Originally Posted: September 29, 2010
Last Updated: October 15, 2010
One of the most popular cameras of the last year has been the Canon PowerShot S90. It offered a fast lens, "high sensitivity" 10 Megapixel CCD, full manual controls, a unique control ring around the lens, and a bright and sharp LCD -- all in a compact package. Canon has since introduced the PowerShot S95 ($399), which makes relatively modest improvements to an already impressive camera. The new features include:
- High Sensitivity system combines a larger-than-average 10 Megapixel CCD, a fast lens, and the DIGIC 4 image processor (as far as I know, this is just a marketing thing, as none of those things have changed since the S90)
- New Hybrid image stabilization system compensates for both angular and shift-type camera shake
- Faster continuous shooting
- Records 720p video at 24 frames/second with stereo sound
- Smart Auto mode now automatically selects one of 28 scene modes for you
- New HDR (high dynamic range) function, plus additional special effect modes such as fisheye and posterize
- New dynamic range and shadow correction features
- Support for SDXC memory cards
So yes, it's not a huge upgrade, though the PowerShot S90 was already a pretty complete package. I did notice two things that got worse on the PowerShot S95: its battery life is about 10% less than the S90, and the manual is now in PDF format on an included CD-ROM disc.
Is the PowerShot S95 the ultimate compact low-light camera? Find out now in our review!
Since the cameras are so similar, much of the PowerShot S90 review will be reused here.
What's in the Box?
The PowerShot S95 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
- The 10.0 effective Megapixel PowerShot S95 digital camera
- NB-6L lithium-ion battery
- Battery charger
- Wrist strap
- USB cable
- A/V cable
- CD-ROM featuring Canon Digital Camera Solution
- 35 page "Getting Started" guide + full manual on CD-ROM
The PowerShot S95 does not come with a memory card, nor does it have any built-in memory. That means that you'll need to buy a memory card right away, unless you happen to have one sitting around already. The S95 supports a ton of memory card formats, including SD, SDHC, SDXC, MMC, MMCplus, and HC MMCplus media, though I'd stick with the first three if I were you. If you're mostly taking stills, then a 2GB SD card is probably fine. Movie fanatics will probably want a 4GB or 8GB SDHC card, preferably rated Class 6 or higher.
The PowerShot S95 uses the same NB-6L lithium-ion battery as its predecessor. This compact battery packs 3.5 Wh of energy, which is on the lower end of average by compact camera standards. Let's see how that translates into battery life:
As you can see, the PowerShot S95 has a fairly small group of competitors. All of them offer fast lenses and manual controls, except for the Fuji, which I've included due to its SuperCCD EXR sensor, which works well in low light. As for battery life, the PowerShot S95's numbers are about 10% lower than that of the S90, though I have no idea why. In the group as a whole, the S95 comes in last place.
Since the S95's battery life isn't so hot, you'll want to pick up a spare battery. Unfortunately, it'll cost you, as a genuine Canon NB-6L battery will set you back at least $39. And, as with the other cameras in this group, you can't grab an off-the-shelf battery to get you through the day when your rechargeable runs out. Par for the course, for better or for worse.
When it's time to charge the battery, just pop it into the included charger. The charger plugs directly into the wall, and takes just under two hours to fully charge the NB-6L.
As with all ultra-compact cameras, the PowerShot S95 has a built-in lens cover, so there's no clumsy lens cap to deal with.
There are a just a few accessories available for the S95. They include:
And that's about it! Let's move onto the software bundle now.
Camera Window in Mac OS X
Canon includes version 72 (!) of their Digital Camera Solution Disk with the PowerShot S95. The first part of the software suite that you'll probably encounter is Camera Window (pictured above), which you'll use to transfer images to your computer, organize photos on the camera (meaning delete or protect), upload videos to YouTube, and adjust a few camera settings (startup screen, sounds, theme).
ImageBrowser in Mac OS X
After you've transferred photos to your computer, you'll find yourself in either ImageBrowser or ZoomBrowser, which are for Mac and Windows respectively. The Browser software lets you view, organize, e-mail, and print your photos. If you categorized any photos on the camera (more on this later), then this information is transferred into the Browser software.
Editing in ImageBrowser
Double-click on a thumbnail and you'll bring up the edit window. Editing functions include trimming, redeye removal, plus the ability to adjust levels, color, brightness, sharpness, and the tone curve. There's also an auto adjustment option for those who want a quick fix.
While Browser can open RAW files, it cannot edit them or export them to JPEGs
Digital Photo Professional in Mac OS X
For editing RAW images, Canon includes their Digital Photo Professional software. The main screen isn't too different from Image/ZoomBrowser (I guess it looks a little more "professional"), with your choice of three thumbnail sizes, plus a thumbnail + shooting data screen. The batch processing tool lets you quickly resize and rename a large number of photos.
