Design and Handling

Aside from the body material (complete with 'TITANIUM' logo) and some minor styling differences the SD900 is externally very similar to the SD550 (IXUS 750) - and bears a strong family resemblance to all the models in the current range. Like its predecessor it is superbly built with an exemplary fit 'n' finish, and - as befits a $450 point and shoot compact - externally it exudes quality. All the ELPH/IXUS cameras are designed on the 'form first, function second' principle, with few concessions to operational or ergonomic concerns - there's little in the way of a grip, no anti-slip surface textures and a fairly minimalistic approach to external controls.

To be fair Canon's finely-tuned user interface (honed over many generations of compacts) is one of the best - the simple, clear FUNC menu and dedicated buttons for ISO, flash, drive and focus mean that - for the average user - all the commonly needed controls can be used quickly and easily. At the end of the day this is an unashamed 'point and shoot' camera, albeit one with a few clever features up its sleeve.


With a fully-loaded weight of around 194g (6.8oz) the SD900 is just heavy enough to feel solid and stable in the hand, though as noted above, 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 rear controls will be familiar to anyone who has used an IXUS/ELPH in recent years; the main mode dial (play, record-auto, record-manual, scene and move) sits above the direct print and DISP button (the latter for changing the amount of information displayed on-screen). Below this is the ubiquitous four-way controller (with direct-access buttons for focus, flash, drive/self timer and ISO), though there is a slight twist; it's touch sensitive.
As befits the top of the range model the SD900 sports a top of the range 2.5-inch screen boasting 230,000 pixels. It's bright, sharp and fast, but inevitably suffers from glare in bright directional sunlight (the anti-glare screen works within reason, but you have to keep it spotlessley clean). Of course if the glare is too much of a problem the SD900 has an optical viewfinder (small, but usable) - something of a rarity in this day and age.
The lens specification - 3x, 37-111mm optical zoom - is nothing to write home about; it's the same as a hundred other compact cameras out there. The maximum aperture (F2.8-4.9) is fine at the wide end, but limits the low light usefulness at the tele end; that's what you get if you want an ultra compact.
The top of the camera is home to the shutter release, which sits inside a circular zoom rocker. To the left is the on/off switch.
The card and battery sit under an unusually solid hinged door on the base of the camera. The SD900 is compatible with SDHC cards, good news if you want to use capacities over 2GB. The battery is rated at 230 shots (CIPA standard). The battery is charged in a separate compact charger.

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 SD900 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 (shown here) for those of us who struggle with straight horizons and a 3:2 overlay for getting a better idea how the frame will print. The screenshot here is from 'M' mode (the display in auto mode is less complex). 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). Incidentally you can manually set long exposures of up to 15 seconds. 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.
If you touch the four-way controller (as opposed to actually pressing the buttons) you get this (optional) animated display, which is actually quite handy for avoiding taking your eye away from the screen when making changes (or in the dark). As with all recent high end PowerShots the SD900 has an external ISO button, which brings up an on-screen menu going from ISO 80 to 1600. One nice touch is an enhanced post-shot checking system (activated by pressing the SET or DISP button during the quick review after you've taken a picture). Useful for checking fine focus. The enlarged section relates to the chosen focus point (in AiAF or Face Detect mode) and you can switch between multiple focus points, if present. Neat.
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 option to swich on AiAF or Face Detection AF focus modes. 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.
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 SD900 allows you to assign images to categories once they have been taken, or the camera can automatically categorize images - based on the scene mode used (or if not in scene mode, if the face detect function activated). This categorization is then used by the new version of ZoomBrowser EX to help sorting/searching easier. The SD900 also has Canon's newly enhanced 'JUMP' mode, which allows you to scroll though images based on category or type (as well as jumping 10 or 100 images at a time). This is probably of limited use unless you wait for your 2GB card to fill before transferring images.

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. The SD900 also has Canon's Print menu, which simplifies the direct print process. Finally the setup menu (accessible from both record and playback modes) - here you'll find general camera settings.