It's fitting that Canon's latest Digital Elph, the 4-megapixel SD10, debuted during New York's Fashion Week at the runway show of Patricia Field, costume designer of Sex and the City. Great-looking and available in several classy finishes, this Canon is just as fashionable and expensive as the Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo shoes that play such a large role in the life of Carrie Bradshaw, SATC's lead character. The SD10 also takes some darn good pictures. But with a fixed 39mm focal length, this camera, like designer pumps, is more about style than utility. If you want it, shop smart and don't pay retail. Pretty classy are the first words that spring to mind as you view the superdiminutive SD10. Its rectangular body, which weighs a mere 4.3 ounces with a battery and an SD card, has rounded edges and comes in silver, bronze, iridescent white, and high-gloss black. The design cries out to be worn around your neck, but alas, Canon includes only a wrist strap.
Canon makes good use of the camera's minimal real estate. The back holds the LCD, the Menu and Function buttons, and a four-way pad, but there's still plenty of room for your thumb to get a solid grip. However, watch out for errant fingers: you might introduce some noise if you brush the microphone/speaker while recording.
As with most Canons, the Function button provides access to the most frequently used controls. Making changes on the fly is particularly convenient. Unless you turn it off, the SD10's Function menu, like that of most cameras, will reappear immediately after you've taken a shot. That mechanism makes it easy to revert to prior settings. For example, you can go from Normal to Macro and back again.
The rest of the menus are intelligently arranged and very easy to navigate. Text accompanies each pictograph, so even newcomers will have no problems identifying the settings. While using the SD10 is fairly straightforward, a few hidden options do require a trip to the manual.
The SD card and the battery tuck into the camera's side, so you can change them while using a tripod. Removing the media is a little difficult, however, because it's close to the compartment cover's hinge. The SD10 definitely scores more points for style than substance. Though the camera delivers 4-megapixel resolution, its lens's fixed 39mm focal length can't compete with the range offered by other ultracompacts with a 3X zoom. And though we hadn't expected manual exposure controls, Canon should have included scene modes, which simplify point-and-shoot photography. The feature set partially compensates for their absence with exposure compensation, automatic white balance and five presets, selectable ISO settings ranging from 50 to 400, a histogram displayed during playback, and modes for slow shutter speeds and continuous shooting. You get four color modes: Vivid, Neutral, Black And White, and Sepia. An assist lamp provides excellent low-light autofocusing. A choice of evaluative, center-weighted, and spot metering makes it even easier to get accurately metered shots in any situation.
The SD10 also introduces Quick Shot, a mode that minimizes shutter lag by essentially making the camera act like a fixed-focus model. That is, when you press the shutter release, there's no focusing pause. In Macro mode, the lens can focus as close as 1.2 inches--a nice treat. You can print directly to a wide range of Canon printers as well as to PictBridge-compatible printers from any manufacturer.
The SD10's movies include sound, but the maximum clip length is only three minutes, and resolution is limited to 320x240 or 160x120 pixels. You can also add voice annotations to stills. The quality of both features ranges from about average to slightly better.
This stylish camera does know how to accessorize, though. For each finish, Canon offers a matching soft case. A waterproof housing, good to a depth of 9.8 feet, comes in handy for snorkeling and other outdoor activities. The SD10 performed admirably for a high-resolution ultracompact. Start-up took a mere 2.37 seconds. Shot-to-shot time ran only a hair longer, and it was still a respectable 3.39 seconds with the flash. The Quick Shot mode shaved about half a second off the pause between photos and shortened the shutter lag--which lasted 0.8 second usually and about 1 second even at its worst--to near imperceptibility.
Continuous shooting snapped just 14 high-resolution pictures at about 1.6 frames per second; then the camera paused. When we switched to low resolution, however, we grabbed 99 consecutive shots at around 1.4fps.
We captured more than 450 high-res images before the battery gave up the ghost. With 61 frames available between the low-battery warning and failure, we had plenty of time to finish our shoot.
Unsurprisingly, the lack of an optical zoom frequently frustrated us. And even with a 4-megapixel camera, a digital zoom isn't worth using. However, the SD10's wide-angle lens is rated at 3.9 inches. It could focus remarkably close even when we weren't in Macro mode, which captures details really nicely right down to a cloth's warp and weft. The SD10 delivered the high-level image quality we've come to expect from Canon. The camera produced accurate exposures even in difficult situations, such as a foggy morning or a scene with lots of reflective light from water and the sky. Flash exposures proved a little more challenging; the small battery limited the power available to the flash. It reached up to 13 feet at ISO 400, but the resulting noise was unacceptable. The range dropped to 6 feet at other ISO settings. Even at ISO 100, noise was apparent in places. We much preferred the almost noiseless ISO 50.
Colors were pleasing and precise, although point-and-shooters may feel the need to add a little punch with the Vivid setting. The automatic white balance capably handled most lighting conditions, but as is typical with Canon cameras, indoor shots without the flash looked too yellow. The Tungsten preset all but eliminated that problem.
Close inspection revealed purple fringing on some high-contrast edges. But the aberration didn't appear all the time, and it wasn't any more of an issue than it is with the typical digital camera. You likely won't notice it unless you crop in tightly or significantly enlarge your photos.