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Canon PowerShot SD970 IS Digital ELPH Review

How Does it Compare?

The Canon PowerShot SD970 IS Digital ELPH is a very good camera for those seeking a compact camera with a large, ultra-sharp LCD, extra zoom power, and lots of point-and-shoot features. It offers lots of bells and whistles, solid build quality, a beautiful LCD, a 5X stabilized zoom lens, and an HD movie mode. The SD970 shares many of the issues of its competitors (highlight clipping, corner blurring, no optical viewfinder) and has a few of its own, specifically its lack of any wide-angle component. Despite having a few things that could use some improvement, the PowerShot SD970 (also known as the IXUS 990 IS) is a good choice for those who want a full-featured compact camera and don't mind having a lens that starts at 37 mm.

The PowerShot SD970 is a compact (but not tiny) camera with a stylish, all-metal body. The camera is well built, and the two things I always bring up -- namely a plastic tripod mount and flimsy door over the memory card/battery compartment -- are not a problem here. Canon didn't go overboard with controls, and the button sizes are nice and large for the most part. The only thing to mention is that your thumb can rest on the Direct Print button or the four-way controller, if you're not careful. The SD970 features a 5X optical zoom lens with a focal range of 37 - 175 mm. That's great for telephoto lovers, but not so good for those of you who like wide-angle shooting (though don't worry, Canon has a camera for that too). As with all of Canon's PowerShots, the SD970 features optical image stabilization, which reduces the risk of blurry photos. On the back of the camera is a large, ultra-sharp 3-inch LCD display. Where most LCDs on compact cameras have 230,000 pixels, the one here has 461,000 -- and believe me, you'll notice. I found the LCD to be fairly easy to see outdoors, and even better in low light situations. As with nearly all compact cameras, there's no optical viewfinder on the SD970.

The SD970 is pretty much a point-and-shoot camera, with a few manual controls thrown in for good measure. The point-and-shoot features include a Smart Auto mode which automatically selects a scene mode for you, face and blink detection, a panorama assist tool, and a couple of fun features (Zoom Blur, My Colors). The camera also has a handy face self-timer feature (which waits until a new face -- presumably the photographers -- enters the scene) and effective redeye reduction. The only manual controls on the SD970 are for white balance and slow shutter speeds. The SD970 also features an HD movie mode, capable of recording up to 22 minutes of continuous 720p video. While the image stabilizer is active in movie mode, you cannot operate the optical zoom. Canon has given their menus a face lift recently, and while most of them work well, I found the new Function menu to be a little clunky.

Camera performance is very good in most respects. The SD970 is powered up and ready to go in about 1.2 seconds. The camera focus fairly quickly, ranging from 0.2 - 0.4 seconds at wide-angle to 0.5 - 0.9 seconds at telephoto. Low light focusing typically takes about a second, with the camera locking focus the majority of the time. Shutter lag wasn't a major problem, and shot-to-shot delays are brief, if you're not using the flash. If you are using the flash, be prepared to wait for around 4 seconds before you can take another photo. The SD970's continuous shooting mode is pretty average. You can keep taking photos at 1 frame/second until the memory card is full. The camera's battery life of 270 shots per charge is average for its class.

Photo quality is good for a compact camera. The PowerShot takes well-exposed photos, with pleasing color and sharpness (except for some corner blurriness). Like most ultra-compacts, the SD970 likes to clip highlights, and it also has more purple fringing than I would've liked. While a bit noisier than its predecessors, the SD970 still produces cleaner photos than the majority of its competitors. You can safely use the camera through ISO 200 in low light and ISO 400 in good light without having to worry about noise. The highest sensitivities are best left untouched, unless you're absolutely desperate. The SD970's dual redeye removal system does an effective job of removing that particular annoyance.

There are just a two other things to mention before I wrap things up. First, Canon doesn't include a memory card with the camera, nor is there any memory built in, so you'll need to add the (relatively low) cost of a memory card into the purchase price of the SD970. Second, you won't be able to get at the memory card slot while the camera is on a tripod -- a common issue on compact cameras.

If you're looking for a compact camera with a great LCD, pleasing photos, and plenty of point-and-shoot features, then it's definitely worth checking out the PowerShot SD970 IS Digital ELPH. If you like most of the features of the SD970 but want a wide-angle lens, then you may want to take a look at the upcoming PowerShot SD980 IS. You'll lose the high res LCD, but you'll gain a 24 - 120 mm lens. And don't forget the other cameras in the SD970's class, either (I've listed them below).

  • Very good photo quality
  • Compact, well-built metal body
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Ultra-sharp 3-inch LCD with good outdoor and low light visibility
  • Lots of point-and-shoot features, including Smart Auto mode, face/blink detection, face self-timer, and more
  • Effective redeye reduction feature
  • i-Contrast feature brightens shadows effectively, in record and playback mode
  • Can record HD movies at 1280 x 720 at 30 fps using H.264 codec
  • HDMI output
  • Good software bundle

What I didn't care for:

  • Tends to clip highlights; strong purple fringing at times
  • Lens starts at 37 mm
  • Corner blurriness can be an issue at wide-angle
  • Slow-charging flash
  • More manual controls would be nice
  • Clumsy Function menu
  • No optical viewfinder
  • Cannot access memory card while using a tripod
  • No memory card or built-in memory included

Some other compact cameras in the SD970's class include the Casio Exilim EX-FC100, Fuji FinePix F200EXR, GE E1255W, Kodak EasyShare M380, Nikon Coolpix S640, Olympus Stylus 7000, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS25, Samsung SL620, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W290.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local camera or electronics store to try out the PowerShot SD970 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

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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.