Canon PowerShot SD980 IS review: Canon PowerShot SD980 IS

The SD980 is limited to three shooting modes and none of them allows you to tweak shutter speed or aperture; it's very much a point-and-shoot. A small switch on top moves you between Canon's put-it-there-leave-it-there shooting mode called Smart Auto; a Program/Scene mode option; and a Movie mode. The Smart Auto picks from 22 different scenes, so the bases are well covered. In Program you can control things such as ISO, white balance, light metering, and exposure compensation or you can switch to a handful of scene options like Portrait and Indoors and Specialty Scene selections including Aquarium, Long Shutter, and ISO 3,200. The Movie Mode lets you capture clips up to 10 minutes in length at an HD quality of 720p and the results are very good. (For quickly connecting to an HDTV, there's a miniHDMI output behind a small door on the right side of the body.) But sadly, the 5x optical zoom doesn't function while recording. The optical image stabilization does, however.

If you're the type to get impatient waiting between shots, the SD980 might disappoint you with its 3.1-second shot-to-shot time; turning on the flash drags that out to 4.5 seconds. Also, there's no burst mode on this model, just continuous unlimited shooting capable of 0.6 frame per second. Start-up time is decent, however, at 1.6 seconds and shutter lag is OK, too: 0.5 second in well-lit conditions and 0.8 in more challenging dim light.

As with most compacts, photos are best from the SD980 at ISO sensitivities below ISO 200. At ISO 400, fine detail starts degrading as shots turn less sharp, more smooth, and fuzzy. For a majority of my testing the camera remained in Canon's Smart Auto mode, which was really reliable at picking the correct scenes, but plays things safe by going with higher ISOs. At the two highest full-resolution sensitivities--ISO 800 and ISO 1,600--noise/artifacting and softening from noise suppression are both visible, but the balance is good so all detail isn't lost. However, there is some color shifting and yellowing, which makes shots at ISO 1,600 of questionable use.

Color, white balance, and exposure are generally very good at ISO 400 and below, though highlights have a tendency to blow out--typical of compact cameras. Despite the wide-angle lens there is little barrel distortion at the lens' widest position and no discernable pincushion distortion when the lens is fully extended. Photos exhibit an average amount of purple/blue fringing in high-contrast areas. Depending on the shot there is a chance it will be noticeable at print sizes of 8x10 inches and above.

The PowerShot SD980 IS is Canon's first attempt at a touch-screen interface for a Digital Elph and it feels like it. That's not necessarily a bad thing because the result is a camera with useful touch-based functions that doesn't completely abandon comfortable, familiar physical buttons. The SD980 lets you get a touch-screen camera and decide for yourself whether you want to use it without the fear of having to use it.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot  
Typical shot-to-shot time (flash)  
Typical shot-to-shot time  
Shutter lag (dim)  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Canon PowerShot SD960 IS
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T900
Samsung TL320
Canon PowerShot SD980 IS
Nikon Coolpix S70

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Canon PowerShot SD980 IS

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Digital camera type Ultracompact
  • Optical Zoom 5 x
  • Optical Sensor Type CCD
  • Sensor Resolution 12.1 Megapixel
  • Image Stabilizer optical
  • Optical Sensor Size 1/2.3"