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

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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.

7.0 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7
  • Image quality 7

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.

Key specs Canon PowerShot SD970 IS
Price (MSRP) $379.99
Dimensions 3.7 inches wide by 2.2 inches high by 1 inch deep
Weight (with battery and media) 6.6 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 12 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch CCD
LCD/Viewfinder 3-inch LCD, 461K dots; n/a
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 5x, f3.2-5.8, 37-185mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/MOV (H.264)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 4,000x3,000 pixels/1,280x720 at 30fps
Image stabilization type Mechanical and electronic
Battery type, rated life Lithium ion rechargeable, 270 shots

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.

General shooting options Canon PowerShot SD970 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 Smart Auto, Program/Scene, Movie
Focus Center AF, Face AF, Servo 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 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.

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