DPInterface Canon PowerShot SD30
Digital ELPH Review (Digital Ixus i Zoom/Ixy Digital L3)
Brad Soo - October 24th, 2005 (Updated January 31st, 2006)

The Canon PowerShot SD30 Digital ELPH is here - This time with optical zoom, a larger LCD, a new faster processor and a more stylish design.

The SD30 uses UA lenses found on other Canon cameras such as the SD450 and PowerShot S80. It allows the creation of a more compact zoom lens which, as you can see, is needed in such a tiny camera like this one. Other than that, the Canon SD30 sports a 1.8 inch LCD, VGA movie mode and new user interface.

Before you get confused and have no idea what I'm talking about, here's a helpful list to get you through the name-game of the ELPHs:

  • Canon PowerShot Digital ELPH (USA)
  • Canon Ixy Digital (Japan/Taiwan)
  • Canon Digital Ixus (Rest of the world; UK, Europe, Asia, etc)

So that means: SD30 (Ixus i Zoom) SD300 (Ixus 40), SD400 (Ixus 50) and SD500 (Ixus 700). To put a halt to all this confusion, I'll use the USA name as a "standard" in my reviews, this one included.

The Canon PowerShot SD30 Digital ELPH (USA) is known as the Canon Ixy Digital L3 in Japan/Taiwan and the Canon Digital Ixus i Zoom in other parts of the world. Wherever you are, what this camera is called is surely a mouthful!

Size and Weight

Here, you can see how small and light the SD30 is:

96.1 x 45.1 x 23.9 mm (105 g) - Canon PowerShot SD30 Digital ELPH
86.0 x 53.5 x 21.6 mm (140 g) - Canon PowerShot SD450 Digital ELPH
109.0 x 52.0 x 36.0 mm (149 g) - HP Photosmart M517
89.9 x 57.5 x 19.7 mm (118 g) - Nikon Coolpix S1
95.0 x 55.5 x 27.5 mm (115 g) - Olympus Stylus Verve S
94.1 x 50.5 x 24.2 mm (127 g) - Panasonic Lumix FX8
91.6 x 60.0 x 14.8 mm (115 g) - Sony Cyber-shot T7

The SD30's higher-end sibling, the SD450, is roughly the same size (Smaller in fact) yet heavier.

Open up the Box

Open up that box and in it you'll find these:

  • 16 MB MultiMedia Card
  • Rechargeable NB-4L lithium-ion battery
  • AC adapter
  • Camera dock
  • Wireless controller
  • Camera case
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable and A/V cable
  • CD-ROM
  • User's manual

The camera dock is something new to the Canon PowerShot/Digital Ixus series. Unlike other Digital Ixus/Elph cameras, the SD30 has no ports and instead uses the dock for port connection and battery charging. There is a wireless receiver on the dock and, with the included remote control, you can perform playback functions.

Storage and Power

I would recommend getting at least a 256 MB SD card, or better yet, a fast 256 MB one as the SD30 can take unlimited continuous shots and movies.

The battery life of the SD30 is about 160 shots (CIPA standard). It takes about an hour and a half to fully charge the NB-4L battery. If possible, get a spare battery as the battery life here is on the low side. The SD30's battery life is below average in its class, considering that it does not have a 2.5 inch LCD and a 3x zoom lens like everyone else.

Extras

The SD30's accessories include an all-weather case, external slave flash and external battery charger.

Camera Tour

The Canon PowerShot SD30 Digital ELPH is available in 4 colors, those colors being black, red, gold and violet. I chose to review the black SD30.

Let's start the camera tour beginning from the front. The Canon PowerShot SD30 Digital ELPH has received much influence from the SD500 and SD550's "Perpetual Curve" design and looks more stylish.

The Canon SD30 has 5 effective megapixels on a 1/2.5 inch CCD and an all new 2.4x optical zoom UA (ultra-high refractive index) lens. The UA lens (Found also on several other Digital Ixus/ELPHs and PowerShot cameras such as the SD450 and Powershot S80) allows more zoom power to be packed into a smaller package without compromising much image quality. The zoom lens on the SD30 (Digital Ixus i Zoom) is quite a step-up from the SD20 (Digital Ixus i5) which didn't have optical zoom at all.

The SD30 has a 38 - 90 mm lens (35 mm equivalent). Not only does the Ixus i Zoom have less telephoto power than most other cameras, it's lens is also slower than competition; that's an aperture range of F3.2 - F5.4. Compare that to the lenses of the Sony Cyber-shot T5 (38 - 114 mm and F3.5 - F4.4) and the Sony Cyber-shot L1 (32 - 96 mm and F2.8 - F5.1).

The built-in flash has a range of 0.3 - 2.0 m at wide-angle and 0.3 - 1.3 m at telephoto which is bad news. The AF-assist beam/self-timer lamp is above the lens. On the reflective surface of the SD30, there is a tiny microphone hole next to the lens.

The 1.8 inch LCD has 118,000 pixels. The LCD has great visibility both indoors and outdoors. There's no optical viewfinder here (And I probably don't need to mention why!).

The mode switch at the top has 3 options: playback, movie recording and photo shooting. Next is the 4 way controller which can easily customize the main aspects of the camera:

  • Up - Zoom in
  • Down - Zoom out/Delete
  • Left - Single shot, continuous, self-timer
  • Right - Flash setting

The FUNCtion button brings up/down a list of customizable options which allows you to set:

  • Sub-shooting mode (Automatic, manual, stitch assist, focus modes scene modes, My Colors)
  • Exposure compensation (-2 till +2 in 1/3 increments) OR Long shutter (1 - 15 seconds)
  • ISO speed (Auto, 50, 100, 200, 400)
  • White balance (Auto, 5 preset modes, custom)
  • Photo effects (Off, vivid, neutral, low sharpening, sepia, black-and-white)
  • Quality (Superfine, fine, normal)
  • Resolution (5 MP, 3 MP, 2 MP, VGA)

The FUNCtion button also doubles as a SET button (An "okay" button, sort of). Do note that the long shutter and ISO speed are grayed-out in movie mode.

