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Canon Powershot SD200 Review

by Bob Atkins, 2005


The outstanding feature of the Canon SD series of powershot cameras is that they are small. They followed on from the Canon ELPH film cameras, which were themselves among the smallest 35mm cameras. The "Digital Elph" SD series cameras are even smaller. However the current SD Powershots, while small in size, are pretty full featured and I'll get to that later.

How small are they?

Well, the SD200, SD300, SD400 and SD450are all about the size of a credit card.

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Specifically the SD200 and SD300 are 86 x 54 x 21 mm (3.4 x 2.1 x 0.8 in) and the SD400 and SD450 are within 1mm of those dimensions. This means that all these cameras will easily fit in a shirt or pants pocket. Some other Powershots are small (see image below), but you'd have a hard time cramming them into a shirt pocket!

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Canon Powershot A610 (rear); Canon Powershot SD200 (front)

They aren't the very smallest cameras around but we're talking differences of 1 or 2 mm.  The Pentax Optio S (83 x 52 x 20 mm) is slightly smaller overall, while the Powershot SD20 and SD30 are 90 x 47 x 19 mm which is slightly smaller (in volume), as is the  Casio Exilim EX-S3 90 x 57 x 12 mm (larger in area, but smaller in volume).

What's in the Box?

  • Canon Powershot SD200 camera
  • 16MB SD memory card
  • Battery Charger CB-2LV
  • Li-ion Battery pack NB-4L
  • Software CD
  • Wrist strap
  • Manuals
  • Audio/Video cable
  • USB cable

No case is included (I'd recommend the PSC-90 case) and the included 16MB card is only good for about 8 images at the highest quality, so you'd probably want a larger SD card (at least 128MB, preferably 512MB).

The CD contains the following software:

For Macintosh: ImageBrowser 5.0, PhotoStitch 3.1

For Windows: ZoomBrowser EX 5.0, PhotoRecord 2.1, PhotoStitch 3.1, Camera TWAIN Driver 6.5, Camera WIA Driver 6.3, Apple QuickTime

Features

As I mentioned above, the SD200 is small in size, but not in features, which include:

  • 3.2 Megapixel CCD sensor (2048 x 1536)
  • Optical viewfinder with zoom
  • 3x optical 35-105mm f/2.8-4.9 zoom
  • Digic II processor
  • Manual control of flash mode
  • Selectable ISO settings from 50 to 400 plus auto
  • TTL AiAF 9-point autofocus system with focus-assist lamp
  • 2.0" color LCD with 10x playback zoom
  • Exposure compensation: +/-2EV in 1/3-step increments
  • White Balance: Auto, 5 presets or Custom
  • 2.4fps Continuous exposure mode
  • Macro and Infinity focus modes
  • Evaluative and Spot metering 
  • Lithium rechargeable battery and charger
  • Built-in microphone and speaker
  • Shutter speeds of 15 seconds to 1/1500 second
  • Voice memos (up to 60 secs) can be attached to images
  • Movie mode w/sound at 30/15fps and 640x480/320x240 unlimited length

Controls

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The top of the camera has the on/off button, the shutter release and the zoom control. The zoom control controls the lens in shooting mode and the playback zoom in playback mode.

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Most of the major controls are on the rear of the camera, along with the 2" color LCD. At the top is a 3-way slide switch which selects playback, movie mode or photo mode. There are 3 push buttons. One (upper left) brings up a menu mode on the LCD. One (lower left) controls the display (LCD on/off and the amount of shooting information displayed). The third button (lower right) is used when printing directly from the camera to a printer. There is also a 4-way rocker switch with a center button. This is used to select and navigate menus, focus modes, metering modes, flash modes and shooting modes.

Exposure

Exposure on the SD200 is always automatic. The camera decides the shutter speed and aperture. What's more it doesn't tell you what values it's picked! Luckily, auto exposure is pretty good.If it thinks the shutter speed is low enough that there's risk of camera shake, it flashes an orange light (next to the optical viewfinder).

While you can't directly set exposure, you can apply up to +/- 2 stops of exposure compensation in 1/3 stop steps, and you do get a histogram display, so you can fine tune exposure if you don't like the results of the default auto exposure. You can bias exposure towards faster shutter speeds and/or smaller apertures by manually selecting ISO 400, or you can bias it towards longer exposures and/or larger apertures by manually selecting ISO 50. In the so called "manual" mode, these settings are retained when the camera is turned on and off. In "manual" mode you can also set white balance and photo effects such as "sepia", "B&W", "vivid" or "neutral" colors and a "low sharpening" mode. It is also possible to manually select exposure times from 1s to 15s. In auto mode the longest possible exposure is 1s.

