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DCRP Review: Canon PowerShot S70  
   

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: October 6, 2004
Last Updated: December 31, 2011

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The Canon PowerShot S70 ($599) is a 7 Megapixel version of the PowerShot S60 (see our review) that was released earlier this year. The S60 and S70 are virtually identical, with the S70 having a 7.1 Megapixel CCD (versus 5.0 on the S60), a slightly slower burst mode, and a different-colored body. The two cameras have the exact same design, lens, and feature set.

Is the S70 a good choice for those who want a ton of resolution in a compact body? Find out now in our review!

Since the two cameras are nearly identical, I will be reusing a lot of text from the S60 review here.

What's in the Box?

The PowerShot S70 has a very good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 7.1 effective Megapixel Canon PowerShot S70 camera
  • 32MB CompactFlash card
  • NB-2LH lithium-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Canon Digital Camera Solutions, ArcSoft Camera Suite, and drivers
  • Camera manual + software manual (both printed)

Canon includes a 32MB CompactFlash card with the camera, which was okay on the 5 Megapixel PowerShot S60, but too small for the 7 Megapixel S70. So you'll definitely want to buy a larger card right away, and I'd suggest 256MB as a good place to start (512MB is even better). The included card is marked as "high speed", and from my own experiences I think it would be considered 8X. The S70 can use Type I or Type II cards, including the Microdrive, and it supports the FAT32 format for cards larger than 2GB.

The S70 uses the same NB-2LH battery as the S60 -- which is quite a bit more powerful than the old NB-2L battery on the S50. The old battery had 4.2 Wh of energy, the new NB-2LH has 5.3 Wh -- a 25% improvement. Canon estimates that you can take about 140 shots using the new CIPA battery life standard, which is about average.

My usual complaints about proprietary batteries apply here. They're expensive ($60 a pop), and you can't put in a set of alkalines to get you through the rest of the day like you could with an AA-based camera.

When it's time to recharge, just drop the battery into the included charger. This is my favorite style of charger -- it plugs right into the wall (yes, I know some don't like this). It takes about ninety minutes to fully charge the battery.

A sliding metal cover protects the S70's lens and doubles as the power switch. You need to be careful not to accidentally bump the door and shut off the camera, though.

The S70 has quite a few accessories available, including a conversion lens. Here's what options are available:

Accessory Model # Price Why you want it
Telephoto lens TC-DC10 $100 Boosts focal distance by 2X, up to 200 mm; requires LA-DC10 conversion lens adapter
Conversion lens adapter LA-DC10 $30 Required for conversion lenses; also lets you use 37 mm filters
Wireless remote control WL-DC100 $30 Take pictures and replay them wirelessly
Underwater case WP-DC40 $170 Take your camera up to 40 meters underwater
AC adapter ACK700 $50 Power the camera without wasting your batteries
Car battery charger CBC-NB2 $90 Charge your batteries using your car
Soft leather case PSC30 $17 Protect your easily-scratchable metal camera

Well that's not too bad for a compact camera!


ImageBrowser (Mac OS X)

Canon includes version 20 of their excellent Digital Camera Solutions software with the S70. Included in this package are ZoomBrowser (for Windows) or ImageBrowser (for Mac), PhotoStitch (for making panoramic photos), plus TWAIN and WIA drivers for Windows. Zoom/ImageBrowser can be used for downloading images from your camera, basic editing of your photos, and photo printing.


RAW Image Task (Mac OS X)

If you shoot in RAW mode, then you'll probably be using the RAW conversion tool built into Zoom/ImageBrowser to manipulate those images. For those who don't know about RAW, it's a lossless format that lets you manipulate various properties of your image -- a kind of virtual reshoot. Botch the white balance? Just change it in the RAW file, and it's just like you took the photo again. You can also adjust the saturation, sharpness, contrast, tone curve, and more.


RemoteCapture (Mac OS X)

Also built-in to the "Browser" software is RemoteCapture, which you can use to control your camera over the USB connection. Images are saved directly to your computer.


ArcSoft PhotoImpression for Mac OS X

ArcSoft Camera Suite 2.1 is also included with the S70. Although it has a quirky interface, there's a lot of tools in this easy-to-use software.

Recent Canon camera manuals have been more complex than earlier ones, but they're still above average. The S70's manual is complete, but expect lots of "notes" and fine print.

Look and Feel

If you've seen the PowerShot S60 then you've seen the S70. The only physical difference is the S70's two-tone black body color. I did notice that the black body shows scratches (which often occur on metal cameras like this) more than the silver body of the S60.

