DCRP Review: Canon PowerShot S45
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: December 13, 2002
Last Updated: February 1, 2003

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One of the hottest cameras of last year was Canon's PowerShot S40 (see our review). When the PowerShot S45 ($649) was announced everywhere but in the U.S. back in September, there were quite a few upset people! As the year went on, rumors about the S45 were flying. Would it be released at all in the U.S.?

About a week after I was told that it probably wouldn't be released here, Canon announced it. And people all over America rejoiced. Here's why:

The S45 is a "light" version of Canon's flagship PowerShot G3. It offers most of the new G3 features, including the DIGIC image processor, FlexiZone AF, improved movie mode, and the light guide flash. What is it missing? The hot shoe, flip-out LCD, and neutral density filter are the main things. And don't forget the body and lens differences!

For more on some of the new technologies mentioned about, be sure to read our PowerShot G3 review. Since the G3 and S45 are so similar, I will re-use some text here.

With that out of the way, let's begin our look at the PowerShot S45!

What's in the Box?

The PowerShot S45 has an excellent bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 4.0 Mpixel Canon PowerShot S45 camera
  • 32MB CompactFlash card
  • NB-2L Li-ion rechargeable battery
  • Battery charger
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Canon Digital Camera Solutions and drivers
  • 181 page camera manual + software manual (both printed)

If you compare this bundle with that of the G3, you will notice a few differences. The S45 doesn't have an AC adapter or remote control in the box.

The included 32MB CompactFlash card is a good place to start, but you'll want a larger card soon after purchase. The S45 works with Type I or Type II CompactFlash cards, so the IBM Microdrive is an option.

The S45 uses a smaller battery than the G3. The NB-2L battery has a respectable 4.2 Watt/hours of power. Canon estimates that you can get about 335 photos per charge with 50% LCD use, or 3 hours in playback mode. The battery on the G3 lasts about twice as long.

Canon includes an external battery charger with the S45. You plug it directly into the wall -- no cords needed. I like that. Charging the battery takes about 80 minutes.

The downside with proprietary batteries like the NB-2L is the cost ($70) and the fact that you can't use standard batteries (as you can with AA-based cameras) if you're in a bind. That's why I usually prefer cameras that use AA batteries.


The S45 has a built-in lens cover

The PowerShot S45 doesn't have nearly as many accessories as the G3. There are no lens or external flash options available. But there are still some good ones, including an AC adapter, soft case, and car battery adapter.


WP-DC300 waterproof case

My favorite accessory has to be the WP-DC300 waterproof case ($240), which lets you take your S45 up to 100 feet underwater.

Canon includes their excellent Digital Camera Solutions software, as well as ArcSoft's Camera Suite, with the S45. The main programs in the DCS software package are ImageBrowser/ZoomBrowser (Mac/PC names), PhotoStitch (a great panorama creation product), and Remote Capture (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), the main programs (ImageBrowser, PhotoStitch, Remote Capture) are Mac OS X native!

Canon is also one of the best at creating camera manuals. Unlike the "VCR manuals" produced by some other manufacturers, Canon's manuals are well laid-out and easy to read. There are thick, printed manuals for both the camera and the software.

Look and Feel

The S45 is a mid-sized, all metal camera. It's not a whole lot smaller than the G3, and is a little large to be called "pocket size". It's very sturdy, as you'd expect with a metal camera. One negative about metal cameras is that they can scratch easily.

The dimensions of the S45 are 4.4 x 2.3 x 1.7 inches (WxHxD), and it weighs 260 grams empty. The G3 weighs about 150 grams more.

The S45 has the same lens as the S40. It's an F2.8, 3X optical zoom lens manufactured by Canon (of course). The focal range of the lens is 7.1 - 21.3 mm, which is equivalent to 35 - 105 mm. If the 3X zoom isn't enough, you can turn on a 3.6X digital zoom, though image quality will be noticeably reduced.

Continuing our tour now: just above the lens is the autofocus (AF) illuminator. This bright light helps the camera focus in low light situations. It should be on every camera, in my opinion.

