PowerShot SD430 Digital Elph Wireless

The PowerShot SD430 Digital Elph Wireless is the latest in Canon's popular range of Digital Elph point-and-shoot cameras. Like many other camera companies, Canon has been adding wireless functionality to its cameras, and the SD430 comes with a built-in 802.11b adapter for wireless printing with selected printers or for transmitting images to a PC. The feature works pretty well, but it ends up being a pricey convenience for a 5-megapixel camera with low battery life.

Using the wireless connection, you can transfer images to a PC with a few button presses. It's a pretty speedy process: In my informal tests, transferring ten images of the highest size and image quality took about 25 seconds. And you don't have to do anything on the PC, because you handle it all through the camera interface, including choosing the images to send. (You can select individual images, just new images, all images, or wallpaper, which transfers an image and sets it as the Windows wallpaper.) Transferring and printing images is easy even when the PC is in another room. In my typical wood-frame house, the wireless adapter had a range of about 40 feet--enough to let me take a picture in the garden and print it in the living room.

The camera comes with remote control software that allows you to manage every aspect of the camera over the wireless connection, including zooming and focus. This also provides a live preview of the image, so the feature could be handy for all sorts of useful (or nefarious) purposes. The software automatically saves the images to the PC (instead of to the memory card), so even if someone finds the hidden camera, you still have the photos as evidence.

To print wirelessly, you plug the included wireless USB print adapter into a Canon Selphy or Pixma printer (the adapter won't work with printers from other manufacturers), connect wirelessly, and then select 'print' from the camera's LCD menu. Again, the process is simple and swift: My test images printed as quickly over the wireless connection as they did over a USB cable.

But the feature is not without its quirks and limitations. Because the included software and USB connection are necessary to set the wireless connection up, you can't use a friend's wireless network to access his PC while visiting his house. I also had a problem on one system in which the camera and the PC failed to connect until I manually configured the Windows Firewall, but thereafter they worked together without a hitch.

The wireless adapter adds little bulk to the camera. At 0.8-inch thick, the SD430 is small enough to fit into a shirt pocket, and at just over 5 ounces, it won't weigh you down. The design of the camera looks much like that of other Digital Elph models, sporting a solid aluminum case and a telescoping lens with a built-in lens cover. The only major addition is a blue LED on the left side of the case under a loop that illuminates when the wireless connection is active.

The image quality of the 5-megapixel SD430 was above average; test images were well exposed, with good color and plenty of detail. The zoom range is 5.8mm to 17mm (equivalent to 35mm to 105mm on a film camera). Battery life was unimpressive, though, with the battery running out after a disappointing 192 images. While that's enough for a couple of days of serious shooting, you'll want to keep the charger on hand, especially if you're using the wireless feature. The wireless adapter consumed a fair amount of power--using the remote control application ran down a fully charged battery in 65 minutes.

The zoom and focus mechanisms are a little noisy: Both buzzed annoyingly while in use, and the focusing noise was particularly irritating when I used the optical viewfinder. It makes taking candid shots a problem, too, as the buzzing noise could spook the local wildlife.

At $500, the SD430 is a bit on the expensive side for a 5-megapixel camera, and you seem to be paying a big premium for the wireless features. It's $100 more than the Nikon P2, which also includes wireless. However, in our tests the Canon had a slight edge over the Nikon in producing high-quality images, and the SD430's comparatively smaller design makes it an appealing choice for people who want a pocket-size camera and don't mind paying extra.


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