Canon's last effort produced the best point-and-shoot on the market, and this is its successor
From the day it was announced, I’ve been excited about the Canon PowerShot S100. Its predecessor, the S95, is still one of the best pocket-sized cameras on the market even a year after its release, and the S100 improves on many of its features — it’s got a wider lens, a faster processor, a new sensor, and GPS functionality — while keeping the S95’s litany of manual controls, great look and feel, and its promise of fantastic images even in poor lighting.
1. Interface and Controls
The S100 has a dial for everything ~
For a pocket camera, the S100 is absolutely littered with buttons and scroll wheels (as was the S95): there’s a mode dial, a zoom rocker, a power button, and a shutter press all crammed together on top, and on the back are four more buttons, plus the five-way control pad, which both clicks and scrolls.
There’s even a ring around the lens, which spins to change things like shutter speed and zoom level. It’s useful, and fun to use; I felt like a pro, even with the tiny little camera. The ability to quickly change ISO, white balance, and shutter speed settings is one of the things I personally really need in a camera, and the S100 does it as well as any small camera I’ve used. That’s a big win for an expensive camera, which is really aimed more at DSLR owners wanting a smaller camera than at regular, everyday shooters.
As for the menu system, Canon’s interface is relatively standard across its point-and-shoot cameras, and it’s perfectly functional without being very impressive. I like that if you press the center button on the back, it overlays a menu on top of the viewfinder that lets you change common options like ISO, shooting size, and the like.
Those options change depending on what mode you’re in (you see more if you’re in a manual mode than in Auto), and it can be confusing to figure out what’s where, but it’s certainly easier than digging through the full menu system every time. If you do ever need to get into the menu, it’s just gray text on a gray background — nothing to write home about, but it gets the job done fine.
2. GPS is a Surprisingly Cool Camera Feature
GPS also comes built into the camera, which means you can geotag your photos. Most photo-management apps can plot your geotagged photos on a map, showing you where you were when you were shooting; it’s a really awesome feature, especially if you’re on vacation and want to remember where you were when you captured a particularly cool photo.
Having GPS on all the time will massacre your battery, though, and it takes a few minutes to get a signal every time you turn it on, so use it judiciously.
3. Peformance & Quality
The S100, as expected, takes wonderful photos ~
Low-light performance is a similar story: it’s still really good, but if anything a hair worse than the S95. The S100 does a solid job of getting crisp photos without the flash in low light, and it’s clean and clear all the way up to ISO 1600 (and still usable beyond), but all the way up the S95’s photos just looked a little brighter, and a little better.
The S100 actually does a better job delivering noise-free photos at high ISOs, but the S95 handles colors better, and unless you're blowing up your photos to huge resolutions I think color performance is more important.
As point-and-shoots go, the S100 is extremely fast, thanks to Canon’s new DIGIC 5 processor. It can turn on and capture a photo in a little over two seconds, and only has about a quarter of a second of shutter lag. Like most other compact cams, the S100 is set to review each shot for two seconds after you take it, but you can turn that feature off in settings and capture a photo about every two seconds. All those numbers are fast for any camera and very fast for a point-and-shoot, and all are notably faster than the S95.
We’ve seen the future, though, and it’s dual-core processors like those inside the Casio Exilim ZR100 and the Olympus PEN E-P3. They allow you to capture an image while simultaneously writing the last one to your memory card, and I’m not sure how much longer anything else will seem adequate. Without one, the S100 is fast, but not standard-setting fast.
With great power comes great battery needs, too, and the fast processor and higher-res capability mean longevity is not the S100’s strong suit. The camera only lasted me for a couple of hours of heavy shooting, or two or three days with normal use. Plan to buy an extra battery for the S100, or to recharge the shooter every couple hundred shots.
The pop-up flash is still useful when shooting in low-light to dark conditions but I only use it when it is absolutely necessary. For the most part, I’d adjust to a high ISO setting and lower the shutter speed to compensate for lack of ambient light.
Canon Powershot S100 specifications:
12.1MP CMOS sensor
1/1.7″ sensor size
Digic 5 processor
ISO 80 – 6400
24–120 mm focal length
5x optical zoom
4x digital zoom
3″ LCD display
f/2.0 – f/5.9 aperture
1/2,000 – 15s shutter speed
2.3fps continuous shoot
1080p video recording at 24fps
RAW + JPEG file format
HF-DC2 High-Power Flash (optional)
Li-Ion battery 1120mAh
There’s a Digital AV Out and an HDMI port so you can actually hook this up to an external display (HDTV) for direct playback.
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Source: Yugatech, Gordon Laing (Camera Labs), David Pierce (TheVerge)