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Canon Powershot SD4000 IS review: Canon Powershot SD4000 IS

A big selling point for the SD4000 IS over the higher-end S90 is the former's Movie mode capturing video at up to 720p HD resolution. The camera also has a Super Slow Motion Movie function that captures 30-second clips at 240 frames per second at a resolution of 320x240 pixels. When played back, those 30 seconds stretches out to 4 minutes giving you a chance to see fast-moving subjects in slow motion. As with all cameras that feature this function, the video is small and low quality so it's best suited for personal use.

Despite all of those options, the SD4000 IS still comes up short of what manufacturers such as Sony offer in BSI CMOS cameras. There are no high-dynamic range or exposure bracketing options for example. Canon's Stitch Assist is weak compared with Sony's Intelligent Sweep Panorama (though to be fair the results with the Canon will be better likely). Also, though the camera does have High-speed Burst and Low Light shooting modes, the images are drastically reduced in resolution to about 3 megapixels. Basically, it seems like Canon's sensor and Digic 4 processor are less capable than what's available from other camera makers.

Canon's PowerShots usually lag behind other manufacturers' competing models; that wasn't the case with the SD4000 IS. Its time from off to first shot is 1.9 seconds, which isn't superfast, but the only time that really slowed down shooting was between shots. If you're using the flash you'll be waiting an average of 3.6 seconds from shot to shot. Without the flash it drops to around 2.4 seconds. I place more of an importance on shutter lag, though, and that is fairly low for this camera at 0.4 and 0.7 second in bright and dim lighting conditions, respectively. It's also strong at burst shooting with the ability to continuously capture photos at 3.6 frames per second. There are faster burst modes on other BSI CMOS cameras, but they typically keep you waiting while they store the shots to your memory card, potentially causing you to miss photo opportunities. The Canon saves while you shoot, so you're only waiting 2 to 3 seconds after you release the shutter button.

The SD4000 IS produced some of the best photos we've seen from a camera using a BSI CMOS sensor. Sensitivities for these cameras generally start at ISO 125, so even if you're shooting with plenty of light, you'll still end up with softer fine details. However, Canon does an excellent job at balancing noise and noise reduction, leaving enough detail intact that photos are usable up to ISO 1,600. At ISO 3,200, though, subjects get overly smeary and painterly. They might be good enough for Web use without any cropping or enlarging, but the noise causes noticeable yellow blotches. The results overall aren't earth-shattering, but they are excellent for an ultracompact camera.

There is minor barrel distortion at the camera lens' wide angle. There appears to still be some when the lens is fully extended, too, but not enough to be concerned about. Sharpness is very good edge to edge. The amount of fringing on high-contrast subjects is above average. It's certainly not uncommon to see, but for a top-of-the-line camera, I expect less.

Color accuracy is excellent, producing bright and vivid results. If you like to experiment there are options for setting color saturation, sharpness, and contrast. Exposure is generally very good, but highlights tend to blow out. BSI CMOS sensors seem to clip highlights worse than CCD sensors found in most compact cameras. Manufacturers such as Sony have been solving this to some degree with high-dynamic range modes that will take two shots at different exposures and combine them for a more-balanced shot. Unfortunately Canon doesn't offer a mode like that on this model, and its i-Contrast feature is more for rescuing shadow detail than highlights. Lastly, auto white balance is generally very good, though it is slightly warm indoors, whereas the custom setting used in our lab tests was cool.

Video quality is on par with an HD pocket video camera. It's not stellar, but certainly good enough for Web use or watching on an HDTV. You do get use of the optical zoom while recording, and the lens movement doesn't get picked up much by the stereo mic.

Shooting speed and low-light photo quality tend to be stumbling blocks for compact cameras. Canon's use of a backside-illuminated CMOS sensor and a lens with a large f2.0 aperture in the PowerShot SD4000 IS helps get over both to some extent. It lacks many of the advanced shooting options found on other BSI CMOS cameras, but there's still plenty here to play with including semimanual modes. It does, however, produce some of the best photos I've seen from a camera using this type of sensor.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(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-TX7
Canon PowerShot SD4000 IS
Samsung DualView TL225
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FP3
Nikon Coolpix S70

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

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