Canon Powershot SD700IS Review
The PowerShot SD700 is Canon's top of Digital ELPH line, which also includes the new SD600 and SD630, for 2006. This point-n-shoot consumer model can be tucked away almost anywhere, measuring a mere 3.56 x 2.22 x 1.04 in. and weighing in at just under 7 ounces wih the battery and SD memory card included. It retains the 6-megapixel imager of the SD600 and SD630, but increases the lens' optical zoom range to 4x, and adds optical image stabilization to the mix.
Designed with the beginner in mind, the SD700 offers a multitude of fully automatic exposure modes that are pre-programmed to help you produce pleasing results in a variety of different shooting environments. You can also choose Manual mode, which is really an auto exposure mode that allows you to control settings like Exposure compensation, ISO, White Balance, Metering, and, when you want to be creative, My Colors settings that will give your images a unique look.
Despite its small size, the SD700's ergonomics are good. At about the size of a deck of playing cards, it can easily be tucked away in any pocket, yet still fits comfortably in your hands. The well positioned controls fall naturally underneath your fingertips, and we especially like the zoom controls being mounted around the shutter release. The 2.5-inch LCD takes up a large percentage of the back of the camera, but Canon was able to squeeze a small optical viewfinder in above it. I noticed it was a bit more reflective than we have seen on other Canon models, however it was still very useable outdoors in bright sunlight. When shooting in marginal lighting conditions (indoors, at night, etc.), the display "gains up" well, which helps aid in framing. The onscreen menu system is very easy to navigate, and because of the size of the LCD, the text is easy to read.
The SD700 is a very robust performer, with power up until the first image captured measuring only 1.7 seconds. Shutter lag, the delay between depressing the shutter button and capturing an image, was almost instantaneous (less than 1/10 of a second) when pre-focused, and only 3/10 second including autofocus; add about 1/10 second to those times when using the LCD viewfinder. In single frame drive mode, the shot to shot delay averaged 1.2 seconds without flash, and intervals of between 1.7 and 6 seconds with flash depending on subject distance. Using the continuous (burst) mode, I was able to capture Large/SuperFine JPEG images at 1/2 second intervals with no full-buffer slowdown. When shooting in burst mode, the LCD only briefly displays the last image captured, making it difficult to follow moving subjects; this is where the SD700's optical viewfinder is valuable. Our tests were done using a Kingston Ultimate 120x 2GB SD card, Manual mode, Large SuperFine quality, preview off, flash off, and all other settings at default (unless otherwise noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
Canon's Digital ELPH series have long proved that small cameras can produce terrific images, and the SD700 is no exception. Using its 6-megapixel Large/SuperFine mode, I was able to capture great shots both indoors and out. Our outdoor samples are sharp with good overall exposure, and color balance was pleasing for a consumer camera. The Canon 4x optical zoom lens offers greater versatility in composing your shots than most in its class, with a 35mm equivalent focal range of approx. 35mm - 140mm. At full wide angle, you'll be able to capture nice landscapes and group portraits, while the telephoto capabilities will help fill the frame with your subject for close-up portraits or macro shots. The lens exhibits a moderate amount of barrel distortion at full wide angle, but no perceptible distortion at full telephoto. It produced good sharpness except for some softness in the corners. Chromatic aberrations (purple fringing on highlight areas) were well controlled, with only a slight amount of purple fringing noticeable in high contrast areas. Noise was essentially absent at sensitivity settings of ISO 80 through 200. At ISO 400, noise becomes noticeable in shadow areas, and at ISO 800 it is visible throughout.
The SD700 is the first of Canon's Digital EFPH's to feature Image Stabilization. Using it, I was able to capture consistently blur-free images at shutter speeds of about two stops slower than the rule of thumb 1/focal-length, in this case at 1/30 second at a focal length of 140mm. The SD700's combination of low image noise at ISO 400 and effective optical image stabilization will allow the capture of higher quality images than most in its class under conditions of low available light. It also helps eliminate hand-shake at other shutter speeds as well.
Indoors it also performs well. The flash has a good range of approx. 12 feet (at wide angle and using ISO Auto), allowing shots of small groups and rooms. The camera produced pleasing skin tones, but its red eye reduction mode was only marginally effective. There's no delay when using red eye reduction, as the SD700 uses a bright orange LED rather than a pre-flash to cause the subject's pupils to close-down. The SD700's focus assist lamp, the same device that's used for red eye reduction, was helpful in achieving autofocus in dim lighting, but its range was limited to about 8 feet in complete darkness at wide angle, and less as you zoom into the telephoto range.
When a still picture just can't capture the moment, the SD700 features a high-quality movie mode. The standard mode offers selectable resolution (640x480 or 320x240) and frame rate (30fps or 15fps.) You can also choose from Compact (160x120), Fast Frame rate, Color Accent and Color swap, which allow for more creative recording. Overall it produced great results. I noticed very little compression noise and the AF system did well at keeping up with fast moving objects. You can see for yourself by taking a look at our examples on the samples page. If you plan on taking lots of movies, be sure to purchase a large 1GB or 2GB SD card, as the camera consumes nearly 1.9MB per second when using the 640x480 30fps mode!
Power is supplied by a tiny NB-5L 3.7v 1120mAh proprietary Li-ion battery pack. Canon claims you can capture up to 240 shots with full-time use of the LCD. I was able to capture about 200 images and conduct other testing without any indication of low battery warning. Canon includes a very compact and portable AC charger that takes about 2 hours to charge a fully depleted pack. The charger plugs directly into any 100-240V AC outlet and has fold-away prongs, which makes out to be very convenient for storing away. As always, we recommend you purchase at least one extra pack and keep it charged and ready at all times; there's nothing more aggravating than missing a photo opportunity due to a dead battery pack.
Bottom line - The PowerShot SD700 is another outstanding member of Canon's Digital ELPH series, offering great image quality, robust performance, and useful exposure modes, all packed in an ultra-compact, durable and stylish shell. It's sure to make an excellent choice for any user in the market for an extremely pocketable 4x zoom, high resolution digicam. At about US$499 MSRP, it is roughly $100 more expensive than its SD630 sibling, but its combination of 4x optical zoom lens and Image Stabilization will be worth the extra cost to those who need those features.
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