DPInterface Canon PowerShot SD40
Digital ELPH Review (Digital Ixus i7 Zoom/Ixy Digital L3)
Brad Soo - November 29th, 2006

The Canon SD40 Digital ELPH is the latest addition to their candy bar-sized lineup of cameras. Despite being tiny, the SD40 packs Canon's latest DIGIC III processor with face detection and a 7 megapixel sensor behind its lens. Still, some things just remain the same. Well, read on to find out more about the SD40.

This camera is known as the Digital Ixus i7 Zoom in Europe and Asia and the Ixy Digital L3 in Japan.

Size and Weight

(165.1)  96.1 x 45.1 x 23.9 mm (105 g) - Canon PowerShot SD40 Digital ELPH
(172.6)  89.5 x 58.0 x 25.1 mm (150 g) - Canon PowerShot SD800 IS Digital ELPH
(179.0)  91.2 x 59.6 x 28.2 mm (165 g) - Canon PowerShot SD900 Ti Digital ELPH
(172.2)  94.5 x 60.4 x 17.3 mm (127 g) - Casio Exilim S770
(172.8)  92.0 x 58.4 x 22.4 mm (139 g) - Casio Exilim Z1000
(177.2)  92.7 x 56.7 x 27.8 mm (155 g) - Fujifilm FinePix F31fd
(167.2)  92.8 x 55.0 x 19.4 mm (148 g) - Fujifilm FinePix Z5fd
(177.0)  93.0 x 61.0 x 23.0 mm (130 g) - HP Photosmart R827
(183.6)  96.0 x 62.0 x 25.6 mm (170 g) - HP Photosmart R967
(189.7)  111.0 x 55.5 x 23.2 mm (160 g) - Kodak EasyShare V610
(171.2)  101.0 x 49.8 x 20.4 mm (124 g) - Kodak EasyShare V705
(191.5)  110.5 x 60.0 x 21.0 mm (140 g) - Nikon Coolpix S7c
(168.9)  90.5 x 58.0 x 20.4 mm (115 g) - Nikon Coolpix S9
(174.3)  96.0 x 54.0 x 24.3 mm (120 g) - Olympus Stylus 750
(169.4)  94.1 x 51.1 x 24.2 mm (132 g) - Panasonic Lumix FX07
(179.9)  97.7 x 57.1 x 25.1 mm (151 g) - Panasonic Lumix FX50
(166.0)  88.5 x 54.5 x 23.0 mm (125 g) - Pentax Optio A20
(173.0)  95.0 x 58.5 x 19.5 mm (135 g) - Pentax Optio T20
(169.0)  94.5 x 57.0 x 17.5 mm (142 g) - Samsung NV3
(174.8)  95.0 x 56.5 x 23.3 mm (130 g) - Sony Cyber-shot T50
(169.0)  89.0 x 57.0 x 23.0 mm (127 g) - Sony Cyber-shot W70

Not surprisingly, the tiny SD40 Digital ELPH is the smallest camera in its class. And it's amazingly light too. Yup, this is one bring-everywhere camera alright.

Open up the Box

The Canon PowerShot SD40 has the standard Digital ELPH bundle:

  • 16 MB Secure Digital Card
  • Rechargeable NB-4L lithium-ion battery
  • AC adapter
  • Camera dock
  • Wireless remote control
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM
  • User's manual

Storage and Power

You're not getting anywhere with that tiny included memory card. Whereas that can store just five photos at the highest settings, treating yourself to at least a 1 GB high-speed card fits several hundred photos, plus the camera's performance increase using a high-speed card is fairly significant. In addition, the SD40 supports the new SDHC standard (SD cards with capacity above 2 GB).

