Canon PowerShot SD400

At about 4.5 ounces (without batteries), the 5-megapixel Canon PowerShot SD400 is 1.5 ounces lighter than the 7.1-megapixel Canon PowerShot SD500   ), but otherwise offers very similar features. Like its slightly larger sibling, the SD400 is a pocketable point-and-shooter that takes excellent pictures.

The 2-inch LCD is bright and easy to see, and it brightens automatically when shooting in low-light conditions. Buttons and controls are arranged to put most settings within thumb’s reach, and menus are easy to read and navigate. There’s no live histogram to help you gauge exposure (a histogram is available in Playback mode).

The 3x optical zoom lens ranges from a fast f2.8 at the wide end to f4.9 at the long end. In macro mode, the SD400 can focus to 1.2 inches. A responsive 9-point AiAF (artificial intelligence autofocus) detects the subject automatically, regardless of where it is in the frame (this can be disabled for center autofocus). An AF-Assist beam (which automatically lights up to help the camera focus before it takes a picture in low light) helps you focus.

Like the SD500, the SD400 doesn’t have a lot of manual controls. The mode switch offers three selections: Playback, Shooting, and Movie modes. Manual mode adjustments are limited to exposure compensation, white balance (including custom white balance), ISO (from 50 to 400), and photo effect settings. You can’t set aperture or shutter speed directly, but a long shutter option lets you choose a shutter speed of 1 to 15 seconds. There are six scene modes for shooting everything from Kids & Pets to Underwater (for use with the optional All Weather Case, which will set you back about $150). Stitch Assist helps you shoot overlapping images for creating panoramas (you’ll need the bundled PhotoStitch software to assemble the images on your computer).

A My Colors mode offers some creative possibilities for in-camera experimentation, including the ability to lighten or darken skin tones, selectively make blue, greens, or reds more vivid, or swap a specific color for another color. I found the results spotty. You’re better off making these kinds of adjustments in an image-editing program like Adobe’s Photoshop Elements (   ; February 2005 ), but you have nothing to lose except memory space on your secure digital card by experimenting with the in-camera adjustments. You can always save an unaltered copy of the image in addition to your adjusted image.

The PowerShot SD400’s startup is almost instantaneous, and shutter lag virtually nonexistent. Continuous shooting mode takes a shot every second or so, and I managed to snap a dozen pictures before the camera began pausing to write the images to memory (performance will depend on your memory card).

The images from the PowerShot SD400 were excellent, with accurate, saturated colors and good detail. Noise becomes noticeable above 200 ISO.

The SD400 captures movies at VGA quality (640-by-480 pixels) and 30 frames per second (fps), but individual clips are limited to three minutes. The video quality is excellent. A Fast Frame Rate mode lets you record video at 60 fps, perfect for capturing sports action, but the resolution is limited to 320-by-240.

Macworld’s Buying Advice

If you can do without manual controls, the PowerShot SD400 takes excellent pictures. If you need more pixels, the 7.1-megapixel PowerShot SD500 has a similar set of features for about $100 more.

[ Robert Ellis is a photography enthusiast with a growing collection of digital cameras. He is a frequent contributor to Macworld and maintains the blog Futurosity.]

Jury Tests

Color Quality—Accuracy Excellent
Clarity—Detail Good
Clarity—Artifacts, Noise Good

Scale = Excellent, Very Good, Good, Flawed, Unacceptable

Specifications

Resolution 5.0 megapixels
Zoom/Focal Length 3.0x Optical (35mm to 105mm)
Maximum Aperture f2.8-f5.6
Size (wxhxd) 3.39 inches x 2.09 inches x 0.81 inches
Weight 4.59 ounces

[ EDITOR’S NOTE: This review was corrected to change the type of memory card to Secure Digital, the correct type of card for this camera. ]

Canon PowerShot SD400

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