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Canon PowerShot S120 review

Ben Pitt
7 Nov 2013
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
371
inc VAT

Fantastic videos, above-average photos – a strong contender but not the best

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Specifications

1/1.7in 12.0-megapixel sensor, 5.0x zoom (24-120mm equivalent), 217g

Lots of people want a camera they can slip into a pocket or handbag, which rules out a lot of cameras that excel for image quality. The Canon S120 is an exception, though. It's just 29mm thick, but with its large sensor and wide-aperture lens, it can capture more light than most compact cameras – a key ingredient for superior image quality. Full manual control, RAW capture and a built-in neutral-density (ND) filter confirm that this is a camera that’s designed for people with high expectations.

Canon PowerShot S120

SENSOR AND APERTURE

The 1/1.7in sensor is about 50 per cent larger (by surface area) than the 1/2.3in sensors commonly used in most compact cameras, and the same size as is found in various other premium compacts such as the Panasonic LX7. The S120 is significantly slimmer than the LX7, though (29mm compared to 50mm), thanks to a lens that retracts much further into the camera body.

The downside is that its lens isn’t as bright. f/1.8 for wide-angle shots lets in more light than typical compacts with f/3.3 lenses, but not as much as the LX7’s f/1.4 lens. Meanwhile, zooming in causes the aperture to close down to an unremarkable f/5.7. The LX7 is six times brighter with an f/2.3 aperture for telephoto shots. Then again, the S120’s 5x zoom is bigger than the LX7’s 3.8x zoom. Its aperture is also a small improvement over the older Canon PowerShot S110 with its f/2-5.9 lens.

HANDLING

Most of the other changes compared to the S110 are just as subtle. It’s 2mm thicker, 2mm wider and 19g heavier. Battery life is up from 200 to 230 shots – still lower than we’d hope for but a welcome improvement nonetheless. The flash is now a conventional pop-up design rather than a motorised glide-up-glide-down affair.

The 3in screen’s resolution has doubled to 922,000 dots, and it’s now touch-sensitive. This brings a vast improvement to autofocus control – simply tapping the screen moves the autofocus point. When the multi/face detect mode is selected, tapping the screen invokes a tracking autofocus mode.

Canon PowerShot S120

The touchscreen also speeds up access to the quick-access menu, but it’s disappointing that this menu hasn’t been redesigned to take full advantage of touchscreen control. There are more icons than can fit down the left edge of the screen, so there’s a fair amount of scrolling involved, and specific functions aren't always in the same place on the screen. A grid of buttons across the screen would have been better.

Canon PowerShot S120

Otherwise, the controls are virtually identical to the S110’s. The lens ring can be assigned to various functions such as ISO speed, exposure compensation and zoom, or left for the camera to decide based on the selected shooting mode. There’s a rear wheel too, and although it’s slightly fiddly to adjust, on the whole the controls are pretty decent for such a slim camera. There’s no shortage of functions to adjust, including the ability to customise the behaviour of the Auto ISO mode.