Home News Buyers Guide Forums FAQ Links About Advertising
    DIGITAL CAMERA DATABASE | COMPARE CAMERAS | RECENT & UPCOMING REVIEWS | ALL OUR REVIEWS | Top Rated Cameras
 
DCRP Review: Canon PowerShot SD1100 IS Digital ELPH  
   

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: April 30, 2008
Last Updated: January 25, 2009

View Printer Friendly Version

 

Advertisement

The PowerShot SD1100 IS Digital ELPH ($249) is the long-awaited follow-up to Canon's PowerShot SD1000, which was one of the most popular ultra-compact cameras of the last few years. The SD1100 has several significant improvements over the SD1000, including:

  • An 8 Megapixel CCD (versus 7MP on the SD1000)
  • Optical image stabilization (the SD1000 had none)
  • More advanced face detection
  • Auto redeye removal
  • Motion Detection Technology boosts ISO based on subject movement
  • Improved battery life
  • Sleeker, more rounded design; comes in multiple colors

The biggest feature on that list is definitely image stabilization. It's really the only thing the SD1000 was missing, and I think everyone's glad to see this new feature.

Canon has quite a few cameras in their Digital ELPH series, so I put together this chart to help you make sense of things:

Feature

PowerShot SD1100

PowerShot SD770 PowerShot SD790 PowerShot SD870 PowerShot SD890 PowerShot SD950
Street price
(at time of posting)
$237 $296 $333 $274 $382 $364
Resolution 8.0 MP 10.0 MP 10.0 MP 8.0 MP 10.0 MP 12.1 MP
Optical zoom 3X 3X 3X 3.8X 5X 3.7X
Lens max. aperture F2.8 - F4.9 F2.8 - F4.9 F2.8 - F4.9 F2.8 - F5.8 F3.2 - F5.7 F2.8 - F5.8
Focal length (35 mm equiv.) 38 - 114 mm 35 - 105 mm 35 - 105 mm 28 - 105 mm 37 - 185 mm 36 - 133 mm
Image stabilization Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
LCD size 2.5" 2.5" 3.0" 3.0" 2.5" 2.5"
LCD resolution 230,000 pixels 230,000 pixels 230,000 pixels 230,000 pixels 230,000 pixels 230,000 pixels
Optical viewfinder Yes Yes No No Yes Yes
Flash range (Auto ISO) 0.3 - 3.5 m (W)
0.3 - 3.0 m (T)
0.3 - 3.5 m (W)
0.3 - 2.0 m (T)
0.3 - 3.5 m (W)
0.3 - 2.0 m (T)
0.3 - 4.0 m (W)
0.3 - 2.0 m (T)
0.3 - 3.5 m (W)
0.3 - 2.0 m (T)
0.5 - 4.6 m (W)
0.5 - 2.4 m (T)
Auto ISO Shift No No No Yes Yes Yes
Battery used NB-4L NB-6L NB-5L NB-5L NB-5L NB-5L
Battery life (CIPA standard) 240 300 330 270 shots 320 shots 240 shots
Dimensions (W x H x D) 3.4 x 2.2 x 0.9 in 3.4 x 2.1 x 0.8 in 3.6 x 2.2 x 0.8 in 3.7 x 2.3 x 1.0 in 3.8 x 2.3 x 1.1 in 3.8 x 2.4 x 1.1 in
Weight 125 g 130 g 155 g 155 g 155 g 165 g
Available colors Blue, pink, silver, brown, gold Silver, black Silver Silver, black Silver Silver

If you're still confused about the SD-series after that chart then, well, I don't know what to tell you.

The PowerShot SD1000 was one of my favorite ultra-compact cameras last year. Does the SD1100 perform just as well? Find out now in our review!

The PowerShot SD1100 Digital ELPH is known as the Digital IXUS 80 IS in some countries.

Advertisement

What's in the Box?

The PowerShot SD1100 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 8.0 effective Megapixel PowerShot SD1100 IS digital camera
  • 32MB Secure Digital memory card
  • NB-4L lithium-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Canon Digital Camera Solution
  • 225 page camera manual (printed)

Canon is really the only camera manufacturer still bundling a memory card with their cameras -- everyone else just builds a paltry amount of memory into the camera itself. They include a 32MB Secure Digital card with the PowerShot SD1100, which holds just eight photos at the highest image quality setting. That means that you'll want to buy a larger memory card right away, unless you already have one sitting around. The SD1100 supports SD, SDHC, MMC, MMCplus, and HC MMCplus cards, though I'd stick with the first two, which are less exotic. I'd recommend starting with a 1GB card, and while a high speed model is a good idea, you don't need to go overboard.

