DCRP Review: Canon PowerShot S30/S40
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Monday, October 1, 2001
Last Updated: Saturday, June 1, 2002

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This review has been updated after using the production model cameras. Product photos have been re-shot where necessary, and all sample images are from the new cameras.

All product photos from here on will be of the S40 model.

What happens when you take the PowerShot G2 and throw it into a small, metal body? You get the PowerShot S30 and S40! The S30 is a 3.2 Megapixel camera, whereas the S40 is 4.0 Megapixel. They are both almost identical to the excellent PowerShot G2. The only differences are the lack of a hot shoe, no accessory lens support, and of course, the new body.

The two cameras will be priced at $599 and $799 respectively. Let's take a closer look at these two cameras in this special dual review!

What's in the Box?

The PowerShot S30/S40 have an excellent bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 3.2/4.0 (effective) Mpixel Canon PowerShot S30/S40 camera
  • 16MB CompactFlash card
  • NB-2L Li-ion rechargeable battery
  • Battery Charger
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Canon PowerShot Solutions, ArcSoft software, and drivers
  • 159 page camera manual plus software manual (both printed)

Everything you need is right in the box with these two cameras. The 16MB card is small for the S40, a 4 Megapixel camera. The PowerShot G2 on which it is based includes a 32MB card, and I wish they did so here.

The NB-2L battery is new to Canon digital cameras. It's a 7.4V, 570 mAH battery pack about the size of three AAA batteries. Canon says that the battery will last for around 150 minutes, depending of course on LCD use.

In general, I'm not a big fan of proprietary batteries. For one, they're expensive. Secondly, imagine you're on a trip somewhere (say, Disneyland), and your battery dies. You're out of luck. However, if you had a camera that uses AA batteries you could buy a set of alkalines to get you through the rest of the day. Many people won't agree with my logic, but that's my argument.

The battery is charged in a small, external charger which plugs directly into the wall socket.

PowerShot S40 shown with deck of cards

Since the lens cover is part of the design of the camera, no lens cap is needed.

The Canon PowerShot Solutions Software is one of the best included with digital cameras. The handy RemoteCapture software lets you control the PowerShot with your Mac or PC.

As of this writing, neither camera is compatible with Mac OS X.

While the S30 and S40 can't use an external flash or converter lenses, there's one very cool accessory available: the underwater case. This case (model WP-DC300) will retail for around $240. It lets you take the S30 or S40 up to 30 meters underwater!

The manual is the typical Canon manual -- which means it's better than average.

Look and Feel

Both the PowerShot S30 and S40 are attractive cameras in aluminum bodies. No plastic here! Well, maybe a little.

The cameras aren't particularly light, due to their construction. They are small, though, and they slip into a pocket with ease. They're not nearly as small as, say, the Digital ELPH, but they are still small.

The only difference between the S30 and S40, body-wise, is the color: the S30 is a traditional aluminum color, and the S40 is a darker, "Titanium" (my word) finish.

Let's begin our tour of these two cameras, again using the S40 as the model.

Here's the front of the camera, with the lens cover opened. When you do so, that turns the camera on (into record mode). To get to playback mode only, you need not do this -- there's a button on the back of the camera that you'll see in a moment.

The lens on the S30 and S40 is a F2.8 3X optical zoom. The focal range is 7.1 - 21.3 mm, which is equivalent to 35 - 105 mm. By comparison, the PowerShot G2's lens is F2.0, 34-102 mm. The S30/S40 lens is not threaded.

At the upper right of the above photo is the unique looking flash. The working range of the flash is 0.35 - 4.8 m (wide-angle) and 0.35 - 3.0 m (telephoto). As I mentioned, external flashes are not supported. The PowerShot G2, by comparison, has a hot shoe.

Another feature on the front of the camera is an AF illuminator, to assist in focusing in low light situations.

Here is the back of the camera. The 1.8" LCD is high quality -- fluid and bright. Just above the LCD is a good-sized optical viewfinder. The downside is that it lacks diopter correction for those with less than perfect vision.

The buttons directly to the left of the optical viewfinder control:

  • Flash [record mode] / Thumbnail mode [playback]
  • Macro [rec] / Jump [playback]

The buttons to the left of the LCD are for:

  • Exposure compensation, white balance, flash exposure compensation, auto bracketing
  • Manual Focus [rec] / Delete photo [play]
  • Spot metering [rec] / Attach audio clip [play]

The buttons to the right of the LCD are for invoking the menu system, and for toggling the LCD on/off.

Here's some more information now about some of the buttons I just mentioned.

Exposure compensation is the usual -2.0EV to +2.0EV in 1/3EV steps. The flash exposure compensation settings have the same range.

The S30/S40 have many choices for white balance, including a manual mode. Here's the full list:

  • Auto
  • Daylight
  • Cloudy
  • Tungsten
  • Fluorescent (warm-white, cool-white types)
  • Fluorescent H (daylight type)
  • Flash
  • Custom (shoot whatever you want to be white)

AE bracketing

AE bracketing lets you use that same range to take three consecutive photos with different EV settings. If you've got a big enough memory card, this is a good way to always ensure properly exposed photos.

