I’m excited to share with you my findings of the brand new Canon Powershot S100 digital point-and-shoot camera that was just released, replacing the previous S95 (and S90 before it). There are many other sites online where you can get technical specs and comparisons, and as not to rip-off their charts, or tell you that same information, I’m instead going to show you my real-world photos and share with you my experience with this camera.
To very briefly describe to you this camera, it’s “creative control” in a small, easy-to-use bundle. I love the matte black finish (also comes in silver) and the large 3″ LCD display. It has an f/2 lens which makes it very good in low-light and provides nice background blur when the lens is zoomed out to it’s 24mm full-frame equivalent (nice wide-angle). When zoomed in, it can achieve a focal length of 120mm, which is great for portraits, though the f/5.9 isn’t exactly “fast”. My biggest reasons for holding out for this camera, rather than going with the S95, is that is has 1080p HD video (24fps, H.264 & capable of optical zoom while recording) and new JPEG processing which is spectacular! Normally, point-and-shoot cameras don’t shoot RAW, but this one does, and that’s a selling point for me. Especially because most cameras (such as my girlfriend’s Lumix ZS7, which IS a nice camera btw) not only doesn’t shoot RAW, but over-sharpens it’s JPEGs by an unforgivable amount. This is irreversible damage to the image, that even using noise-reduction and sharpening technologies later on in post can’t fully correct. The S100 not only gives the the RAW option, but it’s JPEG quality is SUPERB. It’s 12MP, has GPS (finally!), and has a one-touch movie mode (very handy!), and the controls are incredible easy-to-use. Like most other point-and-shoots, it uses SD cards, and is capable of the largest/fastest ones currently on the market, as well as the use of an Eye-Fi card (which I’ve tested and works great!)
I purchased this camera for $429 at Best Buy. The store I meant to get it at did not have any in stock, and the next closest store (1 hour away) had only two. I managed to get one of the two. I purchased a Lowepro Tahoe 10 case for $9.99 as well as the Eye-Fi Connect X2 card. I’ve tested this card through my computer, and in direct mode to an iPad 2 (after firmware upgrade) and it works flawlessly!
My brief testing setup was an impromptu walk through Parc La Fontaine (Montreal, Quebec), a place I love taking my DSLR equipment to and photographing the squirrels, birds, trees, people, and architecture. I stuck by the corner of the park nearest to my apartment as I really wanted to get a feel for dynamic range in JPEG processing, speed of AF for squirrels and birds, image quality at various ISO levels, and the ease of using the menus for simple tasks. I did not go into too much detail of all the camera functions, but dabbled in a few of the simple and more common functions.
The menu system is rather intuitive and the newest evolution of what has been in the previous Canon point-and-shoot cameras. I find Canon’s menu system to be easy-to-use, though I believe Nikon’s to be just a touch better (from my experience with the Nikon S8100 and S6100). It’s very simple to change the AF mode, file type (JPEG/RAW) and file size (full, medium small etc…) Video is so much better now that Canon did what others have been doing for the last few generations of models: put a video button on the back of the camera for one-touch recording. It will use the settings of whatever mode you’re currently in. For testing purposes, I used primarily Program mode, but went to Full Auto and Aperture Priority (Av) for a few times here and there. I didn’t do much manual, but I’d imagine that’s the way to get the best exposures if you know what you’re doing. This is because I found the exposures to be very inconsistent. This is the same on my Canon 7D, and is just a product of the environment: blown out bright skies. It really throws off the AE (Auto-Exposure) systems of even the higher-end cameras. I usually use Av or Manual modes on my 7D, but I was trying to stick more with the program and auto modes on the S100 to give an idea of what most people can expect.
The full-resolution, completely unedited JPEGs (unless specified in the review here or in the comments of the photo) are available HERE. Please keep in mind that all photos, though are un-watermarked and available for full-resolution download are still property of FRESH Photography and may not be reproduced or sold in any form. The photos are being made available so you can examine the photos on your own machines at 100% and have all the EXIF data available to you to make a decision on whether this camera is for you or not.
One thing I was very excited about is the HDR mode. This is for maximizing the dynamic range of an image, usually by taking multiple exposures. My HDR mode findings were a bit disappointing. I found that the camera took several photos so quickly that camera shake was inevitable (not so on my 7D when I exposure bracket). If the images aren’t PERFECTLY aligned, then it won’t blend them well. This method of HDR blending isn’t as sophisticated as Photomatix or Photoshop. Also, the resulting HDR images didn’t seem to have much more dynamic range than a single RAW, or even a single JPEG for that matter.
Below I will show a few select shots and give you a little commentary on the photo what I thought about the camera for each shot. Click on the photo to be taken to the FULL RESOLUTION (4000×3000 pixels) version of the file.
The above photo was the very first photo I snapped with the Canon Powershot S100. The colors seem a little dull (it was shot as a JPEG with the picture style set to “Standard”… “Vivid” could improve this a bit or of course RAW). I do like that the image is not too oversharpened… I find the balance between sharpening and noise-reduction is acceptable versus what most point-and-shoots these days do.
This photo, would have been great, had the AF system focused on the squirrel’s face. I know he was close, but it was well within the limits of the lens/AF system and dead center in the frame. However, the AF system chose to focus on the cars in the background or the woman walking on the other side. The following two photos in the set show that it was no different afterward. This was a bit disappointing.