RAW editing in DPP
The RAW editing tools in DPP are fairly elaborate. You can adjust exposure, white balance, the tone curve, color saturation, sharpness, and noise reduction. The software is very responsive, with nearly instant updates to the image after you change a parameter.
As of the publication date of this review, Adobe Photoshop CS5 was not able to open the PowerShot S95's RAW files. I imagine that the next version of the Camera Raw plug-in will support it.
So what's the big deal about RAW, anyway? RAW images contain unprocessed image data direct from the camera's sensor. This allows you to adjust settings like white balance and exposure without degrading the quality of the original image, so it's almost like taking the photo again. The downside is the large file size (compared to JPEG), fewer shots in continuous shooting mode, and the need to post-process each image on your computer before you can turn it into a more common format like JPEG.
PhotoStitch in Mac OS X
The last part of the Canon software suite that I want to mention is PhotoStitch. As you can see, this allows you to combine multiple photos into a single panoramic image. It's super easy to use, and the results can be impressive. While using the S95's Stitch Assist feature isn't required to make panoramas, it does help you line things up correctly, so there are no "seams" in the final product.
This seems to becoming a common theme lately, but Canon has joined the "digital manual" club with the PowerShot S95. In the box you'll find what I'd call a "getting started leaflet", which goes over the basics. For more details, you'll have to load up the full manual, which is in PDF format on an included CD-ROM. The manuals aren't great when it comes to being easy to read, though they certainly cover everything. Documentation for the included software is installed onto your computer.
Look and Feel
With really only two exceptions, the design of the PowerShot S95 is identical to that of the S90 that it replaces. The more noticeable of the two changes is that the body has a matte (rather than glossy) finish. While the S95 is a bit easier to hold than the S90 was, the surface is still a bit slippery, and the lack of a grip doesn't make it feel any more secure in your hands. Another change on the S95 is a more "notchy" control dial on the back of the camera. The tactile feedback makes using dial much less frustrating than it was on the S90.
The S95 is a small camera -- about the size of a deck of cards -- and while it can be used with one hand, you'll probably need to use your other hand when operating the control dial around the lens. Some annoyances from the S90 that carried over here include the Ring Func and power buttons on the top of the camera (they feel the same and right next to each other), the lack of a thumb rest (the little "ledge" on the back doesn't do it for me), and the fact that the pop-up flash takes the majority of the finger-space on the top of the camera. The S95 is definitely a camera you want to try before you buy it!
Now let's take a look at how the PowerShot S95 compares to the few other cameras in its class in terms of size and weight:
As you can see, the PowerShot S95 has the same dimensions as the S90, though it's slightly lighter (why, I do not know). In the group as a whole, it's the second smallest and lightest camera in the group, after the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX5 (though it has a smaller LCD, which accounts for most of the difference).
Okay, let's start our tour of the PowerShot S95, beginning with the front.
The lens on the PowerShot S95 is the same one that came on its predecessor. That makes it a fast F2.0-4.9, 3.8X optical zoom lens, with a focal range of 6.0 - 22.5 mm (equivalent to 28 - 105 mm). What makes this lens "fast" is the maximum aperture rating -- the S95 lets in at least a full stop more light than typical compact cameras. That means faster shutter speeds and sharper photos! I do wish that the aperture at the telephoto end was a bit quicker, but I guess you can't have it all. The lens isn't threaded, so conversion lenses and filters are not supported.
Behind that lens is the second part of the camera's "High Sensitivity System" (the lens being the first), and that's its 10 Megapixel CCD. Typical compact cameras use a 1/2.3 (0.43) inch sensor, while the one here is 1/1.7 (0.58) inches in size. That, combined with the lower overall pixel count, means more surface area to capture light with, which allows for higher sensitivity! The third part of the High Sensitivity System is the camera's DIGIC 4 processor, which was also present on the S90.
The PowerShot S95 has an enhanced "Hybrid" optical image stabilization system. I like Canon's explanation of this feature, so I'm just going to copy it for you:
Hybrid IS employs both an angular sensor and an accelerometer, enabling it to suppress both the blur caused by the angle of the camera and the "shift blur" that happens when your subject moves parallel to the camera, a problem that is especially noticeable at large zoom factors.
Sounds good to me! Image stabilization systems can't do it all, though. They can't freeze a moving subject, nor will they allow for multi-second, handheld exposures. But it's way better than having at all! Here's an example of the S95's IS system in action:
Image stabilization off
Image stabilization on
Both of the above photos were taken at a shutter speed of 1/5 of a second, which is normally where you'd be reaching for your tripod. The S95's image stabilizer lets you keep the tripod in the closet, as it was able to produce a sharp photo. As you'd expect, you can use the image stabilization system in movie mode as well, and you can see how well it works in this brief video clip.
