DPInterface Canon PowerShot SD800 IS
Digital ELPH Review (Digital Ixus 850 IS/Ixy Digital 900 IS)
Brad Soo - December 29th, 2006

Featuring a new processor, new lens and various other improvements, the Canon PowerShot SD800 IS Digital ELPH is a nice upgrade to the SD700 released earlier this year. How the SD800 stacks up against competition is another thing - so let's find out more about the camera now.

PowerShot SD800 IS Digital ELPH is the North American name of this camera while it's known as the Digital Ixus 850 IS in Europe and Asia and the Ixy Digital 900 IS in Japan.

Size and Weight

(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
(163.6)  90.0 x 55.0 x 18.6 mm (130 g) - Fujifilm FinePix Z3
(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

While not exactly what I'll call tiny, the Canon SD800 IS Digital ELPH is still pretty small. It can fit into any pocket and you can bring it anywhere with you, no doubt about that.

Open up the Box

The Canon PowerShot SD800 IS has the standard Digital ELPH bundle:

  • 16 MB MultiMedia Card
  • Rechargeable NB-5L lithium-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM

Storage and Power

As usual, I'd recommend getting at least a 1 GB high-speed SD card with this 7 megapixel camera since Canon includes a paltry amount of memory. The camera takes advantage of high-speed cards with a noticeable performance increase. The SD800 IS supports SDHC cards as well (above 2 GB).

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 Z3
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 SD800 IS uses the newer and more efficient DIGIC III processor which results in an above average battery life rating of 270 shots per charge (CIPA Standard). It takes 90 minutes to fully charge a depleted NB-5L battery. Unfortunately, the SD800 does not have a battery indicator.

 

Extras

The little point-and-shoot SD800 Digital ELPH offers few accessories: A waterproof case (rated up to 40 m underwater), an external slave flash and AC adapter.

Camera Tour

The Canon PowerShot SD900 Digital ELPH looks a whole lot like its 7 megapixel predecessor, the SD550, but this time it has a titanium body. While it didn't feel much lighter versus the SD550, the SD900 feels very solid and is certainly put together better than any previous Digital ELPH.

The Canon PowerShot SD800 IS Digital ELPH features an all new 28 - 105 mm lens. This 3.8X lens has an aperture range of f2.8 - f5.8, which is comparable to competition. The SD800's closest competitor is probably the Panasonic Lumix FX07 which has a 28 - 102 mm lens and aperture range of f2.8 - f5.6. Both that camera and the SD800 have optical image stabilized lenses which helps reduce camera shake.

To the upper right, there's a new and improved flash unit as well. This one improves the range at wide-angle to 50 cm to 4.0 m; at telephoto, it's still the same as on the SD700, up to 2.0 m. The AF-assist/self-timer lamp and optical viewfinder are located to the left of the flash.

The Canon SD800 Digital ELPH has a 2.5 inch LCD. The resolution has gone up since the SD700 and now packs 207,000 pixels. The LCD has excellent low-light visibility as it brightened things up a lot and above average outdoor visibility. LCD viewing angle was excellent as well with its ability to be viewed from almost any angle.

Above the LCD, there's a tiny optical viewfinder with 2 status lights beside it. And it can come in handy when you're running low on batteries, otherwise, you'll find yourself using the LCD most of the time.

A mode dial is located to the top right and it moves you around playback, auto, program, scene modes and movie recording mode. The dial is molded in such a way that you can quickly (but not accidentally) change modes with your thumb.

The print button lights up when the camera is connected to the printer while the FUNCtion button brings up a screen with almost all the settings you'll need including (this is only for program mode - in auto or any scene mode, then most of the settings will be locked up):

  • Sub-mode (Manual, digital macro, color accent, color swap, stitch assist)
  • Exposure compensation (2 in 1/3 increments)/Long shutter
  • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, custom)
  • My Colors (Off, vivid, neutral, sepia, monochrome, positive film, lighter/darker skin tone, vivid red, vivid green, vivid blue, custom color)
  • Metering method (Evaluative, center weighted, spot)
  • 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.