Manual focus: see the zoomed area in the center, and the focus bar on the right

Pressing the MF button will allow you to use the LCD to manually focus the photo. The camera will blow up an area of the photo so you can see if it's in focus (I still had trouble), which is a feature also found on the Fuji FinePix 4900 and 6900. A "bar" on the right side of the LCD shows the current focus distance.

The final buttons of note can be seen towards the top right of the above photo. Just below the mode wheel (which I'll get to in a second), there's a switch. This switch puts you in playback mode. If the camera is off, and you just want to enter playback mode, there is no need to open the lens cover -- just hit the switch.

To the right of that is the four-way switch. I'm not a big fan of its placement or feel -- it just isn't comfortable. The switch is used for menu navigation and changing settings in manual mode.

AF frame selection

In addition, the four-way switch can be used for selecting an auto focus frame. This feature lets you choose one of three areas in the frame for the camera to focus on. This is useful for situations where the subject you want to focus on is not in the center of the frame.

Finally we've made it to the top of the camera. Up here you will find the speaker, microphone, mode wheel, zoom control, and shutter release button. The zoom control is small and hard to find, but it controls the zoom mechanism smoothly.

There is no LCD info display up here, so you'll be forced to turn on the main LCD to see your current settings and shots remaining.

The mode wheel has a few changes from the PowerShot G2, but is mostly the same. Here is what you'll find:

  • Full Manual - you pick shutter speed and aperture
  • Av (aperture priority) - you pick aperture, camera picks appropriate shutter speed
  • Tv (shutter priority) - you pick shutter speed, camera picks appropriate aperture
  • Program - camera picks exposure settings but you can change everything else
  • Auto - camera chooses all settings
  • Portrait - sharp subject, soft background
  • Landscape
  • Night Scene - for illuminating human subjects against dark backgrounds
  • Fast/Slow Shutter Auto - I have no idea what this does yet
  • Color Effect - choose from vivid, neutral, sepia, and monochrome color.
  • Stitch Assist - helps you make panoramas like the one earlier in the review
  • Movie mode - more on this later

In shutter priority mode, you can choose from a range of 15 - 1/1500 sec. If you take shots with shutter speeds slower than 1.3 seconds, the camera will run a special noise reduction filter. This will increase recording time, of course.

In aperture priority mode, the range is F2.8 to F8.0, with many stops in between.

Here is one side of the S30/S40, where you can see ports for A/V and "digital" (USB) output. There is (obviously) a rubber cover which protects these when not in use.

Here is the other side of the camera.. with nothing to see! Where is that CompactFlash slot?!

It's down here on the bottom! Open the battery door and you'll not only find the battery compartment, but also a CompactFlash Type II slot. That's right, Type II. The IBM Microdrive is fully supported.

Also on the bottom of the camera is a metal tripod mount.

Using the Canon PowerShot S30 and S40

Record Mode

The PowerShot S30/S40 take just under four seconds to extend the lens and "boot up" before you can start taking pictures.

If there was any question about Canon getting a bit flashy on the PowerShot G2, it's all been settled now. You can choose a startup screen, startup sound, and "beep" on the camera. Thus, if you want a photo of a bird along with bird noises when you turn on the camera, you can have it. No word on if you can customize these.

When you depress the shutter release button halfway, focus lock can occur almost instantly, or sometimes in a second, depending on what your subject is. There is a noticeable yet short lag when you fully press the shutter release button.

Shot-to-shot speed is very good for a 4MP camera -- you'll wait just 3 seconds at Large/Super Fine quality. The S30 seemed slightly faster between shots than the S40.

Here is a look at the resolution and quality choices for each camera:

Resolution Quality # Images on 16MB card (S30/S40)

2048 x 1536 (S30)
2272 x 1704 (S40)
RAW 5/4
Superfine 8/7
Fine 16/13
Normal 32/26
Medium 1

1600 x 1200
Superfine 14
Fine 26
Normal 52
Medium 2

1024 x 768
Superfine 25
Fine 46
Normal 84

640 x 480
Superfine 58
Fine 94
Normal 165

What is RAW mode? Simply put, it is the "raw" data from the CCD, after a photo is taken. The S30/S40 don't have a TIFF mode -- instead, they use RAW mode. To convert a RAW file into a TIFF or JPEG, you'll have to run it through Canon's software on your computer first. The big advantage of RAW mode over TIFF is file size: you can store many more RAW files on a memory card than TIFFs. A RAW image on the S40 is just 2800KB... a TIFF would probably be 9000KB. Smaller file size also means less waiting for the camera to write the file to the memory card -- it's not much worse than a JPEG. Canon includes a RAW Image Converter software application to do batch RAW to TIFF conversions.

