Canon S100 £389.99
10th Nov 2011 | 11:24
A sexy GPS-enabled, high-end compact
With a growing demand for ever-smaller, more sophisticated digital cameras, camera manufacturers have to push the boundaries to vie for consumers' hard-earned cash.
When it comes to developing high-end compacts, Canon usually succeeds in coming up trumps. That said, with a threat on the horizon in the shape of the latest highly specified compact system cameras (CSCs), camera manufacturers have to make their advanced compacts work harder than ever to win customers.
To that end, Canon has gone all-out when developing the replacement for the older PowerShot S95. The new PowerShot S100 – incorporating a 12.1Mp, 1/1.7-inch CMOS sensor, 24-120mm (35mm equivalent) zoom lens, the latest DIGIC 5 processor and GPS functionality – is a fully-featured compact that's aimed at advanced enthusiasts.
Compared to its predecessor, the S100 has undergone some radical changes, sporting a completely revamped feature set. The camera's sensor is the same size as the one in the S95, but the CCD has been swapped for a CMOS, and the resolution has been ramped up to 12.1Mp (maximum image size is 4,000x3,000 pixels), compared to the S95's 10Mp (3,648x2,756).
The processor has been upgraded from DIGIC 4 to the latest DIGIC 5 version, promising increased speed and better image quality. The ISO sensitivity range on offer from the new model has also been extended to cover ISO80-6400, whereas the S95 topped out at ISO3200. The S100 retains the ability to shoot raw files, and it offers a speedier default burst mode – 2.3fps compared to 0.9fps – as well as a new High-speed Burst HQ mode that can capture up to eight full-resolution shots at a rate of 9.6fps.
Further new additions include a closer-focusing 3cm macro mode (improved from 5cm on the S95), plus the new ability to shoot Full HD 1,920x1,080 video at 24fps with stereo sound: an improvement over the old model's 720p recording. So there's plenty of new functionality to explore, but has Canon succeeded in taking the lead in the competitive advanced compact sector of the market? Read on to discover how much of a difference these changes make to the S100's real-world performance.
Build quality and handling
In contrast to the radical changes made on the inside, externally the S100 bears an uncanny resemblance to its predecessor. The camera has a matte metal finish that makes it feel incredibly robust, with chunky controls and a similarly elegant styling to the S95.
Like the PowerShot S95, the S100 boasts a handy lens control ring around the front, which can be used for quickly altering camera settings such as exposure compensation, aperture and sensitivity. There's also a new grip on the front of the camera, which pairs with a sculpted rubber rear thumbgrip to enable a firm grasp on the slim body. Otherwise, there's nothing other than an AF assist lamp on the clean front surface of the camera.
The top panel features a chunky metal mode dial, which is well-stocked with a range of automatic and manual features. Alongside Auto, there's a selection of scene modes, plus an Effects menu and a slot for accessing the S100's HD video-recording mode. For more advanced users, there's the full complement of creative exposure modes, comprising program, aperture priority, shutter priority, manual and custom.
The high-gloss shutter release is surrounded by a responsive spring-loaded lever that powers the S100's 5x optical zoom lens, and sits adjacent to a well-positioned power button.
Unlike some other travel zoom compacts with GPS capability, there are no protrusions, lumps or bumps to accommodate the GPS hardware in the S100: only the fact that the new model is ever-so-slightly taller than the S95 provides any hint that anything substantial has been added – save for the unobtrusively printed 'GPS' label in the centre of the top panel.
On the left-hand side there's a neatly hidden pop-up flash, which nestles inside the camera body until it's needed.
Around the back, there are a few more obvious changes that have been made to the design of the S100's control layout, most notably the addition of a new one-touch video button below the thumbgrip. There's also a new Ring Func. button, which enables you to customise the feature that you want the lens control ring to perform.
The four-way D-pad incorporates a rotating outer edge, making scrolling through menus and settings a slick process. The four directional keys also offer quick shortcuts to exposure compensation, flash, display and focus options, with the latter providing the choice of either macro, normal or manual focus.
The S100's menu system is logically arranged and easy to navigate, although the quick, graphics-based menu that pops up when you press the Func. Set button in the centre of the D-pad means you won't need to access the main menu very often.
Overall, the S100 feels well-made and handles very nicely indeed.
The S100 boasts a number of new features that help to improve its performance in comparison to the older S95.
One such feature is the expanded set of AF options: in addition to Face AiAF (face detection) and Tracking AF for moving subjects – which works well at keeping up with moderately paced objects in motion – there's a new FlexiZone option, which provides a single AF point that can be repositioned or resized. This provides far greater control over the whole creative process, making it much easier to frame off-centre subjects, although the fact that this invaluable feature is hidden in the quick menu rather than having any means to access it directly is – we feel – a bit of an oversight.
Images shot using the S100's Auto setting are generally accurately metered, although the camera has a tendency to over-expose bright skies occasionally. That said, you can apply exposure compensation with ease – as well as use the built-in three-stop digital ND (neutral density) filter, which means any exposure problems can be quickly remedied as you shoot.
