Canon Powershot SD870 IS Review

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Canon Powershot SD870

Steve's Conclusion

Canon has added yet another appealing model to their popular PowerShot line of Digital ELPHs. The PowerShot SD870 IS Digital ELPH is the big brother to the SD850 IS we reviewed early this summer (2007.) The SD870 shares almost identical specs to the SD850, like the 8-megapixel image sensor, Optical Image Stabilization, Face Detection technology, VGA sized movie mode, etc. However, this new model boasts a larger 3.0-inch LCD screen, 3.8x wide view optical zoom lens and a slightly different body. For added style, the SD870 is available in two color schemes, Silver and Black. You can see a picture that shows the difference between the two on the Introduction page of this review.

Like all of the Digital ELPH models, the SD870 offers an exposure mode to suit the needs of almost anyone. The simple point-n-shoot Auto mode and 10 scene modes are great for beginners, while Manual mode offers more control over the exposure process with various exposure settings like ISO, Metering, White Balance, Color modes, etc.

The SD870 is very compact, measuring just 3.65 x 2.32 x 1.02 inches. It also has a nice heavy, well-built feel. This is what I would consider an ultra-compact, as it can fit in almost any size pocket or handbag. Like all of the models in this series, despite being so small, the SD870 fit well in my large hands. The various controls are positioned in a comfortable manor, and as always, we especially like the zoom controls being mounted around the shutter release. Another feature that I felt is "cool", is the ability to set the Print/Share button as a dedicated Movie mode shutter release in record mode. This means you can capture video without having to flip the Mode switch to the Movie position.

The menu system is logically organized and will be very familiar if you've ever owned a Powershot model before. I loved using the huge 3.0-inch LCD both indoors and out, and was surprised that I didn't miss the optical viewfinder one bit. This is a high-quality display that I found works great in almost any lighting. Outdoors it does have a few angles which reflected the sun, but I still had no problems framing outdoors, even in harsh sunlight. Indoors it "gains up" nicely, allowing you to see your subject for framing. The AF-assist lamp also helps illuminate your subject in these conditions. Like we saw with the SD850, this display is very prone to fingerprints.

The SD870 is quite the little performer. Power up until the first image captured measuring just 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 of a 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 11 Large/SuperFine JPEG images in 7 seconds, surpassing Canon's claim of 1.3fps. This was also with no full-buffer slowdown. When shooting in burst mode, the LCD briefly displays the last image captured, which will help when following moving subjects, however, this is one instance where an optical viewfinder would come in handy. Our tests were done using an A Data My Flash 512MB "Speedy" 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.

Our image quality results were very similar to the SD850, which is not surprising as they use the same image sensor. Our outdoor samples were very pleasing, showing good exposure, especially sky detail, and colors look very natural. Image noise is average for a consumer model, just remember it will become more noticeable in your photos as you increase the sensitivity. Like so many consumer cameras nowadays, the SD870 features IS (Image Stabilization). However, unlike most consumer models that use digital stabilization, Canon continues to use optical image stabilization. This is a much more effective way to help reduce camera-shake and image blur in your photos and movies.

Unlike the SD850 IS, the SD870 features a very nice Canon 3.8x Wide view optical zoom lens. It offers greater versatility in composing your shots than most in its class, with a 35mm equivalent focal range of approx. 28mm - 105mm. At the 28mm wide angle extreme, you'll be able to capture beautiful landscapes, and you'll also find that you have more versatility in composing you indoor shots. While the telephoto capabilities will help fill the frame with your subject, for close-up portraits or macro shots, it will not be able to bring your distant subjects up close. I noticed the lens exhibits moderate barrel distortion at full wide angle, but relatively no pincushioning at the telephoto end. There were also very few traces of purple fringing (aka chromatic aberrations).

I was also pleased with our indoor portraits. The flash is rated to cover an average range of up to 13 feet at wide angle, ISO Auto. This is typical for an ultra-compact model, and you'll find that it is sufficient for most interior shots. I fond it worked well in marginal conditions both indoors and outside at night, shooting from no more than 6 feet away (using the zoom a bit). If you need even more power, be sure to check out the Canon HF-DC1 external flash unit, which delivers proper illumination up to approximately 30 feet, at all zoom positions! One feature that seems to be coming standard is some sort of Face Detection AF technology. Whenever a human subject (or picture of a family member for that matter) enters the frame, the Face Detect AF locks on almost instantly. Some manufacture's models have a delay (as long as 2 or more seconds) to find and lock onto the face of your subject. This in not the case with the SD870. The red-eye reduction system is very effective on this model, as you can see from our examples on the samples page. The AF assist beam is used as the "pre-flash", and can cause some problems as it points directly into the subject's eyes, which in most cases makes the subject close their eyes due to the brightness of the beam.

There are several Movie mode choices to choose from. Standard offers selectable resolution (640x480 or 320x240) and frame rate of30fps or 15fps. You can also choose from Compact (160x120), Color Accent, Color swap, and Time Lapse, which allow for more creative recording. As usual, our movie results were good with minimal compression artifacts and the AF system does well with moving subjects. Because sound is recorded, the ability to use the optical zoom while you are recording isn't available, but you can preset the desired focal length before recording starts.

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 on a fully charged battery. I was able to capture about 75 images, several long movie clips and conduct other testing with some power to spare. 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 are very convenient when traveling etc.

Bottom line - it seems like Canon continues to impress us with their diminutive Digital ELPH line of compact consumer models. I loved every minute that I used the SD870 IS, and definitely recommend this model to anyone who is in the market for a high-quality, pocketable digicam that takes outstanding photos, and offers blazing fast performance. With 8-megapixels, a huge 3.0-inch LCD, Face Detect AF, Optical Image Stabilization, and a durable body design, the Canon PowerShot SD870 IS Digital ELPH will be a tuff model to beat for this holiday season, and all at a reasonable price of US$399 or less, I feel it offers a great value for such a capable digicam.

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