DCRP Review: Canon PowerShot S230 Digital ELPH
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Tuesday, October 29, 2002
Last Updated: Wednesday, October 30, 2002

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The Canon PowerShot S230 Digital ELPH ($399) is the first 3 Megapixel in Canon's popular line of ultra-small cameras. The model numbers in this line are confusing, with an S200, S230, and S330. To clear things up:

S200: 2 Megapixel, 2X optical zoom
S230: 3 Megapixel, 2X optical zoom
S330: 2 Megapixel, 3X optical zoom

The S230 isn't just a higher resolution ELPH -- it also incorporates the new DIGIC image processor and iSAPS technology, also found in the more expensive PowerShot G3.

The DIGIC processor improves performance and photo quality. iSAPS stands for Intelligent Scene Analysis based on Photographic Space. The system is a database of photographic data, which has been accumulated by Canon over the last 60 years. When you press the shutter release button halfway, the camera compares the current scene to the scenes in the database, and choose the best settings for that situation.

Since the first ELPHs appeared a few years ago, a lot of competition has cropped up. How well does this latest ELPH hold up against the crowd? Find out now!

The S230 is known as the Digital Ixus V3 in some countries.

What's in the Box?

The PowerShot S230 has a very good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 3.2 (effective) Mpixel Canon PowerShot S230 camera
  • 16MB CompactFlash card
  • NB-1LH rechargeable Li-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROMs featuring Canon Digital Camera Solutions and ArcSoft Camera Suite
  • 149 page camera manual + add'l software manual (both printed)

Canon includes a 16MB CompactFlash card with the S230, which should be enough to get you started. But you'll probably want to buy a larger card soon after you get the camera. The S230 supports all Type I CompactFlash cards, which means you can get a pretty large card (512MB).

The S230 uses the same battery as the current Digital ELPHs, which is the NB-1LH. This lithium-ion battery has 3.1 Watt/hours of power. Canon estimates that you'll be able to take about 295 shots with 50% LCD usage, or spend 130 minutes in playback mode. That's not bad at all for a little camera. Long time readers of this site know that I'm not a big fan of proprietary batteries, but it's unavoidable with these ultra-small cameras.


Battery charger + battery

One thing I love about these little PowerShots is the battery charger. It plugs right into the wall, with no cables to worry about. It takes 130 minutes to charge the battery.

The S230 has a built-in lens cover, so there is no lens cap to worry about.

There are some interesting accessories available for the camera. One of my favorites is the WP-DC600 waterproof case ($240), which lets you take the S230 up to 100 feet underwater. Another interesting item is the CBC-NB1 car battery charger, which is $70. The S230 can also print directly to many of Canon's printers, including the CP-10 and CP-100 photo printers reviewed on this site. For those looking for lens or flash accessories, you're out of luck.

Canon includes their excellent Digital Camera Solutions software, as well as ArcSoft's Camera Suite, with the S230. The main programs in the DCS software package are ImageBrowser/ZoomBrowser (Mac/PC names), PhotoStitch (a great panorama creation product), and RemoteCapture (which lets your Mac or PC control the camera over the USB connection). Canon's software continues to be head and shoulders over the competition. Best of all (for us Mac users, at least), all the software is Mac OS X native.


A hastily prepared panoramic image, made with PhotoStitch

Canon's camera manuals have always been better than average, and that is the case with the S230's as well.

Look and Feel

The look and feel of the S230 isn't any different from previous Digital ELPHs. It's still a very small, all metal camera. The metal body means it's very durable, but at the same time, it scratches easily. Also, it's heavier than a plastic camera would be, but most people won't be bothered by that.

The S230 is very easy to use with one hand or two. It slides into your pocket with ease. The official dimensions of the camera are 3.4 x 2.2 x 1.1 inches (W x H x D), and it weights just 180 grams.

Let's begin our 360 degree tour of the S230 now!

The S230 uses the same Canon 2X optical zoom lens as the S200. The focal range of this F2.8 lens is 5.4 - 10.8 mm, which is equivalent to 35 - 70 mm. Not surprisingly, the lens isn't threaded, so don't expect any lens attachments. A 6.4X digital zoom can be used for additional zoom power, but using it will lower the quality of your photos.

The little hole just to the northeast of the lens is the microphone.

Straight above that is the built-in flash. The working range of the flash is 0.47 - 3.0 m at wide-angle, and 0.46 - 2.0 m at telephoto.

The item to the left of the flash is an autofocus-assist lamp. This bright light is used to light up a subject, to assist the camera's AF system in focusing when lighting is dim. I wish all cameras had these!