The S70 is a midsize camera, fitting in somewhere between the A95 and G6 in terms of size. It's not Digital ELPH size -- not even close. Still, you'll find that it fits in most of your pockets. The camera is made almost entirely of metal, and most of it feels very solid. The important controls are easy to reach, and the camera is easier to operate than the old S50.

The dimensions of the S70 are 114.0 x 56.5 x 38.8 mm / 4.5 x 2.2 x 1.5 inches (W x H x D, excluding protrusions), and it weighs 230 grams / 8.1 ounces empty. Canon's other 7 Megapixel camera, the PowerShot G6, is considerably larger and heavier, with numbers of 4.1 x 2.9 x 2.9 inches and 380 grams.

You'll find out how Canon got the S70 to "thin down" in our tour, which starts now!

I took this shot from a higher angle than normal since that mirrored panel on the right just reflects my camera and lights.

The PowerShot S70 uses the same "UA" lens design as the S60, which allows Canon to make the camera thinner while adding more zoom power. This lens is also wider than most, with a focal range of 28 - 100 mm (5.8 - 20.7 mm in "digital terms"). The maximum aperture is F2.8 - F5.3. As I mentioned in the previous section, the camera supports 37 mm filters as well as a 2X teleconverter through the use of the conversion lens adapter.

To the upper-right of the lens is the built-in flash. The flash has a working range of 0.55 - 4.2 at wide-angle and 0.55 - 2.0 m at telephoto, which isn't too bad. You cannot attach an external flash to this camera -- that's what the G6 is for.

Directly below the flash is the receiver for the optional remote control, plus the microphone. To the left of the flash (next to the optical viewfinder) is the AF-assist lamp, a useful feature which has been found on nearly all Canon cameras for years. The lamp is used to help the camera focus in low light conditions.

The S70 has the same 1.8" LCD display as the S60, with 118,000 pixels of resolution. Images on the screen are sharp and motion is fluid. You can adjust the brightness of the screen in the setup menu, though it's just normal or bright. The LCD brightens a bit in low light, but not as much as I've seen elsewhere.

Above the LCD is the S70's optical viewfinder, which is good-sized for a fairly compact camera. It shows 80% of the frame. The viewfinder lacks a diopter correction feature, which is used to bring things into focus.

To the left of the viewfinder are two buttons:

  • Flash setting (Auto, fill flash, flash off) - redeye reduction is turned on in the record menu
  • Macro mode (on/off) - more on this later

Continuing the tour, there are three buttons to see directly to the left of the LCD:

  • Func - opens the function menu; see below
  • Manual focus (see below) / Delete photo
  • Metering (Evaluative, center-weighted, spot) / Voice recording (add up to 60 sec voice clips to an image in playback mode)


Function menu

Pressing the Function button brings up -- get this -- the function menu! Here's what it includes:

  • Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments)
  • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, flash, underwater, custom)
  • Drive (Single shot, continuous, high speed continuous, 10 sec self-timer, 2 sec self-timer, remote) - see below
  • ISO speed (Auto, 50, 100, 200, 400)
  • Photo effect (Off, vivid, neutral, low sharpening, sepia, black & white, custom effect)
  • Bracketing (Off, AE, focus) - see below
  • Flash adjust (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments)
  • Flash strength (1/3, 2/3, full) - only shown in manual mode
  • Resolution (see chart later in review)
  • Compression (see chart later in review)

The S70 has a custom white balance option, which lets you shoot a white or gray card to get perfect color in any lighting.

There are two continuous shooting options on the S70. Standard mode recorded 11 shots at a little over 1 frame/second (based on my experience at the Large/Superfine setting). High speed mode took 8 shots at 1.5 frames/second, though the images will not be shown on the LCD while you're taking them, which kind of defeats the purpose. The S60 is capable of shooting a bit faster than the S70, since it's processing lower resolution images.


Custom effect

The photo effect feature lets you quickly change the color of your image, or turn down the sharpness. For more control choose the custom effect option, which lets you adjust the contrast, sharpness, and saturation in three steps.

There are two types of bracketing on the S70. The first is the usual AE bracketing, which takes three shots in a row, each with a different exposure value (in 1/3EV increments). Focus bracketing is the same idea, except it's used in manual focus mode (which I'll discuss in just a second). The camera takes a shot at the chosen focus setting, plus one closer, and one further away.


Manual focus (enlargement feature not shown)

Manual focus mode lets you use the four-way controller to set the focus you desire (you must hold the MF button down first). A guide is shown on the LCD/EVF, giving you the approximate focus distance. The center of the frame is enlarged so you can make sure that your subject is in-focus. After using manual focus, you can press the "set" button on the four-way controller to have the autofocus see if it can improve on what you came up with.

