PowerShot SD20 Digital ELPH ($350) is the 5 Megapixel
update to the tiny PowerShot SD10 from last year.
Beside the higher resolution CCD, the only other
new features on the camera are the Print/Share button
on the back and a choice of new colors. Speaking
of which, here are the available colors:
Those colors are called Silver, Garnet,
Midnight Blue, and Zen Gray. You can probably figure
out which color I had.
How does the PowerShot SD20 perform
in our tests? Find out now! By the way, the SD20 is
known as the IXUS i5 in some countries!
What's in the Box?
The PowerShot SD20 has an average
bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
- The 5.0 effective Megapixel Canon
PowerShot SD20 camera
- 32MB Secure Digital card
- NB-3L lithium-ion rechargeable
- Battery charger
- Wrist strap
- USB cable
- A/V cable
- CD-ROMs featuring Canon Digital
Camera Solutions, ArcSoft Camera Suite, and drivers
- 161 page camera manual + software
manual (both printed)
Canon includes a 32MB Secure Digital
(SD) memory card with the SD20, and that won't hold
too many photos at the highest quality setting, so
you're going to want a larger memory card right away.
The camera can use SD or MMC cards, but you'll want
to use the former due to its superior performance and
capacity. I'd recommend a 256MB SD card as a good place
to start (they're practically free these days anyway).
The SD20 uses the same NB-3L battery
as its predecessor, which has just 2.9 Wh of energy.
Don't expect endless battery life on this tiny camera
-- the CIPA battery life estimate is just 120 photos
per charge. With that in mind, I highly recommend buying
an extra battery ($45). I'm not a huge fan of proprietary
batteries like this, but they're par for the course
on ultra-small cameras like the SD20.
When it's time to charge the battery
just pop it into the included battery charger. It takes
95 minutes to fully charge the NB-3L. This is one of
those "plug it right into the wall" chargers.
The SD20 has a built-in lens cover
so there are no lens caps to worry about. It's a very
small camera, as you can see!
There's really just one accessory
for the SD20 and that's the AW-DC10 all-weather case
($80), which lets you take the SD20 up to 3 meters
underwater. Not suitable for scuba, but okay for the
beach or swimming pool.
(Mac OS X)
Canon includes version 21 of their
excellent Digital Camera Solutions software with the
SD20. Included in this package are ZoomBrowser (for
Windows) or ImageBrowser (for Mac), PhotoStitch (for
making panoramic photos), plus TWAIN and WIA drivers
for Windows. Zoom/ImageBrowser can be used for downloading
images from your camera, basic editing of your photos,
and photo printing.
5 (Mac OS X)
Also included is version 5 of ArcSoft's
PhotoImpression software, which is getting better with
each version. Here you can do more photo retouching
and printing. The user interface is quite good, as
well. VideoImpression is also included, for editing
those short movie clips the camera can record.
While still better than average, I've
found Canon's recent manuals to be a little more cluttered
than they used to be. The information is all there
for your consumption -- just be prepared for lots of
small print and "notes" in each section.
Look and Feel
The PowerShot SD20 is a stylish, ultra-compact
camera that can go just about everywhere. The body
is almost entirely metal, and it feels very solid.
The important controls (what few there are) are all
within each reach of your fingers.
The dimensions of the SD20 are 90.3
x 47.0 x 18.5 mm / 3.6 x 1.9 x 0.7 inches (W x H x
D), and it weighs just 100 grams / 3.5 ounces empty.
I have the PowerShot SD300 here as well and it's not
that much bigger, with dimensions of 3.4 x 2.1 x 0.8
inches and a weight of 130 grams. What I'm implying
here is that for one less Megapixel of resolution and
a slightly larger body you get a much more capable
camera in the SD300.
Anyhow, enough about that -- let's
tour the PowerShot SD20 now.
The SD20 has the same lens as its
predecessor. That makes it an F2.8 fixed focal length
lens, equivalent to 39 mm (which is not great news
for wide-angle fans). What I'm trying to say is: there
is no optical zoom! Not surprisingly you cannot add
conversion lenses to the SD20.
Just to the upper-right of the lens
is the camera's AF-assist lamp. Even on a camera this
small Canon didn't get rid of this useful feature.
