DPInterface Canon PowerShot SD450
Digital ELPH Review (Digital Ixus 55/Ixy Digital 60)
Brad Soo - February 2nd, 2006

The Canon PowerShot SD450 Digital ELPH is not a major step up from the SD400. So current SD400 owners should not need to dump their camera for this one. Instead of major updates, the SD450 received only a few minor tweaks:

  • New "Sunburst" design on the lens rim + lighter body color
  • Larger 2.5 inch LCD (Up from 2 inches on the SD400)
  • New superimposed 3 x 3 grid to aid in framing
  • Buttons have been moved more to the right (As you'll see in a moment)
  • Improved user interface
  • More playback and slideshow features

Other than that, the SD450 is still 5 megapixels, has a 3x optical zoom lens and is still as small as before.

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), SD450 (Ixus 55), SD500 (Ixus 700) and SD550 (Ixus 750). 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 SD450 Digital ELPH (USA) is known as the Canon Ixy Digital 60 in Japan/Taiwan and the Canon Digital Ixus 55 in other parts of the world. Quite a name-game, huh?

Size and Weight

Here, you can see how small the SD450 compared to competition:

(165.1)  96.1 x 45.1 x 23.9 mm (105 g) - Canon PowerShot SD30 Digital ELPH
(159.7)  86.0 x 53.0 x 20.7 mm (130 g) - Canon PowerShot SD400 Digital ELPH
(161.1)  86.0 x 53.5 x 21.6 mm (140 g) - Canon PowerShot SD450 Digital ELPH
(165.1) 90.0 x 59.0 x 16.1 mm (115 g) - Casio Exilim S600
(166.0)  88.5 x 57.0 x 20.5 mm (112 g) - Casio Exilim Z600
(163.6)  90.0 x 55.0 x 18.6 mm (130 g) - Fujifilm FinePix Z2
(177.0)  93.0 x 61.0 x 23.0 mm (130 g) - HP Photosmart R727
(172.0)  94.0 x 56.0 x 22.0 mm (143 g) - Kodak EasyShare V550
(171.2)  101.0 x 49.8 x 20.4 mm (125 g) - Kodak EasyShare V570
(167.1)  89.9 x 57.5 x 19.7 mm (118 g) - Nikon Coolpix S3
(178.5)  97.0 x 55.0 x 26.5 mm (128 g) - Olympus Stylus 600
(178.0)  95.0 x 55.5 x 27.5 mm (115 g) - Olympus Stylus Verve S
(168.8)  94.1 x 50.5 x 24.2 mm (127 g) - Panasonic Lumix FX8
(166.0)  88.5 x 54.5 x 23.0 mm (125 g) - Pentax Optio A10
(159.0)  86.0 x 54.0 x 19.0 mm (100 g) - Pentax Optio S6
(166.7)  89.6 x 59.8 x 17.3 mm (133 g) - Samsung Digimax i5
(175.3)  96.5 x 61.0 x 17.8 mm (130 g) - Samsung Digimax i6
(173.9)  93.6 x 60.0 x 20.3 mm (113 g) - Sony Cyber-shot T5
(166.4)  91.6 x 60.0 x 14.8 mm (115 g) - Sony Cyber-shot T7
(165.2)  89.7 x 54.9 x 20.6 mm (134 g) - Sony Cyber-shot T9

The size comparison has changed a bit since my last review. I've added a new and very unique unit on the very left to compare the size of digital cameras - As far as I know, DPI is the first camera review site to do this.

Anyway, the Pentax Optio snags the title of the smallest and lightest camera. The SD450, while being one of heaviest, is also one of the smallest on the list above.

Open up the Box

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

  • 16 MB Secure Digital Card
  • Rechargeable NB-4L lithium-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM
  • User's manual

Storage and Power

I can't believe Canon still bothered to include a memory card so small - I'd recommend getting at least a 512 MB high-speed SD card right away! Especially for the unlimited continuous shooting and movies the SD450 can do. With most camera manufacturers going the way of including internal memory for a "photo album" feature, I hope I see this on a 2006 Canon camera.

