Canon Powershot SD400 Review

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Canon Powershot SD400

Steve's Conclusion

The Powershot SD400 is the little brother of the 7-megapixel SD500 we reviewed earlier this year. Like its sibling, the SD400 exceeds 1-megapixel per ounce, packing a 5-megapixel CCD into an even more diminutive body weighing only 5 ounces. That's quite a milestone in this industry; miniaturization and good design have been combined in an attractive package that barely creates a bulge in your pocket, yet captures high resolution images capable of producing 11x14-inch prints.

Because of its small size, you will be holding the SD400 with your finger tips rather than your hand. But its controls are well-placed for ease of use while not being subject to accidental activation. The SD400's body is both attractive and durable, but I suggest that you treat the flexible plastic battery/memory door with care; if it is not slid fully to the right, it makes a discomforting clicking sound when opened.

Despite the SD400's diminutive size, Canon was able to fit a 2-inch LCD, quite a step up from the 1.5-inch component of its predecessors. The LCD has both an anti-glare coating and brightness adjustment, making it usable even on the brightest of days as a viewfinder, for reviewing images and for accessing the SD400's menu system. The LCD also intensifies its live image in dim lighting, enhancing its usability indoors. Playback mode was very useful, providing a large bright display, image magnification of up to 10x, and a detail display mode that includes exposure settings and a histogram.

The SD400's lens is an excellent piece of glass. It has a flexible zoom range of 35-105mm in 35mm equivalence, providing a moderately wide field of view for interior and scenic shots, and telephoto coverage useful for portraits and to bring your distant subjects closer. The lens exhibits noticeable barrel distortion at wide angle, but no pin cushioning at telephoto. Chromatic aberrations are well controlled, with only the slightest amount of purple fringing detectable in high contrast areas. The lens produces sharp results from corner to corner, and is a good match for the SD400's 5-megapixel imager.

The SD400's image quality is excellent. It produced well saturated and accurate colors, and consistently good exposures. The ISO sensitivity is adjustable from 50, 100, 200, 400 or the camera can control it Automatically. Noise is absent from ISO 50 shots. At ISO 100, noise is detectable in shadow areas, and at ISO 200 noise becomes noticeable throughout the image. At ISO 400 noise becomes more prominent in highlight areas, but the images are usable. If you shoot night pictures you'll appreciate the "Long Shutter" option that gives you access to shutter speeds ranging from 1 to 15 seconds. To insure the best possible image, Noise Reduction is automatically applied when the shutter speed is 1.3 second or longer. In addition to an excellent automatic white balance there are presets for sunny, cloudy, incandescent, fluorescent, fluorescent H (daylight temperature) and a one-push custom setting for use with a white or grey card.

The SD400 is quite responsive, especially considering its size and resolution. From power-on until the first image is captured takes just 1.5 seconds, while waking the camera from its power-saving mode took just over 1 second. Shutter lag, the delay between depressing the shutter button and capturing an image, measured 1/10 second when pre-focused, and 1/2 second including autofocus; both times include the nearly 1/10 second delay in the LCD viewfinder's presentation of the live image. In single image drive mode, shots can be taken at 1.5 second intervals without flash, and at intervals of between 2.5 and 6 seconds with flash depending on subject distance. The SD400 turned in a remarkable performance in continuous mode, capturing Large Superfine images at a rate of 2.2 frames per second with no slow-down caused by a full buffer. This performance was measured shooting Large (5-megapixel) Superfine image quality using a fast Sandisk Extreme 512MB SD memory card.

The camera's auto focus system is as robust as its image processing and is enhanced by a focus assist lamp that insures proper focus lock even in total darkness. The auto focus employs a very accurate 9-point AF system that does its job quickly, even when the subject is not in the center of the frame. If the LCD is on you'll see which of the nine AF points were used for the focus lock. The Macro mode has excellent coverage from 1.2 inches to 1.6 feet and the SD400 controls the flash perfectly at distances of 1 foot or more, making it a good choice for capturing images of small objects for online auction listings.

The SD400's exposure system is only automatic, its so-called Manual mode giving you control of only exposure compensation, white balance, ISO, and image processing options for saturation, sharpening, black and white, and sepia. But the absence of shutter-priority, aperture-priority or manual exposure modes doesn't mean that the SD400 limits your creativity; its My Colors mode offers a range of color effects that you can use to enhance your images. The SD400 offers a choice of Lighter Skin Tone, Darker Skin Tone, Vivid Blue, Vivid Red, Vivid Green, Positive Film, Color Accent, Color Swap and Custom Color. Want to make the green foliage stand out in your scenics? Just select Vivid Green. Did you make a trip to shoot fall colors but arrive before the height of the season? Select Vivid red and the changing leaves will be enhanced. Would you like to have a tan in the middle of winter? Darker Skin Tone would be your choice. If you're not certain that a My Colors Mode will be to your liking, just turn on the Save Original parameter in the camera's menu system; it will save both the original image and the My Colors version and you can choose the best one after the fact. My Colors modes are available both for still and moving images, so your movies can benefit from this feature as well.

If you like to shoot moving subjects, whether it is a sport or your child's or pet's play, you will notice the absence of a "Sports" scene or shutter-priority shooting mode. To force the SD400 to use a higher shutter speed, you'll have to increase the ISO, and accept the resulting increase in noise as a compromise to minimize motion blur.

The SD400 offers a variety of movie resolutions and frame rates to meet your needs. Fast Frame Rate shoots moving images at 60 frames per second at a resolution of 320x240, limiting the clip length to one minute. Standard movie mode offers a choice of resolutions (640x480 or 320x240) and frame rates (15 or 30fps). Standard movie clips are not limited by time, but by size; you can record movies of up to 1 gigabyte! At 640x480 and 30 fps, you'll be consuming nearly 2 megabytes per second, so make sure to get a large and fast SD memory card!

Small cameras require small batteries - the SD400 is powered by a proprietary NB-4L rechargeable Li-ion pack that's good for over 200 shots with full time use of the color LCD. With the LCD off you can expect substantially more. We still recommend the purchase of a second battery pack because the camera cannot be powered by any other type of battery. Canon includes a very compact and portable AC charger for the battery that takes about two hours to charge a fully depleted pack. The charger plugs directly into an 100-240V AC outlet and has fold-away prongs, no cord is required.

Canon has produced a long line of successful Digital ELPH cameras, and the SD400 is no exception. It would be a perfect companion during family events and travel, capturing high-quality images without any fuss while creating barely a bulge in your pocket. At a street price of under $400, the SD400 is not inexpensive, but it offers a compelling value to those who need its combination of small size, high resolution, terrific image quality and style. If you like the SD400's size and features, but desire a camera with more resolution, consider the Canon PowerShot SD500; it offers 7-megapixels of resolution in a slightly larger body for $100 more.

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