Canon PowerShot SD900 Review

The SD900, which was introduced along with a few other PowerShots just before Photokina, is positioned at the top of Canon’s highly successful ELPH / IXUS range. It features the highest resolution available to date, which is 10 megapixels (on a 1/1.8″ CCD) a,nd was announced alongside those other PowerShots. It also has Canon’s brand-new DIGIC III processor and another first: a body made of solid titanium, which, in addition to lending an air of sophistication, allows for a camera that is both more lightweight and more resistant to wear and tear.

The IXUS formula is one that has been successful for Canon, and the SD900 is functionally very much indistinguishable from its other recent stable mates. Other than that, there are no surprises to report here. Is the SD900 the pinnacle of ELPH technology or does it go one megapixel too far while wearing a stylish coat? Find out, beginning as we always do with the most important headline features:

Key Features

  • Titanium chassis with a Continuous Curve design and a Touch Control Dial
  • 10.0 Megapixels with 3x optical zoom
  • DIGIC III, which has Advanced Noise Reduction and Face Detection AF/AE, is included inside the camera.
  • In order to extend the telephoto capabilities of the camera, a digital teleconverter and safety zoom are included.
  • LCD display with a 2.5-inch screen that has a high resolution and a wide viewing angle
  • ISO 1600 is recommended for shooting without a flash in low light.
  • 18 modes of shooting, including XGA movie shooting.
  • Tagging of photos automatically according to My Category
  • Accessory options, such as an Underwater Case, are also available.

Design and Handling

Aside from the body material (which is replete with a ‘TITANIUM’ logo), the SD900 is externally quite similar to the SD550 (IXUS 750). It also has a strong familial resemblance to all of the other models in the current line. Externally, it oozes quality, as one would expect from a point-and-shoot small camera priced at $450, and it is well made, with an exceptional fit and finish, much like its predecessor. There isn’t much in the way of a grip, there aren’t any anti-slip surface textures, and the approach to the external controls is fairly minimalistic. All of the ELPH and IXUS cameras are designed according to the principle of “form first, function second,” with few concessions made to operational or ergonomic concerns.

To be fair, Canon’s finely-tuned user interface (which has been honed over many generations of compacts) is one of the best. The simple, clear FUNC menu and dedicated buttons for ISO, flash, drive, and focus mean that – for the average user – all of the commonly needed controls can be used in a quick and easy manner. In all honesty, this is a “point and shoot” camera, but one that has a few nifty tricks under its sleeve. However, it does have a few ingenious features up its sleeve.

Handling

The pebble-smooth exterior, combined with the lack of any discernible ‘grip,’ means that it can feel a little precarious held in one hand, but is in fact perfectly usable. The SD900 weighs approximately 194 grams when it is fully loaded, which is just heavy enough to feel solid and stable in the hand. The placement of the shutter release and the zoom rocker makes operation with one hand simple; nevertheless, you should still ensure that the strap is wrapped around your wrist in the event that the camera escapes your grasp and begins to move in the wrong direction.

Important parts of the body

Anyone who has used an IXUS or ELPH camera within the past several years will be comfortable with the device’s back controls. The primary mode dial (play, record-auto, record-manual, scene, and move) is located above the direct print and DISP button (the latter for changing the amount of information displayed on-screen). Below this is the standard four-way controller, which includes direct-access buttons for focusing, flashing, driving/setting the self-timer, and adjusting the ISO. However, there is a subtle twist: the controller is touch-sensitive.

The SD900, being the most advanced variant, features a screen that is the most advanced of its kind, measuring 2.5 inches and having 230,000 pixels. It is bright, precise, and quick, but it will always have glare problems when exposed to harsh directed sunlight (the anti-glare screen works within reason, but you have to keep it spotlessly clean). An optical viewfinder, although a little one that can still be used, is something of a novelty in modern cameras, the SD900 has one built in just in case the glare proves to be too much of an issue.

The lens has an optical zoom range of 37-111 millimeters and has a multiplier of three, however, this is nothing to write home about because it is identical to the lenses found in a hundred other small cameras. If you want an ultra-compact, you will have to settle for a maximum aperture that ranges from F2.8 to F4.9; while this aperture range performs admirably at the wide end, it severely restricts the usage of the lens in low light situations at the telephoto end.

