DCRP Review: Canon PowerShot SD10 Digital ELPH
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: October 10, 2003
Last Updated: October 11, 2003

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If a regular Digital ELPH just isn't small enough for you, then Canon's newest and smallest model will definitely get your attention. Keeping them same all-metal body as the other ELPHs, the PowerShot SD10 Digital ELPH ($349 street price) is probably 1/3 the size of the SD100 and S400. Of course, you lose the zoom lens and optical viewfinder in the process, but those are the tradeoffs necessary to make a camera this small. So how small is it?

Here's the SD10 next to a typical compact camera, in this case a Minolta G500.

Ready to learn about this take-anywhere camera? Read on!

The SD10 Digital ELPH is known as the Digital IXUS i in some countries.

What's in the Box?

The PowerShot SD10 has an excellent bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 4.0 (effective) Mpixel Canon PowerShot SD10 camera
  • 32MB Secure Digital card
  • NB-3L rechargeable Li-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROMs featuring Canon Digital Camera Solutions and ArcSoft Camera Suite
  • 169 page camera manual + add'l software manual (both printed)

Canon includes a 32MB Secure Digital card with the camera, a good starting point. Even so, you'll definitely want a larger card right away. SD cards come as large as 512MB as of this writing. You can use MultiMediaCards as well, though they are not supported by Canon.

The SD10 uses the same NB-3L lithium-ion battery as the SD100. The NB-3L battery has 2.9 Wh of power. Canon estimates that you'll be able to take about 190 shots, or spend 140 minutes in playback mode. Since there's no optical viewfinder on this camera, you must use the LCD, which decreases the battery life.

Long time readers of this site know that I'm not a big fan of proprietary batteries, but it's unavoidable with these ultra-small cameras. An extra battery will set you back $45.

Battery charger + battery

One thing I love about these little PowerShots is the battery charger. It plugs right into the wall, with no cables to worry about. 95 minutes later your battery is fully charged.

The SD10 has a (tiny!) built-in lens cover, so there is no lens cap to worry about. This shot gives you another idea of just how small this camera is!

The only real accessory for the SD10 is the AW-DC10 all weather case. Note that this is not equivalent to Canon's other underwater cases -- the camera can get wet, and go up to 9.8 feet underwater, but no deeper.

Note that you cannot buy an AC adapter for this camera, as it lacks a DC-in port.

ImageBrowser in Mac OS X

Canon includes version 14 (!) of their excellent Digital Camera Solutions software, as well as ArcSoft's very capable Camera Suite, with the SD10. The main programs in the DCS software package are ImageBrowser/ZoomBrowser (Mac/PC names), PhotoStitch (a great panorama creation product), and RemoteCapture (which lets your Mac or PC control the camera over the USB connection).

PhotoImpression in Mac OS X

The ArcSoft package includes PhotoImpression 4 for Mac and Windows, as well as VideoImpression (1.7 for PC, 1.6 for Mac). Despite its somewhat cheesy interface, PhotoImpression is a nice program for retouching and organizing your photos.

Canon's software bundle continues to be a lot nicer than what the competition includes with their cameras. Best of all (for us Mac users, at least), all the software is Mac OS X native.

Canon's camera manuals also are some of the best out there. You'll get a full, printed camera manual (that actually makes sense), as well as a separate manual for the bundled software as well.

Look and Feel

The PowerShot SD10 is a tiny, all-metal camera that you can take anywhere. But size isn't the only unique thing about the SD10's body -- you can choose from four colors as well!

You can choose from bronze, white, black, or silver bodies. If you want people to notice your camera, get the bronze one!

The SD10 is essentially a one hand camera, though you can use two if you like. As you can imagine, it fits in any pocket. One thing you need to watch out for is scratches: these metal cameras can get messed up quickly if you're no careful.

The official dimensions of the camera are 3.6 x 1.9 x 0.7 inches (W x H x D, without protrusions), and it weights just 100 grams. Compare that with 3.3 x 2.2 x 0.9 inches and 165 grams on the next largest Digital ELPH, the SD100.

Let's take a closer look at this camera now.

The SD10 has a fixed focal length, F2.8 lens. The focal length is 6.4 mm, which is equivalent to 39 mm. The SD10 uses Canon's 5-point AiAF autofocus system. The lens is not threaded.

At the upper-right you'll find the built-in flash. The working range of the flash is 0.3 - 2.0 m.

If there's one thing I like about Canon, it's that they have AF-assist lamps on all their cameras -- even tiny ones like this. This little lamp helps the camera focus when lighting is dim.

To the right of the AF-assist lamp is the microphone.

You'd better like the SD10'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.

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 two buttons, the four-way controller, and a status lamp. The two buttons are for menu and function/set ("enter" for menus). What does the function menu do?

