Conclusion - Pros
- Very good image quality, especially at low ISO settings.
- Well optimized JPEGs, low contrast detail is well-preserved at low ISO settings
- Automatic fringing/CA correction in JPEGs
- Fast operation
- Bright LCD screen is easy to see in daylight
- Exposure simulation in live-view and accurate live histogram
- Good manual controls (in particular the control ring)
- Compact and well built
- Addition of hand grip makes the camera easier to hold than its predecessors
- Integrated GPS allows you to geo-tag your images.
- Zooming is possible while recording videos
Conclusion - Cons
- Manual focus preview resolution is too low to be useful
- Lack of in-camera alignment of HDR images makes it a much less useful feature than it could be
- Auto ISO is limited to 1600 (wasting two stops of extra ISO sensitivity)
- Pop-up flash can be blocked by your finger
The Canon PowerShot S100 may look nearly identical to the S95 on the outside, but internally it is a significant update to the line, with its three main imaging elements all upgraded. First, the new zoom lens is now both wider and longer than its predecessor. Secondly, Canon has introduced its new DIGIC 5 processor which brings with it slightly faster continuous shooting, automatic fringing/CA reduction and more sophisticated noise reduction. And last but not least, Canon has created a brand new 12MP CMOS sensor, designed in-house for the S100. These three improvements, working in unison ultimately result in a camera that is more versatile, and capable of capturing slightly better images, slightly faster than its predecessors.
The S100 combines the best qualities of a pocketable point and shoot and an enthusiast compact camera. It provides well thought-out full manual control in a form factor approaching the size of Canon's Elph series. However, we're slightly concerned that there may have been some trade-offs made in the inclusion of the new lens. The S100's smaller physical size and increased zoom range inevitably makes lens design more complicated, and we have experienced a worrying amount of sample variation, at least in the cameras that we've looked at. The crucial caveat here though is that although the optical variations between our five test cameras were very easy to spot in the critical environment (with fixed shooting parameters) of our studio, they are all but unnoticeable in 'real-world' images shot at a range of focal lengths and subject distances.
Behind the lens, Canon's new 12MP CMOS 1/1.7" sensor offers modest improvements in terms of resolution and noise levels towards the low end of the S100's ISO span compared to the S95. Although we wouldn't rush to use ISO 6400 by choice, it's nice to have the option and image quality is perfectly acceptable for the web and small prints. In addition to the revamped sensor though, the Canon S100 also boasts faster continuous shooting speeds and shorter shot-to-shot times - the latter being something that is genuinely useful when shooting in raw mode, especially. The S100 is one of the few compact cameras on the market today that stays light on its feet even in RAW+JPEG mode (assuming you're not trying to shoot continuous bursts).
The S100 produces well-balanced JPEG images that are full of detail and color. In typical Canon style, minimal default chroma noise reduction in the S100 results in JPEG images that retain a good amount of low-contrast detail without appearing desaturated.
Overall, the S100 is very competitive: it is capable of delivering very good image quality in an addictively small package, in a wide range of shooting environments. It is also a genuine pleasure to use, thanks to its effective and well thought-out operational ergonomics.
One of our more significant complaints about the S90 and S95 was the lack of any hand grip. Canon's engineers seem to have taken notice and have added a grip to the front of the S100. This isn't a full 'hand grip' per se, but more of a rubber ridge on the front of the camera that gives your fingers some purchase. It's a minor addition but it does make a noticeable difference when handling the camera. Still, we wouldn't recommend foregoing the included wrist strap.
One of the features that has helped to make the Canon S series PowerShot cameras so popular amongst enthusiast compact shooters is the relatively high level of manual control in a small compact camera body. The function ring around the lens is a particularly effective control point, offering quick access to controls like shutter speed, aperture and ISO. The function of the control ring can be customized or left to its default function. The control ring's position around the neck of the lens makes manual operation not only quick but helps to keep the S100 stable in your hands as well.
We're also glad to see that Canon has added a direct movie button to the S100 that allows you to start recording movies quickly from any shooting mode with the press of a single button. There is still a dedicated movie recording mode where you can access more shooting options like iFrame movie recording and Super Slow motion, but in situations where quick reaction time is needed to capture the moment it can make all the difference.
The Final Word
The Canon S100 is particularly well-suited to two types of photographers: compact camera shooters looking to upgrade to a similarly small camera with more control, raw mode and better image quality, and ILC photographers looking for a truly compact 'take anywhere' pocket camera with much of the same manual control as their larger cameras. The addition of GPS and full HD video recording make the S100 feel more complete than the S95, which was a very capable camera but in some respects lagged slightly behind on its feature set when compared to the competition. The additional lens range, too, is very welcome, and makes the S100 just that little bit more versatile than its predecessors.
Ergonomics & handling
Exposure and focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Movie / video mode
Someone looking for a good amount of manual control and raw shooting capability in a small, fast pocket camera.
Not so good for
Anything that requires a greater telephoto reach such as sports or wildlife.
For photographers who like to take control over their cameras the S100 provides a near DSLR-like level of manual control in an easily pocketable 'take-anywhere' camera.