The S230 has a bright and sharp 1.5" LCD display. Unlike some other cameras I've reviewed recently, the LCD here is high resolution, with 120,000 pixel resolution. Images move smoothly on the LCD as you point the camera around in different directions.

Straight above the LCD is a large (relatively speaking) optical viewfinder. It does lack diopter correction, so if your vision isn't perfect, you won't be able to see clearly.

There are four buttons below the LCD, including one which does a whole lot of things. From left to right:

  • Set - the "ok" button for the menus plus changes between auto, manual, and Stitch Assist modes.
  • Menu
  • Display - turns LCD on and off, plus info shown on it
  • Multi-function button
    • Exposure compensation (+2EV to -2EV in 1/3EV increments)
    • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, custom)
    • Photo effect (Off, vivid, neutral, low sharpening, sepia, black & white)
    • Delete photo - in playback mode or right after a shot is taken


One of the menus accessible via the multi-function button

The S230 has some nice manual features, as you can see. This includes manual white balance, and a photo effect feature which lets you change the color between regular, vivid,and neutral. Pressing the "set" button moves you between auto, manual, and Stitch Assist modes. In auto mode, most of the settings are locked up -- manual mode gives you access to everything. Stitch Assist is a helpful tool used to create panoramic shots. Using Stitch Assist along with the PhotoStitch software on your PC can produce some impressive panoramic photos.

To the right of those buttons is the four-way switch, which is used for menu navigation and more. That includes:

  • Up - Metering (Evaluative, spot)
  • Right - Flash (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, flash on, flash off, slow-synchro)
  • Down - Drive (Continuous shooting, self-timer) - continuous shooting is at 2 frames/second
  • Left - Focus (Macro, infinity)

The switch at the far right opens the CompactFlash slot door. Just above that is another switch, which moves between playback, movie, and record mode.

There isn't a whole lot on the top of the camera. The on/off switch is nice, because you have to hold it down for a second before the camera turns on. I like this since it's easy to accidentally turn on some cameras I've looked at.

Just to the right of that is the shutter release button, with the zoom control wrapped around it. The controller moves the lens (somewhat noisily) from wide-angle to telephoto in about a second.

On this side of the camera, you'll find the digital/AV output, under a rubber cover. Here's where you'll plug in the cable for USB, A/V, or direct printing.

Over on the other side, behind a fairly sturdy plastic door, is the CompactFlash slot. This is a Type I slot, so no Microdrives!

You can also see the 16MB CF card that is included with the camera.

Finally, here's the bottom of the S230. Here you can see the metal tripod mount and the battery compartment.

Using the Canon PowerShot S230

Record Mode

The PowerShot S230 starts up very quickly -- it takes just over 2 seconds to extend the lens and prepare for shooting. Press the shutter release button halfway, and the camera locks focus in about one second. Pressing the button fully results in a picture with minimal delay.

Shot-to-shot speed is excellent as well: just over two seconds pass before you can take another shot. If you have the review feature turned on, half-pressing the shutter release will ready the camera for another shot.

Here's a look at the image size and quality choices available on the S230:

Resolution Compression # shots on 16MB card
(included with camera)
Large
2048 x 1536
Superfine 8
Fine 16
Normal 32

Medium 1
1600 x 1200

Superfine 14
Fine 26
Normal 52
Medium 2
1024 x 768
Superfine 25
Fine 46
Normal 84
Small
640 x 480
Superfine 58
Fine 94
Normal 165

There's no TIFF or RAW mode available on this camera. The camera names files as IMG_yyyy.JPG, where y = 0001 - 9900. The camera maintains the numbering even if you erase the card.

The S230 has the same, easy to use menus as the other Canon cameras. Items in bold are only available in manual mode. Here's a look:

  • Resolution (Large, medium 1, medium 2, small)
  • Compression (Superfine, fine, normal)
  • ISO speed (Auto, 50, 100, 200, 400)
  • AiAF (on/off) - turns multi-point autofocus on and off
  • Digital zoom (on/off)
  • Self-timer (2, 10 sec)
  • Review (Off, 2-10 sec) - for showing image on LCD after it is taken
  • AF-assist beam (on/off)
  • File number reset (on/off) - if turned on, camera will reset file numbering with each new card inserted
  • Auto rotate (on/off) - automatically rotates portrait shots on LCD
  • Long shutter (on/off)

The long shutter feature lets you use long exposure times, a must for low-light shooting. Just don't forget your tripod. The shutter speed range is 1 - 15 sec, with many points in between. This is unmatched by any other ultra-small camera.

There is also a setup menu, with basic items like date/time, card formatting, power saver settings, and more. You can also switch the USB mode between Normal and PTP.

