SD300 Digital ELPH ($400) is a totally new design
in Canon's line of compact point-and-shoot cameras.
The SD300 takes everything that made the S400 and
S410 great and makes them smaller -- except for the
LCD, which got a lot bigger. Other new features include
a 4 Megapixel CCD, great VGA movie mode, an AF-assist
lamp, and a couple of manual of controls. The SD300
has a younger sibling, the SD200 ($300),
which has a 3.2 Megapixel CCD and (in my opinion)
a nicer-looking front panel.
The old Digital ELPHs were my favorite
point-and-shoot cameras -- how does this all new, ultra-thin
model compare? Find out now!
The SD300 is known as the Ixus
40 in some countries.
What's in the Box?
The PowerShot SD300 has an average
bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
- The 4.0 effective Megapixel Canon
PowerShot SD300 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 six 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 SD300 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. Doing a little
extrapolation, I figure that battery life is about
10% worse on the SD300 than on the S410, which had
a more powerful battery.
My usual complaints about proprietary
batteries like the one used by the SD300 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
SD300, 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 SD300. 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.
(Mac OS X)
Canon includes version 21 of their
excellent Digital Camera Solutions software with the
SD300. 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.
for Mac OS X
ArcSoft Camera Suite 1.3 is also included
with the SD300, 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
Recent Canon camera manuals have been
more complex than earlier ones, but they're still above
average. The SD300's manual is complete, but expect
lots of "notes" and fine print.
Look and Feel
While unfortunately I don't have an
S410 or S500 around for side-by-side shots, it's easy
to compare the two in words. Take the S410 and make
it a third of an inch thinner -- the other dimensions
are about the same. Like its predecessor, the SD300
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.
Now, here's a look at how the SD300
compares with some of the competition:
(W x H x D, excluding protrusions)
x 2.1 x 0.8 in.
x 2.2 x 1.1 in.
x 2.2 x 0.9 in.
x 2.5 x 0.8 in.
Minolta DiMAGE G600
x 2.2 x 1.2 in.
x 2.5 x 0.6 in.
x 2.3 x 1.4 in.
x 2.5 x 0.8 in.
x 2.2 x 1.1 in.
x 2.0 x 1.0 in.
x 2.0 x 0.8 in.
x 2.4 x 0.8 in.
So it's not quite the smallest of
lightest in the bunch, but it's close enough. While
not mentioned here, the PowerShot SD200 is about 15
g lighter than the SD300. I also think it's nicer looking
with the cool "ripple effect" on the front
I've had it with numbers, so let's
start our tour of the SD300 now!
The PowerShot SD300 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 SD300 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, versus 36 - 108 mm on the
S410. 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 assist lamp helps
the camera focus in low light conditions.
The last item to see here is the tiny
microphone hole located to the left of the lens.
Besides the thinner body, the
other "big" news on the SD300 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
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 SD300. 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,
- 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 SD300. 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 just
8 shots at 2.4 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 -- though
at least there's the optical viewfinder. I should add
that the SD200 shoots even faster, at 2.8 fps.
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
- White balance (Auto, daylight,
cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, custom)
- ISO speed (Auto, 50, 100, 200,
- Photo effect (Off, vivid, neutral,
low sharpening, sepia, black & white)
- Compression (see chart later in
- Resolution (see chart later in
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
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:
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
Can I just say how much I hate when
cameras have mirrored panels like this one? They're
so hard to photograph.
Rants aside, up here 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 just 1.3 seconds. I counted
seven steps throughout the zoom range.
Nothing to see here, other than just
how thin the SD300 is!
Yuck, more mirrors!
Over here you'll find the I/O ports,
which are under a plastic cover at the top there. 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 SD300 you'll
find the metal tripod mount, battery compartment, and
SD card slot. The battery and memory card slots are
covered by a flimsy 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
The PowerShot SD300 starts up remarkably
quickly, taking just 1.1 seconds to extend its lens
and "warm up" before you can start taking
Autofocus speeds were good, taking
about 0.4 seconds at wide-angle and 0.6 seconds at
telephoto. 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 SD300, 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:
||Approx. file size
||# Images on 16MB card
(2272 x 1704)
(1600 x 1200)
(1024 x 768)
(640 x 480)
See why I recommend buying a larger
memory card? The SD300 does not support the RAW or
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 SD300'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
- 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
SD300, 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!