The SD450 can take about 150 shots (CIPA standard) - Same as the SD400 but still below average. 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. I hope you don't mind but here's a fairly long list of battery life numbers (Apparently this camera class is a very competitive one) so here we go:

160 shots - Canon PowerShot SD30 Digital ELPH
150 shots - Canon PowerShot SD400 Digital ELPH
150 shots - Canon PowerShot SD450 Digital ELPH
300 shots - Casio Exilim S600
500 shots - Casio Exilim Z600
170 shots - Fujifilm FinePix Z2
N/A - HP Photosmart R727
120 shots - Kodak EasyShare V550
150 shots - Kodak EasyShare V570
190 shots - Nikon Coolpix S3
330 shots - Olympus Stylus 600
120 shots - Olympus Stylus Verve S
300 shots - Panasonic Lumix FX8
150 shots - Pentax Optio A10
130 shots - Pentax Optio S6
N/A - Samsung Digimax i5
N/A - Samsung Digimax i6
240 shots - Sony Cyber-shot T5
180 shots - Sony Cyber-shot T7
240 shots - Sony Cyber-shot T9

As you can see, the SD450 is one of the bottom few when it comes to battery life. Note that all of the cameras above have at least a 2.5 inch LCD except the Canon PowerShot SD30 Digital ELPH and Olympus Stylus Verve S. And some cameras do way better, getting above 200 to 300 shots per charge, sometimes even more (My, my! Look at the Casio Exilim Z600 -  Now that's something you don't see everyday!)

Extras

The accessories available for the SD450 include an all-weather case, external slave flash, AC adapter and various cases and bags.

Camera Tour

The Canon PowerShot SD450 Digital ELPH is lighter colored and the lens rim now has a "sunburst" effect. The Canon SD450 has 5 effective megapixels on a 1/2.5 inch CCD and a 3x UA optical zoom lens equivalent to 35 - 105 mm and f2.8 - f4.9. The UA lens allows more zoom power to be packed into a smaller package without compromise. Both the sensor and lens are the same as the ones on the SD400.

The SD450's lens is one of the "fastest" in its class though it lacks an optical image stabilizer which some competition have already (Namely Panasonic, Pentax and Sony). Yes, an optical image stabilizer is another "must have" in 2006 so I'm looking forward to an OIS system on the next ELPH (As well as other ultra-thin cameras).

The built-in flash has a range of 0.5 - 3.5 m at wide-angle and 0.5 - 2.0 m at telephoto which is above average (A lot of ultra-thin cameras do badly in this area: I'm not going to name anyone ;). The AF-assist beam/self-timer lamp and optical viewfinder are located above the lens and next to the flash, the larger window being the viewfinder. The microphone hole is the tiny dot next to the lens.

Sure, the screen has gone up in size but at 2.5 inches, the SD450's LCD only has 115,000 pixels. The LCD brightens a lot in low-light and indoor/night visibility is excellent. Outdoor visibility is okay but can be a little hard to see at times. The SD450 is one of the few ultra-compact cameras with an optical viewfinder. It's small (Perhaps too small for my liking) and I find myself using the LCD 99% of the time. Instead of having a viewfinder, maybe the LCD size and resolution should be upped.

The mode switch has been repositioned from its horizontal position on the SD400 to this new vertical position on the SD450. I like this design as much as the old one though it may take some getting used to. The mode switch has 3 options: Shooting, movie and playback. The SD450's speaker is located right next to the mode switch.

The other controls have changed as well: They've gotten smaller and got pushed further right to make way for the large LCD. One thing that hasn't changed are the functions. The print/share button below the mode switch still lights up when connected to a PC/printer. And the 5 way controller still makes it easy to customize the main aspects of the camera:

  • Up - ISO speed (Auto, 50, 100, 200, 400)/Jump (Go ahead/back: 10 images, 100 images, next shot date, movie, folder)
  • Down - Drive (Single shot, continuous, self-timer)/Delete photo
  • Left - Focus setting (Normal, macro, infinity)
  • Right - Flash setting (Auto, auto with red-eye reduction, flash on with red-eye reduction, flash on, slow-sync, off)

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

  • Sub-shooting mode (Automatic, manual, digital macro, portrait, night snapshot, My Colors, scene modes [Kids & pets, indoor, foliage, snow, beach, fireworks, underwater])
  • Exposure compensation (-2 till +2 in 1/3 increments) OR Long shutter (1 - 15 seconds)
  • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, custom)
  • Photo effects (Off, vivid, neutral, low sharpening, sepia, black-and-white)
  • Metering method (Evaluative, center weighted, spot)
  • Quality (Superfine, fine, normal)
  • Resolution (5 MP, 3 MP, 2 MP, VGA, Postcard)

The FUNCtion button also doubles as a SET button (A "okay" or confirmation button). Do note that the long shutter and metering method are grayed-out in movie mode.

