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DCRP Review: Canon PowerShot SD30 Digital ELPH  

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: October 4, 2005
Last Updated: January 3, 2012

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The Canon PowerShot SD30 Digital ELPH (also known as the Digital Ixus i Zoom) is an ultra-compact camera with a 5 Megapixel CCD, 2.4X zoom lens, DIGIC II image processor, and a 1.8" LCD display. The SD30 replaces the PowerShot SD20, with the main difference being the inclusion of a zoom lens instead of a fixed one.

The PowerShot SD30 ($399) is smaller than most of the ultra-compact cameras out there, and it really can go anywhere that you do. It also comes in four colors, so you can find one that fits your personality. How does the SD30perform? Find out in our review!

What's in the Box?

The PowerShot SD30 has a good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 5.0 effective Megapixel Canon PowerShot SD30 Digital ELPH camera
  • 16MB Secure Digital card
  • NB-4L lithium-ion battery
  • Battery charger / AC adapter
  • Camera dock
  • Wireless remote control
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Canon Digital Camera Solutions, ArcSoft Camera Suite, and drivers
  • 24 page basic manual + 129 page advanced manual + software and direct print manuals (all printed)

Canon includes a 16MB MultiMediaCard with the camera, which is pretty small for a 5 Megapixel camera. I recommend buying a larger card, with 256MB as a good starting point. While the SD supports both Secure Digital and MultiMedia cards, the former is recommended due to its superior speed and capacity. A high speed memory card is strongly recommended if you plan on using the continuous shooting or movie modes.

The SD30 uses the NB-4L lithium ion battery, which is also used by most of the cameras in Canon's SD series. This little battery packs just 2.8 Wh of energy, which isn't too much. Here's how the SD30 compares to some other ultra small cameras on the market:

Camera Battery life, LCD on
(CIPA standard)
Canon PowerShot SD30 160 shots
Canon PowerShot SD450 150 shots
Casio Exilim EX-S500 200 shots
Fuji FinePix Z1 170 shots
Kodak EasyShare V550 120 shots
Konica Minolta DiMAGE X1 150 shots
Nikon Coolpix S3 190 shots
Olympus Stylus 600 330 shots
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX8 300 shots
Pentax Optio S6 130 shots
Samsung Digimax i5 180 shots*
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-L1 240 shots
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T5 240 shots
* Not obtained using CIPA standard

The SD30 turns in average battery life numbers. Some other compact cameras do quite a bit better.

One thing to watch out for on ultra-compact cameras like the SD30 is the cost of an extra battery. A spare NB-4L will set you back $50. While I prefer cameras that use AA batteries, you won't find anything this small that supports those.

If I'm not mistaken the SD30 is the first Canon digital camera to use a camera dock. The dock is what you'll use to charge the battery, transfer photos to your Mac or PC, and display photos on a television. The camera itself has no I/O ports so this is the only way to do all of those things. Speaking of I/O ports, the ones on the dock include USB, A/V out, and DC-in (for the included AC adapter). The dock supports the USB 2.0 High Speed protocol.

When the camera is in the dock it takes about 90 minutes to fully charge the NB-4L battery. An external charger is available if you'd prefer to leave the dock at home.

One very nice feature that comes with the dock is a wireless remote control. This is only used for playing back photos -- not for taking them. Even so, you can browse through your photos, delete the ones you don't want, and even print them to a connected printer, all while sitting on your couch.

There's a built-in lens cover on the SD30, as you'd expect. It's a very compact camera, as you can see. You can also tell that it's hard to take a picture of because of the mirrored surfaces.

There are a couple of accessories for the SD30 worth mentioning. The most interesting is the AW-DC40 all-weather case ($140), which lets you take the ELPH up to 3 meters underwater. Another cool accessory is the HF-DC1 external slave flash, which gives you more flash power and less redeye than the built-in flash. The only other accessory to speak of is the external battery charger that I mentioned earlier.

ImageBrowser (Mac OS X)

Canon includes version 25 of their very good Digital Camera Solutions software with the PowerShot SD30. Included in this package are ZoomBrowser (for Windows)/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 PhotoStudio 4.3 for Mac OS X

Also included is ArcSoft PhotoStudio (v 4.3 for Mac, v5.5 for Windows), which is kind of like a "light" version of Adobe Photoshop. It's not bad, though I miss all the bells and whistles of the newer PhotoImpression software that's available these days (which Canon used to include).

