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Canon PowerShot SD960 IS review: Canon PowerShot SD960 IS


The Canon PowerShot SD960 IS is a follow-up of sorts to the very popular SD880 IS featuring the same 28mm wide-angle lens with a 4x zoom, but this model jumps to 12 megapixels from 10. It can capture 720p HD video clips and has Canon's Digic 4 image processor. It also features an HDMI output so you can quickly hook it up to an HDTV for playing back photos and videos. That, unfortunately, is one of the few good things about the design, with the main issue being its wide-screen LCD.


Canon PowerShot SD960 IS

The Good

Small; good lens specs; excellent photo color, exposure.

The Bad

Wide-screen LCD; odd controls or lack thereof; purple fringing in photos.

The Bottom Line

While its design is less than thrilling, the Canon PowerShot SD960 IS still has great photo quality to fall back on.

On the upside--and probably most importantly--it takes very good photos with great color and exposure. The HD video is good, too. If you want a reasonably simple, stripped-down point-and-shoot, the SD960 IS is a solid option, but if you want more control and a smaller price tag, go for the SD880 instead.

Key specs Canon PowerShot SD960 IS
Price (MSRP) $329.99
Dimensions 3.9 inches wide by 2.1 inches high by 0.9 inches deep
Weight (with battery and media) 5.8 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 12 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch CCD
LCD size, resolution 2.8-inch LCD, 230K dots
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 4x, f2.8-5.8, 28-112mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/MOV (H.264)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 4,000x3,000 pixels (4:3)/ #x# at 30fps (16:9)
Image stabilization type Mechanical and electronic
Battery type, rated life Li-ion rechargeable, 200 shots

Typical of the Digital Elph series, the SD960 is small, reasonably good-looking, and available in different colors--silver, gold, blue, and pink. Canon used a 2.8-inch wide-screen LCD, which is just weird unless you plan on taking photos for viewing on a wide-screen computer monitor, TV, or digital photo frame. And if you are, you're overpaying for the 12-megapixel resolution of this camera since shooting in wide screen drops the resolution to 4,000x2,248. If you shoot at the SD960's top resolution of 12 megapixels, you're left with roughly 2.3 inches of screen for your viewfinder. Suddenly that 2.8-inch wide-screen LCD just got a lot less attractive.

If the back of this camera looks peculiar, it's because Canon axed two buttons--Print/Share and Display--and eliminated a lot of labeling. This is both good and bad. The Print/Share is usually user programmable so even if you don't use it for its intended purpose you can still make use of it. The Display button is gone, but the function was moved to the unlabeled rotating disc/directional pad. You have to rotate or press the disc and a graphic appears onscreen with labels for what pressing up, down, left, and right do. (Timer, display information, focus range, and flash, if you must know.) Making room for Display on the pad was done by booting fast access to exposure compensation off; it's only accessible in the Function menu. So yes, it may look like a more straightforward design, but you're sacrificing features for it. Again, this is good or bad depending on your needs and expectations.

General shooting options Canon PowerShot SD960 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 Face AF, Center AF
Metering Evaluative, Center-weighted, 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) Continuous unlimited

The SD960 is limited to three shooting modes, and none of them allows you to tweak shutter speed or aperture (remember, this is pretty much a simple point-and-shoot). A small switch on top moves you between Canon's automatic-settings-and-scene-recognition mode called Smart Auto, a Program/Scene mode option, and Movie mode. The Smart Auto picks from 18 scenes, so the bases are well covered. In Program you can control things such as ISO, white balance, light metering, and autofocus type, or you can switch to a handful of scene options like Portrait and Indoors and Specialty Scene selections including Aquarium, Under Water (for use with an optional enclosure), and ISO 3200, which resulted in photos that weren't usable for much more than posting to Facebook.

If you're the type to get impatient waiting between shots, the SD960 might disappoint you with its 2.6-second shot-to-shot time; turning on the flash drags that out to nearly 4 seconds. Also, there's no burst mode on this model, only continuous unlimited shooting capable of just less than 1 frame per second. Start-up time is decent, however, at 1.4 seconds, as is shutter lag: 0.4 second in well-lit conditions and 0.6 in more challenging dim light.

In most cases photo quality from the SD960 is very good thanks to remarkable color, exposure, and white balance. As with most compacts, photos are best at ISO sensitivities below ISO 200. At ISO 400, fine detail starts degrading as shots turn less sharp, more smooth, and fuzzy. For a majority of my testing, the camera remained in Canon's Smart Auto mode, which was really reliable at picking the correct scenes and settings.

Purple fringing is something we've learned to expect from point-and-shoot cameras, but it's generally relegated off the sides where lens distortion is more typically found. The SD960 has above-average amounts of fringing and it can be found throughout the frame. It's what dragged the photo quality for this camera down from excellent to very good. Well, that and the SD960 struggled occasionally with complex scenes resulting in shots that looked a bit overprocessed. Not a lot, but it happened.

The Movie mode is capable of recording at an HD resolution of 720p and the results are very good. (For quickly connecting to an HDTV, there's a mini HDMI output behind a small door on the right side of the body.) But sadly, the 4x optical zoom doesn't function while recording.

It's funny: had Canon decided to upgrade the SD880 IS just by raising the resolution to 12 megapixels and adding the HD movie capture, this review probably would've been stamped with an Editors' Choice award. Instead, the company shrank the screen, took away some features, made a seemingly unnecessary control change (at least to me; I'm sure Canon has its reasons), and then decided to bump the price up $30. As I said above, the Canon PowerShot SD960 IS is a solid option, but if you want more control and a smaller price tag, you should get the SD880 instead.

Shooting speed
(Seconds (smaller is better))
Time to first shot
Typical shot-to-shot time (flash)
Typical shot-to-shot time
Shutter lag (dim)
Shutter lag (typical)
Canon PowerShot SD960 IS
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W290
Canon PowerShot SD880 IS
Nikon Coolpix S630
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5

Typical continuous-shooting speed
(Frames per second (larger is better))

Find out more about how we test digital cameras.


Canon PowerShot SD960 IS

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 7Performance 7Image quality 7