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Operation and controls

The SD4000 IS's minimalist looks might lead you to conclude that it will be a bit of a handful to control but it's actually better than initial impressions would seem to suggest. The generally good function menu (sadly not quite as quick to operate as on previous Canons), means most settings can be changed pretty quickly without navigating away from the shooting screen. Better still, in the non-Auto mode it's always very easy to access exposure compensation, giving a good level of control over the shot you're going to get.

Rear of camera

The back of the camera is dominated by the huge 3.0" screen. It's is a lovely bright display with good anti-reflective coatings, meaning the light has to be quite bright before it becomes too hard to see. However, it's not a particularly high resolution screen: it's made up of 230,000 dots, which is perfectly acceptable in this class, but those dots are distributed in the widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio. This means that only the middle 75% of the screen is actually being used for representing the image, most of the time. As a result, the area of the screen that's actually used to show the image preview is effectively around 25% lower in resolution than a conventional 4:3 screen made up of the same number of dots.

The wide screen comes into its own when shooting movies, however, where its 16:9 aspect ratio matches that of the 720p HD video it records. Whether this trade-off makes sense for you probably comes down to how much video you expect to shoot with the camera.

Top of camera

The controls on the top are limited to an on/off switch and a slider that selects the shooting mode: video, manual or auto.

Pushing the switch to the central 'Shooting' position gives you a choice of aperture priority, shutter priority or program. These semi-manual modes are essentially auto modes with manual over-rides and are the best way of getting the most out of the camera.

Display and menus

The SD4000 IS has the same user interface as most of Canon's current range of compact cameras and it's generally very good. In Auto mode there's very little option for manual control but the 'Shooting' mode offers such an easy way to get the most out of the camera, we'd recommend its use for everything except those 'hand your camera to the waiter in the restaurant' moments.

Shooting mode is essentially a user-overrideable auto mode - the camera will do everything for you unless you actively tell it otherwise. In this mode you get a fully populated function menu (you can choose only self-timer and image size/quality in auto), and exposure compensation.

Scene modes live within the function menu in Shooting mode - these include the seemingly gimmicky but actually rather useful face- and wink-self timer modes that only begin their two-second countdowns when they detect an additional face in the image or spot you winking at the camera.

Although the SD4000 IS has a 16:9 screen, the output used for these grabs is 4:3, so some screen elements are rearranged. Where relevant, we're simulated the image that appears on the screen.

There are two main screen modes - with and without shooting mode and details being displayed. Onto these it's also possible to add thirds grids, the boundaries of 3:2 shooting, or both (pictured)
Half-pressing the shutter button shows metered shutter speed and aperture values, along with the selected focus point. Lightly pressing the control dial on the rear brings up a diagram showing the effect of pressing one of its cardinal points.
One of the great hidden features of many SD/IXUS models is the ability to lock exposure or focus and then recompose your shot. These are accessed by pressing up or left on the control dial when the shutter is half-pressed. The function menu is not quite as quick to use as the ones on previous Canons, adding an additional button press to most setting changes. It's still fairly easy and clear to use though.
Pressing the menu button brings up a simple and sensibly laid-out menu. There are two tabs and around 15 options in each, so it's not overwhelming. Slightly hidden away in the shooting mode section of the function menu are the fisheye and miniature shooting modes. Holding the Menu button lets you change their parameters.
We particularly liked the miniature mode, which can work in both orientations and allows you to chose the size and position of the in-focus region. The movie shooting display is essentially the same as the stills capture version but now takes up the full extent of the screen.

Playback

There are four playback screens - just the image, the image with basic info, a full info screen... ...and a mode for zooming in on the focus point. A combination of the zoom lever and SET button navigates between the points.
Via the function menu you can rotate, protect and delete images or tag them under categories or as favorites. There are a number of categories to tag with and, once chosen, can be used as a filter for searching or making slideshows.
You can also zoom out to show a 3x2, 4x3, 7x6 or 13x10 thumbnail view. As you'd expect, you can also zoom in to check detail. At which point, turning the control dial jumps between images, retaining the level of zoom so you can compare the fine focus in different versions of the same image
Scrolling the dial at other times jumps to this filmstrip view. Pressing up or down jumps to the previous or next day's images. If you press the Fn button while playing back a movie, you're given a bar that includes playback tools and an edit option.
Within the edit option you can define new beginning and end points for each of your movie clips. The newly clipped file can then either be written over the original or saved as a separate movie file.
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