Canon PowerShot S100 Review

Performance & Photo Quality

Performance on the PowerShot S100 is average in most respects (save for its poor battery life). As I mentioned earlier, GPS acquisition times are decent (assuming that you're out of the city), and the zoom controller movies quickly. The chart below summarizes what you can expect from the S100 in other areas:

Timing Measured Performance How it Compares
Startup 1.2 sec Above Average
(Normal light)
0.3 - 0.5 sec (wide-angle)
0.5 - 1.0 sec (telephoto)
(Low light)
~ 1.0 sec Average
Shutter lag Noticeable at slow shutter speeds Average
(JPEG/RAW, no flash)
2 secs / 3 secs Average
4 secs Below Average

Despite its price and enthusiast target audience, the PowerShot S100 is definitely an average performer.

Something else that I want to go over is the camera's burst mode performance. There are three modes to choose from: continuous, continuous AF, and high-speed burst HQ (mentioned earlier). The difference between the first two can be found in the name: one locks focus on the first shot, while the other refocuses every time. The high-speed mode is only for JPEGs, with the ISO fixed to the Auto setting. The LCD is blacked out while shooting, as well. Here's the PowerShot S100's real world burst mode performance:

Image quality Continuous Continuous AF High-Speed Burst HQ
RAW + Large/Fine JPEG Unlimited @ 1.0 fps Unlimited @ 0.7 fps N/A
RAW Unlimited @ 1.2 fps Unlimited @ 0.7 fps
Large/Fine JPEG Unlimited @ 2.0 fps Unlimited @ 0.8 fps 8 shots @ 9.3 fps
Tested with a SanDisk Class 10 SDHC card

The PowerShot S100 won't win any awards for its burst mode, that's for sure. The only real bright spot is that you can keep shooting (albeit slowly) until your memory card is filled up -- even for RAW images.

So how does the S100's photo quality shape up? Let's take a trip through our standard tests and find out.

Our standard macro test subject looks great. The white background looks a tiny bit brown, though the camera's white balance fine-tuning feature should help with that. Our subject is tack sharp, with accurate color. I see no evidence of noise or noise reduction artifacting, and that's a good thing.

The minimum focus distance in macro mode is 3 cm at wide-angle and 30 cm at telephoto.

I won't soon forget my night photo experience with the PowerShot S100, mainly due to the 15 minutes of wondering why I couldn't adjust the ISO. As I mentioned earlier, the sensitivity is locked at 80 whenever the shutter speed drops below 1 second. This makes sense from a noise point-of-view, but I think there should be no restrictions on an enthusiast camera like this. The PowerShot S100 turned in a pretty good performance here, with accurate exposure and no funny color casts. The buildings are sharp across the frame, and noise levels are relatively low. Both highlight clipping and purple (as well as cyan) fringing make an appearance here, though neither is horrible.

Since I cannot adjust the ISO at slow shutter speeds, I do not have a way to show you how the PowerShot S100 performs at high sensitivities in low light.

Straight out of the camera

After redeye removal in playback mode

The PowerShot S100 tries to eliminate redeye in two ways. First, it'll fire the AF-assist lamp a second or two before the photo is taken, with the goal of shrinking your subject's pupils. I've found that this rarely works. The second part of the removal system is a digital system (which needs to be turned on in the Flash Settings menu), which tries to get rid of whatever shows up in a photo. Even with both of those turned on, I still got pretty strong redeye. I went into playback mode and used the removal tool there to get rid of the red. While your results may vary, odds are that redeye will be an issue on the PowerShot S100.

The S100 has mild-to-moderate barrel distortion at its wide-angle position. You can see what this looks like in the real world by looking at the building on the right side of this photo. Corner blurring wasn't an issue, and while there may be some vignetting in your photos, it's very mild.

Okay, now it's time to see how the PowerShot S100 performed across its ISO range. As usual, I'm using our standard test scene, which means that you can compare the results with other cameras I've tested over the years (PowerShot S95, anyone?). Remember that the crops below only show a small area of the total scene, so view the full size images too!

ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400

Everything looks great all the way through ISO 800. Yes, I said ISO 800, where there's a tiny bit of noise, but nothing to keep you from making large prints at that sensitivity. Noise becomes a bit more visible at ISO 1600, but still, totally usable. Things start to go downhill at ISO 3200, so I'd save this for small prints only, and use RAW if possible. The ISO 6400 setting is probably worth passing on.

Can we improve on things by shooting RAW? Let's take a look:

ISO 3200

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw 6.6 RC)

RAW -> JPEG + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
ISO 6400

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw 6.6 RC)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

While I still don't think the ISO 6400 setting is usable (except perhaps in desperate circumstances), shooting RAW and doing some easy post-processing produces photos with less detail smudging and more vibrant colors. If you're shooting at ISO 1600 and above, then it's probably worth doing, unless you're sticking to small prints.

A lot of people are probably wondering how the PowerShot S100's image quality compares to that of its predecessor. Here's the ISO 1600 test scene crop from each camera, with the S100 image downsized to 10 Megapixel to match the resolution of the S95.

ISO 1600

PowerShot S95

PowerShot S100

I don't think there's any question that the PowerShot S100, with its new 12 Megapixel CMOS sensor, performs a lot better than its predecessor. Looks like Canon is finally getting noise under control on their CMOS-based cameras!

There's very little to complain about when discussing the PowerShot S100's photo quality. Images are well-exposed, though highlight clipping can be strong at times. The solution to that problem is to turn on DR Correction, as long as you understand that noise levels will rise slightly. Colors look good, and the camera's custom white balance feature handled the crazy lighting of the LA Auto Show with aplomb. Sharpness is very nice in most situations, with just occasional softness on some subjects. As the previous test illustrated, the S100 keeps noise under control all the way through ISO 800, which is impressive for a compact camera. That doesn't mean that low ISO shots are noise-free: look in the shadows and you'll probably spot a little. Canon goes easy on noise reduction here, so detail smudging isn't an issue, as it is on other cameras in this class. Purple fringing was not a major issue.

I have not one but two photo galleries for the PowerShot S100. Check out our standard photo gallery, or look at the cars I dream about (well, some of them anyway) in our special LA Auto Show gallery! Then you should be able to decide whether the S100's photo quality meets your needs.