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When Canon revived its PowerShot S range with the S90 in August 2009, it was in acknowledgement of a clear demand from enthusiast photographers for high quality yet pocketable cameras offering extensive manual control. The S95, which followed almost exactly a year later, stuck with much the same formula - a relatively large sensor (at least in compact camera terms), a 28-105mm equivalent zoom lens with a fast F2 maximum aperture at wideangle, and a multi-functional control dial around the lens. But while its successor, the S100, looks much the same again on the outside, it is to all intents and purposes a brand new camera.

Crucially, the S100's three key imaging elements are all entirely new. The lens range has been extended wider and longer, to a 24-120mm equivalent 5x zoom; it retains the fast F2 maximum aperture at wideangle but is limited to a rather less-impressive F5.9 at telephoto (an inevitable consequence of the camera's compact dimensions). Secondly the S100 debuts Canon's latest DIGIC 5 image processor, which the company says is six times faster than the previous version, allowing more sophisticated image processing and noise reduction. But perhaps most significantly, the S100's image sensor is a Canon-made 12.1 MP 'high sensitivity' CMOS sensor in the 1/1.7" format (approx 7.5 x 5.5mm); only the second home-grown sensor the company has used in a compact camera after the PowerShot SX1 IS of 2008.

Canon says the new sensor employs technology similar to that used in its EOS SLRs, including an on-chip noise cancellation system, and microlenses which cover more of the sensor area to improve its light-gathering characteristics. The company claims that this results in reduced noise and increased dynamic range; the maximum available ISO has accordingly been increased to 6400. A 4-channel readout system also improves the continuous shooting rate, up to 2.3 fps compared to the S95's maximum framerate of 1.9 fps. For real speed freaks there's also a scene mode that can capture 8 frames at an impressive 9.6 fps, but it's limited to JPEG images only, with no manual control.

The new sensor also allows the S100 to offer this year's must-have feature: full HD movie recording at 1920x1080 resolution, with a 24P output framerate. Unlike the S95, optical zoom is available while recording movies. This enhanced video capability is supported by a revised control layout, that now includes a direct movie recording button underneath your thumb on the back of the camera. Other features enabled by the new sensor and processor include user control over noise reduction, and a white balance system that can adjust different areas of the image separately to compensate for mixed lighting (when the camera is set to Smart Auto mode).

The lens's optical image stabilization system has been updated too, with no fewer than 7 modes available for different purposes including macro, panning, video, and tripod work. The 'Intelligent IS' system will automatically select the mode it considers most appropriate for the current shooting situation. The S100's lens also gains a built-in neutral density filter, as seen on PowerShot G series, to allow the use of larger apertures in bright sunlight.

Also new to the S100 is its built-in GPS unit, similar to that used in the PowerShot SX230 HS 'travel zoom'. This not only allows you to tag images with the location at which they were taken, but also includes a logger function that can keep track of your movements (regardless of whether or not you're taking pictures) and plot the result on Google Maps.

In terms of external design, the S100 gains subtle finger and thumb grips, which should reduce the chances of it slipping from your grasp if you're not paying due care and attention. The camera is also available in a 'titanium silver' version alongside the more conventional black - this is not the shiny silver of the Elph / Ixus series, but a darker, matte-finish look.

The S100 is available in an understated matte 'titanium' finish, as well as in black.

Compared to PowerShot S95 - key differences

The S100 is in effect a whole new camera compared to the S95; almost every key feature has been upgraded or updated:
  • 24-120mm (equivalent) lens range, F2.0-5.9, built-in neutral density filter
  • 12.1 MP 1/1.7" Canon CMOS sensor
  • DIGIC 5 image processor
  • ISO 80-6400
  • 2.3 fps continuous shooting (9.6 fps for 8 frames in High-Speed burst mode)
  • Full HD (1080p24) movie recording; H.264 compression, MOV format
  • Optical zoom in movie mode
  • Super slow motion movie recording (640 x 480 @ 120fps, 320 x 240 @ 240 fps)
  • Direct movie record button
  • Built-in GPS unit with image tagging and logger functions

PowerShot S100 vs PowerShot S95 - side-by-side

From the front, the S100 looks very much like the S95. It's fractionally taller to accommodate the GPS unit, and has a minimalist finger-grip on the front too.
From the back the most obvious change is the S100's red direct movie recording button, but a few other buttons have changed function too. The 'Ring Func' button is customisable, offering similar options to the S95's 'S' button.
The S100 is, if anything, marginally slimmer than its predecessor. The shutter button is larger, with a shiny silver finish, and the addition of the GPS unit has resulted in the displacement of the Ring Func button from the top plate.