The Canon Powershot SD990 IS is in a higher price bracket than many of the other recently-released Elph models and there's a reason for that. Beautifully designed and easy to use, this camera is not only capable of producing great images it's also packed with a boatload of manual features that give the photographer nearly as much control as a DSLR (with some concessions made to pocket-sizing, of course). In short, this camera is designed to fill a market hole: it's meant for those of us who love hands-on control, even in our snapshots, but don't always want or need to lug around a huge camera kit. And it does the job admirably.
The SD990 IS touts a 14.7 megapixel sensor with a 1/1.7" size the same sensor used in the larger model Canon G10. In fact, those who are interested in the G10 for its performance may do well to take a look at the SD990 IS. It doesn't have all the same features (the hot shoe and the wide angle lens are missing), but it offers a lot of the same modes, including Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Program, AF Servo (tracking focus on moving objects), and even a Manual mode (including manual focus, which is more of a manual fine focus-adjustment, but still a bonus). This is the first digital Elph to feature such a full set of controls yet the sleek body could still fit in your coat pocket.
Design: Impressively Slick
The camera itself is impressive right out of the box. It's thicker than the other Elphs, but also feels more solid; the body is contoured and easy to grip, and is available in both silver and black. There was a limited edition red body as well, made to commemorate the 100 millionth Powershot camera, but something tells me that one will be a bit harder to get your hands on. Whatever color you choose, you should love the looks; it's compact and comfortable, with a huge, bright LCD and common-sense button layout.
Speaking of the buttons, operation of the SD990 IS is slick and easy; this camera offers largely the same set-up as other recent Elph models, with a rotating selector wheel and a four-way controller. An excellent addition to the back side is the optical viewfinder, which is coupled with the camera's Quick Mode: cameras operate faster and have less lag time when the LCD is off, so setting the camera to Quick Mode turns off the LCD. You then use the viewfinder to take quicker shots than were possible otherwise ideal for fast-moving situations. Face Detection focus continues to operate while in this mode.
The SD990 IS features Canon's DIGIC IV processor, with an impressive lack of image noise and ultra-fast operation. ISO 3200 is offered as one of the scene modes, and manages to pull usable shots even in very dark conditions. In addition, this camera has most of the typical scene modes we've come to know and love in other Canons, from Snow to Color Swap to Indoors.
Performance: Quick and High Quality
Performance in any mode is responsive, with quick snapping and amazingly low lag time, even with the LCD on. The LCD itself has barely a lag, and auto focus hones in on the subject every time. The AF Servo is something that camera manufacturers should have thought to add to pocket cameras years ago: the ability to press the focus button halfway and track a subject as it moves across your screen is something everyone can appreciate, not just users of DSLRs, and its addition to this camera adds a huge amount of versatility.
I could go on and on about the features, but the final point is this: the SD990 IS stands out among other pocket cameras, including the other Elph models, thanks to the large amount of control it gives the photographer. I didn't know anything about this camera when I took it out of the package, and every button push revealed more features I wasn't expecting to have. This camera literally rivals much larger prosumer-style models that are meant to be a bridge between DSLRs and pocket cameras, and as such it's the perfect solution for those of us who love hands-on control but love portability just as much.
Cons? I suppose there could be more of a zoom the 3.7x optical that's offered isn't much, although at least the focus is clear and bright and there's no lag to speak of, even when focusing at full zoom. But honestly, finding cons in this camera was the most difficult part of reviewing it. Shooting is an absolute pleasure; capture time is fast, photos are bright and detailed, and image quality is off the charts.
The bottom line is this: if you're not too interested in Manual mode, Aperture/ Shutter Priority, or any of the other hands-on features offered by this camera, then you can save a bit of cash by purchasing one of the other recently-released Elph models. I've handled a few of them, and in terms of image quality and performance, they're all brilliant performers, and they cost less than the SD990 IS, for obvious reasons. But if you love the idea of full creative control, even in your pocket-sized shooter, buy this camera. You won't be able to put it down.