190 shots - Canon PowerShot SD40 Digital ELPH
270 shots - Canon PowerShot SD800 IS Digital ELPH
230 shots - Canon PowerShot SD900 Ti Digital ELPH
200 shots - Casio Exilim S770
360 shots - Casio Exilim Z1000
580 shots - Fujifilm FinePix F31fd
170 shots - Fujifilm FinePix Z5fd
240 shots - HP Photosmart R827
160 shots - HP Photosmart R967
135 shots - Kodak EasyShare V610
150 shots - Kodak EasyShare V705
200 shots - Nikon Coolpix S7c
190 shots - Nikon Coolpix S9
190 shots - Olympus Stylus 750
320 shots - Panasonic Lumix FX07
300 shots - Panasonic Lumix FX50
150 shots - Pentax Optio A20
130 shots - Pentax Optio T20
200 shots - Samsung NV3
400 shots - Sony Cyber-shot T50
360 shots - Sony Cyber-shot W70

The SD40 Digital ELPH comes in with below average battery life with its mere 190 shots per charge (CIPA Standard). It takes 90 minutes to fully charge a depleted NB-4L battery. The camera must sit in the dock when charging, making it unusable for shooting during this time. To overcome this, an external charger will set you back around forty bucks!

As with the SD30, the SD40 Digital ELPH comes with a dock which you'll need to transfer photos to your computer, playback photos on your TV and, as mentioned earlier, charge the battery.

The wireless remote control included is used to control the camera, only in playback when it's parked in the dock, to display photos and print them.

 

Extras

The little point-and-shoot SD40 Digital ELPH offers very few accessories: All-weather case (up to 3 m underwater), an external slave flash and an external battery charger.

Camera Tour

The Canon PowerShot SD40 Digital ELPH is a small camera which is well put together. Design wise, the camera is stylish though inconspicuous because of its small size. The SD40 is available in 4 colors: Twilight Sepia (Brown), Precious Rose (Pink), Noble Blue and Olive Grey (Silver). You can easily tell which one I received.

The Canon PowerShot SD40 Digital ELPH uses a 2.4X zoom lens which is less than on your typical compact camera and like the camera, the lens is small. This lens is equivalent to 38 - 90 mm, something like you'd have found with your film SLR kit lens. One drawback of this tiny lens is being slow with the aperture range of f3.2 - f5.4.

To the upper right, there's the very weak flash with a working distance of 30 cm to 2 m at wide-angle and up to 1.3 m at telephoto. The AF-assist/self-timer lamp is located next to the flash. There's a microphone nearby the lens as well.

The Canon SD40 Digital ELPH still hosts a 1.8 inch LCD which is on the small side nowadays - And it looks like Canon probably could've fit a 2 inch one here. Thankfully, the screen is visible both indoors and outdoors and with 118,000 pixels, it's sharp too.

A mode switch is the first other thing you'll see which moves you around the playback, movie and shooting modes. Beneath that is the print button which lights up when the camera is connected to the printer.

Ignoring the directional controller for a while, we'll skip to the other buttons around it. The FUNCtion button brings up a screen with almost all the settings which are:

  • Sub-mode (Auto, manual, stitch assist, scene modes)
  • Exposure compensation (2 in 1/3 increments)/slow shutter (up to 15 seconds)
  • ISO sensitivity (80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600)
  • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, custom)
  • Drive mode (Single shot, continuous, self timer 10 or 2 seconds, custom timer)
  • My Colors (Off, vivid, neutral, sepia, monochrome, positive film, lighter/darker skin tone, vivid red, vivid green, vivid blue, custom color)
  • Still image size and compression

The custom color option allows you to change red, green, blue and skin tone values as well as sharpness, contrast and saturation. In menus, the FUNCtion button doubles as the SET or okay button. The MENU button brings up the menu with settings that are occasionally changed; you'll probably just customize once and let the camera do its thing.

The 4-way directional controller on the SD40 is a little different from Canon's other cameras in the sense it doubles as a zoom controller:

  • Up - Zoom in
  • Down - Zoom out/Delete photo
  • Left - Focus setting (Normal, macro, infinity)
  • Right - Flash setting (Auto, on, off - redeye reduction and slow sync turned on/off in the menu)

And of course, there's a status LED between the controller and LCD which blinks during camera activity or stays lighted to confirm focus.

Over here, there's a speaker, shutter button and the button you'll use to turn the camera on and off.

This side of the camera is absolutely blank.

On the other side is the battery and memory card compartment covered by a hinged plastic door. As you can hopefully see here, the SD40 is one small and thin camera.

At the bottom of the SD40, there's a metal tripod mount and connector port for the dock. As there are no USB or A/V ports on the camera, you'll have to use the dock for close to everything.

Shooting

The SD40 displays a lot of shooting information on its display although there's no live histogram and exposure information is limited to slower shutter speeds (No aperture value is shown at all).

