Every once in a blue moon a digital camera saunters across my desk that changes the game at multiple levels, and the Canon PowerShot S100 ($429.99) is one of those cameras. For an advanced point-and-shoot, the PowerShot S100 is about as good as you can get, thanks to various improvements Canon made over last year's PowerShot S95. The S100 was granted a shiny new EOS-inspired 12.1-megapixel CMOS sensor with Canon's brand new Digic 5 image processing, which means the image capturing hardware has been totally revamped and the S100 can capture up to 8fps in Burst mode at full resolution. Thanks to the new imaging sytstem, HD video has been boosted to 1080p Full HD at 24fps with 720p now at 30fps rather than 24fps. We also get a more generous 5x optical zoom this year compared to the S95's modest 3.8x optical range, and a wider 24mm lens compared to last year's 28mm lens, all of this without sacrificing added camera bulk. Canon adorned the PowerShot S100 with front and rear grips for enhanced stability and bathed the S100 in a stealthy matte finish, which gave the camera points on the catwalk as well. Lastly, GPS capability joins the PowerShot S100 with map logging and Map Utility software powered by Google.
Other camera manufacturers should fear the Canon PowerShot S100. Its 12-megapixel 1/1.7-inch back-illuminated CMOS sensor was created from the ground up by Canon using EOS technology found in the company's DSLR lineup. New Digic 5 processing made the camera faster and better at noise management. Canon also built the lens in house, adding more elements to refine pixels, and the results paid off. The S100 exhibited the best imaging performance I've ever seen from an advanced point-and-shoot. That includes the PowerShot G12, which shares the same sensor with the PowerShot S95. I could shoot at ISO 800 and attain results that fell in line with an ISO 200 performance. The S100 can now reach ISO 6400 and the quality is what you'd expect from a point-and-shoot at ISO 1600 a few years ago. Canon's noise management is fantastic with this camera, even in 1080p HD videos. Colors were beautifully natural yet vibrant and detail was spot on to the last grain. The S100 is also quick with its F/2.0 lens and ability to perform well at higher ISO levels, so action shots were a breeze. RAW and JPEG quality were so close at times, though RAW held the edge in most conditions. Hands down, the Canon PowerShot S100 is the best in its class when it comes to image quality.
Canon PowerShot S100 ISO Test 100% Crop
But that's only half of it. The PowerShot S100 retained its advanced features, including the lens Control Ring and rear mounted Control Dial. When used in conjunction, I was able to fly through Shutter Speed and Aperture adjustments in Manual mode. The ring was fully customizable and even included incremental Step Zoom focal lengths, Aspect ratio, White Balance settings and more, but I found the ISO adjustment to be best suited for the ring. The PowerShot S100 has a built-in Neutral Density filter to limit light for longer shutter speed effects, several manual White Balance grid modes, Exposure Bracketing, Flexi-zone AF, Shadow Correct, live histogram, and dial-controlled Manual Focus to name a few tools on this camera's belt. Canon also has the best menu system and playback mode, and the S100 displayed RGB histograms, GPS coordinates and all EXIF data when viewing images and videos in playback. The S100's popup flash performed well and offered plenty of options such as Slow Synchro and Flash Exposure Compensation.
It's difficult to find any flaws on the Canon PowerShot S100. I could nitpick the small shutter button and placement of the Mode dial, but I got used to it after a few hours of shooting. Perhaps the biggest gripe would be the camera's battery life. I could have used some extra juice, especially for all of the video tests, which place the biggest strain on any camera's juice box. Also, don't leave the GPS logging feature on overnight or you'll have an empty battery pack in the morning, which I found out the hard way. Overall, the Canon PowerShot S100 is certainly worth the extra $30. It's a significant upgrade from last year's Canon PowerShot S95, and it's going to take a lot from the competition in order to catch up with Canon's marvelous new creation.
*Note: All images were shot in RAW+JPEG mode and the best image was chosen after close analysis. Aside from the image filter shots, which only record in JEPG, nearly every image below has been converted into a high quality JPEG from its original RAW form, as the S100's RAW quality held a slight edge over the camera's JPEG quality.
Canon PowerShot S100 Still Image Samples
Canon PowerShot S100 1080p HD Video Samples
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