Pros: Fast, ultra compact, user friendly, good image quality, ISO 50, tough Stainless Steel Body
Cons: Weak flash, tiny battery, red-eye, chromatic aberration, noisy ISO 400 images
Timed to hit stores at the start of the all-important holiday buying season, the recently introduced Powershot SD200 Digital Elph is an updated version of last years SD100. The SD200 looks (and handles) much like its Digital Elph siblings. It has a sophisticated feature set and improved performance that should appeal to travelers, gadget guys, extreme sports aficionados, and casual photographers who value compact size, and point & shoot ease of use. The SD200 is a sexy little beast that can be taken anywhere and whipped out of a shirt pocket to capture that Kodak moment and amaze friends, relatives, and innocent bystanders.
How does the SD200 differ from the SD100?
The SD200 is the first Canon digicam to feature the new second-generation DIGIC II processor. DIGIC Processor (Digital Imaging Integrated Circuit) technology combines image processing and most camera control functions in one chip to more efficiently manage Exposure, Auto White Balance, JPEG compression, gain control, and most other auto functions. The SD200 is faster than the SD100 was, with noticeably quicker write times and improved auto focusing speed. DIGIC II images are also optimized for sharp resolution, balanced contrast, low noise, and bright colors. In addition, the SD200 boasts a new 2.0" LCD screen (the SD100 had a 1.5" LCD screen), a specially designed ultra compact 3X zoom (the SD100 had a 2X zoom), the new Canon Print Share technology for simplified direct image printing (with compatible printers), and an improved Movie Mode.
NUTS & BOLTS
The SD200 features a coupled (the viewfinder zooms with the lens) tunnel style (Galilean) optical viewfinder. The optical viewfinder is bright and images are sharp, but there is no diopter correction for eyeglasses wearers. The optical viewfinder is sorta squinty and only covers about 80% of the image frame.
The SD200 features a new 2.0 inch LCD screen that is bright and fluid but resolution is a bit lower than expected. I am guessing that power management took precedence over LCD resolution. The LCD screen has a glare reducing anti-reflective coating (nice) and the brightness can be adjusted (via the setup menu), but the LCD screen does not automatically gain up (gets brighter) in low light.
The SD200's (almost) full info LCD screen can be set to display shooting mode, exposure compensation, white balance setting, photo effects mode, ISO setting, flash setting, the light metering option selected, resolution/compression data, and a histogram (to help evaluate dynamic range in saved images). The LCD screen (which shows almost 100 per cent of the frame) is more accurate for framing and composition than the tiny optical viewfinder, but full time LCD use will drain the tiny battery more rapidly.
Consumers loved the SD100,but many complained about its short 2X zoom. Optical engineers at Canon utilized the new Ultra High Refractive Index Aspherical zoom technology, which compresses lens elements into a shorter space to allow the zoom to be extended from 2X to 3X, without any increase in camera size.
The new f2.8-4.9/35-105 (35mm equivalent) all-glass zoom lens retracts into the body when the camera is powered down and a built-in lens cover closes over the front element. When the camera is powered up the zoom extends, automatically. There is no lens thread for add-on lenses or filters. The little zoom is pretty quick (it travels from wide angle to telephoto in less than two seconds) and its operation is smooth and fairly quiet.
The zoom displays some minor softness in the corners of the frame, especially at f2.8. There is moderate barrel distortion (straight lines bow out from the center) at the 35mm end of the zoom range, but virtually no pincushion distortion (straight lines bow in toward the center) at the telephoto end of the range. Corners are noticeably soft, but this is a common fault with ultra compact digital cameras. Chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is visible in high contrast color transition areas.
The minimum focusing distance (in macro mode) is 1.2 inches (at the wide angle zoom setting). Macro images are fairly sharp with decent detail and good color. The optical viewfinder is not accurate enough for close up work (no parallax compensation marks) but the LCD screen works nicely in close-up mode. Flash coverage is OK, but (like most micro-cams) the top and center of the image tend to be a bit washed out. The SD200 is adequate for shooting E-bay images and general close-ups, but it is not a good choice for critical macro work.
The SD200 uses 9 focus point AiAF (Advanced intelligent Auto Focus) system makes it easier for the camera to analyze what is in front of the lens and automatically locate the primary subject. The AF system then calculates camera to subject distance and decides which of the 9 AF points is closest to the primary subject and locks focus on that AF point. Savvy shutterbugs can select a specific AF focus point and manually line that AF point up with the most important element in the image (like the face or eyes in a head and shoulders portrait) which makes for better compositions (since the primary subject does not need to be in the center of the frame). Users can turn AiAF off and the AF system will default to the center AF point for traditional landscapes, classic portraits, group shots, etc. The SD200 provides an AF assist beam for quicker and more accurate focusing in dim/low light.
