Canon Powershot SD20 Review

Steve's Digicams

Canon Powershot SD20

Steve's Conclusion

Canon's 2004 upgrade of the popular PowerShot SD10, the SD20 incorporates many of the features found on its predecessor, but adds a 5-megapixel imager, 9-point TTL autofocus system, and Canon's exclusive Print/Share button. This is an ultra-compact point-n-shoot that offers "style conscious" users fully automatic exposure control, while still allowing them to manually change settings for ISO sensitivity, white balance, metering, etc.

The shooting performance of the SD20 was average for a camera in this class. Power up to first image captured measured approx. 2.7 seconds. Shutter lag, the delay between pressing the shutter release and capturing the image, measured 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and 2/10 second including autofocus. When shooting rapid sequences in single exposure mode, the shot-to- shot delay averaged about 2.2 seconds without using the flash and just under 4 seconds with the flash. The SD20 does offer a continuous or "burst" mode, using this I was able to capture 5 frames in about 6.5 seconds. Note, you can only use the burst function when in Manual mode. Our tests were done using a Sandisk Ultra II 512MB SD card with the camera configured with Quick Shot on, and image size of Large/Superfine size/quality, preview off, flash off, and all other settings at default (unless noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.

Even though it's tiny, we were pleased with the SD20's ergonomics. Controls are well placed and your thumb falls naturally over the 4-way controller, Menu and Set buttons. Its Print/Share button allows for fast and easy printing to a PictBridge comparable printer or transferring images and movies to your PC. The menu system is easy to use, and as with almost all of Canon's cameras, we love the Function menu. It allows you to quickly change setting for image size/quality, white balance, ISO, etc. Its 1.5-inch LCD is the only viefinder on the camera. Thankfully it's a high-quality display that works great outdoors in bight sunlight, and when shooting in low ambient lighting it "gains ups" well.

The overall image quality when using Large/Superfine quality was excellent. Its 9-point AF system and 39mm (in 35mm equivalence) fixed focal length lens produced sharp results, and focusing in low ambient lighting is enhanced by its AF-assist lamp. Our outdoor images were consistently well exposed and nicely saturated. We noticed very little noise in high and low contrast areas, and sky detail was very nice. You will notice some barrel distortion as this is a fixed focal length wide angle lens. The SD20 does feature digital zoom, but using it degrades the image quality -- we suggest that you compose your shots by zooming with your feet, or cropping afterwards in an image editor.

Indoors you have to work within the limits of the flash (about 6 feet max.) and its 39mm wide angle lens. This can make it difficult to frame portraits of individuals if you're used to working with a zoom lens, but with 5-megapixels you can crop the image later and still have enough resolution to create pleasing prints. Overall our flash samples were well exposed and skin tones appear very natural. There were traces of redeye in some of our flash portraits, even when using its red eye reduction flash mode. The SD20's macro mode provides sharp focus on objects as close as 1.2 inches; you can fill the frame with a penny and it will lock focus, but the flash is disabled when using macro mode. In normal (non-macro) mode, the lens will focus on objects as close as four inches, but it doesn't control the flash output well at this range and tends to over-expose.

Power is supplied by a NB-3L Li-ion battery pack. Canon claims you can capture about 120 shots with a fully charged pack. We had no problems shooting about 95 shots and concluding our other test before the camera posted a low battery warning. This is a proprietary battery, so you won't be able to stop by your local RadioShack 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 PowerShot SD20 Digital ELPH will make a great choice for anyone who wants an ultra-compact camera that's stylish, durable, and can be worn around your neck or slipped in a pocket or purse. Its 5-megapixel Superfine images have plenty of resolution to create photo-quality 8x10-inch or larger prints. With a street price of around $349, its a little expensive. But, if you're one who just has to have one of the smallest digicams available, the SD20 will surely please.

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