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DCRP Review: Canon PowerShot SD890 IS Digital ELPH  
   

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: August 11, 2008
Last Updated: January 3, 2012

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The Canon PowerShot SD890 IS Digital ELPH ($399) is the "big zoom" model in this popular series of ultra-compact cameras. It features a 5X optical zoom lens, with a focal range of 37 - 185 mm, which is considerably more than you'll find on most cameras in this class. Other features include a 10 Megapixel CCD, optical image stabilization, a 2.5" LCD display, and lots of point-and-shoot features.

Canon's model numbering can be very hard to figure out, and based on e-mails I've received in recent years, I'm not the only one who thinks so. I recently put together this "family tree" to help you figure out the relationships between the various models:


View ELPH names | View IXUS names

I hope that helped you make sense of a somewhat senseless model numbering system. I have another chart for you, as well -- this one compares the features of the current ELPH models:

Feature

PowerShot SD1100

PowerShot SD770 PowerShot SD790 PowerShot SD870 PowerShot SD890 PowerShot SD950
Street price
(at time of posting)
$227 $257 $278 $265 $321 $350
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 shots 300 shots 330 shots 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 Canon's ELPH lineup after both of those then, well, I don't know what to tell you.

Is the PowerShot SD890 a good choice for those wanting extra zoom in a small package? Find out now in our review!

The PowerShot SD890 is known as the IXUS 970 IS in some countries. Due to the similarities between the two cameras, this review is largely based on the one for the PowerShot SD790.

What's in the Box?

The PowerShot SD890 IS has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 10.0 effective Megapixel PowerShot SD890 IS digital camera
  • 32MB Secure Digital memory card
  • NB-5L lithium-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Canon Digital Camera Solution
  • 241 page camera manual (printed)

Canon is one of the few camera manufacturers who still puts a memory card in the box along with the camera. In the case of the SD890, you'll get a 32MB card, which holds just six photos at the highest quality setting. Thus, you'll want to buy a larger memory card right away. The camera supports SD, SDHC, MMC, MMCplus, and HC MMCplus cards, though the first two are going to be the easiest to find. I suggest a 1GB or 2GB card to start with. While spending a little extra on a high speed card is a good idea, you don't need to go overboard.

The PowerShot SD890 uses the NB-5L rechargeable lithium-ion battery for power. This battery contains 4.1 Wh of energy, which is decent for a ultra-compact camera. Here's how that translates into battery life:

Camera Battery life, LCD on
(CIPA standard)
Canon PowerShot SD890 IS * 320 shots
Casio Exilim EX-Z200 * 400 shots
Fuji FinePix F100fd * 230 shots
GE E1050 200 shots
Kodak EasyShare Z1285 320 shots
Nikon Coolpix S550 200 shots
Olympus Stylus 840 * 190 shots
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS5 * 310 shots
Pentax Optio V20 200 shots
Samsung TL9 * N/A
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W170 * 390 shots

* Has image stabilization

Battery life numbers are provided by the camera manufacturers

Thanks to some pretty shoddy performance by some other cameras on the list, the PowerShot SD890's numbers end up above average for its class.

I do want to mention the usual issues about the proprietary batteries used by the SD890 and every camera on the above list. They're expensive (a spare will cost you at least $36), and you can't use an off-the-shelf battery in an emergency. That's life, though, as you just can't fit AA batteries into a camera this size.

When it's time to charge the battery, just pop it into the included charger. This is my favorite kind of charger -- it plugs directly into the wall. Expect to wait just over two hours for the NB-5L to be fully charged.

Canon PowerShot SD890 in the hand

As with all ultra-compact cameras, the SD890 has a built-in lens cover, so there's no lens cap to deal with.

There are a grand total of two accessories for the PowerShot SD890 IS. One is the HF-DC1 external slave flash (priced from $90), which gives you more flash power, and less of a chance of redeye. There's also the ACK-DC30 AC adapter (priced from $46), which lets you power the camera without draining your battery.


CameraWindow in Mac OS X

Canon includes version 33 of their Digital Camera Solution Disk with the PowerShot SD890 IS. 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 this information is transferred into 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 PowerShot SD890 can help you line up the photos so they stitch together well.

