One of the most popular cameras of last year wasn't a big fancy digital SLR, or a pimped-out superzoom, it was Canon's somewhat understated Powershot SD1000. Its combination of a nice, though not extravagant, feature set, small size, and relatively low price proved quite appealing to camera buyers. This year, with the PowerShot SD1100 IS, Canon has updated the aesthetic design, switched to a slightly different zoom range, and most importantly, added optical image stabilization. Of course, they've also raised the resolution to 8 megapixels from last year's 7.1 megapixels and refined some of the camera's other features.
Last year's model evoked the design of the original film Elph with its black circle around the camera's lens and squared-off edges. This year, Canon brought this model back in line with more recent designs without abandoning its elfin status and is offering it in silver, blue, brown, pink , and gold. The tweaked design is just slightly thicker than last year's and sports rounded edges and a slightly curved indent on the right-hand side that provides a perfect nook for a middle finger when gripping the camera. As with last year's model, Canon places all buttons on the right half of the body. A slider lets you switch among still image capture, video recording, and playback. Other than three dedicated buttons for Menu, Display, and Direct Printing, the only other control is the circular four-way rocker with a Function/Set button in the middle.
Canon doesn't include manual exposure controls in its Digital Elph line, but you will find an ample array of preset scene modes and some features that make automatic shooting simpler. As with a lot of compact cameras, the SD1100 IS includes face detection. This year, Canon has extended this function to let it set not only focus and exposure, but also flash output and white balance, so the camera should be less likely to blow out the details on your friend's face with the flash and should be better able to keep skin tones neutral in varied light sources. To help combat confusion when setting ISO, the SD1100 IS includes Motion Detection Technology, which raises the ISO setting if there is a moving subject when you have the camera set to High ISO Auto mode. By raising the ISO, the camera can shoot at a faster shutter speed to freeze the action.
While some cameras have been switching to wider-angle lenses, Canon includes a 38-to-114mm-equivalent f/2.8-to-4.9 3X optical zoom lens in the SD1100 IS in contrast to last year's 35-to-105mm lens. The change in focal lengths doesn't make for much of an effective difference, though we did notice more distortion at the SD1100 IS's 38mm setting than we did at the SD1000's 35mm setting. Canon did add optical image stabilization, however, which should help if you often shoot stationary objects in low light. Since the lens isn't all that wide, you might find the optical viewfinder helpful to bring the camera a bit further back when trying to frame a shot, or in situations where you don't want to have the bright LCD turned on.
Though it has a responsive shutter, the SD1100 IS took longer than its predecessor between shots and its flash took too long to recycle. The camera was quick to start up, taking 1 second from pressing the power button to until it captured its first JPEG. Thereafter, it took 2.1 seconds between JPEGs with the flash turned off, making it more than a half second slower than the SD1000. With the flash turned on, the camera took 3.5 seconds between shots, which is more than a second slower than its predecessor. Shutter lag measured a very impressive 0.4 second in our high-contrast test and an even more impressive 0.7 second in our low-contrast test, which mimic bright and dim shooting conditions, respectively. Continuous shooting yielded a none-too-impressive 0.8 frame per second, again a step down from the SD1000's 1.7 fps.
Image quality from the SD1100 IS is quite nice for a camera of its class. Its automatic white balance does a good, but not perfect, job of neutralizing colors under a variety of light sources. It adds a bit of warmth to incandescent-lit shots and a touch of green to fluorescent, but does a great job in natural daylight. The camera's tungsten setting did a good job of neutralizing the harsh yellow cast of our tungsten hot lights. While noise isn't completely nonexistent at ISO 80, you'll have to look quite closely to find any at this lowest sensitivity or at ISO 100, and both settings offer pleasingly sharp images with plenty of shadow detail. By ISO 200 you'll start to notice noise, especially in shadows, though there is still plenty of sharpness to the images. At ISO 400, noise still isn't over the top, and there is a surprising amount of sharpness, though I saw a noticeable roll-off in shadow detail. Things get precipitously worse at ISO 800, though you still might be able to get a decent 4x6-inch print under ideal circumstances. By ISO 1,600, images look as if they're shot during a hailstorm. I suggest staying below ISO 800 whenever possible.
Given the success of the SD1000, I was surprised that Canon let the camera's shot-to-shot time slide with the SD1100 IS. They make up for it a bit by adding optical image stabilization and keeping the impressive image quality of its predecessor. Despite my whining, the SD1100 IS is still a very nice camera, and if you're going to make a trade-off anywhere, I'd rather wait a bit longer between shots than sacrifice image quality or shutter lag. As long as you don't mind the long flash recycle time, Canon's SD1100 IS makes a great choice for a relatively inexpensive ultracompact camera. If optical image stabilization doesn't mean that much to you though, you should probably see if you can find still find the SD1000, since you can get it at a very nice discount if there are still any available.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Typical shot-to-shot time||Time to first shot||Shutter lag (low-contrast)||Shutter lag (high-contrast)|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)