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There are two things that you notice about the Canon PowerShot SD200 (see Figure 1) and its more megapixel-rich siblings the SD300, SD400, and SD500. It's a really small camera with a really big, two-inch LCD display.

Figure 1. Canon Powershot SD200 3/4 view Figure 1. Canon Powershot SD200 three-quarter view

The SD200 is about the size of an Altoid™ tin container, although it does not actually fit inside a tin (See Figure 2).

Figure 2. Canon PowerShot SD200 on top of an Altoid tin Figure 2. Canon PowerShot SD200 on top of an Altoid tin

Why Review a Mere 3-Megapixel Camera in 2005?

The Canon PowerShot SD200 with its 3-megapixel picture resolution is at the bottom of the SD line of digital cameras. When I purchased the SD200, the 4-megapixel SD300 was available for $100(US) more. And Canon announced that the SD400 and SD500 models (5 and 7 megapixels respectively) will be available in late March 2005. So you are not forced to buy a lower-resolution camera if you can afford the higher end of the SD model line.

This review was not written for professional or extremely serious amateur photographers. It is for those of us who are serious about capturing images of people and scenes as we wander through daily life. Most of us do not have unlimited funds to spend on digital tools and toys. Those of us in that economic category find ourselves making choices based on compromises. The characteristics I looked for were an extremely small camera that took good-quality pictures and did not cost more than $300. The megapixel count did not concern me too much since both my previous ultra-compact digital cameras were 2-megapixel models (the first-generation Canon Digital Elph S100 and the Nikon Coolpix 2100) that produced photographs I was quite happy with and that looked fine when printed on 4x6- or 8x10-inch glossy photographic paper.

One feature that I eventually dropped as a requirement was the use of Compact Flash (CF) storage cards. All my other digital cameras use CF cards, and I have a lot of spare CF cards to use in digital cameras and Pocket PCs. Although SD cards still cost more per megabyte than CF cards, SD card prices have dropped a great deal in the past year and are now what I consider to be reasonably priced. The SD200's size and feature set convinced me that the time to change digital photograph storage format had finally arrived for me. I've used regular-speed SD cards (SanDisk 512MB and Lexar 1GB cards) with the camera so far.

Figure 3 shows a top view of (from left to right) the Canon PowerShot G3, Canon Digital Elph S100, and Canon PowerShot SD200. It's easy to see why some of us prefer to carry an ultra-compact digital camera instead of the often more feature-rich full-sized cameras.

Figure 3. Canon PowerShot SD200 compared side by side to the  first-generation Digital Elph S100 and Canon G3 Figure 3. Canon PowerShot SD200 compared side by side to the first-generation Digital Elph S100 and Canon G3

You can see in Figure 4 that Canon has managed to shrink the Digital Elph form factor that has remained more or less constant since the introduction of the APS Elph film camera.

Figure 4. Canon PowerShot SD200 compared to the first-generation Digital Elph S100 Figure 4. Canon PowerShot SD200 compared to the first-generation Digital Elph S100

Even though the Canon SD series is smaller than the Canon S series cameras, the SD200 has a large, bright, two-inch LCD (see Figure 5; the SD200 is above the S100). This is the same size as the LCD on the full-sized Canon PowerShot G6 model.

Figure 5. Canon PowerShot SD200 (top) LCD compared to the first-generation Digital Elph Figure 5. Canon PowerShot SD200 (top) LCD compared to the first-generation Digital Elph

Specifications

Some of the specifications and features of the Canon PowerShot SD series are provided in Table 1 below. The SD200, SD300, and SD400 are very similar in size, weight, and physical interface. The SD500 is a bit larger and heavier than the other SD models. It also has a different mode selection switch. You can see in the specifications table that the SD300 and SD400 have the same list price at the present. My guess is that the SD200 will soon be retired and the SD300 will be repriced and repositioned as the SD series entry point model.

Specification or Feature Description
Price SD200 $349.95
SD300 $449.95
SD400 $449.99
SD500 $549.99
Maximum Effective
Pixel Resolution
SD200 2048 x 1536 (3.2 megapixels)
SD300 2272 x 1704 (4 megapixels)
SD400 2592 x 1944 (5 megapixels)
SD500 3072 x 2304 (7.1 megapixels)
Maximum Video Resolution 640 x 480 at 30fps with audio (AVI file format)
Optical Zoom 3X (105mm 35mm film equivalent)
ISO Equivalence 50/100/200/400
Available Scene Modes Digital Macro, Portrait, Night Snapshot, Kids & Pets, Indoor, Underwater
LCD Display Size 2 in. (118,000 pixels)
Storage Medium SD (Secure Digital) memory card
Battery Proprietary Canon NB-4L
0.6 oz.
Estimated 300 recharge lifespan
Camera Body Dimensions SD200 85.8 x 53.4 x 21.1mm (3.38 x 2.10 x 0.83 in.)
SD300 86.0 x 53.0 x 20.7mm (3.39 x 2.09 x 0.82 in.)
SD400 86.0 x 53.0 x 20.7mm (3.39 x 2.09 x 0.82 in)
SD500 85.6 x 57.0 x 26.5mm (3.37 x 2.24 x 1.04 in)
Camera Body Weight SD200 115g (4.06 oz.)
SD300 130g (4.59 oz.)
SD400 130g (4.59 oz.)
SD500 170g (6.0 oz.)