In case you haven't noticed, the DISPlay button is absent on the SD30.

There are a total of 10 Scene Modes on the SD30. Here you go:

  • Portrait - Emphasize on your subject and blur out the background
  • Landscape
  • Night scene - Use longer exposures for sharper photos at night
  • Foliage
  • Snow
  • Beach
  • Fireworks - Uses longer shutter speeds (The use of a tripod is recommended)
  • Underwater - Capture photos underwater (All-weather case required)
  • Indoor - Reduce blur caused by low-light indoors
  • Kids and pets - Use faster shutter speeds & lower aperture numbers to capture action

The power and shutter buttons plus speaker are all on the top of the SD30. One side of the camera has nothing while the other has a wrist strap mount and battery/SD slot with a sturdy cover.

Shooting

The SD30 is a point-and-shoot camera. Thus, you do not have control over aperture value and fast shutter speeds. You can, however, change the shutter speed between 1 to 15 seconds; which is used mostly for night scenes. Noise reduction is activated when you select a shutter speed slower than 1.3 seconds.

The SD30 has a reasonable number of scene modes, though there is no Action/Sports scene mode and some competing cameras offer more than 20 scene modes. Despite not having an Action/Sports mode, the SD30 makes up for that with the "Kids and pets" scene mode.

Some features worthy of note are the custom white balance, My Colors feature, unlimited continuous shooting (Explained later) and vertical shutter release. The custom white balance allows you to take photos which look natural and is especially useful when none of the 5 preset WB options are suitable.

The Canon My Colors feature allows you to make certain colors more vivid (RBG), change skin tones, swap colors, color accent or manually set color balance. The "Vertical shutter release" is yet another cool feature. Turn this on and the camera allows you to take a picture using the "FUNC/SET" button when the camera is held in a vertical position.

The SD30 has a refined user interface with new stuff such as framing grids, auto-rotate (Depending on camera orientation) and shutter speed is shown in camera shake alert.

Recording

Unlike the other Digital Ixus/ELPH cameras of 2005, the SD30 has no "Fast Frame Rate" movie mode and can take VGA movies up to 1 GB at a rather slow 10 FPS. If you'd like to take a less choppy movie, you can select the QVGA 20 FPS setting. Movies are recorded in AVI format. Digital zoom can be used while recording a movie since it does not require the lens to move.

Speaking of quality, the SD30's video quality can be as good as stills (if digital zoom is not used) and audio quality was good though not as clear as on the higher end ELPHs.

Performance

The Canon SD30 starts up in less than one second and also took more or less one second to focus. Shutter lag is unnoticeable. Shot to shot speed was about 1.2 seconds, and a second or two more if the flash is used. Speaking of the SD30's flash, its recycling time was excellent (But its range isn't, that's for sure!).

As with other Canon PowerShot/Digital Ixus cameras using the new DIGIC II processor, the SD30 can take full resolution photos at 1.5 FPS till the memory card is full. Do note that a fast SD is probably needed for this.

The lens goes from wide-angle to telephoto in about a second. When it comes to powering down, the SD30's LCD switches off and its lens retracts almost immediately.

Image Quality

The Canon SD30 produces sharp photos with a little chromatic aberration (Color fringing) though there is quite some noise. Like other cameras of its class, red-eye is a nasty problem. Barrel distortion is mild and there are blurry edges in some photos. Overall, image quality was satisfactory.

Playback

In playback, the Canon SD30 can playback stills and movies (With sound) as well as perform these functions: Protect image, print marking, direct printing (The Canon SD30 is PictBridge enabled), slideshow, sound memo, rotate and simple movie editing. You can also zoom up to 10x into still photos taken and take a look around using the 4 arrow buttons. Choose to see no info, basic info or lots of info (Though no shutter speed or aperture value is shown) about your photos. When it comes to histograms, the SD30 does not show any histogram while shooting but it does in playback/quick review.

Conclusion

The Canon SD30 is one stylish, ultra-compact camera which is head-turning, though it lacks "real" manual controls and has a weak flash. The SD30 is fast and has a great LCD. Photos are great but a little noisy and there's lots of red-eye. Also, the movie mode is not that great as other recent Canon cameras.

If you prefer style over substance and enjoy turning heads when they see you and your camera, then the Canon PowerShot SD30 Digital ELPH is for you. If you'd like a better lens with more zoom, a larger LCD, more external controls (dedicated buttons), faster continuous shooting, better movie mode... to save you time, let's cut this short - An overall better camera about the same size, then the Canon PowerShot SD450 Digital ELPH (The SD30's higher-end sibling) might be for you.

What's hot:

  • Ultra-compact and stylish
  • Camera dock and remote control included
  • Great LCD performance
  • Extremely fast
  • Unlimited continuous shooting
  • Overall sharp photos

What's not:

  • Weak flash
  • Limited manual controls
  • Few external controls (ie. zoom controller is combined with 4 way controller)
  • Movies, though unlimited, are choppy
  • So-so battery life
  • Red-eye
  • Some soft edges

Recommended accessories:

~Extra NB-4L battery
~256 MB high-speed SD card

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