To the upper-right of the lens is the S95's pop-up flash. This flash rises automatically when you activate the flash, and when you disable it, it goes back down. The flash is quite powerful at wide-angle, and just okay at telephoto (where it's slightly better than the S90). The flash range is 0.5 - 6.5 m at wide-angle and 0.9 - 3.0 m at telephoto with the ISO set to Auto. While Canon does offer an external flash for the S95, do note that it's a slave flash that does not integrate with the camera in any way.
Those two pin holes below the lens are the camera's stereo microphones. Stereo sound in movie mode is one of the S95's new features.
The last thing to see on the front of the camera is the AF-assist lamp, which is just to the right of the Canon logo. The camera uses this lamp as a focusing aid in low light situations, and it also serves as a visual countdown for the self-timer.
The PowerShot S95 retains the same 3-inch, 461,000 pixel LCD display as its predecessor. This is one of the best screens that you'll find on a compact camera, with excellent sharpness and top-notch outdoor visibility. The screen is easy to see in low light too, as it "gains up" automatically in those situations.
Now let's talk about the stuff to the right of the LCD. That little ledge between the mode dial and the buttons is a thumb rest, though I found that my thumb sat on the four-way controller and shortcut button, as well. Speaking of which, that Shortcut button is customizable, and by default it does nothing (I'll tell you what it can do later in the review). When you're connected to a photo printer, this button will print the photo you're currently viewing. The Playback button next door does exactly as it sounds.
Under those is the combination four-way controller and control dial. The dial is used for many things, including navigating menus, quickly skimming through photos you've taken, and adjusting exposure settings. While it's still pretty easy to accidentally turn the dial, Canon did give it a more "notchy" feel, which makes a huge difference when changing settings. The four-way controller that sits inside of the dial can be used for many of the same things, and it also does the following:
- Up - Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments) + Jump (playback option)
- Down - Self-timer (Off, custom) + Delete photo
- Left - Focus (Normal, macro, manual) + AF lock (hold down shutter release halfway and press left to activate)
- Right - Flash (Auto, on, slow synchro, off)
- Center - Function menu (see below) + Set
The PowerShot S95 has a fully customizable self-timer feature. Using the control ring around the lens (which I'll tell you more about in a bit) and the control dial, you can select both the countdown delay and the number of shots the camera will take. There are smile and wink self-timer features that I'll get to in a moment.
Manual focus mode (center-frame enlargement not shown)
As you'd expect on this full-featured compact camera, the PowerShot S95 has a manual focus option. This feature lets you use the control dial to set the focus distance yourself (you can also use the ring around the lens, if you change some settings). A guide showing the focus distance is displayed on the right side of the LCD, and the center of the frame is enlarged, as well.
Pressing the center button on the four-way controller options up the Function menu, which has these options:
- DR correction (Off, auto, 200%, 400%) - see below
- Shadow correction (Off, auto) - see below
- ISO speed (80 - 3200, 1/3-stop increments) - ISO goes to 12,800 in low light mode, at 2.5 MP
- White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, flash, underwater, custom) - see below
- My Colors (Off, vivid, neutral, sepia, black & white, positive film, lighter skin tone, darker skin tone, vivid blue, vivid green, vivid red, custom color) - see below
- Bracketing (Off, exposure, focus) - see below
- Drive mode (Single-shot, continuous, continuous AF) - see below
- Flash compensation/output (-2EV to +2EV or 1/3, 2/3, Full) - choices depend on shooting mode
- Metering (Evaluative, center-weighted, spot)
- Aspect ratio (16:9, 3:2, 4:3, 1:1, 4:5) - these are new to the S95
- RAW/JPEG (JPEG, RAW, RAW+JPEG)
- Image size/quality (see chart later in review)
Two of the new features on the PowerShot S95 are related to dynamic range and shadow correction. Dynamic Range correction attempts to reduce highlight clipping. The first thing you need to know about this is that the ISO needs to go up in order to take advantage of DR correction. To use the Auto DR option, the ISO must be set to Auto. For 200% DR, the ISO must be 160, and for 400% it must go to 320. Thus, images may get noisier when you use this feature. Does it reduce highlight clipping? Let's take a look.
|DR Correct off
View Full Size Image
|Auto DR Correct
View Full Size Image
|200% DR Correct
View Full Size Image
|400% DR Correct
View Full Size Image
The original photo is loaded with highlight clipping. The Auto DR Correct setting does a really nice job of restoring highlight detail, and that's the setting I'd recommend using. If you compare the 200% and 400% examples, you'll see that the Auto option used something in-between those two. Since the S95 already does pretty well at ISO 400 and below, the increase in noise is negligible.
