DCRP Review: Canon PowerShot S100 Digital ELPH
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Wednesday, June 21, 2000
Last Updated: Thursday, June 21, 2001

Being the editor of this site has it's pluses-- I get to play with a lot of digital cameras. Almost all of them find their way into my office at my "real job" in San Francisco. People will usually stop and check out the latest camera I've brought in, but nothing could prepare me for the day when the Digital ELPH arrived. It was love. No other camera has made so many people say "wow" as much as the PowerShot S100.

Using the same body as the popular ELPH2 Advanced Photo System camera, the "Digital ELPH" is by far the smallest digital camera -- and it has a real optical zoom to boot. Just how small is this thing? Take a look at the photos below, which show it next to its "big brother", the PowerShot S10.

The S100 3.4 x 2.2 x 1.1 inches in size, and weighs less than seven ounces!

Of course, being small often means being expensive -- and at around $600, the Digital ELPH is pretty expensive for a point and shoot camera -- but heck, size matters!

What's in the Box?

The PowerShot S100 is ready to go out of the box, with everything you need:

  • The 2.1 Mpixel Canon PowerShot S100 camera
  • 8Mb CompactFlash card
  • Rechargeable lithium-ion battery w/charger
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • Video out cable
  • Software including Canon Digital Camera Solutions and Adobe PhotoDeluxe
  • Manuals for camera and software

It was nice to see Canon actually include a rechargeable battery with this camera. On the PowerShot S10/S20, you are forced to buy a $100 proprietary battery. Here, the very small Li-ion battery you see above is included, along with a charger you plug right into the wall. Canon estimates that it will last for 85 photos with LCD on, or 270 shots with it off.

The built-in lens cover means no lens cap worries.

In addition to Adobe PhotoDeluxe, the camera comes with Canon's excellent software, including an image browser and PhotoStitch, for making panoramas. I've touched on the software before in the PowerShot S10 review, so you can read more about it there.

Look and Feel

I've already told you that the Digital ELPH is small, so I won't go into that again. It feels heavy, even though it only weighs 6.7oz (without a CF card or battery), due to its metal body. While I can't say for sure if the whole body is metal, most of it is, making it pretty sturdy. Well, except for the CompactFlash door (photo below), which got a tiny crack when it got bumped (oops). One thing I also noticed is that the metal shows wear pretty quickly -- see below as well. But overall, a very attractive and sturdy camera.

When you get the minuscule camera into your hands, you'll find it easy to hold, and there's plenty of room for your fingers. Let's tour the S100 now:

The back of the camera is where all the action is. This camera doesn't have many buttons because, well, there just isn't any room for them.

The optical viewfinder is pretty small, and lacks diopter correction, both of which make it hard for folks with glasses. Below that is a 1.6" LCD display, which is bright and fluid. No matter which eye you use for the optical viewfinder, your nose will smudge the LCD.

Below that are all the important buttons. From left to right:

  • Set/flash - the set button is the OK buttons in the menus; the flash button needs no explanation.
  • Left/Continuous/Timer - Left is for menus; The other two toggle on or off their respective setting. This camera can shoot at 2 frames/sec in continuous mode.
  • Right/macro/infinity - Right is for menus; The other two are for focusing;
  • Menu - enters or exits the menu
  • Disp - Turns the LCD on and off

It's hard to see, but at the top right there's a toggle switch-- this is what you use to switch between play and record mode.

Just below that is the CompactFlash door, the only major plastic piece on the camera. It's bent out of shape because I accidentally bumped it against the wall.

Here's the top of the camera, complete with a the metallic wear I mentioned, as well as the reflection of my hand (see it?). The on/off button isn't easy to push -- which is good since it prevents accidents -- you have to hold it down for a bit. The zoom control is part of the shutter release button. You can also see the top of the play/record toggle switch.

You're probably wondering what happened to the usual LCD info display! Well, the camera is too small -- there's not enough room! So most of those things are integrated into the main LCD. You can see a screen shot in the next section.

This isn't a really exciting picture, but you can see the I/O port where you'll plug in that USB or video out cable. There is no serial support on this camera either... this is becoming a trend.

The other side has the CompactFlash slot. No, it doesn't come with a card this large. This is one of the cameras that can shoot the CF card across the room, which can be fun. Not surprisingly, this a Type I slot, so no Microdrive.

