Conclusion - Pros

  • Excellent resolution, best of the ultra-compact four megapixel class
  • Good metering, good tonal balance which maintains shadow detail
  • Good natural light white balance, strong and balanced colors
  • Four megapixels, three times zoom in the same size case as the S230 (3 mp, 2x zoom)
  • Control over cameras internal processing algorithms (saturation, tone, sharpness)
  • Low noise at ISO 50, not as clean at ISO 100, more sensitive than rated value
  • Excellent build quality, new body material is stylish, protective and scratch free
  • Easy to understand controls, good layout (although I wasn't a fan of the small mode dial)
  • Good shot-to-shot times, fast startup times thanks to the quick extending lens system
  • Bright, detailed LCD monitor with anti-reflective coating
  • Long shutter feature for exposures of up to 15 seconds
  • Long movie clip mode with fast CF cards (up to 3 minutes including audio)
  • Optional histogram in record review and play mode
  • Very fast 10x image magnification in play mode
  • Voice annotation ('Sound Memo') feature
  • Orientation sensor, although JPEG's are only tagged not rotated
  • Good battery life, better than PowerShot S330 with same battery

Conclusion - Cons

  • Annoyingly small and stiff mode dial
  • Noise at ISO 100 worse than the competition *
  • Lens can be soft at maximum aperture, especially in corners
  • AF assist lamp didn't produce significantly better results in our test
  • Average macro performance (distortion because optimum is at wide angle)
  • Slight chromatic aberrations at or around maximum aperture
  • Moderately underexposed flash shots
  • Jagged diagonals visible on resolution chart, although not yet seen in 'every day' shots
  • Very few manual controls for the money

* Although the S400's indicated ISO 100 is equivalent to many other digital camera's ISO 200

Overall conclusion

Here's my rating of the Canon PowerShot S400: (4 megapixel ultra-compact)

Detail Rating (out of 10)
Construction 9
Features 7
Image quality 8.5
Lens / CCD combination 8.5
Ease of use 8
Value for money 7.5

The PowerShot S400 is a stylish ultra-compact, it follows in the tradition of previous ultra-compact PowerShots in being functional, of very good build quality and producing excellent images. The new 'Cerabrite' material used for the S400's case is a bit of a revelation, it looks far brighter and cleaner than the older stainless steel, doesn't show finger prints and is harder to scratch. It will I'm sure look great on the shelves and in the shop windows.

The S400 has a very fast startup time for this kind of camera (extending lens) once you're used to the one second power button 'hold' before it recognizes the power on. Operationally the camera feels responsive and is always ready to shoot, auto focus times are improved if you stick to a single AF area (disable AiAF). Features wise it's good for an ultra-compact although others are coming into the market with more for less money.

At $500 the S400 isn't a cheap camera, indeed if it were $50 cheaper (as it may well be in six months time) I'm sure it would fly off the shelves, until then it will have to compete with the $400 or less three megapixel ultra-compacts. My opinion is if you can afford it stick with the PowerShot S400, you're unlikely to be disappointed.

Highly Recommended

So which one should I buy? A question I get asked several times a day, and I wouldn't like to say. In a new addition to my reviews (after the amount of feedback I normally get) I've added a link to a specific forum in which you can discuss the review or ask me specific questions which I've not answered in these pages.

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