The shutter release button, which is housed within a zoom rocker in the shape of a circle, may be found on the very top of the camera. The on/off switch is located over there on the left.

The memory card and batteries may be accessed through a door on the base of the camera that has a particularly robust hinge. If you wish to use capacities that are greater than 2 gigabytes, you’ll be happy to know that the SD900 is compatible with SDHC cards. The battery has a capacity of 230 discharges (CIPA standard). The battery is charged in a portable charger that is kept separate.

Controls & Menus

The user interface of Canon’s PowerShot cameras has gone through a number of iterations of refinement over the course of multiple generations, but the fundamental functionality has stayed the same. This is excellent news since it functions well and is quick and easy to understand. The SD900 includes all of the nifty new features seen on Canon’s other more recent high end models, such as an orientation sensor that rotates the display in playback mode if you turn the camera around, slide show transitions, and of course, options for MyColors and Color Swap. The orientation sensor rotates the display in playback mode if you turn the camera around.

Image quality

A perfect white balance

In addition to the automatic white balance setting, the SD900 has a total of five different white balance presets, including daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, and fluorescent H. You can also set the white balance manually by pointing the camera at a white or gray object and using the ‘custom’ white balance setting. This setting is available as an additional white balance option.

Even if you turn the camera off, it will remember the custom white balance setting that you had previously set. When shooting normally outside, the auto white balance serves its purpose admirably (as confirmed by our studio tests). Indoors, the results are a bit more hit-or-miss, as we’ve found that incandescent (tungsten) lighting causes a fairly strong orange color cast with the majority of Canon PowerShots (though switching to manual gives a pretty neutral result)

Flash

The working range of the built-in flash on the SD900 is stated to be 0.5 meters to 5.1 meters (1.6 feet to 17 feet) at the wide end of the zoom and 0.5 meters to 3.1 meters (1.6 feet to 10 feet) at the tele end. This is a little on the underpowered side, but it is better than other recent ELPH models.

Exposure is generally excellent (a little on the underexposed and warm side, which is no bad thing). The recycling of flash is quite speedy (particularly if you turn the red eye reduction off). Up to approximately 2 meters in distance, the AF illuminator performs exceptionally well.

Macro

The macro mode of the SD900 is most effective at the wide end of the zoom, as is typical for most compact digital cameras. At this end of the zoom, you can get as close as 5 centimeters, which is not bad for a “ultra-compact,” which captures an area 52 millimeters across. There are cameras that have better macro performance than the SD900 (even in the range of SD/ELPH cameras), but the capabilities of the SD900 are sufficient for the typical user of a compact “point and shoot” model.

Even though the performance is less impressive at the long end of the zoom (a subject distance of 30 centimeters captures an area that is just over 10 centimeters wide), it is still quite useful. When filming extremely close up at the wide end, there is unavoidably going to be some degree of distortion, but it is not overly severe, and it is certainly less severe than with many of its competitors.

Movie mode

The SD900 supports movies with a maximum resolution of 640 by 480 pixels, which is sufficient to cover the majority of television screens when played at 30 frames per second. Additionally, it provides the option of shooting at a lower frame rate as well as a smaller size. In addition to that, there is a high-resolution option that is 1024 by 768. (though only at 15fps)

The videos are quite smooth and only display a small number of compression artifacts, which contribute to the overall high quality. The AVI files are rather enormous; while using the highest quality level (640×480 at 30 frames per second), you will burn around 1.7 MB of data every second. Because of this, if you plan on shooting a lot of movies, you will need to invest in some large and quick SD cards. The previous restriction of 1 GB has been increased all the way up to 4 GB.

Resolution

The superb resolution is a consequence of both the increased number of megapixels and the improved lens, and it represents a significant improvement over the 7MP ELPH/IXUS versions. A trace of moiré can be heard at the very highest frequencies, although it is not significant enough to cause concern. In addition, the resolution chart is very clean, as there is neither an excessive amount of sharpening nor any obvious artifacts, and the corner sharpness is not at all poor.

