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Canon PowerShot S3 IS Review

May 2006 | By Simon Joinson
Buy on From $489.00

Review based on a production Canon PowerShot S3 IS, Firmware version 1.00

Like the S2 IS before it (and for that matter the original S1 IS), the latest version of Canon's flagship Image stabilized Ultra zoom PowerShot has been one of the most popular cameras on dpreview (measured by clicks) since the day it was announced. Unlike the S2, the PowerShot S3 IS is a relatively minor upgrade to it's predecessor, much more of an evolutionary change than a wholesale reinvention. The basic spec (aside from the sensor) is pretty familiar; 12x optical zoom, flip 'n' twist LCD, tons of photographic control and advanced movie mode with stereo sound. The S2 IS was one of the best big zoom cameras of last year, but this is a highly competitive sector of the market, so does the S3 IS still have what it takes to keep Canon near the top? Let's find out.

Headline features

  • 12x optical zoom lens with USM and UD lens element
  • Optical Image Stabilizer
  • 6.0 Megapixel CCD
  • 2.0” Vari-angle LCD
  • 30fps VGA movies with stereo sound and Photo in Movie feature
  • DIGIC II, iSAPS and Flexizone AF/AE for fast, precise results and 2.3 fps continuous shooting
  • 20 shooting modes and My Colors photo effects
  • High ISO Auto and ISO 800 for low light flexibility
  • Widescreen (16:9) recording

Powershot S3 IS vs S2 IS; what's changed?

Aside from the move to the new 1/2.5" 6 megapixel sensor and a larger screen the S3 IS is, as mentioned above, a pretty minor upgrade. The most immediately obvious difference is the color; very dark gunmetal as opposed to shiny silver. Sat next to the S2 IS the new camera looks a lot more serious, and is a lot more inconspicuous when you're out shooting. Externally the cameras are otherwise almost identical (the S3 IS is fractionally heavier, not that you'd notice).

  • New sensor (6MP versus 5MP)
  • Higher maximum sensitivity (ISO 800)
  • Bigger LCD screen (2.0-inch versus 1.8-inch)
  • New Sports mode
  • Record Histogram
  • Widescreen shooting mode (stills)
  • Fractionally larger and heavier

Canon PowerShot S3 IS

Canon PowerShot S2 IS
Body color Gunmetal grey Silver
Sensor 1/2.5” CCD, 6.2 million pixels 1/2.5” CCD, 5.3 million pixels
Effective Resolution 6.0 million pixels 5.0 million pixels
Maximum Image Size 2816 x 2112
2592 x 1944
Widescreen mode Yes No
Histogram Record & playback Playback only
Scene modes

• Custom
• Portrait
• Landscape
• Night Scene
• Sports
• Stitch Assist
• Foliage
• Snow
• Beach
• Fireworks
• Indoor
• Night Snapshot
• Color Accent
• Color Swap

• Custom
• Portrait
• Landscape
• Night Scene
• My Colors
• Stitch Assist
• Foliage
• Snow
• Beach
• Fireworks
• Indoor
• Night Snapshot
Continuous Shooting 2.3 fps, unlimited 2.4 fps, unlimited
LCD screen • 2.0-inch TFT (flip out and twist)
• 115,000 pixels
• 1.8-inch TFT (flip out and twist)
• 115,000 pixels
Weight (no batteries) 410g 405g

Key specifications

Street price • US: $480
• UK: £330
Body Material Plastic
Sensor • 1/2.5 " Type CCD
• 6.0 million effective pixels
Image sizes • 2816 x 2112
• 2816 x 1584 (16:9 widescreen mode)
• 2272 x 1704
• 1600 x 1200
• 640 x 480
Movie clips • 640 x 480 @ 30 / 15fps
• 320 x 240 @ 60 / 30 / 15fps
• Photo in Movie feature
• WAVE (stereo)
• Length limited only by storage (maximum single movie file 1GB)
• AVI (Motion JPEG compression)