The SD1100 uses the NB-4L rechargeable lithium-ion battery for power. That's the same one that was used on the SD1000, but somehow Canon managed to squeeze more juice out of this 2.8 Wh battery:

Camera Battery life, LCD on
(CIPA standard)
Canon PowerShot SD1000 210 shots
Canon PowerShot SD1100 IS * 240 shots
Casio Exilim EX-Z80 210 shots
Fuji FinePix Z20fd 180 shots
GE G2 200 shots
Kodak EasyShare M893 IS * 225 shots
Nikon Coolpix S520 * 180 shots
Olympus FE-320 240 shots
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS3 * 320 shots
Pentax Optio M50 210 shots
Samsung NV4 ** 210 shots
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W130 * 370 shots

* Has image stabilization
** Number not officially calculated with CIPA standard

Battery life numbers are provided by the camera manufacturers

First off, I have to say that making a list of comparable cameras is a lot more difficult now than it used to be a few years ago. Each manufacturer now has four-to-six compact cameras, where they used to have one or two. That said, the SD1100's battery life is just about average for the group. Sony and Panasonic continue to be leaders in this area.

I do want to mention the usual issues about the proprietary batteries used by the SD1100 and every camera on the above list. They're expensive (a spare will cost you at least $34), and you can't use an off-the-shelf battery in an emergency. However, that's all you'll find on cameras this small... it sort of comes with the territory.

Canon PowerShot SD1100 in the hand

As with all ultra-compact cameras, the SD1100 has a built-in lens cover, so there's no lens cap to deal with. Sorry about the reflections -- those mirrored surfaces don't make for very nice product photos!

There are just a couple of accessories available for the PowerShot SD1100, and I've compiled them into this chart:

Accessory Model # Price Why you want it
Underwater case WP-DC22 From $159 Take the SD1100 up to 40 meters underwater
External slave flash HF-DC1 From $93 Boosts flash range and reduces redeye; fires when the onboard flash does
AC adapter ACK-DC10 From $48 Power the camera without wasting your batteries

A pretty standard list for an ultra-compact camera. Let's move on to software, now.


CameraWindow in Mac OS X

Canon includes version 33 of their Digital Camera Solution Disk with the PowerShot SD1100. The first part of the Browser software that you'll probably encounter is Camera Window (pictured above), which is used to download photos from your camera.


ImageBrowser in Mac OS X

Once that's done you'll find yourself in either ImageBrowser or ZoomBrowser, which are for Mac and Windows, respectively. The Mac version is Universal, allowing it to run at full speed on Intel-based systems. The "Browser twins" let you view, organize, e-mail, and print your photos. If you categorized any photos on the camera (more on this later) then that information is transferred over to the Browser software.


ImageBrowser edit window in Mac OS X

Double-click on a thumbnail and you'll bring up the edit window. Editing functions include trimming, redeye removal, and the ability to adjust levels, color, brightness, sharpness, and the tone curve. There's also an auto adjustment option for those who want a quick fix.


PhotoStitch in Mac OS X

A separate program called PhotoStitch can combine photos you've taken side-by-side into a single panorama. The Stitch Assist feature on the SD1100 can help you line up the photos so they come together well.

Canon retooled their documentation this year, combining the basic and advanced manuals into one. The 200+ page User Guide is quite detailed, and it will answer any question you may have about the camera or its accessories. It's not the easiest read, though it's still better than most camera manuals these days.

Look and Feel

Canon was shooting for retro with last year's PowerShot SD1000 -- it looked just like the original film-based ELPH. The SD1100 has returned to the rounder design of previous Digital ELPHs. The camera is super compact, and its metal body is both stylish and durable. The one exception is the usual one: the flimsy plastic door over the memory card/battery compartment.

The SD1100 is easy to hold and operate with one hand. It doesn't have too many buttons, though I'm not a fan of how they're flush against the body.


Images courtesy of Canon USA

While the SD1000 came in two "trims" (black and silver), Canon has gone all out with colors on the SD1100. It's available in gold, blue, pink, brown, and silver.

