DPInterface Canon PowerShot SD630
Digital ELPH Review (Digital Ixus 65/Ixy Digital 80)
Brad Soo - May 12th, 2006

Canon's entry into the "new" ultra-thin category begins with the PowerShot SD630 Digital ELPH. The Canon SD630 shares some of the new features found on the SD600 which came out at the same time:

  • New image sensor (6 megapixels) which produces less noise
  • New ISO 800 and High Auto ISO options
  • Slight user interface refinements
  • New "print" menu
  • My Colors post-processing can now be done in playback

In addition to that, the SD630 also adds a different design (similar to the SD400), a touch-control dial and larger 3 inch LCD (though the viewfinder is now gone). The SD630 is priced at $399 - So is it worth the extra $50 over the SD600? How does it fare against the tough competition nowadays? Let's find out now.

About the many names this camera has, here's a helpful list to get you through the naming madness:

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

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 SD630 Digital ELPH (USA) is known as the Canon Ixy Digital 80 in Japan/Taiwan and the Canon Digital Ixus 65 in other parts of the world.

Size and Weight

Eventhough released at the same time, the SD630's competitors are slightly different from the SD600's:

(161.2)  86.0 x 53.5 x 21.7 mm (140 g) - Canon PowerShot SD600 Digital ELPH
(167.3)  90.3 x 56.8 x 20.2 mm (145 g) - Canon PowerShot SD630 Digital ELPH
(173.3)  90.4 x 56.5 x 26.4 mm (165 g) - Canon PowerShot SD700 IS Digital ELPH
(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
(171.2)  101.0 x 49.8 x 20.4 mm (125 g) - Kodak EasyShare V570
(163.6)  92.0 x 50.0 x 21.6 mm (120 g) - Kodak EasyShare V603
(181.5)  100.5 x 60.0 x 21 mm (140 g) - Nikon Coolpix S6
(171.1)  94.8 x 55.9 x 20.4 mm (103 g) - Olympus Stylus 710
(170.2)  94.0 x 50.8 x 25.4 mm (132 g) - Panasonic Lumix FX01
(166.0)  88.5 x 54.5 x 23.0 mm (125 g) - Pentax Optio A10
(175.3)  96.5 x 61.0 x 17.8 mm (130 g) - Samsung Digimax i6
(174.8)  95.0 x 56.5 x 23.3 mm (139 g) - Sony Cyber-shot T30

And here's the usual size comparison, with the DPI unique measurement unit on the left.

The Canon SD630 is not one of the smallest or lightest cameras - it sits right in the middle. But regardless of that, the SD630 is still ultra-compact and will fit right into your pants pocket. The SD630 is slightly larger than the SD600 because of its larger LCD. And should I point out that the SD630's direct "head-on" competitors at the Nikon Coolpix S6 and Sony Cyber-shot T30 (Both also have a 3 inch LCD)

Open up the Box

Open up that box and in it you'll find these with the SD630 Digital ELPH:

  • 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 don't know why Canon even bothers to include a memory card every time since it's insanely small. You will have to factor in the cost of at least a 512 MB high-speed SD card during your purchase (or your dealer will bundle in a free card if you're lucky)! The SD600 requires a high-speed memory card for most of its functions, most notably the unlimited continuous shooting and movie recording features.

I don't know how Canon did it but the SD630 Digital ELPH can take about 160 shots (CIPA standard), same as the SD600 despite the larger LCD. Still, that's below average - the Sony Cyber-shot T30 with a 3 inch LCD and image stabilization can do 420 shots! The SD630 continues Canon's tradition of not including a battery indicator (at all) and the little icon starts to flash only 5 minutes before "change the battery pack" makes its appearance.

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 SD630 Digital ELPH
240 shots - Canon PowerShot SD700 IS Digital ELPH
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
200 shots - Nikon Coolpix S6
180 shots - Olympus Stylus 710
320 shots - Panasonic Lumix FX01
150 shots - Pentax Optio A10
N/A - Samsung Digimax i6
420 shots - Sony Cyber-shot T30

Extras

The accessories available for the SD630 include an all-weather case, external slave flash, AC adapter and various cases and bags.

