Overall handling and operation
One of the major selling points of Canon's IXUS range of compact cameras has always been style. And style is something that the IXUS SD4000 IS has in spades. Fortunately, Canon hasn't sacrificed ergonomics, and in general, the SD4000 IS is a pleasure to use. It fits really nicely in the hand and although there are very few buttons to break the sleek lines of its body, the basics are all covered, thanks to the combined dial/4-way rocker switch and 'func/set' button.
The control dial is beguilingly unlabelled, but a slight pressure on any of its 4 positions highlights the relevant option on the camera's LCD screen so that you know what you're doing. It takes some getting used to, but works well. The same can also be said for Canon's latest version of the perennial 'Func' menu. The new method of navigating and setting options in the Func menu requires at least one additional button press each time but is easy enough to use.
The control dial also serves to adjust exposure settings. Aperture in AV mode, shutter speed in TV mode, and so on. When you push upwards to engage exposure compensation it remains in this mode until you press upwards again to disengage it. Unlike the menu system, that can be navigated either by rotating the dial or pressing it in different directions, exposure compensation can only be changed by rotation - pressing left or right will adjust focus type or flash mode.
THe SD4000 IS is a very fast and responsive camera given its class. Startup time is a respectable 1.3 seconds (approx) but it feels shorter, thanks to the welcome screen, which appears roughly 0.8 seconds after pressing 'on'. The 28-105mm (equivalent) lens traverses its range quickly in approximately 1.6 seconds, and images appear on the LCD screen after a short delay of 1.2 seconds (approx). Shot to shot time in single frame advance mode is also very quick, at 1.4 seconds (approx, including AF reacquisition).
In playback mode, the SD4000 IS goes about its business quickly and efficiently as well, with a barely perceptible pause between images when scrolling using the left/right sides of the control dial. Scrolling the dial is slightly slower, because the camera animates the transition between images in the resultant filmstrip display, but it still rarely leaves you waiting.
Sensibly, the SD4000 IS reacts to faster scrolling with a quicker, lower-resolution review display so that you can always tell which image you've scrolled to. Zooming into an image in playback mode takes less than a second, and a feature that we really like is that when an image is zoomed, rotating the control dial will switch images while maintaining the zoom position. This is invaluable if you want to check fine focus across several similar images. (There's also a focus check mode in image review and playback modes that is useful for such situations)
Continuous Shooting and buffering
The maximum frame rate of the SD4000 IS is an impressive 8.4fps, but it can only achieve this rate at a much reduced resolution of 2.5 million pixels. At base ISO and with AF and exposure locked, however, the SD4000 IS can shoot full resolution files at a far-from-shabby 3.7fps (assuming that the shutter speed is high enough). In continuous shooting mode, the SD4000 IS cannot maintain a live view image, instead showing a stream of images as you shoot them, punctuated by momentary pauses as the shots refresh. This sort of speed isn't a whole lot of use in most day to day shooting situations (the SD4000 IS is never going to be the tool of choice at sporting events for example) but its speed does come in handy on occasion, and we've found it is very useful for capturing the perfect expression in portraits.
After a burst of shots, the SD4000 IS ready to shoot again virtually instantly, and there is barely any delay between shooting a burst of images and seeing the last one appear in review mode.
In continuous mode (using Sandisk Extreme III SDHC card):
- JPEG (Fine) ISO 125-400: around 3.8fps for unlimited frames
- JPEG (Fine) ISO 800: around 1.7fps for unlimited frames
- JPEG (Fine) ISO 1600+: around 1.25fps for unlimited frames
The Canon SD4000 IS offers two AF modes - Face AiAf, which operates in face detection or conventional multi-point Ai AF if no face is detected, and 'center'. Centre AF is the simplest mode, and places an AF frame in the centre of the image area. This frame has two sizes, normal or small, with small being the better choice for greater precision.
As with all IXUS cameras that we've used AF on the SD4000 IS is generally very reliable, and pleasantly fast in normal operation. In low light, an AF assist lamp helps provide enough contrast for the system to 'lock.' It can slow down and lose accuracy in the very lowest light but generally, as you'd hope from a camera of this type, you can generally point and shoot away without having to worry about focus to any real degree.
The battery and memory card slot into the base of the camera and, despite the SD4000's small size, the NB 6L battery manages to produce 3.5Wh, which gives it a rating of a respectable 250 shots under industry standard test conditions.
You may not actually get this many shots from a charge but the number is comparable with the figures quoted for other models