Canon SD780 IS: The cheapest art-capable HD camera on the market

My super-tiny Canon SD780 IS arrived today (also known as IXUS IS 100)! The charger for it is bigger than the camera! I got it with the red color, since that color was cheaper at Amazon (it was $159 last week when I bought it, it’s $169 as I write this). With it, I also bought the Zeikos lens adapter for Canon digicams, so this way I could use my ND filter. See, small-lens digicams tend to record video outdoors in high shutter speeds (lens/algorithmic limitation), so a strong ND filter can help with the situation by forcing the camera to open up its aperture and slow down the shutter speed.

So when I received the camera I set its “Color” settings to flat (contrast, sharpness, saturation, and skin tone set to minimum). These flat settings also maximized the dynamic range of the camera. Then I disabled digital zoom, so I don’t jump into its nasty look by mistake while shooting. Then, while shooting, I reduced 1-2 steps of exposure compensation and locked it there (these digicams tend to over-expose outdoors, so I made sure mine didn’t). I also turned OFF image stabilization, even if I was handheld (to gain a bit more video quality).

The result was a beautiful-looking video of my garden, very clean-looking, and definitely better than many prosumer SD camcorders that used to cost $5000 just a few short years ago! And all that with less than 200 bucks, and at a tiny package. Color grading was very easy, since the “flat” settings created a very nice image that scaled well with color grading.

Check the video below (switch to 720p quality).

Right-click to download an un-processed sample video (14.5 MB), with its original 24mbps video encoding. The only thing I did to it was to re-wrap it to MP4 (from MOV, without lossy video re-encoding), just so it becomes compatible with the PS3 and the XBoX360. You see, that’s where you can really appreciate its quality: on your TV. I just played this unprocessed file on our plasma HDTV via the PS3, and it looked like a million bucks! No one would ever believe that what they see on screen was shot with such a small camera.

If you prefer to watch it on your computer, it’s best watched with any player, except Quicktime (it uses the wrong gamma value with h.264, making videos look washed out). If you must use Quicktime, then load the clip in it, click “Window” from the main menu, “Show Movie Properties”, click on the “Video Track”, then on “Visual Settings”, and then change “Transparency” to “Straight Alpha”. Then, enjoy.

And here are two frames, directly out of the 720p stream, without any post-processing adjustments either.

Now look me in the eye and tell me that you need a better HD camera than this, if you’re just a video art enthusiast. In my opinion, this is the cheapest camera on the market today that has the ALL of the MOST NEEDED video features to do art! It has exposure compensation and locking, and it has color control, so it doesn’t make your footage look like cheap video. Only thing missing is 24p support (in addition to its 30p), but if you’re just doing visual video art without audio, then you can always slow-down your video 20% to 24p to give it the movie look (this trick has worked wonders for me).

Auto-focus works well. Manual focusing is not present as it is in the SX200 IS, but that’s easily fixed by focusing at a temporary object in front of the lens at the desired spot. Only real disadvantage of the SD780 IS is that it’s not good under very low light. Thankfully, I don’t plan to use this camera indoors.

UPDATE: One more video!

UPDATE 2: A 30-sec excerpt for a music video I shot with this cam.


Michael C. wrote on August 31st, 2010 at 6:35 PM PST:

Today I got myself a Canon HG10 off eBay, used but in great condition, for just $250. 60i for home vids, 24p for um… art (I have tools to remove pulldown, so this is not an issue), OIS, mic input, shoe, lens thread and built-in 3 and a half stop automatic ND filter with 1/4-stop increments. I bet it is less bulkier than your setup with that filter holder. I already have 43mm-to-52mm conversion ring, and I have a 52mm wide-angle adapter. Looks like a tiny prosumer camera, this little bugger. I just love holding it, I don’t even need to shoot anything.

Did you see my flowers? Here: http://www

Shot with the 2006 HDC-SD1. Got it almost two years ago for $450, open box. One can find it for about $300 on eBay these days. A real camcorder with three, not just one, CCD sensors πŸ˜‰

But it seems that you like buying new toys, not used ones.

P.S. Someone eats my tomatoes while they are still green. You are lucky to get them ripe.

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Eugenia wrote on August 31st, 2010 at 6:40 PM PST:

I don’t really buy used, no. I like to have a warranty.

The filter holder and the cam is still smaller than the HG10 btw. It’s very small.

martin mcleod wrote on August 31st, 2010 at 7:50 PM PST:

You’re a mine of info, Eugenia!
The clips you provide look great.
Very tempting hehe.

Jeremy wrote on August 31st, 2010 at 9:59 PM PST:

LOVE this camera. The video looks awesome on my 46″ tv. It also rendered my HV30 obsolete for casual video use, allowing me to sell it to help fund my T2i.

Glenn Thomas wrote on August 31st, 2010 at 10:48 PM PST:

Well done buying that! I can see you will most probably be neglecting the SX200 from now on πŸ™‚ So small you can carry it in your pocket wherever you go like I do with my Ixy 510 IS. Always handy to have when there’s an opportunity to shoot something like this.

Nice work on the colour grading. Although on my phone I could only get the low quality mobile version to play, not the high quality version. I wonder if that’s because you embedded the HD version? Or it could just be due to the older 1.6 version of Android.

But yeah, great cameras. Be sure to shoot a music video with this when you get a chance! Later this year I’m planning on shooting a video on my 510 IS with a lot of match moved 3d visual effects shots.

