Canon's PowerShot SD3500 IS is sort of a follow-up to 2009's SD980 IS in that it has a touch-screen LCD and features the same ultrawide-angle 24mm-equivalent lens with a 5x zoom. This time around, though, the resolution's been bumped up to 14 megapixels and the screen is larger with better resolution. But outside of those core features, the camera is somewhat unremarkable.
Touch-screen models from the likes of Sony, Samsung, and Nikon have generally been more fun to use than some of their non-touch-screen brethren thanks to some interesting touch features. The SD3500 IS just feels like a typical PowerShot with a touch screen. That's probably not enough to stop me from recommending it. However, there are some photo quality issues to consider as well as some slow shooting performance. But if you're patient and your subjects are still and you're not a hypercritical pixel peeper, this camera's not all that bad--just a little boring.
|Key specs||Canon Powershot SD3500 IS|
|Dimensions (WHD)||3.9 x 2.2 x 0.9 inches|
|Weight (with battery and media)||5.6 ounces|
|Megapixels, image sensor size, type||14 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch CCD|
|LCD size, resolution/viewfinder||3.5-inch touch-screen LCD, 461K dots/None|
|Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length)||5x, f2.8-5.9, 24-120mm (35mm equivalent)|
|File format (still/video)||JPEG/H.264 (.MOV)|
|Highest resolution size (still/video)||4,320x3,240 pixels/ 1,280x720 at 30fps|
|Image stabilization type||Optical|
|Battery type, CIPA rated life||Lithium ion rechargeable, 220 shots|
|Battery charged in camera||No; external charger supplied|
|Storage media||SD/SDHC/SDXC cards, MultiMediaCard, MMCplus card, HC MMCplus card, Eye-Fi SD cards|
|Bundled software||ZoomBrowser EX 6.5/PhotoStitch 3.1 (Windows); ImageBrowser 6.5/PhotoStitch 3.2 (Mac)|
Typical of the Digital Elph series, the SD3500 IS is reasonably small, good-looking, and available in different colors: black, silver, and pink. It's stylish without being flashy and can comfortably slip in a pants pocket or small handbag. The LCD and ultrawide-angle lens give it some weight, though, and the all-metal casing makes it feel sturdy. The only real issue with the overall design, however, is the position of the flash high on the left side, which can be blocked by a finger if you're not careful. (To be fair, there's not much room for it to be elsewhere.)
The SD3500 IS is controlled much more by touch than the SD980 IS. That camera still had a number of physical controls, while the SD3500 drops to just power, play, and shutter release buttons and a shooting mode switch on the top of the body. There's a zoom ring around the shutter release, but otherwise the controls are touch-based. The screen is twice the resolution and a 0.5-inch bigger than that model's, too.
The screen is fairly responsive and can be calibrated to your touch, but the interface itself can be a little trying at times to navigate. For example, when navigating the option lists in the main menu system, instead of using simple up and down arrows, you drag the lists with your finger. This would be fine if it operated smoothly, but it doesn't, and if you use the right side of the screen you may accidently change settings to boot. In its favor, though, the shooting options specific to the mode you're in can quickly be changed with a couple of taps and Canon includes a couple options to rearrange the layout.
The best use for a touch screen is for focusing on specific subjects by tapping on them, which this Canon does. It will also track the subject, making the feature even more valuable. However, unlike many newer touch-screen cameras, you cannot tap to focus and shoot. Canon even dropped the onscreen shutter release that appeared whenever the SD980 was turned vertically.
In Playback mode, the touch screen can be used for flipping through or scrolling between images, selecting photos to delete or mark as favorites, starting a slideshow, and magnifying a section of a photo by tapping on the part you want to see more closely. Canon also includes its Active Display technology letting you move back and forth between photos and checking focus on still images by tilting the camera left or right. You can also tap the left and right sides to move one frame at a time through your shots. Photos can be tagged as favorites or quickly categorized by subject for easy filtering when looking through a lot of images.
