Conclusion - Pros
- Excellent resolution, good per-pixel sharpness for this class of camera
- Low noise at ISO 50 and 100, not bad at 200 and 400
- Fast, responsive operation
- Excellent metering and color
- Very clean, artefact-free images
- High quality wide-angle zoom (28 - 100 mm equiv.)
- Comprehensive range of controls
- Solid build quality, nice finish
- Dedicated controls for most shooting functions
- Advanced features such as intervalometer, sync curtain, spot AE point
- Custom shooting mode (user saved settings)
- Large, bright, wide-viewing-angle screen.
- AF assist lamp
Conclusion - Cons
- Mild corner softness at wide-angle and maximum aperture
- Occasional lens flare and some highlight clipping
- New multi-control dial useful, but can be fiddly
- Lens slow at telephoto (F5.3)
- Would prefer a higher resolution LCD screen
- Mediocre macro mode
- Images slightly soft (sharpen well in post-processing however)
- No raw mode
- Quite pricey
After the rather uninspiring noise performance of the Panasonic LX1 and overblown image processing of the Olympus Stylus 800 I approached the update to the excellent PowerShot S70 with some trepidation. So it was a great relief to discover that the S80 (which we presume to use the new Sony 8MP chip) not only offers noticeable improvements in performance and control, but also manages to increase resolution without a significant increase in noise.
Like the S70 before it, the S80's key selling points are the 28-100mm lens range (which is much wider than most zoom compacts), full photographic control and a build quality and design that oozes quality. The addition of dedicated ISO and AE-compensation buttons on the body make the photographic process a lot more fluid, and the results are superb. Most of the serious issues we had with the S70 - including purple fringing and focus problems - have been eliminated, and the result is a camera that seems perfect for the serious photographer itching for SLR - style control in a compact body.
Canon is also to be praised for the lack of heavy-handed image processing, with the S80 producing clean, artefact-free images that respond well to post processing and have a remarkably natural look. Of course many potential users will be put off by the lack of raw file support (an inexplicable omission given that the S70 had it), but the JPEGs are very good, and if you turn down contrast, saturation and sharpness you get an excellent starting point for some serious post processing.
There are inevitably some problems - the ambitious 28mm equiv. wide end of the zoom involves a certain amount of compromise; mild CA and the occasional softness in the corners of images can be reduced by dropping the aperture (and only really show up in big enlargements), but cannot be ignored or excused. I also found the new multi-function dial took a long time to master - you have to remember when you need to press it (using it as a standard 'four-way controller') and when to spin it, but I did eventually get the hang of it. Of course having so many buttons over the body means the risk of accidentally pressing one is fairly high, but I found this wasn't a problem as long as I held the camera with both hands.
So then, the S80 is a camera that proves there is hope for the new generation of 8 megapixel compacts. I was ready to blast Canon for another pointless upgrade, but as the review progressed I started to appreciate that this was not just a worthwhile upgrade, it was probably the first time I've found a PowerShot I'd actually lay out my own money for. I toyed with the idea of a recommended simply due to the lack of raw support, but given that - with careful exposure - the JPEGs are so good, I felt that would be unnecessarily harsh.