The lamp does more than just help the camera focus
in low light in low light -- it's also the redeye reduction
lamp and the self-timer lamp. It's hard to see in the
photo, but to the right of the AF-assist lamp is the
At the top-right of the photo is the
built-in flash. As you'd expect on a small camera,
the flash is fairly weak, with a range of just 0.3
- 2.0 meters (1.0 - 6.6 feet). You cannot attach an
external flash to the SD20.
You'd better like the SD20's LCD display,
since it's the only way to frame pictures on the camera.
Though this 1.5" LCD only has 78,000 pixels, you
wouldn't know it by looking at the screen -- it's quite
sharp. It's also bright, and images on it are fluid.
The LCD brightness is adjustable in the setup menu
as well. In low light the LCD "gains up" slightly
but it's still too dark to be usable in my opinion.
There's no optical viewfinder on this
camera, which may be a deal breaker for some people.
Above the LCD is a switch which moves
the camera between playback, movie, and record mode.
To the right of the LCD are three
buttons plus the four-way controller. The menu button
does just as it sounds, so what's with the Function/Set
The function button is the way to
change the shooting settings on the camera. The available
options on this overlay-style menu are:
- Shooting mode (Auto, manual, macro,
portrait, landscape, night snapshot, indoor, underwater)
- some of these are new to the SD20
- Exposure compensation (+2EV to
-2EV in 1/3EV increments)
- Long shutter mode
- White balance (Auto, daylight,
cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, custom)
- the custom item is new, and it lets you shoot a
white or gray card in order to get perfect color
in any lighting
- ISO (Auto, 50, 100, 200, 400)
- Photo effect (Off, vivid, neutral,
low sharpening, sepia, black & white)
- Metering (Evaluative, center-weighted,
- Image size/compression - see chart
later in review
A few random notes about those. First,
manual mode really isn't a true manual mode -- it just
unlocks all the menu options. The only manual controls
are white balance and shutter speed. That long shutter
mode lets you choose a shutter speed ranging from 1
- 15 seconds.
The photo effect feature lets you
change the color between regular, vivid, and neutral,
and you can adjust the sharpness as well. You can use
photo effects in movie mode, as well.
The four-way controller is used for
menu navigation and more. The "more" includes:
- Up - Digital zoom in
- Right - Flash (Auto, auto w/redeye
reduction, flash on w/redeye reduction, flash on,
flash off, slow-synchro)
- Down - Digital zoom out + delete
- Left - Drive (Single shot, continuous,
Note that using the 6.5X digital zoom
will lower the quality of your photos. I have a sample
photo in the gallery for evidence.
Continuous shooting mode will take
shots sequentially at around 0.9 frames/second, which
is quite slow. You can keep taking pictures until the
memory card fills up.
The other button to see here is new
to the SD20, and it's the Print/Share button. When
connected to a Direct Print or PictBridge-enabled printer,
pressing this button will let you print your photos.
When connected to a Windows PC, the following screen
will be shown on the LCD:
As you can see, you can transfer all
images, new images, images that you've DPOF marked,
or you can manually select some. The wallpaper option
sets the chosen image as the background picture on
The last items on the back of the
camera are the I/O ports, which are protected by a
rubber cover. The ports include A/V out and USB.
The only things to see on the top
of the camera are the power button, shutter release,
and the speaker.
Nothing to see here...
Over on the other side you'll find
the SD/MMC card slot as well as the battery compartment.
The door that covers these is about average in terms
of build quality.
The included 16MB SD card and NB-3L
battery are shown at right.
We end our tour with a look at the
bottom of the camera. The only thing to see here is
the metal tripod mount.
Using the Canon PowerShot
It takes about 1.7 seconds for the
SD20 to power up before you can start taking pictures
-- pretty snappy.
Autofocus speeds on the SD20 were
about average, ranging from 0.5 - 1.0 seconds. Turning
off the 9-point AiAF will speed up these times, since
center-focusing is quicker. Low light focusing was
good thanks to the SD20's AF-assist lamp.
