Another year, another ELPH. Canon constantly churns out new models in its Digital ELPH line-up and the latest is the SD1100 IS, a $249 USD 8-megapixel point-and-shoot model with a 3x zoom and optical image stabilization. This compact camera is available in fashion colors so the glitterati can match their digicams with their outfits or the color of their contact lenses. Cool, right? Beyond the surface, the SD1100 IS is the replacement for the wildly popular SD1000 (now $199 USD), a 7.1MP digicam without OIS. As we always say, you gotta love the consumer electronics biz since every year prices drop as features improve. When was the last time a car company followed that path—or even a gallon of milk? This camera is really in the sweet spot for 2008 point-and-shoots with its 8MP resolution, 3x zoom and OIS. Of course it has Face Detection, practically a required feature for aim-and-forget cameras. Let’s see if this one hits some sweet notes—or sour…
Features and Design
The SD1100 IS features the classic “box and circle” ELPHs have used for over a decade. It’s simple, clean and screams “I am a camera!” We received a Swing Silver one to review but there are also Rhythm & Blue, Pink Melody, Bohemian Brown and Gold Tone, names that seem more appropriate for a martini menu then a camera catalog. Whatever. Personalization is a big buzz word among CE marketers—from laptop cases to cameras—and you certainly can pick one to fit your mood. This ELPH doesn’t have the swooping lines of the SD870IS but it’s attractive with silver front and back pieces sandwiching slick black accents. It’s a classic look I like.
The SD1100 IS is truly the size of an Altoids tin measuring 3.42 x 2.16 x .87 (WHD, in inches) and weighs 4.41 ounces for the body only, 5 with battery and card. The front is dominated by the 3x zoom nestled within its surrounding circle. The lens is equivalent to 38-114mm in 35mm terms, the basic point-and-shoot focal length. As with the complaint regarding the A590 IS, I prefer a wider view but that’s my preference; you might find this all you need. Also on the front is the flash, AF Assist lamp, pinhole mic and porthole for the viewfinder. There are a few embossed logos, but they don’t clutter the overall look.
There are only two controls on top—the on/off button and the shutter with surrounding wide/tele switch. There’s no mode dial so you have to make all your adjustments via the menus. This really is an aim-and-forget camera so if going manual in any way is on your plate, look elsewhere. The rear is dominated by a 2.5-inch LCD rated a solid 230K pixels. It features Pure Color II technology (an upgrade from the SD1000) and it works well in most lighting conditions. In the rare instance it doesn’t, you can use the viewfinder. Note: this viewfinder is one of things that separates Canon point-and-shoots with competitors who simply go with the LCD. I rarely use it but it’s a nice safety net.
To the right of the screen is the four-way controller with center Function/Set button. Tap the controller and you have access to ISO (80-1600), flash adjustments, Macro and the burst mode/self timer. Other keys include Display (grid lines are available), Menu and Direct Transfer to download images. At the top right is the main control switch (camera, movie mode and playback) as well as the speaker. As noted, there are very few manual adjustments other than exposure compensation and white balance so if the word aperture means anything and you want to use this feature on your new camera, check out another model. That said you can adjust the shutter speed (only for extended times) up to 15 seconds.
On the right side is the compartment for the USB and A/V out while the bottom has the tripod mount and slots for the rechargeable lithium-ion battery and memory card. It accepts SD, SDHC, MMC and MMC+ media.
Since this camera does not have internal memory, Canon supplies a 32MB MMC+ card so you can take a few snaps. Definitely buy a 1- or 2-gig card so you can shoot away for photos and video; this one takes 640×480 at 30 frames per second. Also in the box is the battery/charger, USB and A/V cables, a 226-page owner’s manual, an 80-page Direct Print guide and a CD-ROM with ZoomBrowser EX 6.1, PhotoStitch 3.1, drivers and EOS Utility 1.1a for Windows. Mac users get ImageBrowser 6.1, PhotoStitch 3.2 and EOS Utility 1.1.
Once the battery was charged, loaded and the date set, it was picture-snapping time.
