Although very expensive for a compact camera - and too large for many pockets - the Canon PowerShot SD950 IS is extremely well made and performs admirably.
At the top of Canon's Digital Elph line, the Canon PowerShot SD950 IS looks stylish and is a pleasure to use. Enclosed in a titanium shell, it should handle bumps and scrapes better than the average snapshot camera. At 95mm wide and just over 25mm thick, the unit is slightly too big to park comfortably in a shirt pocket - but it fits nicely in large hands, and it's easy to pack along on any outing.
Especially attractive is the combination of a bright, 2.5in LCD screen and an eye-level viewfinder.
In our detailed tests, the 12.1Mp Canon PowerShot SD950 IS produced sharper detail in its images than did competing 8Mp point-and-shoot models. But the higher pixel count will be cost-effective only if you make jumbo enlargements or do lots of cropping.
The Canon PowerShot SD950 IS's 12.1Mp CCD does let the camera take videos at 1024x768 pixels - a significant improvement over the 640x480 ceiling that limits most models. But because the Canon records its higher-resolution movies at just 15 frames per second (versus 30fps at 640 pixels), movies can be a little jumpy, especially if you pan rapidly. Only the size of your memory card limits movie length.
The Canon PowerShot SD950 IS permits you to delete a photo at the quick review stage, immediately after you take a shot - a capability that remains rare on point-and-shoots - and this model takes quick review a step further. A small window shows a magnified portion of your shot, letting you double-check the focus. You can examine the original points of focus and move the window to any other part of your photo. Nicely done.
Esoteric features of the Canon PowerShot SD950 include a Color Accent mode, which retains one selected colour in a scene and reduces all others to black-and-white, and a similar option for swapping colors. More useful are the 11 colour enhancement options, such as Vivid, Lighter Skin Tone, and Darker Skin Tone.
The Canon PowerShot SD950 performed smoothly and efficiently, powering up in less than two seconds. The large trigger button falls naturally under your index finger, and the dual menu system is logically organised, neatly laid out for quick scrolling, and easy to read.
Our test photos came out impressively sharp, with no distortion such as colour banding and speckling (or noise). In most shots, images looked slightly underexposed, and colors weren't as warm as we'd have liked. Overall, however, we were quite pleased with the results. The Canon PowerShot SD950's optical image stabilisation worked well when we used it to shoot objects in shade at full telephoto - a situation where camera shake often ruins an otherwise great shot.
The Canon PowerShot SD950 is pricey for a point-and-shoot, but if you're looking for a compact camera that goes well beyond happy snaps, this is a heck of an attractive package.