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Conclusion - Pros

  • Good resolution, excellent edge-to-edge sharpness
  • Useful zoom range (although no 28mm wide angle)
  • Very clean results at lower ISO settings
  • Fast and accurate focus (although slightly slower in low light)
  • Very responsive
  • Excellent user interface and menus - very intuitive
  • Efficient image stabilization
  • Excellent build quality and attractive design
  • Useful Auto-ISO-Shift mode
  • Punchy results out of camera
  • Good flash exposure and flash recycling
  • Large, bright screen
  • Viewfinder (although only an emergency solution)
  • High quality movie mode
  • Time lapse movie mode (not essential but interesting results)
  • External ISO control

Conclusion - Cons

  • Battery life when using LCD not brilliant
  • Slightly underpowered built-in flash
  • No 'A' or 'S' modes, generally little manual control
  • Auto White Balance performance under artificial light not brilliant
  • The usual problems of noise and noise reduction effects at anything over ISO 200
  • Some highlight clipping (occasionally combined with slight overexposure)
  • Some purple fringing
  • Viewfinder extremely tiny, always use the LCD when possible
  • Slower continuous shooting than predecessor
  • Slight softness at the long end of the lens
  • Other manufacturers offer better specs/more features for the same money

Overall conclusion

The SD850 IS is a typical example of what Canon does so well; a beautifully constructed, well designed and capable compact camera that doesn't break any new ground but does what it does with the refinement that comes from years of fine tuning and a refusal to cut every corner in order to hit the lowest possible price. Most importantly it is a pocket camera that turns out great results with minimal effort on the user's part.

Image quality is very good for a camera in this class. The results at base ISO are very clean and detailed. Naturally noise reduction artifacts and blurring take their toll as you move up the sensitivity scale but the camera always manages to preserve a decent amount of detail, thanks to Canon's sensible approach to noise reduction. The lens is an important element in the image quality 'package' and the SD850's zoom contributes its fair share. Measured resolution is good, with admirable edge-to-edge sharpness.

Many ultra compact cameras are predominantly used for 'social snapshots' and the SD850 is a good performer in that area too. Flash recycle times and exposure are good although we have certainly come across more powerful flashes. So just make sure your subjects don't move too far away, they might be out of range sooner than you'd wish.

We don't want to forget to mention some minor quibbles that we came across during the course of this review though. The SD850 has a fairly pronounced tendency to clip highlights. There are quite a substantial number of pure white skies to be fund in our sample pictures. You'll be fairly used to this if you've ever used a digital compact camera before but the SD850 occasionally slightly exacerbates this 'problem' by over-exposing a high-contrast scene when the appropriate thing to do would the exact opposite - apply some negative exposure compensation.

Since we've started talking 'quibbles' we should probably also mention the battery life. 230 shots (CIPA standard) is probably ok for your average weekend trip but if you plan do to some serious shooting or stay away from home for longer always make sure to carry a charger and/or extra battery. Switching off the LCD and using the viewfinder instead can get you up to 700 shots (again CIPA standard) out of one battery, but believe me you would not enjoy that. The viewfinder is absolutely tiny and should only be regarded a backup in absolute emergencies (extreme sunlight, low battery). We'd also like to see a slightly wider lens for shooting cramped interiors and landscapes; 28mm is becoming far more common on ultra compact cameras, and we'd like to see Canon following Panasonic's lead and introducing it more widely through the Ixus/SD range.

Minor quibbles aside, the SD 850 IS is hard to fault; it does exactly what's expected of it and does it reliably and with a dash of style. It is fun to use, and I found myself carrying it around with me most of the time while I was working on this review. It is small and well built. It is responsive and easy to use and most importantly produces very good results for a camera in this class.

And so we have a mature ultra compact digital camera that does a pretty good job in virtually all areas, but one it's kind of hard to get too excited about. It's not bad looking, feels solid in your hand and has a real 'quality' feel that extends from the construction and finish to the user interface. Canon's control and menu layout is one of the best in the industry. It's intuitive for photographers who are new to the brand but also fairly consistent across the range of compact cameras which makes upgrading from an older model much easier.

There is only one thing I would say before you now get out of your seat and go and buy one: The SD850 is not particularly cheap. Canon's Ixus / SD cameras are an easy choice for the 'point and shoot' buyer looking for a safe option; but they're not the only option, and if you want a wider lens, more manual control or better value for money it's advisable to shop around before making your decision.

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

Highly Recommended (just)

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Canon SD850 IS Review Samples

37 images • Posted 13 January 2008 • View album
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