Over on the other side of the LCD there are four buttons plus the four-way controller. I'll cover the four buttons first -- they are:

  • Playback - you can hit this to turn on the camera for replaying photos without opening the lens cover
  • Print/Share - see below
  • Menu
  • Display - turns LCD on and off and also what is shown on it

So what's the deal with the Print/Share button? When connected to a Direct Print or PictBridge-enabled printer, pressing this button will let you print your photos. When connected to a Windows PC, the following screen will be shown on the LCD:


Direct Transfer menu

As you can see, you can transfer all images, new images, images that you've DPOF marked, or you can manually select some. The wallpaper option sets the chosen image as the background picture on your PC.

The four-way controller is used for menu navigation, choosing manual settings, and operating the FlexiZone focus system. This lets you position a cursor almost anywhere in the frame for the camera to focus on (there's margin around the edges which you cannot select). This comes in handy when the camera is on a tripod. The controller is a vast improvement over the horrible one that was on the S30/40/45/50.

The final item on the back of the camera is the zoom controller, which is located at the top-right of the photo. It moves the lens from the wide-angle to telephoto position in about 1.9 seconds. There are nine steps in the zoom range.

On the top of the S70 you'll find the speaker, mode dial, and shutter release button. The mode dial has the following options:

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
Program mode 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 - 1/2000 sec. The 1/2000 shutter speed is only available above F4.0 at wide-angle and F8 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 favorite settings, easy to access.

The custom option is a handy one. Pick your favorite settings and access them anytime just by selecting the "C" option on the mode dial.

Circumstances allowed me to take a cool panoramic shot of San Francisco using the S70's Stitch Assist mode, and you can see it above. I downsized it considerably since it would be huge otherwise!

The only thing to see on this side of the S70 is the I/O ports, which are under that rubber cover. The ports include USB (1.1) and A/V out.

Aside from the hole for the DC coupler cable (for the AC adapter), there's nothing to see on this side of the camera.

We end our tour with a look at the bottom of the camera. Here you'll find the battery compartment, memory card slot, and metal tripod mount. The plastic door covering the battery/memory card compartment feels as if it could break off if forced.

The tripod mount, located off to one side of the camera, is where you'll attach the conversion lens adapter. Because of the placement of the mount, you should be able to swap memory cards while the camera is on a tripod.

The included NB-2LH battery is shown at right.

Using the Canon PowerShot S70

Record Mode

The S70 takes 2.8 seconds to extend the lens and "warm up" before you can start shooting.


No histogram to be found

The S70 was able to lock focus in about half a second in most situations. If the camera had to hunt a bit, expect a slightly longer delay. Thanks to its AF-assist lamp, the camera focused well in low light conditions.

Shutter lag was not a problem, even at slower shutter speeds.

Shot-to-shot speed is very good on the S70. You will wait for just 1.5 seconds before you can take another shot (even in RAW mode, until the buffer fills up), assuming that you've turned off the post-shot review feature.

You can delete a picture as it's been saved to the memory card by pressing the delete photo button. If you really meant to take the photo in RAW mode, just press the function button, and the camera asks if you'd prefer to save the image in that format instead.

Now, here's a look at the image size and quality choices available on the S70:

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # Images on 32MB card
(included)
Large
(3072 x 2304)
RAW 6.9 MB 3
Superfine 3.0 MB 9
Fine 1.9 MB 15
Normal 695 KB 33
Medium 1
(2592 x 1944)
Superfine 2.4 MB 11
Fine 1.4 MB 21
Normal 695 KB 43
Medium 2
(2048 x 1536)
Superfine 1.6 MB 18
Fine 893 KB 33
Normal 445 KB 67
Medium 3
(1600 x 1200)
Superfine 1002 KB 30
Fine 558 KB 54
Normal 278 KB 108
Small
(640 x 480)
Superfine 249 KB 120
Fine 150 KB 196
Normal 84 KB 337

I explained the RAW format at the beginning of the review. The camera embeds a JPEG thumbnail in the RAW files which speeds up the viewing of the image later. More on this in a second.

Images are named IMG_xxxx.JPG, where x = 0001 - 9999. The file numbering is maintained even if you replace and/or format memory cards.

Now, onto the menus!

