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DCRP Review: Canon PowerShot S80
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: November 28, 2005
Last Updated: December 29, 2007

The Canon PowerShot S80 ($549) is a fairly compact 8 Megapixel camera whose biggest features include a wide 28 - 100 mm lens and large 2.5" LCD. The S80 is the descendent of the PowerShot S60 and S70, which had a similar design. The S80 shares many of the same features as those cameras, including full manual controls, an AF-assist lamp, support for conversion lenses, and a VGA movie mode (though it's much improved on the S80). While the old S60 and S70 used CompactFlash memory, the new S80 uses Secure Digital (as do all of Canon's 2005 PowerShots). One thing that didn't make it to the S80 is support for the RAW image format.

The PowerShot S80 packs a lot of features into its compact black body. How does it perform? Find out in our review!

What's in the Box?

The PowerShot S80 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

One of the biggest differences between the old S60/S70 and the new S80 is the type of memory card used. While the old models used CompactFlash, the S80 uses Secure Digital cards. Canon includes a 32MB SD card with the camera, which doesn't hold very many 8 Megapixel photos, so buying a larger card is a must. I would suggest picking up a 512MB or 1GB SD card if possible. The camera takes advantage of high speed SD cards so it's worth paying a few extra bucks for one.

The PowerShot S80 uses the same NB-2LH lithium-ion battery as the S60 and S70 (not to mention the Digital Rebel XT). This battery packs 5.3 Wh of energy, which is pretty good for a camera in this class. The chart below shows how this translates into the number of photos you can take, with the numbers for the competition listed as well:

Camera Battery life, LCD on
(CIPA standard)
Canon PowerShot S70 140 shots
Canon PowerShot S80 200 shots
Kodak EasyShare P880 285 shots
Nikon Coolpix 8400 240 shots
Olympus C-7070WZ 430 shots
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX1 240 shots

While the S80's battery life numbers are a marked improvement over those of the S70, it's still below average. Battery life numbers for Samsung's two wide-angle cameras (the Digimax A55W and L55W) were not available.

It's worth mentioning my usual complaints about proprietary lithium-ion batteries like the one used by the S80 (and nearly all of the competition). For one, they're expensive -- $50 a pop. Secondly, you can't drop in some "off the shelf" batteries when your rechargeable dies like you could on a camera that uses AAs.

When it's time to charge the battery just pop it into the included charger. This is my favorite kind of charger: it plugs right into the wall. It takes around ninety minutes for the battery to be charged.

As it was with its predecessors, the S80 has a big sliding door on the front of the camera to protect the lens. This door is also what you'll use to turn on the camera (though you can use the playback button to go directly there without using the cover), and this design unfortunately makes it easy to accidentally turn the camera on while putting it into your pocket.

While it may not look like a camera with lot of accessories, Canon offers quite a few optional extras for the PowerShot S80:

Accessory Model # Price Why you want it
Wide-angle lens WC-DC10 $150 Brings the wide end of the lens down by 0.8X to an incredible 22.4 mm; requires conversion lens adapter
Telephoto lens TC-DC10 $90 Boosts focal range by 2X to 200 mm; requires conversion lens adapter
Conversion lens adapter LA-DC20 $35 Required for conversion lenses; you can attach standard 37 mm filters to it as well
External slave flash HF-DC1 $110 Get better flash photos and less redeye; do note that this is a slave flash, which means that it fires when the onboard flash does
Underwater case WP-DC1 $170

Take your S80 up to 40 meters underwater. Cool!

AC adapter ACK-DC20 $50 Power the camera without wasting your batteries
Car battery charger CBC-NB2 $90 Charge your battery right in your car! I have no idea why these cost so much.

That's more accessories than you'll find on some full-size cameras!


ImageBrowser (Mac OS X)

Canon includes version 26 of their very good Digital Camera Solutions software with the PowerShot S80. Included in this package are ZoomBrowser (for Windows)/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.