The SD20 had very little shutter lag,
even at slower shutter speeds. The camera offers a
Quick Shot mode which lets you fully press the shutter
release button without stopping halfway to focus for
Shot-to-shot speed is average, with
a 2.5 second wait before you can take another shot,
assuming you've turned off the post-shot review feature.
Press the "down" button
on the four-way controller as the picture is being
written to the memory card, and you can delete it.
Now, here's a look at the image size
and quality choices available on the SD20:
||Approx. file size
||# images on 32MB card
(2592 x 1944)
(2048 x 1536)
(1600 x 1200)
(640 x 480)
The SD20 does not support the TIFF
or RAW file formats.
Images are named IMG_####.JPG, where
# = 0001 - 9900. The file numbering is maintained even
if you replace or erase the memory card.
Now, onto the menus!
The SD20 has a very small record menu
that's very easy to use. Do note that some of these
options are locked up in the automatic shooting mode
The options in the record menu include:
- Quick Shot (on/off) - allows you
to press the shutter release all the way down without
stopping halfway to focus; subject must be at least
1.5 m away
- AiAF (on/off) - turns on the 9-point
autofocus system; if off, camera focuses on whatever's
in the center of the frame (which is faster)
- Self-timer (2, 10 secs)
- AF-assist beam (on/off)
- Digital zoom (on/off) - it's best
to keep this turned off
- Review (Off, 2-10 sec) - post-shot
- Date stamp (Off, date, date & time)
- print the date and/or time on your photos
- Long shutter (on/off) - activates
this feature; lets you take exposures as long as
- Stitch Assist (Off, left-to-right,
right-to-left) - helps you make panoramic photos
I should mention the date stamp feature
since there's been some confusion about it. To use
this feature you must use the function menu's resolution
option to select "postcard size", which is
1600 x 1200. Then and only then can you print the date
and/or time on your photos.
There is also a setup menu on the
SD20, so let's take a look at those options now:
- Mute (on/off) - turn off those
annoying beep sounds!
- 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)
- Display info
- Shooting info (on/off)
- Review info (on/off)
- Replay info (Off, standard,
- LCD brightness (-7 to +7 in 1-step
- Power saving
- Auto power down (on/off)
- Display off (10, 20, 30 sec,
- Date/time (set)
- Clock display (0-10 sec, 20 sec,
30 sec, 1-3 mins) - yes, the SD20 doubles as a clock
- Card format
- File number reset (on/off) - maintain
- Auto rotate (on/off) - camera will
automatically rotate portrait photos for you
- Language (English, German, French,
Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Italian, Norwegian, Swedish,
Spanish, Simplified Chinese, Russian, Portuguese,
Greek, Polish, Czech, Hungarian, Turkish, Traditional
Chinese, Korean, Japanese)
- Video system (NTSC, PAL)
In addition, there is a "My Camera" menu,
where you can customize the startup screen, beeps,
and phony shutter sounds that your SD20 makes, providing
your own sounds and pictures if you want. You can also
shut all of that off, which may not be such a bad idea.
Well enough about menus, let's do
photo tests now.
The PowerShot SD20 did a pretty nice
job with our macro test subject. Colors are good for
the most part, though the reds seem a little pink to
me. The subject is very "smooth", which has
been a trademark of Canon cameras of late. With manual
white balance (a feature new to the SD20), my quartz
studio lights were no big deal.
The focus range in macro mode is 3
- 10 cm, which is pretty good.
Since the SD20 has no zoom lens the
night shot looks a bit different -- still very nice
though! I appreciate how the SD20 has a long shutter
speed feature, as that's the only way you're going
to pull off a shot like this. The photo is low on noise,
though purple fringing is noticeable (and with no control
over the aperture, there's not much you can do about
Redeye on an ultra-compact camera?
You're kidding! No, really, it's a problem, which shouldn't
be surprising if you've read a lot of my reviews. Expect
to clean this up in your "people pictures" if
you get the SD20.
The distortion test shows mild barrel
distortion and some noticeable vignetting (dark corners).
Vignetting in real world photos wasn't as bad as in
Overall I'd call the PowerShot SD20's
image quality very good. Images have that "smooth" look
that I described earlier. Color and exposure were generally
good, though the camera blew out the highlights more
than once. Noise levels are higher than on the SD10
but are still low. Purple fringing was a problem in
some photos, but it wasn't horrible either.
