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SD850 IS : I'm not so enamored with this model compared to the last one
Written: Aug 13, 2007 (Updated Aug 14, 2007)
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:4x optical zoom, 4GB movie file size, ISO1600, image stabilization, overall build, easy to use
Cons:Expensive compared to competition, many megapixels x small sensor = some picture quality problems
The Bottom Line: Overall a good camera but I find that the SD800 is a better overall camera and value than the SD850 especially for night photos and enlargements.
Purchased from Best Buy during their rather ridiculous price drop down to $284.99 plus tax and free shipping (and getting 1% through ebates and Best Buy's Reward Zone program). It seemed like a great way to see if a compact camera could pull off 8 MegaPixels without too many problems. Overall, for the casual consumer, the SD850 IS will leave the majority satisfied but if you delve a little deeper and need that little extra, Canon's older PowerShot SD800 IS performs better in many respects.
The SD850 is an evolutionary camera especially with prior SD700 and SD800, you get the reliable Canon image stabilization system, a sturdy body, and good but not great 8 Megapixel sensor. As with most of the SD models, you get limited manual settings. The camera pretty much is an update to the SD700 IS retaining the excellent 2.5 inch LCD screen, 4x optical zoom, and good photo and movie capturing. Canon retains a strong presence in the compact/ultracompact digital camera arena by filling in a hole in it's lineup.
The SD850 retains the more striking visual styling of the SD700 and has the SD700 slightly better button placement over the SD800. In fact, the SD850 casing is a slight color swap from the SD700.
The SD850 retains some problems common to cameras this size and the fact that maybe too many pixels are crammed onto such a tiny sensor. As expected, red eye remains a problem (although there is now a redeye removal tool in the camera menu) and flash range is short. Since the SD850 packs so many megapixels onto 1/2.5 inch CCD sensor, ISO 200 already displays some noise in shadow and dark areas and ISO 1600 is often too noisy to use without some significant post processing. In fact, even ISO 100 shows show noise issues (although you probably will not note this unless you enlarge the photo significantly like 8x10 inch prints). Chromatic aberration is more notable at the long end of the zoom than on previous models.
Unfortunately, the biggest obstacle may be the cheaper and overall better performing SD800 which is often $50 or more cheaper than the SD850. At a MSRP of $399, that's a hard price to swallow for most. In reality, the extra megapixel over the SD800 doesn't give a compelling reason to purchase the SD850 over the SD800. That extra megapixel seems to have hurt the SD850 overall in my opinion.
The SD850 has dimensions are 3.56x2.22x1.04 in./90.4x56.5x26.4mm and weighing about 6.8 oz. with the SD card and battery. The camera is an identical twin to the SD700 IS. The camera is a light metallic gray in the front, with a lighter gray/silver on the sides and partial back, and dark grey around the 2.5 inch LCD screen. It's not as striking color contrast as the SD700 but still works rather well and the overall design is still attractive (more attractive than the SD800 in my opinion). The curved edges to the design keep the camera with a sexy look. The outer casing is made of stainless steel surrounding a polycarbonate body. The camera is easy to hold and control in one hand. The SD850 retains a good solid feel.
The front of the unit holds the lens with build-in lens cover, the flash, optical viewfinder, AF assist lamp, and microphone port. The right side holds the eyelet for the included camera strap and the cover to the A/V output port and the mini-USB port. The bottom of the camera holds the cover to the battery and SD card slot (there is a rubber cover on the slot for the optional AC adapter) and the tripod mount is located in the center (in respect to the lens) of the bottom of the camera as well. The top of the camera holds the zoom ring with the shutter button in the center of the ring.
The back of the camera pretty much holds to the classic canon layout. You have a higher resolution 2.5 inch color LCD capable of displaying 230,000 pixels (compared to the SD700). You have room for an optical viewfinder, a small power button, several LED status lights, a partially hidden mode dial, the four way controller with a central button, a direct print button, a display and menu button below the controller. The 4 way controller allows you to change ISO settings (up), flash mode (right), timer/continuous shot (down), and focus mode (left). The central button to the 4-way controller acts as the function/set button. The size of the 4-way controller is still small as I have to use my thumbnail to press it correctly when holding the SD850 in one hand... yeah the same problem with the SD700 too.