Now, here's a look at how the PowerShot SD1100 compares to other cameras in its class in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot SD1000 3.4 x 2.1 x 0.8 in. 5.7 cu in. 125 g
Canon PowerShot SD1100 IS 3.4 x 2.2 x 0.9 in. 6.7 cu in. 125 g
Casio Exilim EX-Z80 3.5 x 2.0 x 0.8 in. 5.6 cu in. 100 g
Fujifilm FinePix Z20fd 3.6 x 2.2 x 0.8 in. 6.3 cu in. 110 g
GE G2 3.6 x 2.4 x 0.7 in. 6 cu in. 95 g
Kodak EasyShare M893 IS 3.6 x 2.2 x 0.9 in. 7.1 cu in. 117 g
Nikon Coolpix S520 3.7 x 2.1 x 0.9 in. 7 cu in. 115 g
Olympus FE-320 3.6 x 2.2 x 0.7 in. 5.5 cu in. 95 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS3 3.7 x 2.1 x 0.9 in. 7 cu in. 118 g
Pentax Optio M50 3.7 x 2.2 x 0.9 in. 7.3 cu in. 116 g
Samsung NV4 3.7 x 2.2 x 0.7 in. 5.7 cu in. 140 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W130 3.5 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 7.2 cu in. 123 g

The PowerShot SD1100 is a bit larger than the camera it replaces, no doubt due to its more rounded design. In the group as a whole, it's about average. Being an ultra-compact camera, the SD1100 can travel just about anywhere, even in your smallest pockets.

Let's start our tour of the camera now, shall we?

Front of the Canon PowerShot SD1100 IS

The PowerShot SD1100 features a new F2.8-4.9, 3X optical zoom lens. This lens, also used on the SD770 and SD790, has a focal range of 6.2 - 18.6 mm, which is equivalent to 38 - 114 mm. Not surprisingly, the lens isn't threaded, so conversion lenses are not supported.

Undoubtedly, the biggest addition to the SD1100 is optical image stabilization. Image stabilization reduces the effect of "camera shake", which is caused by tiny movements of your hands. Camera shake can lead to blurry photos, especially in low light, or when the lens is at the telephoto position. Sensors inside the SD1100 detect this motion, and one of the lens elements is shifted to compensate for it. Sure, it won't let you take handheld multi-second exposures or freeze a moving subject, but it will let you use slower shutter speeds than you could otherwise. Want proof? Have a look at this:


Image stabilization off


Image stabilization on

I took the above photos at a shutter speed of 1/6 second. As you can see, the OIS system produced a much sharper photo. It works in movie mode, too, as this brief video clip illustrates.

To the upper-right of the lens is the SD1100's built-in flash. While not great, the working range of 0.3 - 3.5 m at wide-angle and 0.3 - 2.0 m at telephoto is typical for cameras in this class. If you want more flash power, you might want to consider the external slave flash that I mentioned in the accessories section. If you don't want to carry that around, there's always the PowerShot SD950 IS, which has a considerably more powerful flash.

Next to the flash is the optical viewfinder, with the AF-assist lamp to the left of that. The AF-assist lamp is used as a focusing aid in low light situations. It's also used for redeye reduction, and as a visual countdown for the self-timer.

The last thing to see here is the microphone, which is that tiny dot to the left of the AF-assist lamp.

While it's the same size as it was on the PowerShot SD1000, the SD1100's LCD has been improved upon. It's sharper (230,000 vs 207,000 pixels), has a wider viewing angle, and better color and contrast. This "PureColor II" screen has a scratch-resistant, anti-glare coating, as well. Outdoor visibility is very good, and the same goes for low light situations, where the screen "gains up", so you can still see your subject.

Directly above the LCD is the SD1100's optical viewfinder. It's pretty small, but these days, I'm just happy to have one at all. As you can see, there's no diopter correction feature, so there's no way to focus what you're looking at.

Jumping over to the upper-right corner of the photo, we find the camera's speaker, mode switch (you can choose from record, movie, and playback), and Print/Share button.


Direct Transfer menu

When you're connected to a computer or printer, the blue light on the Print/Share button will light up. For computers, you can transfer images (in various ways) and even set the desktop background of your PC, right from the camera. If you're connected to a PictBridge-enabled printer, the button is used to start printing (you can set the print settings using the menu). In record mode this button can have various functions assigned to it, and I'll list those for you later in the review.

Below all that is the four-way controller, used for menu navigation, as well as:

  • Up - ISO (Auto, Hi Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600) + Jump (Quickly move through photos in playback mode)
  • Down - Drive (Single-shot, continuous, 2 or 10 sec self-timer, custom self-timer) + Delete photo
  • Left - Focus (Normal, macro, infinity)
  • Right - Flash (Auto, flash on, flash off)
  • Center - Function menu + Set/OK

What's the difference between those two Auto ISO modes? Simply put, the Hi Auto will use higher sensitivities than regular Auto. It also activates Canon's Motion Technology, which is similar to Panasonic's Intelligent ISO mode. This will boost the ISO based on subject motion -- a landscape photo will get use a lower ISO than an action shot.

