DPInterface Canon PowerShot SD900
Digital ELPH Review (Digital Ixus 900 Ti/Ixy Digital 1000)
Brad Soo - November 5th, 2006

When the SD700 IS Digital ELPH was released, it was missing two of the main things the flagship Elph would traditionally have: the highest megapixel count and a physically larger sensor (1/1.8 versus 1/2.5 inch). The real replacement for last year's SD550 is the new top-of-the-line SD900 Digital ELPH you see here. There's more than just a higher resolution sensor and new processor, but does it all justify the value of the SD900? Find out now.

PowerShot SD900 Digital ELPH is the North American name of this camera while it's known as the Digital Ixus 900 Ti in Europe and Asia and the Ixy Digital 1000 in Japan.

Size and Weight

Find out how small the SD900 is using this handy but lengthy chart I compiled:

(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 F30
(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

As usual, I've included the "DPI measurement unit" (As opposed to volume) on the left for a more accurate impression of a camera's size.

As you can see, the SD900 is in for stiff competition. The SD900 is compact, not ultra-compact, but it'll still fit into any pocket with ease.

Open up the Box

The Canon PowerShot SD900 has the standard Digital ELPH bundle:

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

Storage and Power

Canon gives you 32 MB of space to begin with - not even enough for more than 10 shots. I'd recommend getting at least a 1 GB high-speed SD card, you'll definitely need it since the camera is pumping 10 megapixel photos. The camera takes advantage of high-speed cards and the performance increase is fairly significant. And the SD900 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 F30
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 Canon PowerShot SD900's battery life is increased by almost 50% the SD550. With a more powerful battery and a new processor, I would have expected better than that.

The SD900's 230 shots per charge (CIPA Standard) comes in at about average battery life. It takes 90 minutes to fully charge a depleted NB-5L battery. The SD900 does not have a battery indicator on its display.

 

Extras

The little point-and-shoot SD900 Digital ELPH offers few accessories and it's quite easy to name them all: A waterproof case (rated up to 40 m underwater) and an external slave flash.

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 SD900 Digital ELPH uses a familiar 3X zoom lens from the SD500/SD550 and based on my experience with the latter, this lens seems to have very low levels of color fringing. We'll get to image quality talk later so about the lens, it's equivalent to 37 - 111 mm and has an aperture range of f2.8 - f4.9. Unfortunately, there isn't any image stabilization built into the SD900; you'll have to check out the SD800 IS for that - quite disappointing considering this is the flagship Elph.

To the upper right, there's the same powerful flash unit found on its predecessors which has a range of 50 cm to 5.0 m at wide-angle and up to 3.5 m at telephoto. The AF-assist/self-timer lamp and optical viewfinder are located to the left of the flash. There's a microphone nearby the lens as well. Okay, while it may seem that way, Canon didn't just plop a new higher resolution sensor into the SD550.

While the Canon SD900 maintains the standard sized 2.5 inch LCD, the resolution has gone up a lot - It now (finally) packs 230,000 pixels and is as good as it can get on a camera like this. 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. It proved useful now and then when I wanted to take a quick shot before the camera goes back into my pocket and also make picture taking less conspicuous (somehow that's true). But at other times, I wish Canon had just put a 3 inch LCD instead.

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 has been remolded slightly so it won't scrape your thumb if you change modes often.

The print button lights up when the camera is connected to the printer. 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 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, stitch assist left to right or right to left
  • Exposure compensation (2 in 1/3 increments)
  • 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 which now has the Touch-Control feature first found on the SD630 (More on this later):

  • 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 MENU button brings up a menu with most camera settings such as AF-assist beam, Canon's AiAF (Artificial Intelligence Auto Focus), camera time and stuff like that. You can exit the menu by pressing the MENU button again or pressing the shutter button half way down.

Over here, there's a power button and shutter button with a wrapped around zoom lever. A speaker is also found here.

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 SD900, there's a tripod mount and battery/memory card compartment. The door is fairly sturdy here.

Shooting

The SD900 displays a lot of shooting information on its display. Unfortunately, exposure info is limited to slow shutter speeds (Below 1/125 second) and there's still no live histogram. New to the SD900 is the Touch-Control feature first seen on the SD630. This displays a virtual directional pad on-screen when your finger is over any of the 4 buttons.

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 Though it usually chooses one to three AF points at a time, there are very rare cases when the Canon SD900 chooses all 9 AF points (which is a good thing). New to the SD900 is a face detection system for autofocus - this tracks up to 3 faces while framing and up to 9 when the shutter is half-pressed.

You can select one of the Canon PowerShot SD900's many image resolutions which include 10 megapixels (with a widescreen 16:9 option), 6 megapixels, 4 megapixels, 2 megapixels (with a 3:2 option) and 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 SD900 has a 5 cm macro mode, not surprisingly the same as on the SD550 since it shares the same lens. Since the Canon PowerShot SD900 Digital ELPH is 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 at all. I'd really appreciate some manual controls.

The scene modes on the SD900 include portrait, foliage, snow, beach, fireworks, underwater, indoor, kids & pets, night snapshot, color accent and color swap. Two new scene modes include aquarium and high sensitivity modes. Aquarium mode boost ISO as needed to capture the scene while high sensitivity reduces image resolution to enable ISO to be boosted to 3200 - This is probably to mask noise.

