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DCRP Review: Canon PowerShot SD800 IS Digital ELPH  

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: October 11, 2006
Last Updated: January 3, 2012

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The Canon PowerShot SD800 IS Digital ELPH ($399) is an upgrade to the popular SD700 IS, which was only seven months old when it was replaced. While the SD900 is the flagship of the ELPH lineup, the SD800 is arguably more interesting than that camera, which is basically a 10 Megapixel version of the SD550 built to satisfy Canon's marketing department.

So what's new on the SD800 compared to the SD700? Here's the short list:

  • 7.1 Megapixel CCD (versus 6.0 on the SD700
  • 3.8X optical zoom lens, equivalent to 28 - 105 mm (versus 4X, 35 - 140 mm)
  • Uses new DIGIC III image processor (instead of DIGIC II) promises superior photo quality, battery life, and performance
  • New Face Detection technology
  • Higher resolution LCD
  • ISO now goes as high as 1600 (versus 800)
  • Movie recording file size limit now 4GB (versus 1GB)
  • 12% improvement in battery life
  • Supports SDHC memory cards

That all sounds pretty nice to me. Other features on the SD800 include optical image stabilization, a 2.5" LCD display, point-and-shoot operation, and a VGA movie mode -- all in a compact and very stylish metal body.

How does the new SD800 IS perform? Find out now in our review!

The SD800 is known as the Digital IXUS 850 in some countries. Since the cameras share so much in common I will be reusing portions of the SD700 review here.

What's in the Box?

The PowerShot SD800 IS has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 7.1 effective Megapixel Canon PowerShot SD800 IS Digital ELPH camera
  • 16MB MultiMedia card
  • NB-5L lithium-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Canon Digital Camera Solutions
  • 32 page basic manual + 145 page advanced manual (both printed)

Canon bundles a 16MB memory card with the SD800, which holds just four photos at the highest quality setting. That means that you'll need to get your hands on a larger memory card right away. The SD800 can use Secure Digital (SD) and MultiMedia (MMC) cards, as well as the new SDHC format. I'd say that you should pick up a 1GB card at the very minimum. I'd also make sure that you get a "high speed card", 60X or above, as the SD800 will definitely take advantage of it.

The SD800 uses the same NB-5L lithium-ion battery as its predecessor. This fairly compact battery packs 4.1 Wh of energy, which is about average for a camera in this class. Here's how that translates into battery life:

Camera Battery life, LCD on
(CIPA standard)
Canon PowerShot SD700 IS * 240 shots
Canon PowerShot SD800 IS * 270 shots
Canon PowerShot SD900 230 shots
Casio Exilim EX-Z700 460 shots
Fuji FinePix V10 170 shots
HP Photosmart R827 240 shots
Kodak EasyShare V705 150 shots
Nikon Coolpix P4 * 200 shots
Nikon Coolpix S7c 200 shots
Olympus Stylus 750 * 190 shots
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX07 * 320 shots
Pentax Optio A20 * 150 shots
Samsung NV3 200 shots **
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T50 * 400 shots

* Has image stabilization
** Not calculated using the CIPA standard

Battery life numbers are provided by the camera manufacturers

As you can see, the SD800's battery life has gone up about 12% compared to the SD700, and that's due to the more power efficient DIGIC III image processor. In the ultra-compact group as a whole, the SD800's battery numbers are above average.

My usual complaints about proprietary batteries like the one used by the SD800 apply here. They're expensive (around $45 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. Then again, you'd be hard pressed to find an ultra-thin camera that uses AAs.

The SD800 comes with a compact battery charger that plugs directly into the wall. It takes a little over two hours to fully charge the NB-5L.

Like all ultra-compact cameras, the SD800 has a built-in lens cover.

There are just a handful of accessories available for the SD800 IS. The most interesting is the WP-DC9 waterproof case (around $200), which lets you take the SD800 up to 40 meters underwater. If you want more flash power and less redeye then you'll want to consider the HF-DC1 external slave flash (priced from $82). This flash attaches via the tripod mount and fires when the on-board flash does. The last accessory of note is an AC adapter (priced from $50) , which lets you power the camera without draining your battery.

ImageBrowser (Mac OS X)

Canon includes version 29.0 (wow) of their Digital Camera Solution software package with the PowerShot SD800. The main applications are the ImageBrowser/ZoomBrowser "twins" that come with all PowerShot models. ImageBrowser is for the Mac, while ZoomBrowser is for Windows PCs. The Mac version is not Universal (Intel native), which means that it won't run as fast as it could.

