Canon Powershot SD4500 IS

Canon Powershot SD4500 IS:
Hands On Review

Canon's SD4500 promises great performance and low-light image quality, but misses the mark.
By Liam McCabe

Last updated on 02/17/2011

On paper, the Canon PowerShot SD4500 has the specs to be the only carry-around camera you'll ever need: A compact body built around a backside-illuminated CMOS sensor for fast performance, 1080p video, and good low-light shooting, with a 10x lens slapped on the front, all for a reasonable $300. 

Of course, any camera that tries to do it all has to make compromises here and there, and the SD4500 certainly does. Despite good intentions, its performance boost doesn't outweigh the design limitations, and the SD4500 comes up short of the mark.

Body and Design

The SD4500 is average-sized for a compact-zoom camera. It's slightly longer and wider than an iPhone, and it’s a bit thicker than a deck of cards. It can easily fit into coat pockets and maybe into loose pants, but it’s a bit too bulky to carry around in jeans or tighter pants.

As we’d expect from an ELPH, the design is minimalist and modern, and it most closely resembles the SD4000, only larger. It’s available in one color, brown, which seems like an odd choice rather than, say, black, silver, or any color of the rainbow, for example. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course, but the SD4500 won’t be winning any beauty pageants.

The layout and control scheme are also very ELPH-like. There’s no mode dial, just a three-way switch up top for video mode, camera mode, and Smart Auto mode. A 3-inch widescreen LCD dominates the rear panel, flanked on the right by a dedicated video button, menu button, playback button, and a selection wheel with a function button in the center. The flash is fixed into the front panel -- it is not a pop-up flash.

Canon slapped the HS (“high sensitivity”) system tag onto the SD4500, which means that it's built around a 10 megapixel backside-illuminated CMOS sensor and a DIGIC 4 image processor. BSI CMOS sensors are capable of speedy burst shooting and 1080p HD video recording. They usually churn out better high-ISO shots than their traditional CCD counterparts, too, which is helpful for low-light shooting. BSI CMOS sensors are the "next big thing" for compact cameras, and the SD4500 is Canon's first attempt at putting one in long-zoom camera. Canon also uses the DIGIC 4 processor in higher-end models like the S95 and T2i; if it’s good enough for those cameras, it’s good enough for the SD4500.

The HS system brought very solid low-light shooting to the SD4000, but that camera had an f/2.0 lens. The SD4500’s lens is a weak point by comparison. The maximum aperture is just f/3.4, which can be a major hindrance to low-light shooting, and it starts at 36mm, making it one of the narrowest compact-camera lenses on the market. It does extend to a relatively generous 360mm, however.

Performance and User Experience

It’s an ELPH at heart, so the SD4500’s interface is intuitive and mostly automatic. The software reliably chooses the right settings in most cases. Users can adjust ISO and white balance settings, as well as play around with pre-set scene modes and Canon’s popular in-camera filters and effects, which are always a lot of fun. Basically, it's a good fit for novices and casual shooters.

But this is a $300 camera with possible enthusiast appeal, so the lack of aperture and shutter priority modes is odd, and sure to be off-putting for hands-on users. Those manual modes would be helpful in challenging shooting situations, too -- the SD4500 is marketed as a low-light shooter, after all, so the extra control would've been appreciated. 

I did run into one clever control feature that I hadn’t seen before. As usual, the selection wheel on the SD4500 doubles as a four-way selection pad. And as usual, the selection wheel is unlabeled; this usually leads to a guessing game where unfamiliar or forgetful users struggle to find the flash toggle, the timer toggle, and so forth. But on the SD4500, half-pressing the wheel in any direction brings up a legend on the LCD. Mystery solved. This is a clever feature that should be on every camera with a selection wheel.

For a camera with a BSI CMOS sensor, the SD4500 is on the slow side, but not terribly so. It takes about 3 seconds to start up, and about 2 seconds between shots, though shutter lag is negligible as long as the camera is pre-focused. It’s capable of shooting 3.6 full-resolution frames per second in continuous mode; that’s speedy compared to standard CCD-based cameras, but much slower than other MOS-type cameras. The buffer is unlimited however, so it's a legitimate continuous mode. High-speed burst mode picks up the pace to 8.8 fps, but drops the resolution down to 2.5 megapixels. Speed isn't an asset, but it's not a problem either.

The SD4500 has the weakest battery I’ve come across in any compact zoom camera, even shorter than cameras with battery-sucking GPS units. I got about 120 shots from each charge, a far cry from the usual 180-220 I get from most similar cameras. It dies with little warning, too; once the indicator gets down to the final bar, the battery has about 5 shots left on it, not one-third of the charge. It's way behind the competition here.

Image and Video Quality

Canon wants the world to see the SD4500 as an adept low-light shooter. It outperforms most compact zooms in dim settings, but it’s not a night-and-day difference, and the low-light boost comes at the expense of overall image quality.

Let’s start with the good parts. As expected, it takes some nice shots in bright outdoor conditions, though it’s tough for any camera to botch pictures in that setting. They're well-exposed, the details are decently crisp, the colors are vibrant, as expected from a Canon. Under artificial indoor lighting, it still does pretty well. Automatic white balance doesn't compensate correctly for certain kinds of lights, leaving shots jaundiced, but a manual white balance clears it right up (really, it's not that hard to do). The flash is a bit weak, but still useful across a room. For regular computer-screen viewing and even medium size prints, it's all good.

The SD4500 handles high-ISO shots well for a small-sensored camera. Colors stay saturated and chromatic noise is well controlled through ISO 800, and even ISO 1600 is OK. In particular, outdoor nighttime shots are nice and clear. There is a Handheld Nightshot mode, which appears to be code for HDR mode (high-dynamic resolution photos combine a few separate shots, each taken with a slightly different exposure, into one image). It's not all that effective -- you won't pull beautiful shots from un-shootable situations -- but it's a nice option to have, and enriches colors.

But like other BSI CMOS-backed compacts, shots throughout the ISO scale are soft. Around ISO 400, the wet-watercolor effect kicks in. Textures and edges start to look like they were dabbed on with a paintbrush. Like I said, this isn’t a big deal for viewing photos on computer screens, or even medium-sized prints. But it is distracting at a pixel level, and large prints could look a bit “soft-focus.”

Harsher image quality problems pop up at the pixel level as well. There's obvious barrel-distortion at the edges and corners of shots, especially at the wide-angle. There’s often some heinous green and purple fringing in those peripheral areas as well, much more noticeable than with most cameras.

Even with great high-ISO performance, the SD4500 is not a foolproof low-light shooter. I tried shooting at a local venue, sans flash, and the results were just as blurry as with any CCD camera I’ve used. That’s one of the toughest situations for any camera, and I wasn't expecting dSLR-quality shots, but I have seen it done with a compact zoom: the Nikon S8100 fakes it convincingly.

Video quality is a strong point. The highest-quality mode, 1080p at 24fps looks quite nice, on par with some standalone pocket camcorders and much better than smartphones. As expected, low-light filming is above average here. Optical zoom is available in video mode; while it's slow, the motor noise picked up by the microphone is pretty quiet for a compact camera. The audio, recorded via built-in stereo microphone, is nice and clear as well.


The SD4500 has a few good things going for it: The overall image quality is good enough for most folks, the 10x zoom range is satisfactory, the 1080p video is quite nice, and high-ISO image quality is some of the best in the class.

But it just has too many flaws to really stand out in the crowded compact zoom niche. The battery life is atrocious. The lack of manual control is frustrating. And it's not as nimble in the dark as I'd hoped: despite the clean high-ISO shots, it's not as good as the Nikon S8100 at pulling something usable from tough lighting conditions. In other words, the SD4500 takes more realistic shots than the S8100, but the S8100 is more likely to get a good exposure. That is, if you take side-by-side shots in a dark room without the flash, the SD4500 will churn out a dark, muddled shot with few details -- exactly what the room looks like in the dark, in other words -- while the Nikon S8100 will produce a visible scene. It may not be true-to-life, but at least it’s something. 

Outdoors, neither camera is particularly great, but they’re flawed in different ways -- the Canon has those gnarly IQ issues at the edges and corners, while the Nikon tends to blow out highlights and dull the colors. Pick your poison, though we side with the Nikon S8100: It’s marketed as a low-light shooter, and it gets at least decent low-light shots every time. It’s also smaller, lighter, and ships with a much longer battery life.

The SD4500 tries to be everything to everybody, but falls short of what it promises and will inevitably let down many users. It has some redeeming qualities in its video mode and with high ISO shooting, but with a better option out there and a many more on the way, it's best to skip the SD4500.

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Canon Powershot SD4500 IS Reviews

