Canon PowerShot Digital ELPH SD950 IS / Digital IXUS 960 IS 12.1 MP Digital Camera - Titanium Reviews
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Canon PowerShot Digital ELPH SD950 IS / Digital IXUS 960 IS 12.1 MP Digital Camera - Titanium

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Canon Powershot SD 950 IS: The Elph Has Evolved

Nov 20, 2007 (Updated Mar 12, 2008)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: Excellent

  • Ease of Use:
  • Durability:
  • Battery Life:
  • Photo Quality:
  • Shutter Lag

Pros:Amazing picture quality, tons of features, very portable, li-ion battery

Cons:Buttons are a little small, can be a little uncomfortable to hold, tiny viewfinder

The Bottom Line: This camera is well suited for just about any user. After all, everyone wants excellent picture quality and a ton of features, in and easy to use package.

My father was in need of a digital camera that was small and versatile. He wanted something that would be good for taking any type of photo. He needed to take “before and after” photos of homes at work. He races homing pigeons, and wanted something that could take great action shots and close-ups of the birds. He planned to also take it out on trips with his pigeon buddies, to Vegas and Holland. He wanted something small enough to throw in his jacket pocket. It had to be something easy to use because my Dad is not exactly computer savvy. In fact, he is the exact opposite of computer savvy. I’m not sure he knows how to turn a computer on.

That’s where I come in. I was asked to help Dad choose a digital camera, then teach him how to work it. Because of my great experiences with my Canon Powershot SD600 and the Elph line in general (I also have a lot of experience with the SD 630), I decided to look into a Canon Digital Elph. I also had the secret motivation of wanting to look into possible upgrades for my own digital camera. It is almost two years old and still functions very well, but I wanted to see if there was reason to consider upgrading before my honeymoon next year.

I did tons of research and decided the Canon Powershot SD 950 IS would be the best fit for my father. My knowledge of the line would make it easier for me to learn it and to show him. He liked how the Elphs looked, especially their size. Most importantly, he loved my pictures, and with a new processor and double the megapixels, how could we go wrong?

Picture Quality
Top priority when buying a new digital camera is picture quality, and the Canon Powershot SD 950 IS does not disappoint. The pictures I have taken and seen on this camera are gorgeous. This camera features the Digic III image processor; one of the best processors in point-and-shoot digital cameras. You can definitely see the improvement on its predecessor, the Digic II image processor, which also produced amazing images. The pictures are sharp and clear. The colors are extremely accurate; not over or under saturated at all. Even low light pictures are outstanding. This camera performs well in any situation it was tested in; action photos, portraits, close ups, night shots, indoor shots, and scenic photos all proved to be this camera’s forte.

This camera features an enormous resolution of 12.4 megapixels. The beautiful images can be blown up to huge print sizes and cropped a great deal. I admit, neither myself nor my father will never have a need for 12.4 megapixels. It doesn’t hurt to have, however, considering the price was right.

I shall describe a little bit more about the picture quality later in the review when I discuss the features. Let’s move on to what’s powering it…

Battery Life
This digital camera is powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery; NB-5L. The battery life was slightly less than other Canon Elphs I have owned, but still similar. Battery life will be affected by how power-hungry your usage is. The battery will drain more if you use the screen all the time, spend a lot of time reviewing your pictures on the camera, use the video feature, and use the flash often. On average, I would estimate I was able to take 150 pictures per battery charge. The charger is included and a full charge from a dead battery took about an hour and a half.

I also highly recommend purchasing an extra battery to keep charged, on-hand in your camera case. These batteries are easily small enough to fit multiple spares if you choose to buy them. While rechargeable lithium-ion batteries far outperform AA batteries in battery life, you lose the convenience of being able to pick up batteries on the way to an event if they die. If you don’t have a spare and your battery dies with no time to charge it, you’ll end up spending $10 buying yourself a disposable camera or an hour scouring electronic stores for the correct battery. I was able to find a spare battery for $25 on the internet.

Lens and Flash
The Canon Powershot SD 950 IS has a good quality lens that retracts when the camera is powered off and sits flush with the front of the camera. I found this to be very well designed as it helps protect the lens from damage.

The built-in flash is very strong; almost too strong. I recommend using it only when necessary, as it is the kind of flash that sucks all life out of the picture and whites it out. The flash is well-placed, as I haven’t seen a high instance of red-eye, even in those family members that always have it. There are several settings for the flash; auto, flash-on, red-eye reduction, FE lock, slow synchro, and flash-off.

I felt like this Canon Elph was a little slower than previous models I have owned and used. It is still a very fast camera, though. It recovers quickly from one picture to the next. I have been using it with an Extreme III SD Card. I have not tried it with a standard card so I can’t speak for the lag in that situation.

Physical Attributes
In keeping with the rest of the line, the Canon Powershot SD 950 IS is very small and portable. It is about 2.4” tall by 3.8” wide by 1.1”deep, weighing only 5.8 ounces. It is only a little larger than a deck of cards. It easily fits into any handbag or pocket (careful with that, I don’t recommend it). It is perfect for someone who doesn’t like to carry a lot of personal items with him when he’s out or someone who loves to have a camera at all times. I’m a scrapbooker, so I fall into the latter category.

