Canon SD890 Review

My Canon PowerShot SD890IS Review

Wahoo! I just received my new
Canon PowerShot SD890IS. Here's my review of the new SD890IS.

Updated! (20-April-2008)!

I like taking good photos. And I hate lugging around big cameras and equipment. And so I concluded that I needed to buy myself an awesome point-n-shoot camera.

I often take pictures in difficult conditions, such as a museum where a flash camera is prohibited. Or a concert, where I can't use a flash, the lighting is low, and the people on stage are in motion. Or with the zoom cranked up and focused on a distant subject. Taking good photos in these conditions, with a small lens camera and without a tripod is a challenge at best.

In comes the SD890. I was particularly excited about the SD890 because it is pocketable, yet it has awesome specifications: Image stabilization; a 5x zoom lens, and 10 megapixel resolution. When I bought the camera, I imagined that these features would help me take much better pictures in these less-than-ideal conditions.
My SD890, just out of the box - Lookin' great.

I bought my SD890 IS from NewEgg for about $350 (in April, 2008) [I have no affiliation with NewEgg]. If you poke around the web, you may be able to find it for less - but I'm not comfortable with some of the very low cost camera retailers out there - I've heard too many horror stories from my friends. Note that the SD890 IS is known as the IXUS970 IS in Europe and perhaps other places. [I don't know how Canon ended up with two names for many of their camera products - it is confusing and annoying.]

Why I purchased this camera

I recently had the opportunity to try out various compact point & shoot digital cameras in a low-light situation. I was taking snaps for various people who were on stage, and so I had about 12 cameras at my disposal and no ability to use a flash. Most of the cameras were fairly new.

The camera that I had the best experience with was the Canon SD800 IS - which took the best photos of all the point-and-shoots, despite the demanding situation. So I went online to buy one - and I discovered that it (and its predecessors) were mostly out of stock.

One day later, Canon announced the SD890 IS. I decided to buy it based on the specifications, as it seemed like a new and improved version of the SD800 that I loved so much.

The Basics

The SD890 is a comfortable, small point and shoot. It is a little bigger than the SD400 series, but is still conformable in a shirt or jacket pocket. In particular, it is a bit thicker between the LCD and the lens - likely due to the SD890's 5x zoom lens.

The SD890 has that 5x zoom and stabilization - features that I think are now required for a great point-and-shoot.

The SD890 also has a decent-sized LCD on the back panel, along with a small optical viewfinder (that I will almost never use).

The SD890 comes with all the basic components that are included with most digital cameras:
  • A small (32 MB) SD memory card. Out of the gate, my SD890 IS reports that it can store roughly 11 photos on the stock card or 18 seconds of video. Upping the resolution will merely reduce the number of photos you can store on the stock card. You WILL want a bigger memory card. If you shop around, you'll find that 2 GB and larger SD memory cards quite inexpensive these days.
  • A lithium-ion battery pack. This battery is a bit thicker than those of other Canon Elph's that I've owned. It took about two hours to charge the battery for the first time.
  • A battery charger. Of course, it can work with a range of voltages, from 100v to 240v.
  • A USB cable. Happily, of standard design. Replacements are readily available at very low cost.
  • An A/V cable, with (mono) audio and composite video RCA connectors. It is not a standard design - it plugs into the camera's USB port. But I'm unlikely to use the video cable - composite is so old-school. So no big deal to me, it'll stay in the box.
  • Canon's Digital Camera Solutions CD-ROM disk. Man, they're up to version 33.0! I didn't install this software yet - for now, I'm using iPhoto, which works automatically with this camera.
  • A user's guide and a software guide, in various languages.
Some important included stuff: cables, battery, and a dinky SD memory card.

I wish that all camera manufacturers would include some kind of felt sleeve for their new cameras - but the Canon doesn't include one. Nor does any other manufacturer that I know of.

Computer Compatibility

If you have a somewhat modern computer (less than 7 years old or so), you should have no problems. The stock software is compatible with Windows 2000 on forward, and Mac OS X from 10.3 (Panther) and beyond.

The camera is also very usable without using Canon's stock software. iPhoto and Picasa work great with the SD890.

The biggest problem you might run into is related to the picture size.
10 Megapixels is getting up there. I was quite happy with my 5 megapixel camera - a 10 megapixel camera suggests that I'll be using up twice as much disk storage with photos.

Out of the box, the SD890 is set on "Fine" mode, resulting in photos that are typically 2.5 MB in size. Of course, I prefer Superfine mode, which improves a photo's quality at the expense of disk size. In general, it seems like the Superfine mode results in photo that are, on average, 7 MB big.