Distortion, as well as other problems with the image’s quality

General remarks

When taking into consideration the obvious sacrifices that are required of any user of a tiny “style” compact, the overall impressions are quite pleasant indeed. The camera’s exposure and focus are quite dependable, which is something you ought to be able to take for granted on a “point and shoot” model like this one but so seldom can.

Even when viewed at a pixel level, the photographs produced by the SD900 are clear and detailed (as has been said before, there is not a substantial difference between them and those produced by the PowerShot G7).

The default contrast is a touch too high for my taste, even if it is adjustable, and there is the typical issue of highlight clipping in environments with very high levels of illumination. These are, however, only very minor issues (although as mentioned elsewhere this sensor seems quite good at hanging onto highlights and the exposure system does a good job in most circumstances).

There is a slight degree of corner softness when shooting with the wide end of the zoom wide open, but it is nothing near as bad as what we’ve seen in past ELPHs, and it simply isn’t an issue in the other 99 percent of images that are taken in the real world.

Fringing

If you look carefully, you can see some purple fringing around regions of extreme brightness like this one. However, you will need to search for it. It is not a significant issue (unless you photograph a lot of contre-jour foliage like this), and it is certainly less of an issue than it was with many of the previous SD cameras.

Noise

Noise is always going to be an issue with small chips that have a high pixel count, and to a large degree, this is more of a test of how good (both measured and visual) a camera’s noise reduction mechanism is. The necessity to save as much of the original information as feasible must be weighed against the designer’s aim to develop outcomes that are sleek and uncluttered (if you blur away the noise, you blur away image detail too).

The PowerShot SD900 shares (as far as we are aware) the same 1/1.8-inch 10MP sensor as the PowerShot A640 and the PowerShot G7. Additionally, it is equipped with Canon’s newest DIGIC III engine.

When we recently evaluated the SD800 IS, we had mixed thoughts regarding the DIGIC III’s noise reduction, which we observed to cause somewhat more noticeable artifacts than in earlier generations. Despite these findings, we still had positive overall impressions of the camera.

The output from the SD900 is firmly in the “emergency use only” camp at ISO 800 and especially at ISO 1600, but it is a bit better at ISO 100-400. The SD900 isn’t a whole lot better, but it is a touch better at ISO 100-400. It would seem that the disparity in resolution between the 1/1.8″ 10MP sensor used here and the 1/2.5″ 7MP sensor used in the SD800 IS is to blame for this.

Performance and timing of events

The SD900, like other contemporary DIGIC II or III IXUS/SD devices, has a highly responsive feel to it, and its performance is essentially comparable to that of the other models in the line, with the exception that playing is little slower due to the bigger 10MP files (not that you’d notice). Although the focus speed is outstanding when there is sufficient light, it does unavoidably slow down significantly in settings with less light, when using the macro mode, and when using the extended range of the zoom. The shutter lag is reduced while using the viewfinder, but using the screen results in video lag; nonetheless, this is not a significant difference for the majority of shooting situations.

Timing Notes

The timings listed are the averages of the results of three separate procedures. Unless otherwise specified, all durations were done on an image that was 3648 pixels wide and 2376 pixels high and were saved as a Fine JPEG (approx. 4,750 KB per image). A Sandisk Extreme III card with 1 gigabyte of storage space was utilized as the test medium for these procedures.

ActionDetailsTime, secs
Power: Off to Record 0.9
Power: Off to PlayImage displayed1.1
Power: Record to OffAll activity ceased1.5
Power: Play to OffWhen buffer is empty, lens retracted~0.2
one
Record ReviewImage displayed~0.9
Mode: Play to Record 1.6
Mode: Record to PlayWith lens retracted1.8
one
Play: MagnifyTo full magnification (10x)0.9
Play: Image to ImageTime to display each saved image0.4 *1
Play: Thumbnail view3 x 3 thumbnails~0.6
one
Zoom from Wide to Tele37 to 111 mm (3x)1.3
Half-press Lag (Focus time)Wide angle~0.4 *2
Half-press Lag (Focus time)Telephoto~0.5 *2
Pre-focus Lag (S1>S2)LCD live view~0.08
Pre-focus Lag (S1>S2)Viewfinder~0.05
Full-press Lag (0->S2)LCD live view, wide angle~0.6
Off to Shot TakenLCD live view~2.2
Shot to ShotFlash off~ 2.1
Shot to ShotFlash on ( red eye reduction on / off)3.5 / 3.8 *3

Continuous drive mode

The SD900, just like most other cameras in the SD and IXUS series, has a single continuous shooting mode, which in this case offers approximately 0.9 frames per second at all file size and quality settings. This is slower than some other SD models, but it is sufficient for the majority of typical users. When shooting in burst mode, there is no preview available, but a quick review image is provided after each exposure for you to look over.