When equipped with a high speed memory card, the SD1100's continuous shooting mode can fire off an unlimited number of photos at 1.3 frames/second. While the frame rate isn't wondrous, the fact that it doesn't slow down after a few shots is nice. There's just a slight blackout on the LCD between each photo, so you should be able to track a moving subject.


Function menu

By pressing the center button on the four-way controller, you'll open up the Function menu. This menu has the following options:

  • Shooting mode (Auto, manual, digital macro, portrait, night snapshot, color accent, color swap, special scene mode) - see below
  • Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments)
  • Long shutter mode (1 - 15 secs) - hit the Display button when exposure comp. is selected to get to this
  • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, custom) - see below
  • My Colors (Off, vivid, neutral, sepia, black & white, positive film, lighter skin tone, darker skin tone, vivid blue, vivid green, vivid red, custom color) - see below
  • Metering mode (Evaluative, center-weighted, spot)
  • Compression (see chart later in review)
  • Resolution (see chart later in review)

What are all those shooting modes? The auto and manual modes are both point-and-shoot, with the latter offering full menu access. Digital macro locks the lens at wide-angle, and lets you use the digital zoom to get closer. I'm not sure why you'd want to use that. The Color Accent and Color Swap options are part of the greater My Colors feature set (described below). The first one lets you select a color to "save", with the rest of the image turning to black and white. The Color Swap feature just does as it sounds -- you swap one color for another. Yeah, gimmicky, but you can do some interesting stuff, at least with Color Accent.

What's hiding inside the Special Scene mode? Quite a few things, including kids & pets, indoor, sunset, foliage, snow, beach, fireworks, aquarium, and underwater. One thing that always seems to be missing on Canon's cameras is a sports or action scene mode.

The SD1100's custom white balance option lets you use a white or gray card, for accurate color in any lighting. This will come in handy when you're shooting in unusual lighting conditions, like I do in many of the test shots later in the review.

The rest of the My Colors features are found in another part of the Function menu. This feature has grown a bit since the last time I reviewed an ELPH, with the added ability to make blue, green, or red vivid, instead of the image as a whole. There's also a custom color option, which lets you manually adjust contrast, sharpness, saturation, and red/green/blue/skin tone levels.

The last items on the back of the SD1100 are the Display and Menu buttons. The Display button toggles the LCD on and off (as well as what's shown on it), and the Menu button does just as it sounds.

Top of the Canon PowerShot SD1100 IS

There's not too much to see on the top of the SD1100. Right in the middle of the photo is the power button. To its right is the shutter release button, which has the zoom controller wrapped around it. The zoom controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in a mere 1.1 seconds. I counted just seven steps in the SD1100's 3X zoom range. Something that drives me nuts about this camera (and some other PowerShots) is that the current zoom setting isn't shown on the LCD -- come on, Canon!

Side of the Canon PowerShot SD1100 IS

Nothing to see here.

Side of the Canon PowerShot SD1100 IS

On the other side of the SD1100 you'll find its I/O ports, which are under a plastic cover. The ports include A/V out and USB (using a mini-B connector, finally). As with all of Canon's cameras, the SD1100 supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard, so data transfers to your computer will be snappy.

The lens is at the full telephoto position here. Doesn't look much different than wide-angle, as you can see.

Bottom of the Canon PowerShot SD1100 IS

On the bottom of the camera you'll find a metal tripod mount, as well as the memory card/battery compartment. The plastic door over this compartment is quite flimsy, so be careful. As you can tell, there's no way to swap memory cards while the camera is on a tripod.

The included NB-4L battery can be seen at right.

Using the Canon PowerShot SD1100 IS Digital ELPH

Record Mode

It takes just 0.7 seconds for the SD1100 to extend its lens and prepare for shooting. That's very quick.


No live histograms here

Focus speeds were very snappy on the PowerShot SD1100. You'll typically wait for 0.2 - 0.4 seconds for the camera to lock focus at wide-angle, and not much longer at the telephoto end of the lens. Low light focusing was responsive (by compact camera standards) and accurate. The SD1100 usually took less than a second to lock focus in those situations.

I did not find shutter lag to be a problem, even at the slower shutter speeds at which it can occur.

Shot-to-shot delays were minor, as long as you're not using the flash. In those situations, you'll wait around 1.5 seconds before you can take another picture. With the flash on, the delay jumps to around 3 seconds.