 

Camera Tour

The Canon PowerShot SD630 has a different face which is a cross between the designs of the SD400 and SD30. The textured rim around the lens barrels resemble that of the SD400 while the "no viewfinder arrangement" is similar to the SD30.

Anyhow, the Canon SD630 has 6 effective megapixels on the same 1/2.5 inch CCD as the SD600. It has the same zoom lens too; 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. Despite that, the SD630 lacks an optical image stabilizer which other cameras already have - the Panasonic FX01 and Sony T30.

The Canon SD630's built-in flash is has the same range of 0.5 - 3.5 m at wide-angle and 0.5 - 2.0 m at telephoto which is above average. The AF-assist beam/self-timer lamp is located above the little microphone hole. Just something to point out: the SD630 does not have an optical viewfinder.

The Canon PowerShot SD630 Digital ELPH has a glossy all-black finish to its back. The large 3 inch LCD dominates most of the SD630's rear and has 173,000 pixels. That isn't a lot for an LCD this big and the low-resolution may be noticeable at times (And that's why Canon should've put a 3 inch LCD with at least 230,000 pixels instead!).

Like the SD600, the SD630's LCD brightens a lot in low-light so visibility is excellent. Though when it comes to outdoor shooting, I can't say that I'm very pleased. If you like viewing the LCD from various angles, then I'm glad to report that the LCD is clearer in those conditions. The Sony T30 has a visibly sharper LCD but it doesn't brighten that much.

I'm glad that Canon dumped the viewfinder on the SD630. Viewfinders on ultra-compacts are just too unusable and ought to have a larger LCD instead. Now, where is the mode switch? You'll find out soon...

The 9 bumps on the top right act as a grip - that's not the speaker! The print/share button below the speaker lights up when connected to a PC/printer.

The 5-way controller now has a touch control dial (found on most music players) which displays on the LCD which button your thumb is resting on. This feature supposedly helps you in the dark when you can't see the buttons but I find this feature a gimmick. It's almost completely useless. Canon should've made it double as a "rotary dial" but no, those buttons just do the same things:

  • Up - ISO speed (Auto, high auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800)/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)

In case you're wondering, here's how the SD630's touch-control dial works: You put (not press) your thumb on one of the directional buttons and a virtual controller appears:

The ISO range on the SD630 has been improved to cover ISO 80 up to ISO 800. The new high auto ISO option increases sensitivity when required.

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, scene modes [Kids & pets, indoor, foliage, snow, beach, fireworks, underwater])
  • Exposure compensation (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, sepia, black-and-white, positive film, lighter/darker skin tone, custom color) - where is my favorite low-sharpening?!
  • Metering method (Evaluative, center weighted, spot)
  • Quality (Superfine, fine, normal)
  • Resolution (6 MP, 4 MP, 2 MP, VGA, postcard, widescreen)

The FUNCtion button also doubles as a SET button (A button to confirm things). There is one change and one new option in the list above. The change being My Colors is now under photo effects while the new feature is the Widescreen image size which takes a 16:9 photo - perfect for your widescreen television!

As you all know, the "Postcard resolution" is 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. The automatic white balance adjusts appropriately and accurately in most conditions though.

The custom color feature allows manual tweaking of the individual values of red, green, blue and skin tone in 1 step increments, from 2.

The small status light near the 5-way controller lights up when focus is locked and blinks when the camera is busy. 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).

It's a big dismay that Canon did not include a live histogram on the SD630 (The S80 and S3 IS have it though).

Let's talk about the Color Swap and Color Accent features on the SD630. Color Swap allows you to change on color for another - but just one at a time. While Color Accent allows selection of one color as well. It'll then make the rest of the photo monochrome so your colored subject will stick out.

By increasing tolerance, the colors closer to the selected color are maintained/swapped while decreasing tolerance gets you the opposite results. Tolerance value ranges from 5 and can be changed in 1 step increments.

The mode switch of the Canon SD630 has been moved to up here. You can change modes from playback, movie and still shooting. Next to that is the power on/off switch and finally the shutter button with a wrapped around zoom lever. I have two complaints here: The mode switch is in the center (making changing modes with one hand difficult) and the zoom lever is flush with the top surface (so zooming is uneasy on your index finger). At the very corner is the speaker.