This camera has a very sleek design, with rounded edges. It looks like it could have been plucked off of the set of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It is made of titanium and has been durable considering my Dad has been being less than careful with it. His idea of handling it is taking it out of his pocket and not-so-gently placing it on the kitchen table. It has survived paint and saw dust as well, much to my surprise. Again, I don’t recommend man-handling it. Just putting that out there…

The front of the camera features the lens, which as described above, retracts to sit flush with the rest of the camera when off. The back of the camera features a prominent, 2.5” LCD screen. The screen is very sharp and vibrant, and a far improvement on previous screens I have seen that experience glare from sun-up to sun-down. I can actually use the screen in most instances of sunlight. The LCD is scratch-resistant and has an antireflection coating. This screen also features automatic image rotation, so you can view images taken vertically the correct way, without having to twist and contort your hands. My Dad is still amazed by this feature.

The SD 950 IS also features an optical viewfinder for times when you wish to save battery life or when the glare is too bright. It is a little on the small side and my Dad can’t see through it well, but most people don’t take advantage of this feature anyway. My father says, “If I wanted to look through the hole, I’d get one of those disposables.” I just wanted my fellow amateur photographer/scrapbookers that it is there for those of us who like it.

The button placement is very similar to previous Elphs. The power button is a small button on the top of the camera, with the shutter button next to it. A dial on the back of the camera, near the screen, allows you to toggle between the different scene/shooting modes and video. A button labeled with a play symbol allows you to review your photos, and is located over a circular button. That button controls many of the cameras settings including macro mode, the flash settings, the self timer, and the ISO. This button also navigates the cameras menus. The menu and display buttons are small and located at the bottom, under this circular button. One toggles the camera’s menu while the other turns the screen on and off.

I actually preferred the old Elph design, with the sharper edges. For some reason I had an easier time holding it. The buttons are all very easy for me to use with my tiny fingers. My father had the opposite experience. He loves the design of the SD 950 IS, with its rounded edges. He is able to hold it comfortably in his hand. He has a little more trouble with the buttons than I do since his fingers are significantly larger. He still manages and hasn’t complained about it much.

Use and Operation
If you have used any of the previous cameras in this series, learning to use the camera will be an easy task. It functions exactly like the previous incarnations, with a few buttons shifted slightly. Experience or not, this camera does not have a huge learning curve. The buttons are well placed and “make sense,” creating an intuitive interface that even my father was able to pick up in a couple of weeks. The menus are not confusing at all and everything is self-explanatory.

The SD 950 IS has a 3.7X optical zoom and a 4.0X digital zoom. This is average for most point-and-shoot digital cameras I have seen. It was sufficient for my father’s uses. The camera refocuses quickly when zooming and Dad has been happy with its performance. The image stabilization feature certainly helps you get clearer pictures while zoomed out. I noticed a significant difference in the sharpness of photos between this camera and my SD 600 which does not have image stabilization. It is a very effective feature.

As I always recommend with digital cameras, avoid using the digital zoom at all costs. Digital zoom simply stretches the image and degrades the quality.

Features and Settings
Shooting Modes:
Auto: The camera mode that most people leave their cameras in. My father leaves the camera in this mode much of the time, and it does a good job of adjusting its settings. The results of this mode are usually sharp and vibrant, with a small amount of red-eye.
Camera M: Manual mode for this camera is perfect for the control freak who wants to set every setting herself (me). I have gotten good and bad photos in this mode, but all of that can be blamed on the user.
Color Accent: The camera retains only a single color of your choosing in the image. A fun albeit useless feature, that lets you get creative with the colors in your images.
Color Swap: This feature allows you to specify a color to be replaced with another color of your choosing. This is another mode that doesn’t have a lot of applications other than to be creative. Both this and the previous mode appeared in the previous generation of Elph cameras. They are a lot of fun to experiment with.
Macro: Helps you reduce the depth of field to focus the camera on the subjects closer to I and blur the background.
Stitch-Assist: This mode is supposed to allow you to “stitch” together images to create a panoramic shot. I haven’t spent any time fooling around with it, nor has Dad.