To the right of that is the new light guide flash, also found on the G3. This design prevents the wasting of flash power that is common on "regular" flashes -- it is much more focused than a normal flash. The working range of the flash is 0.35 - 4.8 m at wide-angle, and 0.35 - 3 m at telephoto. The S45 does not support external flashes.

As you saw earlier in the review, the camera has a sliding cover which protects the lens. It is also used as the power switch for the camera. If you want to just enter playback mode, you can use the button on the back of the camera.

Here is the back of the S45 now. The 1.8" LCD is very good, with a bright, sharp, and fluid image. It is tough to see outdoors in bright light, though, which is par for the course. It's nice to see that Canon hasn't compromised on LCD size on their high end cameras, unlike some other manufacturers.

Above the LCD is the optical viewfinder, which is good-sized. It shows 82% of the frame, according to Canon. There is no diopter adjustment for those with less than perfect vision though.

To the left of the viewfinder are three buttons. They have different functions depending on which mode you're in, record or playback. From top to bottom:

Record Mode Function Playback Mode Function

Function:

  • Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments)
  • White Balance - see below
  • Drive - see below
  • ISO (Auto, 50, 100, 200, 400)
  • Photo effect (Off, vivid color, neutral color, low sharpening, sepia, black & white, custom effect)
  • Bracketing (AE, focus) - more below
  • Flash exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments) / flash output (1 - 3)
  • Image Size/Quality
N/A
Manual Focus - see below Delete photo
Metering (Evaluative, center-weighted, spot) Voice annotation

I need to do some major explanation for some of those items in the Function Menu.


Function Menu

Like the G3, the S45 has numerous white balance options, including two custom slots:

  • Auto
  • Daylight
  • Cloudy
  • Tungsten
  • Fluorescent
  • Fluorescent H
  • Flash
  • Custom 1
  • Custom 2

Using the custom modes, you can shoot a piece of white or gray paper, so you can get perfect white balance in any lighting.

There are five drive modes available:

  • Single-shot
  • Normal continuous - 1.5 frames/sec
  • High speed continuous - 2.5 frames/sec, no preview between shots
  • Self-timer (2, 10 sec)

There is a new photo effect on the G3 and S45: custom effect. Here you can save brightness, contrast, and saturation into this spot, for easy retrieval. Also, unlike on the G2, you can use photo effects in any mode, including movie mode.

The S45 can do two types of bracketing: exposure and focus. In exposure bracketing, you pick a median value and choose the range. For example, I could do -1/3EV, 0EV, and +1/3EV. It's done graphically on the LCD and it makes sense. AE bracketing is a good way to ensure that your photos are properly exposed. Focus bracketing is the same idea: you choose a median value and the camera focuses a littler further away and a little closer. It makes more sense if you try it yourself.


Flash Output, in manual mode

The flash exposure compensation feature varies, depending on what mode you're in. Normally, it'll be just like regular exposure compensation. In manual mode (or if flash adjust is set to "manual", you can adjust the flash power in three steps: 1/3, 2/3 or full strength.


Manual focus

Like some other higher end cameras, the S45 can enlarge the center of the frame in manual focus mode, so you can make sure you're subject is in focus. A little gauge on the LCD shows you the current focus distance. You use the four-way switch to focus.

Back to our tour now -- to the right of the LCD are buttons for menu and display. Pressing the display button will toggle the LCD on and off, as well as the information shown on it.

To the left of the optical viewfinder are buttons for flash mode (auto w/redeye reduction, auto, forced w/redeye reduction, forced, off) and macro mode. In playback mode, those buttons are used for thumbnail mode and "jumping" through photos quickly.

On the opposite site of the viewfinder is a switch which enters playback mode. If you don't plan on taking any pictures, you can use this button to turn on the camera, instead of the lens cover.

To the right of that is the four-way switch, which I still think is difficult to operate. Moving up/down/left/right isn't the problem -- getting it to press inwards for the "enter" function isn't easy. I'd rather have a more traditional four-way switch, like on the G3.

In the automatic and scene modes, pressing the switch inwards also activates the 9-point AiAF focusing system. The camera will choose one of 9 points in the frame to focus on. In manual modes, this will activate the FlexiZone AF system, which lets you move the focusing box to nearly any point on the LCD (except for the edges), so you can really target the focusing system. It's strange that the 9-point mode is only available in auto mode!

