Originally Posted: August 24, 2009
Last Updated: August 24, 2009
The Canon PowerShot SD970 IS Digital ELPH ($379) is an ultra-compact camera with a 12 Megapixel CCD, 5X optical zoom lens (with image stabilization), high resolution 3-inch LCD, HD movie mode, HDMI output, and plenty of point-and-shoot features. The SD970 is the #2 camera in Canon's ELPH lineup, with only the 14 Megapixel SD990 above it, though that camera was recently discontinued.
Trying to figure out Canon's ELPH lineup can be a bit confusing, so I put together this chart to help clear things up for you. (Canon released some new ELPHs after this section was written.)
I hope that makes your camera shopping a little bit easier!
Is the PowerShot SD970 a force to be reckoned with in the ultra-compact space? Find out now in our review!
The SD970 is known as the Digital IXUS 990 IS in some countries.
What's in the Box?
The PowerShot SD970 IS has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
- The 12.1 effective Megapixel PowerShot SD970 IS digital camera
- NB-5L rechargeable lithium-ion battery
- Battery charger
- Wrist strap
- USB cable
- A/V cable
- CD-ROM featuring Canon Digital Camera Solution
- 162 page camera manual (printed)
Canon was the last manufacturer to include memory cards with their cameras. They didn't switch to internal memory, though -- they don't include any memory at all! Thus, you'll need to bring your own card, and I'd suggest a 2GB SD or SDHC card to start with (the camera can also use MMC, MMCplus, and HC MMCplus cards, though I'd stick with SD/SDHC). It's worth spending a few extra bucks for a high speed card, though you don't need to go overboard and buy the 300X Ultra Extreme VIII model.
The PowerShot SD970 uses the familiar NB-5L lithium-ion battery. This battery packs 4.1 Wh of energy into its plastic shell, which is decent by ultra-compact camera standards. Here's how that translates into battery life:
The PowerShot SD970's battery life is just a bit above average in this group of ultra-compact cameras. I always like to mention a few issues related to the proprietary batteries used by all of the cameras in the above table. First, they're pricier than NiMH rechargeables -- a spare NB-5L will set you back at least $42. Second, should. the battery run out of juice, you can't just grab something off-the-shelf to get you through the day. That said, these compact li-ion batteries are standard features on ultra-compact cameras, so there's nothing you can do about it.
When it's time to charge the NB-5L, just pop it into the included charger. This is my favorite type of charger -- it plugs directly into the wall. It takes just over two hours to fully charge the battery.
As with all ultra-compact cameras, the SD970 has a built-in lens cover. As you can see, it's a stylish little camera!
The PowerShot SD970 is pretty light on accessories. The only things available are the following:
That was easy... let's move onto software now.
CameraWindow in Mac OS X
Canon includes version 46 (!) of their Digital Camera Solution software suite with the PowerShot SD970. The first part of this suite 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. As you'd expect, you start off with the usual thumbnail view, for which there are many sizes to choose from. The Browser software lets 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.
Editing in ImageBrowser
Double-click on a thumbnail in the Browser software 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 wanting a quick fix.
Movie editing in ImageBrowser
The Browser software also includes a decent movie editing tool. After you've brought your clips into it, you can add text and filter effects, transitions, your own audio clips, and then save the movie into the format of your choice. Not bad, considering that most bundled software only lets you watch your video clips!
PhotoStitch in Mac OS X
The last part of the Canon software suite that I want to mention is PhotoStitch. As you can see, this allows you to combine multiple photos into a single panoramic image. It's very easy to use, and the results can be impressive. While using the SD970's Stitch Assist feature isn't required to make panoramas, it does help you line things up correctly, so there are no seams in the final product.
Canon includes a detailed (though not terribly user friendly) manual with the PowerShot SD970. It will certainly answer any question you may have about the camera, but be prepared for lots of "notes" on each page. I do appreciate the "What Do You Want to Do?" section on the first couple of pages -- it's much easier than sifting through the table of contents or index. Documentation for the software bundle is included in PDF format on the CD-ROM that comes in the box.