Canon retooled their documentation this year, combining the basic and advanced manuals into one. This book covers the camera in great detail, though I will admit that it's not the most user-friendly manual in the world. Printed manuals for the bundled software and direct printing (via PictBridge) are also included.

Look and Feel

The PowerShot SD890 is a compact (but not tiny) camera made almost entirely of metal. It has quite a unique design, with a curving front, and a backside that reminds me of a whale (and I'm sure Canon's designers are thrilled to hear that). Build quality is very good for the most part, though the door over the battery/memory card compartment leaves something to be desired.

Ergonomics are generally good. Your right thumb rests in a little spot on the mode switch, well away from the screen. I'm not a huge fan of the recessed power button, though, and the four-way controller / scroll wheel combo is on the small side.

Now, here's how the SD890 compares to similar cameras in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot SD890 IS 3.8 x 2.3 x 1.1 in. 9.6 cu in. 155 g
Casio Exilim EX-Z200 3.7 x 2.2 x 0.9 in. 7.3 cu in. 119 g
Fujifilm FinePix F100fd 3.8 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 7.9 cu in. 170 g
GE E1050 3.6 x 2.2 x 0.9 in. 7.1 cu in. 145 g
Kodak EasyShare Z1285 3.5 x 2.5 x 1.2 in. 10.5 cu in. 161 g
Nikon Coolpix S550 3.6 x 2.1 x 0.9 in. 6.8 cu in. 120 g
Olympus Stylus 840 3.8 x 2.2 x 0.9 in. 7.5 cu in. 130 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS5 3.7 x 2.1 x 0.9 in. 7 cu in. 119 g
Pentax Optio V20 3.8 x 2.2 x 0.9 in. 7.5 cu in. 130 g
Samsung TL9 3.7 x 2.4 x 0.8 in. 7.1 cu in. 140 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W170 3.7 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 7.7 cu in. 142 g

The PowerShot SD890 is one of the largest and heaviest cameras in the "compact, big zoom" category. Only the Kodak EasyShare Z1285 is larger. Even so, the SD890 IS will fit comfortably in all but your smallest pockets.

Let's begin our tour of the PowerShot SD890 now, starting (as always) with the front.

Front of the Canon PowerShot SD890 IS

The biggest selling point on the PowerShot SD890 is undoubtedly its 5X zoom lens -- the most ever on a Digital ELPH. The lens has a focal range of 6.6 - 33.0 mm, which is equivalent to 37 - 185 mm. This lens isn't quite as "fast" as those found on other ELPHs, with a maximum aperture range of F3.2 - F5.7. As is the case with most compact cameras, conversion lenses are not available here.

Another nice feature on the SD890 is optical image stabilization. One of the biggest complaints of digital camera owners is blurry photos. This is usually caused by "camera shake", caused by the tiny movements of your hands, a slow shutter speed, or both. The camera detects this shake, and then moves a lens element to compensate for it. Image stabilization won't work miracles, nor will it freeze a moving subject, but it will allow for sharp photos at slower shutter speeds than you could normally use. Here, have a look:


Image stabilization off


Image stabilization on

Both of these semi-telephoto shots were taken at a shutter speed of 1/13th of a second. As you can see, the image stabilization system produced a much sharper photo. You can use the IS system in movie mode as well, as illustrated in this brief video clip.

You'll find the camera's flash to the upper-right of the lens. The flash has a pretty standard range for a compact camera: 0.3 - 3.5 m at wide-angle, and 0.3 - 2.0 m at telephoto (at Auto ISO). If you want more flash power, you may want to consider the external slave flash that I mentioned earlier.

To the left of the flash is the AF-assist lamp, which the SD890 uses as a focusing aid in low light situations. This lamp is also used for redeye reduction, and as a visual countdown for the self-timer.

The last item of note on the front of the camera is the optical viewfinder, located right in the center of the photo.

The first thing to notice on the back of the camera is its 2.5" LCD display. This screen has the standard 230,000 pixel resolution, so everything is nice and sharp. Outdoor visibility is very good, but there's one situation where you won't see anything at all, and that's if you're wearing polarized sunglasses. While most LCD screens are polarized, the one here (and on the PowerShot G9 as well) is set up in such a way that when you're shooting in the normal landscape orientation (and wearing polarized glasses), the screen is totally dark. If you might be affected by this, I strongly recommend considering another camera, as it's quite annoying. The SD890 is the only ELPH I've tested that does this. When you're indoors and the lighting is dim, you can still see your subject, as the screen brightens automatically.

