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DCRP Review: Canon PowerShot SD850 IS Digital ELPH
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: September 4, 2007
Last Updated: September 6, 2011

The Canon PowerShot SD850 IS ($399) is an ultra-compact camera featuring an 8 Megapixel CCD, 4X optical zoom lens, image stabilization, and a beautiful 2.5" LCD display. Contrary to popular belief, the SD850 does NOT replace the SD800 -- rather, it replaces the SD700, which was introduced back in February of 2006.

Canon's model numbering is so confusing that I decided to make two charts to help you make sense of it. First up, we have a Digital ELPH family tree:

USA model names shown - click to see European model names

Hopefully that clears things up a bit. Now, here's a closer look at the differences between the current Digital ELPH models, with the SD850's predecessor (the SD700) thrown in for good measure.

Feature PowerShot SD700 IS PowerShot SD850 IS PowerShot SD870 IS PowerShot SD950 IS PowerShot SD1000
Street price
(at time of posting)
N/A $354 N/A $449 $227
Resolution 6.0 MP 8.0 MP 8.0 MP 12.1 MP 7.1 MP
Optical zoom 4X 4X 3.8X 3.7X 3X
Lens max. aperture F2.8 - F5.5 F2.8 - F5.5 F2.8 - F5.8 F2.8 - F5.8 F2.8 - F4.9
Focal length (35 mm equiv.) 35 - 140 mm 35 - 140 mm 28 - 105 mm 36 - 133 mm 35 - 105 mm
Image stabilization Yes Yes Yes Yes No
LCD size 2.5" 2.5" 3.0" 2.5" 2.5"
LCD resolution 173,000 pixels 230,000 pixels 230,000 pixels 230,000 230,000 pixels
Optical viewfinder Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Face detection No Yes Yes (enhanced) Yes (enhanced) Yes
Redeye reduction tool No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Movie mode file size limit 1GB 4GB 4GB 4GB 4GB
Battery used NB-5L NB-5L NB-5L NB-5L NB-4L
Battery life (CIPA standard) 240 shots 230 shots 270 shots 240 shots 210 shots
Dimensions (W x H x D) 3.6 x 2.2 x 1.0 in. 3.6 x 2.2 x 1.0 in. 3.7 x 2.3 x 1.0 in. 3.8 x 2.4 x 1.1 in. 3.4 x 2.1 x 0.8 in.
Weight 165 g 165 g 155 g 165 g 125 g

So what does the SD850 offer over its predecessor? You get more pixels (of course), a new image processor, a sharper LCD, a redeye removal tool, and more.

How does this latest ELPH perform in our tests? Find out right now!

The PowerShot SD850 is known as the Digital IXUS 950 IS in some countries. Yes, very confusing.

What's in the Box?

The PowerShot SD850 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

Canon is one of the few camera manufacturers who still includes a memory card in the box, instead of building memory right into the camera. The 32MB SD card that comes with the SD850 won't hold many photos, though, so you'll want a larger card right away. The camera supports the SD, SDHC, and MMC memory card format, and I'd suggest starting out with a 1GB card. It's worth spending the extra money for a high speed SD or SDHC card.

The SD850 uses the same NB-5L lithium-ion battery as its predecessor. This battery has 4.1 Wh of energy, which isn't bad for a camera of this size. Here's how the SD850 compares to the competition in terms of battery life:

Camera Battery life, LCD on
(CIPA standard)
Canon PowerShot SD700 IS * 240 shots
Canon PowerShot SD850 IS * 230 shots
Canon PowerShot SD950 IS * 270 shots
Casio Exilim EX-Z1080 240 shots
Fuji FinePix F40fd 300 shots
GE G1 200 shots
HP Photosmart R742 150 shots
Kodak EasyShare M873 200 shots
Nikon Coolpix S510 * 170 shots
Olympus Stylus 830 * 200 shots
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX12 * 350 shots
Pentax Optio A30 * 150 shots
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W90 * 350 shots

* Has image stabilization

Battery life numbers are provided by the camera manufacturers

As you can see, the SD850's battery life is just a little bit worse than its predecessor. In the ultra-compact group as a whole, the SD850 is right in the middle.

When it's time to charge the battery, just snap it into the included charger. This is my favorite type of charger: it plugs directly into the wall. It takes around a little over two hours for a full charge.

Like all ultra-compact cameras, the SD850 has a built-in lens cover, so there's no lens cap to deal with.

There are just a few accessories available for the PowerShot SD850. The most interesting is probably the WP-DC15 underwater case (priced from $160), which lets you take the camera up to 40 meters below sea level. Next we have the HF-DC1 external slave flash (priced from $90), which attaches via the tripod mount and fires when the onboard flash does, giving you more flash range and less redeye. Last, but not least, we have the ACK-DC30 AC Adapter (priced from $45), which lets you power the camera without draining your battery.

ImageBrowser (Mac OS X)

Canon includes version 30.2 of their Digital Camera Solution software package with the SD850. 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, so it doesn't run as fast as it could on Intel-based Macs. However, a Universal version now exists (it comes with the PowerShot G9), so it may be worth contacting Canon for an upgrade.

After you download 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 part of Image/ZoomBrowser lets you edit videos, complete with transitions, effects, text overlays, and much more.You can also downsize the videos, which makes them easier to share with friends via e-mail or your website.

PhotoStitch (Mac OS X)

A separate program called PhotoStitch can, well, stitch together separate photos into one giant panorama. The interface is simple, the process takes minutes, and the results are impressive, as you can see. You can use the SD850's Stitch Assist feature to line up the photos side-by-side with just the right amount of overlap.

The SD850's documentation comes in several parts. There's a basic manual to get you up and running, plus an advanced manual for understanding more complex camera features. There are also separate manuals for the bundled software and for direct printing (via PictBridge). The manuals cover everything in detail, though they could be more user friendly.

Look and Feel

The PowerShot SD850 IS looks a lot like its predecessor, the SD700. It's an ultra-compact camera made almost entirely of metal, and it feels very well constructed. The camera is easy to hold and operate with one hand, and there's a nice rest for your right thumb on the back. The controls on the back of the camera are on the small side.

Now, let's see how the SD850 compares to other cameras in its class 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 SD850 IS 3.6 x 2.2 x 1.0 in. 7.9 cu in. 165 g
Canon PowerShot SD950 IS 3.8 x 2.4 x 1.1 in. 10 cu in. 165 g
Casio Exilim EX-Z1080 3.6 x 2.3 x 1.0 in. 8.3 cu in. 125 g
Fujifilm FinePix F40fd 3.8 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 7.9 cu in. 153 g
GE G1 3.6 x 2.5 x 0.8 in. 7.2 cu in. 115 g
HP Photosmart R742 3.7 x 2.2 x 1.0 in. 8.1 cu in. 136 g
Kodak EasyShare M873 3.6 x 2.2 x 0.7 in. 5.5 cu in. 110 g
Nikon Coolpix S510 3.5 x 2.0 x 0.9 in. 6.3 cu in. 125 g
Olympus Stylus 830 3.9 x 2.2 x 0.9 in. 7.7 cu in. 125 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX12 3.7 x 2.0 x 1.0 in. 7.4 cu in. 125 g
Pentax Optio A30 3.5 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 7.2 cu in. 130 g
Samsung L830 3.7 x 2.3 x 0.8 in. 6.8 cu in. 132 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W90 3.6 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 7.5 cu in. 124 g