Thanks to its very good image quality, wide-aperture lens, and aperture-priority and shutter-priority modes, the Canon PowerShot SD4000 IS is a standout camera in the compact point-and-shoot class.

Although its glossy finish, lack of physical buttons, and pocket-friendly size would suggest otherwise, its performance is on a par with that of the excellent Canon PowerShot S90, a camera geared toward demanding photographers.

Canon PowerShot SD4000: Hardware and Features

The similarities the Canon PowerShot SD4000 shares with the S90 are all positive. Both cameras offer 10-megapixel sensors, 3.8X-optical-zoom lenses (28mm to 105mm), a bright f2.0 aperture at the wide-angle end, and very effective optical image stabilization.

Both cameras also capture crisp, relatively noise-free images at high ISO levels, although the S90 performs a tad better at its ISO 6400 setting. What's more, both models have a 4X digital zoom that kicks the zoom range up to a simulated 15X at the telephoto end, and though digital zoom is rarely worth mentioning, the Canon PowerShot SD4000 produces sharp, usable images even after the digital zoom has cropped and enlarged the pictures.

The Canon PowerShot SD4000 also throws in a few goodies that the S90 doesn't have: scene modes that mimic a tilt-shift lens (Miniature Mode) and a fish-eye lens (Fisheye Mode), a high-speed burst mode that snaps up to 8.4 shots per second at a reduced 2.5-megapixel resolution, and multiple transitions and playback modes for the in-camera slideshow feature.

Canon PowerShot SD4000: Image and Video Quality

In the real world, the Canon PowerShot SD4000's arsenal of hardware and in-camera features add up to outstanding performance for a compact point-and-shoot camera. The camera's killer feature is its f2.0 lens, which creates impressively shallow depth-of-field effects for a camera of its size.

In our subjective jury evaluations for image quality, the Canon PowerShot SD4000 turned in one of the best overall scores we've seen for a point-and-shoot camera this year. On exposure quality, colour accuracy, and lack of distortion it earned a score of Very Good, while on sharpness it received a slightly lower score of Good.

The Canon PowerShot SD4000 also achieved high marks for video quality, but it exhibited some noticeable shortcomings. The camera captures 720p high-definition footage at 30 frames per second in .mov format at its highest-resolution setting, and it earned video-quality and audio-quality scores of Very Good when we compared its output with that of other digital cameras.

As you can see in our bright-light test clip, however, the  Canon PowerShot SD4000 camera's autofocus searched in and out while shooting video. Low-light video performance was extremely disappointing, too, especially considering the SD4000 IS's great still-image performance in low light.

Here are sample clips shot in bright indoor lighting and dark indoor lighting with the Canon PowerShot SD4000 IS. 

Canon PowerShot SD4000: Build Quality

The SD4000 IS looks like a fashion-oriented pocket camera from the outside, thanks to a glossy finish that's available in bright red, black, or silver. We tested the red model, and the vibrant finish looked a lot like freshly applied nail polish. The camera body also has unique, angular accents on its sides and corners, which add to its sleek looks and make it feel comfortable in your hand.

The camera has no raised hand grip, though, and due to that glossy finish, the Canon PowerShot SD4000 might get slippery if you handle it with wet or sweaty hands. It feels solidly built, and unless you leave it in a bag jangling around with keys and forks, the coating seems capable of standing up to scratches.

Canon PowerShot SD4000: Controls and Ports

The Canon PowerShot SD4000 has far fewer physical buttons and switches than the more manual S90, which leads to a cleaner, less-intimidating control setup. The lack of physical buttons leads to a lot more on-screen menu-diving to access most of the settings, however.

On the back of the Canon PowerShot SD4000 camera you'll find only a playback button, a menu button, a function-select button, and a rotating wheel around the function-select button that you use to surf the in-camera menus. They're responsive and intuitive for anyone who has used a Canon PowerShot camera before, but changing the camera's scene modes and manual settings on the fly takes a bit longer due to the omission of a dedicated mode dial.

One disappointment with the SD4000 IS is that even though it has aperture-priority and shutter-priority modes, it doesn't give you full manual controls to let you tinker with the aperture and shutter settings independently.

The camera's basic mode-selector switch, which lets you choose among movie mode, program mode, and auto mode, is on the top of the camera, along with the power button, shutter button, and zoom ring. A rubberized plastic cover on the side of the camera hides an HDMI connection and an AV-out connection.

PowerShot SD4000 IS vs PowerShot S90

Although the Canon PowerShot SD4000 has a lot in common with the S90, several important factors make the S90 a better choice for serious photographers. Many of the following differences won't be deal-breakers for casual snapshooters, but the S90 does hold several key advantages over the SD4000 IS.

  • The S90 has full manual controls, while the SD4000 IS is limited to aperture- and shutter-priority settings.
  • The CCD sensor of the S90 is larger (1/1.7 inches) than the CMOS sensor in the SD4000 IS (1/2.3 inches). Though both cameras' image quality is excellent, we saw less distortion in images shot with the S90.
  • While the S90 can shoot in RAW format, the SD4000 IS is limited to JPEG images.
  • A control ring around the S90's lens, a dedicated mode dial, and a larger number of physical buttons offer faster access to that camera's settings.
  • You get manual focus, exposure bracketing, and focus bracketing modes in the S90.
  • The S90 offers manual control over the power of its flash.
  • Both cameras have 3-inch-diagonal LCD screens, but the S90 has a higher-resolution screen with different dimensions. The SD4000's widescreen LCD is longer horizontally and shorter vertically, and the amount of the screen used to display and compose images is much narrower due to the SD4000 IS's on-screen icons and menu settings.

All things considered, the Canon PowerShot S90's full manual adjustments, quick-access controls, bracketing modes, and RAW shooting make it well worth the extra $50 for photographers who use manual controls extensively.

NEXT: our expert verdict >>

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Canon PowerShot SD4000: Specs

  • 10Mp compact camera, 1/2.3" CMOS
  • 3.8x optical zoom f/2.0
  • Auto, ISO 125-3200
  • Built-in Flash
  • SD, SDHC, SDXC, MultiMediaCard, MMC Plus, HC MMC Plus
  • Video with audio, NTSC & PAL output
  • 3in LCD
  • Hi-speed USB 2.0, mini-HDMI connector
  • Lithium-ion Rechargeable Battery Pack NB-6
  • 100x54.1x23.6mm
  • 175g
  • 10Mp compact camera, 1/2.3" CMOS
  • 3.8x optical zoom f/2.0
  • Auto, ISO 125-3200
  • Built-in Flash
  • SD, SDHC, SDXC, MultiMediaCard, MMC Plus, HC MMC Plus
  • Video with audio, NTSC & PAL output
  • 3in LCD
  • Hi-speed USB 2.0, mini-HDMI connector
  • Lithium-ion Rechargeable Battery Pack NB-6
  • 100x54.1x23.6mm
  • 175g

OUR VERDICT

As an everyday, pocketable point-and-shoot camera that offers some manual controls and stellar image quality, the Canon PowerShot SD4000 IS gets our wholehearted recommendation. Casual snapshooters who want access to controls beyond auto and scene modes will be delighted with its performance, but they also might want to consider spending $50 more for the even-more-versatile PowerShot S90.

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