Directly above the LCD is the camera's optical viewfinder. Yes, it's absolutely tiny, but it's better than nothing. Do note that you can see a tiny bit of the lens while it's at the wide-angle position.

To the right of the viewfinder are the usual indicator lights, plus the way-too-recessed power button. Continuing in that direction, we find the camera's mode dial. This lets you switch between the following modes:

Option Function
Auto mode Fully automatic, most camera settings locked up
Manual mode Still point-and-shoot, but with full menu access. Available shooting modes include manual, digital macro, color accent, color swap, and Stitch Assist
Special Scene (SCN) mode You choose the situation and the camera uses the appropriate settings. Choose from portrait, night snapshot, kids & pets, indoor, sunset, foliage, snow, beach, fireworks, aquarium, ISO 3200
Movie mode More on this later

I want to mention a few of those shooting modes before we move on. Digital macro locks the lens at the wide end (allowing a 2 cm minimum focus distance), and then lets you use the digital zoom to get your closer. This is in addition to the "regular" macro mode that I'll tell you about later in the review. The color accent mode lets you select a color that you want to highlight in an image. The resulting image is in black and white, save for the color you selected. Color swap does just as it sounds -- you can swap one color for another. The Stitch Assist feature helps you line up photos side-by-side, for later stitching into a single panoramic image (on your computer).

I also want to tell you one thing about the ISO 3200 scene mode: it's a good idea to avoid using it. That's because images are quite noisy, and low resolution (1600 x 1200), as you can see here.


You'll see this menu when you're connected to a Mac or PC

Below the mode switch is the Print/Share button. This button has several functions, depending on what you're doing with the camera. In record mode, it normally does nothing, but you can change that if you wish (more details on this later). If you're connected to a Mac or PC, it will allow you to select photos to transfer to the computer. Finally, if you're hooked into a PictBridge-enabled printer, you'll use it to print a photo.

The other buttons in the area are for playback, display (toggles LCD info on/off), and entering the Menu system.

To the right of those is the combination four-way controller and scroll wheel. You'll use this for menu navigation, selecting a shooting mode, and browsing through photos. It can also be used for these functions:

  • 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

What's the difference between those two Auto ISO modes? Simply put, the Hi Auto will use higher sensitivities than regular Auto. The camera looks for motion in the frame, and the ISO is set appropriately (static subject: low ISO; moving subject: higher ISO).

I want to mention two of the features in the Drive menu. In the continuous shooting mode, you can keep taking photos at 1.2 frames/second, until your memory card fills up. Do note that a high speed card is recommended for best performance in this mode. The other feature of note in the Drive menu is the custom self-timer. This lets you select both the number of shots that are taken (up to 10) and the delay before that happens (anywhere from 0 to 30 seconds).


Function menu

Pressing the center button on the four-way controller options up the Function menu, which has these options:

  • Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments)
  • Long shutter mode (1 - 15 secs) - hit the Display button when exposure compensation is selected to activate this option
  • 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)

The PowerShot SD890'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.


Sharpness is one of the settings you can adjust with the Custom Color option

The My Colors feature should be self-explanatory, save for the custom option. This one lets you manually adjust contrast, sharpness, saturation, as well as red/green/blue/skin tone levels.

That's it for the back of the camera!

Top of the Canon PowerShot SD890 IS

The first item of note on the top of the SD890 is its microphone, located just below the Image Stabilizer label. Continuing to the right, we find the shutter release button, which has the zoom controller wrapped around it. This controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in 1.9 seconds. I counted twelve steps in the camera's 5X zoom range. And, unlike on some other ELPHs, the SD890 actually shows the current zoom setting on the LCD.

Those three holes to the upper-right of the zoom controller make up the SD890's speaker.

Side of the Canon PowerShot SD890 IS

Nothing to see here.

