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Home / Photography / Point-and-shoot Cameras

Canon PowerShot SD780 IS Review

By Mike Perlman, Saturday 16 May 2009
Canon PowerShot SD780 IS
Canon PowerShot SD780 IS
Canon PowerShot SD780 IS
Canon PowerShot SD780 IS
Canon PowerShot SD780 IS
Canon PowerShot SD780 IS
Canon PowerShot SD780 IS
Canon PowerShot SD780 IS
Canon's smallest PowerShot falls into our hands. Can it take the heat from its peers? Read the full Canon PowerShot SD780 IS review here.

Review summary of the Canon PowerShot SD780 IS:
Scoreboard »      Features »      Side-by-side »      Gallery »
Canon PowerShot SD780 IS This is a compact that will sell just because of its ultra portable size, but there’s no denying the fact that the Canon PowerShot SD780 IS is much more than just a pocket-friendly smooth talker. Most other tiny compacts in this class can walk the walk, but they can’t back it up with a solid image performance, or great features. The PowerShot SD780 IS churned an excellent portfolio of images in bright and low light, in addition to providing plenty of advanced features that can’t be found on most of its competitors. The 3x optical zoom and small 2.5-inch LCD are not the PowerShot SD780 IS’s strong points, and we preferred the Canon PowerShot SD960 IS’s ample widescreen LCD and control dial to its basic interface. However, this little guy is the perfect concoction of ultimate portability and quality shooting features, so if you’re in the market for a petite powerhouse, look no further than the Canon PowerShot SD780 IS. And did we mention 720P HD video? Release: March 2009. Price: $170.
Pros: Super Compact and visually appealing. Great overall image performance. Excellent menus and impressive features.
Cons: Small LCD. Difficult to stabilize due to camera’s size. Inadequate viewfinder.
Very good
Full Canon PowerShot SD780 IS Review:
Design - Good

Canon's PowerShot lineup this year is an architectural variety act. Nearly every model is indiscernible from its predecessor, and the Canon PowerShot SD780 IS seems to be the brother from another mother when compared to last year's Canon PowerShot SD770 IS. The most notable difference comes down to size. The PowerShot SD780 IS is about as thick as a stack of Donald Trump's credit cards, measuring just over a half an inch. The corners are now rounded, and the camera's chassis is about 20% smaller. Canon went with an all-plastic design this year, and we wish the PowerShot SD780 IS came in a brushed aluminum. That's not to say the camera's matte Gold, Red, Black and Silver colors aren't enticing, but the look and durability of brushed aluminum would be the cat's meow.

Carryovers from last year include a 2.5-inch LCD and viewfinder, but the Canon PowerShot SD780 IS's viewfinder is even smaller than the PowerShot SD770 IS's. The viewfinder also crops a good portion of the image, which was a nice safety feature for fitting all of our subject matter into the shot. However, the optical screen was just too tiny and we stuck with the LCD the entire time. The shutter button zoom toggle has been recessed into the top of the PowerShot SD780 IS's frame and it only offers a miniscule tab that rocks back and forth. However, we didn't mind the toggle, thanks to its fluid, responsive movement. An HDMI jack can be found along the back, as well as a standard 4-way directional pad and button cluster configuration. The Mode switch was difficult to use without skipping over Camera mode, so we had to use our nails to feather it up and down.

Interface – Good

After shooting side-by-side with the Canon PowerShot SD960 IS, we felt shortchanged when it came to the Canon PowerShot SD780 IS's interface. The 2.5-inch LCD just couldn't hold a tea light to the sweeping 2.8-inch widescreen LCD on the PowerShot SD960 IS. Fortunately, Canon laced the PowerShot SD780 IS with its PureColor LCD II technology, which allowed us to view the screen at absurdly sharp angles and still maintain a picture that was devoid of solarization. The 230,000-pixel resolution gave us a nice, sharp picture, so we had minimal complaints when it came to resolution. With the smaller LCD, icons had a tendency to clutter up the screen so there were times when we needed to toggle the Display in order to achieve a decent view of our subject matter.

The Canon PowerShot SD780 IS also retains Canon's old-school menu system, a tried and true legend in the Digital Camera Interface Hall of Fame. We love the functionality of the x-axis/y-axis structure, and we were able to rapidly select options with the greatest of ease. Since there's no full force Mode dial, all Scene modes are located in the Function menu. It was a little confusing at first, but we were able to customize the last Scene preset option by pressing Display and scouring a barrage of Scene modes. We initially thought the PowerShot SD780 IS lacked a good chunk of classic Scene modes, but we just had to do a little extra work to access the extended menu.

Buttons are fairly standard on the Canon PowerShot SD780 IS, including a 4-way directional pad with quick functions and three administrative buttons. We loved the control dial on the Canon PowerShot SD960 IS, though the camera had fewer external controls than the PowerShot SD780 IS. However, given the PowerShot SD780 IS's size, we couldn't really expect much when it came to the control panel.

Features - Good

The Canon PowerShot SD780 IS is equipped with the same tool belt as the PowerShot SD960 IS, which is a formidable arsenal for an ultra compact camera. Although there is no full force Manual mode or Aperture/Shutter Priority modes, the PowerShot SD780 IS still offers plenty in the way of advanced manual adjustment. Take the Long Shutter Scene mode, for instance. Thanks to this feature, we were able to travel down to a 60-second shutter, so low light shooting was not an issue as long as we shot with a tripod. We also got a chance to play with our favorite Color Accent and Color Swap Scene modes in addition to a slew of color options including Vivid, Black and White and Positive Film.

