Canon PowerShot SD970 IS Digital Camera Review$379.99
Design & Handling
The Canon SD970 IS has a solidly built two-tone (light beige and silver) metal body. It is a bit bulky; with a depth of 1.04 inches (26.3mm) that's not going to fit easily into those tight jeans. That said, it's comfortable enough to hold and shoot with, at least for still images. The shutter fits naturally under your right index finger, and there's plenty of unused space on the front of the camera to support it securely with your two middle fingers. The problem comes when you try shooting video; the microphone is on the top left, and easily covered with your left index finger. In fact, our first videos turned out to be silent movies, and we hunted for the setting we'd fouled up until we fingered the culprit. Holding the camera without obstructing the mic requires a delicate pincer grip that's neither secure nor comfy. The mic should have been on the front of the camera.
Buttons & Dials
The controls on the back of the camera are arranged well and large enough to press with the ball of your thumb. It does take a bit of pressure, but that's necessary since to hold the camera steady requires having your thumb resting on the the controls -- there's no unused real estate for a thumb rest. The control dial, which can either rotate or be pressed like a four-way controller, also works nicely, though we found it was sensitive enough to be more useful rapidly browsing through photos than precisely finding a menu item. The only control we feel could use significant improvement is the mode switch on top of the camera. It has three positions, with movie mode to the left, auto mode to the right and the rest of your shooting options in the middle. It snaps into each position very firmly, though, and requires an unexpected amount of force to move.
A valuable upscale feature here is the direct print button which, while only marginally useful in its native mode, can be programmed to provide one-touch access to face detect mode, ISO and white balance settings, custom white balance, red-eye correction, digital tele-converter, i-Contrast, the on-screen grid display overlay, movie recording or turning the display off.
The Canon SD970 IS provides a traditional full-screen menu system, but there's also a quick-access menu during shooting that provides a convenient shortcut to key settings. Called the FUNC. menu (because it's called up by pressing the FUNC/SET button), it appears as a vertical bar along the side of the screen, which can be scrolled using the control dial (turning it or pressing up and down). Metering, color mode, white balance, ISO, record mode, drive mode, image size and compression are all available, unless they're locked out by your recording mode selection. However, the four settings mapped to the four-way controller directions (exposure compensation, flash, self-timer and macro/landscape) aren't included in the quick-access menu. And when you get to the main menu system, only settings unavailable through either the quick-access menu or the four-way controller are included. We're used to seeing a lot more redundancy in menu system and camera control design, and think the lack of it here is a mistake.
The main menu system is very easy to read, helped by the high-resolution screen and large, white-on-grey type. Choices are spelled out clearly and well organized. Only the menu sections relevant to your current mode are shown, which is fine. Our only complaint is the fact that each menu has far more choices than can fit on a single screen, so you have to scroll down to see what's available. Using more separate tabbed section would have solved that problem.
Manual & Learning
Canon did a nice job with the user guide. It's roughly 4 x 6 inches and 164 pages, compact enough to carry in your back pocket while learning to use the camera. And while the pages aren't very large, they're not jam-packed with information either, with an unintimidating layout and browsable format. The writing is straightforward and to the point, the illustrations helpful, though the screen shots are too small to see clearly. We like the order in which information is presented, with a reasonable progression from the basics to more advanced operations. As usual, though, the index is disappointing. lacking entries for key features like Active Display and HDMI output. As for software documentation, it isn't provided in printed form, but at least there's a PDF document on the CD that offers guidance for using the programs, rather than asking you to rely on the help system.