Canon PowerShot SD4000 IS Digital Camera Review

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The Canon PowerShot SD4000 IS is a well priced compact camera that offers a decent zoom range and shoots attractive photos (apart from some minor color issues) and decent video, making it a good pick for casual shooters. More serious users, however, will miss the manual controls that are not available, and the LCD screen on the back of the camera is not as sharp as other similar sized models.


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In the Box

Box Photo
  • PowerShot SD4000 camera
  • NB-6L 1000mAh battery
  • CB-2LY charger
  • Wrist strap
  • Analog A/V cable
  • USB cable
  • Getting Started guide
  • Software CD

No printed manual is included, although there is a full manual on the CD. No HDMI cable is included either.


The SD4000 IS scored highly on our color tests, where we found that the camera did a good job of capturing the various colors in our test chart accurately. We found that the best color accuracy came with the My Colors feature turned off, and that the camera only struggled with a couple of colors: both greens and oranges were a little oversaturated. But overall, the SD4000 did a nice job here, capturing the vividness of the world without over-saturating it or shifting colors. More on how we test color.

Color Modes

The My Colors feature offers eleven preset color adjustments. These include Vivid and Neutral, Sepia and Black and White, Positive Film (which boosts colors to mimic color print film), Lighter Skin Tone and Darker Skin Tone, Vivid Red, Vivid Green and Vivid Blue. The changes you make are reflected on-screen as you make them, which makes the system easy to use and to see the results before you shoot. The Custom Color option lets you adjust contrast, sharpness and color saturation, red, green, blue and skin tone levels for more control. It won't replace a copy of Photoshop (especially as the effects are pretty heavy duty in their effect), but it's a fun way to add some pizazz to a photo.


We found that the images that the SD4000 shot had generally low noise, although the noise level does climb significantly at ISO levels above 800. We would generally recommend that you keep it below 800 unless you absolutely need to, although it is nice to have the option of going up to ISO 3200 at the full resolution of the camera. More on how we test noise.

In our first test, we look at how the noise level in the images increases as the ISO is increased under two different lighting conditions: with 3000 lux of light, and with 60 lux of light. that's equivalent to a cloudy day and a dimly lit room. The amount of noise was pretty much consistent in both situations, with a gradual climb above ISO levels of 800. But although the noise level increases, it remains pretty low overall.

If we compare the SD4000 with other cameras, we can see that the SD4000 performs very well, although the Sony DSC-TX7 has lower noise at the lower ISO settings. In the table above, you can see how the noise in one of the gray patches of our test chart increases as the ISO goes up, but still remains very tolerable at the higher ISO settings.

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The ISO range of the SD4000 is impressive, going from 125 up to 3200. Many other cameras offer a similar range, but with the highest settings offering only a reduced resolution. The SD4000 shoots at 10-megapixel resolution all the way to the top, although the results are a little noisy.

NOTE: The images above are not used in our testing or scoring, but are included here to show real-world examples of the differences between cameras at the various ISO settings.


We found that the images that this camera captured had decent sharpness and only slight chromatic aberration, but we did see some evidence of distortion at both ends of the zoom range. More on how we test resolution.

Distortion ()

Using the zoom lens of the SD4000 did introduce some distortion into the images it captured: we found barrel distortion at all 3 of the points on the zoom range we test. This was most significant at the widest and middle zoom settings, where we measured a 1.5 per cent distortion.

Sharpness ()

The images that the SD4000 captured were very sharp, although they did get a little soft at the edges. This effect was most noticeable at the widest zoom setting, but it was also visible at the middle and telephoto ends of the range, as you can see from the crops below.

Chromatic Aberration ()

We also saw a little bit of chromatic aberration (where the lens diffracts colors of light differently, producing color fringing) at the edges of the frame at all of the zoom levels as well, but again this effect was most noticeable at the widest zoom settings of the camera.

Quality & Size Options

The SD4000 offers two levels of image compression (Normal and Fine) and six shooting resolutions, ranging from 10-megapixel down to VGA. All of the image sizes use a 4:3 aspect ratio, except the last one, which shoots 16:9 images that will fit better onto a HDTV.

Image Stabilization

The SD4000 IS, as the name suggests, offers image stabilization, shifting en element of the lens in response to the movement it senses. In our tests, we found that enabling this feature offered some improvement, producing slightly sharper images. However, the improvement was not huge, and we found it to be less effective than the Anti-Motion Blur processing system that the Sony DSC-TX7 offers.

