Canon Powershot SD800 IS Review

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Canon Powershot SD800

Steve's Conclusion

The PowerShot SD800 IS is yet another Digital ELPH entry from Canon for 2006, and shares many of the same features found on the SD700 IS we reviewed earlier in the year. Resolution has been increased to 7.1-megapixels as well as the highest ISO sensitivity setting has been raised to 1600. The SD800 IS also includes a 3.8x optical zoom lens (compared to the 4x 35-140mm found on the SD700), with a bit wider viewing angle of 28mm (35mm equivalent.) This "pocket-rocket" has an exposure mode for everyone in your household, from full Auto for Mom and Dad, 10 scene modes for the creative, and Manual mode that allows access to advanced settings like ISO, White balance, etc.

Measuring 3.52 x 2.28 x 0.99 inches, this is a very compact model that can fit in almost any size pocket or handbag. Despite being so small, I found the SD800's ergonomics good, it fit well in my large hands, and the controls fell naturally underneath my fingertips. As stated in past Digital ELPH reviews, we especially like the zoom controls being mounted around the shutter release. The SD800's LCD is the same size (2.5-inch) as the SD700's, however I noticed that this display offers more resolution (207K pixels compared to 173K.) While it takes up a large percentage of the back of the camera, Canon was still able to squeeze a small optical viewfinder in above it; something you're sure to appreciate, especially when trying to conserve battery life. The LCD was a pleasure to use in various lighting conditions, outdoors it only has a few angles which reflected the sun thanks to the anti-glare covering. Indoors or in low ambient lighting, it "gains up" nicely, making framing much easier. The AF-assist lamp also helps illuminate your subject in these conditions. The only issue I noticed was this display is a magnet for fingerprints.

The SD800 is a very robust performer, with power up until the first image captured measuring only 1 second! 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 1/10 second including autofocus. In single frame drive mode, the shot to shot delay averaged 1.4 seconds without flash, and between 2.5 and 3.5 seconds with flash depending on subject distance. Using the continuous (burst) mode, I was able to capture 10 Large/SuperFine JPEG images in just 4.9 seconds, surpassing Canon's claim of 1.7fps. This was also with no full-buffer slowdown. When shooting in burst mode, the LCD only briefly displays the last image captured, making it difficult to follow moving subjects; this is where the optical viewfinder comes in handy. Our tests were done using a SanDisk Ultra II 512MB 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.

Image quality was what I expected from a Canon model, excellent. The SD800 captures beautiful images both indoor and out. Our outdoor samples were sharp with pleasing color saturation. The exposure system did very well, capturing nice sky detail. Some people may ask "Why have IS (Image Stabilization) on a short zoom camera?". For one, it will help you capture sharper hand-held shots in marginal lighting conditions where you would normally need to use the flash, and second, it will allow you to record steady movie clips. You can see how well the system works by looking at our Ambient light portrait on the samples page. I captured this shot at 1/25 of a second, handheld using the telephoto end of the zoom range. Image noise was very low for a consumer model, even ISO 1600 looks useable. Usually ISO 800 or higher is useless on many models, however that's not the case with the SD800. This combination of high sensitivity options and effective optical image stabilization will allow you to capture higher quality images than most in its class in marginal conditions.

Our indoor shots were also nice. The flash has an average range of about 13 feet (at wide angle and using ISO Auto). While this unit is sufficient for close-up shots and small groups, do not expect it to illuminate large open rooms. If you need more power, look into a unit like the HF-DC1 external flash, which delivers proper illumination up to approximately 30 feet, at all zoom positions. I was able to capture nice portraits with good flash exposure and pleasing skin tones, from about 6 feet away using the telephoto end of the zoom range. The only issue I had was actually the same thing we found with the SD700. The Red-Eye reduction system doesn't work as well as a true red-eye reduction flash mode. There's no delay when using red eye reduction, as the SD800 uses the bright orange LED of the AF-assist lamp rather than a pre-flash to cause the subject's pupils to close-down. However, this can be fixed very quickly by taking only a minute or so in any image editor.

Like the SD700, the SD800 features a high-quality movie mode. Standard 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. I found it produced great results for a compact consumer camera. Compression noise was very low, even indoors, and the AF system did well at keeping up with fast moving objects. However, if you're one who likes taking alot of videos, be sure to purchase a large capacity (like a 1 or 2GB SD card), as the camera consumes nearly 2MB per second when using the 640x480 30fps mode!

Power is supplied by a tiny NB-5L 3.7v 1120mAh proprietary Li-ion battery pack. Canon claims you can capture up to 270 shots with full-time use of the LCD. I was able to capture about 125 images and conduct other testing without any indication of low battery warning. Canon includes a very compact and portable AC charger that takes about 90 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 - Canon continues to impress us with their diminutive Digital ELPH series cameras. And, the PowerShot SD800 IS is no exception. If you're in the market this holiday season for a stylish, durable, and ultra-compact model that captures awesome photos and can be tucked away easily, then this might just be the model you're looking for. With 7-megapixels of resolution, you can create stunning prints up to poster size! At an MSRP of US$399.99, I feel the SD800 offers an outstanding value for such a capable little pocket- rocket.

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