Around the FUNC/SET button is the 4-way controller:

  • Up - ISO speed (Auto, high auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600)/Jump (Go ahead/back: 10 images, 100 images, next shot date, movie, folder, category)
  • Down - Drive (Single shot, continuous, self-timer)/Delete photo
  • Left - Focus setting (Normal, macro, infinity)
  • Right - Flash setting (Auto, on, slow-sync, off - redeye reduction turned on/off in the menu)

While holding the shutter button halfway down, hitting the up button will activate AE lock and the left button will activate AF lock. This allows you to reframe a scene with different exposure and/or focus.

The DISPlay button toggles the amount of information displayed when shooting or playing back and can turn the LCD off while shooting so you can use the viewfinder. Holding down that button will push LCD backlighting to its maximum setting. The MENU button brings up a menu with occasionally changed camera settings such as AF-assist beam, autofocus mode and date/time. You can exit the menu by pressing the MENU button again or pressing the shutter button half way down.

Up here, there's a power button and shutter button with a wrapped around zoom lever. There's also a microphone and speaker.

On one side of the camera, there's a USB 2.0 High Speed and an A/V Out port while the other side is left blank. At the bottom of the SD800 IS, there's a metal tripod mount and battery/memory card compartment. Unlike the rest of the camera, the door is very flimsy.

Shooting

The SD800 displays all crucial shooting information on its display except for exposure info, which is limited to slow shutter speeds (Below 1/125 second), and a live histogram. New to the SD800 IS is a face detection system for autofocus, thanks to the new DIGIC III processor - this tracks up to 3 faces while framing and up to 9 when the shutter is half-pressed.

You can select a range of image resolutions from 7 megapixels (with a widescreen 16:9 option and 3:2 print option)to VGA 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 SD800 has a 3 cm macro mode and lets you get closer with digital zoom. Other than the functions mentioned in the previous section, the SD800 has no manual controls. However, there are lots of scene modes on the SD800, which include portrait, foliage, snow, beach, fireworks, aquarium, underwater, indoor, kids & pets and night snapshot. The new scene mode here is aquarium mode, which boosts ISO as needed to capture the scene.

 

The Canon PowerShot SD800 IS Digital ELPH has an optical image stabilizer, which helps to reduce the effects of camera shake, with 3 modes. Shoot only activates the system when the shutter is released, making this the more effective option, while continuous means the image stabilizer is always on so you can compose shots without shake. Finally, panning mode compensates for up and down jitters only while you track a moving subject. Both the shots above were taken handheld at 1/3 second without and with IS on respectively.

Recording

The Canon PowerShot SD800 IS Digital ELPH has the same great movie mode as the flagship SD900. It takes VGA movies with sound at 30 FPS till the memory card fills up. Each movie clip is limited to 4 GB, about 33 minutes - up from the 1 GB on Canon cameras which use DIGIC II.

If you want to record more movies for less space, the frame rate is selectable with 30 FPS or 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.

The fast frame rate (QVGA at 60 FPS) mode is great for recording action clips. The SD900, in comparison, substitutes this mode for a less useful (in my opinion) XGA 1024 x 768 movie mode recording at a sluggish 15 FPS.

Exposure is automatically adjusted and digital zoom is useable while recording while focus is fixed. Overall movie quality was, as expected, good.

Performance

The Canon PowerShot SD800 IS Digital ELPH starts up quickly in about 1 second. The SD800 normally takes about 1/5 to 1/2 second to focus, with low-light focusing being excellent. Shutter lag is not obvious at all except at telephoto in low-light.

Shot-to-shot speed - 1 shot every 1.1 seconds, above average
Flash recharge time using a fully charged battery - 5 seconds
Optical zoom from wide-angle to telephoto - 1.6 seconds, few stops between (only eight).

