s120 Review - ultimately a disappointment. Locked

Started 11 months ago | User reviews thread
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Marco Nero
Veteran MemberPosts: 4,060Gear list
s120 Review - ultimately a disappointment.
11 months ago

I recently purchased the Canon PowerShot s120 to replace my Canon PowerShot s95 and I was GREATLY disappointed with this camera. This is the FIRST product from Canon (out of dozens I have owned) that I marched back to the store and returned. It is certainly beautifully built. It functions exactly as you would want it to with insanely fast shutter actuation and superb AF accuracy and speed. It's fully featured although some of those features are somewhat crippled for the user (such as Star Shot Settings where neither the zoom nor the ISO can be used). But the images I got from this camera, whilst looking great on the amazing LCD touch-screen, were disappointing when downloaded. Some could not even be resurrected with professional image processing software.
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AF SPEED:
The AF speed was much better on the s120 than on previous cameras. It also has a very high level of accuracy. Refreshingly adequate and a great asset on this camera.
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BURST MODE:
This was astounding in such a little camera. You really can't believe it until you try to take just one picture and the camera virtually vomits 11 shots before you can remove your finger from the shutter release button. Even if you know what to expect, you can still anticipate capturing at least four shots per press of the button. Hand it to someone else and watch them take two dozen shots in the blink of an eye... before they know what's happening.
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PORTRAITS:
Too much noise reduction. Why is this even a problem for a camera like this? I don't normally take "selfies" but it took 27 attempts to get one in the passenger seat of my car (using the mirror on the sun visor to see what I was doing) that didn't have clipped highlights and didn't look "smeared". My skin was overly smoothed in all but one shot, making it look like an amateur had been "airbrushing" my face. I was in partial sunlight at the time. This camera struggled with other subject matter that was in similar lighting. I experimented with ISO and shutter speed. Seriously Canon, what were you thinking when you put this thing together? Shots of my lovely wife were so ordinary and overly smoothed that I threw them all in the trash on my computer desktop. That's how awful they were.
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COLOR:
Slightly washed out. Even with the color settings boosted and the contrast cranked, the s120 produced images that looks as though they'd been slightly desaturated, especially on low-light shots. The results in overcast weather were superb although grey weather might help those desaturated shots look normal. Indoor shots with flash and outdoor shots in good light were acceptable. But low light shots with higher ISO settings were generally quite washed out for me.
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FEATURES:
This camera is fully featured for a sub-compact. It has everything I could want at this time other than super-slow-mo but some features (such as noise reduction) are not entirely capable of being deactivated. A range of "the usual" fun-picture-modes exist on the camera. But the menu is, like all Canon cameras, intuitive and easy to work with. Good to see they kept the tripod-mount central to the lens. Being designed for use with the night sky, I connected this camera to a telescope that I had previously used with numerous other IXUS cameras. Those ancient, cheaper cameras actually gave me superb results ... at least compared to the s120. A shot of the moon with my 2004 model IXUS s400 through the same eyepiece was so sharp and rich in detail that I am using it on the front of a publication next year. The s120 produced a smudged moon where the only real contrast were a few craters around the edge of the horizon. A JPEG shot of Jupiter was noisy ball of uninteresting grain, even with full manual control. Damned noise-reduction. Canon, seriously now, what were you thinking?
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ERGONOMICS:
The design of the s120 is brilliant for such a simple body. There's some changes over older models but one thing I was particularly annoyed by was the decision to put the Video Record Button when the Playback button has always been. So those of use with different Canon cameras can expect to take regular and ongoing video clips at precisely the time we really don't want to. Whoever it was at Canon that decided to do this was trolling us. It's a bit like switching the labels on canned goods or putting salt in the sugar bowl... You don't do it. This is a "STILL" CAMERA. It is NOT a Video Camera. Don't mess with the ergonomics of the original designs because most of us like to hit the Playback button many, many more times than we ever feel a need to use the Video button.
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The Front Dial is superbly built with machined metal and a knurled edge that is so sharply defined that it actually flays the skin from your finger tips if you handle it too roughly. There was a slight gleam of stainless metal between the Front Dial and the body of the camera that hints at the superb design quality and materials used. The LCD is just beautiful. Detailed and large. The new serious of Canon touch screens is amazingly intuitive and superbly responsive. Unfortunately, dry fingers may not press the buttons properly... and when I stood in a cold wind and was shaking with minus 2 degree gusts of wind on top of a panoramic lookout at 3 in the morning, the LCD would not register my fingertips unless I licked them first. Eww!
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NOISE & METERING PROBLEMS:
My dislike of the s120 is that the images are virtually ruined by extremely aggressive noise-reduction which produces an unusual moire-like pattern with this camera. I even found the images affected to be beyond effective resurrection with noise reduction software - probably because the pattern was not recognizable as "noise" by the software. If you're coming from a smart phone, this camera will seem like a dream. But if you are coming from it's predecessor (the s90/s95/s100/s110) you may be in for a shock when you realize the images from the s120 are less than ideal in many common scenarios.
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It's a terrible shame. But the s120 produces noise in my images that the built-in noise-reduction actually smeared. I lost details in shots and the camera even "magically" changed metering modes several times when used in Manual settings. I bought this camera because Canon assured me it would be ideal for those with an interest in photographing the night sky or creating Star Trails. They actively encourage the user to try these features. But to deactivate the zoom when in Star Trail mode or to freeze the ISO function in the same mode was a little restrictive. Noise reduction can only be set to three settings, not OFF altogether.
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If the s120 offered me an increase in image quality, I would consider this the be the quintessential reason for buying this camera. But it didn't. Cheaper Canon cameras under my arm took better pictures when used side-by-side with the s120. I grew to fear and then even to loathe the s120 in under three days. I wrote a letter to the Canon rep to describe my experiences with this camera and returned it to the retailer citing possible defects and failure to perform as expected.
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CLIPPED HIGHLIGHTS:
I use fast lenses on my Canon DSLRs and Canon EOS-M - much faster than even the fast s120 optical assembly. So I know to expect highlights to bloom a little when shooting wide or in bright environments. But Canon should have given this camera a much faster limitation on the shutter speed to counteract this. As a result, the s120 has a penchant for not assessing a scene well and the highlights in most of my photographs taken in bright or highly contrasting light were terrible. Details were lost and blown out altogether. Pointing the camera away from the sun at an electrical tower should not result in lost details where the highlights were blown out... especially when using the metering correctly.
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This camera fails to perform adequately and that hardly makes sense when you consider all the s-series models this one is based on. I can only assume that Canon were trying to claw back territory lost to Sony recently in the same class of compact camera. But they threw the ball too far and it went over the fence. Part of the problem is that they're squeezing every drop of blood they can get out of the little sensor used by the s120. Their competition is using larger sensors... which means they're producing less noise and better results in low light without a need to resort to noise reduction on an apocalyptic scale. The s120 failed to capture important shots for me.. these were mostly landscapes and macro shots. The reasons were excessive noise and highlight clipping. I took all my pictures in JPEG and all were shot in the Manual settings (P/Tv/Av/M). My anger at being unable to capture certain "easy" shots that might otherwise be an essential feat for this camera was my motivation to return it. The fact that my much older s95 (predecessor to the s120) was capable of producing better results than the s120 was the final nail on the coffin for this camera.
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Because the camera produced occasional hideous noise (that could not be resolved with 3rd party noise reduction software due to the moire-like pattern) in low light, I had smudged details for landscapes at dawn. Because the camera produced noise at the lowest ISO setting in areas of shadow when used in daylight, it was a poor performer for me for Landscapes. I did not experience any de-centering of focus which others have reported.