The function menu

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, long shutter, macro, stitch assist)
  • Exposure compensation (+2EV to -2EV in 1/3EV increments)
  • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H)
  • ISO (Auto, 50, 100, 200, 400)
  • Photo effect (Off, vivid, neutral, low sharpening, sepia, black & white)
  • Metering (Evaluative, center-weighted, spot)
  • 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. In fact, only the shooting mode and image size/compression options above are available in auto mode.

The long shutter mode is really the only manual control on the camera (no manual white balance here!). Switch to this mode and you can choose a shutter speed ranging from 1 - 15 seconds. Stitch Assist is a helpful tool for making panoramic images.

The photo effect feature lets you change the color between regular, vivid, and neutral. You can use photo effects in movie mode, as well.

The function button is also used to delete a photo in playback mode.

To the right of the Function button is the four-way controller, which is used for menu navigation and more. The "more" includes:

  • Up - Digital zoom in
  • Right - Flash (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, flash on, flash off, slow-synchro)
  • Down - Digital zoom out
  • Left - Drive (Single shot, continuous, self-timer)

Note that using the 5.7X digital zoom will lower the quality of your photos.

Continuous shooting mode will take shots sequentially at around 1.6 frames/second. I was able to take six shots in a row at the highest quality setting.

The last item of note on the back of the camera can be found under that rubber cover at the lower-right. This is where you'll find the I/O ports for A/V and Digital (USB) out. Canon is still using USB 1.1... I'd like to see them adopt the new high speed USB 2.0 standard one of these days. As I mentioned earlier, there's no DC-in port on the SD10.

On the top of the camera, you'll find the power button, shutter release button, and speaker. You have to hold the power button down for a second to actually turn the camera on or off, which prevents you from doing so accidentally.

Nothing to see on this side of the SD10, other than its thin profile.

On this side of the camera are the battery and SD card slots. They are kept under a somewhat flimsy plastic door that feels like it could bust off if you force it.

The included 32MB SD card and battery are shown at left.

Finally, on the bottom of the camera you'll find a metal tripod mount. Some of these tiny cameras don't have one, so it's nice to see.

Using the Canon PowerShot SD10

Record Mode

The PowerShot SD10 starts up faster than almost any camera I've used. The camera is ready to go in just 1.4 seconds

Autofocus lag is about average, with the camera taking around a second to lock focus in most cases, and slightly longer if the camera has use the AF illuminator. The SD10 did a good job focusing in dim lighting conditions.

Shutter lag is minimal at fast shutter speeds, and noticeable at slower shutter speeds (where you should be using the flash or a tripod).

The SD10 has a feature called Quick Shot, which lets you take a picture without having to half-press the shutter release button first. Keep in mind that it works best when the subject is further than 1.5 meters away.

Shot-to-shot speed is very good: about 1.5 seconds pass before you can take another shot, assuming you turned off the post-shot review feature. If you have the review feature turned on, half-pressing the shutter release will ready the camera for another shot.

After a shot is taken, you can press the function button to quickly delete the photo you just took.

Here's a look at the image size and quality choices available on the SD10:

Resolution Compression Approx. File Size # shots on 32MB card
2272 x 1704
Superfine 2.2 MB 14
Fine 1.1 MB 26
Normal 556 KB 52

Medium 1
1600 x 1200

Superfine 1.0 MB 29
Fine 558 KB 52
Normal 278 KB 99
Medium 2
1024 x 768
Superfine 570 KB 50
Fine 320 KB 89
Normal 170 KB 157
640 x 480
Superfine 249 KB 110
Fine 150 KB 171
Normal 84 KB 269

There's no TIFF or RAW mode available on this camera, unlike some of Canon's more expensive cameras. The camera names files as IMG_####.JPG, where # = 0001 - 9900. The camera maintains the numbering even if you erase or format the card.

The SD10 uses the same menu system as other PowerShot cameras. It's basic, and easy to use. Items in bold are only available in manual mode. Here's a look:

  • Quick Shot (on/off) - lets you take shots without half-pressing the shutter release button. May not work for close-up shots.
  • AiAF (on/off) - turns multi-point autofocus on and off
  • Self-timer (2, 10 sec)
  • AF-assist beam (on/off)
  • Digital zoom (on/off)
  • Review (Off, 2-10 sec) - for showing image on LCD after it is taken

With the exception of the aforementioned long shutter mode, this is a totally point-and-shoot camera.

The SD10 also has a setup menu, with the following options:

  • Mute (on/off) - turn the beep sounds off
  • Volume - set the volume for the various sound effects the SD10 makes
  • Info display - choose what is shown on LCD in various modes
    • Shooting info (on/off)
    • Review info (on/off)
    • Replay info (Off, standard, detailed)
  • LCD brightness (-7 to +7, increments of 1)
  • Power saving
    • Auto power down (on/off)
    • Display off (10, 20, 30 sec, 1-3 min) - delay before LCD is turned off
  • Date/time
  • Clock display (0 sec - 3 min) - length of time that clock is shown
  • Card format
  • File number reset (on/off) - maintain file numbering
  • Language (English, Deutsch, Français, Nederlands, Dansk, Suomi, Italiano, Norsk, Svenska, Español, Chinese, Japanese)
  • Video system (NTSC, PAL)

The SD10 has a rather strange feature -- a built in clock. To view the current date and time, you just hold down the Func button. The clock remains visible for the amount of time you chose in the setup menu. Pressing another button brings the camera back into shooting mode.