The DISPlay button toggles the amount of info displayed on the LCD: No info, general info or all info (Playback) and display on, display info or LCD off (Shooting). Pressing the DISPlay button for longer than 1 second boosts the LCD brightness till the max (Unless, of course, it's already at the brightest setting).

Now let me tell you about the "Postcard resolution". It's essentially a photo 2 MP in size at Fine quality. You can choose to imprint the date or date and time, or turn imprinting off. 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.

Since the SD450 is a point-and-shoot camera, the only other manual control (Besides custom white balance) is long shutter. You can change the shutter speed between 1 to 15 seconds; which is used mostly for night scenes. Noise reduction is automatically activated (and it cannot be turned off) when you select a shutter speed slower than 1.3 seconds.

I'll talk about the other sub-shooting modes in the next section of my review but now, I'll explain more about the "My Colors" feature. Using the Canon My Colors feature, you can make your photos more interesting by tweaking stuff around quite a bit. You may not like your photo when it gets too messy so there's an option to save the original "untweaked" version of your photo

Positive film makes all the colors (Red, green and blue) more vivid. You can make those 3 colors individually more vivid (Vivid red, vivid green, vivid blue). The lighter/darker skin tone can make people look more pale/tan in photos (Too bad there isn't an option to change skin tone by person, especially when taking group photos!).

And there's color accent which turns everything, but the color of your choice, to black and white. You can also tune the tolerance value while you're at that. Here's an example:

Original image

Default tolerance (0)

+5 Tolerance

-5 Tolerance

As you can see the original image is completely unaltered (What you'll get during normal shooting). Then I selected the red from the SanDisk card. In the top right image, what you'll get is red and only red.

By increasing tolerance, the colors that are close to red are maintained (Note the yellow button). Decrease the tolerance and you'll get the opposite results (Note that the red looks faded in the bottom right photo).

Tolerance value ranges from +5 to -5 and can be changed in 1 step increments. The same can be done for color swap, except now you're changing one color for another:

 

I swapped the color of this poor shrub with the color of a nearby car. The result of the swap is not that perfect so that's when tolerance tuning comes in. I turned the packaging of a french fries container black the other day and I had a good laugh but that was using the SD550 - That's why that isn't in this review.

Finally, there's a custom color feature which allows manual tweaking of the individual values of red, green, blue and skin tone in 1 step increments, from +2 to -2.

And finally, we can continue the camera tour after talking much about the SD450's features!

The power button (which lights up green when the camera is on) and shutter button with a wrapped around zoom lever are located on the top of the SD450. One side of the camera is totally bare while the other has a wrist strap mount and A/V + USB ports. In my opinion, the shutter button should be moved a little more to the right.

One thing that hasn't changed since the SD400 is the battery/card slot cover. It's extremely flimsy and has this "I want to break off" feeling to it. The tripod mount placement makes it impossible to change battery packs/memory cards while using a tripod.

Shooting

The automatic mode on the SD450 is self explanatory - All settings except image size/quality are chosen by the camera. "Manual" mode is more of a programmed auto mode. The SD450 has 9 scene modes and I think it needs more (Some competition offer more than 20 scene modes), considering that there are no manual controls.

The SD450 has a refined user interface with new stuff such as a 3 x 3 framing grid, auto-rotate (Depending on camera orientation) and shutter speed is shown in camera shake alert.

Let's find out more about the "sub-shooting modes", shall we? The Canon SD450 can go as close as 3 cm in macro mode; digital macro enables you to get even closer with digital zoom though the lens is fixed at wide-angle.

While the camera manual tells you a brief description of scene modes (ie. Use portrait to emphasize a subject by blurring the background.), I'm now going to tell you more specific info based on my testing (Like what ISO the camera uses, preferred shutter speed, etc.)

Portrait sets the camera at ISO 50 and selects a smaller f-number to blur the background. Night snapshot uses a minimum shutter speed of 1/8 second and no longer in an attempt to reduce blurring caused by camera shake; If the flash is used, the picture is taken after it fires and not along with it.

