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Canon Powershot SD3500 review: Canon Powershot SD3500

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.

Shooting speed
(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)
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX1
Samsung DualView TL225
Nikon Coolpix S70
Canon PowerShot SD3500 IS
Canon PowerShot SD980 IS

Typical continuous-shooting speed
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

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