The SD850 retains the same 4X (35-140mm in the 35mm format) f/2.8-5.5 all-glass aspherical zoom lens. This lens utilizes Canon's Ultra High Refractive Index Aspherical technology (UA) which allows for the longer zoom ratios in a compact body. In display mode or powered down mode, the lens retracts fully into the body of the camera. Like all the other SD models, a built in lens cap is in place when in pure display mode or when the camera is powered down. Overall, the lens quality is equivalent or maybe even slightly worse than the SD700.
Laundry List of SD850 Features
With the DIGIC III processor, the SD850 does an above average job when in Auto mode and has limited manual controls. The SD850 performs faster in focusing than the SD700 and a tad slower than the SD800. If you desire more extensive manual controls in an ultracompact, there are other ultracompacts that have more extensive manual controls... the SD series is probably not for you. Here's the laundry list of features for the SD850:
Type: 8.0 Megapixel, 1/2.5 inch type Charge Coupled Device (CCD)
Total Pixels: Approx. 8.3 Megapixels
Effective Pixels: Approx. 8.0 Megapixels
Focus: TTL Autofocus
-Normal: 1.6 ft./50cm-infinity
-Macro: 0.79 in.-1.6 ft./2-50cm (WIDE), 1.3-1.6 ft./40-50cm (TELE)
-Digital Macro: 0.79 in.-1.6 ft./2-50cm (WIDE)
Metering: Evaluative, Center-weighted average, Spot Metering frame is fixed to the center in Spot
White Balance: Auto, Preset (Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H), Custom
ISO sensitivity: Auto, High ISO Auto, ISO 80/100/200/400/800/1600 equivalent
Exposure Control Method: Program AE, AE Lock is available
Exposure Compensation: /-2 stops in 1/3-stop increments
Built-in Flash Modes: Auto, Auto w/ Red-Eye Reduction, Flash On, Flash On w/ Red-Eye Reduction, Flash Off
Flash Exposure Compensation: none
Maximum Aperture: f/2.8 (W) - f/5.5 (T)
Shooting Modes: Auto, Camera M, Special Scene (Portrait, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Aquarium, Underwater, Indoor, Kids & Pets, Night Snapshot, Creative Light Effect), Color Accent, Color Swap, Digital Macro, Stitch Assist, Movie
Photo Effects: Vivid, Vivid Blue, Vivid Green, Vivid Red, Neutral, Sepia, Black & White, Positive Film, Lighter Skin Tone, Darker Skin Tone, Custom Color
Self-Timer: Activates shutter after an approx. 2-sec./10-sec. delay, Custom
Continuous Shooting: approx. 1.3 fps
Manual control is rather limited but useful in experienced hands so you can tweak your shots somewhat.
In the Bright Day to Day Use and Photos
The SD850 is an exceptional performer in bright to moderate lighting under low ISO settings. Shots taken under such conditions were overall crisp, heavily saturated and bright, and especially sharp under the lower ISO settings (80 and 100 specifically). Colors were accurate and vibrant. Image stabilization allowed for exceptional photos without a tripod at both ends of the zoom. There is a bit of corner softness in photos at both extremes of the zoom although a bit worse on the telephoto end... it is a bit softer than the SD700. Chromatic aberration was also noted in the shots especially when significantly enlarged (It could be noted on a few 6x8 enlargements). There was less chromatic aberration in the SD700 and SD800 (likely due to the less crowded pixel density). ISO settings above 200 showed increasing overall softness to the picture but still produced pleasing shots... although noise is noted in the photos to a greater degree than the SD700 and SD800. ISO 400 had increased and notable noise but were still suitable for enlargements. ISO 800 shots showed significant noise and were printable only for 4x6 prints without some software postprocessing. I thought ISO 1600 was plain useless without significant software postprocessing... and even then it might not be good enough. Overall, the SD800 seemed to perform better with less noise in a wider variety of situations than the newer SD850. The additional noise is likely a byproduct of the interference between each pixel sensor especially when you have an extra million pixel sensors stuffed onto the same sized sensor as the SD700 and SD800. Simply increasing the megapixel doesn't make a better camera... I really feel that with current technology, 6-7 MP cameras provide overall better picture quality and more flexibility in photo taking since it provides less noise/interference and the ability to use higher ISO settings because of decreased noise. There is a wonderful article on noise and sensor sizes on www.dpreview.com.
