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.
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The SD980 is capable of taking some very sharp shots with excellent fine detail at its lowest ISOs. This was taken at ISO 80 in Macro mode.
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By the time you get to ISO 400, subjects look more processed and soft when viewed at 100 percent. If the largest you plan to print is 8x10 inches, the results will likely be satisfactory.
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Though I've seen far worse examples of chromatic aberration, the SD980 is capable of producing enough of it that it's worth mentioning.
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Very little barrel distortion considering the 24mm-equivalent lens on the SD980 (top). There was no discernable pincushion distortion when the lens is fully extended (bottom).
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The SD980 IS produces the excellent color and white balance that I've come to expect from its Digital Elphs. Exposure is generally very good, though highlights have a tendency to blow out--typical of compact cameras.