Low Price, Good Feature Set, Great Photos

The SD200 is relatively low priced (I bought it for $260 with free shipping) and small in size. It is rich in features and produces photographs and videos that exceeded my expectations. The sample photographs that follow were taken at the full 3.2-megapixel resolution with the compression level set to Fine (a lower compression level is available with the Super Fine setting). The photographs have been resized to 640x480 but otherwise are unmodified.

The mode-selection switch (playback viewing, video, and still photography) and two-dimensional navigation, rose-style control pad on the back of the SD200 gives easy access to commonly used features including flash mode, focus distance (macro or infinity), and timer and continuous shooting settings (refer back to Figure 5 above). The new animation effects added to the camera's user interface are a great help in providing feedback when you are changing settings.

The photo in Figure 6 shows two of the characteristics that I really appreciate about the SD200: its color accuracy and saturation. The bowl of shaved ice looks (on my LCD and CRT monitors) the way I remember the real thing looking. Of course, your experience may differ depending on the color properties of the display you are using.

Figure 6. Canon PowerShot SD200 color saturation example Figure 6. Canon PowerShot SD200 color saturation example

Anyone who has photographed kids, animals, or athletes in sports events knows that you don't get a second chance with these subjects. The SD200 will not disappoint you if these are the subjects of any of your photographs. My main reason for using ultra-compact digital cameras over the years was to have a camera with me nearly all the time to capture events and things that interest me. But camera body size is just half of the equation. The other factor is how quickly the camera turns on and focuses. Figure 7 demonstrates how the SD200 brings both parts of the equation together for me. Within the space of a minute I heard "Look Dad!," turned the SD200 on, focused, took the photo, and shouted "Get off that rock before you fall in the water!"

Figure 7. Canon PowerShot SD200 outdoor shot with person Figure 7. Canon PowerShot SD200 outdoor shot with person

Some of the issues of photographing in bright, sunlit conditions are exposure as well as color saturation and accuracy. The main question is, does it look the way I remember? Figure 8 was photographed under a bright mid-afternoon sun. You may see some color banding in the sky of the resized image used here. However, there is no color banding in the original full-sized image. The gradual changes in the sky from dark blue near the top to nearly white as it approaches the mountain top as well as the various green shades in the palm trees and grass accurately match my memory of the scene.

Figure 8. Canon PowerShot SD200 outdoor shot in bright sunlight Figure 8. Canon PowerShot SD200 outdoor shot in bright sunlight

The way the SD200 deals with a completely different photographic situation is illustrated in Figure 9. This was one of the first photographs I took after receiving the SD200. I ran out of my home, turned on the SD200's macro setting, and photographed the tiny palm-sized flowers with a flash. The SD200's AF Assist Light was crucial to letting me see the flower in a nearly dark setting, frame it in the LCD, and then quickly photograph it. This kind of macro photography where nearly everything is left to automatic settings often results in an overexposed image with a mostly white (no color) subject. This photograph, however, shows accurate color rendering even in the various subtle shades of pink and yellow.

Figure 9. Canon PowerShot SD200 flower photographed with flash in Macro mode at night Figure 9. Canon PowerShot SD200 flower photographed with flash in Macro mode at night

The SD200, like all other Canon digital cameras I've used, has a photo-stitching assist mode that helps line up multiple photographs for stitching into a panoramic image later on. However, this mode is buried so deep in the SD200 that I use manual targeting to create stitched panoramic images. Figure 10 shows the result of stitching three photographs from the SD200 using the Photo-Stitch 3.1 software bundled with the camera.

Figure 10. Canon PowerShot SD200 stitched panoramic photo Figure 10. Canon PowerShot SD200 stitched panoramic photo

Video

I've been trying to get away from carrying two cameras: a still digital camera and a mini-DV video camera. Most digital cameras capture quarter VGA (320 x 240 pixels) video at various frame rates. This results in small video windows with pixelation of fast-moving objects in the scene. The SD200 can capture video at full VGA resolution (640 x 480) at 30 frames per second (fps). This works out to about 10 minutes of video on a 1GB SD card. This may not seem like much, but you might be surprised by how much information can be conveyed in short video clips of less than a minute. The SD200 also has a high-speed 60fps 320 x 240 video capture mode for higher speed events (think sports, kids, and animals again). This video mode is, however, limited clips with a maximum length of one minute.

