White Balance

The S80 features no less than seven preset white balance settings including the rather unusual Flash and Underwater presets (the latter designed to be used in conjunction with the waterproof case). The S80 also has manual white balance, accessed via the FUNC menu. Automatic white balance appeared to work well outdoors and in fluorescent lighting but as per previous Canon digital cameras less well in incandescent light where it produced a strong orange color cast.

Outdoor - Auto WB
Red -0.3%, Blue -0.9%

Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red -0.1%, Blue -0.1%

Incandescent - Auto WB
Red 9.4%, Blue -13.6%

Flash Performance

The S80's small flash unit has a specified range of 4.2 m at wide angle and 2.0 m at telephoto (using Auto ISO). In use we found it to meter fairly well (perhaps slightly under exposed, which is better than overexposed!) with good color response and no color cast (good white balance). The flash throttles down well at close distances, so blown-out shots are rare. Our only issues shooting socially with flash were occasional focus errors in low light at the long end of the zoom.

Skin tone
Good color and exposure
Color chart
Very slightly warm color, good exposure

Macro Focus

The S80 produced its best macro frame coverage at full wide angle, and its nothing special, capturing an area around 6cm across. Inevitably this leads to fairly obvious barrel distortion and some mild corner softness. At telephoto coverage is even less impressive (96 mm across the frame) however distortion is nonexistent and corner softness is low. Not bad, but by no means class-leading.

Wide macro - 60 x 45 mm coverage
43 px/mm (1091 px/in)
Distortion: Average
Corner softness: Low to average
Equiv. focal length: 28 mm
Tele macro - 96 x 72 mm coverage
27 px/mm (680 px/in)
Distortion: Very low
Corner softness: Very low
Equiv. focal length: 100 mm

Barrel and Pincushion Distortion

Considering its size and that it starts at 28 mm equiv. wide-angle the S80's lens performs very well, it does exhibit some distortion at wide angle but in actual fact it's no more than most compacts deliver at 35 mm equiv. The lens exhibits virtually no measurable pincushion distortion at telephoto.

Barrel distortion - 1.2% at Wide angle
Equiv. focal length: 28 mm
Pincushion distortion - 0.1% at Telephoto
Equiv. focal length: 100 mm

Specific image quality issues

To be honest I wasn't expecting that much from the S80; the S70 (and most of its Sony 7MP sensor-sharing competitors) was hard to fault, photographically, and having recently tested the Olympus Stylus 800 and Panasonic LX1 I was expecting noise issues to negate any minor resolution advantage offered by the extra million or so pixels. So it was quite a surprise when I started to look through the many hundreds of 'real world' shots taken as part of this review. Aside from the issues mentioned below there is much to like here; the images are clean, have bags of detail and very pleasant colors.

Dynamic range - though perhaps a touch narrower than the S70 - is excellent, meaning only the most contrasty of scenes causes any highlight clipping, and overall impressions are very, very positive. There is some evidence of smudged low contrast detail (such as grass or hair shot from a distance), but it's no worse than any of the many compacts on the market today with 1/1.7 or 1/1.8-inch chips. I found the default contrast a little high (but then I like to post-process), and some eyes may find the images a little soft, but that's a good thing in my book, as they sharpen up nicely, and - at lower ISO settings - are impressive enough go head to head with most 'entry level' digital SLR / kit lens results without fear of embarrassment.

Although there is a little corner softness at the widest zoom position and F2.8, it's not extreme, and notably there is little - if any - evidence of purple fringing, something that has been a Canon Achilles' heel for generations of PowerShot. There is a little chromatic aberration (CA) at the very edges of 28mm, F2.8 shots, but it simply isn't strong enough, or prevalent enough, to be worth talking about.

Clipped highlights

In common with most small sensor compacts, the S80 can struggle to capture the full range of brightnesses in very contrasty scenes. This, combined with the fairly high default contrast can lead to clipping of highlights in otherwise correctly exposed scenes.

100% crop 28 mm equiv., F4

Corner softness

Not a major issue, but one worth mentioning is the slight corner softness when shooting at the 28mm end of the zoom and is strongest at maximum (F2.8) aperture. It's barely noticeable in most shots, but it is there (along with a tiny amount of blue/red chromatic aberration, also visible in this shot).

100% crop 28 mm equiv., F4

Lens flare

Perhaps inevitably given the 28mm wide end of the zoom and the lack of any real lens shading, the S80 suffers slightly more from flare than is normal in cameras of this class. It's only a problem when - as here - the winter sun is low in the sky and you're at the wide end of the lens, and again it only affects a tiny proportion of shots.

100% crop 28 mm equiv., F4