Canon PowerShot S100 Review


The Canon PowerShot S100 is a premium ultra-compact camera that offers a lot more than your typical point-and-shoot. It has a solid, well-built metal body that looks good in black (and okay in silver), and well-placed controls. One of its unique features is a customizable ring around the lens, which can be used to adjust exposure, ISO, the zoom, and much more. Speaking of lenses, the one on the S100 is an upgrade over what was found on previous models, now offering a 24 - 120 mm (5X) zoom range. The lens remains very fast at wide-angle (F2.0), but drops off quickly as you near the telephoto end of things (F5.9). Naturally, the S100 has optical image stabilization, with a new "Intelligent" function that selects the correct IS mode for the scene. The sensor on the S100 remains larger-than-average at 1/1.7", but now it's CMOS-based instead of a CCD. Unlike many cases where this switch has reduced image quality, the opposite is true on the PowerShot S100. One of the other big features on the camera is a built-in GPS, which doesn't do anything fancy, but gets the job done (unless you're in the middle of a major city). You'll compose your photos on a sharp 3-inch LCD with 461,000 pixels and good outdoor/low light visibility.

The PowerShot S100 has a nice mix of point-and-shoot features as well as manual controls. On the P&S side, there's a Smart Auto mode with scene selection, tons of special effects, and more than enough scene modes. Manual controls are available for exposure, white balance (including fine-tuning), and focus. As I mentioned, the ring around the lens is customizable, as is the Ring Func button on the back of the camera. The S100 can shoot RAW images, and Canon includes a capable editing product in the box. Some other features I liked include DR Correction (reduces highlight clipping), HDR (improves image contrast, but bring your tripod), and Smart Shutter mode (which offers smile detection and face/wink self-timers). When it comes to video, the S100 can record movies at 1920 x 1080 (24 frames/second) with stereo sound, using the H.264 codec. The frame rate is popular for cinema work, but the average person may find it to be too choppy. You can use the optical zoom while you're recording a movie, and the image stabilizer is available, as well.

Camera performance is average in most areas. The S100 starts up relatively quickly (1.2 seconds), but autofocus and shot-to-shot speeds are average (and below average with the flash). The camera can shoot a burst of eight JPEGs in a row at 9.3 frames/second, though the ISO is fixed at Auto and the LCD blacks out while shooting. A more traditional burst mode is also available, with frame rates ranging from 1 - 2 frames/sec, which is nothing to write home about. Battery life was a problem on the S90 and S95, and it's just as bad here (and that's without using the GPS), so do yourself a favor and buy a spare.

I must admit that I was a bit skeptical about how the image quality would be on this CMOS-based camera, but the PowerShot S100 delivers excellent results. Exposures were nearly always accurate, though the camera loves to clip highlights (use the DR correction feature to reduce that). Colors looked good, even under the artificial lights at the LA Convention Center. Sharpness was good in most cases, with photos sporting the traditional Canon "smooth" appearance. The camera keeps noise in check through ISO 800 in good light, which is at least a full stop better than your typical compact camera. By shooting RAW, even ISO 3200 is usable for small and midsize prints. Purple fringing levels were quite low in most situations. As with the S90 and S95, redeye was a problem, though you can remove it using the tool in playback mode.

There are a few other things I want to mention before wrapping things up. First, I was a bit annoyed that you can't adjust the ISO when the shutter speed drops below 1 second on this enthusiast camera. You can't get at the memory card or battery compartment while the camera is on a tripod. And finally, from the bundle department, the full manual is on a CD-ROM disc, and no video output cable is included.

Overall, the PowerShot S100 is a well-designed camera whose best attribute is its image quality. It obviously can't compete with a digital SLR (or mirrorless camera), but it is way better than your typical compact camera. Add in the enthusiast features, special effects, and scene modes, and it's a camera that's well worth considering. The only folks I might sway toward other cameras would be those for whom speed is a priority -- the S100 is not the snappiest camera out there. For most folks, however, the PowerShot S100 fits the bill just fine, which is why it earns my recommendation.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality, with at least a full stop advantage over typical compact cameras
  • Compact metal body, comes in silver and black
  • Fast F2.0-5.9, 24 - 120 mm zoom lens (well, it's fast at one end, at least)
  • Optical image stabilization
  • High resolution 3-inch LCD with very good outdoor and low light visibility
  • Built-in GPS doesn't have bells and whistles, but gets the job done
  • Full manual controls, including RAW support
  • Smart Auto mode picks a scene mode (and the proper IS setting) for you
  • Tons of scene modes and Creative Filters
  • Dynamic range correction and HDR features improve image contrast
  • Lots of customizable stuff: lens ring and Ring Func button, self-timer, and custom spot on mode dial
  • Cool face, smile, and wink self-timers
  • Records Full HD (1080/24p) video with stereo sound, use of optical zoom
  • Optional underwater case

What I didn't care for:

  • Tends to clip highlights (hint: use DR correction)
  • Redeye can be a problem, even with digital reduction turned on
  • Videos are a bit choppy due to 24 fps frame rate
  • Below average battery life
  • Lens on the slow side at telephoto end
  • ISO fixed at 80 when shutter speed drops below 1 second
  • Unremarkable burst mode
  • Flash a bit slow to charge
  • Can't access memory card slot while using a tripod
  • Full manual on CD-ROM; no video cable included

Some other premium compact cameras worth considering include the Fuji FinePix X10, Nikon Coolpix P300, Olympus XZ-1, Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5, and Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX10.

As always, I recommend heading to your local camera or electronics store to try out the PowerShot S100 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Check out our standard and LA Auto Show galleries to see how the PowerShot S100's photos look!

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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.