There's an increasing demand for small cameras with manual controls, a demand fuelled by amateur photographers looking for a go-everywhere replacement for their digital SLR. Panasonic has had such a camera for a few years with the Lumix LX3, and its replacement the Lumix LX5, and last year Canon answered back with the PowerShot S90, which features manual controls and a wide, bright f/2 maximum aperture.
While we really liked the S90, there were a few issues that this camera needed to resolve before making it a real contender for the crown. Enter the S95, then.
Design and features
One of the perennial complaints about the S90 was its tendency to slip out of the hand due to its polished surface. The S95 gains a textured exterior that helps allay any fears of accidentally smashing a $600 piece of kit to smithereens.
Like the S90 before it, this camera features a rotating ring around the front of the lens that can be configured to change a number of shooting parameters, such as ISO, white balance and manual focus control. The button on top of the camera, labelled Ring Func., changes the parameter. A bright 3-inch LCD screen sits at the back of the camera; its resolution is 461,000 dots, but in use it's bright and very precise when reviewing.
Lens specifications are the same as the S90; 3.8x optical zoom with an f/2-4.9 maximum aperture. There again is the annoyingly placed pop-up flash that rises underneath your finger when the camera is held normally.
The biggest gain that the S95 has over the previous model is HD video recording (720p) at 24fps with stereo audio. While there's no manual control for movie mode, white balance and colour mode adjustments are available. The S95 also adds Canon's new Hybrid IS technology, which corrects camera shake from a number of different directions thanks to a built-in accelerometer.
Seasoned photographers will value the bracketing options: HDR-ready, which takes three shots at different exposures; and focus bracket, which takes three shots at different focal distances. Connectivity is taken care of via mini HDMI and mini USB ports. Note there's also an automatic HDR mode accessible from the scene mode menu.
Here's how the S95 stacks up against these other do-it-all cameras:
|Canon PowerShot S95||Nikon Coolpix P300||Olympus XZ-1||Panasonic LX5|
|10-megapixel CCD 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|
|3.8x optical zoom, 28mm wide-angle||4.2x optical zoom, 24mm wide-angle||4x optical zoom, 28mm wide-angle||3.8x optical zoom, 24mm wide-angle|
|HD video (H.264, 720p, 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
- Olympus XZ-126.96.36.199.3
- Nikon Coolpix P3001.520.6
- Panasonic Lumix LX188.8.131.52.3
- Canon PowerShot S9184.108.40.206.4
Continuous shooting speed (longer bars indicate better performance)
- Olympus XZ-12.1
- Nikon Coolpix P3005
- Panasonic Lumix LX52.6
- Canon PowerShot S951.9
Canon rates the battery of the S95 at 200 shots, 20 less than the S90.
The S90's big strength was its image quality, and the S95 consistently matches it beat-for-beat. Colour rendition is accurate with particularly strong blues and greens. The camera seems to cope well with difficult exposures even in automatic mode, choosing to under- or overexpose using the exposure compensation accordingly.
Images are clean and mostly noise-free up to ISO 400, though there is some digital processing visible on JPEG shots. The image stabilisation system does do well at slow shutter speeds, but it can't compensate entirely for shaky hands or low-light use without a tripod.
Like the S90, the S95 is very competent with macro shots and the lens sharpness is very impressive, capturing clear detail across the frame.
Consistent sharpness from the S95's lens. 100 per cent crop inset. (Credit: CBSi)
Video quality is really very impressive for a compact of this class. They're stored as MOV files in H.264 and while there's no external mic input, the sound quality is up there with the best we've seen on this type of camera. There is no optical zoom during filming, though.
Click each image below for JPEGs straight from the S95. No post-processing has been done to alter these photos.
Exposure: 1/100, f/4, ISO 160
Exposure: 1/125, f/3.2, ISO 250
Exposure: 1/50, f/2.8, ISO 80, -0.7EV
Exposure: 1/800, f/4, ISO 200
Exposure: 1/50, f/2.8, ISO 500
Exposure: 1/30, f/2, ISO 800
The PowerShot S95 is an excellent compact camera that will complement any photographer's arsenal, provided you don't need super-fast performance specs.