Canon PowerShot S100 review
Stunning image quality for a conventional compact camera, but shot-to-shot performance and battery life just keep it from top marks
Review Date: 16 Dec 2011
Price when reviewed: £382
Reviewed By: Ben Pitt
Videos are recorded at 1080p at 24fps in AVC format, using an unusually high 34Mbit/s bit rate. This means big files – about 250MB per minute – but barely any compression artefacts in fast-moving scenes. The 16-minute clip length limit is frustrating, though, and so too is the lack of control for videos. Exposure and focus settings are ignored as soon as the record button is pressed. Picture quality was excellent but the lens's focus and zoom motors were picked up by the microphone in quiet scenes.
Slow-motion video capture is available, either at 640x480 at 120fps or 320x240 at 240fps, playing back at 30fps for quarter- or eighth-speed playback. Panorama stitch-assist and automatic HDR photography are also included but they're not as sophisticated as similar functions in recent Sony cameras. The HDR scene preset takes three photos at varying exposures and combines them, but it only works with a tripod because it doesn't bother to align the shots.
Image quality is where the S100 really excels. By bringing together the larger sensor size of the S95 with the back-illuminated CMOS technology of other recent Canon cameras, it produced the lowest noise levels we've ever seen from a conventional compact camera. There was a slight loss of subtle details at ISO 1600 but shots still looked smooth and sharp. The top ISO 6400 setting was pretty grainy but still good enough for Facebook-sized snaps.
The lens excelled too, with sharp focus, barely any chromatic aberrations and a bright f/2 aperture. This aperture captures over three times more light than CSCs' kit zoom lenses with their f/3.5 apertures. As such, it's reasonable to compare the S100 at ISO 1000 with CSCs at ISO 3200. When we did so, the S100 fared extremely well, matching most CSCs for noise and beaten only by Sony's NEX range. However, while this comparison is fair for wide-angle photography, it’s increasingly less so towards the telephoto end of the zoom. Its f/5.6 maximum aperture at the 120mm (equivalent) focal length is nothing special.
As usual for a Canon camera, automatic exposures were expertly judged, and we’re happy to see an option to vary the maximum ISO speed in Auto mode, from 400 to 1600. Colours were rich and flattering, with natural skin tones, lush vegetation and vibrant skies.
We're torn between giving the S100 four or five stars. It takes the best low-light photos we've ever seen from a conventional compact camera, and comes very close to CSCs for image quality while being far slimmer and lighter. It's no cheaper, though, and it can't keep up with CSCs for performance. Battery life is a big disappointment, and the video mode has its foibles. On balance, full marks seems too generous, but this is still the best camera of its type. If portability comes top of your priorities, and image quality, a close second, it's an excellent choice.
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