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Canon PowerShot SD850 IS review: Canon PowerShot SD850 IS

For the most part, the PowerShot SD850 IS turned in a performance that is equal to, or faster than, that of the SD700 IS, despite the increase in megapixels. The SD850 IS took 1.2 seconds to start up and capture its first JPEG. Subsequent JPEGs took 1.7 seconds between shots without flash but slowed significantly to 3 seconds between shots with the flash turned on. This is one area where the SD700 IS outperformed; it took 1.9 seconds between shots with its flash enabled. The SD850 IS's shutter lag measured 0.5 second in our high-contrast test and 0.7 second in our low-contrast test, which mimic bright and dim shooting conditions, respectively. The other area where the SD850 IS lags behind its predecessor is continuous shooting. The SD850 IS yielded about 1.4 frames per second (fps) regardless of image size, while the SD750 IS was able to churn out a more impressive 2.1fps.

Images from the SD850 IS are very impressive. Colors look accurate, there's plenty of sharpness, especially for a compact camera, and at its lowest ISO settings, we saw no appreciable noise. In fact, noise doesn't even begin to encroach until you reach ISO 200. Even then, it's just a very light covering of off-color splotches that's barely visible on computer monitors and won't show up at all in prints. Noise remains similar at ISO 400, with a just-perceptible increase that still won't mar your prints much, if at all. At ISO 800, noise becomes more pronounced, robbing some finer image detail, and adding filmlike grain to prints. Surprisingly, while darker colors become washed out at this point, there's still a fair amount of shadow detail. At its highest sensitivity setting of ISO 1,600, most finer detail is obliterated by noise, and lots of shadow detail is lost. Rather than a fine grain, the noise becomes larger and causes a nasty blotchy look overall. We recommend staying below ISO 1,600 if you plan on making prints and below ISO 800 if you plan to make prints larger than 8x10 inches.

There's very little to complain about on the SD850 IS. Fans of ultracompacts, such as Sony's T-series, might complain that this Canon isn't small enough, but given its excellent image quality and speedy performance, I'm not complaining. Also, unlike those Sony cameras, this one includes an optical viewfinder, for situations, such as concerts, in which an LCD might annoy those around you. Bargain hunters will likely balk at this camera's price, but again, its features and performance make it worth the premium over a bargain-basement camera.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Casio Exilim EX-Z1000


Typical continuous-shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

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