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Canon PowerShot SD4500 IS review: Canon PowerShot SD4500 IS

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The Good Lots of automatic shooting options; very good burst shooting; nicely designed.

The Bad Short battery life; average shooting performance; narrow lens.

The Bottom Line The Canon PowerShot SD4500 IS delivers a long lens in an ultracompact body, as well as nice low-light photos and full HD movies--it just doesn't do it for very long without a recharge.

7.4 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 6
  • Image quality 7

The PowerShot SD4500 IS is Canon's second go-round with its high-sensitivity 10-megapixel backside-illuminated (BSI) CMOS sensor and its Digic 4 image processor. Together they make up Canon's HS System, which primarily improves low-light photo quality, but the sensor also allows for some speedy shooting--at least, speedy burst shooting, with capabilities that make it better for continuous shooting than its competition. However, the rest of its shooting performance is average bordering on slow, and while its photo quality is overall very good, it's not without issues. What's most frustrating about using the camera, though, is its battery life. If frequent recharging doesn't bother you or you're willing to buy an extra battery, the SD4500 IS has plenty of positive attributes to make it a compact megazoom worth considering.

Key specs Canon PowerShot SD4500 IS
Price (MSRP) $349.99
Dimensions (WHD) 4 x 2.3 x 0.9 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 6.7 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 10 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch BSI CMOS
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 3-inch LCD, 230K dots/None
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 10x, f3.4-5.6, 36-360mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/H.264 (MOV)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 3,648x2,736 pixels/ 1,920x1,080 at 24fps
Image stabilization type Optical and digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life Lithium ion rechargeable, 150 shots
Battery charged in camera No; external charger supplied
Storage media SD/SDHC/SDXC, MultiMediaCard, MMCplus, HC MMCplus, Eye-Fi SD/SDHC cards
Bundled software ZoomBrowser EX 6.5/PhotoStitch 3.1 (Windows); ImageBrowser 6.5/PhotoStitch 3.2 (Mac)

The SD4500 IS is very similar in design to Canon's other higher-end Digital Elphs. It's remarkably compact for having a 10x zoom lens, highly pocketable, and comfortable to hold and use. It's available in a two-tone brown and gold version only, so if you don't like that you're out of luck. I wouldn't say the camera is particularly stylish, but it is attractive. After seeing so many wide-angle compact megazooms in 2010, the 36-millimeter-equivalent lens on this camera is disappointingly narrow. It does make the telephoto end a little more impressive, though. There's a large 3-inch wide-screen LCD on the back that's good overall, but a lower resolution than expected for a high-end pocket camera. It does get adequately bright, though, for use in full sun.

Controls are pretty straightforward. On top is a three-way shooting mode switch, a power button that's flush with the body so it can be difficult to find without looking, and the shutter release with a zoom ring around it. On back to the right of the LCD and a small thumb rest is a one-press record button for movies. Below that is an unmarked Control Dial directional pad. Touch the dial and a button description displays on screen so you know which direction to press to change flash, exposure, self timer, and focus settings. The slightest touch makes it appear, so it pops up regularly while shooting, obscuring what you're trying to shoot. The dial does make for fast navigation, and though it moves freely there are tactile stops when rotating it. In the center of the dial is Canon's standard Func. Set button for accessing shooting-mode-specific options and making selections. Below the Dial are Menu and Play buttons, but that's it for physical controls. All in all, it's an easy system to master, though you'll still want to sit down with the full user manual on the included software disc to discover all that the camera can do.

Should you want to connect to a computer, monitor, or HDTV, there are Mini-USB and Mini-HDMI ports under a cover on the body's right side. There are separate battery and memory card compartments on the bottom under nonlocking sliding doors; however, the doors close firmly. The battery does not charge while in the camera and its life is fairly short, especially if you're doing a lot of switching between shooting stills and video, burst shooting, or using the zoom lens.

General shooting options Canon PowerShot SD4500 IS
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 125, 200, 400, 800, 1,600, 3,200
White balance Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Flash, Custom
Recording modes Auto, Program and Scene, Movie
Focus modes Face AF, Center AF, Macro, Normal, Infinity
Macro 0.4 inch to 1.6 feet (Wide)
Metering modes Multi, Center-weighted average, Spot
Color effects Vivid, Vivid Blue, Vivid Green, Vivid Red, Neutral, Sepia, Black & White, Positive Film, Lighter Skin Tone, Darker Skin Tone, Custom
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) Unlimited continuous

The SD4500 IS offers plenty of snapshot shooting options; there is no complete control over shutter speed or aperture, but a Program mode gives you access to metering, focus, white balance, ISO, and other settings. Canon's Smart Auto mode gets its own spot on the mode switch and is very reliable as auto modes go. Then there's a mode (designated by a picture of a camera) that gives you access to the aforementioned Program mode as well as all the scene modes, including Portrait, Kids & Pets, Handheld Night Scene, Best Image Selection, High-Speed Burst, Low Light, Beach, Foliage, Snow, Fireworks, and Stitch Assist for creating panorama shots with the bundled software. Here you'll also find Canon's Smart Shutter option, 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 has introduced a few new modes for 2010. One is 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. There is also a Super Vivid mode that intensifies colors and a Poster Effect that posterizes photos. These modes aren't necessarily must-haves, but they can be fun to play with, if only to add some interest to what would be an otherwise boring shot.

There are two shooting modes debuting in the SD4500 IS that take advantage of the high-speed system: Handheld Night Scene and Best Image Selection. Handheld Night Scene rapidly takes several shots and then processes them together into a single photo with reduced noise and blur from hand shake. In my tests, the mode does appear to reduce noise, but did not seem to help with blur, and still uses high ISOs. Since you're only going to be using this mode for stationary subjects, my suggestion is to take a couple in Auto and take a couple in this mode and see which you prefer. Which will be most successful really depends on the individual scene and conditions. Best Image Selection takes five continuous shots at 2.5 megapixels each, analyzes them, and stores the one it detects is best. It works, but you still may not get the shot you want. (Incidentally, Nikon has long had a similar feature on its Coolpix cameras called Best Shot Selector, and similar handheld low-light modes can be found on most point-and-shoots with BSI CMOS sensors.)

The SD4500's Movie mode can capture clips at resolutions of up to 1080p Full HD at 24 frames per second. Drop down to 720p or VGA and it records at 30fps. If you want to get creative with your movies, Canon gives you its Color Swap, Color Accent, and Miniature Effect modes to use, as well as the capability of shooting in a Super Slow Motion mode at 240fps. The slow-motion clips are only at a resolution of 320x240 pixels, so really only suitable for viewing on a small screen, but fun nonetheless.

The SD4000 IS isn't fast for its class, but it is fast for a Digital Elph. Unfortunately, with the exception of burst shooting, the SD4500 IS's performance is pokey. From off to first shot takes about 3 seconds. The shot-to-shot times averaged 2.3 seconds without the flash and nearly 4 seconds with it. Shutter lag--the time from when the shutter release is pressed to when the image is captured--is a minimum of 0.6 second in bright lighting. This only slows to 0.8 second in low light, but occasionally it felt longer. Again, the SD4500 excels at burst shooting, being capable of continuously capturing photos at up to 3.6 frames per second with the focus and exposure set with the first shot. 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 before you can shoot again. Also, there is the option to have it autofocus with each photo, but that will slow you down to just less than 1fps. Continuous shooting for the most part is only available in Program mode. If you want a fully automatic mode, you'll have to switch to the camera's High-speed Burst mode, which captures 2.5-megapixel photos at up to 8.8fps.

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