Look and Feel
The PowerShot SD970 IS Digital ELPH is a stylish, ultra-compact camera. The body is made almost entirely of metal, and it not only looks good, but it feels solid in your hands. While there's the usual plastic door over the memory card and battery compartment, it seems to be fairly well reinforced. The camera fits well in your hand, and its buttons are large and easy to reach. I should point out that there's really no dedicated spot to put your thumb, so it often ends up on either the Direct Print button or the four-way controller, which can cause trouble.
Now, let's see how the SD970 compares to other mid zoom ultra-compacts in terms of size and weight:
The SD970 is one of the larger and heavier cameras in this group. That doesn't mean that it's not pocketable -- it'll fit into your jeans pocket with ease.
Ready to tour the PowerShot SD970 IS now? I know I am, so let's begin!
The PowerShot SD970 has the same F3.2 - F5.7, 5X optical zoom lens as the SD890 that came before it. That maximum aperture range is on the slow side, but it's not uncommon on ultra-compact cameras like this. The focal range of the lens is 6.6 - 33.0 mm, which is equivalent to 37 - 185 mm (a wide-angle lens it is not). As you'd expect, the lens isn't threaded, so conversion lenses are not supported.
Inside the lens is Canon's optical image stabilization system. Sensors inside the camera detect the tiny movements of your hands (known as "camera shake") that can blur your photos, especially in low light or at the telephoto end of the lens. The camera shifts one of the lens elements to compensate for this movement, allowing for a higher likelihood of a sharp photo. Image stabilization can't freeze a moving subject, nor will it allow for multi-second handheld exposures, but it will give you sharp photos at shutter speeds that would be otherwise unusable. Want proof? Have a look at these:
Image stabilization off
Image stabilization on
Both of the above photos were taken at around the 3X zoom position, with a shutter speed of 1/10 second. As you can probably tell, the photo taken with stabilization turned on is noticeably sharper than the one without it. You can also use the IS system in movie mode, as illustrated in this short sample video.
To the upper-right of the lens is the SD970's sleek but small built-in flash. The working range of the flash is about average: it's 0.3 - 3.5 m at wide-angle, and 0.3 - 2.0 m at telephoto (both at Auto ISO). Should you want more flash power (and less of a chance of redeye), you can pick up the external slave flash that I mentioned back in the accessory discussion.
The only other thing to see on the front of the camera is the AF-assist lamp, which the camera uses as a focusing aid in low light situations. The lamp also lights up when the self-timer is counting down, and when redeye reduction is turned on.
It's impossible to miss the LCD on the back of the SD970, as it takes up nearly the entire backside of the camera. This may look like just another 3-inch screen, but it's not: it has double the resolution of most LCDs, with 461,000 pixels. As you'd expect, the screen is super sharp, and a real pleasure to use. Outdoor visibility was pretty good, and in low light the screen brightens up very nicely, so you can still see your subject.
As with every ultra-compact camera with a 3-inch LCD, there's no optical viewfinder to be found on the PowerShot SD970. If that's an issue for you, you'll need to look at cameras with smaller LCDs, or cave in and buy a larger camera.
Now let's talk buttons. Those two opposing triangle buttons at the top-right are for Direct Printing (among other things) and entering playback mode. In record mode, you can customize the function of the Direct Print button (I'll list the options later in the review) -- by default, it does nothing. If you're connected to a photo printer, you can press the button to print the photo that's displayed on the LCD.
Below those buttons is the camera's combination four-way controller and scroll wheel. The wheel portion can be used for menu navigation, adjusting manual settings, and quickly moving through photos in playback mode. The four-way controller can do many of the same things, and it also lets you adjust the following:
- Up - Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, in 1/3EV increments)
- Down - Self-timer (Off, 2 or 10 sec, face timer, custom timer) + Delete photo
- Left - Focus (Normal, macro, infinity)
- Right - Flash (Auto, flash on, slow synchro, flash off)
- Center - Function menu + Set
There's a lot to talk about before we can continue the tour. First up are those two unique self-timer options. The face self-timer option lets you be included in a photo, without having to run while the self-timer counts down. The camera will simply wait until another face is detected, and it will take anywhere from 1 to 10 photos two seconds later. The custom self-timer option lets you select both the delay and the number of photos taken -- a pretty uncommon feature.