Side of the Canon PowerShot SD890 IS

On this side of the camera you'll find the SD890's sole I/O port. This mini USB port handles both USB and A/V output. As you'd expect, the PowerShot SD890 supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard.

The lens is at the full telephoto position here. It's amazing how you can squeeze it into a body just 1.08 inches thick!

Bottom of the Canon PowerShot SD890 IS

On the bottom of the camera you'll find a metal tripod mount, as well as the memory card/battery compartment. The reinforced plastic door over this compartment is of average quality. As you can probably tell, there's no way to access the memory card slot while the camera is on a tripod.

The included NB-5L battery can be seen at right.

Using the Canon PowerShot SD890 IS Digital ELPH

Record Mode

It takes roughly 1.1 seconds for the PowerShot SD890 IS to extend its lens and prepare for shooting. That's pretty good, considering how much lens there is to roll out!


No live histograms here

Overall, the SD890 was a solid performer in terms of focusing speeds. At the wide end of the lens, it locked focus in 0.2 - 0.4 seconds. At the telephoto end of things, focus times were around twice that, rarely exceeding one second. Low light focusing was good as well, with focus times staying under a second in most cases.

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

With the flash off, shot-to-shot delays are brief -- about 1.5 seconds pass before you can take another photo. Things slow down considerably if you use the flash, with delays rising to between 3 and 4 seconds, which isn't great.

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 SD890:

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # Images on 32MB card
(included)
# images on 2GB card (optional)
Large
3648 x 2736
Superfine 4.2 MB 6 440
Fine 2.5 MB 11 744
Normal 1.2 MB 23 1544
Wide (16:9)
3648 x 2048
Superfine 3.2 MB 8 588
Fine 1.9 MB 15 996
Normal 918 KB 31 2044
Middle 1
2816 x 2112
Superfine 2.7 MB 10 704
Fine 1.6 MB 17 1168
Normal 780 KB 37 2412
Middle 2
2272 x 1704
Superfine 2.0 MB 14 948
Fine 1.1 MB 26 1700
Normal 556 KB 52 3356
Middle 3
1600 x 1200
Superfine 1002 KB 29 1884
Fine 558 KB 52 3356
Normal 278 KB 99 6360
Small
640 x 480
Superfine 249 KB 111 7108
Fine 150 KB 171 10988
Normal 84 KB 270 17268

And that's why you need to buy a large memory card along with the camera! By the way, there's also a "postcard" resolution, which is the same as Middle 3. If you remember just one thing in this review, make it this: the postcard size is the ONLY setting that allows you to print the date on your photos!

The SD890 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 PowerShot SD890 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 automatic and scene modes. With that out of the way, 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, 1.4X, 2.3X, 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
    • 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 in record mode


The camera locked onto all six faces

There are three focus modes on the PowerShot SD890. The first one is Face Detection, a feature which you'll find on pretty much every camera in 2008. The camera will detect up to nine faces in the frame, making sure that the exposure (flash included), focus, 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. Just like on the PowerShot SD790 that I just reviewed, the SD890's face detection system worked very well, easily finding all six of the faces in our test scene. The other focus modes on the camera include AiAF (nine-point) and center-point AF.


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, enlarges the focus point when you halfway-press the shutter release. 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. Similarly, there's a "focus check" feature that will enlarge the focus point or faces in a photo, immediately after it is taken.

I want to briefly explain the digital zoom options on the PowerShot SD890. Canon calls the 1.4X and 2.3X 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. For example, at the M2 resolution, you get 7X of total zoom, while at M3 you get 11X.

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, which is desirable when you're panning the camera side-to-side. 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!

I have no complaints about the SD890's photo of our macro test subject. It has accurate, vivid color, plenty of detail, and the smooth look that is a trademark of Canon PowerShot cameras. I don't see any noise here, nor would I expect to.

In macro mode, you can be just 2 cm away from your subject. Do note that macro mode is only available with the lens in the (roughly) 1X - 3X position. You can use the digital macro feature to get closer, but remember that this can lower the quality of your photo.

The night shot turned out pretty well. The camera took in plenty of light, which you can do by using the long shutter speed option. The image is a bit noisier than I would like, but this is a 10 Megapixel compact camera, after all. While this noise does lead to mild detail loss, the buildings remain fairly sharp. While there's some fringing here, it's not purple -- more like cyan.