The S70 uses the latest Canon menu system, as you'd expect. They're still basically the same, just with a more modern look. The items found in the record menu are:

  • Flash sync (1st, 2nd-curtain) - when the flash fires when taking slow sync shots
  • Slow synchro (on/off)
  • Redeye reduction (on/off)
  • Wireless delay (0, 2, 10 sec) - delay before picture is taken when optional remote control is used
  • Spot AE point (Center, AF point) - what part of the frame is used to judge exposure while in spot metering mode
  • Safety shift (on/off) - described below
  • MF-Point zoom (on/off) - turns on focus point enlargement 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)
  • RAW + JPEG recording (Small, Medium 1, Medium 2, Large) - see below
  • Intervalometer - see below
  • Save settings (to the C position on the mode dial)

The safety shift feature allows the camera to adjust the shutter speed or aperture in Tv or Av mode if necessary, to get a good exposure.

The RAW + JPEG option isn't what it sounds like. The camera doesn't save a separate JPEG image along with the RAW file like Canon's SLR cameras. Rather, it embeds a JPEG thumbnail that allows for the zoom and scroll (AKA playback zoom) feature and image playback on the camera or the PC. Why would you want to use a larger thumbnail? The answer is, to check the detail in the image. If you use the zoom and scroll feature a lot, a higher resolution thumbnail will let you see more detail when zoomed in.

The Intervalometer tool lets you use the S70 for time lapse photography. You select the interval between shots (1-60 minutes) and the total number of shots to be taken (2-100). Using the optional AC adapter is strongly recommended.

There is also a setup menu on the S70, so let's take a look at that now. Here's what you'll find in the setup menu:

  • Mute (on/off) - turn off those annoying beep sounds!
  • Volume
    • Startup volume (Off, 1-5)
    • Operation volume (Off, 1-5)
    • Self-timer volume (Off, 1-5)
    • Shutter volume (Off, 1-5)
    • Playback volume (Off, 1-5)
  • LCD brightness (Normal, bright)
  • Power saving
    • Auto power down (on/off)
    • Display off (10, 20, 30 sec, 1-3 min)
  • Date/time
  • Card format
  • File number reset (on/off) - maintain file numbering
  • Auto rotate (on/off) - camera will automatically rotate portrait photos on the LCD
  • Distance units (m/cm, ft/in)
  • Language (English, Deutsch, Français, Nederlands, Dansk, Suomi, Italiano, Norsk, Svenska, Español, Chinese, Japanese)
  • Video system (NTSC, PAL)

An additional "My Camera'" menu allows you to customize the startup screen, beeps, and phony shutter sounds that your camera makes. If these bother you, you can also turn them off.

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

The S70 produced a smooth, somewhat washed-out photo of our usual macro test subject. Manual white balance allowed the camera to handle my quartz studio lamps with ease.

The focus range in macro mode is 4 - 44 cm at wide-angle and 30 - 44 cm at telephoto.

The night shot test turned out fairly well, though it's on the noisy side. Although I wasn't able to frame the pictures in the same way (due to the difference in lenses), the S70 seemed to have considerably more noise than the PowerShot G6 did in its night shot. The S70's manual shutter speed control allowed it to take in plenty of light, and there isn't much purple fringing to be seen here.

Using that same scene, let's take a look at how adjusting the ISO sensitivity affects the noise levels in images:


ISO 50

ISO 100

ISO 200


ISO 400

The S70 starts out on the noisy side and things go downhill quickly. At ISO 200 a lot of detail is destroyed by noise, and ISO 400 may not be usable (unless you're a fan of pointillism).

Updated 10/9/04: As was the case with the S60, there is moderate barrel distortion at the wide-end of the S70's lens. There's a slight hint of vignetting (dark corners) here, and that's about as bad as it was in my real world outdoor test shots as well -- barely noticeable. However, if you use the flash, you can expect some very noticeable vignetting at the wide end of the lens.

Just like with the S60, the PowerShot S70 is a redeye machine. That's what happens when you put the flash close to the lens! While your mileage may vary, you'll most likely have similar experiences. The PowerShot G6 fared a bit better, but it wasn't the best in terms of redeye either.

Overall photo quality on the PowerShot S70 is very good, though it's a step down from the PowerShot G6 (which uses the same sensor) in several areas.


PowerShot S70

PowerShot G6

For one, purple fringing levels are higher on the S70 than on the G6. Beside the example above, the "purple fringing torture test" shot [S70, G6] gives you some evidence to back up that claim.

The S70 (and S60 as well) also have a problem with blurriness around the edges of the frame. These two shots are great examples of this problem. So you definitely give up some photo quality when you choose the S70. Things like the noise level, color, and exposure are quite similar between the G6 and S70, and they are all acceptable.

All things considered, you get very good photos out of the S70, though I'd say that the G6 is better suited for large prints and on-screen viewing. Have a look at the S70 photo gallery and see what you think about the photo quality!