After downloading photos via the CameraWindow application, you'll end up with the screen above, which has a standard-issue thumbnail view. Photos can be organized, printed, and e-mailed from this screen.

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.

ImageBrowser - MovieEdit Task (Mac OS X)

The MovieEdit task lets you take your movie clips, add effects and transitions, and then save the results as a single movie.

PhotoStitch (Mac OS X)

A separate program known as PhotoStitch is used to put the photos you took in the Stitch Assist mode into one giant panorama. The interface is simple, the process takes minutes, and the results are impressive, as you can see.

The SD800 does not support the Remote Capture function, which lets you control the camera from within the software.

While not pleasure reading, the manuals included with the SD800 are fairly decent. You get a short "Basic Manual" to get you started, plus a lengthy "Advanced Guide" for more complex camera functions. There's also a separate manual for the bundled software. All of these manuals could be a little easier to read, but they will answer all of your questions.

Look and Feel

The PowerShot SD800 looks quite a bit like its predecessor, though I think the SD700 is a better looking camera (but who buys a camera for its looks?). It's a very compact camera, but it wouldn't qualify as tiny, in my opinion. The body is made almost entirely of metal, and it feels very solid in your hands, save for the very flimsy plastic cover over the memory card / battery compartment.

While most of the controls are well-placed, the location of the mode dial makes it easy to accidentally switch modes with your right thumb. The camera's buttons, which were too small on the SD700, have been enlarged on the SD800.s

Okay, now let's take a look at how the SD800 compares with other ultra-compacts in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot SD700 IS 3.6 x 2.2 x 1.0 in. 7.9 cu in. 165 g
Canon PowerShot SD800 IS 3.5 x 2.3 x 1.0 in. 8.1 cu in. 150 g
Canon PowerShot SD900 3.6 x 2.4 x 1.1 in. 9.5 cu in. 165 g
Casio Exilim EX-Z700 3.5 x 2.2 x 0.8 in. 6.2 cu in. 112 g
Fujifilm FinePix V10 3.3 x 2.5 x 0.9 in. 7.4 cu in. 156 g
HP Photosmart R827 3.7 x 2.4 x 0.9 in. 8 cu in. 140 g
Kodak EasyShare V705 4.0 x 2.0 x 0.8 in. 6.4 cu in. 124 g
Nikon Coolpix P4 3.6 x 2.4 x 1.2 in. 10.4 cu in. 170 g
Nikon Coolpix S7c 3.9 x 2.4 x 0.8 in. 7.5 cu in. 140 g
Olympus Stylus 750 3.8 x 2.1 x 1.0 in. 8 cu in. 120 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX07 3.7 x 2.0 x 1.0 in. 7.4 cu in. 132 g
Pentax Optio A20 3.5 x 2.1 x 0.9 in. 6.6 cu in. 125 g
Samsung NV3 3.7 x 2.2 x 0.7 in. 5.7 cu in. 142 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T50 3.8 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 7.9 cu in. 130 g

The SD800 is more-or-less the same size as the SD700. It's a bit lighter as well, but you probably won't notice when you pick it up. When compared to other ultra-compacts the SD800 is on the "large" side, but it's still small enough to fit into any of your pockets with ease.

Okay, it's time to begin our tour of the camera now, beginning as we always do with the front of the camera.

The SD800 features an all new wide-angle lens. This F2.8-5.8, 3.8X zoom lens has a focal range of 4.6 - 17.3 mm, which is equivalent to 28 - 105 mm. Most of Canon's other Digital ELPHs have a more traditional 35 - 105 mm which, which isn't nearly as useful when you're shooting indoors, where you really need that wide lens. Not surprisingly, the SD800's lens is not threaded.

Just like the SD700 before it, the SD800 has Canon's Optical Image Stabilization system buried deep inside its lens. Sensors inside the camera detect the tiny movements of your hands which can blur your photos, and a lens element is shifted to compensate for this motion. This allows you to use slower shutter speeds than you could on an unstabilized camera, resulting in sharper photos. The OIS system won't stop a moving subject, nor will it allow you to take night photos like the one later in this review without needing a tripod.

