Canon PowerShot SD850 IS
by Mike Pasini
Review Date: 9/16/07
The Canon PowerShot SD850 IS is an 8 megapixel update of the 6 megapixel SD700 IS. Among other improvements, the SD850 IS is equipped with the company’s current DIGIC III processor in place of the older DIGIC II. The new DIGIC offers the latest must-have feature: face detection autofocus, and yields a step up to a maximum ISO sensitivity of 1,600 (vs. 800 in the older camera), thanks to improved noise reduction. There’s also a new “Aquarium” scene mode.
The Canon SD850 IS can now record movie clips to a maximum of 4GB, where the previous camera was limited to 1GB. It should be noted, however, that the one hour clip length limitation of the SD700 has been carried over to the new model, so you’ll only be able to take advantage of the increased clip size if you don’t hit the one hour limit first.
Other Canon SD850 IS improvements include a higher-resolution LCD display with 230,000 pixels in place of the previous 173K- pixel display, as well as support for the newer SDHC (Secure Digital High Capacity) card format on top of the existing SD/MMC card support. A new time-lapse movie mode allows you to capture frames at 0.5 or one frame per second for up to two hours — the one time you’ll be able to shoot a movie clip longer than an hour — with the resulting clip tagged as 15 frames per second (and hence playing at either 15 or 30 times real speed).
The Canon SD850 is rather slower in continuous mode than its predecessor, managing just 1.3 fps in large/fine mode where the SD700 IS was capable of 2.1 fps. One final change of note is that where the SD700 IS offered a small (15cm) overlap between the regular and macro AF modes, the Canon SD850 IS now has a clear cutoff — regular focusing stops at 50cm, and the macro focusing range extends up to exactly that same point.
The Canon PowerShot SD850 IS shipped mid-June 2007, priced at $399.99.
Canon PowerShot SD850 IS
by Mike Pasini
Intro. From the start, I couldn’t keep myself from referring to the Canon SD850 IS as the SD800 IS. I set up my review folder that way and continued the mistake with my gallery shot folder name and so on. Even the Overview seemed to make the same mistake, referring the SD850 IS’s predecessor as the SD700 IS, ignoring the SD800 IS all together.
But Canon insists the SD850’s direct predecessor really is the SD700 because both cameras offer a 35-140mm zoom. The SD800 sets itself apart with its 28-105mm zoom. But other than that and an optical zoom range improved from 3.8x to 4x, the Canon SD850 is an SD800. Think of it as a choice of lenses at the top of the Digital ELPH line.
That’s a line that has established itself at the top of the digicam heap where image quality and user experience are the measures for all other comers. But the other defining feature of this line may be a disadvantage to some: no manual control of aperture or shutter speed. If you’re looking for a good digicam and don’t want to worry about things like that, though, the Canon SD850 is your baby.
Design. From a physical point of view, the Canon SD850 is almost exactly the same camera as the SD700. The main differences are on the back panel. The dark mask around the SD700’s LCD has been replaced by a gray mask on the Canon SD850, and the elliptical buttons on the SD700 are now round on the Canon SD850. There is a small thumb grip on the Canon SD850, a grid of nine tiny bumps.
The color scheme and use of chrome highlights still strike me as modern, even fresh; and the Canon SD850 can sit up on its side so all the type reads right.
It isn’t as svelte a camera as many ultracompacts like the Sony T series, Nikon S series or Fujifilm Z series, but heft is helpful in a small camera when you actually press the shutter. It stabilizes the body of the camera. The Canon SD850 ranks average in weight among entry-level cameras, but it’s on the high end of average. So it’s a little awkward in a shirt pocket, but fine in your jacket.
As grips go, the Canon SD850’s is minimal. The raised type spelling “Canon” on the front and the small bumps on the back are it. But here again, the heft helps, providing something to get your hand around. No complaint from me about this grip.
Like other ELPHs, the Canon SD850 is comfortable not only to carry but to shoot with, easily managed with just your right hand. The Control dial icons are large and clear, and there are just four buttons to learn, two of which do the heavy lifting.
You’ll never have to hunt for the large Shutter button or the Zoom lever surrounding it. The Canon SD850’s Power button is not quite as convenient until you learn to press it with your thumb.
The SD series is small, relying on a tiny lithium-ion battery and miniature SD memory cards to make a compact package you can take anywhere in any pocket. The Canon SD850 is rugged enough that you don’t need to protect it in a case, but you’ll probably want to anyway. And small as it is, it’s still large enough for a big 2.5 inch LCD so you can enjoy your photos as soon as you take them.
Display/Viewfinder. Unlike most small digicams, the Canon SD850 gives you both a large LCD and an optical viewfinder. Optical viewfinders are not as accurate as LCDs, they’re harder to see through and they don’t change with the aspect ratio. But one thing they all do well is let you compose your shot in bright sunlight, something not every LCD can manage.
The optical viewfinder on the Canon SD850 shows just 78 percent of what the sensor captures, while the LCD shows 100 percent (even a bit more). The Canon SD850 does have a widescreen shooting mode, so the LCD is preferred for framing those shots.
The LCD on the Canon SD850, however, is usable in bright sun and quite sharp with 230,000 pixels (up from the 173,000 of the SD700). You can see the display at a rather severe angle, so you aren’t shooting blind when you have to hold the camera over your head to get the shot. Of course, you can’t beat an LCD when it’s time to show off the shot. The big, 2.5-inch LCD is just the ticket for that.
Performance. The Canon SD850 ranks above average (and well above) for startup time, shutdown time, autofocus shutter lag, pre-focus shutter lag, cycle time, LCD size and download speed with USB 2.0 Hi-Speed support.
The only categories the Canon SD850 ranks average in are its weight (which I find advantageous), and its 4x zoom (which is a bit better than the standard 3x zoom ratio these days).
The Canon SD850’s flash recycle time ranks below average at 7.5 seconds but that often points to a more powerful flash. Luke’s flash tests tell the whole story, but my informal shooting around the house impressed me by how well the flash lit up even large rooms.
But with image stabilization available on the Canon SD850 IS, I avoided flash shots. I left IS on all the time except when I was shooting a comparison test. The only time you really should turn it off is when you have the camera mounted on a tripod. In full sunlight, IS helped stabilize the inevitable camera shake of a 16x digital zoom shot (and I took a lot of them). In dim lighting, it stabilized the slow shutter speeds that let me capture exactly what I was seeing. It did it so well, the Canon SD850 was usually able to keep ISO sensitivity below 200 when using IS.
Low light performance is really top notch. Nearly everything in our Low Light table is well exposed even down to 1/16 footcandle at ISO 200.
Macro with the Canon SD850 was a delight, too. You don’t have to get right on top of a subject to shoot macro. I engaged it for most of my full frame flower shots to capture the texture of the petals, for example.
Movie mode doesn’t offer a 16:9 option, but it does offer a Fast Frame Rate of 60 fps, twice the broadcast standard of 30 fps. That means you can shoot slow motion with the Canon SD850.