Canon Powershot SD40 Review

Steve's Digicams

Canon Powershot SD40

Steve's Conclusion

The PowerShot SD40 Digital ELPH is the successor to last year's popular SD30, and is this year's stylish and durable "pocket-rocket" from Canon. It includes many of the same features, like the 2.4x optical zoom lens, 1.8-inch LCD, and 9-point AF system. This new model features higher resolution at 7-megapixels, Canon's Face Detection AF/AE technology, increased ISO capabilities (up to ISO 1600) as well as the new DiGiC III image processor. This is a simple point-n-shoot model that offers various fully automatic exposure modes as well as a Manual mode that gives access to more advanced settings.

Although this is a very compact model (about the size of a candy bar), it fit well in my larger hands, and one handed shooting is a snap. Most of the controls are well placed and easy to use, with the exception of the Zoom controls. I found the Up and Down motion a bit awkward, considering most consumer models use a Left and Right motion. As usual, the onscreen menu system was easy to navigate and we loved the Function menu for quick changes. On the SD30, the Func./Set button doubled as a second shutter release for vertical shooting. However, it has been changed to the Print/Share button on this model. This was very helpful when the camera is in the vertical position, where I found to be a bit difficult to reach the Shutter release. Another "cool" feature we found in Playback mode was the auto orientation sensor. When you rotate the camera, the display automatically rotates the image being displayed. This was very handy when showing your subjects the photo you just took of them. The SD40 features a 1.8-inch LCD that actually looks "big" due to the compact size of this camera. Being the only viewfinder, we are thankful for the high-quality display that works great outdoors in bright sunlight. Unlike the SD30, this LCD "gains up" well when shooting in marginal lighting conditions (like your living room lit by standard incandescent light bulbs), which helps you frame the subject in these conditions.

Like just about every Canon model, shooting performance is excellent, thanks in part to the DIGIC III processor. Power up to first image captured measured only 1.2 seconds! Shutter lag, the delay between pressing the shutter release and capturing the image, measured 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and 3/10 of a second including autofocus. When shooting rapid sequences in single exposure mode, the shot to shot delay averaged about 1.6 seconds without using the flash and about 3 to 5 seconds with the flash, depending on subject distance. The SD40 does offer a continuous or "burst" mode, using this I was able to capture 10 frames in only 4.9 seconds, thus surpassing Canon's claim of only 1.6fps. Note, you can only use the burst function when in either Manual or one of the scene modes. Our tests were done using a Transcend 60X 512MB SD card, using Manual mode, quality set at Large Superfine, preview off, flash off, and all other settings at default (unless noted otherwise.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.

The overall image quality of our 7-megapixel Large SuperFine images was good. The 2.4x optical zoom lens offers a slightly shorter range (38-90mm, in 35mm equivalence) than your typical consumer model. The 38mm wide angle extreme will be sufficient for most indoor shooting (groups shots, etc.) as well as outdoor landscape shots. The telephoto won't bring distant subjects up close, however it works great for those close-up portraits. There's also a digital zoom feature, but we urge you not to use this function as image quality suffers. This lens exhibits moderate barrel distortion at wide angle, but virtually no pincushioning at full telephoto. Our outdoor sample photos were sharp, showed accurate exposure and rich color saturation. Noise levels in high/low contrast areas are low when the ISO is set to 400 or below, but 800 and 1600 are pretty noisy. But, I see most people using the Auto setting, and it does well at keeping the sensitivity as low as possible.

Our portrait results were good both indoors and out. The new Face Detection system works great, producing people photos that are sharp, properly exposed and show pleasing skin tones. When using the flash, you'll have to work within the limits (only 6.6 feet at wide angle.) While this is a very low flash range, you can't expect too much out of such a small camera. You can see by looking at the portrait examples on the samples page that the flash illuminated our subject well. This was from about 4 - 5 feet away using the mid telephoto range of the lens. And, thanks to the AF-assist lamp, you shouldn't have any problems focusing on your subject(s) in dim lighting to almost complete darkness.

The SD40 is powered by a tiny NB-4L 3.7v 760mAh Li-ion battery pack that is charged while the camera is docked in the included cradle. Canon claims you can capture about 190 shots with a fully charged pack. I found battery life was very good, shooting our samples images (about 100 shots) and concluding all of our other tests before the camera posted a low battery warning. This is a proprietary battery, so you won't be able to stop by your local electronics store and pick one up. As always, we suggest that you purchase at least one spare pack and keep it charged at all times, you never know when it might come in handy.

Bottom line - The Canon PowerShot SD40 Digital ELPH is an awesome pocket-sized digicam. That said, I feel it will make just about any user who wants an ultra-compact model, very happy by offering great image quality, robust performance, ease of use, and let's not forget the stylish and durable body that comes in four different colors. With an MSRP of about US$399, I feel it offers a good value for a model in this category.

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