Kids & pets uses 1-point center focusing and focuses somewhere near infinity to increase focusing speed and indeed the speed increase is noticeable. The kids & pets scene mode uses ISO 200 to make the shutter speed faster. Foliage makes greenery more natural looking by changing white balance and vividness.

Indoor, snow, beach and underwater change the white balance and exposure accordingly based on their names (ie. underwater changes white balance so photos taken while swimming or diving won't have a bluish cast). Fireworks will always use a shutter speed of 1.6 seconds with noise reduction (remember to bring a tripod!) and flips on the built-in filter.

In addition to scene modes, I'd surely appreciate at least some "priority" modes (Aperture and shutter priority). Too bad the SD450 has none.

Recording

Like the other Digital Ixus/ELPH cameras in the same line, the SD450 has one of the best movie modes on a digital camera, though you may need to use a high-speed memory card. You can take VGA movies at 30 FPS till up to 1 GB in Standard mode - That's only 8 minutes! You can increase the recording time by selecting another size/frame rate. Selectable movie size/frame rate in Standard mode:

Size - VGA (640 x 480) or QVGA (320 x 240)
Frame rate - 30 FPS (Smooth) or 15 FPS (Can be choppy)

Another option, the "Fast Frame Rate" mode, can take QVGA movies at 60 FPS up to 1 minute. By doing some simple calculations, I'm unable see why the 1 minute barrier is there since QVGA at 60 FPS still uses less space than VGA at 30 FPS.

A Compact movie option records movies at QQVGA (That's 160 x 120) and 15 FPS up to 3 minutes so you can attach them to e-mails. Something worthy of note is there's a My Colors movie mode which allows you to record movies using the My Colors feature I mentioned earlier on. Like a movie recorded in Standard mode, a My Colors movie can be up to 1 GB per clip and the size/frame rate is selectable.

Movies are recorded in AVI format, thus the large movie sizes and the reason movies always reach the 1 GB per clip limit! That means the SD450 can only record 8 minutes worth of VGA 30 FPS movie on a 1 GB card. Compare that to the Sony T9 which can do 12 minutes on a 1 GB card using the same settings (MPEG1 format) or the Casio Exilim P505 which can do 30 minutes with stereo sound (MPEG4 format)!  The SD450 can use digital zoom while recording a movie since it does not require the lens to move. Digital zoom can cause loss of quality but it's not that obvious in a movie. So it's a personal decision whether or not to turn digital zoom off in movie mode.

Speaking of quality, the SD450's video quality is excellent and can be as good as stills (if digital zoom is not used). Audio quality was great and clear (No "whining" here!).

Performance

Like the SD400, the Canon SD450 starts up in barely 1.5 seconds. It takes more or less one second to focus, making shot-to-shot speeds a fast 1.4 seconds. Shutter lag is almost unnoticeable, save for several occasions in low-light when the camera couldn't lock focus. Shot to shot speed increases by two seconds more if the flash is used. Speaking of the SD450's flash, the recycling time was a good 5 seconds.

Based on my testing with a 512 MB SanDisk Ultra II SD, the Canon PowerShot SD450 Digital ELPH can fill up the memory card with photos at 1.9 FPS in continuous shooting drive. While not many digital cameras can do that, this one can.

The lens goes from wide-angle to telephoto in about two seconds. When it comes to powering down, the SD450's LCD switches off instantly but expect it to take a while to "defocus" the lens.

Image Quality

The Canon SD450 produces sharp, smooth photos. With only a few soft photos in the of heaps I've taken and less chromatic aberration (Color fringing) than the SD400, the SD450 has improved quite a bit. Unsurprisingly, noise levels were quite high. Like other cameras of its class, red-eye was and still is a nasty problem. Barrel distortion is mild in some photos. Overall, image quality was good.

Playback

In playback, the Canon SD450 can playback stills and movies (With sound) as well as perform these functions: Protect image, rotate, record sound memos (Up to 1 minute), slideshow, print marking, direct printing (The Canon PowerShot SD450 Digital ELPH is PictBridge enabled), transfer marking and transition effects.

