DCRP Review: Canon PowerShot SD100 Digital ELPH
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: July 14, 2003
Last Updated: July 14, 2003

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The Canon PowerShot SD100 Digital ELPH ($499) is an updated version of Canon's popular S230 model (see our review). The big change between the two models is in the memory card department. The SD100 is the first Canon camera to use Secure Digital cards, as opposed to CompactFlash. This smaller card allowed Canon to shrink the S230's body even further -- and that became the SD100.

The SD100 is 3.2 Megapixel camera with a 2X optical zoom lens. It's not the smallest camera anymore, but it's still very portable. How does it fare in our tests? Find out now!

The SD100 is known as the Digital IXUS II in some countries.

What's in the Box?

The PowerShot SD100 has a very good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 3.2 (effective) Mpixel Canon PowerShot SD100 camera
  • 16MB 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
  • 189 page camera manual + add'l software manual (both printed)

Canon includes a 16MB Secure Digital card with the camera. That's enough to get started with, but you'll want a bigger one 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 SD100 uses a smaller, lower capacity battery than its predecessor (the S230). The NB-3L has 2.9 Wh of power, versus 3.1 Wh on the old NB-1LH battery.

Although this battery has less power, it actually lasts longer, thanks to better power management in the SD100. Canon estimates that you'll be able to take about 330 shots with 50% LCD usage, or spend 150 minutes in playback mode. That's up from 295 and 130 mins, respectively, on the S230.

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.

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. The SD100 has a new charger, which fills up the NB-3L in 95 minutes.

The SD100 has a built-in lens cover, so there is no lens cap to worry about. It's a pretty small camera, too!

There are just a few accessories available for the SD100. My favorite is the WP-DC10 waterproof case ($240), which lets you take your camera up to 130 feet underwater. Other accessories include an AC adapter and a soft case.

Canon includes version 12 of their excellent Digital Camera Solutions software, as well as ArcSoft's very capable Camera Suite, with the SD100. 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). Canon's software continues to be head and shoulders over the competition. Best of all (for us Mac users, at least), all the software is Mac OS X native.

Canon has always had nice camera manuals, and the SD100's is newly redesigned and even better. Kudos to Canon for throwing something together that makes sense, as opposed to most of the "VCR manuals" from other manufacturers.

Look and Feel

If you've seen the PowerShot S230, you've seen the SD100. They look very much alike. That means that the SD100 has an all-metal body, which gives it a very solid feel. Do note that these metal cameras scratch easily, and also show fingerprints (like stainless steel appliances).

The SD100 is very easy to use with one hand or two, and it fits inside any pocket. The official dimensions of the camera are 3.3 x 2.2 x 0.9 inches (W x H x D, without protrusions), and it weights just 165 grams. Compare that with 3.4 x 2.2 x 1.1 inches and 180 grams on the PowerShot S230.

Let's begin our 360 degree tour of the SD100 now!

The SD100 uses familiar 2X optical zoom lens that has been seen on other Digital ELPHs. The focal range of this F2.8 lens is 5.4 - 10.8 mm, which is equivalent to 35 - 70 mm. This small zoom range is one of the SD100's disadvantages as well -- 2X isn't much.

Not surprisingly, the lens isn't threaded, so don't expect any lens attachments. A 3.2X digital zoom can be used for additional zoom power, but using it will lower the quality of your photos.

The little hole to the upper-right of the lens is the microphone.

Straight above that is the built-in flash. The working range of the flash is 0.47 - 3.0 m at wide-angle, and 0.47 - 2.0 m at telephoto. That's about the same as on the S230.

The item to the left of the flash is an autofocus-assist lamp. This bright orange light is used to light up a subject, to assist the camera's AF system in focusing when lighting is dim.

The SD100 has a bright and fluid 1.5" LCD display. The resolution (118k pixels) is a little lower than on the S230's LCD, but you probably won't notice -- it's still high resolution. LCD brightness is adjustable via the setup menu.

Straight above the LCD is a large (for a compact camera) optical viewfinder. It does lack diopter correction, so if your vision isn't perfect, you may not be able to see clearly.

The function menu

There are four buttons below the LCD, including one which does a whole lot of things. From left to right:

  • Set - the "ok" button for the menus
  • Menu
  • Display - turns LCD on and off, plus info shown on it
  • Function button
    • Exposure compensation (+2EV to -2EV in 1/3EV increments)
    • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, custom)
    • ISO (Auto, 50, 100, 200, 400)
    • Photo effect (Off, vivid, neutral, low sharpening, sepia, black & white)
    • Compression (Superfine, fine, normal)
    • Image size (Large, medium 1, medium 2, small) - more on both of these later

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

The SD100 has some nice manual features, as you can see. This includes manual white balance, and a photo effect feature which lets you change the color between regular, vivid,and neutral. You can use photo effects in movie mode, as well.

To the right of those buttons is the four-way controller, which is used for menu navigation and more. This includes:

  • Up - Metering (Evaluative, center-weighted, spot)
  • Right - Flash (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, flash on, flash off, slow-synchro)
  • Down - Drive (Single-shot, continuous shooting, self-timer) - continuous shooting is at 2.2 frames/second
  • Left - Focus (Macro, infinity)

Above the four-way controller is the speaker.

At the top-left you'll find the mode switch. This moves the SD100 between playback, auto record, manual record, and movie modes. The manual record doesn't give you full aperture and shutter speed control. Rather, it unlocks all the menus which are not available in auto record mode.

There isn't a whole lot on the top of the camera. The on/off switch is nice, because you have to hold it down for a second before the camera turns on. I like this since it's easy to accidentally turn on some cameras I've looked at.

Just to the right of that is the shutter release button, with the zoom control wrapped around it. The controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in a little over a second.

On this side of the camera, you'll find the SD100's I/O ports. These includes digital (USB) and A/V out. They are protected by a rubber cover.

The SD100 does not support USB 2.0.

Nothing to see here!

Finally, here's the bottom of the SD100. Here's where you'll find the metal tripod mount, battery compartment, and SD memory card slot. The tripod mount is located all the way at one end of the camera. The plastic door that covers the battery and SD slots feels very flimsy.

The included battery and 16MB SD card are also shown.

Using the Canon PowerShot SD100

Record Mode

The SD100 starts up very quickly -- it takes just under 2.5 seconds to extend the lens and prepare for shooting.

Autofocus lag is about average, with the camera taking under a second to lock focus in most cases, and slightly longer if the camera has to "hunt", or use the AF illuminator. Speaking of which, the camera did a good job focusing in dim light.

In terms of shutter lag, the SD100 does a great job -- there's very little at all.

Shot-to-shot speed is excellent as well: 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.

Here's a look at the image size and quality choices available on the SD100:

Resolution Compression # shots on 16MB card
(included with camera)
2048 x 1536
Superfine 8
Fine 15
Normal 30

Medium 1
1600 x 1200

Superfine 13
Fine 24
Normal 46
Medium 2
1024 x 768
Superfine 23
Fine 41
Normal 73
640 x 480
Superfine 51
Fine 80
Normal 126

As you can see, you may want a larger memory card.

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

The SD100 has the same, easy to use menus as the S230. Items in bold are only available in manual mode. Here's a look:

  • 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
  • Long shutter (on/off) - see below
  • Stitch Assist - camera assists you with panoramic photos

The long shutter feature lets you use long exposure times, a must for low-light shooting. Just don't forget your tripod. The shutter speed range is 1 - 15 sec, with many points in between. You set the shutter speed in the function menu, in the spot where exposure compensation normally is. You cannot, unfortunately, manually set the shutter speed to something fast, like when you want to freeze action scenes.

The SD100 also has a setup menu, with the following options:

  • Beep (on/off)
  • LCD brightness (-7 to +7, increments of 1)
  • Auto power down (on/off)
  • Date/time
  • Card format
  • Sound volume - set the volume for the various sound effects the SD100 makes
  • File number reset (on/off) - maintain file numbering
  • Auto rotate (on/off) - camera will automatically rotate portrait photos on the LCD
  • Language (English, Deutsch, Français, Nederlands, Dansk, Suomi, Italiano, Norsk, Svenska, Español, Chinese, Japanese)
  • Video system (NTSC, PAL)

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 SD100 produces a macro shot with accurate color and smooth detail, though the subject is softer than I'd like. The camera has a focal range of 10 - 47 cm at wide-angle, and 23 - 47 cm at telephoto, which isn't very close. The recordable area is 100 x 75 mm at wide-angle and 115 x 86 mm at telephoto.

The SD100 did a very nice job with the night test shot. This 5 second exposure has low noise and good detail, though it's a little on the soft side. The only way to get a shot like this is to use the long shutter speed mode.

Holy smokes -- no redeye! Well there's a little flash reflection, but I don't see any red. This is a marked improvement over the S230, and I'm very pleased to see this. The SD100 uses the AF illuminator to get the subject's pupils to contract, and it appears to do a great job.

The distortion test shows mild barrel distortion and a little bit of vignetting (darkened corners). I didn't notice any vignetting in any of my sample photos, though.

In most cases, the SD100 produces high quality images with good exposure and color. Images were on the soft side, especially at the edges and corners, and there's no way to turn up the in-camera sharpening.

From a torture test shot

From a regular shot

One problem that seemed worse than normal was purple fringing. I noticed it in regular shots, as well as in my two "torture tests", where it was pretty bad. There's not a whole lot you can do about it either, as you cannot close down the aperture on the camera, which usually reduces it.

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 SD100 has a pretty nice movie mode, though it's not the best out there.

The SD100 can record at three resolutions: 640 x 480 (VGA), 320 x 240, and 160 x 120. You can record for up to 30 seconds per clip at 640 x 480, or 3 minutes at the lower resolutions. I should add that the included 16MB SD card can't actually hold that much video.

Sound is recorded with the movies. That also means that you cannot use the optical zoom during filming. Movies are saved in AVI format, using the M-JPEG codec.

I've got a hefty 640 x 480 sample for you. I don't know why it sounds windy, because it wasn't that day.

Click to play movie (8MB, 640 x 480, AVI format)

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The SD100 has the same, excellent playback mode as seen on other Canon cameras. The thing that sticks out the most about the playback mode is the speed: everything is very responsive.

The SD100 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.

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. It's very well implemented.

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

Another nice feature is the ability to rotate photos. You can also mark photos for transfer to your e-mail program, assuming that you use Canon's software.

If you've got a movie, you can trim frames from the beginning or end very easily.

The SD100 provides a decent amount of info about your photos, including a histogram. It moves through images fairly quickly as well -- about one second elapses between high res photos.

How Does it Compare?

While still a very nice camera, the Canon PowerShot SD100 isn't as much of a standout as earlier models. It's not because Canon has slipped, either -- the competition has just gotten better. The SD100's two trademark features are its size/design, and performance. The camera is small, all-metal, and easy to carry. The performance is excellent, from startup to shutter lag to shot-to-shot speed. The SD100 is a point-and-shoot camera with a few manual controls, but don't expect to be manually setting the aperture or the focus. Image quality was very good in most situations, though I was displeased with the amount of purple fringing. The camera is easy-to-use, and the movie and playback modes are excellent. I'd definitely put the SD100 on my shopping list for a small 3.2MP camera, though I'd check out the competition carefully. If you like the Digital ELPH and can afford another $100, I'd highly recommend going for the PowerShot S400 instead, with its improved zoom range and image quality.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality in most situations
  • Small, elegant metal body
  • Super fast performance
  • Impressive movie, playback modes
  • Has an AF illuminator lamp
  • Above average battery life for a small camera
  • Optional underwater case

What I didn't care for:

  • Too much purple fringing
  • Flimsy plastic door over battery/memory card compartment
  • Would like more shutter speed + aperture controls
  • Body scratches and show fingerprints easily
  • Wish it had a 3X zoom lens

Some other compact 3 Megapixel cameras to check out include the Canon PowerShot A70, Casio Exilim EX-Z3 and QV-R3, HP Photosmart 735, Kyocera Finecam L3v and S3x, Minolta DiMAGE Xt, Nikon Coolpix 3100, 3500, and SQ, Olympus Stylus 300, Panasonic Lumix DMC-F1 and DMC-LC33, Pentax Optio 33L and Optio S, Samsung Digimax V3, Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P52, DSC-P72, and DSC-P8, and the Toshiba PDR-3310. A long list, I know, but there's lots of other stuff worth looking at in this price range!

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the PowerShot SD100 and it's competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

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

Want another opinion?

Read another viewpoint on the SD100 at Digital Photography Review.


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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