The Shadow Correction feature seems to be the replacement for the i-Contrast feature that was on the PowerShot S90, at least in record mode. The feature does exactly as it sounds -- it brightens the underexposed areas of your photos. There are just two settings: off and auto. Unlike with the DR correct feature, the ISO does not need too be increased when using shadow correction. Here's an example of the Shadow Correction feature:
|Shadow correction off
View Full Size Image
|Shadow correction on
View Full Size Image
Not only does the Shadow Correction feature brighten the dark areas of your photos, it even makes people suddenly appear! Okay, that last part is a joke, but as you can see, this feature works as advertised. It will increase noise levels a bit, but not to the point where it really degrades the image quality.
Fine-tuning white balance
The S95 has a pretty nice set of white balance controls. In addition to the usual presets, there's also a custom spot, which allow to use a white or gray card to get accurate color in unusual lighting conditions. You can fine-tune any of the white balance items, in the amber-blue and/or green-magenta directions. Two things you can't do on the PowerShot S95: bracket for white balance or manually set the color temperature.
The My Colors feature are unchanged since the S90, and require little explanation. The one item that I should mention is the custom color setting, where you can manually adjust contrast, sharpness, saturation, as well as red/green/blue/skin tone levels. There are two other My Colors options (Color Accent and Color Swap) that I'll tell you about in a bit.
The S95 has the ability to bracket for both exposure and focus. For exposure, the camera takes three photos in a row, each with a different exposure value. The interval between each shot can be as little as 1/3EV or as much as 2EV. Focus bracketing is something that you can use in manual focus mode. The camera also takes three shots in a row: one at the manual focus position, a second a little closer, and a third a little further away. You can adjust how large the interval between each shot is, though it's not specific (just small, medium, or large).
Now let's get into the continuous shooting mode on the PowerShot S95. There are three continuous modes on the camera: regular (which locks the focus on the first shot), AF (which refocuses before each shot), and LV (locks focus on first shot -- for use with manual focus, AF lock, and fireworks mode only). Here's what kind of performance you can expect from the S95's continuous modes:
The burst mode has been improved on the PowerShot S95, especially when taking JPEGs. Where the PowerShot S90 took JPEGs at 0.9 fps and RAW images at 0.7 fps, the S95 does those at 1.9 and 1.0 fps, respectively. It's not blazing fast by any means, but you should be able to capture action fairly well, at least when you're using the JPEG format. If your memory card is fast enough, the camera will just keep on shooting, too.
Returning to the tour now: the last two items on the back of the camera are the Display and Menu buttons. The Display button toggles the information shown on the LCD, while the Menu button does exactly as you'd expect.
There's plenty more to see on the top of the camera. I mentioned earlier how the flash takes up valuable finger space when it's popped up, and you can see what I'm talking about in the above photo.
|The various functions that can be adjusted with the control ring||Further customization can be had via the custom option|
I suppose now's a good a time as any to talk about the control ring around the lens. The ring has a default function in each shooting mode, and you can change it easily by pressing the Ring Function button that you can see above (and further tweak things using the custom option, shown above). In Auto mode, the ring will "step" the zoom to common focal lengths (28, 35, 50, 85, 105), and in the P/A/S/M modes it will adjust the ISO, exposure compensation, shutter speed, or aperture. You can also set the ring to fine-tune the white balance, manually focus, adjust the DR/Shadow correction, or change the aspect ratio. By choosing the custom option, you can select what function the ring will control for each of the P/A/S/M modes.
At the center of the photo are the Ring Function and power buttons which, as I mentioned earlier, are easy to mix up.
Next up we have the shutter release button, which has the zoom controller wrapped around it. As I said in my review of the PowerShot S90, both of these items are a bit smaller than I would've liked. The zoom controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in about 1.7 seconds. I counted ten steps in the S95's 3.8X zoom range. Canon has addressed two complaints that I had with the S90. For one, the current zoom setting is now shown on the LCD. Second, the lens seems to respond a bit quicker when the zoom controller is pressed.
The last thing to see on the top of the PowerShot S95 is its mode dial, which has these options:
As you can see, the PowerShot S95 offers a full set of manual controls (the same ones that were on the S90), and you can also save your favorite camera settings to a spot on the mode dial. If you don't want to bother with those, you can switch to Smart Auto mode, where the camera will select one of twenty-eight scene modes for you, even detecting when you're using a tripod. If you want to select a scene mode yourself, there are plenty to choose from. Here are the most interesting of the scene modes, at least in my opinion:
Smart Shutter takes advantage of the camera's face and smile detection system, and can do some pretty neat tricks. The first is smile detection, which will take a photo of your subject or subjects as soon as one of them smiles. You can select how many photos are taken before the smile detection feature is turned off. Next up is the wink self-timer, which I believe is a Canon exclusive. Compose the shot, turn on the self-timer, and when someone "winks" at the camera, it'll take a photo two seconds later. The last Smart Shutter feature is face self-timer, which will wait until a new face appears in the scene (presumably that of the photographer) and then takes a picture.