RemoteCapture

The RemoteCapture feature in the Browser software lets you control the S80 right from your Mac or PC. Just plug in the USB connection and the software does the rest. You can change any setting that's available on the camera using the software, and photos are saved on your hard drive instead of the memory card.


ArcSoft PhotoStudio 4.3 for Mac OS X

Also included is ArcSoft PhotoStudio (v 4.3 for Mac, v5.5 for Windows), which is kind of like a "light" version of Adobe Photoshop. It's not bad, though I miss all the bells and whistles of the newer PhotoImpression software that's available these days (which Canon used to include).

Canon has retooled their manuals a bit on their most recent cameras. There's a basic manual which will get you up and shooting quickly. For more details you can open up the advanced manual, which should answer any question you might have. There are also separate manuals for the software and direct printing. While the manuals are complete, they could be a little more user friendly.

Look and Feel

The PowerShot S80 is a sleek and stylish camera that falls somewhere between compact and midsize. While it won't fit in your smallest pockets, the S80 will find jacket pockets to be a comfortable spot. The camera is made mostly of metal, and it feels very solid for the most part.

The controls have been redesigned on the S80 and they're a bit awkward in my opinion. The camera can be operated with one hand or two.

Now, here's a look at how the S80 compares with other cameras in its class in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot S70 4.5 x 2.2 x 1.5 in. 14.9 cu in. 230 g
Canon PowerShot S80 4.1 x 2.2 x 1.5 in. 13.5 cu in. 225 g
Kodak EasyShare P880 4.5 x 3.1 x 2.4 in. 33.5 cu in. 500 g
Nikon Coolpix 8400 4.4 x 3.2 x 3.0 in. 42.2 cu in. 400 g
Olympus C-7070WZ 4.6 x 3.4 x 2.6 in. 40.7 cu in. 420 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX1 4.2 x 2.2 x 1.0 in. 9.2 cu in. 185 g
Samsung Digimax A55W 4.2 x 2.2 x 1.0 in. 9.2 cu in. 150 g
Samsung Digimax L55W 3.9 x 2.2 x 1.1 in. 9.4 cu in. 169 g

As you can see, the PowerShot S80 is both smaller and lighter than its predecessor. As you can also see, there are other cameras in this class (wide-angle cameras) that are even smaller -- though that's not always a good thing.

Enough about that, let's start our tour of the camera now.

The PowerShot S80 has the same F2.8-5.3, 3.6X optical zoom lens as the S70 before it. The focal range of this lens is 5.8 - 20.7 mm, which is equivalent to 28 - 100 mm. While that's nice and wide, if you're looking for some telephoto power this may not be teh camera for you. The S80 does, however, support conversion lenses, including one which will boost the telephoto end of the lens to 200 mm.

Just to the upper-right of the lens is the AF-assist lamp, which is also used as the self-timer countdown and redeye reduction lamps. The AF-assist lamp is used by the camera as a focusing aid in low light.

Above that is the S80's built-in flash, which is the same as the one on the S70. The working range of this flash is 0.55 - 4.2 m at wide-angle and 0.55 - 2.0 m at telephoto (both at Auto ISO). That's about average. For more flash power you can pick up Canon's external slave flash, which attaches via the tripod mount. Do note that this is a slave flash that fires when the main flash does.

To the left of the flash is the optical viewfinder.

The majority of the new features on the S80 can be found in this view. They include a new, larger LCD display and redesigned controls (some of which I could do without). I'll cover all of these things as I work my way through the above photo.

The most noticeable thing to see here is the large 2.5" LCD display -- up from 1.8" on the S70. The screen resolution isn't the best, with just 115,000 pixels, and you can tell when you're using the screen. Outdoor visibility is about average, and in low light situations the screen brightens automatically so you can see what you're trying to photograph.