Before we continue, here's the side of the SD630 which has a wrist strap mount and I/O ports. The ports are an A/V Out and USB 2.0 High-speed.

And this side is completely blank. The Canon SD630 is turned on here.

Finally, here's the bottom of the Canon PowerShot SD630 Digital ELPH. Don't mind the SD550 in the background; It's just sitting there - broken - and I'm ashamed of it! The SD630's memory card and battery slots are located under the same flimsy door. The door does the flip-flop when opened. And finally, there's the tripod mount.

Shooting

The automatic mode on the SD630 is self explanatory - All settings except image size/quality are chosen by the camera. "Manual" mode is more of a programmed auto mode. The SD630 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.

As explained in the previous section, the function menu houses 6 sub-shooting modes - Auto, manual, digital macro, portrait and night snapshot. The last placement holds any scene mode of your choice (Out of the other 7 scene modes).

The Canon PowerShot SD630 Digital ELPH features a 3 cm macro mode. You can get even closer using 4x digital zoom but I don't encourage that.

There's a brand new focus inspection feature on the SD630 which takes advantage of the large 3 inch LCD to display the photo taken plus an enlarged section of the selected autofocus point.

In addition to scene modes, I'd surely appreciate at least some "priority" modes (Aperture and shutter priority). Too bad the SD630 has none.

Recording

The Canon PowerShot SD630 Digital ELPH carries over one of the best movie modes on a compact 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 (Choppy)

Another option, the "Fast Frame Rate" mode, can take QVGA movies at 60 FPS up to 1 minute. I wonder why the 1 minute barrier is still there since it was removed on the Canon S3 IS.

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 SD630 can only record 8 minutes worth of VGA 30 FPS movie on a 1 GB card. Compare that to the Sony W50 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 SD600 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.

Unlike most of its competitors, the SD630 does not have any silent movie mode, cannot use optical zoom and the focus is fixed.

Speaking of quality, the SD630's video quality is very good and audio was good as well.

Performance

The SD630 starts up in a rather slow 2 seconds - Same as the SD600. Focusing takes roughly 1.3 seconds and, not surprisingly, is noisy like on the SD600.

Shot-to-shot interval is about 1 shot per 2 seconds. The Canon SD630 can fire off continuous shots at 2 FPS with a high-speed card. The lens goes (noisily, again) from wide-angle to telephoto in about two seconds.

Image Quality

The Canon PowerShot SD630 has the same 6 megapixel CCD and lens as on the SD600:


ISO 80 (f2.8, 1/8 sec)


ISO 100 (f2.8, 1/13 sec)


ISO 200 (f2.8, 1/20 sec)


ISO 400 (f2.8, 1/40 sec)


ISO 800 (f2.8, 1/80 sec)

The Canon SD630 produces fairly sharp photos. At ISO 80 and ISO 100, noise is not a problem - but I'd much rather use ISO 100. At ISO 200 and ISO 400, things are noisy as expected but can be reduced through computer software. But at ISO 800, expect to do a LOT of processing. Chromatic aberration (Color fringing) was visible in some of the crops.

As you can see, Canon took a different approach in noise reduction compared to Sony. The Sony T30 (which has a 7 megapixel CCD) that I reviewed seemed to have less noise but the photos were over-processed and quite smudgy. On the other hand, the Canon SD630 produces more natural images at the expense of noise.

Overall image quality is very good like on the SD600 - there's no image quality differences between the SD600 and SD630, in case you were wondering.

Photo gallery

For more photos, check out the Canon SD630 photo gallery. You can check out the SD600's photo gallery as well for even more photos, since these 2 cameras share the same lens/CCD.

Playback

In playback, the Canon PowerShot SD630 Digital ELPH can playback stills and movies. Sound recorded in movies or using the sound memo function can be played back as well thanks to the built-in speaker. The SD630 can also perform these functions: Protect image, rotate, record sound memos (Up to 1 minute), slideshow, print marking, direct printing (The Canon PowerShot SD630 Digital ELPH is PictBridge enabled), transfer marking, transition effects and now, even post-process photos with My Colors.

