If you already have a serious camera and need a pocketable model that you won’t be disappointed with, get the Canon PowerShot SD870 IS.
Even a seasoned pro will want a camera that slips easily into a palm or pocket every once in a while. But if that’s the camera you have with you when you find yourself with the photo op of a lifetime, you won’t kick yourself as much if you have the Canon PowerShot SD870 IS (street price $300 to $400).
Like many folks, I’ve been a longtime fan of Canon’s Digital ELPH series. Canon released two more of these gems this fall, the SD870 IS and the SD950 IS. While the SD950 IS is Canon’s top-of-the-line offering, I’d take the 8.3-megapixel SD870 IS over the 12.4 megapixel 950 any day. Since I don’t need poster-sized prints, the extra resolution doesn’t do much for me, but primarily I prefer the 870 because it sports a nice, wide zoom lens (28- to 105mm). The wide-angle lens is a lot more versatile and makes the camera a pleasure for snapping group shots. Canon’s Advanced Face Detection technology, which detects up to nine faces (and optimizes focus, flash, and exposure accordingly), can also help with groups, although the reviewers at DPReview found the feature “a little haphazard.” The other thing I love about the SD870 IS is its big, beautiful, bright 3-inch LCD. Some (like CNET’s reviewer) might bemoan the omission of an optical viewfinder, but I’d rather get that extra half inch of LCD since I tend to use the LCD exclusively. Another nice touch is that the Print/Share button (does anyone really use that?) can be reconfigured for one-button access to any of eight functions.
One thing to note is that being a point-and-shoot (on steroids maybe, but a point-and-shoot nevertheless), the SD870 IS doesn’t offer any manual exposure controls. Still, it offers enough exposure modes to suit almost any scenario, and the "manual" mode does offer some control with settings like ISO, Metering, White Balance, Color modes, and more.
The SD870 IS uses Canon’s excellent DIGIC III processor and optical image stabilization and gets good marks for performance and image quality across the board. CNET says “The PowerShot SD870 IS yields very high-quality images with accurate colors and tons of detail, and which are very clean at lower ISOs.” Even the tough reviewers at DPReview were impressed, pointing out that although most wide lenses exhibit a degree of chromatic aberration and corner softeness “our tests and experiences with real-world shooting show very little evidence of these expected shortcomings.”
So, to recap, my picks for the best cameras to buy yourself this holiday season are: