Canon PowerShot SD940 IS review: Canon PowerShot SD940 IS

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Canon PowerShot SD940 IS (Brown)

(Part #: 3971B001) Released: Aug 19, 2009
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3.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Very small; simple operation; very good photo, HD movie quality; HDMI out.

The Bad No optical zoom in Movie mode; mixed performance.

The Bottom Line One of the best ultracompacts available, the Canon PowerShot SD940 IS nonetheless falls short of greatness in performance and photo quality.

7.6 Overall
  • Design 8.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Performance 7.0
  • Image quality 7.0

A follow-up of sorts to the SD780 IS, the Canon PowerShot SD940 IS is another very small, very lightweight 12-megapixel camera. It drops the SD780's optical viewfinder, and in its place gets a larger 2.7-inch LCD in back, and a wide-angle 28mm-equivalent lens with a 4x zoom in front. Aside from a couple minor interface tweaks, everything else basically stays the same; this includes the earlier model's mixed performance and tendency to produce purple fringing. However, neither is extreme for this class of camera, and all things considered, the SD940 IS is one of the best ultracompacts available.

Key specs Canon PowerShot SD940 IS
Price (MSRP) $299.99
Dimensions (WHD) 3.5 x 2.2 x 0.8 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 4.9 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 12 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch CCD
LCD/Viewfinder 2.7-inch LCD, 230K dots; none
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 4x, f2.8-5.9, 28-12mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/MOV (H.264)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 4,000x3,000 pixels/1,280x720 at 30fps
Image stabilization type Optical and electronic
Battery type, rated life Lithium ion rechargeable, 220 shots

Despite the SD940's slight build, it feels very sturdy. However, if you plan to keep it loose in a bag, invest in some manner of protection or risk scratching up its beautiful body and screen. The model is available in silver, blue, black, and brown. The lens barrel color closely matches the body, too, giving it a peculiar uniform look.

Using the camera is remarkably comfortable, even for large hands. All of the controls are flat and flush with the body. It gives the camera a very smooth appearance, but using the four-way directional pad and center Func/Set button can be a little difficult and may lead to frequent mispresses on the center button when trying to adjust the exposure, change focus and flash modes, or pick timer settings from the outer ring.

The SD940 has a revamped menu and help system with hints and tips for choosing the appropriate settings or simply telling you what the shooting mode you're in is going to do. For example, if you don't know what the camera's Servo AF does, just select it in the settings menu and at the bottom of the screen it'll tell you that it continues to adjust focus while pressing the shutter button halfway down. Help systems certainly aren't uncommon, but Canon executed this well considering the limited screen space.

General shooting options Canon PowerShot SD940 IS
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,600
White balance Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Custom
Recording modes Smart Auto, Program/Scene, Movie
Focus modes Center AF, Face AF, Servo AF, Macro, Normal, Infinity
Metering Evaluative, Center-weighted, Spot
Color effects Vivid, Vivid Blue, Vivid Green, Vivid Red, Neutral, Sepia, Black & White, Positive Film, Lighter Skin Tone, Darker Skin Tone, Custom
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) Continuous unlimited

Not that more is expected, but the SD940 is limited to three shooting modes. A small switch on back moves you between Canon's improved automatic scene recognition called Smart Auto, Program/Scene, and Movie. The Smart Auto mode is very reliable and since it's now picking from 22 different scenes (up from 18 on the SD780), the bases are well covered. In Program you can control things such as ISO, white balance, light metering, and autofocus type or you can switch to one of 17 scene shooting options including common ones like Portrait and Indoors or specialty choices such as Long Shutter and Color Accent. The Movie mode is capable of recording at an HD-quality resolution of 720p. (For quickly connecting to an HDTV, there's a mini HDMI output behind a small door where your thumb naturally rests while shooting.) But sadly, the 4x optical zoom doesn't function while recording.

The SD940's performance is mixed. For a camera this size, a fast startup time is expected and that's what we got at 1.4 seconds. Its shutter lag was on the long side at 0.6 second in good lighting and 0.9 second in dimmer conditions. Regrettably its shot-to-shot times are not good either, taking 2.9 seconds without flash and more than 6 seconds with it on. In addition, its continuous shooting mode comes in well under some of its competition at 0.6 frames per second.

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