By Josh Fate
October 2009 brings a new step in digital cameras for Canon. It is the introduction of their first Touch LCD camera, the PowerShot SD980 IS. This ultra-compact camera features a 3-inch touch LCD that is very wide, creating a longer than normal camera shape. With the LCD you can quickly and easily change camera settings, focus to a specific point and search through stored images with just a touch of the screen. Also featured on this camera is a 5x wide optical zoom lens with a 35mm equivalent of 24-120mm, Digic 4 image processor, auto scene selection, optical image stabilization, intelligent contrast correction, Face Detection AF/AE/FE/WB, HD movie capture and motion detection technology. Finally the option of 4 colors make this a stylish and functional camera that anyone can carry.
This ultra-compact is difficult to hold and operate the zoom at the same time with just one hand due to the long body. The few controls that are left on the camera are large and easy to access and use. The 4-way controller on the back has been surrounded with a scroll wheel making it easier to navigate through menus and images during playback. Canon has also freshen up the FUNC. menu on this camera, which now gives you a brief description of the current setting. Framing and viewing images on the screen is very easy in all lighting conditions, including direct sunlight, thanks to the 5 levels of brightness.
Canon's first Touch Screen LCD is more of a novelty than a necessity. Although there are a few settings in record mode and some playback features that can be operated by touching the screen, there are no options that you MUST use the screen for. Every function of the camera can quickly and easily be controlled with the buttons on the back.
Performance from the SD980 IS is very good, capturing its first image in 1.8 seconds after being turned on. Shutter lag is less than 1/10 of a second when the camera is pre-focused and approx. 5/10 of a second when allowing the camera to autofocus. In single shot mode I was able to capture 5 images in 9.0 seconds giving you a shot delay of just 1.8 seconds without the flash. With the flash the camera is able to capture 5 images in 16.2 seconds (shot delay of 3.2 seconds). The SD980 IS also features a continuous shooting mode that works with or without the flash. Without the flash the camera can capture 10 images in 9.7 or just over 1fps. With the flash it is capable of capturing 10 images in 14.7 seconds or 0.68fps. All of our tests were completed using a Lexar Pro 133x, 8GB SDHC memory card, Program mode, ISO auto, flash off and all other settings at the factory defaults unless noted otherwise.
Image quality from our outdoor images is ok for a Canon digicam. Exposures and colors are excellent, however noticeable amounts of chromatic aberrations (edges of buildings: Museum and Firehouse) and noise in some of the shadow areas take away from the overall quality. One of the best features of the camera is the 24-120mm 5x optical zoom lens with Optical Image Stabilization (IS), which is the widest zoom we've seen on a Digital ELPH model. This lens gives you a great deal of versatility from a good telephoto end to help get you closer to your subject while the wide end can capture vast landscapes and large group shots, making this an outstanding choice for anyone that travels. The IS system allows you to shoot with lower shutter speeds and no flash throughout the zoom range and still have sharp, crisp images.
Our indoor samples show the same
quality as above with excellent exposure and color reproduction, but
again when viewing the images at 100%, we see noise in the shadow and
dark areas, even at ISO 80. This noise should not show up in prints 8x10-inch and smaller until ISO 800 and above. Another setback to this
PowerShot model is the weak built-in flash. With a maximum range that
is only up to 11ft. when set ISO Auto, you will have to remain very
close to your subjects, or deal with the increased noise of the higher
ISO settings. Our flash M&M man sample shows how underexposed the image is at
ISO 80 from 6 ft. away and mid-telephoto zoom. It also had a little
trouble adjusting when shooting in macro mode, and the lens blocks a very small portion of the flash when at wide angle.
Shooting with the camera in portrait mode allows for incredibly easy portrait photography. Canon's Face Detection Technology easily and quickly recognizes faces and follows them very well, even if the person is not directly facing the camera. Exposure, white balance, focus are then automatically set to give you the best image possible based on the face and not the rest of the image. Our sample Portrait shot shows an overall excellent image, based around the subject.
Movie mode allows for the capture of video with sound at resolutions of 1280x720 HD, 640x480 and 320x240 with a frame rate of 30fps. Our 720p HD sample shows a clear, smooth image with good colors. It struggles a bit with the dynamic range of direct sunlight and shadows, causing some overexposure and black areas. The optical zoom is not available during recording but can be set before hand. If it necessary to zoom, you do have access to the digital zoom, but be careful as it will degrade the video quality. Audio is captured on the camera's built-in mic, which is very sensitive. It picks up all noises around the camera, including background noises such as wind or an air conditioner or furnace. A very light breeze or weed whacker off in the distance can be heard in the background of our sample video. To avoid these issues, be very careful where you position yourself when shooting.
Powering the SD980 IS is powered by a 3.7V, 1000mAh rechargeable Li-Ion battery pack. During our tests, I was able to capture 150 images and videos without worrying about running out of battery power. This supports Canon's claims of being able to capture 240 images per charge of the battery (CIPA). Canon also includes an external battery charger to quickly and easily recharge you battery, or an additional battery, that would allow you to always have a charged battery in the camera and another one ready to replace it at all times. This is an excellent idea, especially when going on a long single day or weekend shooting trip.
Bottom Line - Canon's first touch screen camera, the PowerShot SD980 IS is an excellent little digicam that stands out from the rest of the PowerShot Digital ELPH line. Featuring a 12-Megapixel imaging sensor, 5x wide optical zoom lens (24-120mm) with IS, an extra-wide 3-inch touch LCD and HD movie mode, everyone in the family will enjoy using this jem. Performance is very good, and we only found a few minor issues including the weak flash, and small amounts of noise in the dark areas of all our images. Overall it is a great ultra-compact camera that can be stored away in a pocket or purse with absolutely no trouble. The touch screen is not necessary, but is a nice addition and this is the only camera available with this unique lens. With a MSRP of US $329.99, this is good choice for anyone looking for style, versatility and the latest features in a digicam.
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