Canon PowerShot SD980 IS review: Canon PowerShot SD980 IS

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The Good Small; good lens specs; appropriate mix of touch and button controls; HDMI output; excellent photo color, exposure.

The Bad Wide-screen LCD size misleading; touch-screen interface not for everyone; no optical zoom while recording movies.

The Bottom Line The Canon PowerShot SD980 IS is a very good touch-screen camera for those on the fence about using a touch-screen camera.

7.6 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7
  • Image quality 7

The Canon PowerShot SD980 IS is a bit of a reworking of the SD960 IS. That model's design and features were sort of a letdown. The SD980 turns things around, though, by using a wider lens with longer zoom range, a bigger and now touch-screen LCD, and some improved physical controls. Photo and video quality and performance remain very good for its class, but there's room for improvement, too. The SD980 is worth the extra money above the SD960, especially if you're interested in the touch-based controls.

Key specs Canon PowerShot SD980 IS
Price (MSRP) $329.99
Dimensions (WHD) 3.9 x 2.1 x 0.9 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 5.3 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 12 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch CCD
LCD size, resolution 3-inch touch-screen LCD, 230K dots
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 5x, f2.8-5.9, 24-120mm (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 Optical and electronic
Battery type, rated life Lithium ion rechargeable, 240 shots
Storage media SD/SDHC, MultiMediaCard, MMCplus, HC MMCplus

Typical of the Digital Elph series, the SD980 is reasonably small, good-looking, and available in different colors--silver, gold, blue, and purple. Canon used a 3-inch wide-screen touch-screen display, which makes sense for the HD video capture, but less so for taking photos. If you shoot at the SD980's top resolution of 12 megapixels, you're left with roughly 2.5 inches diagonally of screen for your viewfinder. The only way to take advantage of the full screen for framing shots is to drop the resolution to 4,000x2,248.

For a first effort, the SD980's touch-panel controls are reasonably well executed and the screen is fairly responsive and can be calibrated to your touch. Much like Panasonic's Lumix FX500, Canon only uses the touch screen for a handful of shooting features, while a majority of its functions and menu navigation are still handled by physical buttons. And actually, if you don't want to use the touch interface, you don't have to at all. The best use for a touch screen is for focusing on specific subjects by tapping on them, which this Canon does. It also lets you quickly change scene modes, adjust exposure, and choose your flash mode. Those used to shooting with a camera phone might appreciate the onscreen shutter release that you can set to appear whenever the camera is turned vertically.

In Playback mode, the touch screen can be used for flipping through or scrolling between images, selecting photos to delete or mark as favorites, starting a slideshow, and magnifying a section of a photo by tapping on the part you want to see more closely. Canon also includes its Active Display technology letting you move back and forth between photos, playing and pausing videos, and checking focus on still images by tilting the camera. Don't want to use either of those methods for playing photos? You can always use the buttons and navigation dial.

All of the SD980's physical controls closely resemble those on the SD960, except for the directional pad/scroll wheel, which is similar to the one on the SD880. The combination works well together so that even if you decided to use the buttons instead of the touch screen, shooting, playback, and menu and setting navigation are all easy.

General shooting options Canon PowerShot SD980 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 modes Face AF, Center AF, Touch AF, Macro, Normal, Infinity
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 SD980 is limited to three shooting modes and none of them allows you to tweak shutter speed or aperture; it's very much a point-and-shoot. A small switch on top moves you between Canon's put-it-there-leave-it-there shooting mode called Smart Auto; a Program/Scene mode option; and a Movie mode. The Smart Auto picks from 22 different scenes, so the bases are well covered. In Program you can control things such as ISO, white balance, light metering, and exposure compensation or you can switch to a handful of scene options like Portrait and Indoors and Specialty Scene selections including Aquarium, Long Shutter, and ISO 3,200. The Movie Mode lets you capture clips up to 10 minutes in length at an HD quality of 720p and the results are very good. (For quickly connecting to an HDTV, there's a miniHDMI output behind a small door on the right side of the body.) But sadly, the 5x optical zoom doesn't function while recording. The optical image stabilization does, however.

If you're the type to get impatient waiting between shots, the SD980 might disappoint you with its 3.1-second shot-to-shot time; turning on the flash drags that out to 4.5 seconds. Also, there's no burst mode on this model, just continuous unlimited shooting capable of 0.6 frame per second. Start-up time is decent, however, at 1.6 seconds and shutter lag is OK, too: 0.5 second in well-lit conditions and 0.8 in more challenging dim light.