It's great just having the optical viewfinder as you'll find it extremely helpful especially for the continuous shot mode. Te LCD does not show every shot taken in the time period (only the last shot of the series). Sport shots in bright conditions were quick and showed no motion blurring. The combination of the 9-point AF system and the face detection AF/AE produced excellent shots of people. The DIGIC III processor increases the reaction speed of the camera overall but the camera at times seemed a little slower than the SD800 (also using the DIGIC III). The SD700 utilizes the older DIGIC II processor. Like the SD800, the SD850 photos seems to lean towards the cool side where the SD700 seemed to lean towards the warm side in my eyes.
Overall, the camera does its job... but the small sensor shows a few problem (although they may be considered minor ones).
For the Night Owls...
Like the SD800, you want to half-depress the shutter so the camera can set the focus for the best possible shot in low light and dark situations. This is a major advantage of the DIGIC III processor. Remember that halfway depressing the shutter allows utilization of the face detection AF/AE which greatly improves your low light and night shots on the SD850... so use it when you can!
Red eye issues were seen in a large number of photos with the SD850 but were corrected with the use of the HF-DC1 external slave flash accessory. Even with the red eye reduction, you still got a significant amount of red eye in low light and night portrait and group shots without the HF-DC1 flash unit. Like the other SD models, the built-in flash range is very limited so I wouldn't expect much after 10 feet as my shots of subjects past that were poorly illuminated by the built in flash. However, within the built-in flash range, photographed subjects had excellent sharpness, color accuracy, and color reproduction. Note the HF-DC1 extended the SD850 range to about 30 feet while maintaining the excellent photo quality. Also note that the SD850 IS also has a red eye removal tool you can apply when reviewing the photos... it's not perfect but the pictures look better.
Since I had shots of NYC skyline from Castle Point on the Hudson in Hoboken at night from my SD800, S3, and SD700, I used the same background for my night SD800 shots as well as portrait and group shots of friends. The shots of the NYC skyline were acceptable under the auto settings under the wide angle range of the zoom but could be better. There was a more purple fringing/chromatic aberration noted over the shots of the above cameras especially with brightly lit windows against the dark face of buildings. Using ISO modes of 80 or 100 introduced very little noise. However ISO 200 had a bit more noise but was acceptable for some enlargement and some shots were good as far as 8x10 inch prints or even slightly bigger. ISO 400 was fairly noisy in comparison to the SD700, SD800, and S3... and some ISO 400 photos weren't useable. ISO 800 shots very rather noisy and at best usable for a small print if usable at all. ISO 1600 was nearly useless even with PC postprocessing before printing... not useable under any conditions. The image stabilization helped greatly with night photos especially at the maximum telephoto range of the zoom at night without a tripod (although using a tripod would be highly recommended!). Pictures in this setting had occassional blurring on the auto setting and maximum telephoto range.
When taking portrait or group shots, the SD850 does an exceptional job especially if you halfway depress the shutter to activate the face detection AF/AE. The DIGIC III really does its job here. Note that you must keep a lower ISO settings and have adequate lighting or stay within the flash range to yield better and clearer results. The lack of a true wide angle and the sensor problems do make the SD850 a weaker performer than the SD800.
Any shots under low light and dark conditions of fast motion often were blurred if no adequate light source was nearby. It was difficult to use ISO settings above 400 since significant noise was introduced and there was significant loss of detail and fading of colors. Even ISO 400 introduced a fair amount of noise and noise could be noted in the ISO 200 and the even the ISO 100 to a very small degree. Overall, low light and dark conditions were average for a ultracompact digital camera and pale against the SD800.