Up on top of the camera you'll find the speaker, microphone, mode wheel, zoom controller, and shutter release button.

The options on the mode wheel include:

Option Function
Movie Mode More on this later
Stitch Assist For help making panoramic shots
Slow Shutter Self explanatory
Fast Shutter
Night Scene For night shots
Landscape For landscapes
Portrait For portraits, believe it or not
Fully Auto Point-and-shoot mode, many options are locked
Programmed Auto Camera chooses shutter speed and aperture. All menu options are unlocked.
Shutter Priority (Tv) You choose the shutter speed and the camera picks the correct aperture. You can choose from a number of speeds ranging from 15 sec - 1/1500 sec. The 1/1500 shutter speed is only available above F4.0 at wide-angle and F7.1 at telephoto.
Aperture Priority (Av) You pick the aperture, the camera picks the appropriate shutter speed. The choices range from F2.8 - F8 and will vary depending on the focal range used.
Full Manual You pick the aperture and shutter speed. See above for values.
Custom Settings Your saved settings, easy to access.

As you can see, you can one set of custom settings (versus two on the G3) right on the mode wheel. You do so via an option in the menu.

The S45 can be used as a pure point-and-shoot camera or as an advanced, manually controlled one.

The zoom controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in under two seconds. The zoom moves at one speed only, so it's hard to be precise.

Here is the side of the PowerShot S45. Note the clear tape holding that plastic cover open. The I/O ports seen here are for A/V out and USB.

Nothing to see here!

Finally, here is the bottom of the camera. You can see the metal tripod mount as well as the battery compartment and CompactFlash slot. This is a Type II slot, so Microdrives work just fine.

One thing to note is that since the CF slot is on the bottom, you'll have to take the camera off a tripod to remove the card.

If you buy the AC adapter, you stick a DC coupler in where the battery sits, and feed the power cable out through a little hole.

The included battery and CF card are shown at right.

Using the Canon PowerShot S45

Record Mode

The S45 takes about 3.5 seconds to extend the lens and "warm up" before you can start taking pictures. If you desire, you can change the startup screen and sounds, via the menu system. Or better yet, turn them off.

Autofocus speeds are much like they were on the G3. Press the shutter release button halfway and the camera generally focuses in under a second. It may take a little longer if the AF-assist lamp is used. The AF illuminator helped the S45 focus well in low light.

In terms of shutter lag, the S45 has very little when the shutter speed is fast. When it has to use a slower speed, there is a small lag. But you probably shouldn't be hand-holding the camera at those speeds anyway.

After a picture is taken, you have two options. Press the Delete button, and you can delete the photo as it is being written to memory. Press the Func. button, and you'll be able to save the image in RAW format instead of JPEG.

Shot-to-shot speed is excellent. You will wait for just under 2 seconds before you can take another shot, even in RAW mode (assuming the post-shot review is turned off).

Like the G3, the S45 doesn't show a live histogram as you're composing a shot. You can see one after you take a picture by pressing Display while the image is shown on the LCD.

Now, here's a look at the image size and quality choices available on the S45:

Resolution Quality # Images on 32MB card
Large
(2272 x 1704)
RAW 7
Superfine 14
Fine 27
Normal 54
Medium 1
(1600 x 1200)
Superfine 30
Fine 54
Normal 108
Medium 2
(1024 x 768)
Superfine 53
Fine 94
Normal 174
Small
(640 x 480)
Superfine 120
Fine 196
Normal 337

RAW mode, by the way, is a format where the image is stored as uncompressed data from the CCD. The files are larger than normal JPEGs, but smaller than TIFF files (which no Canon camera supports). Information about exposure and white balance are stored in the file, so you can tweak them later on the computer. That's also the point where you can save RAW files in other formats, such as TIFF.

Images are named IMG_xxxx.JPG, where x = 0001 - 9900. The file numbering is maintained even if you replace and/or format memory cards.

Now, onto the menus!