Canon has retooled their manuals a bit on their most recent cameras. There's a basic manual which will get you up and shooting quickly. For more details you can open up the advanced manual, which should answer any question you might have. There are also separate manuals for the software and direct printing (PictBridge). While the manuals are complete, they could be a little more user friendly.

Look and Feel

The PowerShot SD30 Digital ELPH is an ultra-compact and stylish camera made almost entirely of metal. It's well put together and it feels like it will hold up to some abuse (but please don't abuse your camera!). When compared to the old SD20, the SD30 is a lot more curvaceous -- much more modern looking.

Being the year 2005 it's no surprise that the SD30 comes in four colors. They include Tuxedo Black, Rockstar Red, Glamour Gold and Vivacious Violet. No, I'm not making these up. I tested the Red one... why I picked that one, I do not know.

Anyhow, here's a look at how the SD30 compares with some other ultra-compacts in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot SD30 3.8 x 1.8 x 0.9 in. 6.1 cu in. 105 g
Canon PowerShot SD450 3.4 x 2.1 x 0.9 in. 6.4 cu in. 140 g
Casio Exilim EX-S500 3.5 x 2.3 x 0.6 in. 4.8 cu in. 115 g
Fuji FinePix Z1 3.5 x 2.2 x 0.7 in. 5.4 cu in. 130 g
Kodak EasyShare V550 3.7 x 2.2 x 0.9 in. 7.3 cu in. 143 g
Konica Minolta DiMAGE X1 3.7 x 2.7 x 0.8 in. 8.0 cu in. 135 g
Nikon Coolpix S3 3.5 x 2.3 x 0.8 in. 6.4 cu in. 118 g
Olympus Stylus 600 3.8 x 2.2 x 1.0 in. 8.4 cu in. 128 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX8 3.7 x 2.0 x 1.0 in. 7.4 cu in. 127 g
Pentax Optio S6 3.4 x 2.1 x 0.7 in. 5.0 cu in. 100 g
Samsung Digimax i5 3.5 x 2.4 x 0.7 in. 5.9 cu in. 133 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-T5 3.7 x 2.4 x 0.8 in. 7.1 cu in. 113 g

As you can see, the SD30 is not the smallest camera out there. Many of the thinner cameras use internal lens mechanisms, unlike the SD30. The camera that's closest to the SD30 in terms of size and design is probably the Sony DSC-L1.

I've had it with numbers, let's start our tour of the camera!

Where the old SD20 had a fixed focal length lens, the new SD30 has a 2.4X optical zoom lens. This lens is a little slower than on other cameras in this class, with a maximum aperture of F3.2 at wide-angle and F5.4 at telephoto. The focal range of the lens is 6.3 - 14.9 mm which is equivalent to 38 - 90 mm. The lens is not threaded, nor would I expect it to be.

To the upper-right of the lens is the camera's built-in flash. As you can see, the flash is quite small, which translates to a rather poor range of 0.3 - 2.0 m at wide-angle and 0.3 - 1.3 m at telephoto. If you want more flash power (and you probably will with the SD30) you may want to consider buying that external slave flash that I mentioned earlier. It attaches to the camera via the tripod mount and fires when the camera's onboard flash does.

Just to the left of the flash is the AF-assist lamp, which doubles as the self-timer lamp. The AF-assist lamp is used by the camera as a focusing aid in low light situations.

The last thing to see here is the microphone, which is that little hole just to the left of the lens.

The main thing to see on the back of the PowerShot SD30 is its 1.8" LCD display (up from 1.5" on the SD20. The resolution of the screen is good, with 118,000 pixels, and everything's nice and sharp. The screen has average outdoor visibility and it's better than average in low light (the screen "gains up" automatically).

To the upper-right of the LCD you'll find the mode switch, which moves between playback, movie, and still photo mode.

Direct Transfer menu

Below the mode dial is the Print/Share button. When connected to a PictBridge-enabled photo printer, you can make prints right from the camera. If you hook into a Mac or PC, you'll be able to transfer photos and even select your computer's desktop picture, all right from the camera.

To the lower-right of that button is the four-way controller, which is used for menu navigation as well as:

  • Up - Zoom in
  • Down - Zoom out + Delete photo
  • Left - Drive (Single-shot, continuous, self-timer) - see below
  • Right - Flash setting (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, flash on w/redeye reduction, flash on, flash off, slow synchro)

I must say that I'm not thrilled with having to use the up and down buttons on the four-way controller to zoom in and out. I'd rather have a dedicated zoom controller, though I'm not sure if there's room for one here.