Due to the DIGIC III processor, the SD850 has a more powerful and overall flexible movie capture mode that surpasses previous Canon DIGIC II digital cameras with a movie record feature. You can record movies up to a file size of 4GB or up to 60 minutes which allows VGA movies at 30 frames/sec up to 30 minutes in size. Given these limitations, this will not replace your camcorder especially for long events but it does give you a semi-reasonable option if you're in a pinch. Only the S5 has a potentially better movie record mode (the S5 can record in stereo sound) among Canon cameras. To record in VGA mode, you must use a high speed SD card. You can still stitch together 4GB files after the fact with the included Canon software to make much longer movies (and huge file sizes to boot... which is why a camcorder will still be the better option for movie enthusiasts). Note that a blank DVD has a capacity of around 4.5GB, so your movie from a SD850 equals a 30-minute DVD... so that's not good.
You can pick between 640x480 and 320x240 for movie image size and between 30 or 15 frames per second. You also can record at 60 fps at 320x240 pixels for up to a 1 minute in length. The SD850 can also record at 160x120 at 15 fps up to 3 minutes in length. Again, at 640x480 resolution at 30fps with a high speed SD card at 4GB in size, you get 30-32 minutes of video max (or 7-8 minutes per GB). There is also a slideshow like video capture option where the SD850 can take a shot every 1 or 2 minutes for up to 2 hours.
The movies overall remain crisp and clear. They have excellent quality. You do have access to the My Color features in movie record mode and you can delete from the ends of the movie (but not in the middle) on the SD850 itself. There is a built in speaker to listen to your playback but it remains a bit faint.
I still wish Canon could utilize a better video compression scheme so you can record longer movies into the limited card space. 4GB for 30 minutes of VGA video is a steep price to pay. The advantage of this particular format is that Canon didn't have to pay any additional licensing fees for it and that it widely compatible with pretty much all the video playback software on the PC.
The flash is limited in range as expected for an ultracompact. The max range is about 10 meters. If you want longer flash ranges, the HF-DC1 external slave flash is a viable option. This also reduced the occurence of red eye.
Another plus is that the SD850 IS has a red eye removal tool in the camera menu. You can set the camera up to auto detect and correct red eye in the menu system as well. So instead of red-eye, you get white eye instead. Well, it's better than red eye.
The LCD gives you pretty much 100% framing while the optical viewfinder gives you 80-85% framing. If you want to know how your photo will look without any doubts, you use the LCD screen to frame your photo.
The LCD is bright with a wide viewing angle and is exceptionally sharp. This screen is brighter and higher resolution than the SD800 screen (207,000 pixel resolution compared to the SD850's 230,000 pixels). The display brightens as the camera detects that it is in low light conditions. Photos viewed through the LCD will rotate accordingly as the camera position is changed so that picture is in the proper viewing position (i.e. if the camera is upside down, the viewed photo will display with the top side always up).
On Image Stabilization(IS)
This is the third generation in the Canon SD line of using Canon reliable Onboard Image Stabilization (OIS). It is among the best OIS systems currently out on the market for digital point and shoot cameras.
Overall, you'll see the improvements especially if you have unsteady hands or take alot of photos near the telephoto range of the zoom. The camera has 4 modes for the IS: Off, Continuous, Shoot Only, and Panning. There is a marked difference when the IS is on versus the IS being turned off. You will notice the difference in your zoom shots with blurred images and a lack of detail in your photos with IS off and especially without use of a tripod.
Continuous mode has the IS on all the time. This puts a bigger drain on your batteries but tends to give you the most stable shots for most conditions. Shoot only activates the IS when the photo is taken. This saves a bit of battery power but I found it best if you have a fairly steady hand or have the camera on a tripod already. Panning mode is used mostly for making those large stitch panorama shots. It basically has the IS stabilize the vertical field and not the horizontal field.
Of course, the off setting greatly increases your battery life.
The SD850 utilizes the NB-5L battery (same one used in the SD700 and SD850) which is a 3.7V 1120mAh Lithium Ion rechargable battery pack. Canon rates the battery as giving up to 230 shots with the LCD on, up to 700 shots with the LCD off, or up to 360 minutes of playback on a full charge. My experience with extensive flash use, LCD on, and IS on continuous mode and previewing 1/4 to 1/3 of the shots captured was about 100 shots on average per full charge (Note that the battery used is over a year old and has gome through over 50 recharge cycles... this is the battery from my SD700).
Canon includes a portable battery charger (plugs right into the wall) in the package. This fully charges the battery in 1 1/2 hours. Note that the battery must come out of the camera and be placed in the charger. You cannot charge the battery in camera.
