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Conclusion - Pros

  • Good resolution, good color
  • Useful and fairly rare 28-105mm zoom range
  • Clean, detailed results at lower ISO settings
  • Reliable exposure system
  • Fast and accurate focus
  • Very responsive
  • Excellent user interface, easy to use
  • Face detection AF/AE (it works most of the time but is a bit of a novelty)
  • Effective image stabilization
  • Superb build quality and styling
  • Decent macro mode
  • Punchy results out of camera
  • Decent flash performance
  • Large, bright, high resolution screen & optical viewfinder
  • High quality movie mode
  • External ISO control

Conclusion - Cons

  • AiAF focus a bit unpredictable - turn it off
  • Very little manual control
  • ISO 200 and 400 suffer from the effect of noise reduction and loss of low contrast detail
  • ISO 800 and 1600 of limited use
  • Finish very susceptible to marks and scratches
  • Still no exposure information for shutter speeds over 1/60 sec
  • Some corner softness and some highlight clipping

Overall conclusion

The SD 700 IS was perhaps my favorite point and shoot camera of last year, ticking all the right boxes (small, stylish, reliable, good output, easy to use) and showing that, for all the grumbling about Canon's dominance of this market, when they get things right they really get things right.

Its new stablemate, the SD800 IS is - on paper - a dream come true for anyone who appreciates the significant advantages offered by a zoom that starts at 28mm rather than 35 or 38mm. I've said it before and I'll say it again; there are so many practical and creative advantages to the extra field of view offered by a 28mm over even a 35mm wideangle that it's hard to move back to the 'tunnel vision' of a 'normal' 3x zoom. From landscapes to interiors to group shots the added versatility and creative possibilities of the wider lens cannot be overstated.

Of course nothing in life comes for free, and there have obviously been some compromises involved in designing and manufacturing a 28-105mm equiv. lens in such a small form factor - and in squeezing even more pixels onto a 1/2.5-inch CCD. The excellent edge-to-edge sharpness we saw with the SD700 IS has gone; the SD800's more ambitious lens range means that there is a slight, but noticeable drop off in sharpness towards the edges and corners in some circumstances. It's not bad enough to mar most everyday shots (and is barely visible at all in a 5x7 inch print), but pixel peepers will need to take a close look at the gallery samples and make their own minds up.

I was also disappointed to see the new DIGIC III processor's heavy noise reduction blurring away fine, low contrast detail at ISO 200 and 400. This is the curse of modern compacts (for the more serious user), but it's unusual for a Canon to exhibit noticeable NR artefacts. I wouldn't use anything other than ISO 80 for any shot with lots of fine detail (such as landscapes), but again, the typical casual/social snap shooter simply won't have an issue with it, particularly in prints.

All that said, the images have great color, generally excellent exposure and are very detailed (at ISO 80 and 100) - surprisingly so for a camera of this type - and the slight softness when viewed at 100% on-screen is easily rectified in post processing, if you so desire.

So then, what Canon gives with one hand - the wider lens, better screen and other tweaks - it takes away with the other (reduced image quality). But the SD800 IS still has all the qualities I loved so much in the SD700; it's fun, reliable, has image stabilization, is built and styled beautifully and it produces attractive, punchy results without the need for manual intervention. It's a perfect example of what a point and shoot camera should be, and I found myself using it socially a lot more than any of the other cameras I've currently got on test.

How important the image quality issues are will depend how much time you spend looking at shots zoomed in to pixel level on-screen. If you don't intend to produce big enlargements and are simply after a truly pocketable camera with a versatile lens range and more than a dash of style, you'll love it.

The SD 700 IS was an easy 'Highly Recommended', this one doesn't quite make the grade simply because here at dpreview we put a lot of weight on image quality, which is the one area where the SD 800 IS can't compete with the older model.

Detail Rating (out of 10)
Build quality 9.0
Ergonomics & handling 8.0
Features 7.5
Image quality 7.0
Optics 7.0
Performance (speed) 8.5
Value 7.0

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Samples Galleries

There are 30 images in the samples gallery. Please do not reproduce any of these images on a website or any newsletter / magazine without prior permission (see our copyright page). We make the originals available for private users to download to their own machines for personal examination or printing (in conjunction with this review), we do so in good faith, please don't abuse it.

Unless otherwise noted images taken with no particular settings at full resolution. A reduced size image (within 1024 x 1024 bounds) is provided to be more easily viewed in your browser. As always the original untouched image is available by clicking on this reduced image.

Canon PowerShot SD800 IS Review Samples

30 images • Posted 11 January 2007 • View album
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