Now, let's use that same scene and crank the ISO sensitivity up a bit. I can only take this test to ISO 400, since I cannot select the faster shutter speeds needed for proper exposure past that point.


ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

There's more noise and noise reduction artifacting at ISO 100, but not by much. At ISO 200, we start to see details get eaten away, and this is probably as high as I'd take the PowerShot SD890 in low light. The ISO 400 shot has substantial detail loss, and you know that it's only going to get worse after that.

We'll see if the SD890 does better in normal lighting in a bit.

You'll experience moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the PowerShot SD890's 5X zoom lens. If you need an illustration of what this means in the real world, look no further than this shot. While vignetting (dark corners) wasn't a problem on the SD890, I did see corner blurring in several of my real world photos (example). This annoyance is a common one on ultra-compact cameras.

Ultra-compact cameras always have big redeye problems, and Canon countered this by adding an automatic redeye removal tool to the PowerShot SD890. As you can see, there's no red in sight!

Now it's time for our second ISO test, which is taken in the studio. Thus, it's comparable between cameras I've reviewed over the years. While the crops below give you a quick idea as to the noise performance at each sensitivity, I highly recommend viewing the full size images as well. Ready?


ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200


ISO 400


ISO 800

ISO 1600

The first three crops (ISO 80 - 200) are all very clean, as you'd expect. You start to see some mild noise and NR artifacting at ISO 400, but it's not enough to keep you from making a midsize or perhaps even large print. ISO 800 has more noticeable detail loss, so this setting is best for small prints. I don't think there's much you can do with the very noisy ISO 1600 shot, so I'd avoid using this one unless you're absolutely desperate.

Overall, I was very pleased with the photos produced by the PowerShot SD890 IS. They were usually well-exposed, though there was some pretty serious highlight clipping in our purple fringing torture test shot. Colors were accurate and nicely saturated, and sharpness was just how I like it (though you will encounter noticeable corner blurring at times). Noise is kept well under control in good lighting, with photos taken at ISO 800 still being very usable. Low light noise performance is not as impressive. Purple fringing levels were well controlled.

Don't just take my word for all this, though. Have a look at our photo gallery, perhaps printing a few of them if you can. Then you should be able to decide if the PowerShot SD890's photo quality meets your expectations.

Movie Mode

The PowerShot SD890 has the standard Canon movie mode. You can record video at 640 x 480 at (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 3 minutes.

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 short (but sweet) sample movie for you


Click to play movie (11.8 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, AVI format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The PowerShot SD890 has a very nice playback mode. Basic features include slideshows, image protection, DPOF print marking, voice captions, thumbnail view, and zoom & scroll. This last feature will enlarge the image by as much as ten times, and let you move around. This is good for checking for proper focus, open eyes, and more. Speaking of eyes, the Focus Check feature is available here, too: it automatically enlarges faces (or just the focus point) so you can make sure everyone's smiling.

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. If there's any redeye in your photos, you'll find a tool to remove it here. If you're viewing a movie, you'll have the option to trim unwanted material from the beginning or end of your clip.


Selecting a category

Photos that were taken in certain scene modes are automatically categorized, but if you want to do it manually, just use the My Category option. Your select is transferred to your computer along with the photo.

Moving through photos with the scroll wheel... ... and the Jump button

There are several ways to move through photos on the camera. Naturally, you can just press left or right on the four-way controller. You can also turn the scroll wheel, which gives you the screen you see on the left above. Another option is to use the Jump feature, which lets you move ahead by date, category, or just by 10 or 100 photos.

The PowerShot SD890 can also be used to record audio, and that tool is located in the playback menu. You can record up to two hours of continuous audio, with three quality settings to choose from.

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 SD890 IS 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?

Canon's PowerShot SD890 IS Digital ELPH is a good choice for those who want a little extra zoom power from a compact camera. It offers very good photo quality (in good light), a 5X zoom lens, optical image stabilization, good performance, and plenty of point-and-shoot features -- all in a stylish package. Nobody's perfect, and that goes for cameras, too. The SD890's lens is on the slow side, its low light performance is just so-so, and the LCD is nearly impossible to see if you're wearing polarized sunglasses (this issue would prevent me personally from buying the camera). If those things don't bother you, then the PowerShot SD890 is absolutely worth a look.