Above the LCD is the S80's optical viewfinder, which is on the small side. The viewfinder shows just 80% of the frame, compared to 100% for the LCD. The viewfinder lacks a diopter correction feature, which you would use to focus what you're looking at.

To the left of the viewfinder are two buttons:

The shortcut button can be set to control nearly any camera function. The Print/Share button comes into play when you're connected to a computer or printer via a USB cable:


Direct Transfer menu

When you're connected to a PictBridge-enabled photo printer, you can make prints right from the camera. If you hooked into a Mac or PC, you'll be able to transfer photos and even select your computer's desktop picture, all right from the camera.

The camera has one continuous shooting mode and it's a good one. You can keep taking photos as 1.8 frames/second until the memory card is full, assuming that you're using a high speed SD card. There's no major "blackout" on the LCD between shots, so following a moving subject is easy.

Over on the other side of the LCD you'll spy the button for entering Playback mode. To the upper-right of that is the zoom controller and the side of the mode dial (which I'll describe shortly). The zoom controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in about 1.8 seconds. I counted nine steps throughout the 3.6X zoom range.

Below all that are four more buttons plus the newly redesigned four-way controller. First, the buttons:

The AF Frame Selection button lets you choose between AiAF (9-point auto), center-point, or FlexiZone focusing. The FlexiZone AF feature lets you use the four-way controller to select one of 231 possible focus points (!).

The new four-way controller attempts to be a button and dial at the same time, and I can't say that I'm a huge fan of it. Sometimes I turn the wheel when I really wanted to press up or down, and other times I don't know if I could push a button or turn the dial. What I'm getting at is that you should really try it out before you buy the S80, as you may not like it.

The controller does a number of things, including navigate the menus, set manual controls, and also:


Manual focus

The manual focus feature lets you use the dial portion of the four-way controller to select a focus distance. A guide showing the focus distance is displayed on the LCD, and the center of the frame is enlarged so you can make sure that everything is sharp.


Function menu

Pressing the center button in the four-way controller opens up the Function menu, which has the following options:

The PowerShot S80 has a full set of manual controls, including a custom white balance function. This lets you use a white or gray card as a reference so you can get perfect color even under the most unusual lighting conditions.

There are two bracketing modes on the S80. The first is the standard issue exposure bracketing feature, which takes three shots in a row, each with a different exposure value. The interval between each exposure can be ±1/3, ±2/3, or ±1EV. The focus bracketing feature works in the same way, except now you're getting three photos in a row with different focus distances. One shot will be at the chosen distance, the second focused a little closer, and the third a little further. You can choose from small, medium, and large intervals between each shot.

The Photo Effect feature lets you quickly adjust the color and sharpness of your photos or movies. The custom option is where you can adjust the contrast, sharpness, and saturation, with each having a low, normal, and high option.


Using the My Colors "Color Swap" feature

The My Colors feature lets you do all kinds of fun stuff right on your camera. In case you go overboard the camera will save the original image for you (if you like). Here's everything you can do with this feature, using some examples from my past reviews.

The positive film option will make colors (more specifically, red, blue, and green) more vivid. You can also intensify each of those colors individually by selecting the appropriate menu options. The two skin tone options should be self-explanatory.

Normal shot Color accent using the green color on The Body Shop sign
(Examples from the SD500)

The color accent feature will turn your image to black and white, except for the color which you've selected (see above). To select the color you point the camera at the color you want to sample and then press the four-way controller. You can fine tune the selected color by pressing up/down on the four-way controller, but it didn't make a huge different in my testing. For this option as well as the next two, the camera gives you a preview of what it's about to do before you take the photo.


You can see what I did here using the Color Swap feature (example from the SD400)

The color swap feature does just as it sounds: you can exchange one color for another. Want to see how your car looks in red? Well, select your car's color first and then find something red, and the rest is history.

The custom color option lets you adjust the intensity of reds, greens, blues, and skin tones.