Don't just take my word for it, though.
View our photo gallery and
print the photos as if they were your own. Then decide
if the SD20's photos meet your expectations!
While the SD20 has a VGA movie mode,
it's quite limited when compared to other cameras.
You can record up to 30 seconds of 640 x 480 video
(10 frames/sec), with sound. Drop the resolution down
to 320 x 240 or 160 x 120 and the frame rate jumps
to 15 frames/sec and the recording time increases to
3 minutes. It doesn't matter how large a memory card
you have, these limits are fixed.
A movie editing feature lets you trim
unwanted footage from the beginning and end of your "film".
Movies are saved in AVI format, using
the M-JPEG codec.
Here's a low budget sample movie if
there ever was one:
Click to play movie (7.7 MB, 640 x 480,
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.
Canon always has done a great job
with their playback modes, and the SD20 continues the
tradition. Image protection, slide shows, DPOF print
marking, voice captions, and thumbnail view mode are
all here. The camera is PictBridge-enabled for direct
printing to a compatible photo printer.
The "zoom and scroll" feature
(my term) lets you zoom into your images up to 10X,
with many steps in between. Scrolling around in the
enlarged area is very snappy.
You can rotate images in playback
mode, but since the camera has an auto rotate function,
they may already be okay!
By setting the "replay info" option
in the menu to "detailed" you can see plenty
of information about the photos you've taken, including
The camera moves through photos at
an average pace, taking about 1 second between each
one. It goes from one high res photo to the next --
there is no low res placeholder.
How Does it Compare?
The Canon PowerShot SD20 Digital ELPH
is what I call a "secondary camera". It's
the go-anywhere camera that's always on hand to capture
the moment. For more serious endeavors, that's where
you bring out your primary camera -- the PowerShot
G6, Coolpix 8700, whatever. With that in mind, the
SD20 is a very nice ultra-compact camera that can fit
in your pocket, ready for action at any time. It takes
very good 5 Megapixel photos without major delays like
shutter lag. The camera is mostly point-and-shoot,
though I appreciate the manual white balance and long
shutter speed controls. The camera has an AF-assist
lamp for focusing in low light, though I found it hard
to see anything on the LCD in those conditions.
With the tiny body come several trade-offs.
For one, you'll get plenty of redeye and a limited
flash range. The lens is fixed at 39mm, which isn't
great for wide-angle shots as you might imagine. Purple
fringing was a bit higher than average, as well. Canon's
movie mode isn't very good either, with slow frame
rates and short recording times. Lastly, battery life
isn't as good as you'd find on a larger camera with
a more powerful battery.
All-in-all, the SD20 is a compact,
stylish camera that you can bring everywhere. I wouldn't
buy it as a primary camera but for something you can
always have with you, it gets the thumbs up.
What I liked:
- Very good photo quality
- Stylish, compact body; comes in
- Manual white balance + slow shutter
- AF-assist lamp
- Optional all-weather case
- Impressive software package
What I didn't care for:
- LCD doesn't "gain up" in
low light (or not very much, at least)
- No optical zoom; lens fixed at
a not-so-wide 39mm
- No optical viewfinder
- Weak flash, major redeye
- Movie mode has low frame rate,
short recording times
- Battery life isn't fabulous
Some other high resolution, ultra-compact
cameras worth looking at include the Canon
PowerShot SD300 Digital ELPH, Casio Exilim EX-Z50 and EX-Z55, Fuji
FinePix F450, Kodak
EasyShare LS753, Konica
Minolta DiMAGE X50, Olympus AZ-2
Zoom and Stylus
Lumix DMC-FX7, Pentax
Optio S5i, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-L1 and DSC-T1.
As always, I recommend a trip
down to your local reseller to try out the PowerShot
SD20 and its competitors before you buy!
Want to see how the photo quality
turned out? Check out our photo
Want a second opinion?
Check out another review of the
SD20 over at Steve's
Midnight blue body
Zen gray body
Feedback & Discussion
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.
To discuss this review with other
DCRP readers, please visit our forums.