Canon PowerShot SD700 IS - Image Stabilization Is Good, But How About Image Quality?
Written: Aug 25, 2006 (Updated Dec 5, 2006)
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
I bought the Canon SD700 IS expecting good picture quality, especially indoors. Unfortunately I am disappointed.
I have always liked Canon Digital Elph cameras. I liked the 5-Megapixel SD450 and the 7.1-Megapixel SD550. I really liked the 6-Megapixel Canon SD600. The SD700 IS promises 4x optical zoom, image stabilization and 6-Megapixel resolution is a compact stylish body.
The pictures of the Canon PowerShot SD700 and the sample photos taken with it are available at the following address:
What Is Canon PowerShot SD700?
The Canon PowerShot SD700 IS Digital ELPH is a 6-Megapixel compact stylish digital camera with 4x optical zoom (35-140 mm equivalent), large 2.5-inch LCD screen, acclaimed fast Canon DiG!C II (DIGIC 2) Image Processor and 9-area smart AiAF auto focus, powered by a compact rechargeable battery. The camera can also record videos at up to 640x480 resolution.
The camera stores pictures and videos on SD (Secure Digital) or MultiMedia memory cards (16 MB SD supplied) and features fast USB 2.0 Hi-Speed connection to PC and Mac computers. It also supports direct printing (without computer) with PictBridge compatible printers. The strap, cables, software and rechargeable battery with charger are included.
The camera arrived in a box similar to one the other cameras of SD series come in. After the camera arrived, I opened the package and was unpleasantly surprised to see that Canon still ships 16 MB SD cards with its line of SD cameras. Such a small card is only good for less than 8 photos at its highest resolution (less in SuperFine mode). Basically, you are getting a card that will only allow you to see if the camera works, after which you have to buy a memory card of higher capacity. Good thing they are pretty cheap now.
The camera looks similar to the SD550 - thicker than the SD600 with rounded corners and metallic/matte-looking surfaces with a black LCD surround. I like the look and shape of the SD600 better. The SD600 looks cool. It is miniature, looks stylish, feels sturdy and heavy in your hand with its metal case and buttons. The SD700 IS looks larger and feels slightly less sturdy. Of course, the 4x optical zoom vs. 3x and the optical image stabilization necessitated thicker body.
The camera has a retractable lens that extends and has a lens cover that opens when the camera is powered on. When the camera is powered off, the lens retracts and the lens cover closes.
The camera has an on/off button on the rear panel as well as a zoom rocker and a large shutter release button. The bottom of the camera has a metal threaded tripod mount and a battery and SD card compartment lid.
The rear panel has a large 2.5-inch LCD screen, control buttons and menu controls with a select button in the middle of it. There is also a mode wheel, a part of which is visible and accessible through an indentation in the rear/side of the camera. The side has a small cover, underneath which you can find a USB jack, A/V jack and a DC power input jack.
I was eager to try the camera without waiting to charge the battery. Fortunately, the battery had some charge in it upon arrival. The battery is a compact proprietary Li-Ion type that looks like a cell phone battery, which is similar to other cameras of the SD line. After I inserted it and my SD card into the battery/memory compartment, I was ready to shoot.
The camera is very easy to use. The menus and icons are slightly more descriptive than that of the previous Digital Elphs like SD400 or SD300 due to more available space on the screen (2.5-inch vs. 2-inch). For example, the pictogram that shows mountains now says Infinity underneath to tell you that in this mode the focus is fixed on infinity. The SD700 IS uses the latest Digic 2 processor by Canon that provides responsive operation and low power consumption.
If you have used a Canon camera before, you will be able to use the SD700 IS in no time. I have not read the manual (I have not even opened it), but was able to use the camera and all its features in no time. The SD700 IS can be used by any member of the family and by photographers of all levels of expertise from novices to advanced ones (albeit it will not give you much control over the shutter speed or aperture; even Manual mode will only allow you to use exposure compensation and that is about it).
The camera is very fast and responsive. The large bright LCD screen shows pictograms of selected modes (e.g. Macro, Flash mode, etc.) appear large and legible on the screen (sometimes with subtitles) and then move to the side of the screen. A very cool and useful feature, especially for people with impaired vision.
The camera comes pre-set to Auto mode, in which you have no need or way to adjust settings. You do not have to do anything other than point and shoot - the camera takes care of the rest. The camera uses 9-area intelligent autofocus. You press the shutter release button halfway to make camera focus and the camera shows you (on the LCD screen) where it focused by displaying one or more green rectangles. Then you take the picture by pressing the shutter release button all the way. In dim conditions, the camera uses its focus-assist light, which is effective in focusing upclose.
