Canon's dramatic Spring Elphs

With some eye-popping new colors and curvaceous new designs, these aren't your father's PowerShots. They're not even your older sister's.

Some years it seems like Canon makes no real changes to its designs. Then there's 2009. Almost every camera the company has announced thus far looks significantly different from its predecessors as well as completely unlike its linemates. Unsurprisingly, this is most evident in the new PowerShot ultracompacts.

At the top of the pack is the SD970 IS, which replaces the SD890 IS. While many of the SD models retain their optical viewfinders, the SD970 forgoes one in favor of a larger LCD, 3 inches up from 2.5. Since I complained about the small LCD in my review of the SD890--in fact, I disliked a lot about that camera--it'll be interesting to see if this radical reconception fares any better. This model uses the same lens, but bumps up from 10 megapixels to 12 and adds 720p movie capture. And we can probably blame the iPhone and its ilk for Canon's new Active Display...umm..feature, which allows you to scroll photos during playback by shaking the camera. Is it just me, or will that get old really fast?

In a confusing nomenclature decision, Canon is replacing the SD880 IS, its wide angle ultracompact, with the SD960 IS. The SD960 has the same 4X wide angle zoom lens (28-112mm equivalent) but increases resolution from 10 megapixels to 12 megapixels, adds 720p movie capture and exchanges a 3-inch standard-aspect LCD for a 2.8-inch wide-aspect one.

The SD780 IS replaces the SD770 IS with a thinner and much more striking design--normally I love red cameras but the SD780's relentless lipstick red with pink typography just scares me--but modestly updated specs of 12 megapixels and 720p movie capture.

Finally, the SD1100 IS gets an uplift to the SD1200 IS, with a 10-megapixel sensor, a jump from 8. It has a somewhat boxier new design, and hot colors like orange and green take the place of last year's earth tones.

All of the cameras incorporate Canon's Digic 4 processor, and take advantage of the improved automation for features like automatic scene detection and face-detection-related tasks.

The $379.99 SD970 IS will ship in April. The $329.99 SD960 IS, $279.99 SD780 IS and the $229 SD1200 IS should appear in March. Though none of the cameras scream "this is going to be hot!" at me right now, I am looking forward to seeing which of the new designs succeed and which ones look better than they work.

 

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