Want to see how well the OIS system works? Check these out:

Image stabilization off

Image stabilization on, shoot only mode

The camera used a 1/6 sec shutter speed for both of these photos. The difference should be very obvious. If you want more evidence about the effectiveness of the image stabilization system, then check out this short sample movie.

To the upper-right of the lens is the camera's built-in flash. While it's not as powerful as the flash found on the old SD550 and new SD900, the SD800's flash is slightly better than the one on its predecessor. The working range of the flash is 0.5 - 4.0 m at wide-angle and 0.5 - 2.0 m at telephoto (both at Auto ISO). If you want a more powerful flash then you might be interested in the external slave flash that I mentioned earlier. Remember that this flash doesn't actually integrate with the camera -- it just fires when the onboard flash does.

Right above the lens is the AF-assist lamp, which is also used as a visual countdown for the self-timer. The AF-assist lamp is used by the camera as a focusing aid in low light situations. Just to the left of that is the optical viewfinder.

The main thing to see on the back of the SD800 is its 2.5" LCD display. The resolution has been bumped up since the SD700, going from 173,000 pixels on that cameras to 207,000 here. As you'd expect, everything on the screen is nice and sharp (not to mention bright). Outdoor visibility was above average, and in low light the LCD brightens automatically, making it easy to see your subject.

Right above the LCD is an optical viewfinder, which is a very rare find these days. It's kind of small, and there's no diopter correction knob, but I'll take what I can get!

At the top-right of the photo is the SD800's mode dial, which has these five options:

Option Function
Playback mode More on this later
Auto record Point-and-shoot, some menu options locked up
Manual record Same as above, but with full menu access
Scene mode You pick the situation and the camera uses the appropriate settings. Choose from portrait, night snapshot, kids & pets, indoor, foliage, snow, beach, fireworks, aquarium, and underwater.
Movie mode More on this later too

Unfortunately, the manual mode on the SD800 really isn't all that manual. All it does is unlock all the menu options on the camera. If you want things like manual exposure and focus, this is not your camera (though at least it offers manual white balance).

One thing you will find plenty of are scene modes. The one thing that continues to be missing in the scene mode department is an action or sports option, though.

Below the mode dial is the Print/Share button, which is found on all Canon digital cameras. When connected to a computer, you can transfer your photos by pressing this button, and you can even choose your desktop background right from the camera. If you're hooked into a PictBridge-enabled photo printer, this is how you'll make prints. In playback mode, the Print/Share button opens up the My Category feature that I'll describe later.

Below the Print/Share button you'll find the four-way controller, which is used for menu navigation and also:

  • Up - ISO (Auto, Hi Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600) + Jump (Quickly moves 10 or 100 photos at a time in playback mode)
  • Down - Drive (Single shot, continuous, self-timer [2 or 10 sec, custom]) + Delete photo
  • Left - Focus (Auto, macro, infinity)
  • Right - Flash setting (Auto, flash on, flash off)
  • Center - Function Menu (see below) + Set

One of the new features on the SD800 is the ability to crank the ISO sensitivity as high as 1600. We'll see how the photos look at that setting later in the review. The difference between the two Auto ISO modes is that the "hi" one will use higher sensitivities than the regular one.

The SD800 has a pretty nice continuous shooting mode. With a high speed memory card you'll be able to shoot at 1.7 frames/second until the memory card fills up. The "old" SD700 had a faster frame rate (2.0 fps), which is understandable, given its lower resolution. The camera's LCD keeps up fairly well with the action, with just a brief blackout between shots.

Function menu

By pressing the center button on the four-way controller, you'll open up the Function menu. This menu has the following options:

  • Manual mode (Manual, digital macro, color accent, color swap, Stitch Assist) - see below
  • Special Scene mode (listed these earlier)
  • 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) - see below
  • My Colors (Off, vivid, neutral, sepia, black & white, positive film, lighter skin tone, darker skin tone, vivid blue, vivid green, vivid red, custom color) - see below
  • Metering (Evaluative, center-weighted, spot)
  • Compression (see chart later in review)
  • Resolution (see chart later in review)

Looks like I have some explaining to do before we can continue the tour. I'll start with those manual mode options. The digital macro option locks the lens at wide-angle and lets you be just 3 cm from your subject. To get closer you can use the digital zoom, but that reduces image quality if you're shooting at the highest resolution. To really take advantage of this feature you'll want to lower the resolution, which allows you to use a bit of digital zoom without reducing the quality of the photo. I'll have more on the SD800's new digital zoom options later in the review.