• 36 - 432mm equiv. (12x optical zoom)
• F2.7 - F3.5
Image Stabilized

Focus • TTL autofocus
• Single / Continuous AF
• Manual focus
• Focus lock
• 1-point AF (center or flexizone)
• 10 cm minimum focus range (macro)
Metering • Evaluative
• Center-weighted average
• Spot (center or linked to focusing frame)

• Mechanical shutter + Electronic shutter
• 15-1/3200 sec
• Shutter speed varies according to the shooting mode
• Not all shutter speeds can be used with all apertures

Aperture • F2.7-F8.0 (wide)
• F3.5-F8.0 (tele)
Shooting mode • Auto
• Program AE
• Shutter Priority AE
• Aperture Priority AE
• Manual
• Custom
• Portrait
• Landscape
• Night Scene
• Sports
• Stitch Assist
• Foliage
• Snow
• Beach
• Fireworks
• Indoor
• Night Snapshot
• Color Accent
• Color Swap
Sensitivity • Auto
• High ISO Auto
• ISO 80
• ISO 100
• ISO 200
• ISO 400
• ISO 800
White Balance • Auto
• Daylight
Fluorescent H
• Custom
Image parameters

• Contrast (3 levels)
• Sharpness (3 levels)
• Saturation (3 levels)
• My Colors (Off, Vivid, Neutral, Sepia, B&W, Positive film, Lighter skin tone, Darker skin tone, Vivid blue, Vivid red, Vivid Green, Custom color)

Continuous • High Speed approx. 2.3fps
• Normal approx. 1.5fps
Flash • Auto
• Manual Flash On / Off
• Slow Synch
• Red eye reduction
• Flash exposure lock
• Flash Exposure Compensation +/- 2EV in 1/3 stop increments
• Manual Power adjustment
• Second Curtain Synch
• Range (wide): 50cm - 5.2m (1.6-17ft)
• Range (tele): 90cm - 4.0m (3.0-13 ft)
• Range (macro): 30 - 50m (1.0-1.6 ft)
Storage • SD / MMC compatible
• 16MB card supplied
Viewfinder • EVF (0.33" type)
• 115,000 pixels
• 100% coverage
• Dioptre adjustment (-5.5 to 1.5 dpt)
LCD monitor • Vari-angle 2.0-inch Low Temp P-Si TFT
• 115,000 pixels
• Adjustable Brightness
• 100% coverage
Connectivity • USB 2.0 High speed
• A/V out
Power • 4 x AA batteries (NiMH recommended)
• (Optional AC adapter)
Other features

Orientation sensor
• PC controlled shooting
• PictBridge
• Interval shooting
• Index view
• Histogram
• AE-Bracketing
• 4x digital zoom
• Sound memo
• 21 languages
• Direct print (Canon & PictBridge)
• 2 and 10 sec self-timer (plus custom)
• 23 languages

Optional accessories Tele-converter 1.5x lens (TC-DC58B)
Wide-converter 0.75x lens (WC-DC58A)
Lens Adapter/Hood Set (LAH-DC20)
Close-Up Lens 500D (58mm)
High Power Flash HF-DC1
Soft Case (DCC-90)
Compact AC Power Adapter (CA-PS700)
Battery and Charger Kit (CBK4-300)
Weight (no batt) 410 g
Dimensions 113.4 x 78 x 75.5 mm

* Supplied accessories may differ in each country or area

If you're new to digital photography you may wish to read the Digital Photography Glossary before diving into this article (it may help you understand some of the terms used).

Conclusion / Recommendation / Ratings are based on the opinion of the reviewer, you should read the ENTIRE review before coming to your own conclusions.

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DPReview calibrate their monitors using Color Vision OptiCal at the (fairly well accepted) PC normal gamma 2.2, this means that on our monitors we can make out the difference between all of the (computer generated) grayscale blocks below. We recommend to make the most of this review you should be able to see the difference (at least) between X,Y and Z and ideally A,B and C.

This article is Copyright 2006 and may NOT in part or in whole be reproduced in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from the author.

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