It's getting more difficult to review digital cameras these days—in particular the Canon Powershot line. For the most part, gone are the days when you picked up a new camera and were disappointed by its response time or image quality. The majority of cameras released recently are, in the large majority, just plain good. So writing a review of a new model largely comes down to the fine details.
With that said, the Canon Powershot SD780 IS keeps the baton in the air, with speedy response time, quick and accurate focusing, and excellent image quality. This little camera features 12 megapixels of recording power, along with a DIGIC IV processor and a 3x optical zoom. It's also loaded with HD movie recording with HDTV-ready output. All of this is packaged inside a tiny—and I do mean tiny—camera body, measuring in at just 0.7 inches thick.
Design: For Nimble Fingers Only
It's pretty amazing to get such great images from a camera this small. On the other hand, for some at least, the camera body may be a little too small. Fans of technology will appreciate the cool factor of something that functions this well being this tiny, but people who just want something usable may find the SD780 a little difficult to maneuver. This is not a camera that you give to your grandmother; it's not even a camera you give to someone with larger-than-average hands, or greater-than-average clumsiness. The buttons are very close together, and because the body is so tiny there is nowhere to hold onto it where you don't feel like you are either fingerprinting the screen or putting your fingers over the lens. In short, the grip is somewhat tricky, but it's also a slick, modern design, and is one of the only cameras I've handled that is definitely a "shirt pocket" model. I will say, too, that it feels impressively durable (right down to the battery cover, which is notorious for weakness on most tiny cameras like this) and it even features an optical viewfinder, although you may giggle when you see how small it is. You'll be squinting through it, but it is there.
Standard Feature Set
In terms of features offered, the SD780 doesn't differ too much from other recently-released Canons. It has face and motion detection, image stabilization, a variety of scene modes, multiple metering and focus modes, and intelligent contrast correction. I will say that its operation is impressively fast, perhaps more so than similar cameras, although the auto focus is a little bit hit or miss—it works fast, but isn't always as accurate as it could be. Macro focus was impressive, but general auto focus may take one or two half-shutter pushes before it locks in on the subject you want. The 2.5-inch LCD refreshes quickly and smoothly. Only in low light does the screen slow down somewhat; at all other times it's practically as fast as your eye when it comes to keeping up with changing subjects.
Excellent Low-Light Performance
Speaking of low light, the SD780 handles it in a truly impressive manner. When I first shot an interior picture in a fairly dark room, I thought I had the flash set wrong since it didn't fire. Turns out that the camera is just extremely well equipped to handle low light situations not only didn't it need the flash, but the photo was practically grain-free. Only in very dark situations (an interior room, without the lights on, at night, to be specific), did the flash begin firing, and when it did, it wasn't the glary, harsh flash you'd expect. It's a clean, natural light. Impressive considering the room was dark enough that I could barely see the image I was shooting on the LCD.
Smooth HD Video
The Canon SD780 records high-definition video at a resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels, that is, 720p. With a 4GB Secure Digital memory card, you can record up to 30 minutes of high-definition video. Though you might not expect much from such a small camera, particularly one that isn't intended to be a camcorder, HD the video mode is quite good.
Combining still images with video is always tricky—it seems the video always suffers—and this video mode certainly isn't ideal, but it does have nice image quality and smooth, easy-to-use recording. Audio quality isn't much of a step up from similar point-and-shoot recording devices, but this is what you should expect from anything that isn't specifically designed for video recording.
Conclusion: Bland, Yet Impressive
The SD780 is impressive in its sheer size (or lack thereof), and it delivers impressive speed and durability, along with sharp, crisp images (particularly in low light), with a decent amount of flexibility over controls. The primary selling point of this camera is without a doubt its size. If you're less concerned about small size and want something totally comfortable to use, there are multiple other Powershot models on the market that deliver image quality and performance just as well as this one does, in slightly larger packages. But if pocket-sized is your thing, then the SD780 may be just the model for which you've been waiting.