The IS feature of the Canon SD4000 IS has three levels: off, Continuous (where it runs constantly), Shoot Only (which acts only when the shutter is pressed) and Panning, which ignores left to right motion. More on how we test image stabilization.

Video Mode

The SD4000 can shoot videos at 720p resolution (1280 by 720 pixels) at 30 frames a second. That puts it in the middle of the scale in video terms: most dedicated camcorders (and many higher priced cameras) can shoot 1080p video that has more detail (with a higher resolution) and smoother movement (with 60 frames a second of video).

The optical zoom of the camera can be used while shooting, but this does produce a rather annoying high-pitched buzzing noise that is captured on the video. As such, we wouldn't recommend you use the zoom while recording unless you are shooting at a heavy metal concert.

High-speed shooting - The SD4000 includes a high-speed video shooting mode, which captures 240 frames a second. When played back at the standard 30 frames a second, it produces an 8x slow motion effect.

Video Color

We found the color that the SD4000 captured to be a little disappointing: the colors were slightly inaccurate and seriously oversaturated. With the camera shooting in bright light, we found that all of the colors on our test chart were much brighter and more vivid than the originals, so the camera seems to be boosting the color to make the video look better. We'd prefer that the camera focus on capturing the original colors, though. More on how we test video color.

Video Sharpness

We also found that the video that it captures was not especially sharp; we found only moderate levels of detail in movies, with some fine details disseminating into the blurry haze. The video is of an adequate resolution for casual shooting, though; just don't expect it to look pin-sharp on the big screen HDTV. More on how we test video sharpness.

Playback Mode

We found that moving through the pictures was quick and easy: even the index screen with 140 images on it comes up quickly. The controller wheel on the back of the camera also allows you to quickly scroll through a long set of photos, rather like flicking through a long list of albums on iTunes.

Photos can also be categorized with a number of pre-set categories, including People, Scenery, Events and To Do, as well as 3 custom categories. These categories cannot be altered or redefined, but they do provide a useful way to categorize photos for later viewing or sorting.

A basic slideshow feature is also offered, with a choice of 7 transition effects and the ability to control how long photos are shown for. You determine which images are shown by filtering by date, category or by creating a favorites list.

In-Camera Editing

A basic, but adequate, set of image editing tools are offered by this camera. Images can be rotated, red-eye corrected, trimmed and resized. The My Colors color processing described above can also be applied after shooting, and this may be the best way to do it, as it preserves the original image if you do not like the result. Videos can also be trimmed, and again this is non-destructive: the original, un-trimmed video file remains available.

Direct Print Options

Two forms of direct printing are available: DPOF and PictBridge. DPOF allows you to flag images on the memory card for printing: when you then insert this into a compatible printer, the images will be selected and printed. You can also set a number of options here, including the number of copies and if the date and time will be printed on the image


There is no viewfinder on the SD4000 IS: all images are previewed on the LCD screen.


Dominating the back of the SD4000 is the 3-inch LCD screen. This has a resolution of 230k, which is a little on the low side. Despite this, the screen looks good: images are clear and bright enough to make sure your images are in focus. The screen does get somewhat dim in bright daylight, but maxing out the brightness helps to some degree.

LCD Photo

The LCD screen of the SD4000 IS


The small flash is located to the left of the zoom lens. It is a little close to the lens, and we did see quite a lot of red-eye in images as a result. The flash is also no very powerful: Canon claims a range of up to 20 feet with the zoom at wide angle, but this seems very optimistic. We found that it only illuminated objects up to a distance of 8 to 10 feet at most.

A slow synch mode is also available, but there is no flash exposure compensation: the flash is either on or off.

Flash Photo

The small flash of the SD4000


The lens of the SD4000 IS is a 4.9 to 18mm Canon branded zoom. That's equivalent to a 28 to 105mm zoom on a 35mm film camera, which is a good wide zoom range for a compact camera.

Lens Photo

The zoom lens of the SD4000 IS

The 28mm wide angle setting should provide for good group and landscape shots, but the 105mm zoom is a little short for getting close to the action at a football game.


The SD4000 gets its mojo from the NB-6L battery, which can hold about 1000mAh of charge. Canon claims that this should last for about 250 shots, which is acceptable in a small camera like this. The battery cannot be recharged in the camera; you have to remove it and place it in the included charger.

