Canon PowerShot S100 Review
Handling and Performance
The back of the S100 now includes a rubberized grip area for your thumb, to complement the slender ridge on the front that provides some purchase for your fingers. The S95 gained a reputation for being somewhat slippery and easy to drop, so these additions are certainly an improvement. Even though the added grips seem small they do a a lot to keep the camera firm in your hands. Although it's certainly no replacement for a wrist strap.
|The S100 is a distinctly small camera, but the small grips front and rear mean you can get a more positive grasp on it compared to the S90 or S95. Under the 3 holes on the thumb grip is the speaker used for playback.|
The control ring on the front of the S100 provides quick access to one of several user-selectable functions. The functions that are assigned to the control ring by default differ by shooting mode. By default the ring will control whichever setting Canon considers is most relevant to the shooting mode you're in; for example, changing the aperture in Av mode. Below is the list of default functions Canon has assigned to the control ring, and a complete list of all the functions that can be applied to this control.
|Mode||Default Function||Complete list of assignable functions (all modes, in addition to defaults)|
The rear control dial is effectively locked (in that it can be rotated but by itself does nothing) in all exposure modes except manual, where it controls shutter speed. This is a change from the S95, on which the rear dial provided direct control over exposure compensation in program, aperture priority and shutter priority modes. The change will be welcomed by some users (the rear dial on the S95 was easy to rotate accidentally, thus activating exposure compensation) but it is a shame that there is no option to set the rear dial to its 'old' behaviour if desired. The risk of inadvertent operation aside, we're sure that some S100 users upgrading from an S95 will miss the ultra-quick access to exposure compensation that their camera's rear dial used to provide.
Overall operation and handling
The interface and body design on the S100 is similar to the S90 and S95, despite the various changes that have been made. Overall the S100 offers a handling experience that is pleasant and very similar to that of its predecessor in normal use, but inevitably, significantly different in some respects (most obviously when you want to shoot video).
The S100's menu system is nice and streamlined, but to be honest, we don't find ourselves accessing it all that often. The 'FUNC/SET' button brings up a filleted menu of key shooting parameters which is easy to navigate using the 4-way controller and integrated control dial. As far as its operational ergonomics are concerned, the only thing we sometimes find ourselves wishing the S100 had, which it does not, is a dedicated ISO button. If you usually keep exposure compensation assigned to the Control Ring (remembering that you don't have the option to use the rear control dial for direct access to this function anymore), the you're left with two choices for ISO - either assign it to the RING FUNC button, on the rear of the camera, or just dive quickly into the FUNC menu. Easy enough.
It's worth bearing in mind though that the S100 offers the same excellent, customizable automatic ISO system as its predecessor the S95, and as such, we'd be inclined to simply shoot in Auto ISO mode most of the time. Assuming that you don't need to shoot above ISO 1600 that is - annoyingly, this is the maximum ISO sensitivity that the camera will select in Auto ISO mode.
Specific handling issues
Someone coming to the S100 who isn't upgrading from an S90 or S95 is likely to find that it offers an impressively trouble-free (and surprise-free) user experience. However, an enthusiast photographer coming from the S95 might run into a couple of issues, where the S100's handling is significantly different. One of the most obvious is the deletion of direct exposure compensation control from the rear dial. If you were bothered by inadvertent activation of this function in the S95, you'll welcome the new behaviour (and we suspect that Canon has made the change for this reason), but no doubt there will be some S95 owners that resent the change. Likewise the combining of the S95's customizable 'S' button with RING FUNC - again, something that depending on how you had your S95 set up, might require you to slightly change your way of working with the S100, but very unlikely to be a major hassle.
These are very minor points though, and most likely irrelevant to the majority of people considering buying an S100. Leaving them aside, our only further concern relates to the design of the camera's flash. Because of the S100's small size we find that when accessing the menu our left finger often ends up sitting over the pop-up flash. This is fine most of the time, however when adjusting flash settings the flash will automatically pop up. If your finger restricts its motion the camera stops functioning and requires a reset to begin working again. We haven't found this to be a huge issue, but it is something to watch out for.
Continuous shooting modes
Previous PowerShot S cameras haven't exactly been known for their fast continuous shooting speeds. But the new DIGIC 5 processor in the S100 allows for faster image processing, and as a result also increases the maximum continuous shooting speed to around 2.3fps (up from the 1.9fps maximum of its predecessor). In addition to the Continuous shooting drive mode there is also a high speed shooting option (accessible from the SCN mode) which allows for about 9.6 fps.
Images shot in this mode are captured at full resolution, and normal compression (i.e. they are no smaller or more compressed than equivalent images captured in 'normal' shooting modes). In High-speed HQ mode you are limited to auto exposure settings and JPEG recording. The figures below are taken from measured performance using a 16GB SanDisk Extreme Pro UHS-I SDHC card.
Images shot in High-speed HQ mode are automatically stored as a group which places all of the sequential images into a single 'folder'. This is especially helpful when reviewing your shots on the camera as the series will show up as a single entry in playback mode. It is possible to open the group and view the individual images on the camera as well. Unfortunately the images do not appear grouped in a folder when viewing them on a PC.
The S100's autofocus system works very well, exactly as we would expect from a camera at this level, and of this lineage. AF acquisition is fast and positive, and face detection works well when confronted with human subjects. Continuous AF works well enough for movie shooting, but unsurprisingly, cannot keep up with fast-moving subjects in still capture mode. In the S100's fastest capture mode - High-speed HQ - continuous AF isn't even offered as an option. In this respect, our experience is exactly in line with our expectations for this class.
The S100's new intelligent IS system features 7 stabilization modes which are automatically set by the camera depending on the scene you're shooting. From the camera menu however the only IS modes that are selectable are Continuous, Shoot only, and Off. Powered IS, which operates in movie mode when footage is captured at maximum telephoto, can also be turned on or off separately.
|Continuous||Offsets camera shake when shooting in hand|
|Panning||Reduces camera shake on the perpendicular axis to the direction of pan|
|Macro||Offsets camera shake for macro shooting|
|Dynamic Mode||Offsets large camera movements caused by walking while recording a movie|
|Powered IS||Offsets camera shake in movie mode when shooting at full telephoto|
|Tripod||Disables IS when mounted on a tripod|