Canon PowerShot SD870 IS Digital Elph Compact Digital Camera

Wide is the operative word for the $350 Canon PowerShot SD870 IS Digital Elph--not for the camera's overall size, but for its alluringly large 3-inch LCD and for its wide-angle zoom, which starts at 28mm (35mm equivalent), a focal length to warm the heart of any ardent landscape photographer.

A sibling to two other Digital Elph models we reviewed--thePowerShot SD950 ISand thePowerShot SD850 IS--the SD870 shares many of this trio's fine features, including a nicely organized exposure system that groups key controls into one simple-to-use, easy-to-read screen.

All three digital cameras also share a new four-way thumb button that when touched, displays an animated replica for the button on the LCD screen. Though it's handy when you are trying to select settings in a dark room, it can also be annoying--when holding the camera, your thumb naturally wants to rest on the four-way button. The virtual button keeps popping up on the LCD when you don't want it to. Fortunately, you can turn this feature off in the setup menus.

With a shell made of both metal and plastic, and with its plastic buttons, the SD870 IS does not look quite as rugged as its two siblings. And some parts are not as robust: The battery door hinge, for example, is plastic and looks a bit frail, and instead of the typical metallic mode dial, it has a simple plastic sliding switch for Movie, Scene, and standard still shots. Nevertheless, it feels sturdy enough to survive most camera operators' punishment.

Given the similarity of this trio, it's no surprise that the SD870 IS produces photos on par with the SD950 IS and the SD850 IS. Our lab-based test shots were a bit underexposed, but sharp and nicely colored. Flash shots of our test model had a slightly grayish skin tone, but some of that may be due to being underexposed. Outdoor scenic shots were impressive--generally good exposure accuracy, no oversaturated colors, and sharp details. The huge LCD can be somewhat dim in bright light, but turning the LCD brightness all the way up helps.

Other high points for this camera (and the other two Digital Elph models reviewed) are superior documentation and an easy-to-use photo management application (in both Mac and Windows versions) that lets you organize, edit, and back up your photos. If you like to tweak the colors in your shots, the SD870 IS offers a near excess of options, including Vivid, Neutral, Sepia, Black and White, Positive Film, Lighter Skin Tone, Darker Skin Tone, Vivid Blue, Vivid Green, and Vivid Red--plus novel Color Accent and Color Swap features that let you highlight a particular color. You could, for example, retain the color in a yellow ball, and turn the rest of the photo into black and white. All of this seems a bit high-end for a camera that feels more like a snapshot model.

It's pricey, but the extra-wide-angle lens, the big LCD, and the well-thought-out exposure control system make this an attractive compact camera.

For other, similar digital camera models, see our chart ofTop 10 Compact Cameras.

--Tracey Capen

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