The newly remodeled Function Menu
Pressing the center button on the four-way controller options up the Function menu, which has a totally new design on the SD970. While it looks lovely, the Function menu is a lot more difficult to navigate than on previous Canon cameras. It's hard to explain why, but if you try it, I think you'll agree. Anyhow, the options here include:
- Metering (Evaluative, center-weighted, spot)
- 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
- White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, custom) - see below
- ISO speed (Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600)
- Rec. mode (Program, portrait, night snapshot, kids & pets, indoor, sunset, creative light effect, fireworks, long shutter, beach, aquarium, foliage, snow, ISO 3200, digital macro, zoom blur, color accent, color swap, Stitch Assist) - see below
- Drive mode (Single-shot, continuous) - see below
- Image quality (see chart later in review)
- Image size (see chart later in review)
The My Colors feature hasn't changed in recent years. The only option that needs some explanation is the custom color setting. This lets you manually adjust contrast, sharpness, saturation, as well as red/green/blue/skin tone levels. In the Rec. mode menu are two more My Colors options: color accent and color swap. The former lets you choose a color to "keep", while the rest of the image becomes black and white. Color Swap does just as it sounds: you swap one color for another.
The PowerShot SD970'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.
How does the SD970 perform in its continuous shooting mode? With a high speed SD card, I was able to keep shooting away at an unremarkable 1 frame/second. The LCD lags behind the action a bit, though you should still be able to follow a moving subject.
What about all those Rec. mode options? I already told you about the Color Accent and Color Swap items, and there are a few more worth a mention. Program mode is a point-and-shoot shooting mode with full menu access, in contrast to the regular Auto mode which has most of its menu options locked up. The creative light effect mode turns bright light sources into shapes such as stars and hearts. You can select from large or small sized shapes. The long shutter mode is how you'll take night photos like the ones in my reviews. You can select a shutter speed range from 1 to 15 seconds. The ISO 3200 mode does just as it sounds -- boost the sensitivity as high as it will go (though the resolution will drop to 3 Megapixel). While this will most likely result in a sharp photo, don't expect very good quality from it (see example).
Zoom Blur feature in action
The zoom blur feature will operate the zoom lens while your photo is being taken, which can produce some interesting effects (see above). Finally, there's Stitch Assist, which helps you line up your photos side-by-side for later stitching into a single panorama.
The last two buttons on the back of the PowerShot SD970 toggle the information shown on the LCD, and enter the menu system.
The first item of note on the top of the PowerShot SD970 is the microphone, which is located on the left side of the above photo. Moving more toward the center, we find the mode switch (Movie, Shooting, Auto), which has the speaker above that. If you set the mode switch to the "Auto" position the camera goes into Smart Auto mode. There it will pick one of eighteen scene modes automatically, detect any faces, and compensate for a strong backlight. It even knows when the camera is on a tripod (in low light situations). If you're looking for some kind of manual mode, forget about it -- this is a point-and-shoot camera.
Continuing to the right, you can see the power and shutter release buttons, with the zoom controller wrapped around the latter. The zoom controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in about 1.6 seconds. I counted a dozen steps in the camera's 5X zoom range.
Nothing to see here. The lens is at the wide-angle position in this shot.
On the opposite side of the SD970 are its I/O ports, which are under plastic covers. The one on the top is a mini-HDMI port, which you can use to connect to an HDTV (cable not included). The port on the bottom handles both USB and (regular) A/V output.
The lens is at full telephoto here.
On the bottom of the PowerShot SD970 is a metal tripod mount (obscured from view here) and the battery/memory card compartment. The reinforced plastic door over this compartment feels fairly sturdy, though I wouldn't push it. You won't be able to access the compartment while the camera is on a tripod.