You can delete the photo you just took by pressing "down" on the four-way controller.

Now, here's a look at the image size and quality choices available on the PowerShot SD1100:

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # Images on 32MB card
(included)
# images on 1GB card (optional)
Large
3264 x 2448
Superfine 3.4 MB 8 278
Fine 2.0 MB 14 462
Normal 980 KB 29 958
Wide (16:9)
3264 x 1832
Superfine 2.5 MB 11 366
Fine 1.5 MB 18 614
Normal 736 KB 39 1284
Middle 1
2592 x 1944
Superfine 2.4 MB 11 380
Fine 1.4 MB 20 678
Normal 695 KB 41 1342
Middle 2
2048 x 1536
Superfine 1.6 MB 18 590
Fine 893 KB 32 1058
Normal 445 KB 64 2082
Middle 3
1600 x 1200
Superfine 1002 KB 29 942
Fine 558 KB 52 1678
Normal 278 KB 99 3180
Small
640 x 480
Superfine 249 KB 111 3554
Fine 150 KB 171 5494
Normal 84 KB 270 8634

There's one more image size on the SD1100 that I didn't list in that chart, and it's called "date stamp". This fixes the resolution at 1600 x 1200 and the quality at "fine", and is the ONLY way you can print the date on your photo.

The SD1100 doesn't support the RAW or TIFF image formats, nor would I expect it to.

Images are named IMG_xxxx.JPG, where x = 0001 - 9999. The file numbering is maintained even if you replace and/or format memory cards.

Now, onto the menus!

The SD1100 uses the standard Canon menu system. It's attractive, responsive, and easy-to-use. Keep in mind that some of these options are not available in the auto or scene modes. That said, here's the complete list of items in the record menu:

  • AF frame (Face Detect, AiAF, Center) - see below
  • AF frame size (Normal, small) - see below
  • AF-point zoom (on/off) - see below
  • Digital Zoom (Off, 1.6X, 2.0X, Standard) - see below
  • Flash settings
    • Slow synchro (on/off)
    • Redeye correction (on/off) - whether the redeye reduction tool is used automatically when you take a flash photo
    • Redeye lamp (on/off) - whether the AF-assist lamp is used to prevent redeye
  • Custom self-timer - a very handy feature exclusive to Canon cameras
    • Delay (0-10, 15, 20, 30 secs)
    • Shots (1-10)
  • AF-assist beam (on/off)
  • Review (Off, 2-10 seconds, hold) - post-shot review
  • Review info (Off, detailed, focus check) - see below
  • Save original (on/off) - whether the original image is saved when using the Color Swap and Color Accent features
  • Auto category (on/off) - whether photos taken in certain scene modes have a category assigned automatically
  • Display overlay (Off, gridlines, 3:2 guide, both)
  • IS mode (Continuous, shoot only, panning, off) - see below
  • Set Print/Share button (Off, face select & track, exposure compensation, white balance, custom WB, redeye correction, digital teleconverter, gridlines, movie mode, display off, play sound effect) - define what this button does
  • Stitch Assist (Left-to-right, right-to-left) - line up photos for panoramas


The camera locked onto all six faces

There are three focus modes on the PowerShot SD1100. The first one is Face Detection, a feature which you'll find on nearly all cameras in 2008. The camera will detect up to nine faces in the frame, making sure that the exposure and white balance is correct for each. You can also select a "primary" face (by using the Print/Share button), and the camera will track that face as it moves around the frame. The FD system works quite well -- it had no problem finding all six faces in our test scene. The other, less exciting focus modes on the SD1100 include AiAF (9-point) and center-point.


The two focus point sizes

If you're using center-point AF, you can select the size of the focus point: normal or small.

The AF-point zoom feature, new to Canon cameras this year, does just as its name implies. In face detection mode, it digitally enlarges the "main" subject (presumably so you can make sure they're smiling), while in center-point mode it enlarges the middle of the frame.

I want to briefly explain the digital zoom options on the PowerShot SD1100. Canon calls the 1.6X and 2.0X options a "digital tele-converter" -- it's basically just fixed digital zoom. The Standard option is what you'll find on every camera -- it just enlarges the center of the frame digitally. When you use this mode, the camera's Safety Zoom feature warns you when you pass the point where image quality is degraded. When you're shooting at the highest resolution that starts as soon as digital zoom kicks in, but if you're using a lower resolution you can use it for a little while before that happens (e.g. you can go up to 4.8X total zoom at the M2 resolution). You can do the same thing in your favorite photo editor, by the way.