In Auto mode, you can select Macro setting, but not the Infinity focus setting. The latter becomes available in Manual mode. Both are accessed by pushing the left arrow button (there are no actual arrows on the menu control ring, but I will use this terminology throughout anyway). Also, the ISO settings (arrow up) can be set to Auto or Auto Hi Sensitivity in Auto mode. In Manual mode, you can select fixed ISO 80, 100, 200, 400 or 800 as well.
In case you want more control, you can select Manual mode, which is not a real manual mode where you would be able to select the shutter speed and aperture, but rather a mode in which you get access to selection of several parameters. In Manual mode, you can set the ISO, white balance (several presets and custom), use exposure compensation to make pictures darker or brighter, use picture effects, color replacement effects, etc.
In addition to fast ISO selection, the camera gives you instant access to the flash mode selection (flash off, red-eye reduction, night portrait, auto flash), macro or infinity mode as well as drive mode (single frame, timer or burst/continuous shooting) at a push of a button: arrow down and arrow right.
More on Features and Controls
The Canon SD700 is very similar to the SD600, but has higher zoom and optical image stabilization.
The camera features selectable Evaluative, Center-Weighted and Spot metering modes. The camera has a built-in flash that is quite powerful or its size and has a red-eye reduction function. It features a shutter speed range of 1.3-1/1,600 sec and selectable ISO of 80-800 as well as ISO Auto and High ISO Auto.
The camera also has a Macro mode where it can focus as close as 0.79 inches (2 cm) at wide angle or 15.6 inches (40 cm) at telephoto. The available movie mode records movies with sound (the camera has a microphone and a speaker) at 640x480, 320x240 or 160x120. The 640x480 movie mode is available at up to 30 fps, providing fluid playback.
The SD700 IS has maximum apertures of f/2.8 at wide angle, f/5.5 at telephoto. The camera doesn't let you control the aperture or the shutter speed directly and that there is not indication of the aperture (or shutter speed) on the screen during the shooting or even in review. It does show you the shutter speed if it thinks it is too slow for handheld shooting and shows you a red icon that looks like a shaky hand. This serves as a warning that the shutter speed might be too slow and you should use a tripod or place the camera on a stable surface.
Still, it would be rather useful to know the shutter speed when shooting handheld or while shooting fast-moving objects. And it is good to know the aperture while shooting at telephoto to figure out if the background will be blurry.
There are a bunch of scene modes as well, which help the camera tweak the focusing and exposure settings according to the type of scene.
You can use the exposure compensation in the manual mode and it comes in handy in the morning or sunset hours as the camera overexposes the picture trying to preserve the shadow detail.
Remember, you can use the image stabilization continuously (default), only when taking a picture or turn it off (to conserve energy or if the camera is on a tripod). But more on this later.
Build Quality and Ergonomics
The camera has a solid feel and good build quality. The camera is convenient to hold and its compact size lets you put it in a jacket pocket or a purse easily. The major controls are within easy reach and the tactile response is good.
The camera uses the latest version of Canon DiG!C processor - DIGIC II. It is the same processor used in larger Canon digital SLR cameras and it gives this Digital Elph excellent speed. The camera takes less than a second to power itself on in review mode and only about a second or two to power on and extend its lens in shooting mode.
Zooming is reasonably fast, but I wish it was more responsive. You can fully zoom in or out in about 3 seconds. I find the 4x optical zoom the camera has sufficient for most situations and the image stabilization makes its telephoto end more usable in less than perfect light.
The SD700 can capture images at about two per second in burst mode (I used Kingston Elite Pro SD memory card). In single-frame mode, the camera could snap pictures as fast as I could push the shutter release button. The focusing takes less than a second, even in dim lighting, at wide angle. But at telephoto the focusing can take a little more than a second and the camera sometimes fails to focus at all. The shutter lag, when pre-focused, is almost unnoticeable.
I have not fully tested the battery consumptions, but after fully charging it, I took more than 80 pictures and the low battery warning has not appeared yet. Canon claims you can take about 240 photos on one battery charge with the LCD on or 700 with LCD off.
LCD and Viewfinder
The camera has a 2.5-inch non-articulated (fixed) LCD screen and an optical viewfinder. The LCD is large, bright, gains-up in the dark (increases brightness) and is fluid in good light. But it is slow/jerky and noisy in dim light.
Even in good light, it is not as fluid as the LCD of Nikon P1 or P2. The resolution of the screen of the SD700 is excellent. And the icons/menus are large, colorful and legible.
The LCD coverage as about 100% - you can see exactly what will be recorded. It works pretty well in the sunlight as well.