If you have an older computer, you might want to either manage you photo collection a bit better, or get a larger hard disk. Very high capacity external drives are available for roughly $100. (And don't forget to back up your photo collection!)

Taking pictures

... but how does it do in practice? That's a great question. I have only taken a couple pictures so far, but I've been surprised by the quality of those pictures - they feel great. But I still need to do some side-by-side comparisons before I come to any firm conclusions. I will be updating this page frequently as I experiment with this new camera. Feel free to use the "comment" option (below) if you have any specific questions for me.

It can't sit down straight with the lens fully extended.

Next Steps
Now I'm off to a photo-taking session - I'll report back here in the next day or two to update you with how well the SD890 performs!

Update, 2-April-2008!

So far it's pretty awesome! I've gave the SD890 a 2GB SD card, and put the camera in "super-fine" mode. Resulting photos are roughtly 3-to-6 MB big, meaning that I can get about 454 photos per 2 GB card (that is according to the camera.)

I took some indoor shots (without flash). The camera did particularly well in these conditions. Although it told me that there was a call for the flash, I found that I could take great pictures with only a steady hand. Undoubtably the stabilization helped out. Of all the indoor shots I took, only one was truly bad... and that was because my subject was goofing around - certainly something that the camera cannot compensate around.

I also took some outdoor shots. Again, the camera performed well. I was in bright sun, but my subjects were in motion and I was using the 5x zoom - not always the easiest situation with a small camera. Again, the photos looked great.

Balloons, of course, taken with the SD890.

I also took some marco shots. There was a little distortion around the edges, but it was more than adequate for my basic needs. I could get the lens to focus at about 1.5 inches away from the subject (here, my SD400 rear panel)

Full frame macro shot example.

What I don't like (so far)

I don't like the rear LCD. It performs well, and it is a decent size with good brightness. But it almost stands out from the rear surface of the camera. That means when I lay the camera on a table, flat on it's back, it seems likely that the LCD will get scratched. YUK. I think I'll have to be very careful to avoid scratching up the rear LCD display. Perhaps a vinyl glass protector would work well here.


Verizon FiOS Electricity Use

My house has Verizon FiOS. Part of the FiOS installation included the mounting of a Verizon network backup battery unit in the basement. I asked myself "how much electricity does this box use?"

Verizon FiOS: How much electricity does this cost me?

So I plugged in my awesome Kill-A-Watt electricity usage meter to find out.

My Kill-o-Watt watt meter reported that there was a 16 watt load on the circuit. And since Verizon's box is powered and plugged in 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, 16 watts would quickly add up to roughly 140 kilowatt hours per year:

calculation: 16 watts x 8760 hours per year ÷ 1000 = 140.16 KWH/Year

How much does 140 Kilowatt-hours cost in dollars and cents? Here's a table that shows how much that would cost per year based on recent residential electricity rates (source: DOE. State Electricity Profiles, 2006 Edition):

State ¢/KWH )
Alabama 7.07
Alaska 12.84
Arizona 8.24
Arkansas 6.99
California 12.82
Colorado 7.61
Connecticut 14.83
Delaware 10.13
Wash. DC
Florida 10.45
Georgia 7.63
Hawaii 20.72
Idaho 4.92
Illinois 7.07
Indiana 6.46
Iowa 7.01
Kansas 6.89
Kentucky 5.43
Louisiana 8.3
Maine 11.8
Maryland 9.95
Massachusetts 15.45
Michigan 8.14
Minnesota 6.98
Mississippi 8.33
Missouri 6.3
Montana 6.91
Nebraska 6.07
Nevada 9.63
New Hampshire 13.84
New Jersey 11.88
New Mexico 7.37
New York 15.27
North Carolina 7.53
North Dakota 6.21
Ohio 7.71
Oklahoma 7.3
Oregon 6.53
Pennsylvania 8.68
Rhode Island 13.98
South Carolina 6.98
South Dakota 6.7
Tennessee 6.97
Texas 10.34
Utah 5.99
Vermont 11.37
Virginia 6.86
Washington 6.14
West Virginia 5.04
Wisconsin 8.13
Wyoming 5.27

Remember it is possible that the load put on the battery box circuit changes over time, and that your battery box may be different than the one in my house. Also note that this analysis doesn't include a FiOS router or your TV converter boxes. I can imagine that they each consume similar amounts of electricity, but more analysis would be necessary to find out.

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