Canon PowerShot S100 review

16 Dec 2011
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
inc VAT

Page 2 of 2Canon 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


1/1.7in 12.0-megapixel sensor, 5.0x zoom (24-120mm equivalent), 198g

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.

Canon PowerShot S100 sample shot

The ability to preserve subtle skin textures in low light is a fantastic achievement - click to enlarge

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.

Canon PowerShot S100 sample shot

There’s a little blooming around the highlight of the bird’s wing, but there’s plenty of detail – and flattering colours – in this shot

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.

Basic Specifications

Rating ****
CCD effective megapixels 12.0 megapixels
CCD size 1/1.7in
Viewfinder none
Viewfinder magnification, coverage N/A
LCD screen size 3.0in
LCD screen resolution 461,000 pixels
Articulated screen No
Live view Yes
Optical zoom 5.0x
Zoom 35mm equivalent 24-120mm
Image stabilisation optical, lens based
Maximum image resolution 4,000x3,000
Maximum movie resolution 1920x1080
Movie frame rate at max quality 24fps
File formats JPEG, RAW; QuickTime (AVC)


Memory slot SDXC
Mermory supplied none supplied
Battery type Li-ion
Battery Life (tested) 200 shots
Connectivity USB, AV, mini HDMI
HDMI output resolution 1080i
Body material magnesium alloy
Lens mount N/A
Focal length multiplier N/A
Kit lens model name N/A
Accessories USB and AV cables
Weight 198g
Size 60x99x26mm

Buying Information

Warranty one-year RTB
Price £382

Camera Controls

Exposure modes program, shutter priority, aperture priority, manual
Shutter speed 15 to 1/2,000 seconds
Aperture range f/2-8 (wide), f/5.9-8 (tele)
ISO range (at full resolution) 80 to 6400
Exposure compensation +/-3 EV
White balance auto, 7 presets with fine tuning, manual
Additional image controls contrast, saturation, sharpness, red, green, blue, skin tone, noise reduction, ND filter, dynamic range correction
Manual focus Yes
Closest macro focus 3cm
Auto-focus modes flexible spot, face detect, tracking
Metering modes multi, centre-weighted, centre, face detect
Flash auto, forced, suppressed, slow synchro, rear curtain, red-eye reduction
Drive modes single, continuous, self-timer, AE bracket, WB bracket, focus bracket, HDR

Page 2 of 2Canon PowerShot S100 review