The S45 has the same easy-to-use menu system as the G3 and S40. Here's a look at the record mode menu:

  • Flash sync (1st, 2nd-curtain)
  • Slow synchro (on/off)
  • Redeye reduction (on/off)
  • Continuous shooting (Standard, high speed)
  • Spot AE point (Center, AF point) - what part of the frame is used to judge exposure while in spot metering mode
  • MF-Point zoom (on/off) - turns on zoom feature in manual focus mode
  • AF-assist beam (on/off)
  • Digital zoom (on/off) - using this will reduce photo quality
  • Review (Off, 2-10 sec)
  • Intervalometer - see below
  • Save settings (to "C" on mode wheel)

There are fewer options on the S45 than the G3, in case you were wondering.

The Intervalometer (gotta love that word) tool will let you set up the camera for time lapse photography. You choose the interval between shots (1-60 minutes) and the total number of shots to be taken (2-100). Using the AC adapter is strongly recommended.

There is also a setup menu on the S45, so let's take a look at that. Here are the interesting items:

  • Beep (on/off)
  • LCD brightness (Normal, bright)
  • Beep volumes (for shutter, playback, startup, operation, self-timer)
  • File number reset (on/off)
  • Auto rotate (on/off) - rotate your images automatically in playback mode
  • Distance units (metric, imperial)
  • Language (English, Deutsch, Français, Nederlands, Dansk, Suomi, Italiano, Norsk, Svenska, Español, Chinese, Japanese)
  • Video system (NTSC, PAL)
  • Communication (Normal, PTP) - this is for USB

If you so desire, you can customize the startup screen, beeps, and phony shutter sounds that your G3 makes. If these bother you, you can also turn them off.

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

The S45 turned in a good performance in our macro test -- no complaints here. The colors on our 3" tall figurine look perfect. The camera has a focal range of 10 - 50 cm at wide-angle, and 30 - 50 cm at telephoto. The recordable area is 110 x 80 mm at wide-angle and 113 x 83 mm at telephoto.

I want to apologize a bit for this shot. First, it's crooked (I rotated the smaller version above). Secondly, it's underexposed. Unfortunately, now it's raining, so I'm not sure that I'll get another chance to shoot this picture. But what I did get was pretty nice. There is just a bit of purple fringing at the top of the dome, similar to where the G3 was at that point (F3.5).

Added 12/15/02: here's a bonus night shot that I took during a break in a huge weekend storm here in SF. They have a twinkling star thing on top of the Transamerica Pyramid that is extra cool. You can see the retreating clouds in the distance. Please excuse the tree over on the left -- it's hard to take this shot!

My redeye test results were very similar on both the G3 and S45. As you can see, the redeye is much worse in one eye. I'm starting to think that the light guide flash focuses the light so well, that if you're not directly in line with the flash, you'll get redeye. I say this because the redder eye is further from the camera, and also because many G3 owners told me they had no problems at all. Keep this in mind if you get a G3 or S45.

Sections below were added/updated on 12/17/02

The new redeye shot above confirms my suspicions that the light guide flash causes redeye if you're not lined up with the flash. This one was a whole lot better, and I think keeping your subjects as close as possible to directly out from the flash is a good idea.

One of the strange phenomenons I noticed on the PowerShot G3 was purple halos around certain kinds of lights. Since the S45 is so similar, I wanted to see if it too exhibited this problem. So I returned to the seen of the crime and took some pictures.


PowerShot S45, F2.8
view full size image


PowerShot G3, F2.0
view full size image

I shot both of these pictures with the aperture "wide open". As you can see, the S45 has less of a purple halo than the G3 did. Much like with the G3, the easy way to reduce this effect is to close down the aperture a bit. Here's a look:

F2.8
view full size image

F3.5
view full size image

F4.0
view full size image
F4.3
View full size image

So as you can see, close down the aperture (meaning use a higher F-number) and you'll lose the purple. You do get more of a star effect as you do it, as least with these lights.

The S45's photo quality was excellent, much like the G3's. Images have low noise levels, but aren't ultra sharp either (noise and sharpness are often inversely proportional). Rather, the images are "smooth". If you want a good comparison of sharpness vs. noise, have a look at the S45 and Olympus C-5050Z photo galleries, which I took at the same time. Here's a quick example that illustrates what I'm talking about (the full-size images are in the galleries). Note that both shots were taken at default settings, and the effects shown could probably be reduced if you tweak the sharpness.


