Canon Powershot SD1200 IS Review
By Mike Flacy
As the successor to the Canon PowerShot SD1100 IS, the SD1200 IS continues the quality and ease of use of the Digital ELPH series. This new ultra-compact digicam features an upgraded 10-Megapixel imaging sensor, Digic 4 image processor, Smart Auto and Intelligent-Contrast, as well as a slight reduction in size and weight. Other features have carried over, such as the 3x optical zoom with optical image stabilization, optical viewfinder and 2.5-inch PureColor II LCD screen, giving the camera a very familiar look and feel from past models.
Smart Auto is a new feature that allows the camera to choose the correct scene mode for your shooting situation automatically. It compare your shot with the stored information of the 18 predefined situations to select the most appropriate scene mode. This makes the camera even more accessible and the camera's quality even better when shooting in Auto mode.
This ultra-compact camera is small enough that it can easily be kept in a purse or pocket without being a burden. With one hand you can point and shoot the camera, however, someone with large hands may find it difficult to operate the zoom controls. Using the pinch technique makes the camera incredibly easy to operate and frees up your right thumb for the camera controls and menu navigation. Framing your images can either be done with the 2.5-inch LCD screen or the optical viewfinder. The real-image optical viewfinder is a great way to save battery life and is an excellent alternative to the LCD in direct sunlight. However, this should not be much of a problem as the LCD screen has 5 levels of adjustable brightness.
Performance from the SD1200 IS is excellent for an ultra-compact in this class. The camera turns on and is able to capture its first image in just 1.6 seconds after you press the power button. Shutter lag is almost non-existent at less than 1/10 of a second when the camera is pre-focused and just 4/10 to 5/10 of a second when using the autofocus. Single shot mode allows us to capture 5 images in 12.3 seconds with the flash on and 5 images in 7.6 seconds while off. The camera also features a continuous or burst shooting mode. With the flash, this mode can capture 10 images in 9.8 seconds (1fps) and 10 images in 5.9 (1.7fps) without the flash. All of our tests were completed using an RiDATA 120X Pro, 2GB SD memory card, Program mode, flash off, ISO auto and all other settings at the factory defaults, unless noted otherwise. All times may vary depending on lighting, camera settings, media, etc.
Image quality of our outdoor sample shots is very good, which we have come to expect from Canon. The exposures are excellent and the colors are very bright. With the built in 3x optical zoom lens (35-105mm), you will have no problem capturing landscape and group portraits using the wide end. While the telephoto end will not allow you to get extremely close to distant objects, it does help greatly in framing your shots as well as singling out an individual from a group. Canon's built in Optical Image Stabilization (IS) allows for you to shoot handheld anywhere within the zoom range at lower ISO settings and faster shutter speeds than cameras without. This gives you a sizable advantage over most cameras in this price range. When shooting with the wide end, you will notice some barrel distortion and some slight aberrations in high contrast areas. You will also notice a little edge softness throughout the zoom range.
Our indoor image quality was excellent. The camera did a great job with the exposures and the auto white balance helped to produce accurate colors in all lighting conditions. Image noise is also kept very low, allowing for ISO settings of 400 and under to show very little or no noise. ISO 800 and 1600 are very good for their particular settings, but show more noise than you would like to see in your images. Assisting with your indoor shooting is the built-in flash unit. With a range of up to 14-feet (ISO Auto, Wide), you will not have too much difficulty getting a good exposure in smaller rooms. It also has features for red-eye removal and slow-sync, to allow for keeping lights on in the background while still using the flash for your subject. Canon's face detection software works quickly finding multiple faces at once, even those of young children, and follows them very well. The exposure and white balance settings are then set based on the face information to properly expose the most important part of your images.
I-Contrast, a new feature similar to Nikon's D-lighting can be applied either while shooting or from the playback menu. This feature adjusts the contrast levels to really make your images stand out. With settings of High, Low and Auto, anyone should be able to find a level that suits the situation.
Movie mode allows you to capture video with sound at resolutions of 640x480 or 320x240 at 30 fps. When shooting in outstanding lighting conditions, these movies look amazing. As your light decreases, you will start to see some noise in your movies. This is normal for shooting video with a digicam. The movies play back smoothly and the audio is clear as long as the subject is near the camera. The built in mic is very sensitive and will pick up any background sounds that are in close proximity to the camera, including sounds that you would not normally notice. Your movies can also be played back directly to a TV via the included A/V cable.
Powering the SD1200 IS is a 3.7V, 1000mAh rechargeable Li-Ion battery. Canon claims that this battery will provide enough power to capture 260 images with the LCD screen on (CIPA standards). While concluding our tests we captured over 100 images and several videos, all with the LCD screen on. The battery icon on the screen still showed a full charge. This is an excellent battery life and should not give you any trouble for short trips. The included quick charger makes charging your battery speedy as long as you can find an outlet. It also gives you the option to keep a second battery charged and on hand at all times.
Bottom Line - The Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS is another great addition to the Digital ELPH line of cameras. As one of the smallest cameras with a wide variety of stylish colors, it is fun and easy to carry all the time. Despite its size, it's packed full of useful features. The combination of performance and quality make this an excellent camera for the family or as a small backup to a larger camera. With a MSRP of US$229.99, this is definitely an ultra-compact worth looking into.
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