The 10X-optical-zoom Canon PowerShot SD4500 IS is one of five high-zoom compact cameras in Canon's point-and-shoot lineup, and its pocketable size, ease of use and fun creative effects give it a lot of mainstream appeal. It boasts great modes for high speed shooting, making it a versatile camera for fast-action shooters (just as long as they can live with lower-resolution video and stills for high speed shots).

However, this 10-megapixel camera's appeal comes at the expense of trade-offs, and more demanding users will find that the compromises go beyond the camera's lack of manual controls. The SD4500 IS turned in disappointing scores for image quality in our subjective tests, a real surprise, given Canon's past success in that area and the camera also has an overpowering flash that negatively affects colour accuracy and exposure quality. The company seems to have skimped on wide-angle coverage and maximum aperture, and the SD4500's low-light shooting modes could use a bit of work.

All in all, this is a decent camera that offers fun features and easy operation for novice users, but its £240 price is high considering its shortcomings.

Hardware and design

Although it holds a 10X-optical-zoom lens (36mm to 360mm), the PowerShot SD4500 IS is fairly compact. At 4.0 by 2.3 by 0.88 inches, it's one of the most pocket-friendly high-zoom cameras we've seen to date. Covered in a metal-plated plastic frame, it weighs 6.7 ounces with the battery and SD/SDHC/SDXC card loaded. The SD4500 feels sturdy enough to withstand travel-related jostling, and it's small and light enough to stick into a shirt's breast pocket without a problem.

The SD4500 IS lacks a raised hand grip, but it borrows a few aesthetic and ergonomic traits from Canon's PowerShot SD4000 IS that make it feel secure in the hand. The contoured edges on the shutter-button side serve as resting places for your index finger and middle finger, and make it a comfortable model for one-handed shooting.

Maximum aperture settings range from f/3.4 on the wide-angle end to f/5.6 at full telephoto, with a minimum aperture of f/8.0. We would have liked to have a wider aperture (and a wider-angle lens) to work with, but the SD4500 IS still produces a dramatically shallow depth of field in macro mode.

The 0.43-inch, backside-illuminated CMOS sensor offers a 10-megapixel resolution as its highest quality setting. It does a serviceable but somewhat disappointing job of harnessing light in near-pitch-black settings, especially given the camera's array of low-light shooting modes. Not only do you get three separate scene modes for low-light shots, but you can also adjust ISO manually up to 3200 in Program mode, and the camera has an insanely powerful built-in flash.

The only viewfinder is a 3-inch LCD, which is bright and sharp enough to see in most lighting conditions. The camera also has built-in accelerometers that adjust the playback orientation from landscape to portrait depending on how you hold the camera.

Controls consist of an easy-to-learn, well-spaced array of buttons and switches on the top and back of the camera. The top houses a switch that lets you toggle among video mode, user-controlled settings and scene selections and auto mode. The shutter button and zoom control ring are on the top right side.

On the back of the camera are a dedicated video-recording button, a menu button and a playback button, as well as a rotating and clickable navigation wheel. The navigation wheel is a notable improvement: It isn't as loose as the one on some recent PowerShot cameras, which helps avoid accidental menu selections. The wheel on the SD4500 IS clicks into place nicely at each stop, and it's immediately responsive to navigational presses on the top, bottom, and sides.

You won't need to look at a manual at all to get the hang of this camera, and on-screen text explains each scene mode clearly, including information about scene modes that negatively affect image resolution.