Canon's PowerShot SD430 Wi-Fi digital camera is one of only a few Wi-Fi cameras on the market, which is too bad. It competes with the Nikon models, the Coolpix S6 that we reviewed recently, and the earlier Coolpix P1 and P2 models that we reviewed last year. The Canon product, a 5.0 megapixel model with a 3x zoom lens that sells for $500 or less, does a somewhat better job with Wi-Fi than does the Coolpix S6, but isn't quite as good a camera.
Canon actually announced the SD430 back in October 2005, but it hasn't been widely available or heavily marketed. Like the Nikon S6, it's a simple camera. You can't adjust the focus, aperture or shutter speed manually. The camera offers an all-automatic mode as well as a manual mode in which you can adjust the ISO (light sensitivity), exposure methods, white balance, image size and quality and exposure compensation. Other settings include Portrait, Night Portrait and Kids and Pets modes.
The camera offers good basic features including a Macro focus mode that lets you focus from as close as 1.2 inches away at wide angle. The SD430 also provides two methods of focusing: AiAF (artificial intelligence auto focus), where it automatically selects the subjects on which to focus, and standard focusing (with AiAF off) in which the camera automatically focuses on whatever is in the center focus area.
The spot metering feature, not often found in simple cameras, lets you take light readings from just a small portion at the center of the frame. This is useful when your main subject is set against a very bright or dark background that would otherwise throw off the exposure.
The SD430's PhotoStitch mode helps you take a number of shots that you can stitch together later on a computer using bundled software to create a panoramic image. After you take the first shot, part of it appears at one side of the LCD viewfinder so you can line up the next shot and ensure the two overlap precisely. It's not quite as good as the similar feature on the Nikon S6. The image on the SD430's LCD screen is too small, and you can't see through it, which makes lining it up with the next shot more difficult. With the S6, the previous image is transparent.
The Canon camera, with its mostly plastic body, isn't quite as sleek or solid feeling as the S6. It's amazingly tiny, but it looks and feels boxier. It measures 3.9 by 2.1 by 0.85-inches and weighs only 4.59 ounces without battery and card. The LCD is also smaller and lower resolution than the Nikon's two-inches (118,000 pixels) versus three-inches (230,000 pixels). But it does have an optical viewfinder.
A Wireless Winner
If the Coolpix S6 has the edge on the SD430 in terms of camera features, the Canon SD430 gets the nod when it comes to wireless features. It uses Wi-Fi to provide all the same conveniences as the Nikon products. You can send pictures from the camera to a computer, either directly in a peer-to-peer link or to a computer on an existing Wi-Fi network. You can send pictures to a printer, either directly to one equipped with a wireless adapter, or to a printer attached to a PC with which you've established a wireless connection.
Also, like the Nikon products, you can set up the camera to automatically send pictures to the computer over the Wi-Fi network as you shoot them. This is a cool trick if you're shooting around the house and want to save memory card space or if you're in the field and have the camera wirelessly linked to a laptop or PDA.
The SD430 has a couple of key wireless advantages over the Nikon products. First, the package includes a Wi-Fi printer adapter that you can plug into any PictBridge compatible printer with a USB port. Nikon charges $50 for its wireless adapter.
The Canon model, which supports both WEP and WPA for security, will perform additional wireless tricks eventually. With new firmware scheduled for release in May 2006, you'll be able to make peer-to-peer wireless connections with other SD430s or, presumably, future Canon Wi-Fi cameras and transfer pictures from one to the other. We're not exactly sure in what circumstances you'd want to do this, but the option will be there.
The other new wireless trick is a dandy. The SD430 lets you control the camera remotely over the wireless network. We've been waiting for somebody to do this. You could set it on a tripod pointing at a bird feeder, for example, and sit in the house at your computer waiting for timid birds to come into range. Use it in a similar way at a party to capture candids.
Using the Remote Capture screen, part of the software supplied with the camera, you can see what the camera sees and remotely zoom in and out (though not in real time) and click the shutter button. You can also change settings for image quality and size, focusing point (AiAF on or off), Macro focus, auto focus lock and flash.
One perennial problem with digital cameras is shutter lag, the time it takes for the camera to actually take the picture after you press the shutter button. It's often so long that you miss shots that depend on split-second timing. We wondered if the wireless connection would introduce more shutter lag. The answer is that, of course, it does but not a lot. We tested this by photographing a digital clock that showed seconds ticking away. In the resulting image, the time was only one second advanced from when we pressed the remote shutter button.
The Canon wireless technology also seems to have better range. With the Coolpix S6, there were places in our test area where the wireless connection was poor to nonexistent. The SD430 worked well everywhere. Download times also seemed faster than with the Nikon camera, although we wasn't able to confirm this in side-by-side testing.
Wireless printing worked well in tests using the included adapter and a portable Canon Selphy CP600 dye-sub printer. The printer started grinding away within about a second of my pressing the print button on the camera.
Installing the camera to work wirelessly with our computer was trouble-free, but we did have to install a lot of software. The wireless functionality can only be set up if you also install Canon's standard ZoomBrowser PC/Mac software, which includes multiple components only some of which you need, and none of which you really need if you already have a program like Adobe Photoshop Elements. The software takes up several hundred megabytes of hard disk space.
If you're looking for a simple camera for taking snapshots to print no larger than 5x7 inches, this one will meet minimum requirements and it gives you the convenience of wireless uploading and printing of images, as well as the fun of remote control photography.
Adapted from wi-fiplanet.com.
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