The SD 700 IS was perhaps my favorite point and shoot camera of last year, ticking all the right boxes (small, stylish, reliable, good output, easy to use) and showing that, for all the grumbling about Canon's dominance of this market, when they get things right they really get things right.
Its new stablemate, the SD800 IS is - on paper - a dream come true for anyone who appreciates the significant advantages offered by a zoom that starts at 28mm rather than 35 or 38mm. I've said it before and I'll say it again; there are so many practical and creative advantages to the extra field of view offered by a 28mm over even a 35mm wideangle that it's hard to move back to the 'tunnel vision' of a 'normal' 3x zoom. From landscapes to interiors to group shots the added versatility and creative possibilities of the wider lens cannot be overstated.
Of course nothing in life comes for free, and there have obviously been some compromises involved in designing and manufacturing a 28-105mm equiv. lens in such a small form factor - and in squeezing even more pixels onto a 1/2.5-inch CCD. The excellent edge-to-edge sharpness we saw with the SD700 IS has gone; the SD800's more ambitious lens range means that there is a slight, but noticeable drop off in sharpness towards the edges and corners in some circumstances. It's not bad enough to mar most everyday shots (and is barely visible at all in a 5x7 inch print), but pixel peepers will need to take a close look at the gallery samples and make their own minds up.
I was also disappointed to see the new DIGIC III processor's heavy noise reduction blurring away fine, low contrast detail at ISO 200 and 400. This is the curse of modern compacts (for the more serious user), but it's unusual for a Canon to exhibit noticeable NR artefacts. I wouldn't use anything other than ISO 80 for any shot with lots of fine detail (such as landscapes), but again, the typical casual/social snap shooter simply won't have an issue with it, particularly in prints.