DCRP Review: Canon PowerShot S10
by Jeff Keller [DCRP Creator/Webmaster]
Last revised: Friday, December 10, 1999

The Canon PowerShot S10 has been one of the most eagerly anticipated cameras of the year. After all, it *is* the smallest 2 million pixel camera you can buy with a real zoom lens, and it's loaded with nice features such as a CompactFlash type II slot (for the IBM Microdrive) and USB support. And at $699, it's a pretty good deal.

How does it stack up against other 2 Mpixel cameras? Read on...

Above: Here's the camera with the power on.

What's in the Box

The PowerShot S10 comes with everything you need, with one notable exception, as you'll see below.

Inside the box for the camera, you'll find:

  • The 2.1 Mpixel PowerShot S10 camera
  • An 8MB CompactFlash card
  • Non-rechargable lithium-manganese dioxide battery (see below)
  • Hand strap
  • Video-out cable
  • Serial cables (separate Mac and PC cables... nice)
  • USB cable
  • Software package including PhotoDeluxe and PowerShot software
  • Owners manuals for camera and software

The folks at Canon include everything you need to get going... more or less. The camera has a built-in lens cover, so there are no worries there. Instead of supplying a PC serial cable and a Mac adapter, they give you two separate cables--one of each.

The camera supports USB, but in a way (on the Mac, at least) that is different from the other cameras I've looked at before. Usually, you put the camera into PC mode, and it mounts on your desktop like another hard disk. But here, it launches the nifty PowerShot Browser instead.

Here you can view and download photos, rotate or print them, and more. I found this to be a little nicer than the NikonView software that I'm used to (that came with the Coolpix 950.) The software did, however, crash two separate times, requiring a reboot of the computer.

Now, my one minor quibble about what's in the box. While not every camera manufacturer tosses in rechargeable batteries, you'd think Canon would get the message. The included lithium-manganese dioxide battery DOES last a long time.. but then you've gotta replace it, and that can't be cheap. Instead, you're supposed to buy the Power Supply Kit (DK110, see below) for $100! (Canon says this was done to "give users a choice").

Once you do buy the power supply (consider it a requirement), you'll find it to be a little different than what you're used to -- it's both an AC adapter and a standalone battery charger, though not at the same time. Unlike other cameras, the PowerShot has no power port. Instead, you stick a "battery on a wire" into the battery slot, and plug the other end into the power supply. Your regular battery sits inside a cradle on the recharger. While the camera is using the AC adapter, your battery isn't being recharged. But when you're done, the switch is automatic.

The manual was very good, though there's a little too much jumping around between pages sometimes.

Look and Feel

There must be something about small, silver cameras that make people stand up and take notice. When I brought the PowerShot into work recently, words such as "neat, cute, and very cool" were overheard (they could've been talking about me though). This is similar to the reaction that I got when I brought the Fuji MX-1700 in as well... except here, the resolution is higher!

I must say I was a little surprised when I took the camera out of the box... I thought it would be a little smaller, more like Canon's ELPH line. That's not to say that it's not one of the smallest cameras out there, as you can see below:

(Taken with the Coolpix 950. Not enough room to fit the Casio QV-2000UX in here too!)

The PowerShot is one of the best designed cameras I've tested, from a user experience point of view. It's small enough for one handed operation, and the placement of the controls are very good. Let's take a look.

Yeah this one is a little blurry, but here goes, starting at the top left: The leftmost button is for flash modes (record mode) and thumbnail view (play mode). The next one is for Single/Continous/Timer mode (rec), and zoom (play). Next to that is the usual light for the flash, and a new one: the lower light is on when in macro mode. I'm not sure why this is needed, but why not? (Canon says it's to remind you that you're in macro mode.)

The optical viewfinder is a bit small and lacks diopter correction. My dad, being the expert on the subject, complained about getting smudge marks from your nose onto the LCD.

Continuing to the right: The next button is for macro mode (rec) and "jump" (play). The jump feature is one I haven't seen before either. It acts as kind of a scroll bar, for moving through your stored images. Kind of handy.

Moving down now: The only button I found a bit confusing is the +/- and white balance button. When it record mode, you push it once to change exposure compensation (see the next section for a picture), and again to mess with white balance. I didn't find this terribly intuitive.

The little rocker switch below that opens the menu, and selects the different settings (see below for a photo). The menus are nice looking-- they've got a translucent background so you can see the image that was on the LCD. And, they're easy to use, with perhaps the exception of deleting photos (more on this later).

The four way switch in the top right is the typical zoom and menu navigation button that we're all used to by now.

Next, the usual stuff on top of the camera, with a few differences. The LCD display shows the usual stuff: photos remaining, quality, mode, and flash settings. It's the mode dial that has some new stuff.

Starting from the "PC" (the two arrows) and going clockwise: Play, Off, Auto Record, Manual Record, Image mode, Panorama mode. I'll go into more detail about each of these later... but for now, the Image mode is the new one here, and it contains 5 different settings: Landscape, Fast shutter, slow shutter, night scene, and black & white.

Looking at the side of the camera, you can see that there is no power port (you have to use the system I mentioned in the previous section). The digital connector (hidden under that piece of rubber) is for hooking up to your PC, either via USB or Serial connectors. The usual video out port is there, and there's a small battery for storing settings in the camera.