In continuous shooting, the Canon SD800 IS Digital ELPH can shoot full resolution photos indefinitely at 1.8 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 SD800 powers down quickly within 2 seconds with the lens at telephoto. While the improvement is not as great as the last processor upgrade, the SD800 IS is an above average performer in just about all areas.

Image Quality

Time to take a look to see how the Canon PowerShot SD800 IS Digital ELPH fares in image quality:


ISO 80 (f2.8, 1/15 sec)


ISO 100 (f2.8, 1/15 sec)


ISO 200 (f2.8, 1/40 sec)


ISO 400 (f2.8, 1/80 sec)


ISO 800 (f2.8, 1/160 sec)


ISO 1600 (f2.8, 1/320 sec)

Photos shot at ISO 80 show very low amounts of noise. At ISO 100 and 200, there's a non-significant but visible increase in noise. ISO 400 noise needs you to do some cleaning up. The last two options turn up noise reduction, making you lose detail in photos - ISO 800 is useable for small prints and viewing while ISO 1600 needs a lot of post processing and downsizing.

Two disappointments are chromatic aberration (color fringing) and corner softness both exist as issues and are a little higher than I would have liked. The latter probably exists due to the tiny but wide-angle zoom lens. Barrel distortion is noticeable and redeye is an issue as well, due to the nature of tiny cameras like this one.

Without post-processing of photos, expect small to midsized prints and viewing because the noise above ISO 800, color fringing and edge sharpness issues make it difficult without cleaning up.

Photo gallery

All photos viewable in the Canon PowerShot SD800 IS Digital ELPH photo gallery!

Playback

In playback, the Canon PowerShot SD800 can playback stills and movies (With sound) as well as: 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 Canon PowerShot SD800 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 SD800 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 very compact Canon PowerShot SD800 IS Digital ELPH packs a lot into that casing with 7 megapixels, a wide-angle image stabilized zoom lens and many other nice features. The large 2.5 inch LCD on the back is high in resolution and has good visibility as well.

Featuring the latest DIGIC III processor, the SD800 IS has above average performance, unlimited continuous shooting mode, an impressive movie mode and face detection autofocus that works. The SD800 IS Digital ELPH is still missing a live histogram and complete exposure information though.

Battery life has gone up as well, thanks to the new processor. Like the previous Digital ELPHs, the SD800 IS has plenty (but not a ton) of scene modes but still doesn't have any manual controls (manual exposure anyone?).

Image quality was overall satisfactory. On one hand, there's low noise, optimal sharpness and color accuracy was there. The camera's 3 cm macro mode also means you can get really close. On the other hand, the lens itself probably caused the downsides of image quality on the SD800 IS: Corner softness and color fringing.

I'd definitely recommend the Canon PowerShot SD800 IS Digital ELPH, which is an all-round camera, not having any really huge issues. Despite my recommendation, you may also wanna check out the Panasonic Lumix FX07 and FX50 twins which also have wide-angle lenses but retail for $50 - $100 less. The latter has a huge 3 inch display as well. So take a look at the SD800 IS, and also check out its competitors, and see which one you like better.

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

  • 8.0 - Body/Exterior
  • 6.5 - Bundle, batteries and memory
  • 8.0 - Lens
  • 8.5 - Feature set
  • 7.0 - Controls and operation
  • 8.0 - Performance
  • 7.0 - Image quality
  • 7.6 - Overall rating

What's hot:

  • Wide-angle, image stabilized lens
  • Above average battery life
  • Face detection AF that works
  • Large high-resolution LCD with good visibility
  • Unlimited continuous shooting at full resolution
  • Great close-up mode
  • Fast performance
  • Impressive movie mode
  • Good image quality with low noise till ISO 400

What's not:

  • No manual controls
  • Redeye
  • Edge sharpness and color fringing issues
  • No live histogram; very limited exposure information
  • No movie focus or optical zoom

Recommended Accessories

  • 1 GB high-speed Secure Digital card

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