If you want a compact camera with a long zoom and decent low-light performance, the Canon SD4500 and Nikon S8100 are two of the most popular options at the moment. We do have full reviews of both models, which we encourage you to read, but the head-to-head guide below should help you parse the pros and cons, and, if need be, make a quick decision about which model to choose.
Body and DesignThis is a toss-up, with a very slight edge toward the S8100. Both sport backside-illuminated CMOS sensors, which can boost speed, video resolution, and high-ISO image quality. They both come equipped with 10x zoom lenses with similar maximum apertures (Canon's f/3.4 to Nikon's f/3.5), though the SD4500 starts at a very narrow 36mm, while the S8100 sports a more average 30mm wide-angle.
They both appear to be roughly the same size, but the SD4500 is 5 percent lighter and 25 percent thinner than the S8100. In real-world terms, both are light enough to carry around in a jacket pocket, but too bulky for a pants pocket. Both sport roomy 3-inch LCD screen, though the S8100 has four times the resolution. The Nikon also has the pop-up flash design that many people find irritating, though it helps to reduce red-eye.The Canon's flash is weaker, but fixed into the front panel, where it won't get in the way of any shooter's left index finger resting point.
And for what it's worth, the S8100 comes in black, gold, and red colors, whereas the SD4500 comes only in a homely brown shade.
Performance and User Experience
The S8100 takes this category. It's faster, it's just as easy to use, its feature set is evenly matched, and its battery life is much longer. The SD4500 honestly has one of the worst batteries we've ever seen, lasting barely 120 shots per charge, whereas the S8100 manages an average 200-220 per charge.
The SD4500 scores a few points for the extremely user-friendly, mostly automatic ELPH interface. But it's a $300 camera, and we think it's pretty important to offer some kind of manual control at this price-point. The Nikon S8100 doesn't offer any manual control either, and its auto-heavy interface is a bit wonkier than the Canon's. Both cameras fail on this point, in other words.
Image and Video QualityAgain, this is a toss-up, and it depends on what you're looking for in terms of image quality. The Nikon S8100 is more useful in low light, while the SD4500 is more true-to-life. Both control noise well up to ISO 800, which is good by compact zoom standards, and even shots at ISO 1600 are usable. That said, the S8100 is more likely to grab a visible exposure in the dark. It sometimes turns blacks into deep blues, which is not to everybody’s liking, but many casual users will just be happy that they’re able to see what’s happening in the dark. The downside is that the entire range is cold and bluish, and tends to lean toward overexposure. But for a camera marketed to do well in poor lighting, it does its job pretty well.
The SD4500, on the other hand, is much more "realistic"; shots in great or decent lighting are more vibrant yet fairly color-accurate. In darker settings, the colors stay accurate and saturated, but for a camera marketed as a low-light solution, it’s not terribly helpful compared to most compact zooms. Again, it’s up to your personal preference, and both have their share of IQ issues.
The SD4500 takes the video quality category. Both shoot 1080p video, both can zoom while recording video, and both sport stereo microphones. But the SD4500 shoots in 24fps, which lends a film-like look to videos, whereas the S8100 shoots in a faster but less eye-pleasing 30fps.