It will come as good news to anyone who enjoy shooting lengthy sequences to learn that there does not appear to be a limit to the number of photographs that can be taken in a single burst when using a fast card. Interestingly, you may use the flash in continuous mode at a maximum of about 0.5 frames per second. This is a somewhat rare feature (actual speed will depend on the shooting distance and how freshly charged the battery is).

Performance in writing and playing back files

It takes the SD900 around 1.7 seconds to process and save a 4.7MB 10MP/Super Fine JPEG file, which is not terrible going at all for a camera of this sort; however, the SD900 will most likely benefit from utilizing faster cards. Playback is also quite quick, taking less than a half a second for full-sized photographs to appear after being loaded (if you use the fancy transition options it takes a little longer to scroll through images, but it sure looks nice). If you hold down the left or right arrow key, the SD800 will cycle through low-resolution previews of the photographs stored on your card at a rate of roughly 10 per second. This is useful if you want to quickly look through hundreds of shots that have been recorded.

Battery capacity

The battery life, like that of the majority of models in the SD line, is nothing spectacular; nonetheless, with around 230 shots (according to CIPA standards) per charge, it is comparable to that of many of its competitors and is not much poorer. If you turn off the screen and look through the optical viewfinder instead, you may prolong the battery life to as many as 700 shots on a single charge. This is because the wonderful big screen consumes most of the power.

Specifications

NamingUS name: Canon PowerShot SD900 Digital ELPH
European name: Canon Digital IXUS 900 Ti
Asian name: IXY Digital 1000
Body MaterialMetal and plastic
Sensor• 1/1.8 ” Type CCD
• 10.0 million effective pixels
Image sizes• 3648 x 2736
• 3648 x 2048
• 2816 x 2112
• 2272 x 1704
• 1600 x 1200
• 640 x 480
Movie clips• 1024 x 768 @ 15fps
• 640 x 480 @ 30 / 15fps
• 320 x 240 @ 30 / 15fps
• 160 x 120 @ 15fps
File formats• JPEG Exif 2.2
• DCF
• DPOF
• AVI Motion JPEG with WAVE monaural
Lens• 37-111mm (35mm equiv)
• F2.8-4.9
• 3x optical zoom
Image stabilizationNo
Conversion lensesNo
Digital zoomup to 4x
FocusTTL
AF area modes• AiAF (Face Detection / 9-point)
• 1-point AF (fixed center)
AF assist lampYes
Focus distanceClosest 5cm
Metering• Evaluative
• Center-weighted average
• Spot
ISO sensitivity• Auto
• Hi-ISO Auto
• ISO 80
• ISO 100
• ISO 200
• ISO 400
• ISO 800
• ISO 1600
Exposure compensation• +/- 2EV
• in 1/3 stop increments
Shutter speed15-1/1600 sec
ApertureF2.8-4.9
Modes• Auto
• Manual
• Digital Macro
• Color Accent
• Color Swap
• Stitch Assist
• Movie
• Special Scene
Scene modes• Portrait
• Night Snapshot
• Kids & Pets
• Indoor
• Foliage
• Snow
• Beach
• Fireworks
• Aquarium
• Underwater
• ISO 3200
White balance• Auto
• Daylight
• Cloudy
• Tungsten
• Fluorescent
• Fluorescent H
• Custom
Self timer• 2 or 10secs
• Custom
Continuous shootingapprox 2.1fps until card is full
Image parametersMy Colors (My Colors Off, Vivid, Neutral, Sepia, B&W, Positive Film, Lighter Skin Tone, Darker Skin Tone, Vivid Blue, Vivid Green, Vivid Red, Custom Color)
Flash• Auto
• Manual Flash on / off
• Slow sync
• Red-eye reduction
• Range: 30cm-5.1m (wide) / 3.1m (tele)
ViewfinderReal-image zoom optical viewfinder
LCD monitor• 2.5-inch P-Si TFT
• 230,000 pixels
Connectivity• USB 2.0 Hi-Speed
• AV out
Print compliance• PictBridge
• Canon SELPHY Compact Photo Printers and PIXMA Printers supporting PictBridge (ID Photo Print, Movie Print supported on SELPHY CP printers only)
Storage• SD / SDHC / MMC card compatible
• 32 MB card supplied
Power• Rechargeable Li-ion battery NB-5L
• Charger included
• Optional AC adapter kit
Other features• Optional High Power Flash HF-DC
• Optional Waterproof Case (WP-DC9)
Weight (No batt)165g (5.8 oz)
Dimensions91.2 x 59.6 x 28.2 mm (3.6 x 2.3 x 1.1 inch)