Color Accent

Color Swap (Orange -> Blue)

The Color Accent and Color Swap options are part of the My Colors feature (though are strangely separated from the rest of the group). Color Accent lets you select a color to highlight, with everything else turning to black & white. Color Swap does just as it sounds -- you swap one color for another. For either of these options you can "fine tune" the selected color, though that doesn't work terribly well.

The other My Colors features are in a separate menu, and they should be self-explanatory. The custom color option lets you adjust the color balance between red/green/blue and skin tones, plus the contrast/sharpness/saturation.

The Stitch Assist feature lets you line up a bunch of photos side-by-side, which you'll combine later on your PC into a single panoramic image.

The custom white balance feature lets you use a white or gray card to get accurate color even with unusual lighting. This is the only true manual control on the camera, unless you count the long shutter feature.

Enough of that, let's continue the tour. Below the four-way controller are the Display and Menu buttons. The former toggles the LCD on and off, as well as what's shown on it. The Menu button does exactly as it sounds.

On top of the SD800 you'll find the speaker and microphone, the power and shutter release buttons, and the zoom controller.

I found the power button to be hard to find (without looking at it), since it's flush with the body.

The zoom controller, which is wrapped around the shutter release button, moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in about 1.5 seconds. I counted just eight steps in the 3.8X zoom range. One thing I don't like about the SD800 is that the current zoom setting is not shown on the LCD, so you have no idea where you really are zoom-wise.

Nothing to see here.

You'll have to excuse this photo -- the mirrored finish makes it hard to photograph. On this side of the SD800 you will find the I/O ports, which are behind a plastic cover. They include video out and USB. The SD800 supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard.

The lens is at the full telephoto position here.

On the bottom of the camera you'll find a metal tripod mount as well as the memory card / battery compartment. The plastic cover over this compartment is especially flimsy -- and a noticeable step down from the one on the SD700. You won't be able to swap memory cards while the camera is on a tripod.

The included NB-5L battery is shown at right.

Using the Canon PowerShot SD800 IS Digital ELPH

Record Mode

It takes just one second for the PowerShot SD800 IS to extend its lens and "warm up" before you can start taking pictures. That's really fast.

No live histogram to be found

Focus speeds were very good overall. Typically it took the SD800 between 0.2 and 0.4 seconds to lock focus, with slightly longer waits if the camera had to "hunt" for focus. I found low light focusing to be excellent, thanks to the camera'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.

There isn't much of a delay between pictures on the SD800 IS. You'll wait just over one second before you can fire off your next shot.

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 1GB card (optional)
3072 x 2304
Superfine 3.0 MB 4 312
Fine 1.9 MB 6 502
Normal 902 KB 14 1040
Wide (16:9)
3072 x 1728
Superfine 2.3 MB 5 414
Fine 1.4 MB 9 670
Normal 678 KB 19 1372
Medium 1
2592 x 1944
Superfine 2.4 MB 5 380
Fine 1.4 MB 9 678
Normal 695 KB 19 1342
Medium 2
2048 x 1536
Superfine 1.6 MB 8 590
Fine 893 KB 15 1058
Normal 445 KB 30 2082
Medium 3
1600 x 1200
Superfine 1002 KB 13 942
Fine 558 KB 24 1678
Normal 278 KB 46 3180
640 x 480
Superfine 249 KB 52 3554
Fine 150 KB 80 5494
Normal 84 KB 127 8634

See why that included 16MB card just won't do?

There's also a "postcard" size that you can select, which is the same resolution as Medium 3. This is the only setting that lets you print the date on your photos.

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 SD800 IS has the same menu system as the other cameras in the SD series. Note that some menu options are not available while in the automatic and scene modes. With that in mind, here's what's in the record menu:

  • AiAF (Face detect, on, off) - see below
  • Slow synchro (on/off)
  • Redeye reduction (on/off)
  • Self-timer - for the custom feature
    • Delay (0-10, 15, 20, 30 secs)
    • Shots (1-3)
  • AF-assist beam (on/off)
  • Digital zoom (on/off) - see below
  • Review (Off, 2 - 10 secs, hold) - 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
  • Auto category (on/off) - see below
  • Display overlay (Off, grid lines, 3:2 guide, both)
  • IS mode (Off, continuous, shoot only, panning) - see below
  • 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
Camera has detected three faces, with the third from the right being the "main subject" Shutter release halfway pressed, focus locked on all six faces. These are the guys who developed the Opera browser, by the way -- just a random photo that I found on the web.

