Sleek and silver, Canon's PowerShot SD850 IS exemplifies its Digital Elph line: solidly built, beautifully designed and sweet to use. One of three Digital Elphs we've seen, this model has a simpler set of features compared with its siblings.

See also: Canon PowerShot SD950 IS review

Not that the Canon PowerShot SD850 IS comes poorly equipped. Another model in this line, the SD870, has a 3in LCD and an extra-wide-angle 28mm zoom (35mm equivalent), but the Canon PowerShot SD850 IS still offers a sharp, bright 2.5in LCD and a 4X optical zoom that starts at the more traditional 35mm (35mm equivalent).

Plus, Canon PowerShot SD850 IS has an optical eye-level viewfinder, which the SD870 IS lacks. For any photographer who likes to take quick shots or loves to shoot in bright sunlight, any eye-level viewfinder is a must-have.

In look and operation, the 8Mp Canon PowerShot SD850 IS is a near twin to the top-of-the-line, 12Mp SD950 IS. Both come wrapped in a rugged-feeling metal shell (the SD950's is titanium). With either, you get well-organised, efficient, and flexible exposure controls and silky-smooth operation. And since you can buy the Canon PowerShot SD850 IS for a lot less than its sibling, it's truly the better value for the average photographer.

One of the more interesting advantages of the Canon PowerShot SD850 IS over the other two models is its LCD. A common problem with many LCD screens is that they are difficult (sometimes impossible) to view when you're wearing polarised sunglasses - the screens in essence turn black.

According to the published specifications, all three cameras use the same LCD technology. But in bright sunlight, wearing expensive prescription (and polarised) sunglasses, the Canon PowerShot SD850 IS was the only one of the three cameras in this line we tested whose LCD we could easily view.

As with other Elphs, the Canon PowerShot SD850 IS has lots to like. All of the key exposure controls are grouped together on one screen. Scrolling through them and changing settings is about as quick and easy as it gets.

The innovative focus-check window, during the instant shot review, magnifies a portion of your photo, letting you know whether that future enlargement will be sharp. Advanced controls include exposure, flash, and focus lock, but no aperture- or shutter-priority or manual exposure controls.

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Images shot with the Canon PowerShot SD850 IS were a bit underexposed, but still pleasing, and all looked sharp. Landscapes had good colour saturation, although the colour balance was a touch on the bluish side. That's easily fixed by using one of the camera's many built-in colour-enhancement tools, or its capable image-editing and management application.

The only knocks on the Canon PowerShot SD850 IS are a zoom button that's a bit uncomfortable on the finger, and the animated onscreen icon that visually duplicates the presses you make on the four-way thumb button. This icon tends to pop up unexpectedly, but fortunately, you can switch it off in the setting menu.

Canon Ixus SD850: Specs

  • 8Mp
  • 4x optical zoom
  • 4x digital zoom
  • 1/2,5in CCD
  • f2.8-5.5 focal length
  • 2.5in LCD
  • shutter speed: 15-1/1600 sec
  • ISO 80/100/200/400/800/1600
  • SD Memory Card, SDHC Memory Card, MultiMediaCard
  • 904x565x264mm
  • 165g
  • 8Mp
  • 4x optical zoom
  • 4x digital zoom
  • 1/2,5in CCD
  • f2.8-5.5 focal length
  • 2.5in LCD
  • shutter speed: 15-1/1600 sec
  • ISO 80/100/200/400/800/1600
  • SD Memory Card, SDHC Memory Card, MultiMediaCard
  • 904x565x264mm
  • 165g

OUR VERDICT

While the Canon PowerShot SD850 IS may not have the large LCD of the SD870 IS or the sky-high megapixel count of the SD950 IS, it is still a fine all-around point-and-shoot for most shutterbugs, and is a better value than its two siblings.