Canon PowerShot S45

Olympus C-5050Z

The S45 did a nice job in terms of exposure and color. Purple fringing was not a problem that I observed. Once in a while, edges seemed a little jagged (see the fountain and Crissy Field house pictures), but not usually.

Again, have a look at the gallery and see if the S45's quality works for you!

Movie Mode

The S45 has the same, improved movie mode as the G3. The resolution is 320 x 240 or 160 x 120, and you can now record for up to 3 minutes per movie (regardless of resolution). Of course the included 32MB card only holds about 91 seconds worth, but if you had a larger card, you could do 3 mins.

Sound is recorded with the movie, which is saved in AVI format, using the M-JPEG codec. You can use the photo effect feature in movie mode, so you can make black and white or sepia movies.

Not surprisingly, you cannot use the zoom lens during filming. This is the norm for cameras that record sound with movies.

You can edit your movies in playback mode. You can delete unwanted frames from the first or second half of the movie, and either save it as a new movie, or overwrite the current one.

Here's a sample movie for you:


Click to play movie (3.1MB, AVI format)

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The playback mode on the S45 is just like that of the G3. It doesn't have a lot of gimmicks, but the basic features it has are implemented well. That includes slide shows, image protection, thumbnail mode, image rotation, and DPOF print marking.

The zoom & scroll feature is the best on Canon cameras, and it's even faster on the G3 thanks to the new DIGIC image processor. You can zoom into your images up to 10X, with many steps in between. Scrolling around in the enlarged area is very snappy.

Moving between images is very quick as well -- a little over a second between high res thumbnails.

You can find out almost everything about your photo, including a histogram, by pressing the display button.

The S45 is one of those "always ready to shoot" cameras. In playback mode, you can just half-press the shutter release button to get back to record mode, assuming that the lens cover is open.

How Does it Compare?

The Canon PowerShot S45 is a worthy upgrade of the S40, much like how the G3 improved upon the already excellent G2. I wouldn't race out and buy it if I was an S40 owner, but if I was looking for a very capable camera in a smaller body than the G3, this one is well worth a look. The S45 gives up a number of the G3's features, as noted in this review. The average shooter probably won't miss too many of them, in my opinion. The photo quality on the S45 was impressive, and I didn't notice any problems with the autofocus system, as noted elsewhere. The AF illuminator allowed the camera to focus on the more challenging subjects (in low light) around the home office. The S45 offers good performance in terms of startup, focusing, shutter lag, and shot-to-shot speeds. Most of the negatives are carryovers from the S40, mainly the unusual four-way switch and bottom-loading CF slot. Like the G3, I think the light guide flash doesn't do a good job in reducing redeye unless you're perfectly in line with the flash. Overall, it's hard to go wrong with the PowerShot S45 -- it is definitely worth checking out.

What I liked:

  • Excellent photo quality
  • Robust performance
  • Has an AF illuminator lamp
  • Lots of manual controls (the G3 has more, though)
  • FlexiZone focusing system lets you focus on any area of frame; 9 point AiAF for automatic modes too.
  • Impressive movie, playback modes
  • Great software bundle

What I didn't care for:

  • Redeye noticeable if not directly in line with flash
  • Images smoother (less sharp-looking) than other cameras
  • No diopter correction knob
  • No live histogram in record mode
  • Four-way switch poorly designed
  • Proprietary battery

Other small 4 and 5 Megapixel cameras to check out include the Casio QV-R4, Fuji FinePix F601 Zoom, Kodak EasyShare LS443, Konica KD-400Z, Kyocera Finecam S4 and S5, Minolta DiMAGE F100, Nikon Coolpix 4300, Olympus C-50Z, Pentax Optio 430RS, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P9.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the PowerShot S45 and it's competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Want to see how the photo quality turned on? Check out our PowerShot S45 gallery!

Want a second opinion?

The only other review available is a very extensive one over at Digital Photography Review.

Feedback

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

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