What are those IS modes all about? Continuous IS activates the image stabilizer as soon as you halfway-press the shutter release, which helps you compose your shot without camera shake. Shoot only mode activates the IS system when the photo is actually taken, which is more effective at stopping blur than the previous mode. Panning mode only compensates for up and down motion, and it's name describes when you'd want to use this feature. Finally, you can just shut the whole image stabilization system off, which is a good idea if the camera is on a tripod.

The setup menu can be found in both the record and playback menus. It has these options:

  • Mute (on/off) - turns off all the beeps
  • Volume
    • Startup volume (Off, 1-5)
    • Operation volume (Off, 1-5)
    • Self-timer volume (Off, 1-5)
    • Shutter volume (Off, 1-5)
    • Playback volume (Off, 1-5)
  • LCD brightness (-7 to +7)
  • Power saving
    • Auto power down (on/off)
    • Display off (10, 20, 30 sec, 1-3 min)
  • Time zone (Home, world)
  • Date/time (set)
  • Clock display (0-10, 20, 30, secs, 1, 2, 3 min) - the camera can double as a clock; this is how long it's displayed for
  • Card format
  • File number reset (on/off) - maintain file numbering
  • Create folder
    • Create new folder - on the memory card
    • Auto create (Off, daily, weekly, monthly) - this new features will automatically create new folders on the memory card at set intervals
  • Auto rotate (on/off) - camera will automatically rotate portrait photos on the LCD
  • Lens retract (1 min, 0 secs) - how quickly the lens retracts when you switch to playback mode
  • Language
  • Video system (NTSC, PAL)
  • Print Method (Auto, PictBridge)
  • Reset all - back to defaults

A separate "My Camera" menu lets you customize the startup screen and various sounds that the camera emits. And that's about all I want to say about menus, so let's move on to our photo tests now!

The SD1100 did a very nice job with our macro test subject. Colors are nice and vivid (though there's a slight greenish cast), and the figurine has the trademark Canon "smooth" appearance. The depth-of-field isn't great in this shot since the aperture was wide open, hence the "fuzzy nose". I don't see anything resembling noise or noise reduction artifacting here.

In macro mode, you can get as close to your subject as 3 cm at wide-angle and 30 cm at telephoto, which are fairly typical for an ultra-compact camera.

The PowerShot SD1100's night scene performance was pretty good, though there's room for improvement. The camera took is capable of taking in enough light for this shot, though you'll need to use the long shutter speed option to do it. While the photo is quite sharp, it's also surprisingly noisy for ISO 80. It seems that Canon has taken a pretty conservative approach to noise reduction here. That said, the above photo cleans up nicely with noise reduction software, with plenty of detail remaining. There's some fringing in this photo, though instead of purple, it's more a bluish-green.

Now, using that same scene, let's see what happens when you turn the ISO sensitivity up a notch or two:


ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

First of all, I could only run this test through ISO 400, since I cannot select a shutter speed any faster than 1 second. How do the photos look? The first two crops are quite similar, with the ISO 100 shot having a bit more noise. Speaking of noise, it becomes a lot more visible at ISO 200, with the black sky full of blue and gray dots. It cleans up "okay" in NeatImage, but I wouldn't take the sensitivity any higher than this if you plan on making any prints. ISO 400 is quite noisy, and I don't recommend using this setting (or any of those above it) when shooting in low light.

We'll see how the SD1100 performs in normal lighting in a moment.

There's mild-to-moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the SD1100's lens. This will make things like buildings appear to curve inward, as you can see in this photo. While I did not find vignetting (dark corners) to be a problem, the camera has noticeable blurriness in the corners of the frame (example). Unfortunately, this is one of the trade-offs that comes from owning an ultra-compact camera.

Canon's Digital ELPHs have always been redeye machines. Last year, a redeye removal tool was added to playback mode, which did a good job at removing this annoyance. At that time, I wished that Canon could make it run automatically, and that's just what they did on the SD1100 and other 2008 models. As you can see from the crop above, there's no red to be found. Yay!

Above is the scene used for our second ISO test, which is taken in our studio. That means that you can compare these images against those taken with other cameras I've reviewed. While the crops below give you a brief idea as to the photo quality at each ISO sensitivity, viewing the full size images is a smart idea. Here we go:


ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200


ISO 400


ISO 800

ISO 1600

The first three images are very clean, with no noise, and minimal noise reduction artifacting. You start to see the smudging of detail by noise reduction at ISO 400, though there's enough detail for a small or midsize print. As you'd expect, things get worse at ISO 800, though a small print isn't out of the question, especially if you use something like NeatImage to clean things up a bit. I would pass on the ISO 1600 setting -- there's too much detail missing for those photos to be of much use.