The built-in multi mode flash provides Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Slow-Synch, and off settings. Maximum flash range is (according to Canon) is 9.8 feet, which is a bit optimistic --- 6 to 8 feet is more realistic. Anything beyond six feet is going to be fairly dark, unless shot in light colored surroundings with lots of ambient lighting.
The SD200 utilizes SD (Secure Diogital) memory media. SD cards are substantially smaller than the CompactFlash (CF) media used in most Canon digicams. SD cards are available in capacities up to 512MB.
USB 1.1 and A/V out
The SD200 utilizes a much smaller battery, which combined with the smaller SD card format allowed Canon to make the camera noticeably smaller than its Digital Elph cousins (S410 & S500). The tiny NB-4L battery is good for 400 plus exposures (according to Canon), but that is under optimum conditions (full time optical viewfinder use, no flash, and no image review). Most micro-Cam users are profligate battery abusers who rarely resort to the optical viewfinder (and insist on reviewing every image they shoot), so realistically (full time LCD use, moderate flash use, and heavy image review) the little NB-4L battery is good for something like 100-125 exposures.
The included CB-2LV rapid charger needs about 90 minutes to juice the NB-4L battery back to full power. The DIGIC II processor manages power very well, but Micro cam batteries obviously can not store as much power as larger batteries so shooters who plan on extended trips or daylong shooting sessions are advised to purchase a back up NB-4L battery.
The SD200 has a remarkably simple to use and highly sophisticated auto exposure system that provides 13 shooting modes (including: Auto, Scene modes, Manual mode, Movie mode, and Stitch Assist mode), an exceptionally broad range of imaging options for a micro-cam.
In auto mode, the SD200 consistently generates almost faultless images. Engineers at Canon deserve lots of praise for creating an auto mode that does more than just average exposure information. Auto mode images are noticeably better than images shot in auto mode with similar cameras from other manufacturers.
The iSAPS (Intelligent Scene Analysis based on Photographic Space) technology produces consistently exceptional exposures in all scene (Auto exposure optimized for specific types of images including Portrait, Night Snapshot, Photo Effect, Kids and Pets, Indoor, and Underwater) modes. The camera instantly matches the scene in front of the lens with an on board database of known scene types and then compares that information with the camera to subject distance, white balance, contrast range, lighting, and color (just before the image is recorded) to determine the best exposure.
The SD200s "manual" mode is something of a misnomer since the camera always controls aperture and shutter speed, however users do have the ability to adjust ISO sensitivity, enable a Photo Effect, disable AiAF, adjust exposure compensation, and fine tune white balance.
The SD200's movie mode is much improved over last years SD100. SD200 users can record video clips (up to the capacity of the installed SD card) with mono audio at 640X480 @ either 15 or 30 fps. The SD200 also features the exclusive new Fast Frame Rate Movie Mode (up to 60 seconds at 320x240 @ 60 fps) for users who have always wanted to watch themselves (or someone else) in slow motion.
The SD200's evaluative metering system (the camera divides the image frame into zones and separately evaluates each zone to determine the best shutter speed/aperture combination) consistently renders accurate exposures in all but the most difficult lighting situations. A Spot metering option biases exposure on a small area at the center of the frame (useful for back lit subjects, high/low contrast subjects, and portraiture).
The SD200's White balance system provides settings for: Auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, two fluorescent modes, and a custom (manual) mode.
TTL Auto, and 50, 100, 200, and 400 ISO (35mm equivalent).
In-Camera Image Adjustment
The SD200's Photo Effects mode is a nifty creative option (first seen on the Canon G2) that allows users to choose spot metering, access exposure compensation, select vivid or neutral color saturation, enable low sharpening, and add sepia or B&W tonal effects.
DESIGN, CONTROLS, & ERGONOMICS
The SD200 is Canons smallest Digital Camera, a stylish ultra compact point & shoot digicam with a stainless steel body that is tough enough to go just about anywhere and tiny enough to drop into even the smallest shirt pocket. The SD200 is an almost perfect compromise between the physical constraints of miniaturization and the creative limits of functionality/usability. The user interface is intuitive and uncomplicated with logical and easily accessed controls. The FUNC button calls up a simplified menu overlay that takes photographers directly to the most commonly changed/modified camera operations/functions (exposure compensation, white balance, drive mode, ISO sensitivity, flash options, image size/quality options, and photo effects), without having to navigate through multiple menus. Most users will have no trouble using the SD200 right out of the box.