And with that I'm finally done with describing the back of the S80!

The only things to see on the top of the camera are the microphone and shutter release button.

Though it's hard to see, the speaker can be found on this side of the S80.

On the other side of the S80 you'll find the rather oddly placed mode dial, with the I/O ports below that. Here are the items available on the mode dial:

Option Function
Auto recording mode Point-and-shoot, most menu items locked up
Program mode Still automatic, but with full menu access
Shutter priority (Tv) mode You choose the shutter speed and the camera picks the appropriate aperture; Shutter speed range is 15 - 1/2000 sec; do note that the 1/1600 and 1/2000 sec speeds are only available above F4 (W) and F8 (T).
Aperture priority (Av) mode You choose the aperture and the camera picks the shutter speed. Aperture ranges from F2.8 - F8
Full Manual (M) mode You pick both the aperture and shutter speed. Same ranges as above. No bulb mode is available.
Custom mode Your favorite camera settings, easy to access
Movie mode More on this later
Stitch Assist Helps you line up photos so they can be "stitched" together into one giant panorama (on your computer)
My Colors Described earlier
Special Scene (SCN) mode You choose the situation and the camera uses the proper settings. Select from these scenes: portrait, landscape, night scene, night snapshot, kids & pets, indoor, foilage, snow, beach, underwater, and digital macro.

As you can see, the S80 has full manual exposure control. About the only things missing are Program Shift and Bulb mode features.

The S80's I/O ports can be found below that mode dial, and they are covered by a plastic door of average quality. The ports here include USB and A/V out. The S80 supports the USB 2.0 High Speed protocol for fast photo transfer to your computer.

The last stop on our tour shows the bottom of the PowerShot S80. Here you'll find a metal tripod mount as well as the battery and memory card slots. The door over the slots is of average quality (it really needs a locking mechanism, too), and there's a little retractable door through which you'll feed the AC adapter cable (which is actually a DC coupler -- a battery with a power cable coming out of it). The proximity of the tripod mount to the battery/memory slot door means that you can't swap memory cards while the S80 is on a tripod.

Using the Canon PowerShot S80

Record Mode

It takes just one second for the S80 to extend its lens and "warm up" before you can start taking pictures. Most impressive.


Somebody make sure the sky isn't falling... the S80 has a live histogram!

Autofocus speeds on the S80 are average. Typically it takes the camera 0.4 - 0.6 seconds to lock focus, with longer delays if the camera has to "hunt" a bit. Low light focusing was very good thanks to the camera's AF-assist lamp.

I did not find shutter lag to be a problem, even at the slower shutter speeds at which it can occur.

Shot-to-shot speed was excellent on the S80, with a delay of about a second before you can take another picture, assuming you've turned the post-shot review feature off.

You can delete a picture as it's being saved to the memory card by pressing the delete photo button.

Now, here's a look at the image size and quality choices available on the PowerShot S80:

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # images on 32MB card
(included)
# images on 512MB card (optional)
Large
3264 x 2448
Superfine 3.4 MB 8 139
Fine 2.0 MB 13 231
Normal 980 KB 29 479
Middle 1
2592 x 1944
Superfine 2.4 MB 11 190
Fine 1.4 MB 20 339
Normal 695 KB 40 671
Middle 2
2048 x 1536
Superfine 1.6 MB 17 295
Fine 893 KB 32 529
Normal 445 KB 63 1041
Middle 3
1600 x 1200
Superfine 1002 KB 28 471
Fine 558 KB 51 839
Normal 278 KB 97 1590
Small
640 x 480
Superfine 249 KB 109 1777
Fine 150 KB 168 2747
Normal 84 KB 265 4317

See why I recommend buying a larger memory card?

One of the other big changes to the S80 is that it no longer supports the RAW image format, unlike its predecessors. I already know that some people aren't too happy about that decision.