Overall, the PowerShot SD1100 IS produced very good quality photos. Being an ultra-compact camera, though, there are a few flaws that should be noted. Photos were well-exposed most of the time, though some highlights were blown out in the purple fringing torture tunnel. Colors were saturated, and subjects had the Canon "smooth" look that I described earlier, without appearing to be soft. The SD1100 does have problems with corner blurring, and noise reduction does smudge fine details a bit, though not as much as most compact cameras. Purple fringing reared its ugly head a few times, so that may appear in some of your photos.

Don't just take my word for all that, though. Have a look at our photo gallery, maybe printing a few of the photos if you can. Then and only then can you decide if the SD1100's photo quality meets your expectations.

Movie Mode

The PowerShot SD1100 IS has the standard Canon movie mode. You can record video at 640 x 480 (30 frames/second) with sound until you hit the 4GB file size limit. That takes about 32 minutes at the highest quality setting. For longer movies you can use the 640 x 480 Long Play mode, which nearly doubles recording time. The quality won't be quite as good (due to the extra compression applied), but you probably won't notice. A high speed memory card is highly recommended for recording videos at either of these settings.

For even longer recording times, you can drop the resolution to 320 x 240 (30 fps). There's also a compact 160 x 120 (15 fps) mode, though the recording time limit is 15 seconds.

There's also a time-lapse mode available, which will capture a frame every 1 or 2 seconds (your choice) for up to two hours. These frames are then converted into a movie and played back at high speed, so things that took forever in real life appear to move quickly.

The Color Swap and Color Accent features are available here, as well.

You cannot use the zoom lens during filming (it will be locked when you start filming). You can, however, use the digital zoom. As you'd expect, the image stabilizer is active during movie recording.

Movies are saved in AVI format, using the M-JPEG codec.

Here's a sample movie for you, taken at different train station for a change of pace:


Click to play movie (17.6 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, AVI format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime
.

Playback Mode

The PowerShot SD1100 has a very nice playback mode. Basic features include slideshows, image protection, voice captions, thumbnail view, and zoom and scroll. This last feature lets you enlarge the picture up to 10X, and then scroll around in the zoomed-in area. When you're zoomed in you can press the Func/Set button and then move from photo to photo at the same magnification setting.

Photos can be rotated, resized, and cropped right on the camera. You can apply most of the My Colors feature to your photos, as well. A movie editing tool lets you trim unwanted footage off the beginning or end of your clip.

If you don't have automatic redeye reduction setup, rest assured that it's also available in playback mode.


Focus check feature

Remember the AF-point zoom feature I mentioned in the record menu discussion? It's also available in playback mode, where it's called Focus Check. If there are people in your photo, the camera will automatically detect the faces, and you can press the set button to move from face to face. This is a great way to make sure everyone's smiling.


Assigning a category to a photo

The My Category feature lets you assign photos to any of seven possible categories. If you have Auto Category turned on in the recording menu, then this will be done automatically, depending on what scene mode you used to record them. There are three custom categories, though I don't see a way to give them a name instead of the generic "My Category 1/2/3". You can select images by their category and display slide shows of them, or delete/protect them.


Jumping through photos by date

The Jump feature is a quick way to move through photos. You can move by date, by category, by type (e.g. photo or movie), or just by 10 or 100 photos at a time.


Sound Recorder

In addition to recording stills and videos, the PowerShot can also be used for recording audio clips. You can record up to two hours of continuous audio at the sampling rate of your choosing, as long as its 11 kHz, 22 kHz, or 44 kHz.

By default you won't get much information about your photo while in playback mode. But press the Display button and you'll get more info, including a histogram.

The PowerShot SD1100 moves between images almost instantly, with your choice of two snazzy transitions. Like most of Canon's other cameras, when you rotate the camera 90 degrees, the photo on the LCD rotates too.

How Does it Compare?

The Canon PowerShot SD1100 IS Digital ELPH is a competent ultra-compact camera that is a worthy follow-up to its predecessor, the SD1000. It offers a sleek design, optical image stabilization, snappy performance, and good photo quality. And, with a street price of around $230, you can cash in that "stimulus package" check and have money leftover for a tank of gas. While it's not perfect, the SD1100's positives easily outweigh its negatives, and it's a camera I can recommend without hesitation.