There is also a "My Camera" menu, which allows you to customize the startup screen and various noises that the camera makes. You can also turn them all off, thankfully.

That's enough about menus, let's do photo tests now.

The SD10 did a nice job with our macro test subject, with accurate color and good detail. You can get as close to your subject as 3 cm -- very impressive.

The night test shot results were mixed. On one hand, the long shutter mode allowed the camera to capture plenty of light. The image is nice and sharp as well. However, noise levels are a little high on this 6 sec exposure, and there are several hot pixels. That was surprising, since the camera has a noise reduction system that is activated on exposures longer than 1.3 seconds. There was also some purple fringing in the image.

As you'd expect with a tiny camera, there was some redeye in our flash test shot. It can be removed pretty well in software.

The distortion test shows mild barrel distortion and no vignetting.

Overall, I was very surprised at how good the photo quality was on the SD10. There are no tradeoffs here, like you'd find on other cameras (blurry corners being an example). Images are very sharp, color is good, and exposure was accurate most of the time. I did see some purple fringing, but it wasn't bad enough to be considered a problem.

Don't just take my word about all this, though -- have a look at the photo gallery and let your own eyes be the judge!

Movie Mode

The SD10 has an average movie mode. You can record up to 3 minutes of video at either 320 x 240 or 160 x 120, both at 15 frames/second. Sound is also recorded.

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

I have what is possibly the world's most boring sample movie for you. Enjoy:

Click to play movie (2.8MB, AVI format)

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The SD10 has the same, excellent playback mode as seen on other Canon cameras.

The SD10 has all the basic playback features that you'd expect. That includes slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail mode, and zoom and scroll. It took me some fooling around to find the thumbnail mode -- hold down the Func button and it'll switch to 9 photos per page.

The zoom and scroll feature (my term) lets you blow up the picture up to 10X, and then scroll around in the zoomed-in area.

The Sound Memo feature lets you add a 60 second sound clip to an image, in WAV format.

You can also rotate your photos in playback mode using the Rotate function.

If you're viewing a movie, you can use the Movie Edit tool to trim unwanted footage from the beginning or end of the clip.

The SD10 provides a decent amount of info about your photos, including a histogram. To turn this information on, you must adjust the Info Display: Replay Info option in the setup menu.

The camera moves through images fairly quickly as well -- around one second elapses between high res photos.

How Does it Compare?

As long as you don't mind losing the zoom lens and optical viewfinder, the Canon PowerShot SD10 Digital ELPH is a really nice ultra-compact camera. It takes excellent pictures, with none of the blurry corners or "video capture look" of some other cameras in this class. It has a beautiful metal body, available in four colors. It starts up quickly, and the Quick Shot feature lets you take photos without prefocusing. The camera's AF-assist lamp helps it lock focus in dim lighting. The cameras playback mode and software bundle are both top-notch. Downsides include the fixed lens, missing optical viewfinder, and almost total lack of manual controls (though I do like the long shutter speed mode). Some scene modes would've been nice as well. The only photo quality issues of note were some redeye, and several hot pixels in the night test shot, where there shouldn't have been any. My final complaint about the SD10 is the price: you're paying a premium for style. You can buy the much more capable Canon A80 for the same money -- but then again, you couldn't wedge it into your pants pocket if you tried. The SD10 is a tiny, take anywhere camera that I can definitely recommend.

What I liked:

  • Tiny, elegant metal body
  • Excellent photo quality for such a small camera
  • Quick Shot mode lets you take pictures without prefocusing
  • Above average performance
  • Impressive playback modes
  • AF illuminator
  • Optional weatherproof case
  • One of the best software bundles out there

What I didn't care for:

  • Some redeye
  • Above average noise, several hot pixels in night test shot
  • Flimsy plastic door over battery/memory card compartment
  • More manual controls, or at least some scene modes, would be nice
  • No optical viewfinder or zoom lens
  • Movie mode looking a little dated
  • Pricey

Some other tiny cameras to consider include the Casio Exilim EX-S20, EX-S3, EX-Z3, and EX-Z4U, Pentax Optio S and S4, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-U50 and DSC-U60. There are other, slightly larger cameras too, so check the Reviews & Info section for those.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the PowerShot SD10 and it's competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

See how the photo quality stacks up in our photo gallery!

Want another opinion?

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Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com. Due to my limited resources, please do not send me requests for personal camera recommendations.

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