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Design

The PowerShot S2 IS will look very familiar to anyone who has used its predecessor - the design is very, very similar, though it is a little larger (mainly in its depth) and heavier. The slightly bulbous, organic design has echoes of the Canon A series, but in truth the S2 IS sits in a class of its own within Canon's range. As with the S1, the 'miniature SLR' design works well, no space has been wasted, and a lot of attention has been paid to handling and ergonomics. There have been very few major changes to the external control gear - a larger and more usable grip means the shutter release is in a more sensible position, a couple of buttons have been moved and the screen is a little larger, but overall this is a case of evolution rather than revolution.

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 S2 IS feels, and in most cases operates, like a real camera. The handgrip is excellent - and much better than the S1 - and the most important controls (zoom, shutter, shooting mode) are all perfectly placed for one-handed operation (though with a 12x zoom lens you may want to put the other hand to use too!). Despite the plastic construction the S2 IS feels robust and well balanced and handles beautifully. At 505g fully loaded it is one of the heaviest cameras in its class (only the Panasonic FZ20 is heavier), but it does offer excellent stability without over-straining the neck strap.

Body elements

The S2 IS takes standard AA cells - NiMH are recommended and were used for this test. In an effort 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 is surprisingly good for an EVF camera (550 shots using the CIPA standard for NiMH, 130 with alkalines). Batteries last slightly longer using the EVF rather than the LCD screen.
The SD card slot is also located in the hand grip - this time on the side, under a solid hinged door.
The S2 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 (115, 000 pixels) - 1000 more than the S1, not that you can see a difference. In fact, the EVF is no better or worse than the S1's - side by side they seem identical to my eyes. It has a good refresh rate, but does exhibit some video lag and is not brilliant in very bright light, but it's certainly as usable as any in its class.

The camera's 1.8- inch LCD is an improvement on the 1.5-inch unit used on the S1, in size terms, but that's about it. Side by side, if anything the S1's screen looks marginally sharper and brighter, but the difference is minimal. Then again, the refresh rate is fairly high and the the larger size means a little less squinting, and menus are easier to see.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 S2 IS is in your bag.

The S2 suffers from the same problem as its predecessor with glare in bright shooting conditions - this can get so bad it is simply impossible to see anything on the screen at all. 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 at the front of the top of the new, larger 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 S2 IS is a little more powerful than the unit used on the S1, and sits a little higher (meaning red-eye is even less of a problem). Unlike the S1, the S2's flash doesn't pop up automatically, you have to pull it open yourself if you want to use it. Once open you have the usual array of flash options. Canon also sells an add-on slave flash (the HF-DC1), with a guide number of 18 (ISO 100, meters), that approximately doubles the range of the built-in unit.
The key selling point of the S2 IS has to be the Canon 36-432mm equiv. F2.8-3.5 zoom lens. Its USM 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 wide, tele and macro bayonet fit adaptor lenses.
The lens extends by around 30mm (1.1 inches) when powered up, after which most of the zooming is internal (the barrel doesn't extend any further).
The USB (2.0 high speed) and DC-in ports are located under a rather flimsy rubberised cover on the side of the handgrip (above the SD card slot cover). The AV port sits under a similar cover on the opposite side of the camera.
The main power switch swaps between record and playback modes. You can power the camera up directly into playback mode (in which case the lens doesn't extend), and you can quickly move from play to record with a half-press of the shutter release.
The main mode dial, with the new 'special scene mode' position.
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