Camera Research: Canon PowerShot SD890 IS

I’ve been in the market for a few new cameras recently, a new DSLR to replace my Canon EOS 20D and a small compact for everyday, spur of the moment shots.

I’ve been fairly partial to Canon in my short time taking photography seriously, so when I was looking for a compact camera, I started there. I wanted something small and sleek since the idea was to carry it around most everywhere just to snap photos as I see something inspiring. I didn’t want to sacrifice performance, however, so I still wanted something versatile and still able to produce quality photographs.

Canon Digital Camera Line

As a quick little intro to Canon’s Digital Camera lineup, they have broken it up into three main categories:

  • High-End Digital Cameras
  • Digital ELPH Cameras – Performance and Style
  • A-Series Digital Cameras

The High-End Digital Cameras are somewhat of a hybrid, to use a modern day buzzword for it. They offer some of the professional aspects of a Digital SLR such as more manual control over shutter and exposure settings, the ability to shoot in RAW format, and a more traditional camera form factor to them. You get the convenience of a point-and-shoot camera without the ability to change lenses like you can with a DSLR. Since I already have my eyes on a separate DSLR, I took a pass on this group.

Skipping down to the A-Series, these are more fun, user-friendly cameras that are really targeted for consumers that just want to literally point and shoot. While they are still good cameras and can produce nice looking photos, they generally lack the more advanced settings and control over shutter and exposure settings for what I was looking for. So that leaves me looking for ELPHs.

The Digital ELPH Cameras are smack in the middle of the other two categories, offering much of the control from the High-End models and still giving your the style and feel of the A-Series. So that’s where I begin my search.

SD890 IS Details

I don’t want to insinuate that MegaPixels are everything, but to be honest, that was one of the things I started with. Between the two cameras that I regularly use today, my DSLR shoots at 8.2MP and my wife’s Nikon at 5.1MP. Bear in mind that both of these cameras are two years old, but even with just the 3MP difference between the two of them, when working with Photoshop, I can see the benefits that more pixels and a higher resolution bring to the table.

I liked that the Canon SD890 IS sports 10MP, which is nice, and while I could have gone as high as 12.1MP with the Canon SD950 IS, I wasn’t going to decide on MP alone and looked at other features next. In my case, I know I’m getting a newer DSLR that has at least 12MP, so I felt better about getting fewer MP on my digital camera.

So I started to compare some of the other specs between the two models above. They both can shoot at ISO 1600, which is a plus for me because I do like shooting photos at night, and they both have an option for 16:9 wide screen photos, for those wide angle landscape type shots. They both utilize the DIGIC III imaging processor and offer up a 2.5″ LCD screen, which is a big improvement over the smaller screens my existing cameras have. The SD890 is about a year newer than the SD950, so the LCD is a little bit nicer.

SD890 and SD950 Differences

To get to the differences between these to, the SD890 features a 5x optical zoom, currently the highest in Canon’s ELPH lineup. Optical zoom is different from digital zoom in that it uses the physical optics within the camera itself to zoom in and produces more precise sharpness at higher zoom. Digital zoom, however, is done electronically instead of with the physical components of the camera and has some noticable degredation at higher magnifications.

With the SD890, full optical zoom reaches focal lengths of 185mm (35m film equiv.) while the SD950 at 3.7x optical zoom drops off at 133mm. They both feature 4x digital zoom to take you even closer to what you’re shooting.

Two other smaller factors I looked at where weight and speed. Both these models are roughly the same dimensions, but the SD890 weighs slighly less (in numbers only, not that you’d be able to tell otherwise). The speed, however, was slightly better for the SD890, though. It is listed at 1.2 fps (frames per second) while the SD950 shows 1.5 fps in its specs. Essentially, that means the SD890 takes about 1.2 seconds from the time you press the button and get the picture. 0.3 second might not seem like much, if you’re trying to hit a moving target, you’ll notice.


So, at the end of the day, I went with the SD890 and should be receiving it shortly. The small size makes it very portable and the 10MP, 5x optical zoom and the ability to shoot at ISO 1600 and in 16:9 wide screen mode gives me the performance and versatility I’m looking for. Price wise, I picked it up at Amazon for $299, which seems to be a reasonable price.

My wife and I have an upcoming road trip to Door County, WI planned, so that will be my first real test with this model. As I use the camera and test out all the settings, I’ll post more of a review and samples here, too.

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