The Color Accent and Color Swap features have been around for several years, but they're still worth a mention. Color accent lets you select a color in the image that you want to "keep", while the rest of the photo is changed to black and white. Color swap does just as it sounds-- you swap one color for another.
The HDR feature is new and welcome addition to the PowerShot S95. HDR photography isn't new, but having a "one-touch" option on a camera is. In this mode, the S95 takes three photos, each at a different exposure. These photos are combined into a single exposure, with dramatically improved contrast. Unlike some of the "high speed" cameras that can take handheld HDR photos, you absolutely need a tripod when using this feature on the S95.
View Full Size Image
|HDR mode on
View Full Size Image
Above you can see the benefits of HDR photography. The shadows are brighter and the highlight clipping is greatly reduced (look at the floor and the columns on the right), though not eliminated completely. In the full size images you'll see that the lights are blurry, as they were blowing in the breeze -- this is not for moving subjects, obviously.
The next group of scene modes are all special effects. The nostalgic mode lets you use the control ring to select how "old" a photo looks. The fisheye effect should be self-explanatory, while the miniature effect blurs the image, except for a selected area (which can be horizontal or vertical), making things like cars look like toys.
The final scene mode is Stitch Assist, which lets you overlap photos side-by-side for later stitching into a single panoramic image (on your Mac or PC).
The S95 retains the low light mode of its predecessor. This lowers the resolution to 2.5 Megapixel and expands the ISO range all the way to 12,800. I don't think you actually want to use that setting, but there you have it. At a slightly more reasonable setting of ISO 3200, you'll get photos that have quite a bit of detail smudging (see example), making for a fairly soft 4 x 6 inch print.
And that does it for the top of the PowerShot S95!
Nothing much to see here. The flash is (obviously) popped up, and the lens is at full wide-angle in this photo.
On the opposite side of the camera you'll find it's I/O ports, which are kept behind a plastic cover. The ports here include HDMI and USB + A/V output. In case you're wondering where the optional AC adapter goes, it's essentially a battery with a power cord attached. The cord is fed through a port on the bottom of the the battery compartment door.
The lens is at the full telephoto position in this photo.
On the bottom of the S95 you'll find a metal tripod mount (hidden from view here), plus the battery/memory card compartment. The door that covers this compartment is reinforced with metal and feels pretty sturdy. As you can probably tell, you won't be able to get at what's inside this compartment while the camera is on a tripod.
The included NB-6L battery can be seen at right.
Using the Canon PowerShot S95
The PowerShot S95 takes just one second to extend its lens and prepare for shooting -- that's pretty darn quick.
There's a live histogram on the S95
Autofocus speeds were about the same as they were on the PowerShot S90, meaning good, but not spectacular. Typically it'll take between 0.3 - 0.5 seconds to lock focus at the wide end of the lens, and around twice that at full telephoto. The camera focuses accurately in low light situations, taking around a second to lock in most cases.
I did not find shutter lag to be an issue here, even at the slower shutter speeds where it sometimes occurs.
Shot-to-shot delays range from about 1.5 seconds for JPEG, 2.5 seconds for RAW, and 3 seconds for RAW+JPEG. If you're using the flash, expect to wait for around three seconds before you can take another photo, regardless of the image quality setting.
You can delete a picture after you've taken it by pressing the down button on the four-way controller.
Now, here's a look at the image size and quality choices available on the camera. These are only for the standard 4:3 aspect ratio -- things will be different for the other four ratios.
As the table illustrates, the PowerShot S95 can take a RAW image alone, or along with a Large/Fine JPEG. Do note that RAW images can only be taken at the 4:3 aspect ratio.
|Update 10/1/10: Reader Paul R. pointed out that if you put the camera into RAW+JPEG mode you can select a different aspect ratio, and the RAW image will be cropped appropriately. This whole image area is still recorded, so you can change the aspect ratio if you'd like.|
Alright, let's move onto the menu system now!
When "Hints & Tips" is turned on in the setup menu, the S95 will show a brief description of the highlighted menu option
The menu system on the PowerShot S95 looks exactly like that of its predecessor. It's attractive, easy to navigate, and features "hints & tips" that describe each option. When you're taking pictures, the menu is divided into three tabs, covering shooting, setup, and "My Menu" options. Keeping in mind that not all of these are available in each shooting mode, here's the full list:
You can put up to five of your favorite shooting menu items here
The S95's jumpy face detection system located three faces here
There are three AF modes on the PowerShot S95 (up from two on the S90). Face AiAF combines multi-point autofocus with face detection. If the camera detects any faces, it will give them focus priority, making sure white balance and exposure are accurate. If there aren't any faces, it'll switch to 9-point autofocus. The camera's face detection system can locate up to nine faces in the frame, and you can select one of them to track as they move around the scene (note that you must assign this function to the shortcut button first). Recent Canon cameras haven't fared well with my test scene -- it seems to jump from person-to-person, usually locking onto three or maybe four faces at one time. There's also a blink detection feature that warns you if one of your subjects had their eyes closed in the photo you just took.