Scene Modes:
Portrait Mode: This mode is meant to bring the subject into focus while blurring the background. I found it to be helpful, but it took some getting used to. There is a certain distance range (about 3-5’) that seems to work best, Once you figure that out, the portraits turn out great.
Foliage: This mode sets up the camera for shots of autumn foliage. My Dad used this mode on a trip to Boston in October and the pictures turned out lovely. The setting seemed to focus on the contrast of colors. The result was a picture that was reminiscent of a painting.
Snow: This mode is for shooting snow, to ensure the snow is the whitest white in the picture. My Dad and I did not get the privilege of experiencing this mode first hand, yet. It is unlikely we’ll be seeing snow in New York City before Christmas.
Beach: This mode is geared toward taking beach pictures in the bright sun, that aren’t washed out from overexposure and without darkened subjects. This is another mode I did not have the privilege of using, since the camera was purchased after Labor Day.\
Fireworks: This is another mode I didn’t have a use for firsthand yet; at least not for its intended use. I did mess around with it near the fireplace. This mode uses a slow shutter speed for dramatic fireworks shots. Use it with a tripod for better results, since the slow shutter speed picks up the smallest movement and makes your photo blur.
Aquarium: This mode will adjust your camera for perfect flash-free pictures in indoor aquariums. Like a lot of the other modes, this one is very specific and I have not yet been able to test it in the environment it is expected to be used in.
ISO 3200: This setting sets the light sensitivity to ISO 3200 for expanded low light shooting capabilities. I found this to have little application. The photos in this mode were noisy and grainy. It wasn’t bad considering the lighting conditions and ISO, but not really useful for any real application.
Indoor: This mode improves color and blur in low light situations, specifically indoors. My father didn’t use this mode much, as he found auto did a good enough job for him. The times I have used it, I found it to be helpful.
Kids and Pets: This mode uses fast shutter speed to take action shots. My father used it to get some great shots of birds landing on the board. I was able to get some excellent shots of my two dogs playing in the yard.
Night Snapshot: This mode is self-explanatory, like many of the other modes. The night shots using this mode were very good. The subjects were well-lit and the immediate background was captured well, but it did reduce the camera’s depth of field. If you’re trying to get a picture of a group of friends with a cityscape far in the background, this isn’t the best mode to do it.

The ISO on this camera can be set to Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, and 1600. My experience with this was that the pictures started getting noisy and grainy after ISO 800. I am very picky, though, and these settings may be a more use to another user.

This camera has a number of white balance settings available. The Auto mode does a great job of choosing the proper white balance. I also enjoyed experimenting with daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, and custom. If you’re taking any kind of scenic photos, I highly recommend taking a few shots with each. I did this for a set of sunset photos I took at a dock and each setting adding something to the photo.

This camera has an aperture range of f/2.8-f/5.8. The shutter has speeds of 15-1/1600 of a second.

This camera also features a self-timer. It can be set to 10 seconds, 2 seconds, and a custom timer. I found 10 seconds to be the most helpful. It was a perfect amount of time to set up the camera and jump into the picture.

Color options are abundant on this camera. It can be set to vivid, vivid blue, vivid green, vivid red, neutral, sepia, black-and-white, positive film, lighter skin tone, and darker skin tone. If you have time and are looking to be creative, the settings are fun to play with, but I think the better option is to do this in an editing program on your computer. This will allow you to save the color copies and alter at will, rather than throwing out the color information. What if you decide you like a particular shot in color and another in sepia? You want to benefit from the flexibility digital photography offers!

The video quality is good for a digital camera. I only used it a few times, but it did a nice job with the few clips I did take. This camera can shoot at a resolution of 1024 x 768 at 15 frames per second (fps), 640 x 480 at 30 fps, or 320 x 240 at 30 fps for up to an hour. I was using a 2 GB card, which would only support about 30 minutes of video. Luckily the clips I took were only 1-2 minutes each.

Memory Cards
The SD 950 IS accept Multimedia Card (MMC) and Secure Digital (SD) memory cards. The camera comes with a 32 MB MMC card. I highly recommend purchasing a high speed memory card. My father is using a San Disk 2 GB Extreme III Memory Card with the camera and has been happy with its performance. I highly recommend a high speed card to capitalize on the cameras low lag time and to increase battery life. The 2 GB card we use holds about 300 photos.

This camera connects to your computer with a USB cable. It is a very easy process, and it is even easier if you use the included software. I preferred to use my existing software but my Dad has taken to Canon’s setup. The software is compatible with Window Vista Home Basic and earlier incarnations of Operating System.

An audio/video cable is also included, for hookup to your television. I did not use this feature, but it should be as easy as plugging in the color-coded wires and turning your camera on.

This camera was purchased from We had intended to make an in-store purchase, but this model is only sold on their website for some reason. The price was $399.99, with no shipping charge because of a coupon. Overall I’d say it was a good deal.

Canon Powershot SD 950 IS Digital Camera
Rechargeable Lithium Ion Battery NB-5L
Battery Charger
32 MB MMC Card
Wrist Strap
USB Cable
A/V Cable
1 Year Warranty

The Canon Powershot SD 950 IS Digital Camera is certainly a nice progression from previous Elph models. It produces superior picture quality and has plenty of features to offer. It is perfect for any on-the-go photographer, from an amateur photographer to a tech-fearing pigeon man. Even the beginners will pick this one up quickly.

Personally, I’m not ready to give up my old SD 600. The higher megapixels, new processor, and added features like image stabilization, certainly are tempting. I don’t think I’m ready to leave my comfort zone with my beloved old Elph. It is still a fantastic camera. When I do upgrade, I will very likely pick up this model as well.

Recommend this product? Yes

Amount Paid (US$): 399.99
This Camera is a Good Choice if You Want Something... Flexible Enough for Enthusiasts

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