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DCRP Review: Canon PowerShot SD790 IS Digital ELPH
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: April 30, 2008
Last Updated: September 6, 2011

Front of the Canon PowerShot SD790 IS

The Canon PowerShot SD790 IS Digital ELPH ($349) is an ultra-compact camera features a 10 Megapixel CCD, 3X optical zoom lens, image stabilization, and a large 3-inch LCD display. It's the follow-up to the PowerShot SD750, which was introduced in February of 2007. The biggest changes on the SD790 are the higher resolution CCD, and the addition of optical image stabilization.

Canon's model numbering can be very hard to figure out, and based on e-mails I've received in recent years, I'm not the only one who thinks so. I put together this "family tree" to help you figure out the relationships between the various models:

View ELPH names | View IXUS names

I hope that helped you make sense of a somewhat senseless model numbering system. I have another chart for you, as well -- this one compares the features of the current ELPH models:


PowerShot SD1100

PowerShot SD770 PowerShot SD790 PowerShot SD870 PowerShot SD890 PowerShot SD950
Street price
(at time of posting)
$226 $258 $287 $267 $334 $362
Resolution 8.0 MP 10.0 MP 10.0 MP 8.0 MP 10.0 MP 12.1 MP
Optical zoom 3X 3X 3X 3.8X 5X 3.7X
Lens max. aperture F2.8 - F4.9 F2.8 - F4.9 F2.8 - F4.9 F2.8 - F5.8 F3.2 - F5.7 F2.8 - F5.8
Focal length (35 mm equiv.) 38 - 114 mm 35 - 105 mm 35 - 105 mm 28 - 105 mm 37 - 185 mm 36 - 133 mm
Image stabilization Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
LCD size 2.5" 2.5" 3.0" 3.0" 2.5" 2.5"
LCD resolution 230,000 pixels 230,000 pixels 230,000 pixels 230,000 pixels 230,000 pixels 230,000 pixels
Optical viewfinder Yes Yes No No Yes Yes
Flash range (Auto ISO) 0.3 - 3.5 m (W)
0.3 - 3.0 m (T)
0.3 - 3.5 m (W)
0.3 - 2.0 m (T)
0.3 - 3.5 m (W)
0.3 - 2.0 m (T)
0.3 - 4.0 m (W)
0.3 - 2.0 m (T)
0.3 - 3.5 m (W)
0.3 - 2.0 m (T)
0.5 - 4.6 m (W)
0.5 - 2.4 m (T)
Auto ISO Shift No No No Yes Yes Yes
Battery used NB-4L NB-6L NB-5L NB-5L NB-5L NB-5L
Battery life (CIPA standard) 240 shots 300 shots 330 shots 270 shots 320 shots 240 shots
Dimensions (W x H x D) 3.4 x 2.2 x 0.9 in 3.4 x 2.1 x 0.8 in 3.6 x 2.2 x 0.8 in 3.7 x 2.3 x 1.0 in 3.8 x 2.3 x 1.1 in 3.8 x 2.4 x 1.1 in
Weight 125 g 130 g 155 g 155 g 155 g 165 g
Available colors Blue, pink, silver, brown, gold Silver, black Silver Silver, black Silver Silver

If you're still confused about Canon's ELPH lineup after both of those then, well, I don't know what to tell you.

Is the PowerShot SD790 a top contender in the ultra-compact / big LCD field? Find out in our review, which starts right now!

The PowerShot SD790 is known as the IXUS 90 IS in some countries.

What's in the Box?

The PowerShot SD790 IS has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

Canon is one of the few camera manufacturers who still puts a memory card in the box along with the camera. Everyone else builds memory into the camera itself -- and usually not very much of it. You'll find a 32MB card in the box with the SD790, which holds just six photos at the highest quality setting. Thus, you'll want to buy a larger card, and fast. The camera supports SD, SDHC, MMC, MMCplus, and HC MMCplus media. I'd recommend a 2GB card for the PowerShot SD790, and its worth spending a little more on a high speed model (though there's no need to go overboard).

The SD790 uses the venerable NB-5L rechargeable lithium-ion battery for power. This battery contains 4.1 Wh of energy, which is decent for a ultra-compact camera. Here's how that translates into battery life:

Camera Battery life, LCD on
(CIPA standard)
Canon PowerShot SD750 210 shots
Canon PowerShot SD790 IS * 330 shots
Casio Exilim EX-Z150 * 280 shots
Fuji FinePix Z100fd * 170 shots
Kodak EasyShare M1093 IS * N/A
Nikon Coolpix S52 * 200 shots
Olympus Stylus 840 * 190 shots
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS20 * 310 shots
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T70 * 270 shots

* Has image stabilization

Battery life numbers are provided by the camera manufacturers

The first thing to point out is the SD790's amazing 50% improvement in battery life compared to its predecessor. Now that's what I like to see! It doesn't take a math whiz to see that the camera's battery life is well above the group average here.