Conclusion

Titanium has the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any metal, so the combination of its durability, strength, and lightness (titanium has the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any metal) offers some real benefits for large, heavy-use professionals cameras. Camera manufacturers have been producing expensive special-edition titanium-bodied SLRs for years.

When it comes to compacts, the choice of an exotic material is not nearly as much about reducing weight or increasing resistance to corrosion as it is about achieving a higher level of elegance and exclusivity. There will always be a market for over-engineered, premium-priced products, and the SD900 does have a certain ‘feel’ that distinguishes it from its numerous steel, plastic, and alloy competitors. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – it’s just that there will always be a market for such products.

However, after we got over such superficial worries, we were pleasantly delighted to see that the SD900 is more than just a lovely face; in addition, it truly delivers a performance that is very excellent.

After recently putting the SD 800 IS through its paces, I didn’t have particularly high hopes for the SD900, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover that despite the fact that it is a compact high-resolution model, it is capable of producing excellent and dependable output regardless of the conditions.

This, above all else, is the defining characteristic of a successful “point and shoot” camera: the ability to depend on it to consistently provide good results despite the difficult photography conditions that may be present.

Additionally, it has an exquisite build quality, an outstanding surface polish, and a novel use of titanium throughout. The latter feature is perhaps more of a talking point than it is of any real practical utility, although it is more robust than other SD / ELPH models, so it might be useful if you often expose your camera to corrosives or put it in the bottom of your bag with your keys.

In the end, though, the SD900 can be evaluated more on the basis of what it does not have than on the basis of what it does have. It is more expensive than the majority of its immediate competitors, and it does not have any genuine characteristics that “stand out;” even the zoom range, which is 37-111mm, is a touch unremarkable.

There are other cameras on the market that are quicker, thinner, more feature-packed, and less costly, and even the SD 800 IS, which costs around the same but includes a real wideangle zoom as well as image stabilization, offers a more enticing feature combination than this one does.

If we’re being completely honest, we’re not talking quantum leaps here, and the typical user of this type of camera, producing small prints, is unlikely to really see a significant advantage from using the SD900 because it offers some of the best (perhaps the best) image quality in this category. However, the fact that it offers some of the best (perhaps the best) image quality in this category is the SD900’s biggest selling point for us.

If you enjoy a touch of luxury (which the construction and finish will undoubtedly provide you) and are looking for a “point and shoot” camera that produces consistently good quality output that is adequate for excellent enlargements, then the SD900 is clearly a viable rival. Simply put, we get the impression that the price of the SD900 has priced it out of the running for many customers in this segment of the market, which is the most competitive and moves at the fastest pace.

Pros & Cons

Good For
  • Excellent resolution, nice color
  • The focus that is both quick and precise
  • Reliable exposure system
  • Results that are clean and detailed at lower ISO levels (usable up to ISO 400), with just moderate amounts of noise reduction applied.
Need Improvement
  • There is hardly much room for manual adjustment.
  • AiAF focus can be a little bit erratic; you should turn it off.
  • Some smearing of tiny details with poor contrast at ISO settings higher than the default ISO
  • There is just a little need for ISO 800 and 1600.

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