I plan to link some sample videos and more photos for those who want to see more samples at:
http://www.to-tech.com/mediatech/canonsd200/

Battery Life

The SD200's NB-4L battery checks in at a feather light 17g (0.6 oz). It is rated between 140 and 400 images per charge depending on a wide variety of conditions including temperature, flash use, LCD use, turning the camera off and on, and so on. My battery provided enough power to get up to image 104 in my initial use, which included 98 still photos and 6 video files. The relatively low image count can probably be attributed to the usual heavy LCD display use involved in learning my way around the menus and reviewing photos and videos a bit more than usual. The second charge provided more than 200 images. If you plan to take hundreds of photos in a single day, I recommend buying a spare battery. Using the viewfinder instead of the LCD also reduces power drain while still allowing you to briefly review photos on the LCD immediately after taking a photo.

A Few Issues and Tips

ISSUE: Like other Canon digital cameras, the SD200 has a Photo-Stitch Assist feature that helps you line up multiple photographs that you can later piece together into a larger image. The problem is that this feature is buried much deeper in the SD200 menu structure than it is in other Canon cameras I've used. The Canon PowerShot G3, for example, features Stitch Assist right on the main mode dial. The SD200 makes you take eight steps to get there.

  1. Function Set
  2. Manual
  3. Function Set
  4. Menu
  5. Scroll down to Stitch Assist and choose stitch direction
  6. Function Set
  7. Menu
  8. Menu

ISSUE: Another useful feature that takes too many steps is White Balance.

  1. Func. Set
  2. Manual (right)
  3. Press up on cursor pad (pass Resolution)
  4. Press up on cursor pad (pass compression level selection)
  5. Press up on cursor pad (pass Effects selection)
  6. Press up on cursor pad (pass ISO level selection)
  7. Press up on cursor pad (reach Balance selection)
  8. Press right on cursor pad from 1 to 6 times depending on desired White Balance selection. This means it is necessary to do between 8 and 13 button presses to select a white balance.

ISSUE: Possible problem with hinge? The SD200's traditional, rectangular, boxy design looks and feels solid and durable. The one possible exception to this perception of durability is the hinge for the cover of the compartment for the battery and SD storage card (see Figure 11). I've found that if I do not pull the cover completely out laterally before lifting the cover up, the plastic hinge makes a clicking/popping sound against its axle. My concern is that the cover hinge may crack or break off if this two-part procedure (lateral pull, then lift) is not performed correctly each time.

Figure 11. Canon PowerShot SD200 hinge Figure 11. Canon PowerShot SD200 hinge

TIP: Test the preset photo settings such as Digital Macro, Portrait, Night Snapshot, Kids & Pets, Indoor, and Underwater under different conditions to see how they work for you. You should also take advantage of the manual settings available to optimize your photographs. For example, I found that simply setting the ISO equivalence to 400 while leaving the other manual settings at their default values gave reasonably good results when attempting to photograph high-speed movements (gymnastics) indoors with less than optimal lighting.

TIP: The SD200 is so small that most camera cases labeled "small" are still too big and leave a lot of wiggle room. I took the foam padding used to fill the case that was on display and cut it to provide extra padding and a good fit inside the case I bought.

TIP: The SD200 comes with a wrist strap, however I replaced that with a lanyard that lets me hang the lightweight SD200 from my neck when I need to free both hands for a few moments. If I have a shirt pocket, I can put the SD200 in my pocket and be reasonably certain that it won't accidentally be lost if it falls out.

TIP: Here's an oddball, non-photographic final tip: If you hold the Func. Set button in the center of the navigation rose on the back, and then press the power button while still holding the Func. Set button, the SD200 LCD will light up with time of day information without turning on the camera itself. And, the clock is orientation sensitive. The LCD will display the characters according to the orientation of the SD200.

Final Thoughts

In a few short weeks, the Canon PowerShot SD200 has become my main digital camera. It is so small and unobtrusive that I carry it with me every day. Its photo quality is great, and I rarely (if ever) feel the nagging sensation that I should have carried a more sophisticated full-sized digital camera. The four available SD models give you a good range of prices and pixel resolution to choose from. If you feel 3 megapixels is too low for you, just check out one of the higher resolution (and higher priced) models available.

Where to Get More Information

Digital Photography Hacks

Related Reading

Digital Photography Hacks
100 Industrial-Strength Tips & Tools
By Derrick Story

Todd Ogasawara is the editor of MobileAppsToday.com. He has been named a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) in the Mobile Devices category for the past several years. You can find his personal website focusing on Mobile Device Technology at www.mobileviews.com.


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