Canon Powershot SD780 IS Review
By Mike Flacy
Canon continues to build on the success of past Digital ELPH models with the introduction of their latest ultra-compact offering, the PowerShot SD780 IS. The successor to the SD770 IS from last year, Canon has shrank this new model even more. In fact, the SD780 is the smallest Digital ELPH I have seen from Canon thus far (3/2009.). Although tiny, Canon has still packed all of the features we have come to love and expect form this line of 'Go Anywhere' cameras. These options included 12-megapixels of resolution, a 3x optical zoom lens, their Legendary Optical Image Stabilization system, crisp 2.5-inch PureColor II LCD screen, Face Detection AF, i-Contrast technology, and 720p (1280x720) HD video recording mode.
Like past models, the SD780 is designed to be a simple point-n-shoot model, allowing for Anyone to pick it up and start capturing pleasing snap shots. Canon has made a few changes to the exposure modes and options available on this new digicam. While the SD780 still offers loads of Scene modes (18 to be exact) as well as the Typical Auto mode, they have changed the name of the Camera M (Manual) mode to Program. The image compression settings have also changed from SuperFine, Fine and Normal, to just Fine and Normal. Narrowing down these options has made the camera even simpler to use.
The SD780 continues the look and feel of classic ELPH models, with a bit of added roundness to the edges. This is one of the smallest ultra-compact models I have ever used, however it was still very comfortable in my large hands. I enjoyed carrying this camera around everywhere I went, as it slid very easily into the front pocket of my jeans. All of the information I have gathered says that the shell of this camera is made from a brushed metal, which adds to the overall durability of the camera. However, during our testing I did notice that the finish was susceptible to scratching.
The camera controls are also quite petite, but I never had any problems while using the camera; even with my large fingers. I was especially glad to see that that Canon has continued the use of the zoom controls mounted around the shutter release, which offers effortless zooming. The menu system has not changed much from past models, so anyone who has used/owned a PowerShot model in the past will have no problem finding specific settings. Each menu is logically organized, so even new users will be able to easily browse them. While the 2.5-inch LCD screen is smaller than the typical 3-inch displays we are seeing nowadays, it was essential for a camera this small. Anything larger wouldn't look quite right on the body of this tiny camera. Overall the display is a pleasure to use, no matter what type of lighting you are in. Like almost all of Canon's models, this LCD features an anti-reflective coating, making it very easy to see when shooting in bright environments.
The SD780 is one speedy little camera. It was able to capture the first image in just 1.4 seconds from pressing the power button! Shutter delay, the amount of time between you pressing the shutter release and the time the camera captures the image, was almost instantaneous when the prefocused and just 1-2/10 of a second including autofocus. When shooting in single drive mode, the shot to shot delay was approx. 2 seconds between shots without the flash and between 3 - 3.5 seconds with the flash. The camera also has a continuous shooting mode that was able to capture 10 images in 9.7 seconds, about 1fps (surpassing Canon's 0.8fps claim). This mode also works with the flash, capturing 10 shots in 14.5 seconds, almost twice as fast as the shooting in single drive mode with the flash. All of our tests were completed using an Patriot 2GB SD memory card (Non high-speed), Program mode, flash off, image review off, ISO auto and all other settings at the factory defaults, unless otherwise noted. Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
Image quality from the SD780 is what we would expect to see from a Canon model, excellent. Outdoors the camera captures outstanding snap shots, with accurate exposure and beautiful colors. Color saturation is a bit more than natural, however this adds 'Pop' to your photographs and prints. The camera also captures sky detail very well, as you can see from our outdoor Samples Photos. The 3x optical zoom lens offers the typical framing abilities seen on most compact cameras, with a 35mm equivalent zoom range of 33-100mm. While you won't be zooming in tight on far off objects, the focal range is sufficient for day-to-day snap shots, as well as frame filling portraits and macros. The camera also offers Canon's Optical Image Stabilization system, which will help you capture better quality photos with less camera-shake in marginal lighting conditions. Overall this lens helps the camera produce tack sharp images with very little edge softness, along with some moderate barrel distortion at the wide angle extreme. Chromatic aberrations (aka purple fringing) were very well controlled, however I did see a bit of noise (graininess) in our open blue skies when viewing an image critically at 100%. This was even at the lowest ISO setting, but rest assured it will not effect your prints, and its very unlikely that the untrained eye will pick up on this when viewing an image on their computer screen.
Indoors the SD780 also performed well. One thing you need to understand is that this is a tiny camera, therefore it features a tiny flash unit. During our tests, the camera was able to capture great people photos indoors, and the Auto ISO setting did well at keeping the sensitivity as low as possible. In turn, this helped keep noise levels down. The Face Detect AiAF mode did a fantastic job of finding and locking onto my subjects faces, whether adults or children. I achieved the best indoor results shooting from no more than 5-6 feet away, using the mid range of the zoom for framing. This produced pleasing exposures that show sharp facial detail and natural skin tones. Red-eye is controlled very well, in fact the only time I saw this in my photos was when shooting a subject that was past the AF-assist beams range. Instead of a pre-flash, which will cause you to miss a photo with small children, the camera will keep the beam illuminated to help your subject's eyes adjust. This system works much better than a pre-flash setup in my opinion, however as I mention before, it doesn't work as well for distant subjects (beyond about 7-8 feet). The i-Contrast function in the playback menu was very effective. This is similar to Nikon's D-lighting feature, and will help you brighten or increase the Gama in photos with a dark background, that are backlight, etc. In our example, we used the Auto setting on a back-lit, non-flash portrait, and the function was able to brighten the subject's face, which I feel made the image look much better. You can see some noise on the boy's face, however I doubt you will be able to notice it on a typical 4x6-inch print. Functions like this and the in-camera red-eye removal will help you spend less time processing images, and more time taking them.
I was very happy to see that Canon has decided to add a High Definition movie mode option to most all of their new consumer models. The SD780 can record video at three resolution (1280x720, 640x480 or 320x240), all with a fixed frame rate of 30fps. I found this camera captured excellent video, whether indoors or out. Our indoor samples are nice and bright thanks to plenty of ambient light, however as the amount of light decreases, the amount of noise or 'grain' increases. Playback is nice and smooth, thanks mostly to the 'real-time' 30fps frame rate. For those who want to be more creative with their videos, you also have access to the Color Swap and Color Accent modes at all resolutions.
Powering the SD780 is a small Canon NB-4L 3.7v 760mAh rechargeable Li-ion battery pack, that is charged out of camera in a handy quick charger with fold-away prongs. This allows you to quickly charge a battery anywhere that has an open power outlet. Canon claims you can capture up to 210 photos on a single charge. I found the battery life of this pack was excellent, allowing me to capture over 160 sample files and conclude almost all of our other tests on a single charge. These consisted of images with or without the flash, 25 short movie clips, extended navigation of the menus and playback of images.
Bottom Line - I truly enjoyed using the SD780 IS. This camera produces images that rival that of larger more expensive digicams, and offers AF performance that leaves many of them in the dust as well. I was slightly disappointed that the burst mode was slower than its predecessor (I achieved 1fps compared to the SD770's 1.6fps), however I don't see too many of the consumers that buy this camera using that feature often. Plus, they added a high-quality 720p HD movie mode, so who needs a burst mode on a camera this small anyway. The SD780 was designed for those who want the ultimate in portability, but still expect great shot performance and image quality. I feel Canon has provided an excellent model to fill those needs, all with with a competitive price of US$279.99 or less. That said, I have no problem giving the Canon PowerShot SD780 IS Digital ELPH a high recommendation to anyone in the market for an ultra-compact and stylish camera.
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