Canon Powershot SD4500 IS Reviews by Digital Camera-HQ Users

  • 3.0 out of 5
Some fuzzy pics (Julia Maurer — 01/05/2011)
I have had this camera for about three months. I got it when my other Canon was dropped one too many times. I LOVED my old Canon, so when it came time to buy a new one I didn't even consider other brands. I got mine at best buy right after it came out. I wanted a camera with low light capabilities because I go to a lot of concerts, and a small point and shoot was a must so that it can sneakily fit into my purse. The night after I bought it I went to see Muse and tested out the Auto function several times, and the pictures never turned out good. For some reason it kept putting it on macro. I gave up on Auto and used the low light scene mode. Some were good, some were blurry. And as everyone else has said, the battery sucks. I was at the concert about 4 hours and it was dead by the end of the night. Not like I was using it non-stop either. Since then I've used my camera many times. I like taking pictures. :) I'd say it performs well just over half the time. I get TONS of blurry pictures, especially when someone else is using the camera instead of me. The main problem seems to be in using the auto focus, when you hold the shutter down halfway. It is supposed to make the focus better, but almost always makes it worse. I got an extended warranty at best buy so I think I'm going to take it in and see if maybe I got a bad one.
  • 4.0 out of 5
yellow cast, anyone? (george schandel — 12/31/2010)
The pictures are as good as my sd2400. The zoom is usually good. I just use auto setting. I am happy enough with the camera to recomment it. The one question I have though is why the picures of peoples faces have a yellow cast on the lcd, but are ok on the computer or when printed. In fact in the last 2 situations there is no differance from the sd1400. Has anyone else experienced this or is my camera lcd a lemon?
  • 3.0 out of 5
Not as good as I hoped for (Wendy — 12/28/2010)
I have always loved Canon but right now I am not sure that I would purchase another Canon. I bought this one at Best Buy because several of the sales people kept telling me how great it was. I told them I wanted something good for video but something good for pictures too. This is what I got. I am not happy with it yet. I have been messing with it for several hours, taking video, pics and changing the settings. So far the video gets blurry and is very fuzzy. Some of the pictures are ok and some are fuzzy. Compared to my other Canon that I got last year, this one sucks. I have the Canon A1100 and the video is clear and crisp. This one wont let me take a good video at all. I hooked this up to my 60" HD tv and I thought because this takes HD quality video it would look good, at least thats what I was told by the sales people at Best Buy but it doesnt. I know nothing about technical stuff. I just know it doesnt take great video or pictures. The battery life on this one is no good just like the A1100. The A1100 takes AA batteries and the batteries need to be replaced every hour or so, with continual picture or video taking. I thought the battery life would be better with this one but it isnt. I wish someone would just make a good camera that takes good video with a battery that would last. If you know of one, please let me know!
  • 2.0 out of 5
Just sent mine for repairs (Noel Adler — 11/01/2010)
Bought this to replace a Canon SD700 that was growing long in the tooth. Used it in China, Japan and DC. The pictures and video is superior to the SD700, but I had 2 major problems. The first has been mentioned here several times. The battery life is terrible. It didn't get through 3/4 of a day of sightseeing pictures. My previous Canon's worked for days on a single charge. Since this Camera was so new I didn't purchase an extra battery for my trip. More importantly, the camera got "stuck" several times during my trip. The lens won't retract and the LCD had vertical snow. After playing with the camera and taking the battery out and putting it in several times I was finally able to get it to work. On my last trip, this again happened and I wasn't able to coax it back to life. I wasn't able to shoot my son at the Marine Corp Marathon in D.C. and thus am very disappointed in the camera. The defect is either in the mechanical gearing or the software. Maybe I just got a lemon but I have never had this kind of problem before with any Canon product. I asked Canon to replace it rather than repair it since this camera is so new. I hope they do.
  • 4.0 out of 5
Testing the SD4500 (Kal — 10/01/2010)
Hey everyone, got my SD4500 today! Let me try and address some of the concerns here. Angie Lawrence (09/30/2010) – "I keep reading consumer reviews about a poor battery"… YES, THIS BATTERY IS NO GOOD. The battery arrived dead, so I charged it fully and began playing with my camera. After about a half hour of playing with my camera, the low battery light was flashing. I also noticed the battery was really warm. This never happened in any of my other digital cameras. Angie Lawrence (09/30/2010) – "several reviews say cheaply made body construction"… I HAVE TO DISAGREE! The brown color makes it look like one of those cheep plastic cameras. You don't have to worry, its construction is great and it has that Canon quality feel. This camera was built to last for years. Monica (09/24/2010) – "just wondering if the 36mm lens is going to be a problem" NOT AT ALL, IT WORKS GREAT. I was able to fit all three of my kids in the photo from just a few feet away. Besides, I just checked the specs on my other digital cameras and they also have 36mm. Only difference with the SD4500 from my other cameras is this one has Widescreen, and it looks great!!! Oh, if you plan on taking a lot of HD videos, like me, you'll need a good SD card. I bought a SDHC Class 10 card with 8GB storage (40 bucks at Amazon). In the Full HD 1920x1080 mode you can take up to 30 minutes of video, in Standard HD 1280x720 mode you can take 40 minutes of video. Obviously the 8GB is not enough for me, I'll need a 16GB. BTW, make sure you GET A CLASS 6 OR HIGHER! The Class 10 handles 30MB/Sec. which may be a little overkill but works great for HD videos. So far I love this camera! It’s hard to take a bad picture. With my other digitals, the Auto never seems to work correctly. I would always have to play with the Program settings. With this camera you can just leave it in Auto and your good to go. If anyone has a request for me to test with this camera, let me know.