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 PowerShot S80 uses Canon's standard 2005 menu system. It's easy to use and very responsive. Do note that some of these options aren't available in some of the automatic shooting modes. With that in mind, here's the complete list of options in the record menu:

The Intervalometer is Canon's name for a time-lapse photography feature. You can choose how many shots are taken (up to 100) and how long of a delay there should be between shots (1 to 60 minutes). And that's all there is to it! The optional AC adapter is strongly recommended.

There is also a setup menu on the S80, so let's take a look at that now. Here's what you'll find in that menu:

In addition to those menus there's also a My Camera menu, which lets you really customize things. There are some built-in themes on the camera and there are even more included with the Canon software.

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

The PowerShot S80 did a nice job with our macro test subject. Colors are accurate and saturated and the photo has the trademark Canon smoothness to it. The custom white balance feature had no problem with my tricky 600W quartz studio lamps.

The minimum focus distances in macro mode are 4 cm at wide-angle and 30 cm at telephoto. There's also a "digital macro" scene mode which lets you shoot subjects between 4 and 44 cm away with the digital zoom -- not sure why you'd want that.

The S80 did a good job with the night scene as well. The camera took in plenty of light thanks to its full manual control over shutter speed, and purple fringing levels are low. Noise levels are a bit higher than I would've liked, but it's not too surprising given the number of pixels on this tiny sensor.

Now let's see how the S80 did at higher ISO sensitivities, using that same scene:


ISO 50
View Full Size Image

ISO 100
View Full Size Image

ISO 200
View Full Size Image

ISO 400
View Full Size Image

As you can see, the noise levels start going up quickly and details start getting destroyed at ISO 200. I really don't think the ISO 400 shot is usable, even after cleaning up the noise with something like NeatImage. Maybe you could squeeze a 4 x 6 inch print out, but nothing more.

Despite having a wide lens, barrel distortion levels aren't too bad on the PowerShot S80. The test chart also showed some blurriness in the corners, something that you'll sometimes encounter in your everyday shots. Something not shown here that you may also have to deal with is vignetting, or dark corners. You'll especially notice this when you take flash photos at the wide end of the lens.

Our flash test shows moderate redeye levels, which isn't too surprising given the proximity of the S80's flash to its lens.

Overall I was very pleased with the PowerShot S80's photo quality. Photos were well exposed with low noise, accurate color, and the smooth appearance that is common on Canon digital cameras. Purple fringing levels were relatively low.

Don't just take my word for all this, though. Have a look at our photo gallery and print the photos as if they are your own. Then decide if the PowerShot S80's photo quality meets your expectations!

Movie Mode

The PowerShot S80 has a fairly advanced movie mode. If resolution is more important than frame rate then you'll be interested in the "High Resolution" movie mode, which will record video at 1024 x 768 (wow) with sound until the file size reaches 1GB or the memory card fills up. The frame rate is 15 frames/second, which will make your videos a bit choppy. A more realistic movie mode is the standard one, which is 640 x 480, 30 frames/second with the same limits as the high res mode. Whichever of those modes you use the file size limit is reached in about 8.5 minutes, which isn't very long.

For longer movies you can keep the 640 x 480 resolution while cutting the frame rate in half (to 15 frames/second), which doubles recording time. There's also a 320 x 240 mode at your choice of 15 or 30 frames/second. A compact mode (160 x 120, 15 frames/second) is also available, with a maximum recording time of 3 minutes per clip.

The My Colors and Photo Effects features mentioned earlier can be used in movie mode as well. A movie editing feature lets you trim unwanted footage off the beginning or end of a clip.

A high speed SD card is recommended for the higher resolution movie modes.

You cannot use the optical zoom during filming. The digital zoom is available if you desire.

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

Here's a sample movie for you, taken at the VGA resolution:


Click to play movie (18.9 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, AVI format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime
.

