Canon PowerShot SD850 IS Compact Camera
At a Glance
Sleek and silver, Canon's $350 PowerShot SD850 IS exemplifies its Digital Elph line: Solidly built, beautifully designed, and sweet to use. One of three Digital Elphs we reviewed together (the other two being the $450 SD950 IS and the $400 SD870 IS), this model has a simpler set of features compared with its siblings.
Not that it comes poorly equipped: Where the SD870 (which did not make our chart) has a 3-inch LCD and an extra-wide-angle 28mm zoom (35mm equivalent), the SD850 IS still offers a sharp, bright 2.5-inch LCD and a 4X optical zoom that starts at the more traditional 35mm (35mm equivalent). Plus, it has an optical eye-level viewfinder, which the SD870 IS lacks. For any photographer who likes to take quick shots or loves to shoot in bright sunlight, any eye-level viewfinder is a must-have.
In look and operation, the 8-megapixel SD850 is a near twin to the top-of-the-line, 12-megapixel SD950 IS. Both come wrapped in a rugged-feeling metal shell (the SD950's is titanium). With either, you get well-organized, efficient, and flexible exposure controls and silky-smooth operation. And since you can buy the SD850 for about $100 less than its sibling, it's truly the better value for the average photographer.
One of the more interesting advantages of the SD850 IS over the other two models is its LCD. A common problem with many LCD screens is that they are difficult (sometimes impossible) to view when you're wearing polarized sunglasses--the screens essentially turn black. According to the published specifications, all three cameras use the same LCD technology. But in bright sunlight, wearing my expensive prescription (and polarized) sunglasses, the SD850 was the only one of the three whose LCD I could easily view.
As with other Elphs, this camera has lots to like. All of the key exposure controls are grouped together on one screen. Scrolling through them and changing settings is about as quick and easy as it gets. The innovative focus-check window, during the instant shot review, magnifies a portion of your photo, letting you know whether that future enlargement will be sharp. Advanced controls include exposure, flash, and focus lock, but no aperture- or shutter-priority or manual exposure controls.
Images shot with the SD850 IS were a bit underexposed, but still pleasing, and all looked sharp. Landscapes had good color saturation, though the color balance was a touch on the bluish side. That's easily fixed by using one of the camera's many built-in color enhancement tools, or its capable image editing and management application.
The only knocks on this camera is a zoom button that's a bit uncomfortable on the finger, and the animated on-screen icon that visually duplicates the presses you make on the four-way thumb button. This icon tends to pop up unexpectedly, but fortunately, you can switch it off in the setting menu.
While the SD850 IS may not have the large LCD of the SD870 IS or the sky-high megapixel count of the SD950 IS, it is still a fine all-around point-and-shoot for most shutterbugs, and is a better value than its two siblings.