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Canon PowerShot SD980 IS review: Canon PowerShot SD980 IS


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.


Canon PowerShot SD980 IS

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.

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.

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.

As with most compacts, photos are best from the SD980 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, but plays things safe by going with higher ISOs. At the two highest full-resolution sensitivities--ISO 800 and ISO 1,600--noise/artifacting and softening from noise suppression are both visible, but the balance is good so all detail isn't lost. However, there is some color shifting and yellowing, which makes shots at ISO 1,600 of questionable use.

Color, white balance, and exposure are generally very good at ISO 400 and below, though highlights have a tendency to blow out--typical of compact cameras. Despite the wide-angle lens there is little barrel distortion at the lens' widest position and no discernable pincushion distortion when the lens is fully extended. Photos exhibit an average amount of purple/blue fringing in high-contrast areas. Depending on the shot there is a chance it will be noticeable at print sizes of 8x10 inches and above.

The PowerShot SD980 IS is Canon's first attempt at a touch-screen interface for a Digital Elph and it feels like it. That's not necessarily a bad thing because the result is a camera with useful touch-based functions that doesn't completely abandon comfortable, familiar physical buttons. The SD980 lets you get a touch-screen camera and decide for yourself whether you want to use it without the fear of having to use it.

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 SD960 IS
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T900
Samsung TL320
Canon PowerShot SD980 IS
Nikon Coolpix S70

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

Find out more about how we test digital cameras.


Canon PowerShot SD980 IS

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 7Image quality 7