Although the S1 IS nominally sits in Canon's 'S' range (alongside the S40, S45 and S50) - and indeed shares several basic design elements, including the tilt-and-swivel LCD - it is very much in a class of its own. The curvaceous, lightweight body is certainly a departure for Canon, whose other 'serious' compact cameras have thus far been considerably more angular and simple in design. In fact the slightly bulbous, organic design is much closer to the A series of cameras, a reflection perhaps of the positioning of the S1 IS - over-specified to be considered a mere 'point-and-shooter'; a little underpowered for 'prosumers'. But the miniature SLR design works well, no space has been wasted, and a lot of attention has been paid to handling and ergonomics. Most surprising is the size; when you first pick up the S1 IS it's hard to believe that there is a 10x image stabilized zoom in there - not to mention an electronic viewfinder andfour AA batteries! Not a square cm of the surface area has been wasted, meaning it's perfectly possible to use the S1 IS 99% of the time without ever seeing a menu, kudos to Canon for producing the first fully-specced 'super zoom' camera that you can carry with you at all times without developing a stoop.
In your hand
With the current fashion for simple, minimalist cameras that eschew buttons and switches in favor of menu-driven control it is a real treat to use a camera designed first and foremost for taking photographs, not as a matching accessory for your iPod. Its looks may be a bit 'love it or hate it', but the S1 IS feels, and in most cases operates, like a real camera. The handgrip is excellent, and the most important controls (zoom, shutter, shooting mode) are all perfectly placed for one-handed operation (though with a 10x zoom lens you may want to put the other hand to use too!). Despite the plastic construction the S1 IS feels robust and well balanced; at 370g it's very light for a superzoom, but with four AA batteries loaded up it has just enough weight to offer decent stability without straining the neck strap.
The S1 IS takes standard AA cells - NiMH are recommended and were used for this test. Doubtless to keep the price keen Canon does not supply any rechargeable batteries, so you'll need to budget for those - plus a charger. Battery life was surprisingly good for an EVF camera, we regularly got over 350 shots on a single charge, certainly enough for a day's shooting. Using standard alkalines we got around 90 shots. Batteries last slightly longer using the EVF rather than the LCD screen.
The card slot is also located in the hand grip - this time on the side, under a solid hinged door. The CompactFlash slot supports both Type I and the thicker Type II cards (including IBM Microdrives) and the S1 IS supports cards greater than 2 GB (which require the FAT32 file system format).
The S1 IS features a small electronic viewfinder (EVF) - essentially a 0.33-inch LCD behind a magnifier. The EVF has the same resolution as the LCD screen (114, 000 pixels) and has a good refresh rate, but does exhibit some video lag. It's not brilliant in very low or very bright light, but it's certainly usable, and by no means the worse we've seen!
The camera's 1.5- inch LCD is a bit small for my liking - and there seems no logical reason for not using a 1.8-inch version - there's plenty of room for one, and the cost difference would have been minimal. That said, the the resolution and refresh rate are fairly high and the menus are nice and clear.The screen swings out through 180 degrees and swivels through 270 degrees, offering plenty of shooting versatility. It also means you can also 'flip' the screen (so the LCD face is flush against the back of the camera), protecting the delicate screen when the S1 IS is in your bag.
Aside from the small size of the screen there is a problem with glare in bright shooting conditions - this can get so bad it is simply impossible to see anything on the screen at all. Now this is hardly unique on a digital camera, but given that the viewfinder is also difficult to use in low light, it's a pity.
The shutter release is big, responsive and perfectly positioned on top of the chunky handgrip. The zoom rocker - in the form of a collar around the release - is also nice, and offers two zooming speeds. Move it a little and the zoom extends at a glacial speed, push it all the way and the speed picks up. A small touch, but a nice one. The zoom rocker also controls playback magnification (and activates thumbnails).
The pop-up flash on the S1 IS is powerful enough for most social snapping, and far enough away from the lens to avoid too much red-eye. There's no facility for adding an external flash, but you do get a fair degree of control over the one that's built in, including 1st/2nd curtain synch, flash exposure control and, of course, red-eye reduction.
The key selling point of the S1 IS has to be the Canon 5.8-58mm (38-380mm equiv.) F2.8-3.1 zoom lens. It's USM motor means focusing is very quiet indeed, and even the zooming mechanism is little more than a whisper. The small button below the lens unlocks the cosmetic front ring, which can be removed to allow the attachment of two new bayonet fit adaptor lenses.
On the right side of the lens barrel are the manual focus and image stabilzation (IS) buttons. The IS can be turned on or off, and there are settings for when the wide or tele adaptor lenses are in use. Canon's long experience of IS shows here; the system works like a dream. We were able to capture acceptably sharp images at the 380mm equiv. tele end of the zoom, handheld, at shutter speeds as low as 1/30th second. Very impressive - it even works in movie mode.