Movie mode

Canon sells the S2 IS as more than a big zoom stills camera - it's a fully-fledged digital movie camera too; the movie mode is so important it gets a separate movie start/stop button, which can be used to grab clips whatever mode you're shooting in. Movies are recorded in Motion JPEG (AVI) format with stereo (WAV) sound - why Canon didn't take this opportunity to implement MPEG-4 movies is a mystery, and a pity. That said, movie quality is superb, and the range of controls offered excellent. You can even zoom during filming (and of course the image stabilzation makes a huge difference to the 'watchability' of the results). There is a separate movie mode, but the only difference appears to be that you get a quick 'brighter or darker' AE-compensation function (assigned to the JUMP button).

Movie options include size (640 x 480 or 320 x 240 pixels), quality (30 or 15 fps) - though you can also use many of the parameters available in stills mode, including (if you really want to), the 'special effects' in the MyColors menu.

You can record clips until your card is full, though there is a 1GB limit to a single clip (about 6 minutes at the best setting).

As with the S1 IS before it, the S2 IS has a large 'movie record' button to the right of the viewfinder. Pressing this will start recording a movie whatever shooting mode you're currently in. You can also take stills in the middle of recording a movie clip. In playback this appears as a brief still (complete with retro shutter sound), after which the movie recommences. The still is saved as a separate file.
As with stills recording you can choose the amount of information overlaid on the live preview image.
In playback mode you get some basic controls for playing movies, slow motion, fast forward and rewind and edit.
Choose edit and you can trim the start and end of the movie clip, and save the result as a new file or overwrite the existing clip.

Sample movie

640 x 480 pixels @ 30 fps
File size: 13.5MB

Click on the thumbnail to view the movie (caution: large file!)

Image parameters

As noted on the previous page, the default settings used by the S2 IS produce results which many users will find to be a little 'over-processed', with relatively high contrast and sharpening. Fortunately Canon as included some control over these parameters in the form of presets (vivid, neutral, low sharpening) and 'custom' settings (low, medium and high contrast, sharpness and saturation).

Turning the sharpness down shows much more clearly the slight inherent softness of the results, with very little low contrast detail (such as foliage) being captured - which is no doubt why Canon chose to use a fairly high default sharpening setting. If you plan to use post-processing I'd certainly suggest switching to the custom mode and turning everything down, or at least using the Neutral mode.

On the other hand if you want garishly bright prints - or need to lift the color and contrast on dull days - the Vivid setting is worth a try. Reducing contrast does seem to get rid of some of the more extreme highlight clipping, but at the end of the day this is a problem of dynamic range as much as contrast curve, so there's a limit to how much highlight information you can expect to preserve in bright, contrasty scenes such as the one used in the examples below.

Standard (default) settings 100% crop
Vivid setting 100% crop
Neutral setting 100% crop
Low Sharpening setting 100% crop
Custom setting
Contrast -1, Saturation -1, Sharpness -1
100% crop

Custom setting
Contrast +1,
Saturation +1,
Sharpness +1

100% crop

Image stabilization

The optical image stabilization system used on the S2 IS (and its predecessor) works, and it works well. Where the S1 IS only offered a single 'always on' IS mode, The S2 IS has three modes: Continuous (IS on all the time), 'Shoot only' (IS is activated at the moment the exposure is made) and Panning (corrects for vertical shake only). The first option makes framing easier - the IS system steadies the preview image (in the same way as the Canon S1 IS), but is less than 100% effective when it comes to actually taking the pictures. The Shoot Only option, which minimizes the amount of movement needed by waiting until the actual moment you press the shutter, is considerably more effective.

I certainly found it made handheld shots at 3, 4 or even 5 shutter speeds slower than normal perfectly possible. Impressive stuff. The 100% crops below show the effectiveness of the IS system - especially in Shoot only mode - when shooting at long focal lengths at speeds as low as 1/20 sec. We did find occasions where the continuous mode worked better, but overall the Shoot only setting is the one to go for if you can bear the juddering preview image.

Although we've no definitive test for IS systems in real-world use, I was very impressed with the S2's system, which seems roughly on a par with that offered by Panasonic in its Lumix range. These tests are rather extreme - around 3 or 4 stops slower than you could safely use without IS - and in 'real life' shots - where you are maybe using a shutter speed two stops slower than normal - the system is pretty much 100% effective.

IS off IS Continuous IS 'Shoot only'
1/20 sec, 432mm equiv.
IS off IS Continuous IS 'Shoot only'
1/20 sec, 317mm equiv.
IS off IS Continuous IS 'Shoot only'
1/25 sec, 432mm equiv.