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CONCLUSION:
I do not recommend this camera. I don't recommend it to friends and I will not recommend it to strangers. However, I will recommend it to people coming from poor quality rival brands and mobile phone users... most of whom will have a low level of expectation with this camera. I like Canon. I like their lenses and their image processors but I was forced to return this camera based on its failure to perform as expected. Likewise, I feel a little dirty writing this negative review for the s120 but I'd feel far worse if I said nothing and then noticed other people's dashed expectations. I am one of several members of this forum who returned their s120 and have chosen to wait for next year's options.
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Some samples and test shots I took here:  http://www.pbase.com/nero_design/canon_s120
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RATING:
I usually rate Canon products highly.  Some have even accused me of being a "shill" for Canon.  But in this instance I am rating the camera 2 stars out of 5.   If a camera can't produce a good image reliably and with a degree of consistency, and if it cannot meet the expectations of a sensible user with reasonable expectations, then it falls into another category:  Value for Money or Not.  In this instance, it's not value for money since there are better alternatives out there in relation to image quality.

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Regards,
Marco Nero.
www.pbase.com/nero_design

 Marco Nero's gear list:Marco Nero's gear list
Canon PowerShot S95 Canon PowerShot G1 X Canon EOS 60D Canon EOS 5D Mark III Canon EOS M +6 more
Marco Nero's score
2.0
Average community score
3.6
bad for good for
Kids / pets
great
Action / sports
okay
Landscapes / scenery
bad
Portraits
weak
Low light (without flash)
great
Flash photography (social)
okay
Studio / still life
mediocre
= community average
Canon PowerShot S120 Canon PowerShot S90 Canon PowerShot S95
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