You can turn on some other things like digital zoom, grid lines, 3:2 borders, date imprint (3:2 option only) and the AF-assist beam to aid with shooting. The AiAF autofocus system can be turned on so the camera automatically selects from 9 AF points or off for center frame focusing.

There's the new Face Detection autofocus which comes along with the SD40's DIGIC III processor, which tracks up to 3 faces while framing and up to 9 when the shutter is half-pressed - exposure and focus prioritize the subject. The SD40 locked onto faces quickly and accurately. Once I deliberately aimed the SD40 at scenes without any people in it and there are times where it'll just lock onto anything, thinking it's a "face" - guess this thing isn't foolproof.

If the camera cannot detect any faces at all, it'll switch back to the conventional autofocus system. The conventional autofocus system usually chooses one to three AF points but there are very rare cases when the Canon SD40 chooses all 9 AF points (which is a good thing).

You can select one of the Canon PowerShot SD40's many image resolutions which range from 7 megapixels to VGA together with a widescreen 16:9 option and a 3:2 option; plus three compression options - Superfine, Fine and Normal. I find that most users (not only me) normally use full resolution with Fine for everyday shooting and SuperFine only for very important shots.

The SD40 has a somewhat crummy macro mode. The minimum focus distance is 30 cm at wide-angle and 10 cm at telephoto. Yup, you read that right and that's just the opposite of what typical cameras do (shorter distance at wide-angle, further away at telephoto). While you can get much closer at telephoto, you can't have the benefit of using a faster shutter speed, since the aperture is larger at wide-angle, when camera shake is an issue.

Since the Canon PowerShot SD40 Digital ELPH is essentially a point-and-shoot camera, there's no manual controls here except over white balance and slower shutter speeds. And this hasn't changed much, or rather at all. I'd really appreciate some manual controls.

The scene modes on the SD40 include portrait, foliage, snow, beach, fireworks, underwater, indoor, kids & pets, night snapshot, color accent and color swap. The new scene mode here is aquarium modes which boosts ISO as needed to capture the scene.

Recording

It's nice to see that the Canon PowerShot SD40 Digital ELPH has a full-fledged movie mode versus the cut down one on the SD30. The camera can record VGA movies (640 x 480) with sound at 30 FPS till the memory card fills up. Each movie clip is limited to 4 GB, about 33 minutes. The one on the SD30 was also a VGA movie mode except at a sluggish 10 FPS up till 1 GB per clip.

For reasons unknown, the fast frame rate selection (QVGA at 60 FPS) is still limited to one minute per clip though. If you want more movie in your memory card, the frame rate is selectable with 30 FPS or a more choppy 15 FPS. You can lower the resolution down to QVGA (320 x 240) as well. A 160 x 120 option records tiny movies for e-mail at 15 FPS up to 3 minutes.

Exposure is automatically adjusted while recording while focus is fixed. Digital, not optical, zoom can be used while recording. Overall, the quality was good without over-compression or sound muffling.

Performance

The Canon PowerShot SD40 Digital ELPH starts up quickly in 1 second, in both shooting and playback modes. Focus times can vary from 1/4 to 1/3 second at wide-angle and till a full second at telephoto. Low-light focusing was excellent, with or even without the AF-assist beam.

Shutter lag is not obvious in most situations. Shot-to-shot speed was a nice 1 shot every 1.3 seconds, longer if the flash is used. Flash recharge time using a fully charged battery took 4 seconds (Distance from camera to subject was 1.5 m). The camera's short zoom lens goes from wide-angle to telephoto very quickly within 1 second with very few stops in between.

In continuous shooting, the Canon SD40 Digital ELPH can shoot indefinitely at 1.7 FPS till the memory card fills up - provided you have a high-speed card. The LCD refreshes many times but only to show the last shot taken which makes it difficult to catch fast moving subjects.

The SD40 powers down quickly within 1.3 seconds with the lens at telephoto. Overall, just as with the SD900, the SD40 is an above average performer yet still not as snappy as I had expected. Autofocus is quick but not a whole lot faster than others and I was expecting even faster (continuous) shooting - Ironic that the SD900 has more resolution and can shoot slightly faster.

