Canon is never standing still. You can count on your Canon camera to produce good pictures, but you can also count that in less than a year a new model that replaces the one you have will appear on the market. Such was the case with the Canon SD1200 IS that replaces the previous model, Canon SD1100 IS. I didn't expect surprises from the new model since it represents an evolution of the long line of the Canon SD cameras (also known as "Digital Elph").
The Canon SD1200 is a 10-Megapixel camera that is even slightly cheaper than the last year's 8-Megapixel SD1100, yet features higher resolution and more features. "Cheaper" is always a good thing, provided the quality is there.
What Is Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS?
The Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS Digital ELPH is a 10-Megapixel super-compact stylish digital camera with 3x optical zoom (35-105 mm equivalent), optical image stabilization, large 2.5-inch LCD screen with 230,000 pixels, zooming optical viewfinder and face detection.
The camera is powered by a compact rechargeable battery (NB6-L) and stores pictures and videos on SD (Secure Digital), SDHC or MultiMedia memory cards. The SD1200 IS features fast USB 2.0 Hi-Speed connection to PC and Mac computers. It also supports direct printing (without computer) with PictBridge compatible printers. The strap, cables, software and rechargeable battery with charger are included.
Just as the previous Canon SD cameras, this model looks stylish and high-tech. The camera also has a movie mode of up to 30 fps at VGA resolution (640x480).
The SD1200 looks and feels durable. It features a retractable lens that extends and has a lens cover that opens when the camera is powered on. When the camera is powered off, the lens retracts and the lens cover closes.
The on/off button is on the top deck, which also has a zoom rocker and a large shutter release button. The bottom of the camera has a threaded tripod mount and a battery and SD card compartment lid.
The rear panel has a large 230,000-pixel 2.5-inch LCD screen, an optical zooming viewfinder, control buttons and menu controls with a FUNC./SET button in the middle of it. There is also a sliding switch between auto mode, movie and still picture taking modes. Unlike the previous models, the view mode is selected using a separate button, which is (at least in my opinion) a very welcome change. In cameras that rely on a mechanical switch between all modes (including review), you have to switch very frequently, which is time consuming. The dedicated button of this SD1200 makes it much faster and more convenient.
The side has a small cover, underneath which you can find a USB jack and an A/V jack. Otherwise, the SD1200 looks very similar to other SD-line cameras. The SD1200 uses a compact proprietary Li-Ion battery that looks like a cell phone battery. After I inserted it and my own Kingston Elite Pro SD memory card into the battery/memory compartment, I was ready to shoot, review and upload.
Admittedly, it is difficult to go wrong with Canon cameras when it comes to pretty much any aspect of functionality and the ease of use is one of them. Just as its predecessors and its siblings in the model lineup, the SD1200 is very easy to use. The menus and icons are slightly more descriptive than that of the older-generation Digital Elphs like SD400 due to more available space on the screen (2.5-inch vs. 2-inch). For example, the pictogram that shows mountains now says Infinity underneath to tell you that in this mode the focus is fixed on infinity. The camera uses the latest version of Digic processor by Canon (Digic 4) that provides responsive operation and low power consumption.
In case you have used a Canon camera before, you will be able to use this camera in no time. I have not read the manual (it is still sealed), but was able to use the camera and all its features instantly. This camera can be used by any member of the family and by photographers of all levels of expertise from novices to advanced ones (albeit it will not give you much control over the shutter speed or aperture; even Manual mode will only allow you to use exposure compensation and that is about it). And now you can see the aperture and shutter speed information on the screen before you press the shutter release - a feature that was not available in the Digital Elphs (SD line of Canon cameras) prior to SD1000.
The camera is very fast and responsive. The large and bright LCD screen shows pictograms of selected modes (e.g. Macro, Flash mode, etc.) large and legible on the screen (sometimes with subtitles) and then they move to the side of the screen. A very cool and useful feature, especially for people with impaired vision or when operating in difficult conditions, e.g. sunlight
The switch on the back panel has a dedicated position of Auto. Not surprisingly, the camera comes pre-set to Auto mode, in which you have no need or way to adjust settings. You do not have to do anything other than point and shoot - the camera takes care of the rest. The camera uses intelligent autofocus, integrated with face detection. Once you press the shutter release button halfway to make camera focus, the camera shows you (on the LCD screen) where it focused by displaying one or more green rectangles. Then you take the picture by pressing the shutter release button all the way. In dim conditions, the camera uses its focus-assist light, which is effective in focusing at short distances.