The SD800 is the first camera that I've tested with "face detection". The point of FD is to get the camera to focus on your subject's face, instead of on something else in the foreground or background. Since I don't exactly have a group of people in my home office to use for testing, I displayed pictures on my 23" LCD display to see how well it worked. Much to my surprise, the face detection system worked very, very well. It worked on adults and toddlers, even if they weren't looking right at the camera. The metering system is also involved, ensuring that your subject is properly exposed. I guess this feature isn't as gimmicky as I thought!

The SD800's digital zoom option adds the "Safety Zoom feature" that I first saw on the A710 IS. This warns you when you pass the point where image quality is degraded. When you're shooting at the highest resolution that starts as soon as digital zoom kicks in, but if you're using a lower resolution you can use it for a little while before that happens (e.g. you can go up to 7.3X total zoom at the M3/postcard resolution).

The Auto Category feature is a new one. This sets a category flag for pictures you've taken, depending on what mode they were shot in. The auto categories are people, scenery, and events, and there are a few more available in playback mode as well (My Category 1-3, To Do). Once photos are categorized, you can use then display photos only by category while reviewing them. More on that later.

What about those different IS modes? Continuous mode activates the OIS system as soon as you halfway press the shutter release, which helps you compose the photo without camera shake. The "shoot only" option doesn't turn it on until the photo is actually taken, which improves the performance of the OIS system. The panning mode only stabilizes up and down motion, and you'll want to use this while tracking a moving subject horizontally. You can also turn the whole thing off, which is a good idea if you're shooting with a tripod.

The setup tab in the menu has the following items:

  • Mute (on/off) - turns off all the beeps
  • 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)
  • 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)
  • Auto rotate (on/off) - camera will automatically rotate portrait photos on the LCD
  • Lens retract (1 min, 0 secs) - how quickly the lens retracts when you switch to playback mode
  • Language (way too many to list)
  • Video system (NTSC, PAL)
  • Print Method (Auto, PictBridge)
  • 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. So, if you've ever wanted a chimp theme for your camera, here's your chance (really, it exists). You can also turn off all the screens and sounds as well, which might not be a bad idea.

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

The SD800 IS did a very nice job with our standard macro subject. Colors look pretty good, though the red is slightly pink. The subject has the "smooth" look that has become a trademark of Canon cameras.

In macro mode the minimum distance to the subject is 3 cm at wide-angle and 30 cm at telephoto. There's also the digital macro feature that I discussed earlier in the review.

The night shot turned out fairly well, though it's a bit noisier than I would've expected. Since there's no shutter priority or full manual mode on the SD800, I had to use the long shutter feature to bring in enough light. The buildings are nice and sharp, and purple fringing was fairly well controlled.

Below is the first of two ISO tests in this review, and this one uses the night scene you see above. Since the shutter speeds that can be manually selected don't get any faster than 1 second, I was unable to keep exposures consistent with previous photos once I got above ISO 400. If you want to see what things look like at ISO 800, click here. Yeah, you probably don't want to use that in low light situations like this. Anyhow, here goes:

ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

You start seeing a loss in detail right away -- at ISO 100. Still, a small to midsize print is still very possible. At ISO 200 there's a more noticeable smudging of details, limiting your print sizes to 4 x 6 or so. Things only get worse at ISO 400, with a lot of grain in the sky as well. From here on you probably can't do much with the photos, so use the high sensitivities only if you're desperate in low light situations like this.

[Above section added 10/17/06]

There's moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the SD800's 3.8X zoom lens. If you want to see what this does in real world shots, look no further than the building on the right in this photo. The distortion shot also shows some corner blurriness, and you'll find this to be a problem in your regular photos as well. It's one of those things that comes with the territory: if you want a compact camera with a lens like this, then you have to accept some tradeoffs.

Another tradeoff that comes with owning an ultra-compact camera is redeye. As you can see, the SD800 has quite a problem with it. While your results may vary, odds are that you'll have issues with this annoyance.

Here's the now standard ISO test that I take here in my "studio". This test is comparable with those performed on other cameras which I've reviewed over the last few years. While the crops below give you a hint about noise levels at the various ISO sensitivities, viewing the full size images is always a good idea.

ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

Everything looks nice and clean all the way through ISO 200. At ISO 400 we start to see some minor loss of detail, but you should be able to make good-sized prints without issue. At ISO 800 you see a lot more grain/noise, as well as drop in color saturation. You'll probably want to stick to smaller print sizes when shooting at that setting. When we get to ISO 1600 we see yet more grain, plus significant loss of detail. I'd avoid using that one unless you're really desperate.

Though not without its flaws, overall the SD800 took very good quality photos. I found the pictures to be well-exposed, with accurate colors. Sharpness was where I prefer it: not too sharp, not too soft. As I illustrated above, noise levels are quite reasonable through ISO 400.

The main issues here are corner softness (illustrated beautifully here) and above average purple fringing. Neither corner blurriness or purple fringing will be noticeable in small to midsize prints, but if you do large prints or view your photos at 100% on your computer then you'll certainly notice both. I'm guessing that the UA lens technology that lets Canon stuff a 28 - 105 mm lens into the ultra-compact SD800 is probably to blame for both of those. The PowerShot S80 used the same type of lens, and it had the exact same issues.

Don't just take my word for all this, though. Have a look at our photo gallery, printing them photos if possible. Then and only then can you decide if the SD800's photo quality meets your expectations!

Movie Mode

One of the big complaints about the movie mode on Canon's previous cameras was the 1GB file size limit. When recording at the highest quality setting you'd hit that limit in a little over eight minutes. The SD800 brings good news to movie fans: the DIGIC III processor has allowed the file size limit to rise to 4GB. So now, you can record over 32 minutes of 640 x 480, 30 frame/second video with sound. Now that's more like it!

Like with other Canon cameras, two other resolution choices are also available: 320 x 240 and 160 x 120. For the 640 x 480 and 320 x 240 sizes you can choose from 30 or 15 frames/second, while the 160 x 120 size is fixed at 15 fps (though there's a 3 minute recording limit for this option).

There's also a "Fast Frame Rate" mode available, 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.

You can use all of the My Colors features in movie mode. An editing feature lets you trim unwanted footage off the beginning or end of a clip.

You cannot use the zoom lens during filming (it will be locked when you start filming). You can, however, use the digital zoom.

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

Here's a sample movie you, taken at the highest quality setting. Be warned -- it's a big download!

Click to play movie (18.1 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, AVI format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime

Playback Mode

The playback mode is very good, and just like the one found on the other SD-series models. You've got slideshows, image protection, image rotation, voice captions, thumbnail view (which is nicer than on most cameras since it enlarges the photo you're looking at), and zoom and scroll. This last feature lets you enlarge the picture up to 10X, and then scroll around in the zoomed-in area. When you're zoomed in you can press the Func/Set button and then move from photo to photo at the same magnification setting. The SD800 also has a separate print menu lets you tag photos for printing to a PictBridge-enabled photo printer.

Most of the My Colors features can be used in playback mode, save for Color Accent, Color Swap, and Custom Color.

Assigning a category to a photo

The new My Category feature lets you assign photos to any of seven possible categories. If you have Auto Category turned on in the recording menu then this will be done automatically for some of your photos. There are three custom categories, though I don't see a way to give them a name instead of the generic "My Category 1". You can select images by their category and display slide shows of them, or delete/protect them.

The Jump feature lets you move forward or back 10 or 100 photos at a time, and you can also go to the first photo in a category or folder. As the screenshot above shows, you can also jump ahead by date using this feature.

By default you won't get much information about your photo while in playback mode. But press the Display button and you'll get more info, including a histogram.

The SD800 moves between images almost instantly, with your choice of two snazzy transitions. Like the other SD-series cameras, when you rotate the camera 90 degrees, the photo on the LCD rotates too.

How Does it Compare?

If you want a stylish, ultra-compact camera with a wide-angle lens, then the Canon PowerShot SD800 IS Digital ELPH is definitely a good choice. There are some image quality tradeoffs that come from having a tiny camera with this kind of lens, but the typical point-and-shooter probably won't be bothered by most of them.

The PowerShot SD800 IS is an ultra-compact camera made almost entirely of metal. I say "almost" because of the plastic cover over the memory card and battery compartment -- it's really quite flimsy, and a step down from what was on the SD800's predecessor (the SD700). The controls are well-placed, though I'm not a fan of the mode dial's placement.

