Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS review: Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS

Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS

Joshua Goldman

Joshua Goldman

Managing Editor / Advice

Josh Goldman helps people find the best laptop at the best price -- from simple Chromebooks to high-end gaming laptops. He's been writing about and reviewing consumer technology and software for more than two decades.

See full bio
4 min read

With camera manufacturers throwing an increasing number of features at consumers, it's very easy to skip over simple models such as the Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS. Its specs are basic, its shooting options minimal, and its photo quality and performance, while very good for its class, are still fairly representative of an ultracompact point-and-shoot camera. However, if all you're after is a good-looking, go-everywhere, pocket camera, the SD1200 is pretty great--even if it's pricier than the competition.


Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS

The Good

Attractive, ultracompact design; easy operation; well-rounded, basic feature set.

The Bad

Photo quality dips above ISO 200; flat buttons can be difficult to press accurately.

The Bottom Line

Simple and stylish, the Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS is a fine back-pocket camera as long as your photo-quality expectations are reasonable.

Key specs Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS
Price (MSRP) $229.99
Dimensions 3.5 inches wide by 2.2 inches high by 0.9 inch deep
Weight (with battery and media) 4.9 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 10 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch CCD
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 2.5-inch LCD, 230K dots/optical zoom viewfinder
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 3x, f2.8-4.9, 35-105mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/Motion JPEG (.AVI)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 3648x2736 pixels/640x480 at 30fps
Image stabilization type Mechanical and digital
Battery type, rated life Lithium ion rechargeable, 260 shots

Available in six colors (silver, dark gray, orange, green, pink, and blue), the SD1200 is adorably small, but still comfortable to use. Controls are standard Canon. A switch on the back moves you between the three shooting modes: Smart Auto, Program/Scene, and Movie. To its left is a Play button above a four-way directional pad centered by a Func Set button. Below that is a Disp button for changing the information shown on the LCD or shutting it off (there's a viewfinder if you want to save on battery life while shooting) and a Menu button. A shutter release with a zoom ring and power button are on top. The only issue with the arrangement is that the buttons are all flat, so if you've got big clumsy thumbs there's a chance you'll have trouble accurately pressing them.

Navigating the menu system is straightforward. The Func Set button opens a simple context-sensitive shooting option panel, while the Menu button sends you to more general shooting controls and operational settings. The only thing that's a bit funky is accessing half of the Scene mode options. At first you'll only see the most common scene selections, but when you get to the far right of the list, you'll have to hit the Disp button to open a secondary list of scenes. If you're not paying attention you might miss the fact that you have all the other options available to you.

General shooting options Canon PowerShot SD1200 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
Metering Multi, Center-weighted, Spot
Color effects Vivid, Neutral, Sepia, Black & White, Custom
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) Unlimited continuous

The SD1200 has only a modicum of shooting options, which is fine. Anything more and this camera would start to get unnecessarily complicated. If you don't want to think about settings at all, flip the switch into Auto and leave it there. This is Canon's Smart Auto mode, which produces reliable results by choosing one of 18 scene modes depending on what you're shooting. Want a little more control? The Program mode lets you set ISO, white balance, focus, light metering, and color effects. There is also a list of scene modes with standards like Portrait and Landscape and specialty ones, such as Fireworks and Long Shutter. Lastly, there's a Movie mode that records 640x480-resolution video at 30 frames per second. However, the optical zoom does not function while recording.

The Canon SD1200 is a reasonably fast camera. The time from power-off to first shot is a brisk 1.4 seconds. Shutter lag in good lighting is at the high end of acceptable, at 0.5 second, but it fared better in dim conditions, at 0.7 second. The SD1200's shot-to-shot times were decent, at 2.1 seconds without a flash and 3.2 seconds with one. The camera has no burst mode, but it has unlimited, continuous shooting capable of 1.4fps.

Photo quality is very good for its class. Better than most, actually, the photo quality is probably why this camera costs a bit more than the competition. Colors are generally excellent, as is exposure, though there was occasional highlight clipping. As with most compacts, the SD1200 turned in its best results at ISO sensitivities below ISO 200. At ISO 400, fine detail starts degrading, as shots turn less sharp, more smooth, and fuzzy. Though there is lens distortion primarily on the left side, purple fringing was at a minimum. 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.

Most of the 2009 camera lineups start with a 10-megapixel compact with a 2.5-inch LCD and 3x optical zoom. The PowerShot SD1200 IS is that camera for Canon. It doesn't offer much more than the competition in terms of features, with the exception of a viewfinder, but it probably has the best photo quality of the bunch (though not by much). Then again, the competition is also selling its models for less. You'll have to decide which is more important.

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 SD1200 IS
Canon PowerShot A1000 IS
Kodak EasyShare M1093 IS
Nikon Coolpix S230
Pentax Optio P70

Typical continuous-shooting speed (fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS

Find out more about how we test digital cameras.


Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 7Image quality 7
Get the best price on everything
Shop your favorite products and we’ll find the best deal with a single click. Designed to make shopping easier.
Add CNET Shopping