The second AF mode simply focuses on the center of the frame. You can select from a normal or small focus point. The third AF mode -- and new to the S95 -- is Tracking AF. Point the camera at your subject, press the four-way controller to the left, and the camera will follow that subject as they move around. One feature I would've liked to have seen here is Canon's FlexiZone AF system, which allows you to pick a point in the frame on which to focus. You'll have to step up to the PowerShot G12 for that.
The camera has a number of digital zoom options, all of which can reduce the quality of your photo if you use too much of it. However, if you're willing to lower the resolution a bit, you can safely use the standard digital zoom setting without reducing image quality, as long as you stop at the right time (the zoom position indicator becomes yellow). At the Medium 2 (2 Megapixel) setting you can get 8.7X of total zoom without a loss of quality.
What are those three IS modes all about? Continuous mode activates the OIS system as soon as you halfway press the shutter release, which helps you compose the photo without camera shake. The "shoot only" option doesn't turn it on until the photo is actually taken, which improves the performance of the OIS system. The panning mode only stabilizes up and down motion, and you'll want to use this while tracking a moving subject horizontally. You can also turn the whole thing off, which is advisable if you're using a tripod.
Okay, that does it for menus, let's talk about photo quality now.
The PowerShot S95 did a superb job with our macro test subject. Colors are nice and saturated, with the camera having no problems with our studio lamps. The figurine has a "smooth" look to it, which is a trademark feature of Canon cameras. I don't see any noise or noise reduction artifacts here, nor would I expect to.
The minimum focus distance in macro mode is 5 cm at wide-angle, and 30 cm at telephoto.
Since the S95's lens tops out at 105 mm, the night test shot is a bit more "wide" than you may be used to. To take long exposures like this you can use Smart Auto mode (which can detect if you're using a tripod and adjust the settings accordingly), or set the shutter speed manually. I did the latter, and brought in a good amount of light, though I might go a little slower if I did it all over again. The buildings are sharp, with just a bit of noise visible. There's some highlight clipping here, and I think closing down the aperture a bit more would help with some of that. As for chromatic aberrations, the only thing I see is some mild cyan-colored fringing in places.
Now, let's use the same scene to see how the PowerShot S95 performed at higher sensitivities in low light:
There's just a slight increase in noise as you go from ISO 80 to 100 to 200. At ISO 400, things start to get a little bit smudged, though not enough to keep you from making a midsize or large print. The photo gets considerably softer at ISO 800, so this is where you'll want to stop if you're shooting JPEGs, or switch over to RAW and do some post-processing. There's pretty substantial detail loss at ISO 1600 and 3200, so I'd pass on those.
Let's see if we can't clean up that ISO 800 shot a bit by using the RAW format and doing some basic post-processing:
JPEG, straight out of the camera
RAW -> JPEG conversion (Digital Photo Professional)
RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
While it's not super clean, the retouched photo does have better sharpness and detail than the original JPEG. Look for additional examples of this in a moment.
There's fairly mild barrel distortion at the wide end of the PowerShot S95's lens. You can see the effect of this by looking at the building on the right side of this photo. The lens does not have issues with corner blurring (normally a common problem on compact cameras) or vignetting (dark corners), which is good news.
Something that's not quite so positive is the redeye test performance. Those of you who read the PowerShot S90 review might recall my surprise that it didn't show any redeye in my tests. Well, the complete opposite happened with the S95, using the exact same methodology. I can't explain it, but if anything, this illustrates that your results may vary!
The S95 uses both the AF-assist lamp to shrink your subject's pupils, plus a digital removal system to try to get rid of this annoyance. There's a redeye removal tool in playback mode as well, though that couldn't fix my test shots either.
Now it's time for the studio ISO test. Since the lighting is always the same, you can compare these results with those from other cameras I've reviewed over the years. Keep in mind that you'll want to view the full size images as well as the crops in order to get the most out of this test!
The first three crops are all very clean. At ISO 400 there's a slight increase in noise, but it doesn't concern me. There's a drop in color saturation and a bit more noise at ISO 800, but it's still very clean for a compact camera. Even ISO 1600 is usable for small prints, and perhaps larger if you shoot RAW. Speaking of which, I'd probably pass on ISO 3200 for JPEGs, but look below to see if we can clean things up by shooting RAW and post-processing.
As you can see, the 30 seconds I spent cleaning up those two high ISO photos made a pretty significant difference. There's not a huge gain in image quality from RAW at lower sensitivities, but at high ISOs, it's worth using.
For those of you comparing the PowerShot S95 to the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5, head on over to the LX5 review to see who came out on top (short version: the S95 wins, by a nose).