The PowerShot SD890 is a compact (but not super tiny) camera with a unique, curving design. The body is made almost entirely of metal, save for the somewhat flimsy door over the memory card / battery compartment. Since the tripod mount is right next to this compartment, you won't be able to get at the memory card slot while the camera is on a tripod. The SD890's ergonomics are fairly good, though I'm not a fan of the recessed, hard-to-find power button. The small four-way controller / scroll wheel takes some getting used-to, as well.

The biggest feature on the camera is its 5X optical zoom lens, which covers a range of 37 - 185 mm. This lens is on the slow side (in terms of aperture), though, which negatively affects its low light shooting abilities. Like most of Canon's lineup in 2008, the SD890 features their optical image stabilization system. This does an effective job of reducing blurry photos, and it'll smooth out your movies as well. On the back of the camera is a 2.5" LCD display with 230,000 pixels. A few years ago that would be a big screen, but now it seems a bit small. The screen offers very good outdoor and low light visibility, with one big exception. If you wear polarized sunglasses (which are very common), you will not be able to see what's on the screen when using the camera in the normal landscape orientation. The SD890 has an optical viewfinder as well, though it's very small (but I'll take what I can get).

The SD890 has the usual set of PowerShot point-and-shoot features. That includes scene modes, face detection (which works well), and automatic redeye removal. The camera is very light in terms of manual controls: only white balance and slow shutter speeds can be manually adjusted. The PowerShot SD890 has the standard Canon movie mode, which allows for up to an hour of continuous VGA video recording.

While it won't break any records, the PowerShot SD890 was generally a good performer. It takes just 1.1 seconds to startup, which isn't bad, considering how much lens there is to extend. The camera focuses quickly, with focus times ranging from 0.2 seconds at wide-angle to 0.8 seconds at telephoto. Low light focusing was responsive and accurate, due in part to the camera's AF-assist lamp. Shot-to-shot delays are brief if you're not using the flash, but you can expect to wait 3 or 4 seconds with it. The SD890's continuous shooting mode isn't terribly fast, but it does let you keep firing away at 1.2 frames/second, until your memory card is full. This PowerShot has above average battery life for its class, and its support for the USB 2.0 High Speed standard allows for fast data transfer speeds to your Mac or PC.

Photo quality was very good in most situations. The SD890 generally took well-exposed photos, with pleasing, vivid colors. Sharpness was "just right", save for the corners, which can sometimes be blurry (a common issue on compact cameras). Images are nearly noise free through ISO 400 in good light, though low light performance wasn't nearly as impressive. Purple fringing levels were low, and the camera's automatic redeye removal feature keeps that annoyance in check.

If you're looking for a compact camera with a little more zoom power than normal, then the Canon PowerShot SD890 IS Digital ELPH is definitely worth checking out. The only people who it's not a good fit for (in my opinion) are those who wear polarized sunglasses, which render the LCD unusable. For everyone else, the SD890 is a camera that I can easily recommend.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality (in good light)
  • 5X optical zoom in a compact, stylish body
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Generally snappy performance
  • Optical viewfinder, a rarity in this class (even though its tiny)
  • Redeye not a problem thanks to automatic removal tool
  • Well implemented face detection feature
  • Movie mode supports VGA quality clips as long as one hour
  • Above average battery life
  • USB 2.0 High Speed support

What I didn't care for:

  • Images are on the noisy side in low light
  • Some corner blurring
  • LCD very difficult to see when wearing polarized sunglasses
  • Lens is on the slow side (in terms of aperture)
  • Sluggish flash recharging
  • Difficult to access power button
  • More manual controls would be nice
  • Can't swap memory cards while using a tripod

Some other compact, extra zoom cameras worth considering include the Casio Exilim EX-Z200, Fuji FinePix F100fd, GE E1050, Kodak EasyShare Z1285, Nikon Coolpix S550, Olympus Stylus 840, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS5, Pentax Optio V20, Samsung TL9, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W170.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the PowerShot SD890 IS and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

See how the photos turned out in our gallery!

Feedback & Discussion

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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.