Canon PowerShot SD870 IS
The Canon SD870 IS Digital ELPH features a compact, stylish case with rounded horizontal edges, and a retracting lens to make it pocket-friendly. With an an 8-megapixel 1/2.5″ imager and 3.8x optical zoom lens, the Canon SD870 covers a range of 28-105mm equivalent, a useful wide angle to a moderate telephoto. Exposure is fully automatic, but the user can tweak it with 2.0EV of exposure compensation and four metering modes to handle difficult lighting, while a generous twelve Scene modes keep the camera approachable for beginners. A long-exposure mode in the Canon SD870 IS ELPH also lets you manually set exposure times as long as 15 seconds, and a large 3-inch LCD is the sole method of framing and reviewing images, since the Canon 870 IS has no optical viewfinder.
The Canon ELPH SD870 has a rather wide ISO sensitivity range, from 80 to 1,600, for better performance in dim lighting. Canon also manufactures a line of photo printers, and prides themselves on the level of integration between their cameras and printers. The Digital ELPH SD870 is PictBridge-capable, so is able to print to any printer that supports PictBridge directly, without the need for a computer in the middle. When connected to a Canon printer, though, you can set paper size, print quality, and a number of other parameters, capabilities lacking in basic PictBridge connections.
The Canon SD870 IS Digital ELPH started shipping on September 30, 2007, and retails for about US$400.
Canon PowerShot SD870 IS User Report
by Andrew Alexander
Intro. The Canon PowerShot SD870 IS is the most appealing camera in Canon’s high-end Digital ELPH line, thanks to its 28mm-equivalent wide angle lens. Canon’s latest product strategy for the Digital ELPH is three-tiered: there is an entry level model (in this case, the PowerShot SD850), the middle-range model (the PowerShot SD870) and the high-end model (the PowerShot SD950). Each model has its own niche, and the SD870’s specialty is wide angle photography.
The Canon SD870 improves upon the SD800, the previous wide-angle model in the ELPH line, with an upgrade from 7.1 to 8.0 megapixels, and an LCD boost from 2.5 inches to 3.0 inches. They’ve also upgraded the screen from 207,000 to 230,000 pixels. Optically the cameras use the same basic lens structure, a 28-105mm (35mm equivalent) lens with a minimum aperture of f/2.8 at the wide end and f/5.8 at the telephoto end. Canon overhauled the SD870’s design, as well, making for a heavier, though smaller camera. Finally, the most obvious design change is the lack of an optical viewfinder, made necessary by the SD870’s large LCD.
Look and Feel. The PowerShot SD870 is, legitimately, about the size of a pack of playing cards. At 180 grams (6.3 oz), there is a good heft to the camera, giving it enough weight to keep steady while shooting. It has a solid feel, and when not in use can easily fit in your hand or pocket for easy access. That said, this is not a unit you want to toss around casually. The casing is a hard plastic with a matte finish; around the lens, our review model has a handsome chrome finish that will show off fingerprints and scratches mercilessly. Also available is a model with a black matte finished ring surrounding the lens. I worry about the LCD screen, but Canon assures me that it has an anti-scratch, anti-glare coating; all the same, sticking this camera in your pocket with your car keys is probably not a good idea for the long term. A small carrying case will go a long way to protect this investment, and I don’t think I’d be overly paranoid to suggest you keep the wrist strap on at all times. The lens extends about an inch out from the front of the camera while in use; when retracted, a sliding lens cover protects it.
The design of the camera is no-nonsense. Controls are laid out logically, if exclusively for the right-handed user. There isn’t an obvious grip on the camera. There are no curved sections where your hand and fingers are meant to go. I generally shoot cameras with this slab design using both thumbs and forefingers, holding the four corners of the camera for optimum stability; others use a curled middle finger around the front, while their index finger rests on the shutter button, and the thumb grips from the back.
The optical image stabilization of the camera helps to allow one-handed operation, but for menu navigation main control adjustment, you need to use both hands, as the majority of the controls sit under the right thumb.
The controls for the camera adorn the top and rear of the body. On the top you find the power button, operation mode selector, shutter button, and zoom dial; on the back, next to the dominating LCD screen, you have four buttons for playback, direct print, menu, and LCD display modes, divided into two groups of two by a circular four-way selector wheel and a selector button. A wrist strap attaches to the right side, the left side is blank, and there’s not much to speak of on the bottom other than a tripod mount (aligned with the lens) and a single door allowing access to the battery and the SD memory card. This design, in addition to the Canon SD870’s small size would make it impossible to change memory cards or a battery if the camera were mounted on a tripod.