Overall, I was very pleased with the image quality on the PowerShot S95. Exposure was generally spot-on. While the camera has a larger-than-average sensor, that doesn't meant that it never clips highlights. Thankfully, both the HDR and DR Correction features helped reduce that (though the former really requires a tripod). Colors were nice and vivid, and as you saw above, the camera had no trouble with artificial lighting (at least my artificial lighting). Sharpness was just about right: smooth, but not soft. Noise isn't a problem until you pass ISO 400, and Canon goes fairly light on the noise reduction, so you don't see much in the line of smudged details. Purple fringing levels were low.
Now, I invite you to have a look at our PowerShot S95 photo gallery. View the full size images, maybe print a few of the photos if you can, and then decide if the S95's photo quality meets your needs!
One of the areas in which the PowerShot S95 was enhanced was in the movie department. While the S90 had a VGA movie mode, the PowerShot S95 can record 720p video with stereo sound, albeit at 24 frames/second. You can keep recording until the file size reaches 4GB, which takes just over 25 minutes. The resolution can also be lowered to 640 x 480 or 320 x 240 (both at 30 fps), though recording will stop just before the timer hits 30 minutes.
Despite what the manual says, you cannot use the optical zoom while you're recording a video. Digital zoom is available, however. You can use the image stabilizer without issue. There aren't any manual controls in movie mode, though the wind filter comes in handy when you're shooting outdoors.
There are three special effect movie modes: miniature, Color Swap, and Color Accent. The former works in the same way as it does for stills, except that 1) movies are silent and 2) you can select a playback speed of 5X, 10X, or 20X. The Color Swap and Color Accent features were explained earlier.
Movies are saved in QuickTime format, using the efficient H.264 codec.
Here's a sample movie for you, taken at the 720p24 setting. Yeah, it's a little choppy -- too bad Canon didn't go for 30 fps recording on the S95.
The PowerShot S95 has a new and improved playback mode. Basic features include slideshows (complete with transitions), image protection, favorite-tagging, DPOF print marking, thumbnail view, and playback zoom. This last feature will enlarge the image by as much as ten times, and let you move around. You can use the scroll wheel on the back of the camera to move from image to image, while keeping the zoom and scroll setting intact. You can also use the Focus Check feature by pressing the Display button, which will enlarge the focus point or the faces that were detected in the photo.
Photos can be rotated, resized, and cropped right on the camera. You can apply most of the My Colors feature to your photos, as well. If there's any redeye in your photos, you'll find a tool to remove it here. You can also use the i-Contrast feature to brighten up the dark areas of your photos, with a choice of Auto, Low, Medium, or High settings. The S95 has the ability to assign a category to a photo, and in many cases, it's done automatically, based on the scene mode that was used.
The only video editing feature is a useful one -- a trimming tool to remove unwanted footage from the beginning or end of a clip.
|Filtering photos by date using the Jump feature||Smart Shuffle|
There are several ways to move through photos on the camera. Naturally, you can just press left or right on the four-way controller. You can also turn the scroll wheel, which lets you move through your photos a lot quicker. Another option is to use the filtered playback (jump) feature, which lets you show photos by date, category, file type, whether they're a favorite, and you can move forward or backward by 10 or 100 photos, as well. New to the S95 is the Smart Shuffle feature, which shows four photos related to the one currently selected (see screenshot).
By default, you won't get much information about your photo while in playback mode. But press the Display button and you'll get a lot more, including a histogram. On the info screen you can press "up" on the four-way controller to reveal an RGB histogram.
The PowerShot S95 moves from one photo to another without delay.
How Does it Compare?
The Canon PowerShot S90 was already an impressive camera, and the S95 is a nice (but not major) upgrade that adds some useful new features. The basics haven't changed; the S95 still has a 10 Megapixel, high sensitivity CCD, fast 3.8X optical zoom lens, and customizable controls of its predecessor. The new features include an improved image stabilization system, useful HDR and shadow/highlight correction options, and a 720p movie mode. The S95 also retains many of the annoyances of the PowerShot S90, which include so-so ergonomic and below average battery life. Even with a few flaws, I like the PowerShot S95, and think that it's a great choice for those who want a capable low light camera that can go anywhere you do.
The PowerShot S95 is a compact camera (about the size of a deck of cards) with a professional-looking matte black finish. The body won't win any awards for durability, but it's solid enough for most purposes. I wasn't a fan of the ergonomics of the PowerShot S90, and not a lot has changed here. The buttons on the top of the camera can easily be confused, the flash takes up valuable finger space when it's popped up, and the zoom controller / shutter release combo is on the small side. Canon did improve the rear control dial, which now gives tactile feedback when you rotate it. Speaking of rotation, one of the unique features on the S95 is the customizable control ring that sits around its lens. You can adjust the zoom, the ISO, the shutter speed or aperture, fine-tune white balance, jump through photos you've taken, and more. In the middle of that ring is the S95's F2.0-4.9, 3.8X optical zoom lens, which is equivalent to 28 - 105 mm. At wide-angle, this lens allows more than a full stop worth of light to hit the sensor than your typical compact camera. The S95 also sports a new "hybrid" image stabilization system that can correct for both shift and angular camera shake. On the back of the camera is one of the best LCDs you'll find these days. The screen is 3 inches in size, with 461,000 pixels and excellent visibility outdoors and in low light. The S95 does not have an optical viewfinder, nor does it support adding one, like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 does (though it's a considerably larger camera).
