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Canon PowerShot ELPH SD970 IS - digital camera review: Canon PowerShot ELPH SD970 IS - digital camera

Canon PowerShot ELPH SD970 IS - digital camera

Joshua Goldman Managing Editor / Advice
Managing Editor Josh Goldman is a laptop expert and has been writing about and reviewing them since built-in Wi-Fi was an optional feature. He also covers almost anything connected to a PC, including keyboards, mice, USB-C docks and PC gaming accessories. In addition, he writes about cameras, including action cams and drones. And while he doesn't consider himself a gamer, he spends entirely too much time playing them.
Expertise Laptops, desktops and computer and PC gaming accessories including keyboards, mice and controllers, cameras, action cameras and drones Credentials
  • More than two decades experience writing about PCs and accessories, and 15 years writing about cameras of all kinds.
Joshua Goldman
5 min read

A 5x zoom lens and a 12-megapixel resolution isn't much to get excited about these days. Jam them into a somewhat unattractive compact body and they become even less of a reason to drop nearly $400 on a point-and-shoot camera. That's what's wrong with the Canon PowerShot SD970 IS. It does take a very good photo, but so do many of Canon's Digital Elphs. It's a nice enough camera, but not a standout in the company's crowded ultracompact lineup.


Canon PowerShot ELPH SD970 IS - digital camera

The Good

Very good photo, video quality; great high-res LCD.

The Bad

No optical zoom in Movie mode; slow, narrow lens; no shutter speed, aperture controls.

The Bottom Line

It might take a good picture, but the Canon PowerShot SD970 IS' feature-to-price ratio is disappointing.

The silver-and-gold SD970 is a little boring compared with other models in Canon's point-and-shoot lineups. The body and control design of the SD970 may be new, but it's similar to another Digital Elph model, the SD880 IS. You get two buttons for playback and printing (though the latter is programmable) at the top, in the middle is a scroll wheel surrounding a four-way directional pad centered with a Func/Set button, and below that are Menu and Display buttons. It works well, but the SD880 IS' controls look and work better. However, that camera's LCD has half the resolution of the SD970's noticeably superior display.

In general, the camera is simple to operate, though its outward appearance may have you thinking otherwise because of all the labels and buttons. The biggest hurdle is Canon's revamped context-sensitive shooting menu reached by hitting the Func/Set button. It looks good, but takes some getting used to, especially if you're upgrading from an older Canon PowerShot.

One of the biggest issues with this model is its lens. Yes, you get a little extra zoom for a pocket camera, but it's slow with a maximum aperture of f/3.2 and fairly narrow at 37mm. These specs would be more forgivable if the price on the SD970 wasn't so high; but it is, so they're not.

The SD970 is limited to three shooting modes and none of them allows you to tweak shutter speed or aperture. A small switch on top moves you between Canon's automatic scene recognition called Smart Auto, a Program/Scene mode option, and Movie mode. The Smart Auto was very reliable and since its picking from 18 different scenes, 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 the new Creative Light Effect and Zoom Blur. The Light Effect thing is just weird, turning any small twinkles of light into user-selectable shapes including stars, hearts, and musical notes. This should really be an editing option in playback, not a full-on shooting mode. The Zoom Blur setting is a little more interesting, adding a blur that makes subjects look like a bursting firework.

The Movie mode is capable of recording at an HD resolution of 720p. (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 5x optical zoom doesn't function while recording.

The SD970's performance is mixed and unfortunately it feels more sluggish than our lab tests let on. From off to first shot is a reasonably quick 1.6 seconds. Its shutter lag was decent, too, at 0.4 second in good lighting and 0.6 second in more challenging lighting conditions. Regrettably its shot-to-shot times are a little flat taking 2.1 seconds without flash and 3.5 seconds with. In addition, its continuous shooting mode comes in well under some of its competition at 1 frame per second.

Photo quality is very good, mostly because of its excellent color reproduction and very good white balance and exposure. Some smudginess from noise reduction starts appearing at ISO 200, but all photos were generally soft. On the other hand, there's very little to no color noise. So, despite subjects getting noticeably softer and smoother as the ISO increases, detail remains reasonably good up to and including ISO 800. While large prints may be out of the question, the noise is suppressed well enough to make small prints and Web use a possibility.

The camera's 720p HD video quality is also very good. Again, though, you get no use of the optical zoom while recording.

If it seems like this review sort of contradicts the overall rating, there's a reason for that. Technically, there is nothing horribly wrong with the Canon PowerShot SD970 IS. It is a very good camera. It's just that for the money, there are better options out there, including models from Canon, Sony, Panasonic, and Nikon.

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)  
Canon PowerShot SD970 IS
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W290
Canon PowerShot SD880 IS
Nikon Coolpix S630
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5

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

Find out more about how we test digital cameras.


Canon PowerShot ELPH SD970 IS - digital camera

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 7Image quality 7