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Design and Handling

The Powershot SD1100 is undoubtedly a small camera, its dimensions firmly put it into the ultra compact camp. That and the protrusion free design make it an ideal go-anywhere snapshot-camera that easily fits into a shirt pocket.

For this latest model in the ELPH/IXUS series the Canon designers have chosen a classy minimalist approach. The straight, boxy design and the silky surfaces of the metal body complement each other nicely, making the SD1100 an attractive piece of photographic equipment which does not look out of place next to your Bang & Olufsen stereo or your Mac Book Pro.

For those of us who've have had enough of the ubiquitous silver/black color schemes the SD1100 comes in a variety of tones including 'Bohemian Brown' and 'Rhythm & Blue'. Gone are the days when you had trouble matching the colors of your camera and your favorite leisure suit.

'Less is more' must also have been the battle cry of the interface designers. The SD1100 is quite obviously targeted at the point and shoot customer and external controls are kept fairly basic. There is no mode dial on the SD1100, only a slider that lets you choose between record, movie and review modes. Scene modes have to be selected in the Func menu which also gives you quick access to the most essential shooting parameters such as white balance, image size and quality and exposure compensation.

Generally speaking the control layout is consistent through Canon's entire range of compact cameras and the SD1100 is no exception. The buttons and menus should be fairly familiar to users of any more recent Canon compact camera. You get external controls for flash, focus (macro or infinity), self-timer/drive and ISO sensitivity. Inevitably you'll also find a direct print button on the camera although unfortunately on the SD1100 it does not double as an Auto ISO Shift button.

Handling

There was no space for a grip in the minimalist design concept of the SD1100 but look closely and you'll spot an 'ergonomic curve' at the camera front in which you can rest your middle finger while shooting single-handedly. Therefore, and because the camera is weighty enough, it rarely feels unstable in your hand. One-handed operation is perfectly possible although you'd probably want to get your second hand to assist when changing any of the settings.

Key body elements

The control layout of almost all Canon compact cameras is very consistent and if you've used a Digital Powershot before you should not have any problems operating the SD1100. If you haven't got any previous Canon experience, there is no need to worry either. Controls are very intuitive and easy to master even for Powershot novices.

The main slider lets you choose between Rec, Movie and Review modes. Next to it you'll find Canon's beloved direct print button which is something that you'll find on every single camera in the Canon lineup. At dpreview we have hardly ever used it.
The ubiquitous four-way controller is used to navigate the menu system and provides direct access to flash, macro, self-timer/drive mode and ISO. There is no external control for exposure compensation (you need to use the FUNC menu for that). Below the four-way controller are the DISP button (used to alter the amount of information overlaid on the display) and MENU button.
The SD1100's lens offers an equivalent zoom range of 38-114mm. A slightly wider wide-angle would certainly be preferable (in 2008 you could be forgiven for expecting it), and you could run into trouble trying to frame those family group portraits. The lens is optically stabilized and the maximum aperture drops from F2.8 to F4.9 as you zoom from wide to tele. The lens collapses completely into the body when not in use.
The SD1100 sports a 2.5 inch screen with an anti-reflective coating. It's got a good resolution at 230,000 pixels and is thus displaying a very clear image. The screen is bright and usable even in bright light. You might want to opt for the viewfinder in direct sunlight though.
The optical viewfinder on the SD1100 can only be described as marginal. It is absolutely tiny and should therefore only be regarded as an emergency solution.

Controls & Menus

Canon's user interface is one of the fastest and most intuitive in the compact camera sector and although it has been slightly tweaked with each new generation of Powershot cameras the basic operation has remained the same.

As usual you can change the amount of information shown on-screen by pressing the 'Disp'-button. This screen shot shows the maximum shooting information you can get on your LCD. Half-press the shutter release and the camera will calculate exposure (AE) and focus (AF) indicating focus point(s) chosen in AiAF mode (or detected faces in Face Detection mode), along with a camera shake warning if necessary.
Users of previous PowerShots will be perfectly at home with the record mode FUNC menu, which offers fast access to shooting and scene modes plus a wide range of shooting and image parameters. The SD1100 has Canon's Print menu, which simplifies the direct print process. Useful for digital photographers who are suffering from computer-phobia.
In the 'My Camera' menu you can 'personalize' your camera by selecting your favorite background image or shutter sound. Record mode menu allows you to customize everything from AF mode to flash settings and self-timer delay. It is also here where you'll find the options for image stabilization.
The setup menu (accessible from both playback and record modes) is where you find more general camera settings, including sound volume, power saving, date and time, LCD brightness, card formatting, language and video output format. The play menu offers the usual range of options, including protecting, rotating and deleting images, plus a sound recorder. You can also apply 'My Colors' effects to saved images, which is much better than committing to it at the point you take the picture.
One of the three alternative play mode views includes a histogram display and exposure information. You can zoom into an image up to 10x magnification and use Canon's fancy slide show options. There is also the usual options for viewing thumbnails (3x3).
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