The camera is very well built, just like the MX-1700... with the notable exception of the CompactFlash card slot. I think the folks from Canon may have consulted with Nikon's designers, because I'm afraid that thing may just snap off if you're not careful. But the latch is strong and it won't just pop open, so that probably won't happen.

And speaking of the CompactFlash slot, this is one of the new Type II slots, which lets you put in a 340Mb IBM Microdrive if you have one. Definitely cool!

One more usability thing: You can set the brightness of the LCD display, but you only have two choices. I wish more camera makers would follow Ricoh's lead and put a dial on the bottom of the camera!

Using the Canon PowerShot S10

The PowerShot engineers have gone to the Toshiba school of fast cameras, for sure. This thing fires up in 2 seconds, and can take a lot of pictures very quickly. Play mode is as fast as the two Toshiba cameras I've tested -- very nice.

Let's move through the different modes of the camera now, starting with Panorama mode.

The PowerShot has a nice panorama helper that's not unlike the one found on the Olympus C-2000Z. Here, you can take a shot, move over for the next one, and line them up so they stitch together. This is the first camera where you can choose between five different stitch patterns: Left to right, right to left, top to bottom, bottom to top, and 4 images shot clockwise in a square. You can even move back one shot if you want to try again. The only downside is that the previous image isn't translucent so it's hard to line them up.

Once you take the photos and download them to the computer, I found the PhotoStitch software to be excellent. You just select the photos you want stitched, make sure they're in the right order, and the software does the rest. It even crops the photo for you in case things don't line up (which is easy to do without a tripod). It can save them in a variety of formats, including QuicktimeVR! Nice!

Moving now onto Image mode. Here you have a choice of five different modes:

  • Landscape
  • Fast Shutter
  • Slow Shutter
  • Night Scene
  • Black & White

If it's not apparent already, the camera does not have an aperture or shutter priority mode, so this is all you've got. I haven't had the chance to try out these yet, but I will do so and update the review.

Now onto the "standard" record modes: Both are essentially the same, with manual mode giving you some additional controls, including:

  • AE lock
  • Metering (center vs. spot)
  • Gain (equivalent to ISO 100, 200, and 400)
  • Contrast
  • Sharpness

Above you can see the camera in manual mode. The area on the left shows the current settings: Single shot, no flash, no exposure compensation, auto white balance, and Sharp/Large resolution (more on this in a sec). The bar at the bottom is for exposure compensation... pressing the +/- button again would let you choose white balance settings. Finally, the area on the right shows the current zoom settings.

The way the Powershot handles resolution is a little different. For one, you can only change the resolution/quality in manual mode (!). For resolution you have three choices: Large (1600x1200), Medium (1280x960), and Small (800x600). For compression you get three choices that I cannot put into words.. there's little icons showing a quarter-circle. The best quality (hence lowest compression) is very sharp, while the lowest quality has jagged edges.

Something else the PowerShot does different is "review" mode, and you may end up liking their version better. Usually after you shoot a picture, you see it on the LCD for a few seconds. On the PowerShot, if you just hit the shutter button and release, it won't show you what you just took. However, if you hold the shutter button down, you'll see the preview until you release the button.

As I mentioned, the PowerShot is very quick at taking photos... it can take 4 high res photos in a row in about 2 seconds. One limitation of the camera is the 2X zoom. While any zoom is nice, it's not much. If you compare the PowerShot gallery with the Toshiba PDR-M5 gallery (which has a 3X zoom, you'll see what I mean.

Above: While it may not seem like much, the 3X zoom on the Toshiba (right) really makes a difference compared to the 2X zoom on the Canon. These were taken from the exact same spot.

The Play mode, as I mentioned, is very fast. It's as fast as the Toshiba cameras (currently the fastest out there), and all the usual features are there. Two nice ones stand out:

  • You can zoom into your photos, and scroll around them in real time. No waiting for it to redraw! This is similar to the Toshiba cameras.

  • You can rotate your images within the camera. Saves you a little time in Photoshop later on!

(Section rewritten 10/24/99)
While at first I was upset to see that deleting photos was a multi-button affair, it was pointed out to me that you can do a quick erase by holding down Set while pushing the 4-way button to the left. You then just confirm if you want to delete it. Cool!

How does it compare?

The Canon PowerShot S10 is a fantastic camera. It's very small and light, and really stands out in a crowd, and the photo quality is very good. You can easily use it with one hand, and it's fast processing speeds let you record and view photos quickly. And the built-in USB support helps you get the photos onto your PC just as quickly. The software packages for downloading and browsing photos, as well as creating panoramas, were both very good. And, with a CompactFlash Type II slot, you can put in an IBM Microdrive to hold thousands of photos.

What are the downsides? I wish the camera had a 3X zoom instead of 2X. Heck, if Fuji can do it, I assume Canon can too. There's no real control over aperture and shutter settings, though the Image mode can help out. And you'll have to put up the $100 for the Power Supply Kit. I can't really find much else to complain about!

If you don't care about full manual controls and want something you can stick in your pocket, this is the camera for you. I've definitely enjoyed using it, and it's going to be hard to send back!

Photo Gallery

So how does the photo quality stand up? Check out the sample photos in our photo gallery!

Want a second opinion? Or maybe a third?

Check out Steve's Digicams review of the PowerShot S10. The Imaging Resource Page has a review as well.

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com.

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