Canon PowerShot SD700 IS
At a Glance
Canon PowerShot SD700 IS Compact Camera
Offers anti-shake, an orientation sensor, and widescreen mode. Has few manual controls, however, and the price is high.
Canon's Digital Elph models have always been very nicely made cameras, with finely machined metal bodies and high-quality controls. The latest Elph, the SD700 IS ($500 as of 6/15/06), takes that build quality to a new level. It's attractive without looking like a cheap bauble, with shiny accents in just the right places. Plus, it has image stabilization for sharper images.
At 6.8 ounces, it's chunkier and heavier than many other point-and-shoots, though it doesn't fit too badly in a shirt pocket. The buttons are easy to press, with the exception of the mode dial, which is a little small and recessed into the body, so you may need to use a fingernail to turn it.
Some clever tweaks to the playback mode deserve special mention: There's a brief transitional fade between images; and when viewing multiple images at the same time, the picture you've highlighted is slightly larger than the others (in much the same way that the Mac OS X dock highlights icons). Also, the camera automatically rotates images, using an "intelligent orientation sensor" to determine how you're holding the camera. These minor points make the camera seem more sophisticated.
It's difficult to test image stabilization, but Canon's system seems to work. I tried to beat it by shaking the camera while shooting in dim lighting--and more often than not, I got a sharp picture. However, as comparisons with other current Digital Elph models show, image stabilization is a costly feature; you can save about $100 by foregoing stabilization with the PowerShot SD630 (which has a larger LCD) or $150 by opting for the SD600, which has the same-size LCD and no stabilization.
All three Elphs use the same 6-megapixel sensor, the resolution of which is modest compared to that of many other point-and-shoots. In our image-quality tests, the Elph earned scores that were slightly above average on nearly all measures, from distortion to sharpness to color quality. I noted few problems with red-eye, even in images that I thought would produce it. It scored slightly below average for exposure in a flash shot. In our battery life tests, the SD700 IS scored a bit above the average for our test group, holding out for nearly 3 hours and 300 shots.
The camera has an admirably long zoom lens (4X magnification), and its image stabilization should be especially handy when you're at full zoom. In addition, you can use a new high-ISO mode to shoot fast action or in low light; a dedicated ISO button on the back selects this mode (it's actually ISO 800). Like previous Elphs, this one lacks manual shooting modes (aperture priority, shutter priority, or full manual).
The camera focuses swiftly and easily, even when I attempted to beat its image stabilization system. It starts up quickly and takes pictures as fast as you can press the shutter release. (However, if you hold the shutter down, the camera won't take another picture until you release the button; instead, it will show you your last picture.) The quickness makes the camera more usable overall because you don't have to worry about compensating for shutter lag, for example.
An excellent 2.5-inch LCD panel dominates the back of the camera. The image is sharp and bright, and it's fast enough that looking at it is like watching a small television. You can choose a movie mode that captures 60 frames per second (albeit at 320-by-240 resolution), and the LCD easily keeps up. Or you can opt for 640-by-480 resolution at 30 fps. The image does get slightly grainy at full zoom--but that has no effect on captured image quality, of course.
One annoyance: The camera has no quick-review button, so to review more than one image, you must switch to playback mode using the dial. And as with many Canon models, the battery gauge only tells you when you're about out of juice--that's of little help when you're far away from an electrical outlet. Thankfully, Canon still furnishes a great little travel charger that's the same size as the camera, with prongs that fold inward for easy portability.