The PowerShot SD30 has the same unlimited burst mode as the other cameras in the SD series. With a high speed memory card you can keep taking pictures at 1.7 frames/second (per my testing) until the memory card is full. There's a very brief freeze on the LCD between shots, but you still should be able to follow a moving subject.

Function menu

To the lower-left of the four-way controller you'll find the Function button (which is also the "Set" button when you're navigating the menus). Press this button and the Function menu appears, with the following options:

  • Shooting mode (Auto, manual, Stitch Assist, macro, portrait, landscape, night snapshot, My Colors, Scene) - see below
  • Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments)
  • Long shutter mode (Off, 1 - 15 sec)
  • ISO (Auto, 50, 100, 200, 400)
  • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, custom) - see below
  • Photo effect (Off, vivid, neutral, low sharpening, sepia, black & white)
  • My Colors (Positive film, lighter skin tone, darker skin tone, vivid blue, vivid green, vivid red, color accent, color swap, custom color) - see below
  • Compression (see chart later in review)
  • Resolution (see chart later in review)

The shooting mode menu is packed with options. The Stitch Assist features helps you line up photos side-by-side so they can later be combined into a single panoramic image. The scene mode has a number of options, including kids & pets, foliage, beach, indoor, snow, fireworks, and underwater. Just pick the scene that's closest to what you're doing and the camera will use the proper settings. It would be nice if the camera offered some kind of sports or action scene mode.

The only real manual controls on the SD30 are for 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. The long shutter speed feature lets you manually choose a speed range from 1 - 15 seconds -- great for long exposures.

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

Using the My Colors "Color Swap" feature (screen from the SD500)

If you've read my reviews of the PowerShot SD400/500/550 siblings, then you already know about the My Colors feature. Since I'm lazy, I'm just going to reuse my examples from those reviews here.

There are two things to note before I tell you about the My Colors feature. First, you can choose to save the original, unaltered image if you desire (probably a good idea). Second, using the flash or changing the white balance or metering is going to prevent this feature from working properly.

Normal shot Color accent using the green color on The Body Shop sign
(Examples from the SD500)

The color accent feature will turn your image to black and white, except for the color which you've selected (see above). To select the color you point the camera at the color you want to sample and then press the four-way controller. You can fine tune the selected color by pressing up/down on the four-way controller, but it didn't make a huge different in my testing. For this option as well as the next two, the camera gives you a preview of what it's about to do before you take the photo.

You can see what I did here using the Color Swap feature (example from the SD400)

The color swap feature does just as it sounds: you can exchange one color for another. Want to see how your car looks in red? Well, select your car's color first and then find something red, and the rest is history.

The custom color feature lets you adjust the color balance for red, green, blue, and skin tones from -2 to +2 in 1-step increments.

The final button on the back of the PowerShot SD30 is the Menu button, located to the lower-right of the four-way controller.

On top of the SD30 you'll find the power and shutter release buttons as well as the speaker.

Nothing to see here.

On the other side of the SD30 you'll find the battery compartment and memory card slot, which are protected by a plastic door of decent quality. As I said at the start of the review, the camera supports both Secure Digital and MultiMedia cards.

The included NB-4L battery is shown at right.

On the bottom of the SD30 there's a metal tripod mount and the dock connector. Remember, this camera does not have any I/O ports, so you must use the camera dock for everything.

Using the Canon PowerShot SD30 Digital ELPH

Record Mode

It takes the camera under one second to extend its little lens and "warm up" before you can start taking pictures. That's pretty snappy.

Sorry these screenshots are so lousy, they're photos and not video captures like normal

Autofocus speeds on the SD30 are about average or perhaps a bit above that. Typical focus times are 0.3 - 0.5 seconds in good conditions, with more difficult situations taking closer to one second. Low light focusing was good thanks to the SD30's AF-assist lamp.

I did not find shutter lag to be a problem, even at the slower shutter speeds at which it can occur.

