Canon PowerShot SD990 IS
Canon’s PowerShot SD990 IS digital camera replaces the company’s previous PowerShot SD950 IS model as the flagship of the Digital ELPH lineup. The Canon SD990 retains the same 1/1.7-inch CCD image sensor size, but jams in more pixels to take the camera from 12.1 to 14.7 megapixels, along with upgrading the previous model’s DIGIC III processor to a DIGIC 4 type that allows for servo-AF tracking.
The Canon SD990 retains the 3.7x optical zoom, ranging from 36mm to 133mm equivalent. Maximum aperture is f/2.8 to a rather dim f/5.8 across the zoom range. The Canon SD990’s autofocus system now has improved face detection capability, and includes Face Detection self-timer that automatically takes a photo two seconds after an additional face enters the scene. The Canon PowerShot SD990 IS’s LCD display measures 2.5-inches diagonally with a resolution of 230,000 dots, with improved contrast ratio.
ISO sensitivity ranges from ISO 100 to 1,600, and includes a high sensitivity scene mode which allows this to be boosted to a maximum of ISO 3,200. Shutter speeds are unchanged, ranging from 1/1,600 to 15 seconds. Metering modes include evaluative, center-weighted, and spot. The Canon SD990 offers a program mode, plus a fully manual mode where aperture and shutter speed can be selected. There are sixteen scene modes, and the Canon SD990 also offers a new Intelligent Contrast Correction function.
The Canon SD990 records movies with an H.264 MOV compression, a newer format that offers smaller file sizes for equivalent video quality. The Canon PowerShot SD990 stores its images and movies on Secure Digital cards, and includes a 32MB card (very small). The Canon SD990 also offers both NTSC / PAL video output and USB 2.0 High Speed computer connectivity. Power comes from a proprietary NB-5L lithium-ion rechargeable battery.
The Canon PowerShot SD990 IS began shipping in the USA from October 2008, priced at US$400 or less.
Canon SD990 IS User Report
by Mike Pasini
What’s the first thing you should do when reviewing a new flagship camera in the popular ELPH line? Drop it, of course.
That’s a rare (might even be even unique if my memory can be trusted) event for me, but it did prove one thing. The Canon PowerShot SD990 IS can take a hit. It wasn’t a very abusive hit (just a soft drop to a carpet) but it was a typical one.
Reassuring as that might be, the real reason to consider the flagship ELPH is its long list of features. Features don’t always interest the ELPH crowd, which would rather not wade through a review or tinker in photographic niceties, but that’s the banner flagships like the Canon SD990 wave.
The Canon SD990 list starts with an almost ridiculous 14.7-megapixel sensor. It continues with a 3.7x optical zoom lens with optical image stabilization. Add a DIGIC 4 image processor to handle face detection (at different angles and as a self-timer trigger), servo autofocus (which continuously tracks moving subjects when you half-press the Shutter button), and intelligent contrast correction. And include a Manual mode that lets you set shutter speed and aperture, a first for a digital ELPH.
Look and Feel. The Canon SD990’s shell has been redesigned from the SD950 that it so closely resembles, with an eye toward curves that should almost be called hips. Available colors are black or silver only (if you don’t count the limited edition red model created to commemorate the 100 millionth PowerShot). And, like the SD950, the Canon SD990 is a bit bulky for anything called an ELPH. It’s not what you’d call an ultracompact.
But the Canon SD990 is small and it does fit in your pocket. It is as comfortable as a bar of soap in your hand as you carry it around. The Canon SD990’s slick surface is not friendly to sweaty grips but it does include a wrist strap that is more than handy.
There is no space for your thumb on the Canon SD990’s back panel, but the buttons are very stiff so you won’t accidentally press them when you grab the camera.
I managed to drop the camera by trying to stand it up on its side, like every other ELPH I’ve ever used. But this one is a lot less stable that way, even a bit worse than the SD950. There are four tiny pegs to stand on but the curved bottom and sides make it a little hard to find the flat spot, and the weight is not at that end of the Canon SD990.
The Canon SD990 does have some heft, which I like in a small camera. It helps stabilize the body when you press the Shutter button, so no complaint there, but it does detract from what has been one of the ELPH’s major attractions: ultra slim and light weight design.
Canon has retained the optical viewfinder in the SD990. It’s actually required by Quick Shot mode, which doesn’t display the scene on the LCD. More about that below.
At just 2.5 inches, the Canon SD990’s LCD seems a little small for a flagship camera. I’m getting spoiled by all those lovely 3.0-inch LCDs that seem to have become standard this year. The LCD does have 230,000 pixels, though.
Controls. I do like the Canon SD990’s big Shutter button and the Zoom control that rings it, which is my preferred arrangement. You don’t have to look for the Shutter button; and once you’re finger falls on it, you know exactly where the Canon SD990’s Zoom control is so you can compose your shots.
I wasn’t as happy with the Canon SD990’s Power button, finding it hard to depress. It’s just too small for my fingers. When I press down, I’m applying force mainly to the top panel, not the little button. I resorted to a fingernail to home in on the little sucker.
The Canon SD990’s Playback button can both power the camera on and power it off. The advantage to using the Playback button to turn the camera on is that it won’t extend the lens, so you can just enjoying looking at your photos without worrying about the lens.