The included NB-5L lithium-ion battery can be seen at right.
Using the Canon PowerShot SD970 IS
It takes just under 1.2 seconds for the SD970 to extend its lens and prepare for shooting. That's pretty snappy.
There's no histogram to be found on the SD970
Autofocus delays were generally short on the SD970. At wide-angle, expect to wait for 0.2 - 0.4 seconds before the camera locks focus. Telephoto focus times range from 0.5 - 0.9 seconds in most cases. The camera focuses pretty well in low light situations, with focus times typically hanging around one second.
I did not find shutter lag to be an issue, even at the slower shutter speeds where it sometimes occurs.
After you take a photo, you'll wait 1.5 seconds before you can take another. If you're using the flash, the wait goes up to four seconds, which is pretty slow side. The SD970 offers a "focus check" feature, which enlarges the face or focus point in the photo that you just took.
You can delete a picture after you've taken it by pressing down on the four-way controller.
Now, here's a look at the image quality options on the PowerShot SD970 IS. Long-time Canon users will notice that there are now only two image quality settings to choose from at each resolution (no more super fine!).
The PowerShot SD970 doesn't support the RAW or TIFF image formats, nor would I expect it to. The old "postcard" size found on previous ELPHs is gone -- you can now print the date on photos taken at any resolution.
Alright, let's talk about the menu system now, shall we?
The SD970's menus have a new, flashy look, and they look fantastic on the high resolution LCD. Unlike the new Function menu, the regular menu is easy to navigate, either with the four-way controller or the scroll wheel that surrounds it. Keeping in mind that not all of these options are available in every shooting mode, here's the full list of record menu items:
- AF frame (Face AiAF, center) - see below
- AF frame size (Normal, small) - pick the focus point size, for center AF only
- Servo AF (on/off) - see below
- Digital zoom (Off, 1.5X, 2.0X, Standard) - see below
- AF-point zoom (on/off) - enlarges the focus point or the selected faces when you halfway-press the shutter release
- AF-assist beam (on/off)
- Flash settings
- Redeye correction (on/off) - digital redeye removal, as the photo is taken
- Redeye reduction lamp (on/off) - attempts to shrink your subject's pupils to reduce redeye
- i-Contrast (Off, auto) - see below
- Review (Off, 2-10 seconds, hold) - post-shot review
- Review info (Off, detailed, focus check) - what is shown in post-shot review; detailed shows you shooting data and a histogram; focus check enlarges the focus point or faces
- Blink detection (on/off) - see below
- Display overlay (Off, grid lines, 3:2 guide, both)
- IS mode (Continuous, shoot only, panning, off) - see below
- Date stamp (Off, date, date & time)
- Set Direct Print button (Off, face select, ISO, white balance, custom WB, redeye correction, digital teleconverter, i-Contrast, display overlay, record movie, display off) - define what this button does
There are two focus modes on the PowerShot SD970. Face AiAF looks for up to nine faces in the frame, and makes sure they're properly exposed and focused. If it can't find any faces, it'll switch to 9-point autofocus instead. There's also center-point AF option, and you can select from a normal or small-sized focus point.
The camera found four of the six faces
The SD970's face detection system works well in the real world, and not so well with my test scene (I've found this to be the case with all recent Canon cameras). With the test scene, it typically found 3 or 4 of the six faces in the frame, though everything seemed very "jumpy" to me. You can track a moving subject by first assigning the Face Select feature to the Direct Print button on the back of the camera. When faces are detected, press the button to select who you want to track, the camera will follow them as they move around the frame.
What the blink detection screen looks like; simulated image courtesy of Canon USA
Tied into the face detection system is Canon's new blink detection feature. If you have this feature on and you take a picture of a person whose eyes are closed, the camera will display a warning screen.
The servo AF feature is quite simple: the camera will keep focusing while the shutter release is halfway-pressed, which comes in handy when your subject is in motion.
