Operation and controls

The S3 IS, in common with most higher end PowerShots, can appear a little daunting at first glance - there is hardly a square inch of body space that isn't covered in buttons and switches. But don't be put off - unlike many cameras this means that virtually all the most commonly accessed shooting features get their own dedicated buttons, so you don't need to enter the on-screen menu system every time you want to change something. The sheer number of external controls is also an indication of sophisticated functionality on offer, which is well up there with much more expensive models.

Rear of camera

The main 'digital' controls - those concerned with activating and navigating on-screen menus - are found on the rear of the camera, ranged around and to the right of the swing-out-and-tilt 2.0- inch LCD. Some of the buttons have a dual function according to whether you are in recording or playback mode, and there is one that is still unique to the SX IS range - the prominent movie start/stop button, which is used for stopping starting movie recording, whatever mode you're in. One nice touch is a shortcut button to which any of a number of shooting options (resolution, white balance setting and so on) can be assigned. As well as menu controls you'll also find buttons for metering mode and focus point on the rear of the camera, as well as one for switching between the electronic viewfinder (EVF) and LCD screen. The only change over the S2 IS is a significant one; as is now common to all high end PowerShots the S3 IS has a dedicated ISO button on the rear, a welcome enhancement.

Top of camera

The top of the S3 IS has a true 'mini SLR' feel to it, with lots of controls, a well-designed and well-proportioned grip and large, perfectly positioned shutter release.

Side Controls

The right hand side of the camera (as seen from the front) houses the miniature speaker (for playing back movies and sound captions), the AV (audio/visual) output and two controls directly related to the lens; manual focus and macro mode.

Display and menus

The most basic preview screen showing focus point, image stabilization status and (I had to look this one up) whether the wind filter is on or off (for audio recording). Half-press the shutter release and the camera will calculate exposure (AE) and focus (AF) indicating the aperture and shutter speed chosen, along with a camera shake warning if necessary.
As usual you can change the amount of information shown on-screen, and there is a new 'grid' option (shown here) for those of us who struggle with straight horizons. The size/quality and remaining space indications are shown for both stills and movies, which takes some getting used to! It can get get a little crowded on-screen with everything showing, but it's nice to see that Canon listened to user feedback and added the option for a live histogram.
Users of previous PowerShots will be perfectly at home with the record mode FUNC menu, which offers a wide range of controls over shooting and image parameters. The 'Flexizone' AF system allows you to choose from any one of 375 points in the frame by pressing the set button and moving the focus point around using the arrow keys.
Manual focus is a simple case of pressing the MF button and using the up/down arrows. You can choose to have the area around the focus point magnified in manual focus mode (not shown), though in practice it doesn't help a great deal. Selecting the 'My Colors' option brings up several extra options, allowing you to boost certain colors, swap colors in the scene, remove all but one color (all other colors come out black and white) or set custom colors. It's not Photoshop, but it's a nice novelty. More useful are the extensive color control options, including presets and custom controls for color, saturation, sharpness and contrast.
The 'Special scene' mode adds six subject programs (Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Indoor, Night Snapshot). Record mode menu allows you to customize everything from flash synch to the spot AE point and self-timer delay. It is also here where you'll find the control for image stabilization.
A new feature allows you to customize the on-screen display in record mode (there are two custom settings, activated by repeated presses of the DISP button). As with the S2 IS there is a 'shortcut' button on the rear of the camera, which can have one of 10 different functions assigned to it.
Play mode default display, a line of basic information showing filename, date & time stamp and quality setting. One of the three alternative play mode views includes a histogram display and exposure information.
The S3 IS provides play magnification up to to 10x (as shown here). You can move around the image using the 4-way controller. As with other recent PowerShots you can jump from image to image at the same magnification by pressing the SET button and using the left/right keys. You can also view magnified images with exposure information on display (screen shot). Press the zoom controller towards the wide angle to switch to a 3x3 thumbnail index, note that you can also enable JUMP mode which allows you to step through a full page of 9 images at a time.
The play menu offers the usual range of options, including protecting, rotating and deleting images, plus a sound recorder. You can now apply 'My Colors' effects to saved images, which is much better than committing to it at the point you take the picture.
The S3 IS has Canon's fancy new playback options, including slideshow transitions and a useful playback mode orientation sensor. Also new is a separate Print menu for the S3's enhanced direct print capabilities.
The setup menu (accessible from both playback and record modes) is where you find more general camera settings, including sounds, power saving, date and time, LCD brightness, card formatting, language and video output format. The My Camera menu allows you to customize the camera startup image and various sounds.