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Canon PowerShot SD940 IS: Great Looks, Great Performance

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At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder Canon PowerShot SD940 IS Compact Camera

The Canon PowerShot SD940 IS ($300 as of 1/19/2010) might look familiar to you, especially if you've seen the Canon PowerShot SD780 IS. Both models have an eye-catching design--including a lens casing that's the same color as the camera's body--and both are available in a range of colors (the SD940 IS comes in black, brown, blue, and silver).

The similarities between the two cameras go beyond aesthetics. Both offer 12-megapixel image resolution, effective optical stabilization, 720p high-def movie capture (in MOV files at 30 frames per second), an HDMI-out port, the same fun Color Accent scene mode (along with about 19 other scene modes), and very good image quality for a pocketable camera.

The differences between the two models are minimal, but they may be enough to justify the extra $50 for the PowerShot SD940 IS (the SD780 IS currently sells for about $250). For one thing, the PowerShot SD940 IS fared a bit better than its earlier sibling in PCWorld Labs imaging and battery tests.

In the Labs' subjective testing for image quality, the SD940 IS earned a higher score for overall image quality, with particularly high ratings for color accuracy, exposure, and flash exposure. Though the PowerShot SD940 IS lagged behind the SD780 IS in sharpness and distortion, both cameras earned an imaging quality score of Very Good.

In battery testing, the PowerShot SD940 IS took 290 shots on a single charge of its rechargeable lithium ion battery--about 30 shots more per charge than the PowerShot SD780 IS. The SD940 IS earned a battery life score of Very Good, versus its sibling's score of Good.

Other than the higher overall scores for image quality and battery life, the key differences between the two cameras are these:

-- With the PowerShot SD940 IS, you get a 4X optical zoom with a wider-angle lens (28mm to 112mm). The SD780 has a 3X optical zoom lens that offers 33mm on the wide-angle end.

-- The SD940 IS has a slightly bigger LCD screen (2.7 inches, versus the SD780's 2.5-inch LCD screen). The tradeoff is that the SD940 IS doesn't have an optical viewfinder above the screen; the SD780 IS does.

-- The PowerShot SD940 IS fixes the menu navigation quirks found in the SD780 IS. That is, all the scene mode options are available simply by scrolling through a list; you don't need to press a Display button to access "hidden" scene modes.

And that's about it for the differences, which is a good thing for the most part. This is a slick, easy-to-use camera with impressive image quality, and it shares the SD780's decent performance at high ISO levels. At ISO 3200 and 1600, details are splotchy, but the camera did a good job of snapping bright and usable shots without a flash in near-pitch-black settings.

The SD940 IS also has a few of the same drawbacks as its nearly identical sibling, such as a zoom ring and buttons that are a bit too small for comfort, as well as flimsy plastic doors to cover the HDMI port, the A/V-out ports, and the battery. While shooting video, you're limited to a digital zoom; you still can't zoom optically. And the lack of an optical viewfinder will be a disappointment for some--but keep in mind that the tiny viewfinder on the SD780 IS was barely big enough to be usable.

If you've been considering the SD780 IS, I'd pick the PowerShot SD940 IS instead. It has the same great looks, the same quality performance, and a step up in specs that make it one of the best ultracompact point-and-shoots we've seen in the past year.

--Tim Moynihan

This story, "Canon PowerShot SD940 IS: Great Looks, Great Performance" was originally published by PCWorld.

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At a Glance
  • The slim, stylish PowerShot SD940 IS is an upgrade over the sexy PowerShot SD780 IS, offering a wider-angle lens and a handful of enhancements for $50 more.

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