Memory and Storage
The SD850 uses SD (Secure Digital), SDHC(SD High Capacity), and MMC (MultiMedia Card)cards for storage. The SD card is more common and has larger storage capacities and usually faster compared to MMC. Canon includes a pathetic 32MB card in the package so you need to add the price of a much larger SD card to the buying price (I would suggest at least a 2GB card).
I used Sandisk Ultra II 1GB SD cards with the SD700 as well as a 4GB Sandisk Ultra II SDHC card. If you like to use the movie record function, you pretty much need a high speed 4 GB card. The high speed Ultra II cards allowed me to access the entire spectrum of functions of the SD850 where you lose access to some high end function especially higher resolution and longer movie recordings with plain vanilla SD cards. The camera takes advantage of the faster read and write speeds of a better SD card especially in the movie modes and continuous shot. Do not even think of using these features without a high speed card.
For reference, a 1GB card should hold about 350-360 photos taken at 3264x2448 (i.e. 8MP images) at the highest quality setting (Super Fine). Each shot is approximately 3.5 MB a pop. Like the rest of the SD series cameras, there is no RAW format option. Movies sizes are discussed in that section.
The SD850 has 6 image file size options: large (2816x2112), widescreen (3264x1832), medium3 (1600x1200), medium2 (2408x1536), medium1 (2592x1944), and small (640x480).
I personally don't the advantage of having the Widescreen option... I found no use for it on previous models and still find no use for it in the SD850. All this does is taken your standard 8MP image and crop the top on the bottom of it. Personally, I would rather do that on my own computer. However, it might be of use to those who print directly from their camera or put the SD memory card into a printer or photo developer.
In the Box
As usual, in the box are several printed manuals including the basic manual, an advanced manual, direct printing manual, and software manuals. You also get a crappy 32MB SD card (yes they doubled the size from previous camera models), NB-5L Li-Ion battery, portable battery charger unit, wrist strap, USB 2.0-to-miniUSB cable, mono A/V output cable, and CD-ROM with the latest Canon's Digital Camera Solutions software.
When buying the SD850, the preference is to buy a high speed SD card (I would recommend 2GB cards... Sandisk Ultra II should be around $30-40 pretty much everywhere) and probably an extra battery if you plan on taking the camera for long outings. A case is optional, but the camera is easily pocketable. If you're willing to spend a bit extra, get at least one reliable 4GB SDHC card... preferably 2 cards.
Canon offers the same few accessories for the SD850 as with the SD700. These include the external slave flash HF-DC1 (which I've reviewed on epinions), the waterproof case, and a leather belt case which I wrote a review of the Canon PSC-55 leather case here. An AC adapter kit is available as well. This makes sense since the housing of the SD700 and the SD850 is identical except for case color schemes.
Out of these official Canon accessories, the External Slave Flash is one to consider since it extends the flash range of the SD850 up to 30 feet and helps with the redeye problems. Also note that the HF-DC1 does not replace the built-in flash of the SD850 but complements it (hence the slave flash designation)... it goes off as the main flash goes off.
This is the problem, there is stiff competition here. Even within Canon's own ranks, the SD700 IS and SD800 IS are significantly cheaper than the SD850 IS. I also hold the SD800 IS as a better overall camera than the SD850 IS at a discount of at least $50 or more cheaper than the SD850 IS! On top of this, the field is littered with similarly sized compact digital camera at cheaper price points with above average quality!
Given the problems with the 8MP sensor (which I believe is also used on the Canon S5), I preferred the SD800. The SD800 loses the red eye removal tool, 3.8x optical zoom instead of 4x, and you drop down to 7MP instead of the 8MP on the SD850. However, there is less noise issues, you get the true wide angle lens, and the higher ISO settings are more usable than the SD850 (because of overall less noise).
Money Saving Tips
Although I haven't updated this article in a while, it still has a few helpful hints on saving money on new purchases.
For the most part, I've been purchasing more of these items from Crutchfield since I like the excellent customer service and post purchase support. There is a $20 coupon for first time customers if you purchase over $100 on Crutchfield. If you like this code, you can email me.
If you are looking at pure price, many sites are discounting the camera significantly like buydig.com.
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