A quick note about the digital zoom feature on the SD970: Canon calls the 1.5X and 2.0X options a "digital teleconverter" -- it's basically just fixed digital zoom. The Standard option is what you'll find on every camera - you can select whatever amount of digital zoom that you want, at the expense of image quality. The 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 more of it. At 1600 x 1200 (good enough for a 4 x 6 inch print), you'll get 13X total zoom power using this feature!
Another feature on the PowerShot SD970 is called i-Contrast. This feature attempts to brighten dark areas of a photo, and you can a nice example of it in action in my PowerShot SX200 review. You can also brighten photos using i-Contrast while in playback mode (more on that in a bit).
What are those three IS modes all about? Continuous mode activates the OIS system as soon as you halfway press the shutter release, which helps you compose the photo without camera shake. The "shoot only" option doesn't turn it on until the photo is actually taken, which improves the performance of the OIS system. The panning mode only stabilizes up and down motion, and you'll want to use this while tracking a moving subject horizontally. You can also turn the whole thing off, which is advisable if you're using a tripod.
The other tab in the menu is for more general settings, which include:
- Mute (on/off) - quickly turn off the camera's blips and beeps
- Startup volume (Off, 1-5)
- Operation volume (Off, 1-5)
- Self-timer volume (Off, 1-5)
- Shutter volume (Off, 1-5)
- Sound options
- Startup sound (1, 2)
- Operation sound (1, 2)
- Self-timer sound (1, 20)
- Shutter sound (1, 2)
- LCD brightness (1 - 5)
- Start-up image (None, 1, 2)
- Hints & Tips (on/off) - describes the options in the Function menu
- Format (memory card)
- File numbering (Continuous, auto reset)
- Create folder
- Create new folder - on the memory card
- Auto create (Off, daily, weekly, monthly) - this new feature 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
- Power saving
- Auto power down (on/off)
- Display off (10, 20, 30 sec, 1-3 min)
- Time zone (Home, world)
- Date/time (set)
- Video system (NTSC, PAL)
- Reset all - back to defaults
That wraps up the menu discussion -- let's move on to the photo tests now.
The PowerShot SD970 did a pretty nice job with our macro test subject. Colors look good, with the custom white balance feature handling our studio lamps with ease. The subject is slightly soft, possibly due to noise reduction. That said, I don't see any noise in the photo!
The minimum focusing distance in macro mode is just 2 cm when the lens is at full wide-angle. The camera is only capable of focusing at close distances when the lens as at the 1X - 3X positions (roughly). There's also a digital macro mode, which locks the lens at wide-angle and lets you use the digital zoom to get closer. Be warned that unless you drop the resolution, this can degrade image quality.
If you want to take long exposures with the PowerShot SD970 you'll need to either use a scene mode or the long shutter speed option. With the latter, you can manually select a shutter speed ranging from 1 to 15 seconds. I used the long shutter option here, and brought in a decent amount of light, though a slower shutter speed wouldn't have hurt. Sharpness seems to vary a bit, depending on where you look. Everything's nice and sharp from the left through the center, but as you get toward the right edge, the image starts to soften. For a camera that likes to clip highlights, the SD970 didn't actually do that bad here. Noise is barely visible, and purple fringing levels are fairly low.
Now, let's use that same night scene to see how the SD970 performed at high ISOs in low light. I can only take the ISO up to 400 here, since the SD970 doesn't have full control over the shutter speed.
There's a small increase in noise when you go from ISO 80 to 100 -- and sorry about the difference in exposure between those two shots. You start to lose some detail at ISO 200, though it shouldn't keep you from making a small or midsize print. I wouldn't take the SD970 above ISO 400 in low light since, as you can see, there's quite a bit of detail loss.
We'll see how the camera performed in normal lighting in a bit.
There's mild to moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the PowerShot SD970's 5X zoom lens. You can see what this does to your real world photos by noticing how the building on the right side of this photo appears to curve inward. As with most compact cameras, you should expect to see some corner blurriness on the SD970 (see example). I did not find vignetting (dark corners) to be an issue, however.