Shot-to-shot speed was also excellent on the SD30, 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
# images on 256MB card (optional)
2592 x 1944
Superfine 2.4 MB 5 98
Fine 1.4 MB 10 174
Normal 695 KB 21 346
Middle 1
2048 x 1536
Superfine 1.6 MB 9 152
Fine 893 KB 16 272
Normal 445 KB 33 538
Middle 2
1600 x 1200
Superfine 1002 KB 14 242
Fine 558 KB 26 434
Normal 278 KB 50 822
640 x 480
Superfine 249 KB 56 920
Fine 150 KB 88 1422
Normal 84 KB 138 2236

As you can see, a larger memory card is a wise investment if you buy the SD30. I should also mention that there is a special "postcard" resolution (1600 x 1200) which is what you'll need to use if you want to print the date on your photos. You cannot do it at any other resolution.

Not surprisingly, there's no RAW or TIFF support on this camera.

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 SD30 has the same new-style menu system as the other cameras in the SD series. Note that some menu options are not available while in the automatic shooting modes. 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, custom timer) - see below
  • AF-assist beam (on/off)
  • Digital zoom (on/off) - it's best to keep this turned off
  • Review (Off, 2-10 sec holds) - post-shot review; the hold feature will keep the image on the LCD until you press a button
  • Save original (on/off) - whether an unaltered image is also saved while using the My Colors feature
  • Grid lines (on/off) - puts a 3 x 3 grid on the LCD to help you compose your photos
  • Date stamp (Off, date, date & time) - print the date and/or time on your photos; only works with the image size set to postcard (1600 x 1200)
  • Long shutter (on/off) - I described this feature earlier
  • Vertical shutter (on/off) - see below
  • Stitch Assist (left to right, right to left)

The custom self-timer goes way beyond what most cameras offer .Instead of just 2 or 10 seconds, now you can have the camera take up to 10 shots automatically, with a delay ranging from 1 to 30 seconds before the photo is taken.

The vertical shutter feature is unique to the SD30. When this is turned on, the camera will detect when you're shooting in the portrait orientation, and will let you use the Function button instead of the shutter release button to take the picture. Neat!

There is also a setup menu on the SD30, 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)
  • Info display - choose what information is shown on the LCD in shooting and playback modes
    • Shooting info (on/off)
    • Review info (on/off)
    • Replay info (Off, standard, detailed)
  • 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)
  • Time Zone (Home, world)
  • Date/time (set)
  • 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
  • Create folder
    • Create new folder - on the memory card
    • Auto create (Off, daily, weekly, monthly) - this new features 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
  • Language (way too many to list)
  • Video system (NTSC, PAL)
  • Reset all - back to defaults

An additional "My Camera'" menu allows you to customize the startup screen, beeps, and phony shutter sounds that your camera makes. The software included with the camera lets you use your own photos and sounds as well, if you desire. If these bother you, you can also turn them off.

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

The PowerShot SD30 did a very nice job with our usual macro test subject. Colors are accurate and nicely saturated. Mickey has a nice "smooth" look to him with no visible grain.

If you like getting really close to your subject then the SD30 probably isn't the best choice. At wide-angle you can be 10 cm away, while at telephoto the distance rises to 30 cm.

The camera's night shot performance wasn't quite as good. The camera took in plenty of light (thanks to the slow shutter speed options) but there's more noise in the image than I would've liked. Purple fringing levels were low.

There is noticeable barrel distortion at the wide end of the SD30's lens. You'll notice this when you take pictures of things with straight edges, like buildings (the straight edges will appear curved).

While you can't really see it in the above chart, the SD30 is prone to some corner blurriness, as you can see in this example.

The PowerShot SD30 has quite the redeye problem, as you can see. All ultra-compact cameras tend to be bad in this department, so these results shouldn't be too surprising.

Overall the SD30's image quality was good, and comparable to other ultra-compact cameras. Photos were well-exposed with accurate color and average noise levels. As I said above, there is occasionally some blurriness around the edges of the frame, which most of these cameras have issues with. Purple fringing levels were fairly low.

Ultimately your eyes need to be the final judge of image quality. View our photo gallery and print the photos as if they were your own. Then decide if the SD30's photo quality meets your expectations!

Movie Mode

The PowerShot SD30's movie mode is not nearly as impressive as the one on the other SD-series cameras. While you can record at 640 x 480, the frame rate is limited to a very choppy 10 frames/second. Movie recording will continue until the memory card is full or the 1GB file size limit is reached (this takes about 25 minutes), whichever comes first. For smoother movies you'll have to lower the resolution to 320 x 240, but even then the 20 frame/second frame rate isn't great. Sound is recorded along with the video, by the way. In addition, Canon recommends using a high speed SD card for the movie mode.

The My Colors and Photo Effects features mentioned earlier can be used in movie mode as well. A movie editing feature lets you trim unwanted footage off the beginning or end of a clip.

You cannot use the optical zoom during filming. The digital zoom is available if you desire.

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

Here's a sample movie for you... not the greatest I admit, but you're probably not buying the SD30 for its movie mode anyway.

Click to play movie (4 MB, 640 x 480, 10 fps, AVI format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime

Playback Mode

The PowerShot SD30 has the same "enhanced" playback mode that I first saw on the SD550. Basic playback features are pretty normal: image protection and rotation, DPOF print marking, sound memos (60 secs), and thumbnail mode are all here.

The zoom and scroll feature is here too. This lets you enlarge the picture up to 10X, and then scroll around in the zoomed-in area. It's nice and fast thanks to the camera's DIGIC II processor.

The "enhanced" playback features include transitions as you move between photos, a slightly more useful thumbnail mode, and, get ready, the camera rotates the info on the LCD when you rotate the camera to the vertical position!

By default, the SD30 doesn't give you much info about your photos. Take a trip to the setup menu and you can make the camera show the more useful screen on the right instead.

The camera rockets through photos in playback mode. It moves from one to the next instantly, now with your choice of two transitions!

How Does it Compare?

Like the SD20 before it, the Canon PowerShot SD30 Digital ELPH is what I'd call a "second camera". I don't think it's suitable to be the camera you use for all occasions, especially indoor flash shooting. But if you want something small that's great for quick outdoor photos then the SD30 is worth a look.

The PowerShot SD30 is an ultra-compact metal that comes in four colors: black, red, gold, and violet. The camera is well built, and its diminutive size allows it to fit in any pocket. The camera features a 5 Megapixel CCD, 2.4X zoom lens, and a 1.8" LCD display. The SD30 does not have any I/O ports on it, so you'll need to use the camera dock for charging the battery (unless you buy the external charger), transferring photos to your Mac or PC, or viewing photos on a television. Two cool things about the dock: one, it includes a remote control for playing back videos on your TV. Second, it supports the USB 2.0 High Speed protocol for quick transfers to your computer.

Camera performance is very good on the SD30. The camera starts up in less than a second, shutter lag is minimal, and shot-to-shot and playback speeds are snappy. The camera focused well in low light conditions (thanks to its AF-assist lamp), and the LCD display was visible in those situations.

The SD30's photo quality is good in most respects. Outdoors it takes smooth-looking photos with accurate color and low noise levels. Corner softness i was an issue in some of my real world photos. Indoors you'll be disappointed with the camera's weak flash and high redeye, which is why this camera is best suited to the outdoors. Noise levels in long exposures were a bit higher than I would've liked. Also disappointing was the camera's movie mode, which isn't nearly as good as those on the other cameras in the SD series.

A few other minor quibbles: the camera's battery life is okay, but the competition seems to be pulling away. Also, the included 16MB card is very small for a 5 Megapixel camera.

If you want a camera that you can carry around for everyday outdoor shots, then I can recommend the PowerShot SD30. If you're looking for something small that performs when you need to use the flash, you'll likely be disappointed with the SD30. While it's hard to avoid the redeye problem on any camera in this class, you can find cameras with stronger flashes out there.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality in good lighting
  • Compact, stylish body comes in four colors
  • Unlimited continuous shooting mode
  • LCD visible in low light
  • AF-assist lamp
  • Includes camera dock with remote control for viewing photos on your television
  • USB 2.0 High Speed support
  • Optional underwater case and external slave flash

What I didn't care for:

  • Some corner softness; noise in long exposures is above average
  • Weak flash
  • Redeye is a big problem
  • Unimpressive movie mode
  • Dock required for USB and A/V output
  • Battery life could be better
  • Tiny memory card included with camera

Some other cameras in this class worth considering include the Canon PowerShot SD450, Casio Exilim EX-S500, Fuji FinePix Z1, Kodak EasyShare V550, Konica Minolta DiMAGE X1, NIkon Coolpix S3, Olympus Stylus 600, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX8, Pentax Optio S6, Samsung Digimax i5, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-L1 and DSC-T5.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the PowerShot SD30 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

See how the photos turned out in our gallery!

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.