Gadget Review – Canon SD600 Compact Digital Camera

– Small
– Fast
– Reasonable pictures for small prints
– Big LCD
– No aperture size or shutter speed controls
– Grainy/noisy pictures for large prints
– Small color saturation variance with ISO setting

While making plans to cycle through Holland, I decided it was time to upgrade my old compact digital camera (Canon S400) with a newer version.  The goals I had in the upgrade were pretty straightforward:

  • I had to bump up to at least 6 megapixels in resolution
  • The camera had to fit easily in my cycling jersey without bouncing around
  • The camera had to have a built-in flash
  • If possible, I wanted to move up from the 3X optical zoom in the S400 to 4X (digital zoom is useless, IMO)

This list is pretty much in order of my priorities as well.  I looked at the range of compacts available from the usual suspects – Canon, Nikon, Sony, Olympus, Casio, Kodak, etc.  I’m a bit of a Canon bigot, though, so I really ended up focused on Canon’s extensive line of compact digitals.

Earlier this year, Canon replaced their lineup of compact digitals with three new cameras:  the SD600, SD630 and SD700is.  All of these cameras use a 6.2 megapixel, 1/2.5” image sensor and the company’s Digic II image processing chip.  Features and function differ from there.

SD600 SD630 SD700is
Body Size (mm) 86X54X22 90X57X20 90X57X26
Optical Zoom 3X 3X 4X
LCD (inches) 2.5 3.0 2.5
Focal Length (mm) 35-105 35-105 35-140
Aperture f2.8-f4.9 f2.8-f4.9 f2.8-f5.5

Additionally, the 700is comes with image stabilization (thus the “is” moniker).  This means that the camera compensates for slight vibration that might otherwise blur pictures.  This is particularly helpful in low light situations where the shutter speed is too slow to accurately capture the image.

I chose the SD600 because it met the first three of my four criteria.  I hated to give up on the 4X zoom offered by the SD700is, but camera size was much more important to me.  Also, since most of my shooting with this camera is outdoors, the image stabilization (with its additional cost) was not worthwhile.

The first thing you notice about the SD600 is the size of its LCD.  Compared with previous generations of cameras, a 2.5” screen looks huge.  This is good because the viewfinder is just there for show – it’s so small that you could go blind looking through it.  Even though I like viewing my shots through the viewfinder, I end up framing them with the LCD instead.  The pictures on the screen are bright and clear.  I have no problem seeing them even in the brightest of light.  I also like all the on-screen information available about the shot – all EXIF data and a histogram are available.

One of the reasons that the display looks so large is that the body is so small.  There are smaller cameras out there (although there are not many smaller zoom cameras), but this one is just puny.  It easily fits in my hand and pocket.  The fit and finish are terrific and the buttons are reasonable in size and location to get the job done.

The camera is fast.  The well-proven Digic II processor works its magic with virtually instantaneous startup and autofocus lock times.  I can no longer blame the camera for missing a shot – it works very quickly.

On the downside, I think that image saturation appears to change with ISO settings (for more on this, see my previous post).  Lower ISO settings result in more color saturation and higher settings in lower saturation, making the images look a tad washed out.  Neither of these is a huge problem, though, and they will probably not even be noticed by the average point-n-shoot camera user.  In any event, they certainly can be compensated for in post-processing if desired.

Additionally, the images produced by the camera are a bit grainy/noisy (observed as dots making up the picture rather than a smooth, continuous image).  This is a result of the small image sensor.  There is no problem if you’re targeting small prints – 3X5 or even 4X7 – but if you think you’re going to print in 8X10 or even larger, the grain will become a noticeable factor.

Perhaps the biggest negative of the camera, although certainly not a surprise, is that there are very few manual controls.  While there is a “manual” setting that allows you to specify exposure compensation and white balance, there is no facility for aperture or shutter priority shooting.  The camera always has automatic control over these variables.  Of course, this is meant to be a fully automatic camera and this is a reasonable tradeoff for its diminutive size.

The bottom line: the SD600 is a small, fast and easy to use camera that takes reasonable shots (good shots for a point-n-shoot).  It is definitely a back-up camera or one for a specific purpose, though.  If you like taking good pictures, you’ll want to be using a camera with a larger image sensor and, perhaps, better control over aperture size and/or shutter speed.

See pictures taken with the SD600 here.


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