A spare battery will cost you $59.95 from Canon.

Battery Photo

The battery and memory card compartment


The SD4000 IS uses SD Cards to store photos, but it is also compatible with the newer SDHC and SDXC standards. The latter has a maximum theoretical capacity of 2 Terabytes, but the biggest cards currently available are 64GB cards.

Jacks, Ports & Plugs

Two ports are located under the cover on the right side of the body: a mini HDMI port and a combination USB/AV output. Both of these ports use standard connector types, so you can buy your own cables and use them. The exception is the analog audio./video output, which requires a special connector from Canon. The included cables are for USB and analog video & audio outputs: there is no HDMI cable.

Ports Photo 1

The ports of the SD4000 IS

We did find that the port cover is often a little hard to close: you have to push it closed on both sides for it to lock into place. If you don't, it sticks out a bit and could get caught on something and torn off.

Shooting Modes

The first level of control for shooting modes is the mode switch on the top of the camera body, which has settings for full auto, shooting and movie mode. In the full auto mode, the camera takes control and the user only gets to set the self timer and the image size and compression.

In the shooting mode, the user gets much more control, including setting the shooting mode. As well as an aperture and shutter priority mode and the standard Program mode, the SD4000 offers a lot of scene modes, 17 in total. That is a good selection of scene modes, but some are rather gimmicky. The Distortion effect, for instance, produces images that are radically distorted, but with obvious artifacts from the distortion effect. One noticeable absence here is a full manual mode; there is no way to set both the shutter and aperture settings directly at the same time.

Auto Mode Features

Focus - Two focus modes are available; the standard AF frame in the center of the image or a face detection mode (Face AiAF) that prioritizes the faces. With the AF frame, you can change the size of the frame, but there is no way to change the location; you can't shift the box to the edge of the frame to focus on. The Face AiAF mode also uses the detected faces for metering so they are correctly exposed.

The AF mechanism is reasonably fast, usually taking about half a second to find the focus point and snap to it. In low light situations, a red AF assist lamp comes on that helps the camera out, but this can be disabled if required. A decent macro mode is also offered, which can focus down to a distance of 1.2 inches (3cm) from the lens front.

Exposure - Up to 2 stops of exposure compensation both up and down can be applied, in 1/3 of a stop steps. There is no exposure bracketing or flash exposure compensation available.

Metering - The standard options of evaluative, center weighted and spot metering are available from the menu in program mode. In addition, putting the camera into the Face AiAF face detection mode directs it to use the detected faces as the main exposure points.

Self-Timer - A wide selection of options are available for the self timer. As well as the usual 2 and 10 second delays, there is a custom timer that can be set to take a shot between 1 and 30 seconds after shutter down, and to take up to 10 shots. In addition, a face detection mode will hold the shutter until it detects two faces, then pause for 3 seconds and take 3 shots, allowing you to set the camera, run over to your beloved and get in place for a nice couple shot.

Modes Photo

The shooting modes menu in action.

Picture Effects

The My Colors mode allows the user to apply a number of color effects to the image. Again, most of these modes are more gimmicks than useful tools, and it is unlikely that you would use most of them more than once.

Manual Controls

As well as the usual auto setting, five white balance presets are offered. In addition, there is a custom white balance setting that uses a photo of a white object to judge the white balance.

The SD4000 IS has a decent aperture range, going from f/2.0 to f/8.0 at the wide angle setting and f/5.3 to f/8.0 at the telephoto end. The f/2.0 at the wide zoom setting is especially welcome, as it would allow the camera to gather lots of light, making low light shooting easier.

It is possible to set the aperture directly by putting the camera into aperture priority mode.

The shutter speed range of the camera is likewise pretty wide, going from 15 seconds down to 1/2000 of a second.

Drive/Burst Mode

Only one burst mode is available for the full resolution of the camera: a continuous shooting mode that can keep going for as long as there is space on the memory card. A reduced resolution high speed mode is offered which can capture about 6.6 frames a second, but only at a reduced resolution of 2.5 megapixels. This mode also had no issues shooting continuously.

Shot to Shot ()

We measured the speed of the continuous shooting mode at about 2.55 frames per second, which is a decent score for a compact camera. It was also able to keep shooting at this speed up to the capacity of the memory card and battery.


