The good: Excellent image quality; solid build quality; speedy performance; optical viewfinder; face detection.
The bad: No manual exposure controls.
The bottom line: Small size, excellent image quality, and a solid, though not extensive, feature set make the SD1000 a great choice for a compact camera.
Specifications: Digital camera type: Ultracompact ; Resolution: 7.1 megapixels ; Optical zoom: 3 x ; See full specs
Last year marked the 10th anniversary of Canon's Elph cameras. The line started with a film camera, though the company's SD line of digital compacts still carries the Digital Elph moniker. Despite its four-digit number, Canon positions the PowerShot SD1000 as a replacement for last year's SD600, which also puts it below the new SD750 in the company's line. Resolution has been bumped up to 7.1 megapixels from the SD600's 6MP, but despite an almost identical controls layout (though different cosmetic design), Canon made a few changes on the inside.
The most noticeable internal change is the switch to the new Digic III processor. Canon says it enables longer battery life, faster startup, autofocus, and shutter response (we call this shutter lag). Plus, the processor adds enough number-crunching power to add face detection, red-eye reduction (in playback mode), and lets the SD1000 reach further heights of sensitivity--in this case ISO 1600. To Canon's credit, we did see some performance improvements over the SD600 (see our performance paragraph below for more).
While cosmetic differences abound, the SD600 and SD1000 actually have very similar control layouts. Canon places all buttons on the right half of the body. A slider lets you switch between still image capture, video recording, and playback. Other than three dedicated buttons, for Menu, Display, and Direct Printing, the only other control is the circular four-way rocker with a Function/Set button in the middle. We found the four-way rocker somewhat difficult to use. Since it's recessed and the rocker's ring isn't all that wide, on a number of occasions we hit the Function/Set button when we meant to hit the rocker.
The SD1000's new cosmetic look harkens back to the original Elph with the big black circle around its lens, but drew mixed reactions from the people to whom we showed our sample. Some were turned off by the overall boxy shape, though just as many admired the tiny, simple shape. Likewise, about half felt the look was too retro, while the other half admired the throwback design. If you don't like the black-on-silver design, Canon also offers a silver-on-silver version.
To date, Canon hasn't seen fit to include manual exposure controls in any of the cameras in the Digital Elph line, and the SD1000 continues this trend. On one level, it makes sense, since the target audience for these compacts is snapshooters who often don't know an f-stop from a shutter speed. While we can't hold this against Canon (its competitors do the same thing), with more and more pros and advanced shooters looking for pocketable back-up cameras, it might be time to broaden the scope of these models. Fourteen scene modes help you tackle specific situations, such as portraits, fireworks, and snowy scenes. Some of these appear in the main function menu, but Canon makes you press the menu button again to see them all. In addition to scene modes, there's also a full auto mode, as well as a mode marked manual, which lets you choose certain options, such as exposure compensation, white balance, and metering mode (evaluative, center weighted, or spot).
Covering an equivalent range of 35mm to 105mm, with a maximum aperture range of f/2.8 to f/4.9, this camera's 3X optical zoom lens is on par with the competition. However, we saw very little colored fringing in our test images, which leads us to believe it probably has higher quality glass than some compacts. The 2.5-inch LCD screen has a special coating intended to prevent glare, scratches, and fingerprints. We saw very little glare, but plenty of fingerprints. Thankfully, these were easily wiped away, though you'll probably want to carry a small microfiber cloth with you if smudges bother you. We were pleased to see that Canon still includes an optical viewfinder. Even if it is tiny and tunnel-like, it'll still come in handy in those situations when you've got your back to the wall, or you don't want the light from the LCD to bother others.
Performance was relatively speedy in our tests. The PowerShot SD1000 took 0.98 second to start up and capture its first JPEG. Subsequent JPEGs took 1.48 seconds between shots with the flash turned off and 2.44 seconds with the flash enabled. Shutter lag measured 0.45 second in our high-contrast test, which mimics bright shooting conditions, and 0.9 second in our low-contrast test, which mimics dim shooting conditions. Continuous shooting wasn't quite as fast as its 6MP predecessor. We measured approximately 1.7 frames per second regardless of image size. Canon's face detection system quickly and accurately detected most of the faces we tried. It seems to rely largely on eyes, as it got slightly confused when one of our lovely models closed hers.
Image quality from the PowerShot SD1000 was excellent in our tests, with accurate colors and plenty of sharpness. The camera's automatic white balance yielded slightly yellowish images with our test lab's Tungsten lights, though the Tungsten white balance preset compensated, producing very neutral colors. Canon keeps noise well under control from ISO 80 through ISO 200, though the company's noise reduction algorithms seem to pull out a minute amount of sharpness at ISO 200. At ISO 400 noise becomes more apparent, manifesting as a light covering of mostly bluish, off-color speckles. ISO 800 brings significantly more noise, though images may be usable for smaller prints (4x6 inch). However, a large amount of sharpness, along with a hefty amount of shadow detail is lost at this setting. ISO 1600 looks like shooting in a snow storm. At this top setting, sharpness becomes a distant fantasy and shadow detail rescinds into another inaccessible dimension. We suggest staying below ISO 800 whenever possible and don't suggest using ISO 1600 at all. Of course, that still puts this camera on par, or better, compared with its competition in terms of ISO noise.
Despite our minor gripes, the PowerShot SD1000 is a top-notch compact camera for its price range. Most users will be pleased with its excellent image quality and the useful, if not extensive, feature set. The most significant feature you won't find here is optical image stabilization, though at this price, you'd be hard pressed to find it elsewhere while maintaining a decent level of image quality at the same time.