The 7-megapixel camera's tiny body is shiny, curvy, and very attractive. But it may be just a bit too stylish for its own good. For instance, the power button is a tiny, illuminated half-oval built flush into the top panel; without actually pressing it, you might easily mistake it for an indicator light or a design flaw.
The SD800's most prominent feature is its image-stabilized, f/2.8-to-f/5.8, 28mm-to-105mm-equivalent lens. The 3.8X zoom range offers the flexibility of wide-angle focal lengths, while still providing a bit more zoom power than the average 3X point-and-shoot lens. Though the SD700 IS had a 4X zoom lens, the SD800's 28mm-equivalent wide shot more than makes up for the slightly smaller telephoto factor.
In addition to the flexible lens, the SD800 IS has some handy snapshot features. The camera's sensor can be boosted to as high as ISO 1,600 for low-light or high-movement shots, though you'll want to keep it at ISO 800 or lower because of image noise. You can shoot 30fps VGA video, or bump it up to 60fps QVGA (320x240) to capture action footage for half-speed playback. If you're looking for manual controls, however, look elsewhere; like the SD700, the SD800's aperture and shutter settings can't be changed except for a long shutter mode, its focus modes are all automatic, and the camera's manual mode allows only exposure compensation, color correction, metering, and white-balance adjustments.
The SD800 also uses the recent Digic III image processor, which Canon claims improves image quality, performance, and battery life. We didn't notice any significant improvements over the SD700's already good performance, but the SD800 seemed slightly more responsive than its predecessor. It performed excellently in our lab tests. Just 1.1 seconds after the power button was pressed, it was able to take its first shot and subsequently could snap off a shot every 1.3 seconds. Even with the onboard flash enabled, we experienced a lag of only 2 seconds between shots. Shutter lag was a negligible 0.4 second. The only disappointment was the camera's burst mode, which managed only one shot per second.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Photos were attractive, with fine detail rendering and solid color reproduction. Aside from some slight purple fringing along the borders of bright subjects, we noticed few distortions or aberrations in our photos. Image noise was acceptable to as high as ISO 800, manifesting as a fine grain that dulled colors but otherwise didn't mar photo quality too much. ISO 1,600 was a different story; a sparkly, static-filled mess that made the photo look as if it were received via a television antenna.
The Canon PowerShot SD800 IS is a great point-and-shoot camera. It's small, it sports a stabilized, wide-angle lens, and it can pump out beautiful shots at a pretty rapid pace. If you want higher resolution and don't mind losing the optical image stabilization--though we don't recommend the tradeoff--the Canon PowerShot SD900 and the Casio Exilim EX-Z1000 offer 10 megapixels in ultracompact bodies.