Canon Powershot SD630 Review
Canon's PowerShot SD630 Digital ELPH is yet another "ultra-compact" model for 2006 and includes many of the same features of the SD600, reviewed earlier this month. This point-n-shoot consumer model can be tucked away almost anywhere, measuring a mere 3.39 x 2.11 x 0.85 in. (86.0 x 53.5 x 21.7mm) and weighing in only 5 ounces (140 g.) It includes a 6-megapixel imager, high-quality Canon 3x optical zoom lens, VGA (640x480) 30fps movie mode with sound and a huge 3.0-inch LCD display. The only real difference between the SD630 and the SD600 is a slightly different body design, larger LCD (2.5-inch on the SD600), and the SD630 lacks an optical viefinder.
Although it may look difficult to use with all of the various controls mounted on the top and back of the camera, you will find that even the least experienced user can capture beautiful pictures without much fuss. There are a multitude of fully automatic exposure modes (Auto, Digital Macro, Portrait, Night Snapshot, Kids & Pets, Indoor, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Underwater, Color Accent, and Color Swap) that are pre-programmed to help you produce pleasing results in a variety of different shooting environments. You can also choose Manual mode, which is like Auto, but allows you to control settings like ISO, White Balance, Metering, etc. When you want to be creative, there's loads of "cool" My Colors to choose from, that will give your images a unique look.
As usual, the SD630's ergonomics are awesome. At about the size of a deck of playing cards, it can easily be tucked away in any pocket, yet still fits comfortably in your hands. The well positioned controls fall naturally underneath your finger tips, and we especially like the zoom controls being mounted around the shutter release. The 3.0-inch LCD takes up over 2/3 of the back of the camera. I noticed it was a bit more reflective than we have seen on other Canon models, however it was still very useable outdoors in bright sunlight. When shooting in marginal lighting conditions (indoors, at night, etc.), the display "gains up" well, which helps aid in framing. The onscreen menu system is very easy to navigate, and because of the size of the LCD, text is larger and more legible. The unique "Touch Dial" feature was "cool", but I found it did nothing but display what options were available through the 4-way controller.
The SD630 is a very robust performer, with power up until the first image captured measuring only 1.5 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 2/10 of a second including autofocus. In single frame drive mode, the shot to shot delay averaged 1.3 seconds without flash, and at intervals of between 1.8 and 2.5 seconds with flash depending on subject distance. Using the continuous (burst) mode, I was able to capture 10 frames in just under 4 seconds. When shooting in burst mode, the LCD briefly displays the last image captured making it difficult to follow moving subjects; this is where an optical viewfinder would come in handy. Our tests were done using a Sandisk Ultra II (Plus USB) 2GB 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.
One of the most critical aspects when searching for a digital camera is the image quality, and the SD630 brings a lot to the table. When using the 6-megapixel Large/SuperFine mode, I was able to capture great shots both indoors and out. Our outdoor samples are sharp with good overall exposure, and color balance was pleasing for a consumer camera. The Canon 3x optical zoom lens offers versatility in composing your shots, with a 35mm equivalent focal range of approx. 35mm - 105mm. At full wide angle, you'll be able to capture nice landscapes and group portraits, while the telephoto capabilities will help fill the frame with your subject for close-up portraits or macro shots. While using this model, I did notice a bit of edge softness present as well as moderate barrel distortion when using its wide angle extreme. Noise levels were low when the ISO is set to 80 or 100, but become much more noticeable as the sensitivity is increased; which is very typical of consumer models.
Indoors it also performs well. The flash has a good range of approx. 12 feet (at wide angle and using ISO Auto), which I found did well when shooting individual portraits from about 5 or 6 feet away. Just remember, when you're shooting in mid to large sized rooms, the background will be dark if there is not plenty of ambient light. These tiny flash units just don't have the power to illuminate open rooms. Luckily, Canon does offers an optional HF-DC1 external flash that delivers proper illumination up to approximately 30 feet, at all zoom positions.
When a picture just can't capture the moment, the SD630 features a high-quality movie mode. The standard mode offers selectable resolution (640x480 or 320x240) and frame rate (30fps or 15fps.) You can also choose from Compact (160x120), Fast Frame rate, Color Accent and Color swap, which allow for more creative recording. Overall it produced great results. I noticed very little compression noise and the AF system did well at keeping up with fast moving objects. You can see for yourself by taking a look at our examples on the samples page. If you plan on taking lots of movies, be sure to purchase a large 512MB to 2GB SD card, as the camera consumes about 1.9MB per second when using the 640x480 30fps mode!
Power is supplied by a tiny 3.7v 760mAh proprietary Li-ion battery pack. Canon claims you can capture up to 160 shots and a replay time of approx. 210 minutes. I had no problems capturing our sample photos (over 90 images and several movie clips) and concluded some of our other tests on a single charge. Canon includes a very compact and portable AC charger that takes about 95 minutes to charge a fully depleted pack. The charger plugs directly into any 100-240V AC outlet and has fold-away prongs, which makes out to be very convenient for storing away. As always, we recommend you purchase at least one extra pack and keep it charged and ready at all times; there's nothing more aggravating than missing a photo opportunity due to a dead battery pack.
Bottom line - The PowerShot SD630 is a outstanding camera that offers great image quality, robust performance, and various user-friendly exposure modes, all packed in an ultra-compact, durable and stylish shell. It's sure to make an excellent choice for any user in the market for an extremely pocketable, high resolution digicam. At about US$399, it offers a good value for an "ultra-compact" 6-megapixel model. If you like the features of this camera, but don't need such a large LCD, be sure to check out the PowerShot SD600. It includes almost every single feature found on this model for about $50 less.
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