Resolution: 3.2 megapixels (2048X1536)
Lens: f2.8-4.9/35-105 (35mm equivalent) all-glass 3X zoom
Viewfinders: Real-image optical zoom & 2.0" LCD
Auto Focus: TTL AiAF nine-point autofocus system
Exposure: Program AE (Automatic) and Manual modes
Metering: Evaluative, Center-Weighted, or Spot
Exposure Compensation: Yes +/- 2EV in 1/3-step increments
White Balance: TTL auto and presets for daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, and custom (manual)
Noise Reduction: automatic on long exposures
Photo Effects: Low Sharpening, Vivid Color, Neutral color, Sepia and B&W
Sensitivity: Auto and ISO 50, 100, 200, & 400 (35mm equivalents)
Flash: Built-in multi mode
Continuous exposure mode: 2.4 fps
Memory Storage Media: SD cards
Image File Format: JPEG
Connectivity: USB 1.1 & A/V out
Power: Rechargeable Lithium-ion battery (type: NB-4L)
Street Price: $239-$299
16MB SD card, NB-4L Li-ion battery w/charger, wrist strap, USB & A/V cables, Printed users manual and software manual, Canon Software
Extra NB-4L Li-ion battery, soft case, WP-DC10 waterproof case, Canon AC adapter
In the Field/Handling & Operation
My friend (who sells new and used digital and film cameras) has been trying to test as many newly introduced digital cameras (more than half of all digital cameras sold every year are purchased during the four months between Labor Day and the end of December) as possible and that has made life very hectic for him. I have been spending an inordinate amount of my free time helping him with this annual exercise so I was not too surprised when he turned up on a recent Saturday with a Canons newly introduced Powershot SD200. Both of us have been fascinated by the ongoing miniaturization revolution in digital cameras, so we were anxious to play with the newest (and smallest) Digital Elph.
The first thing we did was to run some color tests (we shot some very colorful childrens plastic beach toys arrayed artfully on a white background). The little SD200 has fairly accurate color balance, although typically (for consumer digicams) colors are a bit oversaturated.
The weather outside was dreadful, sorry I could not resist, blame it on an overabundance of holiday cheer. It was cold and rainy with a flat gray sky, so we decided to continue our test of the nifty little SD200 indoors. Every year, just before Thanksgiving, Slugger Field (home of the Louisville Bats minor league baseball team) is temporarily converted into a combination winter wonderland and Santas workshop for the Festival of Trees and Lights. Our annual holiday fair features dozens of Christmas trees, wreaths, and stockings decorated by Louisvilles leading interior designers. The Festival of Trees and Lights always reminds me of the Christmas fairs that my wife and I visited every December when we were living in Germany. There are lots of colorfully decorated trees, some truly awesome holiday wreaths, and dozens of genuinely over the top Christmas stockings. In addition to the Christmas displays, there are plenty of activities for the kiddies, a Gift Shop (that is sure to quickly part most visitors from some hard earned cash), a Sweet Shop that is guaranteed to add a few unwanted holiday season pounds, cast members from the Louisville Ballets annual production of The Nutcracker in costume, and of course Santa (and a few of his elves).
We shot all sorts of Christmas stuff, a miniature train layout, and an incredibly colorful Kwanza display under a combination of daylight and industrial strength fluorescent lighting. With the camera in auto mode, the SD200s auto white balance and auto sensitivity settings produced consistently well exposed images with very good detail and rich colors. The festival attendees were pretty colorful too, and we were able to shoot a couple of interesting environmental portraits of supposedly sane folks wandering around blatantly flaunting Bridget Jones style Christmas sweaters. Everything we tried with the tiny SD200 worked nicely. I really was impressed with the cameras ease of use and both of us were absolutely amazed at how much fun it was to use the tiny shiny SD200.
After about three hours of wandering around the crowded festival we decided to and run by Pauls Fruit & Vegetable Market on Taylorsville Road so my friend could order a couple of holiday fruit baskets. Pauls has been an East End landmark since just after World War II. The small shop sells fresh fruits and vegetables, nursery plants, flowers, gourmet groceries, deli items, and in autumn pumpkins, gourds, Corn shocks, hay bales, and Indian Corn. We wanted to try the little SD200 outside, but the weather was so nasty we were only able to shoot a couple of close ups of rain slick Canada Geese yard ornaments before the cold rain down the back of the neck syndrome drove us inside to photograph the racks of colorful fruits and vegetables.
