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Design and Handling

Although it bears a strong resemblance to the SD700 IS (and it has to be said most other current IXUS models) there are plenty of subtle - and a few not so subtle - differences. The black plastic rear panel (which I really liked) has gone, the rear controls have got bigger (and the mode dial is no longer set into the body), the main power switch has moved to the top of the camera (and is now illuminated) and the styling has get ever so slightly boxier.

Like its predecessors, the SD800's looks and feel exude quality, and the silky stainless steel finish is almost indulgently tactile, and - as befits a camera at the higher end of the ultra- compact price range - it is beautifully built with an admirable attention to detail (though I have to say I don't think it's as pretty as the SD700 IS). The only downside of the finish used is that it seems very susceptible to scratches and marks (so keep it in a case when not in use). Like the other recent models in the IXUS / Elph range you get external controls for flash, focus (macro or infinity), self-timer/drive ISO, everything else is accessed via the excellent FUNC menu.

Handling

With a fully-loaded weight of around 177g (6.3 oz) the SD800IS is just heavy enough to feel solid and stable in the hand, though the pebble-smooth exterior, combined with the lack of any discernible 'grip' means it can feel a little precarious held in one hand, but is in fact perfectly usable. The positioning of the shutter release and zoom rocker make single-handed operation easy - just make sure you've got the strap around your wrist just in case it slips out of your hand and starts heading south.

Key body elements

The main mode dial sits in the top right hand corner of the rear plate. there are five positions; Playback, Record (full auto), Record-M (allows some control over settings), SCN (for the 17 scene / subject modes) and Movie. Directly below the mode dial is the direct print button.
The screen has been upgraded to a higher resolution (207,000 pixels) and it has a wider viewing angle. It also seems marginally less prone to glare than the old screen (which is impressive considering how good the SD700 IS screen is). For times when the glare does cause problems (or you want to preserve battery life) there is a small - and just about usable - viewfinder.
One of my comments when reviewing the SD 700 IS was that I'd love to see the lens starting a little wider. Well I got my wish; the SD 800 IS has what I consider to be the perfect zoom range for this type of camera, equivalent to 28-105mm. It's a bit slow at the long end (F5.8), so it's a good job Canon included optical stabilization. The lens retracts into the body when not in use.
The top of the camera is home to the shutter release, which sits inside a circular zoom rocker. To the left is the new illuminated on/off switch.
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.

Controls & Menus

Canon has been fine-tuning its user interface for several generations of PowerShot, but the basic operation has remained the same, which is good news, because it works well, and is fast and intuitive. The SD800 features all the nifty new features seen on Canon's other more recent high end models, including an orientation sensor that rotates the display in playback mode if you turn the camera round, slide show transitions and, of course, MyColors and Color Swap options.

As usual you can change the amount of information shown on-screen. There is also an optional grid overlay for those of us who struggle with straight horizons. Half-press the shutter release and the camera will calculate exposure (AE) and focus (AF) indicating focus point(s) chosen in AiAF mode, along with a camera shake warning if necessary. Note that you only see a shutter speed indication if the camera thinks it's low enough to cause camera shake. This is a 'design feature' of SD cameras I'd like to see changed, please!
Users of previous PowerShots will be perfectly at home with the record mode FUNC menu, which offers fast access to a range of controls over shooting and image parameters. Note that here we're using 'M' mode (in full auto mode you only have control over image size and quality). With the mode dial turned to 'SCN' you can use the FUNC menu to choose from 9 scene modes (AE compensation and file size/quality options are also available).
In 'manual' mode you get Canon's full range of color control options, including presets (vivid, sepia etc) and sliders for adjusting contrast, saturation, sharpness, red, green, blue and skintones. Record mode menu allows you to customize everything from flash synch to the spot AE point and self-timer delay. It is also here where you'll find the options for image stabilization and Face Detection AF.
The setup menu (accessible from both playback and record modes) is where you find more general camera settings, including sounds, 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 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. The usual options for viewing thumbnails (3x3) and magnifying (up to 10x) are available, as well as Canon's smart new slideshow options. The SD800 has Canon's Print menu, which simplifies the direct print process (something I must confess I've rarely used on any camera).
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