The AF system is very responsive, and the AF assist bulb on the front of the camera prevents the S100 from slowing down too much in low light.
Helpfully, the lens's wide maximum aperture (f/2) means you won't have to use the flash or ramp up the ISO too often – as long as you stick at the wide end of the camera's focal range. The maximum aperture drops to f/5.9 as you zoom in, which means there's a drop in responsiveness (and sharpness) when shooting with the lens at the maximum extension, particularly if the lighting is less than ideal.
The various scene modes on offer cover a good range of photographic situations, with Handheld NightScene, Smart Shutter (face detection) and Underwater mode (special waterproof housing required) accompanying the usual portrait, landscape, and so on.
The Effects menu contains a selection of creative options including an HDR mode, plus effects such as Nostalgic, Fish-eye, Miniature, Toy Camera, Monochrome, Super Vivid, Poster, Color Accent and Color Swap. Each option applies a distinctive look to an image – some of which are more palatable than others. In HDR mode the camera takes a trio of shots in succession and combines them in-camera: a process that all occurs fairly swiftly, and can generate some good results, but you do need to watch out for ghosting caused by camera or subject movement.
Images shot at sensitivities up to ISO1600 remain pleasantly detailed, with noise being impressively well-controlled up to this point. The top two sensitivities contain more visible noise; however, the S100 still beats its rivals – as well as its big brother, the PowerShot G12 – at this level. Raw files can be cleaned up quite considerably to produce good prints, while the noise reduction – which affects the sharpness of high-ISO shots straight out of the camera – can be manually set to low, standard or high if you're shooting JPEGs.
Image quality and resolution
As part of our image quality testing for the Canon PowerShot S100, we've shot our resolution chart.
If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 100 the Canon PowerShot S100 is capable of resolving up to around 22 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.
For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them please click here to read the full article.
Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:
ISO80, score: 22 (see full image)
ISO100, score: 22 (see full image)
ISO200, score: 22 (see full image)
ISO400, score: 22 (see full image)
ISO800, score: 22 (see full image)
ISO1600, score: 20 (see full image)
ISO3200, score: 18 (see full image)
ISO6400, score: 16 (see full image)
Noise and dynamic range
We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using the DXO Analyzer software.
A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner, better quality image.
JPEG images from the Canon PowerShot S100 have a good signal to noise ratio, beating those produced by the Nikon Coolpix P7100, Olympus XZ-1 and the Canon PowerShot G12. This graph shows that even at the top end of the sensitivity range noise is kept under control.
This chart indicates that the Canon PowerShot S100's JPEGs compare well against the Nikon Coolpix P7100, Olympus XZ-1 and Canon PowerShot G12 at the lowest and highest sensitivity settings. However, it isn't quite so good between ISO 200 and 800. The graph illustrates a similar jump in dynamic range at around ISO 800 to the Canon PowerShot G12 which shares the same sensor.
For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.
The Canon PowerShot S100 performs admirably in low light, with well-controlled noise throughout its ISO sensitivity range (see full image)
The S100 is capable of reproducing faithful colours with just the right amount of vibrancy to inject some punch into JPEGs (see full image)
The excellent 5x optical zoom lens can focus down to 3cm away, providing plenty of scope for detailed close-ups (see full image)
The S100's metering system proves accurate in most situations, producing even exposures (see full image)
The camera's larger-than-average 12Mp CMOS sensor resolves detail well (see full image)
24mm: The S100's 5x optical zoom lens, (24–120mm equivalent) offers a versatile focal range (see full image)
120mm: The S100's 5x optical zoom lens, (24–120mm equivalent) offers a versatile focal range (see full image)
Sensitivity (ISO) images
Full ISO 80 Image
100% Cropped sections
ISO 100 (click to see the full image)
ISO 200 (click to see the full image)
ISO 400 (click to see the full image)
ISO 800 (click to see the full image)
ISO 1600 (click to see the full image)
ISO 3200 (click to see the full image)
ISO 6400 (click to see the full image)
With a launch RRP of £439, there's no denying that the S100 is a little pricey. Some of its main rivals can be picked up for anything up to around £100 less. However, the S100 is a well-engineered camera with plenty of features.
In terms of manual control, Canon has got it right with the S100. The lens control ring is handy, and the incorporation of manual focus – plus the new FlexiZone AF feature – means the camera is much more flexible than the S95.
Slick AF performance, great build quality and comfortable handling, combined with admirable image quality in stills and HD video, plus raw shooting capability, comprehensive manual control, and GPS.
Some features – such as the FlexiZone AF and High-speed Burst HQ functions, for instance – are somewhat difficult to access. Additionally, control over the built-in flash is a little limited for a camera of this caliber.
Take into account the superb handling, impressive image quality – particularly at high ISOs – slick, detailed Full HD video, plus a responsive, accurate GPS system, and you have the recipe for a pretty remarkable camera that you can take anywhere.