The transition effects are new to the SD450. You can choose from 2 effects or turn it off. The SD450 also features 3 new slideshow transition effects. While we're at this, I mind as well tell you about the slideshow display option. Choose to play all images in a slideshow or play them by date, folder, movies, stills or print-marked photos only.

You can also zoom up to 10x into still photos taken and take a look around using the 4 directional 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 SD450 does not show any histogram while shooting but it does in playback/quick review.

About the amount of information shown in playback...

Basic info - Image size/quality, date & time shot, folder/image number and number of photos taken.

Lots of info - Basic info plus shooting mode, ISO speed, exposure compensation, focus setting, photo effect, metering method, white balance setting, file size and dimensions.

Conclusion

The Canon PowerShot SD450 Digital ELPH is a nice camera - Compact, stylish and fast. It starts up almost instantly and shot-to-shot speed was good. The SD450 Digital ELPH also has one of the best lenses and flash units among ultra-thin cameras as well as one of the few digital cameras which can do indefinite continuous shooting.

So, exactly what is the SD450 lacking? Well, battery life is one. The 150 shots per charge estimate leaves the SD450 in the dust. Most cameras of its class (5-6 megapixels, 3x optical zoom, 2.5 inch LCD, ultra-thin) can do well over 200 or 300 shots using physically smaller & lower capacity battery packs.

Two would probably be a unique (or not) method to counteract camera blurring caused by shake and/or slow shutter speeds in low-light. Fujifilm and Olympus cameras of the same class have high ISO capabilities till ISO 1600 (Fujifilm's Z2 high ISO, low noise has been proven. And though Olympus' "Bright Capture Technology" doesn't suppress noise that effectively, it does the job - Lowering shutter speed, and the chance of a blurred photo). Some 2006 Olympus cameras even included Digital IS in addition to high ISO.

All of Panasonic recent cameras feature their Optical Image Stabilization which move lens elements to counter camera shake. Pentax is entering OIS land through the introduction of the compact Optio A10. Sony is taking things one step further by including their SuperSteady Shot image stabilizer (Though I suspect it's a Digital IS) and above average ISO 640 + low noise on the Cyber-shot T9. What are you going to do about low-light and camera shake, Canon?

And three; manual controls. I won't mind even some aperture and shutter priority modes. Many ultra-thin cameras are starting to have manual controls, especially priority modes (Hmm Casio comes in mind).

The SD450, like other ultra-thin cameras, features a 2.5 inch LCD. The one that the SD450 has is particularly good in low-light visibility. So what's wrong? It's low in resolution (I can easily notice) and it lacks a protective layer - Many people complain to me about broken LCD units... But I'm not the person you should be complaining to!

Instead of including a tiny memory card, the SD450 should have some internal memory for a built-in photo album feature. There's also some room for improvement when it comes to autofocus speeds - Many ultra-compacts nowadays can focus almost as fast as a digital SLR!

The movie mode on the Canon PowerShot SD450 Digital ELPH is one of the best I've seen but the format that movies are recorded in and that 1 GB per movie limit seriously needs some rethinking.

Finally, image quality on the SD450 was good. Photos from the SD450 have that great Canon sharpness and natural look to it. Ah - but I can see there is still room for further improvement here. How's about image quality from good to excellent?

Overall, the SD450 (Priced at around $350 as of February 2006) is a good buy. A great camera for stills and movies but could be improved in a few areas. If you can bear with the below average battery life (Just get one or two extra battery packs) and do most shooting in bright places, then this is the camera for you. SD400 owners should not upgrade yet. This camera deserves a thumbs up and recommendation from me (I even wanted to buy the SD450 as an "always in my pocket" camera).

What's hot:

  • Ultra-compact and stylish
  • Lens is probably the best among ultra-thin cameras
  • Fairly powerful flash
  • Great LCD performance
  • Extremely fast
  • Unlimited continuous shooting
  • Excellent movie mode
  • Improved user interface (Not as boring as the old one)
  • Fun My Colors feature
  • Good photo quality

What's not:

  • Battery life needs to be improved (by a lot!)
  • Included memory card is useless (Too small)
  • No manual controls
  • LCD is lacking resolution
  • No special feature to counteract blurring during low-light shooting
  • Red-eye
  • Some soft photos
  • Fairly high noise levels at high ISO, low-light

Recommended accessories:

~Extra NB-4L battery
~512 MB high-speed SD card
~LCD protector

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