Both Macro and Infinty modes are available at a push of a button. Also, the ISO settings can be set to Auto or Auto Hi Sensitivity in Auto mode. In Manual mode, you can select a fixed ISO as well (e.g. ISO 100).
In case you want more control, you can select Manual mode, which is not a real manual mode where you would be able to select the shutter speed and aperture, but rather a mode in which you get access to selection of several parameters. In Manual mode, you can set the ISO, white balance (several presets and custom), use exposure compensation to make pictures darker or brighter, use picture effects, color replacement effects, etc.
In addition to fast ISO selection, the camera gives you instant access to the flash mode selection (flash off, red-eye reduction, night portrait, auto flash), macro or infinity mode as well as drive mode (single frame, timer or burst/continuous shooting) at a push of a button: arrow down and arrow right.
One persistent complaint I have centers on the menu control buttons or, in particular, on the disc that holds them. Unlike some previous models, but just as the SD1000 and SD1100 before it, the SD1200 has a disc that is too flat and too leveled with the back surface of the camera making it less easy to use - it is difficult to distinguish where the edge of the button is by touch.
More on Features and Controls
The camera features selectable Evaluative, Center-Weighted and Spot metering modes. The camera has a built-in flash that is quite powerful or its size and has a red-eye reduction function. It features a shutter speed range of 15-1/1,500 sec and selectable ISO of 80-3,200 as well as ISO Auto and High ISO Auto.
The camera also has a Macro mode where it can focus very close. The available movie mode records movies with sound (the camera has a microphone and a speaker) at up to 640x480 up to 30 fps, providing fluid playback.
The camera has the widest aperture of f/2.8 at wide angle, f/4.9 at telephoto. It seems that the aperture is a two-step type with no fine control over aperture. The camera doesn't let you control the aperture or the shutter speed directly, but even if you select Infinity mode (the icon looks like mountains) or try shooting in different lighting conditions, you will soon discover that your resultant photos have only one of two aperture values at any given focal length.
Unlike 3 generations ago or before, at least you can see the aperture and shutter speed on the screen now. It is good to know the aperture while shooting at telephoto to figure out if the background will be blurry.
You can use the exposure compensation in the manual mode and it comes in handy in the morning or sunset hours as the camera overexposes the picture trying to preserve the shadow detail.
There are a bunch of scene modes as well, which help the camera tweak the focusing and exposure settings according to the type of scene.
Build Quality and Ergonomics
The camera has a solid feel and good build quality, although it looks and feels somewhat cheap comparing to some earlier (and more expensive) SD-line cameras. The major controls are within easy reach and the tactile response is good. The camera a bit too small but for its size, but it is convenient to hold and its compact size lets you put it in a jacket pocket or a purse easily. In fact, it is so small, you can almost put it in a shirt pocket.
The camera has a threaded tripod mount. It is useful if you want to take macro pictures or pictures with long exposures (e.g. nighttime). The camera has a timer (2-second or 10-second), which you should use to avoid blurry images when the camera is on the tripod.
The SD1200 uses the latest version of Canon DiG!C processor (Digic 4). It is the same processor used in larger Canon digital SLR cameras and it gives this Digital Elph excellent speed. The camera takes less than a second to power itself on in review mode and only about a second or two to power on and extend its lens in shooting mode.
Although zooming is reasonably fast, I wish it were more responsive. You can fully zoom in or out in about 2-3 seconds. I find the 3x optical zoom the camera has sufficient for most situations, but wider angle would be useful for indoor pictures.
The camera can capture images at about two per second in burst mode (I used Kingston Elite Pro SD memory card in my testing). In single-frame mode, the camera could snap pictures as fast as I could push the shutter release button. The focusing takes less than a second, even in dim lighting, at wide angle. But at telephoto the focusing can take a little more than a second. And in dim light at telephoto, the camera may fail to focus at all. The shutter lag, when pre-focused, is virtually nonexistent.
LCD and Viewfinder
The camera has a 2.5-inch non-articulated (fixed) LCD screen and an optical zooming viewfinder. The LCD is large, bright, gains-up in the dark (increases brightness) and is fluid. The resolution of the LCD screen is excellent (230,000 pixels). And the icons/menus are large, colorful and legible.
The LCD coverage is about 100% - you can see exactly what will be recorded. The viewfinder, however, covers only about 80% of what will be recorded.