I didn't take a picture of the bottom of the camera, but I can assure you that the tripod mount is indeed metal, like most of the camera.

Using the Canon PowerShot S100

I'm going to cover three areas in this section: Auto record, manual record, and playback.

Auto Record Mode

The S100 is just as fast as any other modern digicam, firing up in around 2 seconds. The 2X zoom mechanism is also responsive, though I wish it was a little more precise. There is slight lag during auto-focus, and before the picture is taken, but it's hardly noticeable.

One other weird thing on Canon's camera is the "preview" of the photo after you've taken it: you won't see it unless you hold down the button when you take the picture.

The S100 uses overlay-style menus

Things don't get much more automatic than in auto mode. You can only shoot in one quality setting - Fine/Large. You can have the flash on, or off. Macro and self-timer modes are the only other things available.

The camera also has an "AF illuminator", just above the lens. This will shoot a little light which the camera will focus on, which is good for low light shots.

Manual Record Mode

Manual mode adds a few more choices, but keep in mind, this camera is point-and-shoot, and nothing more.

Here's what the LCD shows in manual mode

The new options include (in addition to everything in auto mode)

  • Forced (fill) flash, red-eye flash, and slow-syncho flash
  • Choice of Super-Fine/Large, Fine/Large, or Fine/Small photos (the latter being 640 x 480)
  • Continuous shooting
  • Infinity focus
  • Exposure compensation
  • White Balance

Unlike the PowerShot S10/S20, there aren't any preset settings, like landscape, portrait, night scene, etc. You did get a panorama mode, however, and the excellent PhotoStitch software is a big help.

So here's a night shot in manual mode, infinity focus, no flash or exposure compensation -- it came out pretty well! I should add that it was quite an adventure to get this picture. The usual spot (Twin Peaks) was totally fogged in, as was my backup spot. So I ended up here at City Hall. Anyone who lives in SF knows that the Civic Center isn't the safest place to be, so I was in and out real quick!

Here's the traditional macro shot... the white balance is pretty decent in this picture. You can tell from my photos OF the S100 that the white balance on the CP950 is kind of flaky sometimes.

Above is the setup menu, where you can change:

  • Quality
  • Digital Zoom
  • File Numbering
  • Save Settings (when you turn it off)
  • Beep on/off
  • Sleep timer
  • Date/time
  • Card format
  • Language

Playback mode

Viewing photos is easy on the PowerShot S100. You can zoom into photos, and scroll through them. It's harder to scroll through photos when you can only move left and right though! The usual slideshow, protection, and DPOF features are here too.

You can delete a photo at a time, or all at once. You can't delete multiple photos, unfortunately.

Another nice feature is the ability to rotate photos inside the camera, which (possibly) saves a trip to Photoshop.

Here's the info you can see in play mode. You can see that this was shot in manual mode with macro and self-timer on, no exposure compensation, white balance set for incandescent lighting, and Fine/Large quality.

Speed in playback mode is competitive with other digicams.

How Does it Compare?

Taken as an ultra-small, point-and-shoot camera, the Canon PowerShot S100 is excellent. It's a bit pricey for the feature-set, but I would imagine that most consumers buying this camera could care less for uncompressed TIFFs and aperture priority mode.

The photo quality is good in almost all cases, except in some photos with shadows. See the gallery for lots of sample photos.

What I liked:

  • This thing is tiny! Just don't lose it!
  • Beautiful and rugged design -- except for maybe that CF door
  • Competent photos
  • Fast processing
  • CompactFlash support
  • Good stuff "in the box"

What needs work:

  • No manual controls
  • A bit pricey

The Canon PowerShot S100 Digital ELPH really is in a class by itself -- there are no cameras even close to it in size. The PowerShot S20 and Fuji FinePix 4700 are the closest competitors, but they're "much" larger (and more expensive) than the ELPH. If you can find one, go to your local reseller to try it out before you buy! You can't really go wrong with this tiny wonder - just ask all its fans at my office!

A note to our international readers: the Digital ELPH is called the Digital IXUS in Europe, and the Ixy Digital in Japan (what the heck do those mean?).

Photo Gallery

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

Want a second opinion? How about a third? Maybe even a fourth?

Check out Steve's Digicams review of the PowerShot S100. If that's not enough, how about Digital Photography Review's look at it? If you're still stuck, here's the Imaging Resource review!

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


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