- 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
- Power saving
- Auto power down (on/off)
- Display off (10, 20, 30 sec,
- Clock display (0-10 sec, 20 sec,
30 sec, 1-3 mins) - yes, the camera doubles as a
- Card format
- File number reset (on/off) - maintain
- 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 PowerShot SD300 produced a very
nice and very smooth rendition of our usual macro test
subject. Colors look good and there's plenty of detail
to be seen here.
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 SD300 did a pretty good job with
the night test shot as well. The camera took in plenty
of light -- in fact I probably could've exposed it
for a little longer -- thanks to the long shutter speed
feature. There's a bit of noise to be seen, and some
purple fringing as well. Since you can't close down
the aperture on this camera, there's not much to be
done about the latter.
Using that same scene, let's take
a look at how adjusting the ISO sensitivity affects
the noise levels in images:
As you can see, ISO 100 isn't too
bad. ISO 200 is fairly noisy, and ISO 400 isn't so
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. I saw a tiny bit of vignetting
in my real world photos, but where you'll really notice
it is in flash shots. More on this in a bit.
Compact cameras mean big redeye, and
the SD300 is no exception. While your mileage may vary,
I would plan on dealing with it most of the time. You
can clean it up pretty well using the included software.
Overall the photo quality on the SD300
is very good, though perhaps not as good as the old
S410. The new UA lens design seems to lend itself to
above average purple fringing (chromatic aberrations)
and edge blurriness than the "regular" lenses
used on previous models. The fuzzy edges are noticeable
in many photos, with this
one being a prime example. These are the tradeoffs
that come with the small camera.
Aside from that, everything else was
good, including color, exposure, and noise levels.
Don't just take my word for it, though. View our photo
gallery and print the photos as if they were your
own. Then (and only then) decide if the photo quality
meets your expectations!
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
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
Here's a sample movie for you, recorded
at the high quality 640 x 480 setting. Be warned, it's
to play movie (18.2 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, AVI format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.
The SD300 has the same, excellent
playback mode as seen on other Canon cameras. Things
are really fast on the SD300 for some reason.
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
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 SD300 doesn't give
you much info about your photos. But press the display
button and you'll get plenty of details, including
The camera rockets through photos
in playback mode. It moves from one to the next instantly.
How Does it Compare?
Although I think image quality has
gone downhill a bit since its predecessor, that doesn't
stop me from putting the Canon PowerShot SD300 Digital
ELPH high on my list of favorite ultra-compact cameras.
It's got a stylish, ultra-thin metal body, a 3X zoom
lens, a big 2-inch LCD, first-rate movie mode, and
robust performance. The SD300 is about 1/3 inch thinner
than the S410 and it's small enough to go everywhere
with you. The lens is still 3X, though its new design
lends itself to increased purple fringing and blurry
edges, the main image quality issues that I found.
The LCD is quite a bit larger and it's bright and sharp.
Unfortunately it doesn't "gain up" much in
low light. Canon finally has a competitive movie mode
on the SD300, allowing for unlimited recording at 640
x 480 / 30 frames/second. The continuous shooting mode
is also excellent, assuming you have a high speed SD
card. Overall performance is very good as well, whether
taking pictures, reviewing them, or using the menu
I've already mentioned my two image
quality complaints, and I have two more. There's some
minor vignetting in normal outdoor shots, and it's
even more noticeable in flash shots (just like on the
S60/S70). Also, redeye was a problem, which shouldn't
be a surprise. While I like the manual white balance
and long shutter speed controls, when are we going
to get full manual controls on the ELPH? A few final
complaints: you can't change the memory card while
the camera is on a tripod, and the included memory
card doesn't hold too many photos.
Despite its flaws, I do like the SD300
-- quite a lot in fact. It seems to have the same image
quality problems as the PowerShot S60 and S70, which
use the same UA lens technology. For those folks printing
photos smaller than 8 x 10, I don't think the blurry
edges or purple fringing are a big deal. And I think
those are just the kind of people who will be buying
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
- Some vignetting, especially in
- 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
- Small memory card included
Some other ultra compact cameras worth
considering include the Casio Exilim EX-Z50 and EX-Z55, Fuji
FinePix F440, Konica Minolta DiMAGE X50 and G600, Nikon
Coolpix 4200, Olympus AZ-2
Zoom and Stylus
Lumix DMC-FX7, Pentax
Optio S5i, and the Sony
If you don't mind losing a Megapixel
of resolution, the Canon
PowerShot SD200 is similar to the SD300.
As always, I recommend a trip down
to your local reseller to try out the PowerShot SD300
and its competitors before you buy!
See how the photos turned out in
Want another opinion?
Read another review at Steve's
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