Well enough about menus, let's do photo tests now.

The S230 did a nice job with the macro test. Colors are nicely reproduced, and not over-saturated like the two Kodak cameras I reviewed previously. The only real complaint I have is that Mickey's nose isn't in-focus like the rest of the figure. The focal range in macro mode is 10 - 47 cm at wide-angle, and 27 - 47 cm at telephoto.

The S230's night shot turned our decently. The camera took in plenty of light, and the buildings and bridge are pretty sharp. There is a bit of noise found mostly in the middle of the picture. The noise seems to be most prevalent over the bright areas of the image. The S230 does have a noise reduction feature which is activated at shutter speeds slower than 1.3". The image above was shot at 1".

I have one word to describe the redeye test results: yikes. This is some pretty serious redeye, even with redeye reduction turned on. At the same time, I'm not terribly surprised, as the flash and lens are very close together. Note that I enlarged this crop a bit so you could see the details. By the way, redeye can usually be corrected fairly well in photo retouching software.

Aside from redeye shot, the image quality that the S230 produced was very good. There was a bit of noise in the sky, but nothing major. Purple fringing, AKA chromatic aberrations, were not a problem either. After reviewing two cameras which really over-processed their images, it was nice to see sharp, high resolution images that don't look like they went through the "Impressionist" filter in Photoshop. Don't just take my word for it -- check out the photo gallery and judge the photo quality for yourself.

Movie Mode

The S230's movie mode is much improved over the previous Digital ELPHs. You can't record until a memory card is full, but you can record for a pretty long time.

The S230 can record at three resolutions: 160 x 120, 320 x 240, and even 640 x 480. On previous PowerShots, you were limited to like 4 seconds at the highest resolution. On the S230, you can record for up to 30 seconds at 640 x 480! At the lower resolutions, it's 3 minutes. I should add that the included 16MB CF card can't actually hold that much video.

Sound is recorded with the movies. That also means that you cannot use the optical zoom during filming.

I have two sample movies for you. One at 320 x 240, the other at 640 x 480. Be warned, the 640 x 480 movie is big!


Click to play movie (2.4MB, 320 x 240, AVI format)

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.


Click to play movie (10.6MB, 640 x 480, AVI format)

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

I kind of panned around too quickly on that bottom one, sorry about that. Hopefully it still gave you a good idea of what to expect in movie mode.

Playback Mode

The S230 has the same, excellent playback mode of other Canon cameras. The thing that sticks out the most about the playback mode is the speed: everything is very responsive.

The S230 has all the basic playback features that you'd expect. That includes slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail mode, and zoom and scroll.

The zoom and scroll feature (my term) lets you blow up the picture up to 10X, and then scroll around in the zoomed-in area. It's very well implemented.

Another nice feature is the ability to rotate photos. You can also mark photos for transfer to your e-mail program, assuming that you use Canon's software.

The S230 provides a lot of info about your photos, including a histogram. It moves through images fairly quickly as well -- just over one second elapses between photos.

How Does it Compare?

On the whole, I'm pleased with how this latest Digital ELPH performed. The PowerShot S230 is a very responsive camera in terms of startup, shutter lag, and shot-to-shot speed. It offers quite a few manual controls too, including white balance and shutter speed. Did I mention the small metal body? On the downside, I was disappointed with how the redeye test turned out. I also wish the S230 had a 3X zoom rather than just 2X. Perhaps Canon will come up with such a camera in the future. But at the present time, the S230 is a 3 Megapixel camera that you should definitely consider.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality in most situations
  • Small, elegant metal body
  • Super fast performance
  • Impressive movie, playback modes
  • Has an AF illuminator lamp
  • Above average battery life for a small camera
  • Great software bundle

What I didn't care for:

  • Major redeye problems
  • Wish it had a 3X zoom lens

Some other low cost 3 Megapixel cameras to consider include the Canon PowerShot S30, Casio QV-R3, Fuji FinePix 3800 and A303, Kyocera Finecam S3x and S3L, Kodak EasyShare DX4330, Minolta DiMAGE Xi, Nikon Coolpix 3500, Olympus D-550Z, Pentax Optio 330GS and 330RS, Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P7 and DSC-P71, and the Toshiba PDR-3320. It's a lengthy list but it shows that you have a lot of choices -- and that you need to do your homework before you buy!

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the PowerShot S230 and it's competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

See how the photo quality stacks up in our photo gallery!

Want another opinion?

Read a review of the S230 at Steve's Digicams.

Feedback

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com. Due to my limited resources, please do not send me requests for personal camera recommendations.

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