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Canon PowerShot S100 Review
Wednesday, March 14, 2012  
The Canon PowerShot S100 is the best pocket digital we have tested from Canon so far. As the $429 retail price suggests, Canon did not cut any corners when it came time to pack features into this little camera. The S100 replaces the PowerShot S95, one of Canon's more popular models.

The S100 may look like the S95 at first glance, but look deeper. There's a new 24-120 zoom lens on the S100. That 24mm wide angle comes in handy when you are shooting landscapes or large groups of people. The 12 megapixel CMOS sensor has been improved for low-light performance, earning it Canon's HS designation. Video capabilities have been increased to a Full 1080p. And yes, you can zoom while shooting video.

CAMERA DESIGN


The Canon PowerShot S100 is designed to easily fit in a typical shirt pocket, albeit with the camera turned off. When the S100 is powered up, the lens will protrude from the body. Even with the lens extended, you could easily carry the camera in your jacket or even trouser pocket. The camera is relatively light and fit my hands perfectly. In fact, the S100 is one of the smallest and lightest cameras on the market with cool features like support for RAW image files and manual controls.

The S100 feels solid and well made, typical of all Canon PowerShot models we have tested. One interesting feature of the S100 is the programmable control wheel that surrounds the lens. A 'Ring Func' button on the back of the camera lets you program the function of the front wheel. However, the Ring Func button can itself be programmed to do different things. As such, the camera is extremely flexible and customizable. Unfortunately, this flexibility also adds to the complexity and potential confusion to the casual photographer.



Canon's menu system has always been a little confusing to me, and the S100 is no exception. I find myself spending the first 45 minutes with the camera mashing buttons trying to figure out how to get to everything I need. Once I get it figured out, it makes sense, but it is not as intuitive to me as some other competitors' models. That said, there is so much to love about the S100 that I would be willing to commit myself to the learning process. One of those lovable features is the aforementioned knurled ring surrounding the lens. Rather than a smooth rotation, the wheel feeds back with a series of clicks. The wheel's function can be programmed by pressing the Ring Func button. It can be used for manual focus (my personal favorite), ISO, Exposure, White Balance, and Zoom.

I am not a big fan of pop-up flashes since my left forefinger always seems to be on top of the flash when it wants to pop-up. However, the motorized pop-up flash on the S100 is very cool and operates silently. My instincts are to mash the flash back into the body when I don't want it, but on the S100 that is not advisable. Since it is motorized, you run the risk of damaging the mechanism by forcing it back into place. So, a trip to the function wheel is the way to turn off the flash.

The LCD display on the back of the camera is bright and crisp and is usable in direct sunlight. Canon resisted the temptation to include a touch screen and I, for one, am glad. I much prefer using the control wheels and other "old school" methods of navigating through menus and options.

The small mode dial on top of the camera lets you quickly select your shooting mode. The chrome shutter release button is larger and more prominent than the adjacent Power On/Off button, which is good since the last thing you want is to hand your camera to a waiter in a restaurant to take your picture and have them accidentally turn the camera off.



On the back of the camera you will find the rocking and rolling control wheel surrounded by four buttons. To the top right is a dedicated MOVIE record button that will start the video record function regardless of the selected shooting mode. Below the wheel you will find the Playback button and the Menu button.

SHOOTING PICTURES


The Canon S100 offers three autofocusing modes:

  • Tracking AF - lets you place crosshairs over the subject. Press a button and the S100 will track the subject back and forth and around the frame.
  • Face Detection - switches between a nine-area AF system and face detection if one or more human faces are determined to be in the shot.
  • Center AF - locks the focus in the middle of the frame. However, you can move the focus point by pressing the Menu button and using the four-way control wheel to reposition the AF point.
For the most part, the auto focus was quick and accurate. In our testing with over 100 shots, only one was out of focus and it was taken in very low light.

GPS Tagging

The built-in GPS receiver can tag images with exact location and altitude. It can also be used to set the camera's internal clock to the correct time. By default, the GPS is disabled and requires a trip to the camera's menu system to turn it on. A small satellite icon on the screen will remind you that the GPS function is enabled. The icon will flash if no satellite signal has been "locked on" and will become a steady image otherwise. Even though the camera does not display GPS location and altitude information on screen, the data is stored in the EXIF file and can be read by any mapping software and many photo organizing programs (e.g. iPhoto). Canon includes a map utility software (PC) so you can view your photos on a Google map.

I have always considered the GPS features on cameras to fall squarely into the gimmick category. While they are nice, the trade-off in battery life is just not worth it to me. An exception is, when on a road trip, it is nice to know exactly where photos are taken. On a cruise, however, I can usually tell where we are by the subject matter of the photos.

SHOOTING MOVIES


The PowerShot S100 can shoot Full HD 1080p at 24fps and slow motion video at 120 and 240fps. The camera will continuously auto focus while shooting and you can zoom in and out, too. The Movie Digest feature snaps short VGA clips before each photo you take and assembles them into a video of your day's shooting activity. The CMOS sensor prevents the vertical streaking when shooting brightly lit images (like the sun reflecting off of the ocean), a common complaint with CCD-based cameras.

The dedicated record button on the back of the S100 starts the video recording regardless of the selected shooting mode. If the camera is set to AUTO mode, it will use the built-in scene selection and apply the camera settings accordingly.

Exposure compensation, exposure lock, and manual focus are all possible while shooting video. The S100 allows you to apply a variety of special effects to your video, including its miniature mode.

I was impressed with the quality of the video produced by the S100. We used it to shoot a short "how-to" DIY video for our website. Even the sound recorded through the mono microphone was acceptable.

WHAT I LIKE


  • RAW files
  • 1080p video
  • Control Ring around lens
  • Excellent photo and video quality
  • Small and light body
  • 24mm wide angle lens

WHAT I DON'T LIKE


  • Pop-up flash
  • Battery life

SUMMARY

Whether or not the Canon S100 is the "best" travel camera on the market is a matter of opinion. It is certainly the best Canon portable we have tested and I would not hesitate to recommend this camera to anyone. Even Rickee liked using it, and she typically is not a Canon fan.
     
     
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