Playback Mode

The PowerShot S80 has the same enhanced playback mode that I first saw on the PowerShot SD550. Basic features including slideshows, image protection and rotation, DPOF print marking, thumbnail mode, and voice captions. A "jump" feature lets you move ahead or back 10 photos at a time. The camera is PictBridge-enabled for direct printing to a compatible photo printer.

Also available is the "zoom and scroll" feature, which lets you enlarge the picture up to 10X, and then scroll around in the zoomed-in area. It's nice and fast thanks to the camera's DIGIC II processor.

Turn the dial portion of the four-way controller and the camera will scroll through photos three at a time. Since the dial is a little too easy to turn I found myself doing this accidentally on several occasions.

By default the S80 doesn't tell you much about your photos, but press the Display button and you'll get a screen full of useful information -- including a histogram.

The camera moves from one image to the next instantly with a nice "fade" transition between each image. And, from the "our engineers have too much free time" department, the camera will actually rotate the playback screens when the camera is held vertically.

How Does it Compare?

The Canon PowerShot S80 is a stylish and fairly compact 8 Megapixel camera that comes packed with features and great image quality. While it's not what I'd call a bargain, the S80 is still a winner in my eyes.

The S80 is a camera that straddles the line between compact and midsize, and its metal body is sleek and eye-catching. Build quality is good for the most part, though the door over the battery and memory card compartments could really use a lock. In addition, I'm not a huge fan of the sliding lens cover, as turning the camera on and off accidentally is a little too easy. And finally, I'm really not a fan of the new four-way controller, which is five buttons and a scroll wheel in one.

The S80 features a 3.6X optical zoom lens that starts at just 28 mm, which is great for interior photos. On the other hand, the 100 mm top end isn't great for telephoto lovers (though a conversion lens is offered). The S80 offers a large and bright 2.5" LCD display, though it's a little lacking in the resolution department. Low light visibility is excellent.

Beginners, enthusiasts, and tech geeks will all find something to like on the S80. If you're just starting out you'll be pleased with the camera's selection of automatic scene modes and fancy movie mode. More experienced shooters will like the full manual controls the S80 offers, plus handy things like focus bracketing, a live histogram (finally!), and a custom spot on the mode dial. PowerShot S80 owners can also control their camera right from their Mac or PC by using the included software. And finally, nerds like me will certainly enjoy the way the camera rotates images on the LCD when the camera is rotated to the vertical position.

Camera performance is excellent in most areas. The camera is ready to shoot in about one second, shutter lag is minimal, and shot-to-shot delays are short. The S80's unlimited continuous shooting mode is also very good. The only weak point in this area is autofocus speeds, which are average. The does focus well in low light, though. Battery life on the S80 is better than on its predecessor but is still below average.

Photo quality on the PowerShot S80 is very good. Images were well exposed with accurate color, smooth details, and low noise and purple fringing levels. Redeye was above average though, and vignetting can be a problem at the wide end of the lens, especially if you're using the flash.

The PowerShot S80 isn't perfect, though, and there are several flaws worth mentioning in addition to the ones in the previous paragraphs. As you may have heard, Canon got rid of RAW image support on the S80. If the S70 didn't support RAW then I wouldn't have a problem with this, but it did, so I'm going to knock Canon for it. And, while I appreciate the high resolution movie mode, that 1GB file size limit approaches quickly -- in a little over eight minutes to be exact.

Even with its flaws, the S80 still offers a compelling package with its wide-angle lens, manual controls, and sleek design. It gets my recommendation, but it's worth checking out the competition as well, as they're also very good cameras.

What I liked:

What I didn't care for:

Some other cameras in this class worth considering include the Kodak EasyShare P880, Nikon Coolpix 8400, Olympus C-7070 Wide Zoom, Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX1, and the Samsung Digimax A55W and L55W.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the PowerShot S80 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

See how the photos turned out in our gallery!

Want another opinion?

Read more opinions at Digital Photography Review, CNET, and Steve's Digicams.

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.

 

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