Canon has taken a two-pronged approach to redeye removal on the SD970. You can have it use the redeye reduction lamp to shrink your subject's pupils, have it digitally remove any redeye that the camera finds, or both. I had both features turned on for my test, and it worked a little too well! If you find some redeye in photos you've already taken, you can use a tool in playback mode to remove it.
Now it's time for our studio ISO test. SInce the lighting is always the same, you can compare these photos with others I've taken over the years. With the usual reminder to view the full size images in addition to the crops, let's begin!
There's almost no difference between the ISO 80 and 100 shots. There's a tiny increase in noise at ISO 200, but that won't keep you from making a large print at that sensitivity. ISO 400 is still pretty clean, and usable for midsize and perhaps larger prints. The image taken at ISO 800 is noticeably softer than those before it, almost looking like it was run through a softening filter (it wasn't). Thus, I'd save this option for small prints only. Things continue to get softer and fuzzier at ISO 1600, so I'd avoid using this setting unless you're absolutely desperate.
Overall, the PowerShot SD970 produced very good quality photos, at least by compact camera standards. The camera took accurate exposures, with pleasing, vivid color. Photos were quite sharp, save for some softness near the corners. The SD970 does seem to clip highlights quite a bit, though, and purple fringing can be strong at times. Photos are a little bit noisier than on previous ELPHs, but the SD970's still produces photos with less noise and noise reduction than most of its competitors.
Don't just take my word for all this -- have a look at our photo gallery and judge the PowerShot SD970's photo quality with your own eyes!
The PowerShot SD970 IS Digital ELPH features a high definition 720p movie mode. In layman's terms, that means that you can record videos at 1280 x 720 (at 30 frames/second) until the file size hits 4GB. It takes around 22 minutes for that to occur, thanks to Canon's use of the efficient H.264 codec. As you'd expect, sound is recorded along with the video.
For longer movies, you'll can drop the resolution to 640 x 480 or 320 x 240 (both record at 30 fps). The maximum recording times are around 47 minutes for the former, and one hour for the latter.
As is often the case, you cannot operate the optical zoom lens while you're recording a movie. The image stabilizer is available, however.
The SD970 allows you to use the Color Accent and Color Swap features in movie mode, if you wish.
Here's a sample movie for you, taken at the highest quality setting:
Click to play movie (33.3 MB, 1280 x 720, 30 fps, QuickTime format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.
|Regular playback menu||Playback function menu|
The PowerShot SD970 has a very nice playback mode. Basic features include slideshows (with transitions), image protection, DPOF print marking, thumbnail view, and playback zoom (what I call zoom & scroll). Playback options can be found in both the traditional and function menus (which is a change from older ELPHs).
|Viewing photos by date||Assigning a category to a photo|
Photos can be viewed one at a time, as thumbnails, or you can use the new Filtered Playback feature. This lets you view photos by date, category, folder, and file type. Speaking of categories, you can assign one of six preset categories to your photos. In some cases, the category is automatically assigned by the camera.
i-Contrast in playback mode
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. You can also use the i-Contrast feature to brighten up the dark areas of your photos, with a choice of Auto, Low, Medium, or High settings.
If you have a movie open, you can trim unwanted footage off of the beginning or end of the clip.
The camera lets you delete photos one at a time, in groups (sequential or non sequential), or you can get rid of all of them at once.
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.
|Viewing photos with the scroll wheel||Viewing photos by "shaking" the camera|
The SD970 moves through images at a good clip, with a delay of a fraction of a second between each one (complete with fancy transitions). You can move from one photo to the next with the four-way controller, zoom through them faster with the scroll wheel, and you can even "shake" the camera up or down to switch to the next image. That's a feature I never knew that I needed, but there you go.
One other thing to mention is that when you rotate the camera 90 degrees, so does the photo you're viewing on the LCD.
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!
See how the photos turned out in our gallery!