That Zeikos lens adapter is something I still need to buy. Have you tried that with a wide angle or tele converter? I’m thinking of buying the set with the lenses included.

Michael C. wrote on August 31st, 2010 at 11:45 PM PST:

Can you make a photo of your new toy with the filter holder attached, and with something for scale, like a dollar bill or a coin or a pen?

Michael C. wrote on August 31st, 2010 at 11:46 PM PST:

Drat! I bet this photo was not there when I was typing my prior message.

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Eugenia wrote on September 1st, 2010 at 1:28 AM PST:

It was there for a few hours before, actually. I had the article updated this afternoon. πŸ™‚

Jorge wrote on September 1st, 2010 at 4:57 AM PST:

Impressive Eugenia. I can’t believe that little thing produces such amazing footage. How do you change the video container (from MOV to MP4). What tool do you use?

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Eugenia wrote on September 1st, 2010 at 9:39 AM PST:

Quicktime Pro. You “passthrough” to MPEG4 option. Only audio is re-encoded in AAC. Video is untouched.

Gideon wrote on September 1st, 2010 at 1:23 PM PST:

Eugenia, the unprocessed files are not available. I guess your former site is really down.

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Eugenia wrote on September 1st, 2010 at 1:28 PM PST:

Yeah, it still works here, but the IPs will change soon so it won’t be available anymore.

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Eugenia wrote on September 1st, 2010 at 1:59 PM PST:

Link fixed.

Gideon wrote on September 1st, 2010 at 2:00 PM PST:

Eugenia, can you put the unprocessed files to the new site?

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Eugenia wrote on September 1st, 2010 at 2:45 PM PST:

As I said, linked was fixed. Just download it, the link is different now.

33_hertz wrote on September 3rd, 2010 at 5:41 AM PST:

I have such faith in your knowledge and the info you provide that I have bid on one of these and just won it on
Woot! and also ordered the lens adapter to go with it.

I’m looking forward to using it alongside my digicam. I shall use the settings you describe and use the Sony Preset Manager( your instructions were clear even for a plonker like me πŸ™‚

kind regards


glenn mercer wrote on September 3rd, 2010 at 9:52 AM PST:

Hey Eugenia…love your rants…most informative. I really like that Ziess Lens Adapter and I was wondering if you know if it would work on Panasonic Fx-150? I followed your links but Amazon only carries specific ones for Canon and Nikon…they do have a universal one but I’m still unsure. Do you only use it for filters…or do you also use it for wide angle/telephoto lens adapters as well?


thomas wrote on September 3rd, 2010 at 12:12 PM PST:

Hey Eugenia,

Great post about these little cameras. I recently picked up a Canon SX20 and my Sony Vegas isn’t handling the h.264 (audio is fine, no image). What do you recommend for converting? Cineform?


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Eugenia wrote on September 3rd, 2010 at 12:33 PM PST:

Glenn, I own the Canon variety of the Zeikos lens adapter, and you’re in luck, because I own an FX-150 too, so I could test it for you.

So, the “stand” is not the right size with the Canon version of the Zeikos, however, the lens size fits perfectly inside the tube. So if you’re good with DIY projects, you can engineer from foam or other material, a new stand for this cam.

If not, then I’d suggest you don’t go at least for the Canon variety of the adapter. Maybe the Nikon version is more compatible, I can’t know.

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Eugenia wrote on September 3rd, 2010 at 12:35 PM PST:

>and my Sony Vegas isn’t handling the h.264 (audio is fine, no image)

This is a Quicktime issue. Older Vegas versions are broken now with the latest versions of Quicktime. You’ll need to upgrade your Vegas Platinum to version 10, which is actually more stable with these MOV files and support the new Quicktime.

But if you don’t want to upgrade Vegas, or you can’t, you can use Matrox AVI, which is free.

glenn mercer wrote on September 4th, 2010 at 9:02 AM PST:

Thanks Eugenia, you prove to be the most helpful film maker in the blogosphere.

Glenn Thomas wrote on September 5th, 2010 at 6:13 AM PST:

Nice work on that new music video! Was that sequence shot in continuous mode?

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Eugenia wrote on September 5th, 2010 at 12:34 PM PST:

It was in video mode.

Glenn wrote on September 5th, 2010 at 10:15 PM PST:

Ok, cool. Undersampling would be my guess then? πŸ™‚

I’m actually considering the S95 now. I saw some night footage on YouTube, and its low light performance appears to be a lot better than I would have expected. I think its miniature mode would be good for timelapses too, if it was possible to disable the blur part.

thomas wrote on September 6th, 2010 at 7:53 PM PST:

Thanks! Matrox did the trick.

Aaron Grech wrote on September 7th, 2010 at 2:00 AM PST:

As usual, thanks for the informative ‘rant’. How does the camera compare vis a vis the HV20, particularly in low light? I am toying with the idea of buying one as part of a multicam setup for filming concerts and events, and if the low light performance is at least on par the the HV series, it would be good enough for me.

Again, sincere thanks for your informative, well written blog posts, regards

Aaron Grech

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Eugenia wrote on September 7th, 2010 at 2:07 AM PST:

These SX/SD/A-series Canon digicams are not as good in low light as the HV20 or any other Canon HD camcorder for that matter. While they use a slightly bigger sensor, their lens is much slower, allowing less light in them. Also, dynamic range is not as good. But they’re still good enough for the size and price.

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