Interface. You can turn on the Canon SD870 IS two ways: by pressing the main on/off button on the top, which brings you into shooting mode and extends the lens, or by pressing the playback button, which activates the playback mode without extending the lens. The Canon SD870 uses a fairly typical menu-driven system for managing the options and settings available in the camera. Since the average user for this camera is not going to want to have access to high-level settings or fully manual operation, the available options are fairly simple.
As with most Canon digital cameras, there are two types of menu. Technical items, like date and time settings, LCD brightness, and language are available with a press of the Menu button. Shooting settings, such as changing exposure control or the shooting mode, are accessible through the function key embedded in the four-way selector. Remembering where the relevant options are takes a little practice, but given the relatively few buttons and clear labels, you quickly get the hang of it. What I would like to see is the inclusion of an in-camera “help” system. Ideally, on any setting, you press a button and a screen full of text explains what this option will let you do. Few people keep their manual handy, and there are many menu items.
An interesting control in the PowerShot SD870, one that’s been on other high-end ELPH models, is the inclusion of a touch-sensitive system on the four-way selector. Essentially, the selector can be used either to change the shooting mode by rotating your finger around the wheel, or to display an iconic representation of the options available on the selector button itself. Personally, when trying to select a different shooting mode by rotating my finger, I could never find the correct “speed” at which to rotate and engage the camera’s mode-switching capability; and when I did, it would sometimes switch, and sometimes nothing would happen. It seems you have to get used to the style of input the camera’s touch-system expects. In practice, I found it much more effective to just switch shooting modes by using the function button in the middle of the four-way selector. Similarly, while the visual representation of the options available on the four-way selector was interesting at first, it quickly became annoying. In one-handed operation, your thumb rests on the four-way selector for support, and thus, the icons are always showing, obscuring your framing. While you can turn off the “touch icons” feature (which show you the representation of the selector wheel functions), the rotating selection function is always on. I suppose it could be argued that for people with poor eyesight, who can’t see the small text labels on the selector wheel, having a graphic representation of the selector wheel could be useful, as the graphic presented is much larger than the wheel. But because I couldn’t get the silly thing to work reliably, I found it less than useful.
Good news, Bad news. The good news is that Canon has finally realized that the direct print button is only going to be used by a small percentage of the population. For the rest of the world, there is a button on their camera that never gets used. However, Canon now lets you assign a custom function to the button while you’re in Record mode: essentially, a shortcut to an operational setting of the camera. You can choose from exposure control, white balance, setting a custom white balance, activating the digital teleconverter, turning gridlines on or off, activating the movie mode, turning off the display, or playing a sound effect. Of all the above, I’m surprised to report that activating the movie mode is probably the most useful use of the button (I thought for sure it would be exposure control or white balance). But the truth is that all of the rest of those functions are easily accessible through the regular menu buttons, while changing to the movie mode requires flicking a switch on the top of the unit. With just a push of the direct print custom function, you instantly turn on the movie mode and start recording.
The bad news concerns the SD870’s optical viewfinder. It doesn’t have one. It’s been removed from this model, ostensibly to make room for the large 3.0-inch, 230,000 pixel LCD screen. An optical viewfinder becomes useful in at least two scenarios: when you want to conserve power, and when lighting conditions make it difficult to frame a shot with the LCD. The larger the LCD screen, the more power it draws, so turning off the LCD and using an optical viewfinder instead typically gives the user much greater battery life. So the challenge to the camera designer is to produce an LCD that’s both power-efficient and sun-resistant. In the case of the PowerShot 870 IS, Canon has put a lot of effort into the LCD screen, no doubt aware that without a backup system, a lot is riding on the LCD. The battery is rated to produce 270 shots, a respectable amount for a camera this size, and in practice, I found the screen to be quite easily viewable in all but the most extreme of lighting conditions. Coupled with the fact that the optical viewfinder on the SD800 IS wasn’t that great (it only showed about 80% of the frame and was slightly distorted), removing it entirely isn’t that great a loss. Of course, if using, or having the option to use an optical viewfinder is important in your photography, then this is definitely a factor you may need to weigh. Canon’s betting that most folks want a 3-inch screen on a small camera more than an inaccurate optical viewfinder, especially since an optical viewfinder so badly shows what the SD870 IS’s 28mm lens can do.
You can transfer files from the Canon SD870 with the included USB cable, which operates at a respectable 1,053 KBytes per second. You can also view images and videos on an RCA-jack-equipped television via the included A/V cable.
Modes. The PowerShot SD870 has three basic shooting modes: Movie mode, Scene mode, and Record mode, all selectable from the switch on the top of the camera.