The S series of PowerShot cameras from Canon have always been a bit of a go-to for photographers who want a compact SLR replacement on their days off. Following hot on the heels of the Canon S95 — a pocket camera with extensive manual controls that we loved to pieces — the S100 has a lot to prove.
Design and features
It does, however, have the chops to do so, sporting plenty of refinements including a brand new 12.1-megapixel CMOS sensor and the Digic 5 image processor — the first Canon camera to do so. In terms of overall design, the S100 hasn't changed all that much from the S95, but it does have a small raised grip at the front, which addresses the concerns that many photographers had with the slippery S95. The body texture has also been changed, with a slightly more textured feel, which means it's less likely to fall out of the hand. At the back is a small thumb-grip. If you're wondering about the exact stylistic differences between the S95 and S100 you can find out in the video above.
Along the top panel, the S100 sports the same pop-up flash and mode dial as its predecessor, but the ring function button migrates to the rear of the camera. The rotating ring, surrounding the lens barrel, can be set to adjust any number of shooting parameters of your liking, including ISO, white balance, and even extending and retracting the zoom. There's now an instant-on record button, which automatically begins shooting video when it's pressed.
The lens itself extends to 5x optical zoom with an f/2.0 opening at its maximum wide-angle to 24mm. The maximum aperture at the telephoto end does narrow significantly to f/5.9, which is a tad disappointing. Additional features, including GPS, full HD video at 1080p (24fps) and the ability to manually zoom during video are definitely welcomed. JPEG and RAW capture is supported and there is a built-in ND filter. Connectivity is provided via a mini HDMI and USB port, while the camera accepts SDXC/SDHC/SD cards.
The GPS in the Canon S100 is pretty basic, with just one option available in the menu settings after activating the feature. The S100 can continuously keep track of the camera's location even when the power is switched off, which does affect the battery life significantly. It takes approximately one minute to establish a GPS signal when in open surrounds.
|Canon PowerShot S100||Nikon Coolpix P300||Olympus XZ-1||Panasonic LX5|
|12.1-megapixel CMOS sensor (1/1.7-inch)||12.2-megapixel backlit CMOS sensor (1/2.3-inch)||10-megapixel CCD sensor (1/1.63-inch)||10-megapixel CCD sensor (1/1.63-inch)|
|3-inch, 461,000-dot LCD||3-inch, 920,000-dot LCD||3-inch, 610,000-dot OLED||3-inch, 460,000-dot LCD|
|5x optical zoom, 24mm wide-angle||4.2x optical zoom, 24mm wide-angle||4x optical zoom, 28mm wide-angle||3.8x optical zoom, 24mm wide-angle|
|Full HD video (H.264, 1080p, 24fps)||Full HD video (H.264, 1080p, 30fps)||HD video (Motion JPEG, 720p, 30fps)||HD video (AVCHD Lite, 720p, 30fps)|
|Pop-up flash||Pop-up flash||Pop-up flash||Pop-up flash|
General shooting metrics (in seconds)
- Time to first shot
- JPEG shot-to-shot time
- RAW shot-to-shot time
- Shutter lag
- Canon PowerShot S1002.33.13.70.4
- Olympus XZ-18.104.22.168.3
- Nikon Coolpix P3001.520.6
- Panasonic Lumix LX22.214.171.124.3
- Canon PowerShot S9126.96.36.199.4
Continuous shooting speed (longer bars indicate better performance)
- Canon PowerShot S1002.5
- Canon PowerShot S951.9
- Olympus XZ-12.1
- Nikon Coolpix P3005
- Panasonic Lumix LX52.6
Canon claims that the S100 is able to achieve a burst shooting rate of 9.6 frames per second, which is accurate, but what the documentation fails to mention is that this rate is only sustainable for 8 frames at full resolution before the camera stops to process them. The rate we measured above (2.5 frames per second) was in standard continuous shooting mode taking full resolution JPEG images. Canon rates the battery at 200 shots, though we found that it drained even quicker than this with GPS features switched on, and shooting a lot of HD video.
With such high expectations given the performance of the S95, the S100 has a lot to live up to in terms of its image quality. The shift to a CMOS sensor also separates the two cameras and the potential differences between them.
The S100 performs exceptionally well at low ISO levels. Images taken under ISO 200 show minimal amounts of noise and excellent colour rendition. Chromatic aberrations are visible given the wide aperture of the lens but are mostly kept under control. At full 5x zoom extension the S100's lens is among the sharpest we've seen on a compact of this class, maintaining good detail and not falling off significantly in sharpness towards the edges of the frame.
An example of the bokeh that can be achieved when shooting wide open at f/2.0.
Additionally, the move to a wider 24mm lens has allowed some distortion to creep in, but as usual this can be fixed using lens correction software. The S100 is also excellent at keeping high ISO noise at bay. In the comparison below showing 100 per cent crops of JPEG images, you can see that the S100 does an excellent job of keeping noise at bay, but in particular, maintaining detail. Colour shifting only really occurs in a noticeable manner at ISO 6400.
Some 100 per cent crops from high ISO images from the S100.
The S100 does have a built-in HDR mode, which automatically takes and stitches three frames together, but for best results you do need a tripod as, while the camera is quick at taking successive images, it's not quick enough to compensate for the tiny amount of handshake that will happen when holding the camera still.
Even at 5x optical zoom the S100 is still sharp, as you can see from the 100 per cent crop inset.
Here is an example of how the S100 deals with noise at high ISO levels (ISO 3200) compared to the S95. These are images converted to JPEG straight from the RAW file of each camera, using Adobe Lightroom 3.6 (the latest release candidate that can read the S100's RAW files). The S100's image was resized to match the native resolution of the S95, but apart from that, nothing else has been done to these images. Both cameras display an excellent amount of detail, and with a little bit of noise reduction applied in software, makes for some very good images at high ISO levels. The S100 just edges out the S95 in terms of detail rendered.
A comparison between colour rendition and automatic exposure between the S95 and S100.
Like the S95 before it, the S100 does take excellent HD video at 24fps at full 1080p (also available in 720p or VGA resolution). The only issue is the high degree of wind noise that is picked up by the microphones, even with the wind filter turned on.
Exposure: 1/125, f/4, ISO 80
Exposure: 1/160, f/4, ISO 160
Exposure: 1/640, f/4.5, ISO 800
Exposure: 1/125, f/4, ISO 80
Canon has given its top-end pocket camera a nip and tuck to make it shine even brighter than before. The S100 is a proficient do-it-all camera with a range of features like GPS to keep photographers happy. Whether it's to sit alongside an SLR or to be your primary camera, the S100 won't disappoint unless you're expecting SLR-like speeds.