After we finished up at Pauls we headed for the Morris Deli, an old-fashioned southern style deli featuring country ham sandwiches, barbeque, and home made soups. Both of us grew up eating Kentucky style white bean soup and the Morris Deli has the best white bean soup in Louisville. The Deli shares its space with a combined liquor store and beer depot, so the interior decoration is old beer and liquor advertising, neon signs, an ancient deli cooler, and mismatched kitchen chairs (the tiny eat-in area has only two tables). We got a couple bowls of bean soup and took turns sneaking off shots of dimly lit retro interior.
We printed two 8X10 enlargements (with an Epson 2200 on Epson photo paper) and both were very good with excellent color and surprisingly crisp detail, comparable to commercially processed 35mm (ISO 200-400) enlargements. The SD200 is obviously designed for amateurs and casual shooters, however image quality is quite good. Caucasian skin tones are a bit warm (typical for amateur cameras) and reds and blues are slightly over saturated (also typical). White balance is fairly accurate, especially so for such a tiny camera.
Image noise is very well controlled (even in high/low contrast areas), it is virtually invisible at ISO 50, minimal at ISO 100 and not too bad at ISO 200, but ISO 400 is quite noisy. The SD200 (like all mico-cams) has some serious red-eye issues, but it is still a pretty good choice for an indoor/bar/party camera. I suspect the SD200 will perform nicely outdoors too, but I can not address this since we did not get to use it outdoors. Chromatic aberration (purple fringing) seems a bit higher than average. Users who stick with 4X6 or 5X7 prints should be completely happy with this tiny digicam. An occasional 8X10 enlargement should not present any problems, especially portraits and landscapes.
The SD200s boot-up cycle is fairly quick (twice as fast as the SD100), better than average for micro cams. If users pre-focus, exposure is virtual real time, substantially better than average (for micro digicams). Write to card times are better than average (1.0-2.0 seconds at maximum resolution) and AF lag is pretty short as long as the camera does not have to hunt for focus. Overall, the DIGIC II powered SD200 is noticeably faster than average and conspicuously faster than its predecessor.
How responsive is the SD200? Does it allow savvy users the ability to create truly personalized images via exposure compensation, flash compensation, exposure bracketing, AF bracketing, in-camera image adjustment (saturation, contrast, sharpening), and white balance capabilities?
My scale begins at 1 (auto exposure only---no ability to tweak exposure parameters) and runs through 10 (virtually unlimited ability to tweak exposure parameters).
A higher TQI number identifies a camera that provides users with a much wider range of flexibility and individual input into the exposure process and consequently a higher degree of creative freedom. A lower TQI number identifies a camera that limits user input into the image making process and the degree to which that limitation inhibits the creative process.
The SD200 rates a mediocre 4.0 (my champ, to date, is the Olympus C8080 which rates an 8.5) which is pretty typical for micro cams.
A Few Concerns
Red-eye, noisy ISO 400 images, weak flash, and tiny (weak) battery
Who is the SD200 best suited for?
The SD200 is an almost perfect choice for bikers, hikers, backpackers, and outdoor enthusiasts because its small profile allows it to be taken (and used) virtually anywhere. Travelers and tourists, gadget guys, extreme sports fans, party shooters, and casual picture takers will also love the newest (and smallest) digital elph.
Photography (digital or film) has always been about compromises, so there will never be a perfect camera. Tiny cameras have certain inherent limitations that cannot be completely overcome. The key to how well any camera does its job relates directly to how well the designers were able to balance performance and physical reality. Is Canons tiny SD200 as good (or better) than its competition? The answer is yes. Photographers who want a tiny tough as nails three-megapixel digital camera will find Canons sexy little SD200 hard to beat.
Purchasers should begin with realistic expectations, read lots of reviews, and then base their final buying decision on the consensus opinion of the majority of reviewers. Dismiss reviews that compare P&S digital cameras or micro-cams to prosumer digicams. The foregone conclusion (prosumer cameras always outperform P&S and micro-cam models) is worthless. Comparisons between various models are only valid when similar cameras are compared.
A Final Word
The holiday season is the best time of year to buy a digital camera (except for the three weeks right after Christmas) because competition is at its heaviest. The best bargains are available on older models and most manufacturers and retailers will deeply discount the immediate predecessor of the latest thing---check them out carefully, you might be able to save a few bucks without having to give up anything important.
For definitive advice on How to Choose a Digital Camera please see my review:
Here are a few best choice digital camera recommendations for 2004 that my friend and I enthusiastically agree provide the best bang for your buck.
Konica-Minolta Dimage A1
Olympus Camedia C5060
Canon Powershot A95
Canon Powershot A85
Canon Powershot A75
For more information about competitive/comparable ultra compact and micro dicams you may find the reviews below informative:
Canon Powershot S500
Canon Powershot S410