Recording

The Canon PowerShot SD900 Digital ELPH has the great movie mode as before, now with extended recording time. It takes VGA movies with sound at 30 FPS till the memory card fills up - or so they say. 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 selection (QVGA at 60 FPS) has now been dropped and replaced with an XGA mode which records at 15 FPS until the 4 GB limit is reached.

Exposure is automatically adjusted while recording while focus is fixed. Digital, not optical, zoom can be used while recording.

The Canon SD900 Digital ELPH's movies overall quite good except for the choppiness of the XGA mode.

Performance

The Canon PowerShot SD900 Digital ELPH has an extremely quick startup time of less than 1 second. The SD900 normally takes about 1/5 to 1/3 second at telephoto. Low-light focusing was excellent and the camera could even lock focus with the AF-assist beam off.

Shutter lag is not obvious at all except at telephoto in low-light. Shot-to-shot speed was a nice 1 shot every 1.2 seconds, longer if the flash is used. Flash recharge time using a fully charged battery took 5 seconds. The camera zooms from wide-angle to telephoto within 1.1 seconds with very few stops in between (only six).

In continuous shooting, the Canon SD900 Digital ELPH can shoot indefinitely at 2 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 SD900 powers down quickly within 1.5 seconds with the lens at telephoto. Overall, I'm quite surprised that the DIGIC III didn't bring significant improvements to the SD900's performance as I thought - Autofocus is snappy but not a whole lot faster than others and I was expecting even faster shooting - but nevertheless, the SD900 feels quite fast with above average performance.

Image Quality

Time to take a look to see how the Canon PowerShot SD900 Digital ELPH fares in image quality:


ISO 80 (f2.8, 1/30 sec)


ISO 100 (f2.8, 1/40 sec)


ISO 200 (f2.8, 1/80 sec)


ISO 400 (f2.8, 1/160 sec)


ISO 800 (f2.8, 1/320 sec)


ISO 1600 (f2.8, 1/640 sec)


ISO 3200 (f8.0, 1/200 sec)

At ISO 80, things are reasonably smooth and not noisy at all. ISO 80, 100, 200 and 400 all look comparable with one another, all with very low levels of noise. At ISO 800, noise increases a little but the image quality is still acceptable. Noise is fairly significant at ISO 1600, best save that for downsizing and smaller prints.

The SD900's high sensitivity mode boosts ISO 3200 while reducing resolution down to 2 megapixels. I upsized the crop in this test and noise levels seem quite low (although there's pixellation here due to the upsizing). There's very low levels chromatic aberration (color fringing) in the shots taken by the SD900, which uses the same nice lens as the SD550. Color fringing is only existent in extreme cases.

Barrel distortion is noticeable while pincushion distortion is not. Colors accuracy was fairly good with nicely saturated colors but the camera tends to become confused with very dark or light colors such as purple becoming blue. As with all compact cameras, the SD900 has somewhat of a redeye issue.

The SD900 keeps up the very good image quality of the flagship Digital ELPH. It doesn't have soft corners either and in contrast with the SD800 IS, the SD900 is much better.

Photo gallery

It's the Canon PowerShot SD900 Digital ELPH photo gallery! Take a look.

Playback

In playback, the Canon PowerShot SD900 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 Canon PowerShot SD900 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.

You can also scroll through 3 images at a time using the touch control dial I mentioned previously.

 

Conclusion

The Canon PowerShot SD900 Digital ELPH features 10 megapixels, 3X zoom, a large (and now high resolution) 2.5 inch LCD, ISO 3200 high sensitivity and a stylish titanium body.

The SD900 has a rather standard 3X zoom lens. Although it doesn't have optical image stabilization, the color fringing levels from this lens are very low. The increase in battery life is not significant and still stands average. The 2.5 inch LCD has excellent visibility, viewing angle and now a great 230,000 pixels of resolution.

This stylish camera performs quite well, and though not as fast as I expected, still above average. There is a noticeable performance increase when using a high-speed card. The SD900 has a nice VGA 30 FPS movie mode with an improved limit and unlimited continuous shooting at 2 FPS.

Image quality was good: Nice photos paired with low noise below ISO 800 as well as almost no color fringing. And unlike the SD700 and SD800 IS, this camera doesn't suffer from corner softness.

My final quibble on the SD900 is the lack of manual controls, a live histogram and optical image stabilization. The SD900 is a camera which I'd definitely recommend to those who want style, high resolution, great performance and simplicity, as long as you don't mind using the tripod at lower shutter speeds.

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

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

What's hot:

  • Stylish titanium body; very solid too
  • High resolution with a good lens
  • Powerful flash unit
  • Large high-resolution LCD with good visibility
  • Unlimited, fast continuous shooting at full resolution
  • Above average performance
  • Impressive movie mode, now up to 4 GB
  • Very good image quality with low noise till ISO 800, very low color fringing

What's not:

  • No manual controls
  • No optical image stabilization (the SD800 has it)
  • No live histogram; very limited exposure information
  • No movie focus or optical zoom, XGA option is choppy

Recommended Accessories

  • 1 GB high-speed Secure Digital card
  • Extra rechargeable NB-5L lithium-ion battery

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