The S95 packs a lot of features into its compact body. On the point-and-shoot size, you have a newly enhanced Smart Auto mode, which selects one of 28 scene modes automatically, even detecting when a tripod is in use. There are plenty of other scene modes, plus some new special effect options like "miniature". Another scene mode is HDR, which combines three different exposures into a single image, allowing for greatly improved dynamic range. Do note that you'll need to use a tripod in order to get the most out of the HDR feature. Also available are shadow and dynamic range correction options, both of which work quite well (and you don't need a tripod). Naturally, the S95 has face detection, but it also has cool face, smile, and "wink" self-timers, too. Beginners will also appreciate the Hints & Tips feature that describes each of the menu options. The PowerShot S95 has plenty of manual controls, as well, ranging from shutter speed and aperture to focus to white balance. The camera is highly customizable, with the ability to set the function of buttons, dials, and menus. The camera also supports the RAW image format, and Canon includes some pretty powerful editing software in the box. The movie mode has been improved since the S90, with the new ability to record 720p video with stereo sound. The bad news is that the frame rate is 24 fps (so video looks a bit choppy) and that the optical zoom cannot be used while you're recording.
Camera performance was generally good. The PowerShot S95 is ready to start taking photos after just one second. The camera focuses fairly quickly, with wide-angle times between 0.3 and 0.5 seconds, and telephoto delays about twice as long. The S95 focuses well in low light, courtesy of its AF-assist lamp. I didn't find shutter lag to be a problem, and shot-to-shot speeds ranged from 1.5 to 3 seconds, depending on the image quality and flash settings. The PowerShot S95's burst mode got a speed bump, now with the ability to take an unlimited number of photos at 1 frame/sec for RAW and just under 2 frames/sec for JPEGs. Unfortunately, battery life went in the opposite direction, dropping from 220 to 200 shots per charge, which is below average for this class.
There's not much to complain about in the photo quality department. The S95 takes photos which are well-exposed, with bright, vivid color. It doesn't escape from the (common) problem of highlight clipping, though the HDR and DR correction features can help ameliorate that issue. The S95 is about one full stop more sensitive than your typical compact camera. The camera keeps noise well under control through ISO 400, with higher sensitivities remaining quite usable, especially if you shoot RAW and do some easy post-processing. Canon goes pretty easy on the noise reduction too, so there isn't a lot of detail smudging in photos. Purple fringing levels were low, but unfortunately, redeye was a problem (why it wasn't on the S90 is beyond me).
There are a couple of other things to mention before I wrap things up. The full camera manual is now in PDF format on an included CD-ROM, which is a downgrade from the S90 as far as I'm concerned. As with that camera, there's no memory card supplied in the box, nor does the S95 have any onboard memory. Finally, you won't be able to access the memory card slot while the camera is on a tripod.
Despite a few issues, the PowerShot S95 is one of the best compact cameras on the market, as was its predecessor. Combine the better-than-average photo quality with a fast lens, beautiful LCD, boatload of auto and manual controls, and HD movie recording, and you've got yourself a camera that's easy for me to recommend.
What I liked:
- Very good photo quality, with a full stop advantage over typical compact cameras at high sensitivities
- Fast F2.0-4.9, 28 - 105 mm zoom lens
- New and improved "hybrid" optical image stabilization
- High resolution 3-inch LCD with outstanding outdoor and low light visibility
- Fast start-up time
- Full manual controls, including RAW support
- Smart Auto mode picks one of 28 scene modes for you
- Handy HDR, shadow, and dynamic range correction features
- Lots of customizable stuff: control ring and shortcut button, self-timer, My Menu, custom spot on mode dial
- Cool face, smile, and wink self-timers
- Records 720p24 video with stereo sound
- Optional underwater case
- HDMI output
What I didn't care for:
- Redeye a problem; some highlight clipping
- Videos are a bit choppy due to 24 fps frame rate; optical zoom cannot be used while recording a movie
- Ergonomic annoyances: ring function / power buttons easy to confuse, small zoom controller / shutter release button, flash takes up finger space when raised
- Below average battery life
- No optical viewfinder
- Full manual on CD-ROM
- No memory card included; can't access memory card slot while using a tripod
As always, I recommend a trip down to your local camera or electronics store to try out the PowerShot S95 and its competitors before you buy.
See how the photos turned out in our gallery!