Canon Powershot SD950 IS Review
The newest addition to the "Digital ELPH" line by Canon is the Canon Powershot SD950 IS. This is the top-of-the-line camera in the Digital ELPH series because of things like a 3.7x optical IS (image stabilized) zoom lens and a new 12.1 megapixel imaging sensor. This model also sports a 9 point AiAF autofocus system with face detection software, a controllable ISO range of 80 to 1600, and a collection of pre-programmed scene modes. The simple point-n-shoot Auto mode is great for beginner, family or office. There is also Manual mode, which is much like Auto, however now the novice user has access to various exposure settings like ISO, Metering, White Balance, Color modes, etc.
As with the previous models (SD800, SD850), the SD950 IS is also a very compact camera measuring just 3.78 x 2.36 x 1.09 inches, giving an ultra-compact classification. This is just slightly larger than before, but not enough that you would notice if you were to put it in your pocket. Despite the small size, the feel is very comfortable, and because of the slight curve on the right side, fits very well into your right hand. This too makes for easy use with two hands, just watch that you don't block the flash with your left hand or fingers. The controls are well placed for use while controlling with one hand, but are not in the way when shooting, and as always, we especially like the zoom controls being mounted around the shutter release. Another feature that I felt was "cool", was the ability to set the Print/Share button as a dedicated Movie mode shutter release in record mode. This means you can capture video without having to rotate the mode dial to the Movie mode position. This button can also be set to one of a number of different settings so that you don't have to go into the menu to change them. The menu system is logically organized and is very easy to follow.
The LCD is the same size (2.5-inch) as the SD850's with a resolution of 230,000 pixels. This is a high- quality display that worked great in almost any lighting. Outdoors it has very few angles which reflected the sun thanks to the anti-glare covering, and in low lighting situations, it "gains up" nicely, allowing you to see your subject for framing. The AF-assist lamp also helps illuminate your subject in these conditions. Like we saw with the SD850, this display is a magnet for fingerprints. While it does take up a large percentage of the back of the camera. I was glad to see Canon continues to "squeeze" a small optical viewfinder in above it; something that comes in handy when trying to conserve battery life or following fast moving subjects. However, when using the optical view finder, there is no information displayed as there is when using the LCD.
Shooting performance was very impressive for an ultra-compact camera, with power up until the first image captured measuring only 2 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 5/10 of a second including autofocus. In single frame drive mode, the shot to shot delay averaged 2.1 seconds without flash, and 2.4 seconds with flash depending on subject distance. Using the continuous (burst) mode, I was able to capture an image every 6/10 of a second for over 13 seconds with no variations in speed and no problems with a buffer. You can also shoot in burst mode with the flash, which is not common on most models, and I was able to capture an image every 1.2 seconds. This may vary with distance of subject. When shooting in burst mode, the LCD only briefly displays the last image captured, making it difficult to follow moving subjects; you'll achieve the best results by using the optical viewfinder in these situations. Our tests were done using a SanDisk Ultra II 4GB 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.
When shooting outdoors, the SD950 captures beautiful images with good exposure and rich colors, in both Large Fine and Large SuperFine modes. Images are also sharp, however, I did notice a bit of noise when shooting with an ISO of 200, but not enough to affect a printed photograph. Just keep in mind that as you increase the ISO you will also increase the noise in this photograph. Image quality was what I expected from a Canon model, excellent, with only slight barrel distortion and slight chromatic aberrations (purple fringing) on the edge of some light and dark areas. The SD950 captures beautiful images both indoor and out. Like so many consumer cameras nowadays, the SD950 features optical IS (Image Stabilization), which will help you capture sharper hand-held shots (and movies) in marginal lighting conditions where you would normally need to use the flash. As for our indoor results, the SD950's flash did well during our tests when shooting from about 5 feet away using the mid telephoto end of the zoom range. The flash has an effective range of 15 feet at wide angle, which should be sufficient for most of your indoor needs. Featuring a Canon 3.7x optical zoom (36mm-180mm 35mm equivalent), you will have more versatility that most models in this class, which only feature a 3x optical zoom, allowing you to pull your subject a little closer than other ultra-compacts.
When shooting in marginal lighting, like indoors, the SD950 does very well. The flash is a little above average for a camera in this class with a range of up to 15 feet (W) at ISO Auto. A feature that is becoming standard on most digicams is some type of face detection feature. While this option is enabled, the camera will automatically focus on the faces of the subjects. The Face Detect AF locks on almost instantly. Some manufacture's models have a delay (as long as 2 or more seconds) to find and lock onto your subject(s) face. This in not the case with the SD950. Overall, I found our portraits turned out nice with sharp facial detail and natural skin tones, thanks to Canon's blazing fast Face Detection AF system and a very well controlled flash.
There are several Movie mode choices to choose from. Standard offers selectable resolution (640x480 or 320x240) and frame rate (30fps). The length of the videos that you can record is only limited to the space left on your memory card, so if you plan on capturing a lot of video, keep several large cards on hand. The highest quality video will consume about 2megabytes per second. You can also choose from 1024 High Resolution (very slow frame rate) Compact (160x120), Color Accent, Color swap, and Time Lapse, which allow for more creative recording. As usual, our movie results were good with minimal compression artifacts and the AF system does well with moving subjects. Because sound is recorded, the optical zoom may not be used while you are recording, but can be preset before starting.
There has been no change to the power supply from the 850 model. Power is still 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, and 580 shots with the LCD off. I was able to capture all of the images and videos that i needed to complete my tests without having to recharge the battery. Canon includes a very compact and portable AC charger (CB-2LX) that charges a fully depleted pack very quickly. The charger plugs directly into any 100-240V AC outlet and has fold-away prongs, which are very convenient when traveling etc. As always, we recommend you purchase at least one extra pack and keep it charged and ready at all times; especially if you're going on vacation or to a family reunion.
Bottom Line - The SD950 continues in the tradition of the S100 that was started back in 2000, leading the way in the digicam market. A stylish and durable camera, with an outstanding 12.1 megapixel imaging sensor, 3.7x optical zoom and image stabilization, make this an incredibly versatile camera. Great performance and excellent image quality just add to this already outstanding package. This said, the price of US$450 is reasonable for this model. If the top performance from an ultra-compact is what you are looking for, then this is the camera for you.
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