The camera uses USB 2.0 Hi-Speed connection to transfer pictures to a computer. You can also remove the SD memory card and use a memory card reader (if you have one), or use the camera with the USB cable supplied. I did the former.
The camera's flash is quite bright for its size. It has a red-eye reduction mode and is sufficient at up to 10-12 feet away. It has a recycle time of about 7-10 seconds. But just as the case with other cameras of the SD line, the SD700 produces red-eye problems in dimly-lit indoors. You can fix them in Adobe Photoshop or other image editing software later.
Image Quality Settings
The camera lets you select between Super Fine, Fine and Normal compression levels (regardless of resolution). You can detect occasional JPEG artifacts in the mode of highest compression and some fine detail may be lost. But the two lower-compression modes (Fine and Superfine) are rather good for 6x4 printing. Still, I noticed JPEG artifacts at the edges of objects in Fine mode, when viewed at full resolution. I suggest that you use SuperFine mode exclusively if you plan on cropping or printing larger than 5x7.
The camera's automatic white balance is usually quite accurate with the exception of the incandescent lighting, where you are better off either selecting Incandescent white balance setting or using the available manual white balance.
You let camera focus using its AiAF 9-area focusing system and the camera will show you green rectangles over the areas where it focused so that you can confirm the focus areas. There is no manual focusing provision.
There are also two special focusing modes, accessible at a push of a button: Macro mode and Infinity (Infinity available in Manual mode).
I usually take photos that contain all primary colors at different focal lengths, apertures and compression ratios. Some photos are taken outdoors, some indoors with and without flash.
Oftentimes, I take a bunch of photos from my balcony. Those photos features all colors: blue sky, green foliage, red curbs, yellow fire hydrant and cars of different colors.
Taking photos at different focal lengths and apertures reveals the camera's optical quality: corner sharpness, chromatic aberrations, overall sharpness.
Taking photos at different ISO settings shows how well a given camera can keep noise levels low in dim light. I mostly evaluate the image quality using my computer monitor, but I also print some photos at different sizes using either my printer or online services like Shutterfly, Snapfish and Sam's Club's online photo center.
Although I could take pictures using the SD700 at longer exposures (slower shutter speeds) than possible without image stabilization, the image stabilization in this model did not work as well as the systems of Panasonic FZ line. For example, at wide angle indoors at ISO 80, I could take pictures at 1/5s handheld and they were usable, but I could see that they were slightly blurry viewed at full resolution. This is a good result since this represents 3 stops slower than the shutter speed I should have been using. But the Panasonic FZ7 can take pictures at the same speed and have less blur. I am not sure if this is the result of the better image stabilization technology or purely higher camera mass/weight.
The bottom line here: the SD700 IS has very good image stabilization, which helps it take handheld photos indoors without flash or at high zoom levels in situations that would result in blurry or even unusable photos with other compact cameras.
The SD700 produces good photos with well-exposed, contrasty and richly-colored images (see the samples). The photos have pleasing "Canon" color with slight oversaturation and nice blue skies - the kind of color consumers like. But the edges of objects are not as sharp as on some other cameras. In particular, the telephoto shots of the yellow fire hydrant with green grass as the background consistently showed blurry edges (viewed at full resolution). This is in addition to JPEG artifacts in Fine compression mode.
The corners of the frame are not as sharp as the center at some focal lengths either. This will be mostly unnoticeable in printed pictures since corners normally don't make it to the print due to the aspect ratio difference and other factors.
Then there is noise. The image noise is detectable even at ISO 80 and grows as the ISO increases. The ISO 800 is noisy, to a point where I would not consider using it at all. If you are printing 6x4 or 5x7 pictures, the noise should not be visible up to ISO 400. At ISO 80-100, you can print your photos at up to 11x14 inches with good detail and ISO 200 should be good up to 10x8.
Overall, for its size, the camera produces good pictures, especially considering the fact that you can shoot handheld in situations where cameras without image stabilization would not let you take usable pictures. But I am disappointed by a slight lack of sharpness. No big deal if you do not crop and do not print large. But if you do, you might want to get another camera.
I tried the 640x480 movie mode at 30 fps. The video was fluid and sharp, although not a replacement for a camcorder. The camera also has a 320x240 mode at up to 60 fps.
I wish the camera at least displayed shooting parameters (shutter speed and aperture). I also wish it shipped with a larger memory card and produced sharper images and less JPEG artifacts.
I like the Canon SD700 overall, but I think Canon could have done better and/or at a lower price. Maybe Panasonic FX01 is a better choice for me. I am selling the SD700 on eBay and might give the FX01 a try.
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This Camera is a Good Choice if You Want Something... Easy Enough for Anyone to Use