Canon PowerShot SD970 IS Digital ELPH Review

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor

Originally Posted: August 24, 2009

Last Updated: August 24, 2009

The Canon PowerShot SD970 IS Digital ELPH ($379) is an ultra-compact camera with a 12 Megapixel CCD, 5X optical zoom lens (with image stabilization), high resolution 3-inch LCD, HD movie mode, HDMI output, and plenty of point-and-shoot features. The SD970 is the #2 camera in Canon's ELPH lineup, with only the 14 Megapixel SD990 above it, though that camera was recently discontinued.

Trying to figure out Canon's ELPH lineup can be a bit confusing, so I put together this chart to help clear things up for you. (Canon released some new ELPHs after this section was written.)


PowerShot SD1200

PowerShot SD780 PowerShot SD960 PowerShot SD970 PowerShot SD990
Street price
(at time of posting)
$201 $251 $302 $368 $359
Resolution 10 MP 12 MP 12 MP 12 MP 14 MP
Optical zoom 3X 3X 4X 5X 3.7X
Lens max. aperture F2.8 - F4.9 F3.2 - F5.8 F2.8 - F5.8 F3.2 - F5.8 F2.8 - F5.8
Focal length (35 mm equiv.) 35 - 105 mm 33 - 100 mm 28 - 112 mm 37 - 185 mm 36 - 133 mm
LCD size 2.5" 2.5" 2.8" widescreen 3.0" 2.5"
LCD resolution 230,000 pixel 230,000 pixel 230,000 pixel 461,000 230,000
Optical viewfinder Yes Yes No No Yes
Flash range (Auto ISO) 0.3 - 4.2 m (W)
0.3 - 2.4 m (T)
0.3 - 3.5 m (W)
0.45 - 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)
Smart Auto Yes Yes Yes Yes No
HD movie mode No Yes Yes Yes No
HDMI output No Yes Yes Yes No
Battery used NB-6L NB-4L NB-4L NB-5L NB-5L
Battery life (CIPA standard) 260 shots 210 shots 200 shots 270 shots 280 shots
Dimensions (W x H x D) 3.5 x 2.2 x 0.9 in 3.4 x 2.2 x 0.7 in 3.9 x 2.1 x 0.9 3.7 x 2.2 x 1.0 in 3.8 x 2.5 x 1.1 in
Weight 120 g 115 g 145 g 160 g 160 g
Available colors Light gray, dark gray, blue, pink, green, orange Black, silver, gold, red Blue, silver, pink, gold Silver Silver, black
Also known as... IXUS 95 IS IXUS 100 IS IXUS 110 IS IXUS 990 IS IXUS 980 IS

I hope that makes your camera shopping a little bit easier!

Is the PowerShot SD970 a force to be reckoned with in the ultra-compact space? Find out now in our review!

The SD970 is known as the Digital IXUS 990 IS in some countries.

What's in the Box?

The PowerShot SD970 IS has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 12.1 effective Megapixel PowerShot SD970 IS digital camera
  • NB-5L rechargeable lithium-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Canon Digital Camera Solution
  • 162 page camera manual (printed)

Canon was the last manufacturer to include memory cards with their cameras. They didn't switch to internal memory, though -- they don't include any memory at all! Thus, you'll need to bring your own card, and I'd suggest a 2GB SD or SDHC card to start with (the camera can also use MMC, MMCplus, and HC MMCplus cards, though I'd stick with SD/SDHC). It's worth spending a few extra bucks for a high speed card, though you don't need to go overboard and buy the 300X Ultra Extreme VIII model.

The PowerShot SD970 uses the familiar NB-5L lithium-ion battery. This battery packs 4.1 Wh of energy into its plastic shell, which is decent by ultra-compact camera standards. Here's how that translates into battery life:

Camera Battery life, LCD on
(CIPA standard)
Canon PowerShot SD970 IS * 270 shots
Casio Exilim EX-FC100 * 300 shots
Fuji FinePix F200EXR 230 shots
GE E1255W 200 shots
Kodak EasyShare M380 310 shots
Nikon Coolpix S640 270 shots
Olympus Stylus 7000 150 shots
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS25 330 shots
Samsung SL620 240 shots
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W290 * 300 shots

* Supports HD movie recording

Battery life numbers are provided by the manufacturer

The PowerShot SD970's battery life is just a bit above average in this group of ultra-compact cameras. I always like to mention a few issues related to the proprietary batteries used by all of the cameras in the above table. First, they're pricier than NiMH rechargeables -- a spare NB-5L will set you back at least $42. Second, should. the battery run out of juice, you can't just grab something off-the-shelf to get you through the day. That said, these compact li-ion batteries are standard features on ultra-compact cameras, so there's nothing you can do about it.

When it's time to charge the NB-5L, just pop it into the included charger. This is my favorite type of charger -- it plugs directly into the wall. It takes just over two hours to fully charge the battery.

Canon PowerShot SD970 in the hand

As with all ultra-compact cameras, the SD970 has a built-in lens cover. As you can see, it's a stylish little camera!

The PowerShot SD970 is pretty light on accessories. The only things available are the following:

Accessory Model # Price * Why you want it
External slave flash HF-DC1

From $98

Attaches via the tripod mount and fires when the onboard flash does
AC adapter ACK-DC30 From $50 Power the camera without wasting your batteries
HDMI cable HTC-100 From $50 For connecting to an HDTV; you can get a cable for a lot less elsewhere
Leather camera case PSC-55 From $17 Protect your camera with this leather case
* Prices were accurate when review was published

That was easy... let's move onto software now.

CameraWindow in Mac OS X

Canon includes version 46 (!) of their Digital Camera Solution software suite with the PowerShot SD970. The first part of this suite 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. As you'd expect, you start off with the usual thumbnail view, for which there are many sizes to choose from. The Browser software lets 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.

Editing in ImageBrowser

Double-click on a thumbnail in the Browser software 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 wanting a quick fix.

Movie editing in ImageBrowser

The Browser software also includes a decent movie editing tool. After you've brought your clips into it, you can add text and filter effects, transitions, your own audio clips, and then save the movie into the format of your choice. Not bad, considering that most bundled software only lets you watch your video clips!

PhotoStitch in Mac OS X

The last part of the Canon software suite that I want to mention is PhotoStitch. As you can see, this allows you to combine multiple photos into a single panoramic image. It's very easy to use, and the results can be impressive. While using the SD970's Stitch Assist feature isn't required to make panoramas, it does help you line things up correctly, so there are no seams in the final product.

Canon includes a detailed (though not terribly user friendly) manual with the PowerShot SD970. It will certainly answer any question you may have about the camera, but be prepared for lots of "notes" on each page. I do appreciate the "What Do You Want to Do?" section on the first couple of pages -- it's much easier than sifting through the table of contents or index. Documentation for the software bundle is included in PDF format on the CD-ROM that comes in the box.