New for 2009 is 720P HD video, and the Canon PowerShot SD780 IS's video quality was tantamount to that of the Canon PowerShot SD960 IS and Canon PowerShot SX200 IS. In bright light, we experienced a solid performance in terms of color and detail, though low light gave us a significant smattering of noise here and there. We loved the fact that we could use the Color Accent and Color Swap features while shooting video, and this was one of the best performances we've seen on a compact. Canon could do a little low light work, but this is a great start.

Playback was quite impressive with the Canon PowerShot SD780 IS. We could view up to 100 image/video icons on the screen at once and each individual image could be viewed with all of its data and an accompanying histogram. The PowerShot SD780 IS's Playback mode might not be as slick as the PowerShot SD960 IS's, but it's just as functional and easy to use. Plus, we like the Auto Rotate feature, which automatically flipped the image vertically or horizontally, depending on how we held the camera.

Hardware - Good

It seems as though Canon is not messing with a good thing this year, and the Canon PowerShot SD780 IS gets a 12-megapixel 1/2.3-inch CCD like the rest of its peers, including the PowerShot SD960 IS, PowerShot SD970 IS and PowerShot SX200 IS. We've already seen great things from the PowerShot SX200 IS and PowerShot SD960 IS in terms of image quality, so we weren't surprised to see the PowerShot SD780 IS come out on top as well. Even the Digic 4 processing is the same as all the aforementioned models, so the guts of these new PowerShots are virtually identical. That's not to say we didn't experience slight variations in image performance here and there, but on the whole the PowerShot SD780 IS matched its immediate family members.

The 3x optical zoom lens is where the Canon PowerShot SD780 IS falls short, in addition to its 33mm wide restriction. The good news is that the PowerShot SD780 IS has Image Stabilization that functions quite well, as long as we steadied the camera with a lead arm. A rechargeable Lithium Ion Battery provides the juice and the PowerShot SD780 IS records JPEG images to SD/SDHC cards.

The Canon PowerShot SD780 IS can snap an image in under 2 seconds from initial power up, with the second image clocking in slightly faster. This is a decent performance, and one that enabled us to catch quick action on the fly.

Image Quality - Good

We shot side-by-side with the Canon PowerShot SD960 IS to see just how similar the Canon PowerShot SD780 IS's performance was. We were expecting an identical performance, but the PowerShot SD780 IS surprised us with a significant reduction in fringing compared to the PowerShot SD960 IS. In low light, both cameras were neck and neck, but we actually liked the PowerShot SD780 IS in bright light. We had to manually dial down the PowerShot SD960 IS's exposure more than the PowerShot SD780 IS's in most bright shooting environments. We're not sure what's going on inside the PowerShot SD780 IS, but we liked what we saw. This little compact packs a punch in the image quality department.

  • Scene Test – Bay Ridge

  • This is the image that killed the Canon PowerShot SD960 IS, but the Canon PowerShot SD780 IS seems to laugh it off. There's barely any fringing present anywhere in the image and the highlights are not as explosive as we would have expected, given the fierce lighting. The PowerShot SD960 IS's image is slightly sharper, which most likely leads to the increase in fringing. These are subtle differences, and both images are a bit too overexposed. However, the PowerShot SD780 IS handles the scene a tad better than the PowerShot SD960 IS.

  • Color Test – Aftermath of a Film Shoot

  • Sharpness Test – Literature

  • Portrait Test – Vinnie

  • Colors were nearly identical, and the Canon PowerShot SD780 IS granted us with a bright, vibrant palette characteristic of every PowerShot we've seen within the last few years. The PowerShot SD780 IS offered so much color control that we never grew thirsty for more options. No complaints at here. Most of our images were slightly less sharp than the PowerShot SD960 IS's though, and that could be attributed to the PowerShot SD780 IS's puny size and Image Stabilization effectiveness. The second image is very impressive, but it lacks the super fine sharpness we attained from the PowerShot SD960 IS. The same applies to Vinnie, though he was moving at the time. The PowerShot SD780 IS's Face Detection does an admirable job honing in on his maniacal grin, so we have to hand it to the technology.

  • Detail Test – Two Slices

  • Contrast Test – Window

  • Macro Test – Laces

  • Indoor Lighting Test – Living Room

  • When we were able to sedate our jittery cappuccino hand, we achieved some very impressive detail with the Canon PowerShot SD780 IS, like in the first image. Dynamic range was about the same as the PowerShot SD960 IS though, as we can see in the second image. Aside from being fairly noisy, we couldn't find a reasonable balance between shadows and highlights, despite any attempts at Exposure Compensation adjustment. Up close, the PowerShot SD780 IS was a success. The third image is one of the performances we saw out of the PowerShot SD780 IS, allowing us to detect each individual strand of shoe material. We experienced an identical indoor lighting performance from the PowerShot SD780 IS, and opted not to use the flash because of its unnatural nature. Without the flash, the PowerShot SD780 IS excels under artificial lighting.

  • Color Accent Test – Aftermath of a Film Shoot

  • This is why Color Accent mode is one of our favorite presets.

  • Scene Test – Night Scene Test – Bay Ridge

  • Scene Test – Night Detail Test – Tuff Stuff

  • Low Light Test – A Peculiar Gathering

  • Thanks to Long Shutter mode, we were able to manually adjust the shutter speed and snag awesome images like the first two. The detail, colors, sharpness and exposure are very impressive for a camera that can fit inside a box of raisins. In low light, the Canon PowerShot SD780 IS matched the PowerShot SD960 IS, though we needed a tripod in order to shoot with both. By candlelight, the PowerShot SD780 IS is still capable of rendering fine detail, but the mediocre dynamic range makes it difficult to provide a solid overall exposure. All in all, the Caon PowerShot SD780 IS performed very well when the lights went down.
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