Canon PowerShot S95 Review

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor

Originally Posted: September 29, 2010

Last Updated: October 15, 2010

One of the most popular cameras of the last year has been the Canon PowerShot S90. It offered a fast lens, "high sensitivity" 10 Megapixel CCD, full manual controls, a unique control ring around the lens, and a bright and sharp LCD -- all in a compact package. Canon has since introduced the PowerShot S95 ($399), which makes relatively modest improvements to an already impressive camera. The new features include:

  • High Sensitivity system combines a larger-than-average 10 Megapixel CCD, a fast lens, and the DIGIC 4 image processor (as far as I know, this is just a marketing thing, as none of those things have changed since the S90)
  • New Hybrid image stabilization system compensates for both angular and shift-type camera shake
  • Faster continuous shooting
  • Records 720p video at 24 frames/second with stereo sound
  • Smart Auto mode now automatically selects one of 28 scene modes for you
  • New HDR (high dynamic range) function, plus additional special effect modes such as fisheye and posterize
  • New dynamic range and shadow correction features
  • Support for SDXC memory cards

So yes, it's not a huge upgrade, though the PowerShot S90 was already a pretty complete package. I did notice two things that got worse on the PowerShot S95: its battery life is about 10% less than the S90, and the manual is now in PDF format on an included CD-ROM disc.

Is the PowerShot S95 the ultimate compact low-light camera? Find out now in our review!

Since the cameras are so similar, much of the PowerShot S90 review will be reused here.

What's in the Box?

The PowerShot S95 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 10.0 effective Megapixel PowerShot S95 digital camera
  • NB-6L lithium-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Canon Digital Camera Solution
  • 35 page "Getting Started" guide + full manual on CD-ROM

The PowerShot S95 does not come with a memory card, nor does it have any built-in memory. That means that you'll need to buy a memory card right away, unless you happen to have one sitting around already. The S95 supports a ton of memory card formats, including SD, SDHC, SDXC, MMC, MMCplus, and HC MMCplus media, though I'd stick with the first three if I were you. If you're mostly taking stills, then a 2GB SD card is probably fine. Movie fanatics will probably want a 4GB or 8GB SDHC card, preferably rated Class 6 or higher.

The PowerShot S95 uses the same NB-6L lithium-ion battery as its predecessor. This compact battery packs 3.5 Wh of energy, which is on the lower end of average by compact camera standards. Let's see how that translates into battery life:

Camera Battery life, LCD on
(CIPA standard)
Canon PowerShot S90 */** 220 shots
Canon PowerShot S95 */** 200 shots
Fuji FinePix F300EXR * 250 shots
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 */** 400 shots
Samsung TL500 */** 240 shots
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX5 ** 230 shots

* Manual controls
** Fast lens

Battery life numbers are provided by the manufacturer

As you can see, the PowerShot S95 has a fairly small group of competitors. All of them offer fast lenses and manual controls, except for the Fuji, which I've included due to its SuperCCD EXR sensor, which works well in low light. As for battery life, the PowerShot S95's numbers are about 10% lower than that of the S90, though I have no idea why. In the group as a whole, the S95 comes in last place.

Since the S95's battery life isn't so hot, you'll want to pick up a spare battery. Unfortunately, it'll cost you, as a genuine Canon NB-6L battery will set you back at least $39. And, as with the other cameras in this group, you can't grab an off-the-shelf battery to get you through the day when your rechargeable runs out. Par for the course, for better or for worse.

When it's time to charge the battery, just pop it into the included charger. The charger plugs directly into the wall, and takes just under two hours to fully charge the NB-6L.

Canon PowerShot S90 in the hand

As with all ultra-compact cameras, the PowerShot S95 has a built-in lens cover, so there's no clumsy lens cap to deal with.

There are a just a few accessories available for the S95. They include:

Accessory Model # Price * Description
Waterproof case WP-DC38 $200 Take your camera up to 40 meters underwater
External slave flash HF-DC1

From $95

Attaches via the tripod mount and fires when the onboard flash does; gives you better flash range and less chance of redeye
AC adapter ACK-DC40 From $53 Power the camera without wasting your batteries
HDMI cable (3 m) HTC-100 From $46 For connecting the camera to an HDTV. You can save a fortune by buying a generic one instead.
* Prices were accurate when review was published

And that's about it! Let's move onto the software bundle now.

Camera Window in Mac OS X

Canon includes version 72 (!) of their Digital Camera Solution Disk with the PowerShot S95. The first part of the software suite that you'll probably encounter is Camera Window (pictured above), which you'll use to transfer images to your computer, organize photos on the camera (meaning delete or protect), upload videos to YouTube, and adjust a few camera settings (startup screen, sounds, theme).

ImageBrowser in Mac OS X

After you've transferred photos to your computer, you'll find yourself in either ImageBrowser or ZoomBrowser, which are for Mac and Windows respectively. The Browser software lets you view, organize, e-mail, and print your photos. If you categorized any photos on the camera (more on this later), then this information is transferred into the Browser software.

Editing in ImageBrowser

Double-click on a thumbnail and you'll bring up the edit window. Editing functions include trimming, redeye removal, plus the ability to adjust levels, color, brightness, sharpness, and the tone curve. There's also an auto adjustment option for those who want a quick fix.

While Browser can open RAW files, it cannot edit them or export them to JPEGs

Digital Photo Professional in Mac OS X

For editing RAW images, Canon includes their Digital Photo Professional software. The main screen isn't too different from Image/ZoomBrowser (I guess it looks a little more "professional"), with your choice of three thumbnail sizes, plus a thumbnail + shooting data screen. The batch processing tool lets you quickly resize and rename a large number of photos.

RAW editing in DPP

The RAW editing tools in DPP are fairly elaborate. You can adjust exposure, white balance, the tone curve, color saturation, sharpness, and noise reduction. The software is very responsive, with nearly instant updates to the image after you change a parameter.

As of the publication date of this review, Adobe Photoshop CS5 was not able to open the PowerShot S95's RAW files. I imagine that the next version of the Camera Raw plug-in will support it.

So what's the big deal about RAW, anyway? RAW images contain unprocessed image data direct from the camera's sensor. This allows you to adjust settings like white balance and exposure without degrading the quality of the original image, so it's almost like taking the photo again. The downside is the large file size (compared to JPEG), fewer shots in continuous shooting mode, and the need to post-process each image on your computer before you can turn it into a more common format like JPEG.

PhotoStitch in Mac OS X

The last part of the Canon software suite that I want to mention is PhotoStitch. As you can see, this allows you to combine multiple photos into a single panoramic image. It's super easy to use, and the results can be impressive. While using the S95's Stitch Assist feature isn't required to make panoramas, it does help you line things up correctly, so there are no "seams" in the final product.

This seems to becoming a common theme lately, but Canon has joined the "digital manual" club with the PowerShot S95. In the box you'll find what I'd call a "getting started leaflet", which goes over the basics. For more details, you'll have to load up the full manual, which is in PDF format on an included CD-ROM. The manuals aren't great when it comes to being easy to read, though they certainly cover everything. Documentation for the included software is installed onto your computer.