Canon PowerShot SD4000 IS: Big Performance in a Compact Package
At a Glance
Thanks to its very good image quality, wide-aperture lens, and aperture-priority and shutter-priority modes, the Canon PowerShot SD4000 IS ($350 as of August 13, 2010) is a standout camera in the compact point-and-shoot class.
Although its glossy finish, lack of physical buttons, and pocket-friendly size would suggest otherwise, its performance is on a par with that of the excellent Canon PowerShot S90, a camera geared toward demanding photographers.
Hardware and Features
The similarities the SD4000 IS shares with the S90 are all positive. Both cameras offer 10-megapixel sensors, 3.8X-optical-zoom lenses (28mm to 105mm), a bright f2.0 aperture at the wide-angle end, and very effective optical image stabilization.
Both cameras also capture crisp, relatively noise-free images at high ISO levels, although the S90 performs a tad better at its ISO 6400 setting. What's more, both models have a 4X digital zoom that kicks the zoom range up to a simulated 15X at the telephoto end, and though digital zoom is rarely worth mentioning, both cameras produce sharp, usable images even after the digital zoom has cropped and enlarged the pictures.
In Video: Canon's PowerShot SD4000 IS Raises the Bar
The SD4000 IS also throws in a few goodies that the S90 doesn't have: scene modes that mimic a tilt-shift lens (Miniature Mode) and a fish-eye lens (Fisheye Mode), a high-speed burst mode that snaps up to 8.4 shots per second at a reduced 2.5-megapixel resolution, and multiple transitions and playback modes for the in-camera slideshow feature.
Image and Video Quality
Click on any of the PCWorld Labs' test images below to view them at their original size.
In the real world, the SD4000 IS's arsenal of hardware and in-camera features add up to outstanding performance for a compact point-and-shoot camera. The camera's killer feature is its f2.0 lens, which creates impressively shallow depth-of-field effects for a camera of its size.
In PCWorld Labs subjective jury evaluations for image quality, the PowerShot SD4000 IS turned in one of the best overall scores we've seen for a point-and-shoot camera this year. On exposure quality, color accuracy, and lack of distortion it earned a score of Very Good, while on sharpness it received a slightly lower score of Good.
The SD4000 IS also achieved high marks for video quality, but it exhibited some noticeable shortcomings. The camera captures 720p high-definition footage at 30 frames per second in .mov format at its highest-resolution setting, and it earned video-quality and audio-quality scores of Very Good when we compared its output with that of other digital cameras.
As you can see in our bright-light test clip, however, the camera's autofocus searched in and out while shooting video. Low-light video performance was extremely disappointing, too, especially considering the SD4000 IS's great still-image performance in low light.
Here are sample clips shot in bright indoor lighting and dark indoor lighting with the Canon PowerShot SD4000 IS. Select 720p from the drop-down menu in the lower-right corner of the video player to view the test footage at its highest resolution.
The SD4000 IS looks like a fashion-oriented pocket camera from the outside, thanks to a glossy finish that's available in bright red, black, or silver. We tested the red model, and the vibrant finish looked a lot like freshly applied nail polish. The camera body also has unique, angular accents on its sides and corners, which add to its sleek looks and make it feel comfortable in your hand.
The camera has no raised hand grip, though, and due to that glossy finish, the SD4000 IS might get slippery if you handle it with wet or sweaty hands. It feels solidly built, and unless you leave it in a bag jangling around with keys and forks, the coating seems capable of standing up to scratches.
Controls and Ports
The PowerShot SD4000 IS has far fewer physical buttons and switches than the more manual S90, which leads to a cleaner, less-intimidating control setup. The lack of physical buttons leads to a lot more on-screen menu-diving to access most of the settings, however.
On the back of the camera you'll find only a playback button, a menu button, a function-select button, and a rotating wheel around the function-select button that you use to surf the in-camera menus. They're responsive and intuitive for anyone who has used a Canon PowerShot camera before, but changing the camera's scene modes and manual settings on the fly takes a bit longer due to the omission of a dedicated mode dial.
One disappointment with the SD4000 IS is that even though it has aperture-priority and shutter-priority modes, it doesn't give you full manual controls to let you tinker with the aperture and shutter settings independently.
The camera's basic mode-selector switch, which lets you choose among movie mode, program mode, and auto mode, is on the top of the camera, along with the power button, shutter button, and zoom ring. A rubberized plastic cover on the side of the camera hides an HDMI connection and an AV-out connection.
PowerShot SD4000 IS vs. PowerShot S90
Although the SD4000 IS has a lot in common with the S90, several important factors make the S90 a better choice for serious photographers. Many of the following differences won't be deal-breakers for casual snapshooters, but the S90 does hold several key advantages over the SD4000 IS.
--The S90 has full manual controls, while the SD4000 IS is limited to aperture- and shutter-priority settings.
--The CCD sensor of the S90 is larger (1/1.7 inches) than the CMOS sensor in the SD4000 IS (1/2.3 inches). Though both cameras' image quality is excellent, we saw less distortion in images shot with the S90.
--While the S90 can shoot in RAW format, the SD4000 IS is limited to JPEG images.
--A control ring around the S90's lens, a dedicated mode dial, and a larger number of physical buttons offer faster access to that camera's settings.
--You get manual focus, exposure bracketing, and focus bracketing modes in the S90.
--The S90 offers manual control over the power of its flash.
--Both cameras have 3-inch-diagonal LCD screens, but the S90 has a higher-resolution screen with different dimensions. The SD4000's widescreen LCD is longer horizontally and shorter vertically, and the amount of the screen used to display and compose images is much narrower due to the SD4000 IS's on-screen icons and menu settings.
All things considered, the Canon PowerShot S90's full manual adjustments, quick-access controls, bracketing modes, and RAW shooting make it well worth the extra $50 for photographers who use manual controls extensively.
As an everyday, pocketable point-and-shoot camera that offers some manual controls and stellar image quality, the Canon PowerShot SD4000 IS gets our wholehearted recommendation. Casual snapshooters who want access to controls beyond auto and scene modes will be delighted with its performance, but they also might want to consider spending $50 more for the even-more-versatile PowerShot S90.