The My Colors post-processing feature is new to the Canon SD630. It allows you to make colors more vivid, change skin tones, swap colors and all the My Colors stuff. Previous Canon PowerShots could only shoot using My Colors. The "print" section is also new and can be configured when the camera is connected to a computer.

Some other recent fun features found on the Canon SD630 include 2 playback transition effects (Fade or overlap) and 3 transition effects for slideshows. 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. Despite not having a live histogram, at least one is shown during playback on the SD630.

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 histogram, shooting mode, ISO speed, exposure compensation, focus setting, photo effect, metering method, white balance setting, file size and dimensions.

 

Conclusion

The Canon PowerShot SD630 Digital ELPH took the SD600's 6 megapixels, 3x optical zoom and other features and threw in a larger 3 inch LCD and touch-control dial.

The SD630's new, bigger LCD has very low resolution for a 3 inch LCD: just 173,000 pixels. The resolution is visibly low but thankfully, the LCD is usable, even in low-light.

The Canon SD630 also features a decent movie mode, recording VGA movies at 30 FPS. While this is very good, the low compression (using AVI) is not easy on space and the camera cannot focus or use optical zoom while recording. Maybe it's time Canon put their USM on the other PowerShots?

As for image quality, the SD630 is one of the best ultra-compacts which produces sharp natural-looking photos with little noise. I'm glad Canon added a low noise ISO 800 option since more cameras are having this. Pair that with unlimited 2 FPS continuous shooting and we're getting somewhere!

There are some things the SD630 is still lacking. Namely, battery life (160 shots per charge will never do!) and the lack of a battery indicator. Most cameras of its class (even with 3 inch LCD displays) can do well over 200 to 400 shots using physically smaller & lower capacity battery packs.

The SD630 is also lacking 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).

With the exception of its continuous shooting feature, the SD630 is slowly starting to lag behind competition. Taking its own sweet time (2 seconds) to start up and rather slow (compared to others) auto-focusing are its two main flaws.

So the SD630 is essentially an SD600 with a larger 3 inch LCD and touch control dial. It lacks battery life, manual controls and produces movies with large file sizes. With a price difference of around $60, it's up to you whether the larger LCD and rather gimmicky touch button feature is worth it. Or, you could pay an additional $50 for the Sony T30...

What's hot:

  • Fairly powerful flash
  • Large visible LCD
  • Fast, unlimited continuous shooting
  • Excellent movie mode
  • Improved user interface
  • My Colors post-processing can be done in playback
  • Good high ISO performance (some post-processing may be required, though)
  • Very good photo quality

What's not:

  • Battery life is below average
  • No manual controls
  • LCD is not that sharp
  • Red-eye
  • Large movie file sizes and cannot optical zoom or focus when recording
  • Fairly high noise at ISO 800 (countered by post-processing)
  • Startup and autofocus needs to be faster

Recommended accessories:

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

Other Cameras

Here are some other cameras you might want to consider:

Canon PowerShot SD600 Digital ELPH - Essentially the SD630 with a smaller 2.5 inch LCD and optical viewfinder but no "touch control dial".

Canon PowerShot SD700 IS Digital ELPH - Larger than the SD600 but better battery life optical image stabilization, 4x optical zoom, slightly faster and more stylish.

Casio Exilim Z600 - The best battery life in its class, a ton of scene modes and excelent movie mode but still not good when it comes to low light shooting and fairly slow.

Fujifilm FinePix F30 - An excellent camera for low-light shooting (Low noise ISO 3200) along with a viewable LCD in low-light. Also has better battery life, full manual controls. The only issues here are slow continuous shooting and uses xD cards which are expensive.

Kodak EasyShare V570 - A unique camera with two lenses which can take very wide-angled shots (great for indoor use) and excellent movie mode but terrible battery life and fairly slow. Image quality also leaves much to be desired.

Panasonic Lumix FX01 - Has a 28 mm wide-angle lens (not as wide as the Kodak though), comes with optical image stabilization, one of the best movie modes, good image quality and battery life. The downside is some soft photos and doesn't do that well at high ISO options.

Sony Cyber-shot T30 - The SD630's direct competitor with a higher res LCD but limited continuous shooting and slower. It can do ISO 1000 with low noise, movies can last 50% longer and has 3x more battery life.

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