Image Quality

Time to take a look to see how the Canon PowerShot SD40 Digital ELPH fares in image quality:


ISO 80 (f5.6, 1/5 sec)


ISO 100 (f5.6, 1/6 sec)


ISO 200 (f5.6, 1/13 sec)


ISO 400 (f5.6, 1/25 sec)


ISO 800 (f5.6, 1/50 sec)


ISO 1600 (f5.6, 1/100 sec)

At ISO 80 and 100, there's a little bit of noise visible. At ISO 200, it's getting quite visible and ISO 400, even more so. It's bad at ISO 800 and I'm not sure what you could do with ISO 1600 even after cleaning up.

Things are visibly worse than on the SD900 I reviewed earlier on, though the noise levels are a little better than on the DIGIC II Canon cameras. Chromatic aberration (color fringing) levels were low.

Barrel distortion is noticeable while pincushion distortion is not. Colors accuracy was fairly good with nicely saturated colors. As with all compact cameras, the SD900 has a redeye issue. And, apparently due to the compact lens, there's some corner blurriness.

The Canon SD40 Digital ELPH's image quality was good, around the standard of other cameras of its class.

Photo gallery

More photos in the Canon PowerShot SD40 Digital ELPH photo gallery.

Playback

 

In playback, the Canon PowerShot SD40 can playback stills and movies (With sound) as well as do all this: Protect image, print marking, sound memo, slideshow, rotate and simple movie editing. You can also magnify still photos by 10x and take a look around using the 4 arrow buttons as well as post-process photos with the My Colors features from the FUNCtion menu. The camera flips through photos quickly, it won't keep you waiting.

The Canon PowerShot SD40 Digital ELPH shows some info, including a histogram, during playback but there are no shutter speed or aperture values to be found. The My Category feature is new to the SD900 and let's you sort through your photos by 4 preset or 3 custom categories. However, there's no way to give those custom categories a name.

 

Conclusion

The Canon PowerShot SD40 Digital ELPH is a great camera at time when you don't want to lug that digital SLR around or even your mid-sized camera. It makes a good camera for those who want simple operation and a stylish camera.

The SD40 has a small but visible 1.8 inch LCD which will serve as your only viewfinder on this camera. And, it's on this LCD that you'll see the camera's face detection autofocus work and lock onto people's faces in the frame.

Despite the small LCD and new processor, battery life is still below average... and you can't use the camera while the battery is charging because you'll have to leave it in the dock.

The SD40 Digital ELPH's performance was above average, yet for reasons unknown the SD900 with more resolution (and data) to process still does things marginally faster. There is a noticeable performance increase when using a high-speed card. The SD40 has a nice VGA 30 FPS movie mode with an improved limit and unlimited continuous shooting.

Image quality was good with low noise at ISO 400 and low color fringing. But as on most tiny cameras like this one, there's blurry corners and lots of redeye. And the flash is so weak, you may think twice when considering its usage.

The target audience of the SD40 is apparently those who go out for events, parties and gatherings often where they are seen with a stylish camera. Unfortunately, the camera's downsides are in the areas where it's suppose to impress the audience: weak flash, redeye, slow lens without stabilization, noise from ISO 800 and below average battery life. So the SD40 Digital ELPH is mostly for use outdoors and places with good lighting.

Camera rating upon 10 (more about this): [Category: Ultra-compact]

  • 9.0 - Body/Exterior
  • 7.0 - Bundle, batteries and memory
  • 5.5 - Lens
  • 7.0 - Feature set
  • 7.0 - Controls and operation
  • 8.0 - Performance
  • 7.0 - Image quality
  • 7.2 - Overall rating

What's hot:

  • Tiny design available in four colors
  • Remote control available for playback
  • Good LCD visibility
  • Face Detection autofocus that works quite effectively
  • Unlimited, fast continuous shooting at full resolution
  • Above average performance
  • Impressive movie mode, now up to 4 GB
  • Good image quality with low noise till ISO 400

What's not:

  • Less than average zoom with a slow lens, no optical image stabilization either
  • Battery life isn't superb
  • Dock required for USB, A/V and battery charging (external charger costs $40)
  • LCD on the small side in year 2006
  • Weak flash
  • No manual controls, live histogram; very limited exposure information
  • Lots of redeye

Recommended Accessories

  • 1 GB high-speed Secure Digital card
  • Extra rechargeable NB-4L lithium-ion battery

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