IS: Image Stabilization
The IS in the model name stands for image stabilization. It allows you take photos at 1-2 stops slower shutter speed handheld with no blur. This feature is especially useful for smaller cameras at telephoto or/and in low light. In other words, you will be able to take sharper photos in low light or when zoomed in.
The camera uses USB 2.0 Hi-Speed connection to transfer pictures to a computer. You can also remove the SD memory card and use a memory card reader (if you have one), or use the camera with the USB cable supplied. I did the former since it is more convenient.
This model has a built-in flash is quite bright for its size. It has a red-eye reduction mode and is sufficient at up to 10-12 feet away. It has a recycle time of about 8-10 seconds. The flash has a red-eye reduction mode and the camera itself features face detection and playback-mode red-eye removal. It works pretty well.
The camera's automatic white balance is usually quite accurate with the exception of the incandescent lighting, where you are better off either selecting Incandescent white balance setting or using the available manual white balance.
You let camera focuses using its auto-focusing system augmented with face detection technology. The camera will show you green rectangles over the areas where it focused so that you can confirm the focus areas. There is no manual focusing provision.
There are also two special focusing modes, accessible at a push of a button: Macro mode and Infinity (Infinity available in Manual mode).
I tried the 640x480 movie mode at 30 fps. The video was fluid and sharp. Although not a replacement for a camcorder, it was certainly usable.
Image Quality Settings
The camera lets you select between Super Fine, Fine and Normal compression levels (regardless of resolution). You can detect occasional JPEG artifacts in the mode of highest compression and some fine detail may be lost (only visible when printing enlargements or viewing at 100% on the computer monitor). But the two lower-compression modes (Fine and Superfine) are rather good.
I usually take photos that contain all primary colors at different focal lengths, apertures and compression ratios. Some photos are taken outdoors, some indoors with and without flash.
Oftentimes, I take a bunch of photos while standing at my window. Those photos features all colors: blue sky, green foliage, red curbs, yellow fire hydrant and cars of different colors.
Taking photos at different focal lengths and apertures reveals the camera's optical quality: corner sharpness, chromatic aberrations as well as overall sharpness.
Taking photos at different ISO settings shows how well a given camera can keep noise levels low in dim light. I mostly evaluate the image quality using my computer monitor, but I also print some photos at different sizes using either my printer or online services like Shutterfly, Snapfish and Costco online photo center.
The SD1200 IS produces excellent photos, which are well-exposed, sharp, contrasty and richly-colored. The photos have pleasing "Canon" color with slight oversaturation and nice blue skies - the kind of color consumers like.
Just as the case with previous SD models, the corners of the frame are not as sharp as the center at some focal lengths. This will be mostly unnoticeable in printed pictures since corners normally don't make it to the print due to the aspect ratio difference and other factors. Aside from slightly blurry corners, the photos came out sharp with very pleasing colors.
The image noise is virtually absent at ISO 80 and 100 in shadows, appears (slightly) at the ISO 200, gets more pronounced at ISO 400 and gets worse at ISO 800. The ISO 1,600-3,200 are even noisier (note ISO 3,200 is only available in special "ISO 3200" mode), to a point where I would not consider using the ISO 1600 and above at all. It is usable at 6x4, but if you look closer you will see that it is somewhat soft and a bit noisy.
If you are printing 6x4 or 5x7 pictures, the noise should not be visible up to ISO 800. At ISO 80-100, you can print your photos at up to 13x19 inches with good detail and ISO 200-400 should be good up to 10x8.
Overall, for its size and price, the camera produces pictures that are among the best in class.
Based on my experience with previous SD-series models, I expect good reliability from this model, provided it is not abused.
I have not fully tested the battery consumption, but after fully charging it, I took more than 130 pictures and the low battery warning has not appeared yet. Canon claims you can take about 260 photos on one battery charge with the LCD on (or 700 with LCD off), which is an improvement comparing to the older model.
The camera is available in many colors, from dark gray to pink.
Pros: Price, size, image stabilization, looks, large screen, fast operation, great photos, dedicated view button
Cons: Slightly blurry corners, no manual control over aperture or shutter speed
I really like the new Canon SD1200 IS. It is compact, stylish and capable. Its 10-Megapixel resolution, good optics, image stabilization, features and 2.5-inch LCD screen make it capable and pleasant to use. And for its size, it produces some of the best-in-class photos. And the price is right. I highly recommend it, in any color.