The Mode dial is simple enough with settings for Auto, P/M, Quick Shot, Scene, and Movie clearly marked by icons. It’s stiff enough that you won’t accidentally change modes, too.
The custom Share button (which I set up for EV because Canon didn’t dedicate a button to EV) and the Playback button under the Mode dial are both stiff. It’s a good thing because your thumb will be grabbing the Canon SD990 there. Display and Menu under the main control pad are also stiff and do what they always do on a Canon: change the LCD display options and take you to the main Menu settings.
The main control pad has the usual Function/Set button in the middle to access shooting menu options and confirm menu selection. And the arrow positions have their assignments as usual, too. Up accesses the Canon SD990’s ISO settings (and rotates in Playback), Right accesses Flash modes, Down accesses the Release modes like the Self-Timer (and Erases in Playback), and Left accesses the Focus modes.
Just around the Canon SD990’s navigator, however, is a chrome ring replacing the Touch control dial of the SD950. I’m getting less and less fond of these as a navigation tool. They are faster than pressing the arrow keys, but they are also hard to control. And sometimes they work, sometimes they are disabled.
In this case, I didn’t make friends with the Canon SD990’s rotary dial but it did come in handy in the new Manual mode, which probably explains the switch from the Touch control dial.
Lens. The Canon SD990’s 36 to 133mm, f/2.8-5.8 3.7 optical zoom lens appears to be the same glass used on the SD950.
At wide angle, the corners are blurred, but at telephoto they remain nearly as sharp as the center. With just a 3.7x zoom range, barrel distortion at 36mm is just moderate and barely detectable at 133mm.
Chromatic aberration is strong at wide angle but much lower at telephoto.
And the Canon SD990 includes Canon’s optical image stabilization for better natural light photography and improved performance with the 4x digital zoom.
Modes. My standing gripe about the ELPHs — that Manual mode is just an Auto with a little fudging — is hereby withdrawn for the Canon SD990. There is a real manual mode on the Canon SD990 that lets you set the aperture and the shutter speed yourself. There are only two f-stops to play with, f/2.8 and f/8.0, but there are quite a few shutter speeds.
To get into Manual mode, set the Mode dial to P/M and spin the control dial’s outer ring until a big M appears on the screen. To access the shutter speed and aperture controls, choose EV from the Function menu (or do what I did and define the Share key as EV and press that).
To actually set the shutter speed, use the control dial’s outer ring. A scale will appear above the current value (we couldn’t capture it in the screen shot, unfortunately). To change the Canon SD990’s aperture, use the Left or Right arrow keys.
Unfortunately, Manual mode on the Canon SD990 seems pretty lonely without Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority modes. For those, you still have to look at the G-Series or SX-Series Canons.
So what else is on the Canon SD990?
The usual Auto, the limited Program and an associated Manual, the new Quick Shot, Special Scene, and Movie modes. Scene modes include Portrait, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Sunset, Fireworks, Aquarium, Underwater, ISO 3,200 at 1600 x 1200 pixels only, Indoor, Kids & Pets, Night Snapshot, Color Accent, Color Swap, Digital Macro, and Stitch Assist.
Auto restricts what can be adjusted to image quality (JPEG compression) and image size. ISO can either be Auto or Auto Hi, Flash can be Auto or Off, Focus can be Macro or Normal. And my hunch is if you use Auto, you probably don’t bother changing any of those.
Programmed AE lets you change everything but the Canon SD990’s shutter speed and the aperture it seems. ISO adds fixed settings from 80 to 1,600, Flash can be forced on for fill flash (in combination with flash compensation), Focus adds Infinity and Manual. There is also EV, white balance, My Colors, Flash Compensation, Metering, Image Quality, and Image Size settings on the Function menu.
And in the Canon SD990’s Programmed AE mode, you can slide right into Manual to adjust shutter speed and aperture.
Quick Shot mode doesn’t update the LCD, explaining why the Canon SD990 retains the optical viewfinder of the SD950. The LCD displays EV, ISO, Flash mode, and then a row of settings (white balance, My Colors, Shutter release mode, image quality, image size, flash compensation, and then a final row with a live histogram, status icons and warnings). In Quick Shot mode, the lens is constantly autofocusing so you don’t have to half-press the Shutter button to avoid shutter lag. The idea is that this mode will get the fastest capture, perfect for sporting events or other live action scenes. Oddly enough, the LCD displays each captured image for review. Would you take your eye off the subject and away from the viewfinder to chimp at the shot you just captured? This does use the battery heavily (Canon says you’ll only get 180 shots in this mode, so consider yourself warned).
The Canon SD990 also offers 12 Special Scene modes that include Portrait, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Sunset, Fireworks, Aquarium, Underwater, ISO 3200, Indoor, Kids & Pets, and Night Snapshot. Sunset wasn’t on the SD950. In addition to those, you also get Color Accent, Color Swap, Digital Macro, Stitch Assist, and Movie mode.
Still image sizes include 4,416 x 3,312 (Large), 3,456 x 2,592 (Medium 1), 2,592 x 1,944 (Medium 2), 1,600 x 1,200 (Medium 3/Date Stamp), 640 x 480 (Small), 4,416 x 2,480 (Widescreen).