The PowerShot S30/S40 have almost the same options as the PowerShot G2. Here's what you'll find in the menus:

  • Resolution (2048 x 1536 or 2272 x 1704, 1600 x 1200, 1024 x 768, 640 x 480)
  • Compression (Superfine, Fine, Normal)
  • File Format (JPEG, RAW)
  • Drive Mode (Single, Continuous, Continuous High, Self-timer [10 sec and 2 sec])
  • ISO Speed (Auto, 50, 100, 200, 400, 800 [S30 only])
  • Digital zoom (on/off)
  • Spot AE Point (Center, AF Point)
  • AF Mode (continuous, single)
  • Review (Off, 2 sec, 10 sec) - how long image is shown on LCD after it's taken
  • File Number Reset (on/off)
  • Contrast (-, 0, +)
  • Sharpness (-, 0, +)
  • Saturation (-, 0, +)

There are also the usual setup items available, which include date/time, beep, LCD brightness, and more. There is a separate menu for customizing the startup screen and sounds, as I mentioned before.

A few notes: there are two continuous shooting modes on these cameras. In regular continuous mode, the S30 can shoot up to 12 frames at 2 frames/sec, and the S40 can take up to 9 frames at 1.5 frames/sec. In continuous high mode, the S30 can record up to 7 frames at 3 frames/sec, while the S40 can do up to 5 frames at 2.5 frames/sec.

The S30 has the ability to shoot at ISO 800, while ISO 400 is the top for the S40. Keep in mind that as the ISO goes up, so does the noise.

Let's take a look at the photo tests for both of these cameras.

PowerShot S30

PowerShot S40

Both of the cameras did a great job with the macro test shot. The colors are right-on in a room where the lighting is tough on most camera's white balance. The focusing range in macro mode is 10 - 80cm on both of the cameras.

PowerShot S30

PowerShot S40

Both cameras did a good job at the night shots. The S40 photo is brighter because I used a longer exposure. I could've did the same on the S30 but stopped at 3.2" (the S40 shot is 8"). The noise reduction works well, as you can see when you blow up the images.

Overall, the photo quality is excellent on both cameras. This is not surprising considering that they're PowerShot G2's with a different lens. I didn't see any chromatic aberrations (purple fringing) in any of the photos that I took. Check out the S30 gallery or the S40 gallery to judge the image quality for yourself.

Movie Mode

Movie mode on the PowerShot cameras is pretty good. You can record at 15 frames/sec at 320 x 240, or 160 x 120. Sound is recorded as well.

At the larger size, you can record clips as long as 30 seconds. At the small size, up to 120 seconds can be saved.

Since the microphone is right next to the zoom lens, you cannot use the optical zoom during filming, since you'd pick up the lens noise.

Here's a sample movie from the PowerShot S30 taken while waiting (and waiting) for the bus. If you want a sample from the S40, click here (they look the same).

Click to play movie (AVI format, 2.1MB)

Playback Mode

The PowerShot's playback mode doesn't have a lot of gimmicks. But the basic features it has are done well. That includes slide shows, image protection, image rotation, and DPOF print marking.

The zoom & scroll feature is best on Canon cameras, in my opinion (Casio is close). This allows you to zoom in 2X or 4X into your photo, and then move around in the zoomed in area. The scrolling is in real-time and very smooth.

Moving between images is very quick as well -- about one second between high res thumbnails.

If you want information about your photo, the S30 and S40 deliver. You can find out almost everything about your photo, as you can see above. There is also a histogram display.

Both cameras support Direct Print, which lets you control compatible Canon printers directly from the camera.

How Does it Compare?

While the PowerShot S30 and S40 are what I call "putting the same camera in a different case with a new name", it's not a bad thing here. That's because they're based on the excellent PowerShot G2, and they've arrived with most of the G2 features intact. That includes full manual controls, excellent photo quality, a capable movie mode, and lots of preset "scenes" for easy shooting. Oh, and they're easy to fit in your pocket too. If you want to use accessory lenses or an external flash, you'll want to consider the G2 instead. But these two are excellent choices that I definitely recommend.

What I liked:

  • Excellent photo quality
  • Small metallic body is easy to pocket
  • Many manual controls
  • Support for CompactFlash Type II cards and Microdrive
  • RAW mode - uncompressed images, much smaller than Tiffs
  • Lots of info about your photos in playback mode

What I didn't care for:

  • Proprietary battery
  • No optical zoom in movie mode
  • A bit pricey
  • Not a fan of the four-way switch (minor issue)

Other small cameras to consider include the Fuji FinePix 4800 and 6800, Kyocera Finecam S3, Nikon Coolpix 885, Olympus D-40, Pentax Optio 330 and 430, and the Sony DSC-P5.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the PowerShot G2 and its competitors before you buy, assuming you can find them!

Photo Gallery

Check out the PowerShot S30 and S40 galleries.

Want a second opinion? How about a third?

Imaging Resource has reviews of the PowerShot S30 and S40. Steves Digicams has S30 and S40 reviews as well. If that's still not enough, Digital Photography Review also looks at the S40.


Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

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