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DCRP Review: Canon PowerShot SD890 IS Digital ELPH
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: August 11, 2008
Last Updated: September 6, 2011

Front of the Canon PowerShot SD890 IS

The Canon PowerShot SD890 IS Digital ELPH ($399) is the "big zoom" model in this popular series of ultra-compact cameras. It features a 5X optical zoom lens, with a focal range of 37 - 185 mm, which is considerably more than you'll find on most cameras in this class. Other features include a 10 Megapixel CCD, optical image stabilization, a 2.5" LCD display, and lots of point-and-shoot features.

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 recently 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)
$227 $257 $278 $265 $321 $350
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 SD890 a good choice for those wanting extra zoom in a small package? Find out now in our review!

The PowerShot SD890 is known as the IXUS 970 IS in some countries. Due to the similarities between the two cameras, this review is largely based on the one for the PowerShot SD790.

What's in the Box?

The PowerShot SD890 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. In the case of the SD890, you'll get a 32MB card, which holds just six photos at the highest quality setting. Thus, you'll want to buy a larger memory card right away. The camera supports SD, SDHC, MMC, MMCplus, and HC MMCplus cards, though the first two are going to be the easiest to find. I suggest a 1GB or 2GB card to start with. While spending a little extra on a high speed card is a good idea, you don't need to go overboard.

The PowerShot SD890 uses the 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 SD890 IS * 320 shots
Casio Exilim EX-Z200 * 400 shots
Fuji FinePix F100fd * 230 shots
GE E1050 200 shots
Kodak EasyShare Z1285 320 shots
Nikon Coolpix S550 200 shots
Olympus Stylus 840 * 190 shots
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS5 * 310 shots
Pentax Optio V20 200 shots
Samsung TL9 * N/A
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W170 * 390 shots

* Has image stabilization

Battery life numbers are provided by the camera manufacturers

Thanks to some pretty shoddy performance by some other cameras on the list, the PowerShot SD890's numbers end up above average for its class.

I do want to mention the usual issues about the proprietary batteries used by the SD890 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 SD890 in the hand

As with all ultra-compact cameras, the SD890 has a built-in lens cover, so there's no lens cap to deal with.

There are a grand total of two accessories for the PowerShot SD890 IS. One is the HF-DC1 external slave flash (priced from $90), which gives you more flash power, and less of a chance of redeye. There's also the ACK-DC30 AC adapter (priced from $46), which lets you power the camera without draining your battery.

CameraWindow in Mac OS X

Canon includes version 33 of their Digital Camera Solution Disk with the PowerShot SD890 IS. 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 SD890 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 printing (via PictBridge) are also included.

Look and Feel

The PowerShot SD890 is a compact (but not tiny) camera made almost entirely of metal. It has quite a unique design, with a curving front, and a backside that reminds me of a whale (and I'm sure Canon's designers are thrilled to hear that). Build quality is very good for the most part, though the door over the battery/memory card compartment leaves something to be desired.

Ergonomics are generally good. Your right thumb rests in a little spot on the mode switch, well away from the screen. I'm not a huge fan of the recessed power button, though, and the four-way controller / scroll wheel combo is on the small side.

Now, here's how the SD890 compares to similar cameras in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot SD890 IS 3.8 x 2.3 x 1.1 in. 9.6 cu in. 155 g
Casio Exilim EX-Z200 3.7 x 2.2 x 0.9 in. 7.3 cu in. 119 g
Fujifilm FinePix F100fd 3.8 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 7.9 cu in. 170 g
GE E1050 3.6 x 2.2 x 0.9 in. 7.1 cu in. 145 g
Kodak EasyShare Z1285 3.5 x 2.5 x 1.2 in. 10.5 cu in. 161 g
Nikon Coolpix S550 3.6 x 2.1 x 0.9 in. 6.8 cu in. 120 g
Olympus Stylus 840 3.8 x 2.2 x 0.9 in. 7.5 cu in. 130 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS5 3.7 x 2.1 x 0.9 in. 7 cu in. 119 g
Pentax Optio V20 3.8 x 2.2 x 0.9 in. 7.5 cu in. 130 g
Samsung TL9 3.7 x 2.4 x 0.8 in. 7.1 cu in. 140 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W170 3.7 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 7.7 cu in. 142 g