Movie Mode

The S70's movie mode is okay, but really nothing to write home about. While you'll get VGA resolution (640 x 480), you'll have a 30 second limit regardless of the size of your memory card, and a glacial frame rate of just 10 fps to boot. Lower resolutions are available too: you can record up to 3 minutes at 320 x 240 and 160 x 120, with a frame rate of 15 frames/second. Sound is recorded at all of those resolutions.

You cannot use the zoom lens during filming.

Movies are saved in AVI format, using the M-JPEG codec.

Here's a sample movie for you, recorded at the 640 x 480 setting:


Click to play movie (5.2 MB, 640 x 480, AVI format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime
.

Playback Mode

The S70 has the same, excellent playback mode as seen on other Canon cameras. Everything is very snappy.

The camera has all the basic playback features that you'd expect. That includes slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail mode, image rotation, and zoom and scroll. Playback mode is also the place to print photos when connected to a compatible Canon or PictBridge-enabled photo printer.

The zoom and scroll feature lets you enlarge the picture up to 10X, and then scroll around in the zoomed-in area. It's nice and fast!

By pressing the metering/sound recording button on the back of the camera, you can add voice clips of up to 60 seconds per photo.

If you've recorded a movie, an editing function lets you trim unwanted frames from the beginning or end of it.

By default, the S70 doesn't give you much info about your photos. But press the display button and you'll get plenty of details, as well as a histogram.

The camera moves between photos at a decent clip, with about a 0.9 second delay between high res photos.

How Does it Compare?

The Canon PowerShot S70 is a good choice for someone wanting an ultra-high resolution camera with a wide-angle lens and compact body. With 7 Megapixels at your disposal, you can make enormous prints. Noise levels are higher than the 5 Megapixel cameras of days past, but not as bad as the 8 Megapixel models that were introduced earlier this year. The S70's photos are colorful, sharp, and well-exposed. One of the nicest features of the S70 is its 3.6X zoom lens, which starts at 28 mm (not too common these days). But with that wide lens come some tradeoffs: moderate barrel distortion, blurry edges/corners, and more purple fringing (than the PowerShot G6, which uses the same sensor). Telephoto-lovers will also be disappointed in the S70's 100 mm telephoto end, though that can be improved upon by using the optional 2X teleconverter. The S70 has a compact (but not too compact) metal body which is well designed, save for the door over the memory card and battery slots. One negative about that compact body is that the lens and flash are placed closely together, producing quite a bit of redeye in flash photos.

The S70 has a full suite of manual controls, including shutter speed, white balance, and focus. A nice feature is the ability to bracket for focus, which comes in handy in tough focusing situations. Low light focusing is good, thanks to the S70's AF-assist lamp. I found the LCD to be on the "dark side" in those situations, though, since it doesn't gain up very much.

A few other things worth mentioning: there's no live histogram in record mode (still!) and the movie mode isn't so hot due to its time limit and sluggish frame rate.

Between the PowerShot G6 and S70, I think the former is clearly the better choice for photographers. If you want something with a smaller body and wider lens, the S70 gets the nod. I do believe that most folks don't really need 7 Megapixels of resolution, and with that in mind I'd recommend looking at the PowerShot S60 to save yourself a few bucks. Regardless of which model you choose, all three cameras take good pictures, while offering good performance and plenty of manual features.

What I liked:

  • Good photo quality (though see issues below)
  • Lens starts at 28 mm
  • Full manual controls
  • Robust performance
  • AF-assist lamp
  • Supports telephoto conversion lens and underwater case
  • Can save favorite settings to spot on mode dial
  • RAW image format supported
  • Good battery life for a smaller camera
  • Nice software bundle

What I didn't care for:

  • Softness around edges and corners of photos
  • Above average purple fringing and barrel distortion
  • Redeye is a problem
  • Vignetting in wide-angle flash shots
  • Cheap plastic door over memory card / battery compartment
  • Not much telephoto power (but a conversion lens is available)
  • No live histogram in record mode
  • Movie mode limited to 30 secs, 10 frames/sec at highest resolution

Some other high resolution, wide-angle cameras to consider include the Canon PowerShot Pro1 and S60, Fuji FinePix E510, Konica Minolta DiMAGE A200, Nikon Coolpix 5400 and 8400, Olympus C-5060 and C-8080 Wide Zoom, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F828.

While it's not a wide-angle camera, the PowerShot G6 shares the same CCD and most of the features of the S70 -- and it takes better pictures to boot.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the PowerShot S70 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

See how the photos turned out in our gallery!

Want another opinion?

Read other reviews at Steve's Digicams and Imaging Resource.

Feedback & Discussion

If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.