Optical Performance

Given that this is an ultra-compact digicam operating with autoexposure, I'd rate the overall optical performance and image quality as good. Not perfect but good. 4x6 and 5x7 prints were good.

For example, the image below is a full frame shot of the sky using the SD200 at it's widest zoom setting. The camera chose to shoot wide open, which is good from the point of view of testing for vignetting, since vignetting (dark corners) is worst when a lens is used wide open. It's also usually worst at wideangle settings.

Canon Powershot SD200 Review

As you can see, there's no really visible vignetting wide open at the widest zoom setting. A shot at the tele zoom setting didn't show any either!

Below is a shot made at the tele setting (105mm equivalent focal length), together with 100% crops from the center and edge

Canon Powershot SD200 Review

As you can see, both center and edge are pretty sharp. There's little evidence of chromatic aberration or "purple fringing". Autoexposure of course, but it seems to have gotten it right!

Below is a shot taken from the same position, but using the widest zoom setting (35mm equivalent). Again autoexposure has done a good job.

Canon Powershot SD200 Review

The 100% crops show pretty good center performance with a touch of softening towards the edges of the image, but still pretty decent performance.

The shot below is a more severe test, with branches outlined against the sky right in the corner of the frame - which was again shot at the widest zoom position. Overall exposure is again pretty good.

Canon Powershot SD200 Review

In this image there is definite "purple fringing" in the corner of the image. This can be somewhat mitigated as shown in the rightmost crop, which was taken from the image after running it through the "chromatic aberration" correction in Paint Shop Pro 9. This is really a "purple fringing" correction and works by desaturating the image in the areas of purple fringing, but as you can see it does result in an improvement.

So overall I think the SD200 does well. Vignetting isn't a problem, performance at the tele end of the zoom range is good, but there is some image softening at the corners at the widest setting. Purple fringing, though it can be induced, isn't too bad. In 4x6 prints none of these "defects" is going to be noticeable, though it may be if you make 8x10 prints.

You can download some full size image samples from the SD200 page on the Canon website

Operational Speed

The SD200 feels fast and responsive. It takes under 1.5s from turning the camera on to taking the first shot. Shutter lag (after autofocus) is minimal, I'd estimate maybe 100mS (similar to an SLR). Even with autofocus, lag isn't objectionable and is routinely under 0.5s. In continuous exposure mode it easily meets the Canon spec of 2.4 fps. In single shot mode I fired off 10 shots in 7 seconds.

Flash

There are multiple flash modes; flash on, flash off, autoflash, slow sync and redeye reduction. Flash performance is adequate. The flash is pretty small and doesn't have a lot of range, pretty typical for ultra-compact cameras. At the wide setting flash range is up to 11.5ft, at the telephoto setting it's up to 6.6ft. Coverage is good at the telephoto end, but at the wide end there's visible vignetting (dark corners) due to limited flash coverage. In normal use this will be a lot less obvious then it is in the picture of the wall shown below since the background will typically be further away than the subject and thus will be darker anyway if illuminated only by the flash.

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Flash illumination at 35mm setting

Distortion

Distortion at the wide end of the zoom range is noticeable but at the telephoto end of the range distortion is low,  pretty typical of small digicams.

distortion.jpg (60875 bytes)

Conclusions

You don't buy an SD200 (or SD300/400) for advanced photography. You can get cameras with more capability (aperture priority, shutter priority and manual exposure for example) for the same price or maybe less (e.g. Powershot A510 or Powershot A520) However they are larger and the major reason you'd buy an SD200 is because it's small. Despite the lack of full manual control, I still like the SD200. In fact I bought one myself so I'd have a camera that I can carry with me at all times. Image quality is quite good and you do have manual control over almost everything except for exposure (and even there you do have exposure compensation). You also get some remarkably good video modes (with audio) including 640x480 at 30fps. The 3.2MP is enough for excellent 4x6 and 5x7 prints and even 8x10 doesn't look too bad. The price (currently under $180) is pretty low too. If you want more pixels, the SD300 has 4MP  and the SD400 (around $265) has 5MP   in essentially the same camera body with the same camera features. The step up from 3.2MP to 4MP is pretty insignificant, so if you want more pixels than the SD200, I'd go to the 5MP SD400.

If you do buy one, I'd strongly recommend getting the optional PSC-90 accessory case (around $15). It's designed specifically for the camera and has stiff sides which will protect the camera. Without a case there is some possibility of damage to the LCD if the camera is carried lose in a pocket.

Where to buy

© Copyright 2005 Robert M. Atkins. Visit Bob Atkins' website at www.bobatkins.com

Readers' Comments


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Steve Kovach , December 14, 2005; 04:51 P.M.

this camera is awesome... i bought one at the beginning of last summer and i love it. image quality is super good for what it is and you get a lot of control for a small digi.


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