The PowerShot SD1100 is an ultra-compact camera made almost entirely of metal. The camera is well put together, with the one exception being the "el cheapo" plastic door over the memory card and battery compartment. While last year's SD1000 had a bit of a "retro" look, Canon has gone back to a more familiar "perpetual curve" design on the SD1100. Along with the less boxy design, the camera is now available in five colors: silver, blue, pink, brown, and gold. The SD1100 has a standard-issue 3X optical zoom lens, with a focal range of 38 - 114 mm. Inside the lens is Canon's optical image stabilizer, which effectively reduces the risk of blurry photos (it can smooth out your movies as well). On the back of the camera, you'll find a 2.5" LCD display with 230,000 pixels. The screen has an anti-glare coating, which allows for a wide viewing angle and good outdoor visibility. The LCD is easy to see in low light, too, as it brightens automatically in those situations. The SD1100 also has an optical viewfinder. It's tiny, but in this day of LCD-only cameras, I'm glad to see it.

The SD1100 is mostly a point-and-shoot camera, with just a few manual controls available. The camera has the usual set of scene modes, though an action/sports mode would've been nice. If you're taking people pictures, then you'll like the camera's face detection and redeye reduction features. Not only can the camera detect up to nine faces in the frame, but it can also track the one of your choosing as it moves around the scene. The auto redeye reduction feature detects this phenomenon in the photo you just took, and digital removes it. Since ultra-compacts all have big redeye problems, this is a great feature. As for manual controls, there are just two: white balance, and slow shutter speed. On the video side of things, the SD1100 lets you record an hour of VGA quality video (at the long play setting). There's also a time-lapse movie mode, which combines up to two hours of stills into a fast-playing video clip.

Camera performance is very good. The SD1100 is ready to take its first picture just 0.7 seconds after you press the power button. The camera focuses quickly, even in low light situations. Shutter lag wasn't a problem, and shot-to-shot delays are minimal. The exception to this last item is when you're using the flash, which increases the shot-to-shot wait to about three seconds. The SD1100's continuous shooting mode won't win any awards for speed, but it can keep shooting at 1.3 frames/second until your memory card fills up. Battery life was about average for an ultra-compact camera.

The PowerShot SD1100 produces very good quality photos, though there are some negatives worth mentioning. On the positive side, photos were usually well-exposed, with pleasing, vivid color. Images have a "smooth" look that has become a trademark of Canon cameras, though they're not soft. In good light, noise won't become a problem until you get above ISO 400. However, it shows up right away in low light, though details are mostly spared (up to a point, of course). While you will see some loss of detail due to noise reduction, it's not as bad as most cameras in this class. The SD1100 has issues with corner blurriness (as do most ultra-compacts) and purple fringing, as well. Redeye wasn't a problem, thanks to the aforementioned auto redeye removal tool.

Two final things before I wrap things up. First, the camera does not display the current zoom setting on the LCD, which drives me up the wall. And finally, you won't be able to swap memory cards while the camera is on a tripod.

All things considered, the PowerShot SD1100 is a quality ultra-compact camera. It offers good photo quality, snappy performance, and image stabilization in a sleek, stylish metal body. Sure, there's room for improvement, but I'm yet to review a perfect camera. So, if it's a compact camera you're after, then this one's definitely worth a look.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality (in good light)
  • Stylish, ultra-compact metal body; comes in five colors
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Snappy performance
  • Sharp 2.5" LCD has good outdoor and low light visibility
  • Optical viewfinder (a rarity these days)
  • Redeye not a problem thanks to auto redeye removal tool
  • Well-implemented face detection feature (with subject tracking)
  • VGA movie mode with sound
  • Support for underwater case
  • USB 2.0 High Speed support

What I didn't care for:

  • Noisy images in low light; some NR artifacting at low ISOs in good light
  • Corner blurriness and purple fringing an issue
  • Zoom setting not shown on LCD
  • Flash a little slow to charge
  • More manual controls would be nice
  • Flimsy door over memory card/battery compartment; can't swap memory cards while using a tripod

Some other ultra-compact cameras worth considering include the Casio Exilim EX-Z80, Fuji FinePix Z20fd, GE G2, Kodak EasyShare M893 IS, Nikon Coolpix S520, Olympus FE-320, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS3, Pentax Optio M50, Samsung NV4, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W130.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the PowerShot SD1100 IS and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

See how the photos turned out in our gallery!

Feedback & Discussion

To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.

If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

Want another opinion?

You can read other reviews of the PowerShot SD1100 at Digital Photography Review, CNET, and Steves Digicams.