Unlike most movie continuations, this Digital Elph sequel is a good thing. Canon's 3.2-megapixel Powershot SD100 retains the quality and features of its predecessors but puts them in an even smaller and lighter package. This camera is all about style, technology, and great snapshots, so don't look for manual controls. However, the Powershot SD100 outpaces most of its competitors in the snapshot field and makes an excellent choice for anyone who wants a quick-shooting, ultracompact camera. The Canon Powershot SD100's ever attractive stainless-steel Digital Elph body sports a new white-platinum finish and comes in a size that's smaller than ever. Whittled down to 3.3 by 2.2 by 0.9 inches and 6.7 ounces with battery and media loaded, the diminutive Powershot SD100 makes for an ultraportable package. To pull this off, Canon used an SD card instead of CompactFlash for the first time in its Digital Elph line, shrank the battery, and incorporated a tiny new lens.
Even with its smaller size, the SD100's controls and buttons are well distributed, with plenty of room to rest your thumb without feeling cramped. At the same time, the mode dial, the four-way controller, and the menu buttons are within easy reach and provide quick access to all the features you need for automatic snapshooting.
A separate Set button locks in menu and function selections, eliminating the frustration of trying to set your choice via the four-way controller's center pad. The camera's ease of use is enhanced by logically arranged and easily navigated menus. Newbies won't have a problem understanding the pictographs for each feature, thanks to the accompanying text identification. Although the Canon Powershot SD100 lacks manual exposure control and doesn't offer scene modes, Canon has equipped this little camera with an otherwise excellent feature set that gives users enough adjustments to make a difference. For example, you'll find exposure compensation, preset and manual white balance, light-sensitivity settings from ISO 50 to ISO 400, three metering modes, and continuous shooting. Color-mode choices include Vivid, Neutral, Black And White, and Sepia. Additionally, long shutter settings from 1 to 15 seconds as well as a panorama mode lend the camera a measure of flexibility. However, some photographers may find the Elph's 2X zoom range (35mm to 70mm, in 35mm-camera terms) limiting.
The Powershot SD100 is up to snuff for video shooting, offering 15-frame-per-second (fps) capture at three resolutions. Clip length maxes out at 30 seconds in 640x480 mode, but you can shoot for as long as three minutes in the 320x240 and 160x120 modes. New for the Powershot SD100 is a small speaker that's located just above the four-way controller. It isn't very powerful, but it lets you hear sound in playback mode.
The Powershot SD100 offers direct print capability, so you can take advantage of Canon's CP-200 and CP-300 portable photo printers, as well as several full-size Canon models. You can also control the camera from your computer when it's connected via USB, or you can take it out for a swim with Canon's optional underwater housing. It's depth-rated to 130 feet, and judging by the results from an earlier, similarly equipped Digital Elph model, we expect the Powershot SD100 to produce good shots underwater. We found the Canon Powershot SD100 a pleasure to use, from its quick start-up time to its decisive and accurate autofocus. After we depressed the shutter button, it took two to three seconds for the camera to go to the ready state. Shutter lag was negligible at about 0.8 to 1 second, and the time between shots at high resolution, with or without flash, measured about 2 seconds, even when the battery was nearly depleted.
In continuous-shooting mode, we were able to capture nine highest-quality photos in 6 seconds without flash before the camera stopped to save the files, an acceptable but not outstanding frame-per-second rate. You can increase the number of shots in a burst substantially by using lower-resolution settings. Not surprisingly, if you use the continuous-shooting mode with flash, it doesn't get much faster than the single-snap, 2-second shot-to-shot rate.
The 2X optical zoom operated responsively, and the nine-point autofocus didn't disappoint us, performing swiftly and precisely. Low light offers little challenge to the Powershot SD100, thanks to its focus-assist lamp, a feature missing even in some higher-end cameras. We also found the LCD easy to see even in bright light, and the optical viewfinder, although small, provided a clear image.
The quickly recharging flash operates well out to almost 10 feet, but it really excels in Macro mode. The flash powered down well enough to shoot close-ups, including white and reflective surfaces, without any hot spots. The Canon Powershot SD100 continues the Digital Elph legacy of delivering excellent photo quality. Accurate exposures were the norm in our test shots, both with and without flash. Dynamic range was quite good, with the exception of a few clipped highlights.
Color rendition was spot-on but just a shade less saturated than we prefer. A quick switch to the Vivid setting helped punch up the colors, but we don't recommend it on a regular basis. Adjusting the color in an image editor such as Photoshop is a more controllable option.
Automatic white balance worked well in almost all circumstances, although, true to Canon tradition, indoor tungsten-lit photos were overly warm with a slightly yellow-brown tone. Using the preset or manual white balance easily rectified the color shift.
At low light-sensitivity settings of ISO 50 and ISO 100, images showed little noise, although, as expected, noise levels increased with the ISO. In some shots, purple fringing was noticeable around extremely high-contrast edges, but other aberrations were rare.
The Powershot SD100 also shoots surprisingly good VGA video clips--as long as you don't change lighting conditions. The camera takes the exposure from the first frame and doesn't make adjustments during the filming.