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DCRP Review: Canon PowerShot SD870 IS Digital ELPH
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: September 4, 2007
Last Updated: September 6, 2011

The Canon PowerShot SD870 IS Digital ELPH ($399) is an ultra-compact camera with a wide-angle lens, huge 3-inch LCD display, and all the bells and whistles that you'd expect on a point-and-shoot camera in 2007. The SD870 is sort of a combination of the SD750 (for the LCD) and the SD800 (for the wide-angle lens), though that's not "official".

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

Canon's official line is that the SD870 is the replacement to the SD800, though as I mentioned, it takes cues from the SD750 as well.

Now, here's a look at how the various Digital ELPH models compare:

Feature PowerShot SD800 IS PowerShot SD850 IS PowerShot SD870 IS PowerShot SD950 IS PowerShot SD1000
Street price
(at time of posting)
$296 $288 $336 $412 $187
Resolution 7.1 MP 8.0 MP 8.0 MP 12.1 MP 7.1 MP
Optical zoom 3.8X 4X 3.8X 3.7X 3X
Lens max. aperture F2.8 - F5.8 F2.8 - F5.5 F2.8 - F5.8 F2.8 - F5.8 F2.8 - F4.9
Focal length (35 mm equiv.) 28 - 105 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 207,000 pixels 230,000 pixels 230,000 pixels 230,000 pixels 230,000 pixels
Optical viewfinder Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Face detection Yes Yes Yes (enhanced) Yes (enhanced) Yes
Redeye reduction tool No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Movie mode file size limit 4GB 4GB 4GB 4GB 4GB
Battery used NB-5L NB-5L NB-5L NB-5L NB-4L
Battery life (CIPA standard) 270 shots 230 shots 270 shots 240 shots 210 shots
Dimensions (W x H x D) 3.5 x 2.3 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 150 g 165 g 155 g 165 g 125 g

The biggest changes on the SD870 compared to its predecessor include a higher resolution sensor (of course), a larger LCD, enhanced face detection, and in-camera redeye removal. Unfortunately, the optical viewfinder disappeared along the way.

I was a big fan of the PowerShot SD800. So much so, in fact, that I bought one for myself. Is the SD870 a worthy successor? Find out now in our review!

The PowerShot SD870 IS is known as the Digital IXUS 860 IS in some countries.

What's in the Box?

The PowerShot SD870 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 it right into the camera. The 32MB SD card that comes with the SD870 won't hold many photos (eight, to be exact), so you'll want a larger card right away. The camera supports the SD, SDHC, MMC, and MMCplus memory card formats, 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 SD870 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 SD870 compares to the competition in terms of battery life:

Camera Battery life, LCD on
(CIPA standard)
Canon PowerShot SD870 IS */**/*** 270 shots
Casio Exilim EX-S880 220 shots
Fuji FinePix F480 ** 150 shots
HP Photosmart R847 *** 210 shots
Kodak EasyShare M883 *** 200 shots
Nikon Coolpix S51 */*** 150 shots
Olympus FE-290 */*** 175 shots
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX55 */**/*** 280 shots
Pentax Optio V10 *** 200 shots
Samsung L74 Wide **/***/**** 200 shots
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T70 */*** 270 shots

* Has image stabilization
** Has wide-angle lens
*** Has 3-inch LCD
**** Number not officially calculated with CIPA standard

Battery life numbers are provided by the camera manufacturers

You can figure out who the SD870's main competitor is just by looking at that chart -- it's the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX55. It's this same camera that just edges out the SD870 in terms of battery life. Don't worry too much, though -- the SD870's numbers are still 27% above average.

I should mention a couple of "gotchas" regarding the proprietary battery used by the SD870 (and every other camera on that list). For one, they're fairly expensive -- an extra NB-5L will set you back at least $40. Secondly, if that battery dies, you can't use an off-the-shelf battery like you could on a camera that uses AAs. That said, you won't find a camera this size that uses anything else.

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 SD870 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 SD870. The most interesting is probably the WP-DC17 underwater case ($185), 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.

CameraWindow in Mac OS X

You'll find version 31 of Canon's Digital Camera Solutions software inside the SD870's box. Canon has given their software a refresh, with the ImageBrowser (Mac) and ZoomBrowser (Windows) products now up to version 6. The Mac version is now Universal, so it runs at full speed on Intel-based Macs.

The first part of the Browser software that you'll probably encounter is Camera Window, and you'll use it to download photos from your camera.

ImageBrowser in Mac OS X

Once that's done you'll find yourself in either ImageBrowser or ZoomBrowser, depending on your computer. Here you can view, organize, e-mail, and print your photos. If you categorized any photos on the camera (more on this later) then that information is transferred over to 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 totally 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 SD870's Stitch Assist feature to line up the photos side-by-side with just the right amount of overlap.

Canon has combined the Basic and Advanced manuals from previous PowerShots into a single, thick book on the SD870. The manual is quite detailed, with every feature and option covered. At the same time, it's not terribly user friendly. Still, as camera manuals go, it's better than most. Canon also includes separate manuals describing direct printing and the software bundle.

Look and Feel

The PowerShot SD870 really is a combination of the SD750 and SD800 in terms of design. It has the shape and size of the SD800, and the glossy black backside (and 3-inch LCD) of the SD750. It's a very compact (but not tiny) camera made of a mixture of plastic and metal. It's generally well put together, save for the flimsy plastic door over the memory card/battery compartment and a plastic tripod mount.

Ergonomics are pretty good. The camera is easy to hold with one hand, and the most important controls are right where you'd expect it. I didn't care for the size of the four-way controller, nor the fact that my right thumb ended up resting on it.

Images courtesy of Canon USA

Like some of the other ELPHs, the SD870 comes in two "trims" -- silver and black.

Okay, now it's time to look at how the SD870 compares to other ultra-compacts in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot SD870 IS 3.7 x 2.3 x 1.0 in. 8.5 cu in. 155 g
Casio Exilim EX-S880 3.7 x 2.4 x 0.7 in. 6.2 cu in. 128 g
Fujifilm FinePix F480 3.8 x 2.2 x 0.9 in. 7.5 cu in. 140 g
HP Photosmart R847 3.9 x 2.5 x 1.1 in. 10.7 cu in. 204 g
Kodak EasyShare M883 3.6 x 2.2 x 0.8 in. 6.3 cu in. 116 g
Nikon Coolpix S51 3.6 x 2.3 x 0.8 in. 6.6 cu in. 125 g
Olympus FE-290 3.9 x 2.2 x 1.0 in. 8.6 cu in. 142 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX55 3.7 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 7.7 cu in. 143 g
Samsung L74 Wide 4.1 x 2.4 x 0.9 in. 8.9 cu in. 174 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T70 3.5 x 2.2 x 0.8 in. 6.2 cu in. 128 g