Perhaps it’s just me, but these leaves don’t seem to have the warmth they should have. Now I’d imagine if I shot this with my Canon 7D & EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L II USM, the colors MIGHT look the same, but I’ll bet they’d look better. Also, I could easily change them to be warmer in post, even with this photo, however, I think the camera’s intelligence should do this for me in a point-and-shoot, no?
In this photo, I’m not sure what happened to the white balance in the camera, but it turned out TOO warm, and not in a realistic manner. Everything is red. Now in the following photo, the colors look great and the dynamic range has been expanded as it was the first test of HDR mode:
However… I held the camera extremely still while taking this photo, but I did notice the slightest amount of camera shake between exposures. The camera’s HDR combination process, I believe, only performs exposure blending. It does not align images (which shouldn’t be hard at all) or go the extra mile to remove ghosting! The following photo in the album will show similar results.
Camera = Good:
The S100 pleases me very much with this photo. I shot this in Av mode (f/2) and in large JPEG, but otherwise let the camera do the rest of the work. Upon close inspection in Lightroom 3, I can tell that the bird’s eye is TACK SHARP (this may, however, be luck). The rest of the photo appears to contain decent detail, the exposure that it set is perfect, and I was surprised by both of these two facts, considering the bird was flying quite fast and the frame was dark at the middle & bottom but bright at the top. Nonetheless, this photo is what I was expecting all my photos to be from the Canon S100. More like this would make anyone who purchases this camera extremely happy.
More on the AF system here… I held the camera in portrait rotation with the pigeon dead center of the frame for both the first and second photo, and one is in focus and one isn’t. These photos were taken in single shot mode, but when I saw the first one was out of focus I just half-pressed again and get good focus, then finished the press for this photo. Why wouldn’t it pick up on it in the first shot? Again, it’s not very intelligent here. (Sorry I tried to get these photo next to one another but I couldn’t figure out how to do it so you’ll just have to scroll to view).
Here is the zoom range of the camera (optical only):
I think the 5x zoom range is acceptable given the fact that’s f/2 at the wide-end. I’m certainly spoiled with the Panasonic Lumix ZS7‘s 12x zoom range, but then again, it won’t shoot RAW and it oversharpens all it’s JPEGs. Do you want quality or versitility?
Speaking of quality… here’s a very nice image of a small flower. I took this in Av mode (f/4) ISO 80 so as to get the best image quality possible. Indeed it is good. Look at the gradient of the orange on the flower. Stunning!
For this, I wanted to see the close-focus quality. I took one photo (previous one – see album) and then, took another and the AF system focused on the lamp behind the mouse. That thin piece of metal instead of the HUGE chunk of plastic right in front of the lens. I refocused about eight more times after this photo and every time it would focus on the lamp. Why is that?! I didn’t manually set any focus points (I don’t even think you can) and it was just drawn to that in the background. Very disturbing….
This image was shot in Av mode (f/2.8) ISO 800 (forgot to turn the ISO down… something that isn’t as easy as I’d like on the S100, though there is a customizable button and the control ring that could be set to ISO change if desired. I love the detail and dynamic range of the image. Please note that the previous image in the album is the same one, but not focused properly. That one was shot in HDR mode, and I don’t know if it just mis-focused, or if HDR mode makes focusing harder, but you can also tell the image doesn’t have as good detail and doesn’t pop as this one does. It’s a rare case where I prefer the non-HDR image.
Speaking of HDR… see these next two images. First one is just a JPEG snapped in Full Auto. The second one is an HDR (the camera was perched on the side of the balcony and so did not move between exposures, hence it’s lack of blurriness.
If you look carefully at the sky and the bottom corners of the photo, you’ll see that the HDR image (the bottom one) has much better dynamic range. It’s no doubt that the processing of the HDR works, but again, I think it’s more subtle than other HDR routes. Also, you must keep the camera insanely steady. It even pops a message that tells you to have the camera on a tri-pod when taking HDR images. Side note: On my 7D I have my custom 2 dial set to take three exposures, each one stop apart, ISO 100, f/4 (which I often change) high-speed continuous mode and two-second timer. This means when I press the shutter button down all the way, it will wait two seconds (for me to get a good grip) and fire off three shots VERY fast. Even still, the photos are not always aligned, and so I use Photomatix Pro or Photoshop CS5 to align them and process the HDR. As I mentioned above, this is something I feel is very lacking with the S100. It will not realign photos in the HDR so if you don’t have it PERFECTLY aligned, you’ll get an HDR you can’t use.
Here is another HDR where I had the camera on the balcony side secured well. The dynamic range of the photo is fantastic, but as you can see, there are “ghost cars” everywhere. Keep this in mind when taking HDR photos with the S100… it will not correct for this and it’s a HUGE pain to remove in post-production. The image after this one in the album is the same scene, but with the camera set to Full Auto, just to show you the dynamic range comparison.
I ended my shooting with an “arm-cam” photo of me. I think the quality is quite good (well maybe not the subject!) but keep in mind, I was BATHED in soft, diffused light here on the balcony. If you have good light, the image quality is amazing.
Personally, I think I’m going to be returning the camera as I just don’t think it justifies for what you get. I took two 1080p HD videos with the camera, but also didn’t see much improvement over my girlfriend’s 720p video she gets on her Panasonic ZS7. Sure it’s JPEGs aren’t professional quality, but if you’re gonna spend $430 on a camera, I’d spend $600 instead and get a Rebel, or else keep it under $275 and get a different pocket camera. That’s my two cents….