Canon PowerShot SD980 IS ELPH Overview

by Harlan Yee on February 5th, 2010

The Canon PowerShot SD980 IS ELPH is one of the latest compact point and shoot cameras offered by Canon. This is the 5th Canon camera I’ve owned or use on a regular basis. I’ve always loved the small size of the ELPH series of cameras. My first ELPH dates back to the original APS film version. The SD980 is Canon’s first touch screen model featuring a widescreen display. 

 Canon SD980 Digital ELPH 007

Camera Overview

Canon SD980 Digital ELPH 042

Canon SD980 Digital ELPH 043

The Canon SD980 IS small enough to take with you anywhere and can fit in your pocket easily. It features 12.1 megapixel resolution and a 5x optical zoom. Pretty good for a compact camera! The screen is a 3 inch touch screen with a 16:9 aspect ratio. The SD980 does not have an optical viewfinder because the screen dominates the back of the camera. You never feel like you’re missing it because when was the last time you used a viewfinder on a point and shoot digital camera or consumer video camera?

Canon SD980 Digital ELPH 001

To the right of the screen are the main controls of the camera. There’s a scroll wheel that helps you navigate through operating menus and two buttons above and below the wheel. When you pick up the camera, it fits very good in your hand because it’s slender and thin.

Canon SD980 Digital ELPH 021

Located on the side are the connectors for USB, AV out and HDMI for high definition viewing video on an HD monitor.

Canon SD980 Digital ELPH 002

On the top of the camera is the tiny slider control to switch the camera between video mode and auto/manual mode. Next to that is a tiny power button that is sometimes difficult to push even with small fingers. And finally there’s the shutter release button and zoom control which is similar to all the previous ELPHs I’ve used.

Snapping Pictures

Canon SD980 Digital ELPH 010

When you power on the camera, you might have trouble turning it on because of the tiny power button on top. But once it’s on, you’ll want to select the resolution for your captured images. Hit the FUNCTION button in the middle of the scroll wheel and choose between 640×480 up to 4000×3000. There’s also a special widescreen picture resolution of 4000×2248 which is nice for using in widescreen video projects.

Canon SD980 Digital ELPH 012

Please note that even though the camera has a widescreen monitor, you’ll see black bars on the left and right of the screen unless you’re shooting 4000×2248 pixel still images or HD video, it those cases, you’ll be able to take advantage of the entire screen. I’ve read many reviewers complain of the empty black space on the sides of the screen when taking photos, so you have to be in one of the widescreen modes to eliminate the black bars.

Canon SD980 Digital ELPH 019

The Canon SD980 has a 5x zoom plus up to 20x digital zoom, but I always find digital zooms to be pretty much useless for my purposes. All menus are accessed through the scroll wheel and buttons to the right of the screen. And depending on whether you’re in manual or auto mode, there are various controls that can be accessed on the touchscreen display which makes executing certain functions faster.

One thing that I have noticed when taking pictures is that the SD980 takes longer to write to the SD card than any other camera I’ve used… as indicated by the words “Busy” at the bottom of the screen after I snap a picture. It’s only about 2 seconds, but I haven’t noticed that on other digital cameras I’ve used. But that 2 seconds seems like a lifetime when I want to quickly snap another shot.

Picture Viewing

Viewing pictures on your camera requires a firm push of the Play button on the back of the camera. You can use the touchscreen to scroll through the pictures like on an iPod Touch or use the scroll wheel. Using the touchscreen also requires firm, definite pressure to slide the pictures left or right. It’s not as smooth as an iPod Touch, but then nothing really is.

The SD980 also has a sensor that allows you to physically shake your camera to scroll through the images without using the touchscreen or buttons. If you don’t find this function useful, then go turn “Active Display” off to disable this feature.

1280 x 720 HD Video

Canon SD980 Digital ELPH 008

The Canon SD980 IS Digital ELPH adds 1280×720 H.264 HD video capture. This is a nice feature to have on a digital camera of this size. It allows me to take widescreen photos and video all in one package. This won’t replace a good video camera but it’s an excellent alternative. One thing you can’t do is refocus once you’ve started recording. So if you move the camera or your subject moves away from the camera, you’re going to lose focus. You’ll have to stop recording, establish focus again and then start recording again. However, you do have the ability to zoom while recording video.

Here’s one of my HD video tests with Dr. Oz when he was in Seattle. Or another example with KOMO 4’s Paul Deanno.

Viewing videos is just like viewing pictures. Use the scroll wheel or touchscreen to locate your video, then touch the play button on the screen to start playback. The microphone is a tiny dot located on the top center of the camera so you’re not going to get great audio from this camera. But at close range, it is ok.

Canon SD980 Digital ELPH 004

Another nice feature is that you can connect the Canon SD980 right up to your HDTV through it’s built-in HDMI output for HD video playback! The connecter location is clearly labelled on the side but you’ll need a mini HDMI to full size HDMI cable.

The camera also has regular audio/video output via analog RCA cables. When using this connection, you can view slideshows on your tv. The SD980 offers various types of slideshows with various types of transitions to keep your presentation interesting. It is also worthy to note that if the camera is connected to a tv with the RCA cables when taking pictures, you can in essence use the tv as a large viewfinder if you’re shooting in a studio setting.

In a comparison of the ELPH series of cameras that I use on a regular basis, the SD980 looks taller than the others but I believe the mass is about the same as the others.

Canon SD980 Digital ELPH 040

Canon SD980 Digital ELPH 041


Sample Widescreen Images from the Canon PowerShot SD980 ELPH

Tomatoes and jalapenos after harvest


Canon SD980 Macro Shot Fern Plant 2

Raindrops on bamboo leaf

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