One of the big selling points on the SD800 is its new 28 - 105 mm lens. Your typical ultra-compact camera has a lens that starts anywhere between 35 and 38 mm, so this is a welcome change for those who shoot indoors or in tight quarters. Of course, this lens brings along some issues of its own, and I'll mention those in the image quality section below. In addition to its wide-angle lens, the SD800 also features Canon's optical image stabilization system. The OIS system worked as promised, taking sharp photos at shutter speeds that just wouldn't be usable on non-stabilized cameras. The SD800 also has a large 2.5" LCD display, with a higher resolution than on the SD700, too. One thing that Canon has kept on the SD800 is an optical viewfinder -- thank you!

Like the other cameras in the SD series, the SD800 is a point-and-shoot camera. Sure, it has manual white balance (which is very useful) and a slow shutter option, but everything else is automatic. I figure that most SD800 buyers don't care. What you will find are numerous scene modes, fun (for a while, at least) My Colors features, automatic image categorization, and an easy-to-use interface. The SD800 features Canon's new face detection system, and it impressed me with how well it worked -- even when I was taking pictures of pictures. The movie mode on the camera has been improved, with a new 4GB file size limit, which allows for 32 minutes of continuous VGA-sized video recording.

Camera performance is excellent. The SD800 is ready to shoot in just one second. Focusing speeds were good, shutter lag wasn't noticeable, and shot-to-shot delays were minimal. While not as fast as its predecessor, the SD800's continuous shooting mode can still crank out photos at 1.7 frames/second until your memory card fills up. Battery life is better than on the SD700, and above average compared to other ultra-compacts.

Image quality is very good overall, but not without its problems. On the positive side, I was pleased with both exposure and color accuracy. Noise levels are low through ISO 400, and sharpness was right about where I like it. The SD800 does have trouble with three photo quality issues, though: corner softness, purple fringing, and redeye. The first two are the tradeoffs for having a compact, wide-angle lens (and won't be noticeable when you actually print the photos), while the last one seems to come with the territory in the ultra-compact class.

There are a few other negatives worth mentioning. One thing that really bugs me about the SD-series cameras is that the current zoom position isn't shown on the LCD. Canon's cheaper A-series cameras do it, so why can't these? Along those lines, there aren't enough steps in the zoom range -- there are just eight here, and this is almost a 4X lens. I already mentioned the flimsy battery/memory card compartment door, but I should also point out that you won't be able to swap memory cards while the SD800 is on a tripod. And finally, the included 16MB memory card is just too small for a 7 Megapixel camera.

While it's not perfect, the PowerShot SD800 is still a compelling camera that should be seriously considered. The only other cameras like the SD800 are the Panasonic FX series and, unfortunately, I haven't reviewed the latest models yet, so I can't say how they compare. But I can say this about the SD800: its combination of style, performance, image stabilization, and that wide-angle lens makes it pretty hard to resist. It earns my recommendation.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality, low noise through ISO 400 (but see issues below)
  • Wide-angle lens
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Compact, super stylish metal body
  • Large, sharp 2.5" LCD display; easy to see in low light
  • Has an optical viewfinder (a rarity in this class)
  • Snappy performance
  • Face detection system works as promised
  • AF-assist lamp, good low light focusing
  • Excellent movie mode
  • Optional underwater case
  • USB 2.0 High Speed support

What I didn't care for:

  • Some corner softness and purple fringing
  • Redeye a big problem
  • Current zoom setting not shown on LCD; lens needs more "steps" as well
  • More manual controls would be nice
  • No live histogram in record mode
  • Date/time printing only at 1600 x 1200 resolution
  • Flimsy door over memory card / battery compartment; can't swap memory cards while camera is on a tripod, either
  • Included 16MB memory card is too small

The cameras which are most similar to the SD800 are the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX07 and DMC-FX50. Some other ultra-compacts to also consider are the Canon PowerShot SD900, Casio Exilim EX-Z700, Fuji FInePix V10, HP Photosmart R827, Kodak EasyShare V705, Nikon Coolpix P4 and S7c, Olympus Stylus 750, Pentax Optio A20, Samsung NV3, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T50.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the PowerShot SD800 IS and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

See how the photos turned out in our gallery!

Want another opinion?

You'll find another review of the SD800 at CNET.com.

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 or technical support.

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