When Canon announced the Powershot S90 just over three years ago, it almost single-handedly defined a new class of camera - a genuinely pocketable compact for serious photographers, with RAW format recording, lots of manual control, a larger-than-average 1/1.7" sensor and a fast lens (at least at wideangle). For a couple of years the S90 and its successors - the S95 and S100 - were near-undisputed leaders of the class, and the camera of choice for enthusiasts looking for the ultimate in portability, without sacrificing too much in the way of image quality or manual control.

This all changed with the appearance of the Sony Cyber-shot RX100, a camera whose substantially bigger 20MP 1" sensor in a barely-larger body places it as new king of the hill. Fujifilm has got into the act, too, with today's announcement of the XF1, a beautifully designed compact that uses Fujifilm's clever EXR-CMOS sensor. The upshot of all this is that Canon's latest offering, the S110, enters a considerably more-competitive marketplace than that faced by its predecessors.

An updated S100, with WiFi and Touchscreen

The S110 is a relatively gentle update of the S100, with the guts of the camera - the lens, sensor and image processor - staying essentially the same. So it still uses a 12MP 1/1.7" Canon-made 'High Sensitivity CMOS' sensor, DIGIC 5 image processor, and 24-120mm equivalent lens offering a usefully-fast F2.0 aperture at wideangle, but distinctly slow F5.9 at telephoto. The camera's control layout is identical too, including the excellent and much-copied programmable control dial around the lens.

The main additions are a smartphone-like multi-touch capacitative touchscreen, along with this year's must-have feature, integrated WiFi connectivity. The latter comes at the expense of the S100's built-in GPS module, but the camera can still geo-tag your images by syncing with your smartphone's GPS - assuming you've got one, of course.

The touchscreen offers the usual features we'd expect, including the extremely useful touch-focus that allows you to specify your subject by tapping the screen. A particularly neat addition is the ability to temporarily change the function of the lens control dial by pressing on a 'virtual dial' on the right edge of the screen. For example, in aperture priority mode this means you can quickly switch the dial from controlling the aperture to exposure compensation, a thoughtful addition to the S100's already excellent control system.

The S110's WiFi offers a fairly standard feature set too. You can transfer images to a smartphone or tablet, and upload stills and movies directly to social networking sites such as Facebook and YouTube. If you're out of range of a WiFi network, you can still upload via your tablet or phone using Canon's CameraWindow app. It's also possible to print wirelessly to WiFi-enabled printers, such as Canon's Selphy CP900 or Pixma models announced alongside the S110.

The S110 also gets what Canon is calling 'ZoomPlus', an enhanced digital zoom that attempts to use content-aware upsampling for better image quality. If this sounds somewhat familiar, that's probably because Sony offers similar-sounding technology called 'Clear Image Zoom' on its recent cameras, including the RX100. Canon's implementation, like Sony's, essentially doubles the camera's zoom range for JPEG shooters, while in principle offering better quality than a standard digital zoom.

The S110 will be generally available in two colour options - a very attractive-looking glossy white (with silver top plate, lens barrel and rear controls), or for those who prefer their cameras not to be noticed, matte black. A version in a gun-metal finish (similar to that used for the S100 - click here to see it) will also be available though some outlets.

Canon Powershot S110 key features

  • 12MP 1/1.7" Canon CMOS sensor
  • 24-120mm equivalent F2.0-5.9 lens, 4-stop 'Intelligent IS'.
  • DIGIC 5 processor
  • ISO 80-12800
  • Touch-sensitive 3" 460k dot PureColor II G screen
  • Built-in WiFi
  • RAW format recording
  • Built-in 3-stop Neutral Density filter

Sensor sizes compared

The diagram below compares the size of the S110's 1/1.7" sensor with a range of other enthusiast compacts, including its most direct competitors, the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 and Fujifilm XF1.

The S110's 1/1.7" sensor is larger than the 1/2.3" type used in most compact cameras. But Fujifilm's 2/3" sensor in the XF1 is 50% larger again, while the 1" sensor in the Sony RX100 is almost 3 times the size.

Enthusiast compacts: lenses, sensors and background blur

The table below compares the S110's lens specifications and sensor size against its main competitors and the co-announced G15. Along with the familiar 35mm-equivalent focal length, we've also included a 35mm-equivalent aperture range, which gives some idea of the control over depth of field offered by each camera's lens.

  Sensor area, mm2
Focal length range Focal length range (equiv.) Aperture range Aperture range (equiv)* Dimensions (mm)
Canon S110 41
5.2-26mm 24-120mm F2.0-5.9 F9.3-27.4 99x59x27
10-37mm 28-100mm F1.8-4.9 F4.9-13.4 101x58x36
Fujifilm XF1 58
6.4-25.6mm 25-100mm F1.8-4.9 F7.0-19.1 108x62x33
Canon Powershot G15 41
6.1-30.5mm 28-140mm F1.8-2.8 F8.3-12.9 107x76x40
Nikon Coolpix P7700 41
6.0-42.8mm 28-200mm F2.0-4.0 F9.3-18.7 119x73x50
Fujifilm X10 58
7.1-28mm 28-112mm F2.0-2.8 F7.9-11 117x70x57
Panasonic DMC-LX7 34**
4.7-17.7mm 24-90mm F1.4-2.3 F7.1-11.7 111x68x46
Samsung EX2F 41
5.2-17.2mm 24-80mm F1.4-2.7 F6.5-12.5 112x62x45

* Equivalent aperture, in 135 film terms - this gives an idea of the depth of field control offered by the lenses when the sensor size is taken into account.
** Panasonic DMC-LX7 sensor area figures based on 4:3 aspect ratio mode

Photographers tend to be interested in how well a lens can blur backgrounds when shooting portraits at full telephoto, and the S110's small aperture places it at the bottom of the pack for enthusiast compacts. This is the tradeoff for it being the slimmest and most pocketable of the lot.

The equivalent apertures also give a rough idea of how the cameras might compare in low light; to a degree they indicate how far a larger sensor should be offset by a faster lens. Obviously this isn't the whole story; the characteristics of the individual sensors matters too, as does the quality of in-camera processing for JPEG shooters. But the story is essentially the same - the S110 is competitive at wideangle, but behind larger cameras when used at the tele end.