camera's plastic tripod socket, its hesitating zoom lever, and its hard-to-operate menu button.


If image quality and video quality are of supreme importance to you, the SD4500 is a camera to seriously consider, as long as you don't have a major problem with the camera's limitations.

Pros:

Cons: