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DCRP Review: Canon PowerShot SD200 Digital ELPH  

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: November 23, 2004
Last Updated: January 1, 2012

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The PowerShot SD200 Digital ELPH ($300) is a totally new design in Canon's line of compact point-and-shoot cameras. The SD200 takes everything that made the S410 great and makes it smaller -- except for the LCD, which got a lot bigger. Other features on the SD200 include a 3.2 Megapixel CCD, great VGA movie mode, an AF-assist lamp, and a couple of manual of controls. For those who want more resolution, Canon also offers the 4 Megapixel PowerShot SD300.

The old Digital ELPHs were my favorite point-and-shoot cameras -- how does this all new, ultra-thin model compare? Find out now!

The SD200 is known as the Ixus 30 in some countries.

Since the SD200 and SD300 are nearly identical, I will be reusing most of the SD300 review here.

What's in the Box?

The PowerShot SD200 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 3.2 effective Megapixel Canon PowerShot SD200 Digital ELPH camera
  • 16MB Secure Digital card
  • NB-4L lithium-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Canon Digital Camera Solutions, ArcSoft Camera Suite, and drivers
  • 177 page camera manual + software manual (both printed)

Canon includes a 16MB Secure Digital (SD) card with the camera. That holds just eight photos at the highest quality setting, so I'd advise that you buy a larger memory card right away. I'd say 128MB is a good starting size. The camera can use SD or MMC cards, though I'd advise against the latter. The camera takes advantage of high speed SD cards, and one is recommended if you plan on using the VGA movie mode.

The SD200 uses the brand new NB-4L lithium-ion rechargeable battery. This small battery packs a paltry 2.8 Wh of energy, which translates to 140 photos per charge using the CIPA battery life standard. I figure that's around (or maybe a tiny bit below) average for small cameras like this. The old S410 did a little better in this department.

My usual complaints about proprietary batteries like the one used by the SD200 apply here. They're expensive ($50 a pop), and you can't put in a set of alkalines to get you through the rest of the day like you could with an AA-based camera.

When it's time to recharge, just drop the battery into the included charger. This is my favorite style of charger -- it plugs right into the wall (yes, I know some don't like this). It takes about ninety minutes to fully charge the battery.

There's a built-in lens cover on the SD200, as you'd expect on a camera like this. As you can see, it's quite small!

There are a just two accessories available for the SD200. The most interesting one is the AW-DC30 all-weather case ($149). This lets you take the ELPH up to 3 m / 9.8 ft underwater -- great for pools and snorkeling, not so great for scuba. The only other accessory that I can find is the ACK-DC10 AC adapter kit ($60), which lets you power the camera without draining your batteries.

ImageBrowser (Mac OS X)

Canon includes version 21 of their excellent Digital Camera Solutions software with the SD200. Included in this package are ZoomBrowser (for Windows) or ImageBrowser (for Mac), PhotoStitch (for making panoramic photos), plus TWAIN and WIA drivers for Windows. Zoom/ImageBrowser can be used for downloading images from your camera, basic editing of your photos, and photo printing.

ArcSoft PhotoImpression for Mac OS X

ArcSoft's Camera Suite 1.3 is also included with the SD200, which contains VideoImpression and PhotoImpression for Mac and PC. Although it has a quirky interface, there are some useful tools in this easy-to-use software.

Recent Canon camera manuals have been more complex than earlier ones, but they're still above average. The SD200's manual is complete, but expect lots of "notes" and fine print.

Look and Feel

The stylish SD200 is about a third of an inch thinner than the old S410 making it even more pocketable. Like its predecessor, the SD200 is made almost completely of metal, and it feels very solid. Since it's so small, it can be taken just about anywhere. The important controls are easy to reach, and the camera is easy to hold with one hand.

I personally think the SD200 looks a lot nicer (from the front, at least) than the more expensive SD300. It's also about 15 grams lighter. I'm not as enthusiastic about the "bubble buttons" on the back of the SD200, though.

Now, here's a look at how the SD200 compares with some of the competition:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot SD200 3.4 x 2.1 x 0.8 in. 5.7 cu in. 115 g
Canon PowerShot S410 3.4 x 2.2 x 1.1 in. 8.2 cu in. 185 g
Casio Exilim EX-Z50 3.4 x 2.2 x 0.9 in. 6.7 cu in. 121 g
Fuji FinePix F440 2.9 x 2.5 x 0.8 in. 5.8 cu in. 150 g
Konica Minolta DiMAGE Xg 3.4 x 2.6 x 0.8 in. 7.1 cu in. 120 g
Kyocera Finecam SL300R 3.9 x 2.5 x 0.6 in. 5.9 cu in. 130 g
Nikon Coolpix 4200 3.5 x 2.3 x 1.4 in. 11.3 cu in. 155 g
Olympus Stylus Verve 3.7 x 2.2 x 1.1 in. 9.0 cu in. 115 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX7 3.7 x 2.0 x 1.0 in. 7.4 cu in. 136 g
Pentax Optio S4i 3.3 x 2.0 x 0.8 in. 5.3 cu in. 105 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-L1 3.7 x 1.8 x 1.0 in. 6.7 cu in. 122 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T1 3.6 x 2.4 x 0.8 in. 6.9 cu in. 180 g

As you can see, the SD200 is one of the smallest cameras out there!

Okay, enough numbers -- let's move onto our camera tour now!

As I said, I think the "ripple" design on the front of the camera looks a heck of a lot nicer than the more conservative SD300.

The PowerShot SD200 uses the same new UA (ultra-high refractive index) lens design as the S60 and S70, which allowed Canon to make the camera so thin. The lens on the SD200 is an F2.8-4.9, 3X zoom model, with a focal range of 5.8 - 17.4 mm. The 35mm-equivalent focal range is 35 - 105 mm. The lens is not threaded.

To the upper-right of the lens is the built-in flash. The flash has a working range of 0.5 - 3.5 m at wide-angle and 0.5 - 2.0 m at telephoto, which is average for a compact camera. You cannot attach an external flash to this camera, which should not be a surprise.

Directly above the lens is the optical viewfinder. To its left is the AF-assist lamp, which doubles as the self-timer lamp. The AF-assist lamp helps the camera focus in low light conditions.

The last item to see here is the microphone, which is located to the left of the lens.

Besides the thinner body, the other "big" news on the SD200 is the large 2-inch LCD display. The old S410 had a 1.5" screen and what a difference half an inch makes! The screen is bright, motion is fluid, and images are sharp, thanks to the 118,000 pixel resolution. In low light, the screen gains up slightly, but not as much as other cameras that I consider "the best" in those conditions. Outdoor screen visibility was about average.

Above the LCD is a fairly small optical viewfinder, which is starting to disappear on some of the smallest cameras. Thankfully it's still here on the SD200. There's no diopter correction knob, which is used to focus the what you're looking at.

Just to the right of that is the mode switch, which moves the camera between playback, movie, and still record mode. Below that is the Menu button and the speaker.

Continuing downward we find the four-way controller, which is used for a million things, most notably menu navigation and:

  • Up - Metering (Evaluative, center-weighted, spot)
  • Down - Drive (Single-shot, continuous shooting, self-timer) / Delete photo
  • Left - Focus (Off, macro, infinity)
  • Right - Flash (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, flash on w/redeye reduction, flash on, flash off, slow synchro)

I want to mention the great continuous shooting mode on the SD200. Assuming you're using a high speed SD card, you can keep shooting until the card is full! I ran two tests to see how well it works. First I used a generic 256MB SD card, which took 10 shots at 2.7 frames/second. With a SanDisk Extreme card I could keep on shooting at the same frame rate -- it never stopped. Very few cameras can do this, and I'm most impressed! My only complaint is that the LCD briefly freezes between each shot, which can make following a moving subject a bit difficult -- but at least there's the optical viewfinder.

Function menu

By pressing the center button on the four-way controller, you'll open up the Function menu.

  • Shooting mode (Auto, manual, digital macro, portrait, night snapshot, kids & pets, indoor, underwater) - see below
  • Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments)
  • Long shutter mode (Off, 1 - 15 sec)
  • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, custom)
  • ISO speed (Auto, 50, 100, 200, 400)
  • Photo effect (Off, vivid, neutral, low sharpening, sepia, black & white)
  • Compression (see chart later in review)
  • Resolution (see chart later in review)

The manual shooting mode isn't really a true manual mode. Rather, it just unlocks all the menu items. The only real manual controls on the camera are white balance and shutter speed. The custom white balance option lets you use a white or gray card as a reference, for perfect color in any lighting. I'll have more on the digital macro option later in the review.

The long shutter speed feature lets you manually choose a speed range from 1 - 15 seconds -- great for long exposures. Too bad there's no way to force a fast shutter speed for action shots.

The photo effect lets you change the color or sharpness of your image instantly, and you can use it for stills or movies.

Below the four-way controller are the Display and Print/Share buttons. The Display button turns the LCD on and off, and also toggles what is shown on it. The Print/Share button lights up when you connect to a compatible printer or computer. When you do that, the LCD shows the following screen:

Direct Transfer menu

As you can see, you can transfer all images, new images, images that you've DPOF marked, or you can manually select some. The wallpaper option sets the chosen image as the background picture on your PC.

On top of the SD200 you'll find the power button and zoom controller with the shutter release inside it. The zoom controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in about 1.4 seconds. I counted seven steps throughout the zoom range.

Nothing to see here, other than just how thin the SD200 is!

Over here you'll find the I/O ports, which are under a plastic cover at the top of the photo. The ports here are A/V out and USB (1.1). There's no DC-in port, since the AC adapter uses a DC coupler (basically a battery with a cable coming out of it) instead.

On the bottom of the SD200 you'll find the metal tripod mount, battery compartment, and SD card slot. The battery and memory card slots are covered by an incredibly cheap plastic cover which could very well break off. In addition, you can't swap memory cards while the camera is on a tripod.

The included battery and SD card are shown at right.

Using the Canon PowerShot SD200

Record Mode

The PowerShot SD200 starts up remarkably quickly, taking just 1.1 seconds to extend its lens and "warm up" before you can start taking pictures.

Autofocus speeds were good, taking about 0.5 seconds at wide-angle and 0.7 seconds at telephoto. If the camera has to "hunt" a bit, it can take about a second to focus. Low light focusing was better than average, though not as good as I was expecting from a camera with an AF-assist lamp.

Shutter lag was not a problem, even at slower shutter speeds.

Shot-to-shot speed was excellent on the SD200, with a delay of about a second before you can take another picture, assuming you've turned the post-shot review feature off.

You can delete a picture as it's been saved to the memory card by pressing the delete photo button (the "down" key on the four-way controller).

Now, here's a look at the image size and quality choices available on the camera:

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # Images on 16MB card
(2048 x 1536)
Superfine 1.6 MB 8
Fine 893 KB 15
Normal 445 KB 30
Medium 1
(1600 x 1200)
Superfine 1002 KB 13
Fine 558 KB 24
Normal 278 KB 46
Medium 2
(1024 x 768)
Superfine 570 KB 23
Fine 320 KB 42
Normal 170 KB 74
(640 x 480)
Superfine 249 KB 52
Fine 150 KB 80
Normal 84 KB 127

The SD200 does not support the RAW or TIFF formats.

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 SD200's menus have an all new look, though they work just like the menus on the old ELPHs. Everything is really snappy and easy-to-use. Note that some menu options are not available while in the automatic shooting mode. With that in mind, here's what's in the record menu:

  • AiAF (on/off) - turns the 9-point autofocus system on and off; if turned off, camera focuses on whatever is in the center of the frame (which is faster)
  • Self-timer (2, 10 secs)
  • AF-assist beam (on/off)
  • Digital zoom (on/off) - it's best to keep this turned off
  • Review (Off, 2-10 sec) - post-shot review
  • Date stamp (Off, date, date & time) - print the date and/or time on your photos
  • Long shutter (on/off) - lets you take exposures as long as 15 secs
  • Stitch Assist (Off, left-to-right, right-to-left) - helps you make panoramic photos

I should mention the date stamp feature since there's been some confusion about it. To use this feature you must use the function menu's resolution option to select "postcard size", which is 1600 x 1200. Then and only then can you print the date and/or time on your photos.

There is also a setup menu on the SD200, so let's take a look at that now. Here's what you'll find in the setup menu:

  • Mute (on/off) - turn off those annoying beep sounds!
  • 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 in 1 step increments)
  • Power saving
    • Auto power down (on/off)
    • Display off (10, 20, 30 sec, 1-3 min)
  • Date/time
  • Clock display (0-10 sec, 20 sec, 30 sec, 1-3 mins) - yes, the camera doubles as a clock
  • Card format
  • File number reset (on/off) - maintain file numbering
  • Auto rotate (on/off) - camera will automatically rotate portrait photos on the LCD
  • Language (English, German, French, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Italian, Norwegian, Swedish, Spanish, Simplified Chinese, Russian, Portuguese, Greek, Polish, Czech, Hungarian, Turkish, Traditional Chinese, Korean, Japanese)
  • Video system (NTSC, PAL)

An additional "My Camera'" menu allows you to customize the startup screen, beeps, and phony shutter sounds that your camera makes. If these bother you, you can also turn them off.

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

The SD200 produced a gorgeous version of our 3" tall macro subject. The image is very smooth and colors are quite saturated.

You can get as close to your subject as 3 cm at wide-angle and 30 cm at telephoto. A digital macro mode locks the lens at the wide-angle position and lets you use the digital zoom to get closer to the subject. I'm not sure why you'd want to use this.

The SD200 also did a good job with the night test shot. With shutter speeds as long as 15 seconds, the camera is able to take in plenty of light. Noise levels are average, and there is bit of purple fringing to be seen.

The distortion test shows just mild barrel distortion at the wide end of the lens. There's also a hint of vignetting (dark corners) and blurriness around the edges as well. You may encounter some of this in your real world photos as well -- it's a tradeoff that comes with a tiny camera.

Compact cameras mean big redeye, and the SD200 is no exception. While your mileage may vary, I would expect to deal with it most of the time. You can clean it up pretty well using the included software.

As I said in the SD300 review, image quality on the SD200 is very good, though not as good as the previous generation ELPHs (S410, S500). Color and exposure were both very good, and noise levels are low. You will, however, encounter occasional vignetting (especially in flash shots) and fuzzy corners in your photos. Purple fringing levels are also a little above average.

Despite all that, you'll get great 4 x 6 and 5 x 7 inch prints from the SD200, which is probably why you're buying it, right?

Don't take my word for all this -- view our photo gallery and print the photos as if you took them. Then decide if the SD200's photo quality meets your expectations.

Movie Mode

After years of mediocrity, Canon has finally come up with one of the best movie modes out there. You can now record VGA video (with sound) at 30 frames/second until the memory card fills up! You'll need a large, high speed SD card for this. A 512MB card can hold a little over 4 minutes of video. You can shoot at the slower 15 frames/second frame rate to extend the recording times. There are also 320 x 240 (at 15 or 30 fps) and 160 x 120 (15 fps) modes available, with the latter having a 3 minute time limit.

There's also a unique "Fast Frame Rate" mode, which lets you record up to 1 minute of 320 x 240 video at a whopping 60 frames/second. This is great for videos of fast moving subjects.

A movie editing feature lets you trim unwanted footage off the beginning or end of a clip.

You cannot use the zoom lens during filming. Movies are saved in AVI format, using the M-JPEG codec.

Here's a boring sample movie for you, recorded at the high quality 640 x 480 setting. Be warned, it's a big download!

Click to play movie (23.2 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, AVI format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime

Playback Mode

The SD200 has the same, excellent playback mode as seen on other Canon cameras. Things are especially snappy on the SD200/SD300 thanks to the DIGIC II image processor.

The camera has all the basic playback features that you'd expect. That includes slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail mode, voice annotations (60 secs), image rotation, and zoom and scroll. Playback mode is also the place to print photos when connected to a compatible Canon or PictBridge-enabled photo printer.

The zoom and scroll feature lets you enlarge the picture up to 10X, and then scroll around in the zoomed-in area. It's nice and fast!

By default, the SD200 doesn't give you much info about your photos. But press the display button and you'll get plenty of details, including a histogram.

The camera rockets through photos in playback mode. It moves from one to the next instantly.

How Does it Compare?

Overall the PowerShot SD200 is a very ultra-compact point-and-shoot camera. Photo quality is very good, though the occasional dark or blurry corner and purple fringing are a step down from the old S410/S500. Still, this camera will do a great job for its target audience: namely, web photos and smaller-sized prints. The SD200 features a stylish, ultra-thin metal body that will go anywhere. It's well-built for the most part, save for the incredibly cheap plastic door over the memory card / battery compartment on the bottom of the camera. The SD200 has a larger-than-average 2.0" LCD display. Outdoors you can see it fairly well, indoors in low light it's just so-so. Performance on the camera is first-rate, and a high speed SD card will really make it fly. The continuous shooting and movie modes are superb, and they're at their best with the fast card.

I already mentioned most of the negatives about the SD200 up there. You can also expect redeye in most of your flash photos -- which is typical for tiny cameras like this. With the exception of manual white balance (a very useful feature), there are no manual controls on the camera. Finally, you can't swap memory cards while the camera is on a tripod.

The SD200 is a ultra-compact digital camera which I can recommend without hesitation. If you want to make larger prints or want more flexibility when cropping your photos, the 4 Megapixel SD300 is also worth a look.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality (though see issues below)
  • Ultra-thin, stylish metal body
  • Robust performance
  • Excellent continuous shooting mode (with the right memory card)
  • First-rate movie mode (finally!)
  • Big LCD for a small camera
  • AF-assist lamp
  • Optional underwater case
  • Nice software bundle

What I didn't care for:

  • Softness around edges and corners of photos; above average purple fringing, as well
  • Redeye
  • Some vignetting, especially in flash shots
  • Ultra-cheap plastic door over memory card / battery compartment
  • LCD doesn't "gain up" very much in low light
  • Can't swap memory cards while camera is on a tripod
  • More manual controls would be nice

Some other ultra compact cameras worth considering include the Casio Exilim EX-Z50 and EX-Z55, Fuji FinePix F440, Konica Minolta DiMAGE X50 and Xg, Nikon Coolpix 4200, Olympus Stylus Verve, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX7, Pentax Optio S4i, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-L1 and DSC-T1.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the PowerShot SD200 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

See how the photos turned out in our gallery!

Want another opinion?

Read another review at Steve's Digicams.

Feedback & Discussion

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.

To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.