Should you want to connect to a computer, monitor, or HDTV, there are Mini-USB and Mini-HDMI ports on the body's right side. The battery and memory card compartment is on the bottom under a nonlocking door. This Canon supports the new SDXC card format as well as Eye-Fi SD cards for wireless transfers of photos directly from the camera. The battery does not charge in camera, and that touch screen doesn't do its shot life any favors, so you'll probably find yourself opening the compartment quite a bit.
|General shooting options||Canon Powershot SD3500 IS|
|ISO sensitivity (full resolution)||Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,600|
|White balance||Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Custom|
|Recording modes||Auto, Program/Scene, Movie|
|Focus modes||Face AF, Center AF, Touch AF, Macro, Normal, Infinity|
|Metering modes||Evaluative, Center-weighted average, Spot|
|Color effects||Vivid, Neutral, Sepia, Black & White, Lighter Skin, Darker Skin, Vivid Blue, Vivid Green, Vivid Red, Custom|
|Burst mode shot limit (full resolution)||Unlimited continuous|
Other than Canon's very reliable Smart Auto mode, there's nothing terribly interesting about the SD3500's shooting options. The shooting mode switch on top of the camera has three options: one for Auto, one for Movie mode (capturing up to 720p HD resolution), and a camera mode (that's what I'm calling it since it's designated by a picture of a camera). The camera mode gives you access to a Program Auto mode as well as all the scene modes including Portrait, Night Snapshot, Kids&Pets, Low Light, Indoor, Beach, Foliage, Snow, Fireworks, and Long Shutter. Canon added a Smart Shutter option, too, which includes a smile-activated shutter release as well as Wink and Face Detection self-timers. Wink allows you to set off the shutter simply by winking at the camera and the Face Detection option will wait till the camera detects a new face in front of the camera before it fires off a shot. Both work well.
In addition to the company's standard creative shooting options--Color Accent and Color Swap--it's introduced a few new modes for 2010. One is a Miniature Effect, which blurs the top and bottom of the frame and boosts contrast and color saturation to make subjects look like painted miniature models. It works to some degree, but is not as convincing as true tilt-shift photography, which is what the effect is based on. Another mode, Fish-eye Effect, is even less effective because like the Miniature Effect, it's just an approximation done with software of what a fish-eye lens creates. That said, they're included and can be fun to play with if only to add some interest to what would be an otherwise boring shot. The camera also has a Creative Light Effect mode that changes the shape of twinkling lights in your photos to hearts, stars, butterflies, music notes, or crosses. It's silly and I'm still trying to forget that it's included and somehow a panorama assist mode was not.
Shooting performance is generally slow, meaning it's not a good option for fast moving subjects; this is the case for most compact cameras, however. Shutter lag--the time it takes to capture an image once the shutter release is pressed--is 0.6 second in good lighting and 1 second in low light. Shot-to-shot times are somewhat long, too, at 2.5 and 4.2 seconds, without and with flash, respectively. What's worse is that the camera actually feels slow. It's not all bad news, though. From off to first shot is a brisk 1.5 seconds (particularly good for a touch-screen camera) and its continuous shooting rate is a decent 0.8 frames per second.
Most compacts are at their best below ISO 200, and the SD3500 IS is no different. Photos taken with plenty of light will give you excellent color and sharp, fine details (though they look more digital than I'm used to seeing from Canon). PowerShots typically do well at balancing noise reduction and noise and that's the case here, too. Despite details getting softer, they're not smeared beyond recognition and photos remain useful for at least small prints straight up to ISO 1,600. Canon has renamed its High ISO mode to Low Light to help alleviate confusion. On the SD3500 IS the mode captures 3.5-megapixel photos at ISOs from 400 to 6,400. Results are predictably grainy and there's visible yellow blotching in darker areas, but at least you'll capture something--and sometimes that's all that's needed.
There is barrel distortion at this camera's widest lens position, but it's not bad. There was no discernible pincushion distortion when fully zoomed out. Center sharpness is very good, but it drops off dramatically to the left and right, especially in the corners, making subjects soft and blurry. Make sure whatever you need sharp and in focus is framed in the center. Unsurprisingly these outer areas are where you'll find a lot of blooming and fringing of high-contrast subjects, too. While it's not very noticeable at smaller sizes, anyone wanting to make large prints, say 13x19 inches in size, will definitely see it.
Color performance is excellent from the SD3500 IS, as is exposure, though typical of this camera category, highlights tend to blow out. White balance is very good, too, though the Auto goes a bit warm indoors.
Video quality is on par with an HD pocket video camera. There's no use of the optical zoom while recording, and the mic placement on top is prone to getting covered with a finger.
My opinion of the Canon PowerShot SD3500 IS is one of indifference. The design is nice and if you're all about touch-screen controls, it's certainly got those. Photo quality is very good for its class, but it seems like Canon is starting to slip a bit in this area--at least on this model. Combine that with its slow performance and the lack of any really innovative features, and you end up with just a better-than-average touch-screen ultracompact camera. There's nothing so horrible about it to keep me from recommending the SD3500, though, so if the feature set's what you're looking for, by all means, pick one up.
(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)|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
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