The SD4000 IS is a small, thin camera, and this can often pose a number of challenges. In particular, we found that the lack of a finger grip on the front of the camera meant that it sometimes slipped from our fingers. The large screen on the back also meant that the thumb usually ended up over the top right corner of the screen, possibly blocking part of the image. If you move the thumb off the screen, you can end up inadvertently hitting the play button.

Handling Photo 1
Handling Photo 2

Apart from these issues, we found the SD4000 to be easy and comfortable to hold and use, but we would recommend the use of the wrist strap, as it can slip out of the hand a little too easily, especially with a combination of the metal body and sweaty hands.

Buttons & Dials

In use, the index finger naturally falls onto the combination of shutter and zoom controls, and these can be used without loosening the grip too much. The other controls (including the mode switch on the top of the camera body) require two hands: the left to hold the camera body steady, and the thumb of the right to use the control. The small set of controls on the back of the camera body are well placed for this, though, so it comes naturally.

Buttons Photo 1
Buttons Photo 2

There are two menus on the SD4000 IS: the traditional full-screen one and quick menu that holds the more commonly used settings. The quick menu appears on the left side of the screen when you hit the set button, and you scroll up and down with the control dial. When you reach the option you want, a left button press brings up the next level, which contains the option for the selected control. It sounds complicated, but it is intuitive and works well.

The main menu is a more standard full-screen affair, where the options are separated into tabs. Again, it works well and the combination of quick access to the shooting controls and a simple menu structure works well.

Manual & Learning

No printed manual is supplied with the camera, but there is a full manual on the CD as a PDF file. This is well written and explains the features of the camera clearly enough, with the first section dedicated to basic shooting features, and the more complex controls and features covered later on.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 Comparison

Both cameras are small, compact devices that can be carried around in a pocket or small bag. The Sony is the thinner and sleeker of the two, though, at just 0.68 inches thick. The Canon is only slightly thicker (at 0.98 inches), but it feels chunkier and has a telescoping lens: the Sony lens is completely inside the camera body. Both cameras cost about the same at around the $350 mark.

We found slightly better performance from the Sony in a number of areas: it has slightly better color and lower noise, and a much more effective image stabilization system. The other area where the Sony wins is in the LCD screen: the 3.5-inch, 921k pixel screen is bigger and much sharper than the 3-inch, 230k pixel one on the Canon. The Sony also has a very slightly longer zoom lens, but the difference between the two is negligible.


Canon PowerShot SD970 IS Comparison

Both cameras offer a lot of features and performance in small, compact packages, shooting good quality images and offering a selection of controls to get the most out of the camera. But the Panasonic has a few things that are better: a much longer zoom and a sharper LCD screen that does a better job of showing the detail in images. We found that the two cameras were mostly evenly matched in our tests, taking images with good color and sharp detail. The Panasonic was somewhat noisier than the Canon, though; images shot with the ZS3 had significantly more noise in them than comparable ones shot with the SD4000 IS.



The SD970 IS is an older Canon model, but our results show that newer is not always better: the older model (which is now available for about $250) had comparable scores across many of our tests, taking images with nearly as good color and only slightly higher noise. The SD4000 IS was quicker to shoot with, though, taking 2.55 frames a second against the 1 fps speed of the SD970IS.



The Canon PowerShot SD4000 IS is a well priced compact camera that offers a decent zoom range and shoots attractive photos with low noise and a good level of detail. We also found that the noise level in images stayed pretty low as we jacked the ISO sensitivity up to the maximum of 3200, which is unusual. This is also one of the few cameras that can shoot at this ISO level at full resolution.

More serious users may miss the manuals controls that are not present, such as the lack of a manual control, although the camera does include aperture and shutter speed priority modes that almost make up for this.

Although the 3-inch LCD screen on the back of the camera is large enough to provide a decent preview of images, it is not as sharp as other similar sized models. We found that the lens had good overall performance, with only a small amount of distortion and chromatic aberration at the widest end of the zoom range.

We also found the video that this camera shot to be a little disappointing: the colors were overly saturated and the video did not contain a lot of detail. Although it is high definition (with a 1280 by 720 pixel resolution that makes it 720p), the video looks rather soft and fuzzy when you put it up on the big screen.

But these issues aside, the SD4000 IS is a good pick for the shooter who wants to balance price, performance and portability: it does well in all of these areas and would be a good pick for everyday photo taking.

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