I do want to mention the usual issues about the proprietary batteries used by the SD790 and every camera on the above list. They're expensive (a spare will cost you at least $36), and you can't use an off-the-shelf battery in an emergency. That's life, though, as you just can't fit AA batteries into a camera this size.

When it's time to charge the battery, just pop it into the included charger. This is my favorite kind of charger -- it plugs directly into the wall. Expect to wait just over two hours for the NB-5L to be fully charged.

Canon PowerShot SD790 in the hand

As with all ultra-compact cameras, the SD790 has a built-in lens cover, so there's no lens cap to deal with.

There are just a couple of accessories available for the PowerShot SD790, which I've compiled into this chart:

Accessory Model # Price Description
Underwater case WP-DC24 From $161 Take the PowerShot SD790 up to 40 meters under the sea
External slave flash HF-DC1 From $90 Boosts flash range and reduces redeye; attaches to the tripod mount, and fires when the onboard flash does
AC adapter ACK-DC30 From $46 Power the camera without wasting your batteries
Deluxe leather case PSC-1000 From $15 Protect your camera, in style

A pretty standard list for an ultra-compact camera. Let's move on to software now.

CameraWindow in Mac OS X

Canon includes version 33 of their Digital Camera Solution Disk with the PowerShot SD790. The first part of the Browser software that you'll probably encounter is Camera Window (pictured above), which is used to download photos from your camera.

ImageBrowser in Mac OS X

Once that's done you'll find yourself in either ImageBrowser or ZoomBrowser, which are for Mac and Windows, respectively. The Mac version is Universal, allowing it to run at full speed on Intel-based systems. The "Browser twins" let you view, organize, e-mail, and print your photos. If you categorized any photos on the camera (more on this later), then this information is transferred into the Browser software.

ImageBrowser edit window in Mac OS X

Double-click on a thumbnail and you'll bring up the edit window. Editing functions include trimming, redeye removal, and the ability to adjust levels, color, brightness, sharpness, and the tone curve. There's also an auto adjustment option for those who want a quick fix.

PhotoStitch in Mac OS X

A separate program called PhotoStitch can combine photos you've taken side-by-side into a single panorama. The Stitch Assist feature on the PowerShot SD790 can help you line up the photos so they stitch together well.

Canon retooled their documentation this year, combining the basic and advanced manuals into one. This book covers the camera in great detail, though I will admit that it's not the most user-friendly manual in the world. Printed manuals for the bundled software and direct (PictBridge) printing are also included.

Look and Feel

The SD790 reminds me a bit of the original Digital ELPHs. Not only does it look like one (though it's noticeably wider), but it also feels like one too: it has a solid, "block of metal" that has been missing from Canon's lineup in recent years. The only decent-sized piece of plastic you'll find on the SD790 is the door over the memory card / battery compartment, but it's reinforced with metal, and feels pretty sturdy.

Ergonomics are a mixed bag. While the camera is easy to hold and operate with one hand, your thumb rests dangerously close to the Print/Share button. Speaking of which, the buttons on the back of the camera are flush against the body, which may look cool, but I found them hard to press. I did like the combination four-way controller / scroll wheel, though.

Now, let's take a look at how the PowerShot SD790 compares to other ultra-compact cameras in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot SD750 3.6 x 2.2 x 0.8 in. 6.3 cu in. 130 g
Canon PowerShot SD790 IS 3.6 x 2.2 x 0.8 in. 6.3 cu in. 155 g
Casio Exilim EX-Z150 3.8 x 2.3 x 0.8 in. 7 cu in. 126 g
Fujifilm FinePix Z100fd 3.6 x 2.2 x 0.8 in. 6.3 cu in. 138 g
Kodak EasyShare M1093 IS 3.7 x 2.3 x 0.8 in. 6.8 cu in. 135 g
Nikon Coolpix S52 3.8 x 2.3 x 0.8 in. 7 cu in. 125 g
Olympus Stylus 840 3.8 x 2.2 x 0.9 in. 7.5 cu in. 130 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS20 3.7 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 7.7 cu in. 132 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T70 3.5 x 2.2 x 0.8 in. 6.2 cu in. 128 g