Design and Handling

Unlike the SD800, the SD870 has no optical viewfinder and its appearance is instead dominated by the large, glossy 3.0 inch screen. The result is that the buttons have all been shuffled around the body to make room for it, but rarely to the detriment of handling (though like all similar cameras there's not really anywhere to put your thumb if you try to shoot single-handed).

It's a solid-feeling camera with a reassuring weight to it, and the metal housing makes it both look and feel a bit special. It is prone to scratches and scrapes if it isn't treated gently, though, so if you like your gadgets to remain pristine, it'll have to spend a lot of its life in a case of some sort. Commonly used options, such as flash, ISO, drive mode (single-shot, continuous, self-timer) and focusing distance (macro, normal, infinity), are directly accessible while the function menu, user-defined/print button and touch wheel mean most other settings are within easy reach.


The SD870 IS is a well weighted, solid-feeling camera. Like any compact it may be a bit awkward in hands composed of large fingers. The shutter and zoom lever are easily accessed without adjusting hand position, making one-handed shooting quite straight-forward. A two-handed approach puts more of the buttons within reach, as well as providing a more confidence-inspiring grasp on the small, slippery body. Only the very small number of operations that require the shutter to be pressed simultaneously with another button tend to require hands to be readjusted.

Key body elements

The print/share button on the rear of the camera can be configured for direct access to any of eight functions, including exposure adjustment (AE compensation), selecting white balance or defining a manual white balance preset. In addition it can be set to activate an Auto ISO-shift mode that boosts the ISO for occasional images taken in low light.
The 'touch wheel' controller can be used as a traditional four-way controller or to access other functions by rolling a finger around the outside (very ipod-esque). It can be fiddly, though, occasionally deciding to act as a four-way controller when you want to use the wheel, or vice-versa, making it rather easy to turn the flash on when you wanted to change shooting mode, for example.
The 3.0 inch 230,000 pixel screen takes over most of the back of the camera, leaving no room for an optical viewfinder. It is large and clear enough for working on all but the brightest of days. It seems fairly scratch resistant, even after the rigors of testing, but is a pain to clean so get used to it being a little smeary.
A much simplified, three-position switch selects between movie, scene and standard camera modes. The power button is positioned far enough from the shutter release and zoom rocker that even the largest fingers shouldn't spill from one to the other.
Like the majority of its cameras in its class, the SD870 IS uses SD cards, including high capacity SDHC variants. The compartment also holds the Li-ion battery common to several Canon models. It takes just over two hours to charge the battery (using the supplied compact charger), which should give you around 270 shots (CIPA standard).
The SD870 IS inherits its lens from its predecessor. Its zoom range starts at the equivalent of 28mm (in 35mm terms), making it usefully wide for including all your friends in group shots without excessive use of elbows.

Controls & Menus

The SD870IS's operation will feel immediately familiar to owners of Canon's previous products and is about as close to intuitive as a control system with so many options and settings can be. Like the SD800, it features an orientation sensor that rotates the image to fit the screen if you turn the camera round in playback mode. There are also slide show transitions for displaying your images and a user-definable color, contrast and sharpness setting. There are also modes in both still and video modes to swap a selected color for another or to show only one selected color in an otherwise grayscale image.

As usual you can change the amount of information shown on-screen to include a selection of useful image settings. There are also options to help with composition; with overlays of grid lines to keep everything lined up or bars to indicate the 3:2 proportions of some photo paper. That the SD870 IS shows focus point, aperture and shutter speed once you've half-pressed the shutter, and will also show the ISO chosen if you're in Auto ISO mode. Auto ISO-shift mode will boost the sensitivity of the camera for one shot if it thinks there is the likelihood of camera shake. This can be made to happen automatically or can prompt you by illuminating the print button, which is nice.
In shooting mode the FUNC menu gives access to a variety of modes and their options. With the mode switch on the top of the body set to 'SCN', it brings up a choice of special scene modes and their options. Pressing the edges of the touch wheel gives access to four commonly used functions, such as ISO and self-timer, while rolling your finger around it gives direct access to the different shooting modes.
The record menu governs the shooting settings. For the most part, these are long-term settings you wouldn't choose to adjust too often. The setup menu governs the general behavior of the camera, such as LCD brightness and the clock settings. It can also be reached in playback mode.
The My Camera menu is also available in all modes and governs the appearance and sounds the camera uses. Your own sounds and images can be added using the accompanying software. Playback mode can show just the image, or the image with limited details overlaid on top of it. Using the zoom rocker homes in on details in the image or zooms out to a 3x3 grid view of recent images.
Pressing the display button again offers a detailed view of image settings, including a histogram for analyzing exposure. Unlike its predecessor only a small thumbnail of the image is visible, rather than using the whole screen. This does at least mean the underlying image can never detract from the information though. The SD870 IS also features Canon's nifty new focus confirmation mode that lets you zoom in on detail in the shot, while also highlighting (in white), the regions on which the camera originally focused. It is easy to shuttle between focus points but can be rather too easy to accidentally drop back to the 3x3 grid when trying to zoom in and out. You can also activate this feature for the instant review in record mode.
The playback menu contains the options that you may wish to apply to existing images, whether that be to protect, resize or show as part of a slide show. The Print menu is a pretty standard affair that simplifies the direct print process.