Image Courtesy of Canon
Performance and Use
Loading the camera with a 2GB Kingston SDHC card, I began at top resolution and least compression (3264×2448 pixels). The digital zoom was off, OIS engaged for “shoot only” and the SD1100 IS was set for Auto and single shot mode.
The camera sprang to life quickly (less than 2 seconds) and was ready to go. Focusing is quite quick as the 9-point AiAF system grabs hold of subjects with a minimum amount of “hunting and grabbing.” Shutter response was also prompt with a minimal amount of lag. This camera is rated slightly less fast than the A590 IS (1.3 fps vs. 1.4) but this barely noticeable when you move into continuous or burst mode. Naturally this spec is with the flash off; turn it on and you’ll have to wait as the camera recharges itself (figure around 3 seconds). Still this isn’t too bad for an 8MP point-and-shoot.
I found the menu to be pretty straightforward and the Function key is the one you’ll be tapping the most as it gives you access to the key shooting modes. However, Canon engineers definitely have to go back to the drawing board as far as accessing scene modes are concerned. When you want to use one, you hit the Function key and get a whopping three choices (Portrait, Night Portrait, Kids&Pets). For more you have to highlight K&P, hit Display and then you’ll see eight more (Indoor, Sunset and so on). Adding this additional step is a really poor move and should be rectified ASAP. After all this is for casual photogs and life should be easy for them, right?
Image Courtesy of Canon
This Canon has Face Detection (what decent digicam doesn’t these days?) but it does offer a twist. It focuses on nine faces if you’re shooting a group that large. If you have a particular favorite face you want to capture, say a child playing with their friends, you can designate him or her with the Face Select and Track function. Now no matter where they move in the frame, that is the key face the camera snaps. Although not as cool as some of the other FD tweaks coming out (such as Sony’s Smile Shutter that automatically takes a picture when your subject smiles), this is a nice add-on. Even better is Focus Check. Once you enable this (it’s under Review Info, the main menu), you immediately get an enlargement of the face you just shot so you’ll see if the eyes are open or if the smile is a good one. If not, it’s time for a do-over. This is a great feature so you’ll always get a good portrait. With the AF-Point Zoom you can check the image before it’s shot as a magnifying window blows up to the center of the same or the face you want to capture. Surprisingly Canon refers to this as an Image Inspection tool but if you look for it in the owner’s manual you won’t find it—it’s under Focus Check. Oops!
Canon’s Face Detection is quite good and there’s a minimal amount of red-eye and white balance delivers very accurate skin tones. If you plan on taking lots of people shots—and the buyer of this camera certainly will–the SD1100 IS won’t disappoint.
What is disappointing is the noise level. In our prints digital noise wasn’t a big problem until you hit 400 (it tops out at a pixilated 1600). Definitely keep the ISO at the lowest level you can when shooting indoors with available light. Outside with decent natural light, the camera has few issues and delivers nice accurate colors. I captured some nice moody images of a foggy morning and they mirrored reality. Another slight drawback is the battery which is rated 240 shots without the flash. This is pretty low (the Canon A590 IS with two NiMH AAs takes 450). Just be prepared to keep the battery charged so there are problems during your nights on the town.
I liked the SD1100 IS Digital ELPH since it does what it’s supposed to do for a reasonable price. Is this the greatest camera to come down the pike? No, but as I said, it does the job. Point-and-shoot portrait pictures are good and outdoor shots are spot in typical Canon style. Optical image stabilization helps eliminate blur in most instances and let’s you shoot in available light. Focusing is fast and there’s barely any shutter lag (with the flash off, though). It does fall down with excess digital noise at high ISOs and the battery could use some extra oomph. And setting tweakers should pass this one by. That said I still have no problems telling friends—even those friends looking at this monitor—to buy Canon point-and-shoots like the SD1100 IS.
• Good point-and-shoot camera
• Takes quality photos with good color
• Optical image stabilization
• Noise at 400 ISO and above
• On-screen menu needs streamlining
• Minimal manual options