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Franck Mée Published on November 8, 2011
Translated by Catherine Barraclough
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  • Sensor CMOS 12 Mpx, 1/1.7" , 28 Mpx/cm
  • Lens 5x 24-120 mm f/2 -5.9
  • Stabilisation Optical
  • Viewfinder NA
  • Screen 7.5 cm, not TN, 461000 dots, 4:3, Not touch-sensitive
  • Sensitivity (ISO range) 80 - 6400 ISO ext. 41 mm
UPDATE 04/07/2012: with its 1’’ 20-Megapixel sensor, the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 sets a new standard for picture quality in compact cameras, both in terms of detail and digital noise. As a result, the Canon S100 has seen its score for picture quality drop from five to four stars. However, quality still remains excellent compared with most regular compact cameras.

Updating a well-liked and successful camera is always a delicate affair. So seeing as Canon's S95 was a very nice expert compact indeed, it comes as no surprise to see that the PowerShot S100 doesn't stray too far from the original concept. On the inside of the camera, however, everything has changed—absolutely everything—and radically so. What's more, the S100 is the first expert compact to be equipped with all the features we regularly take for granted in the most basic entry-level Ixus, including Full HD video.


If it ain't broke don't fix it. Anyone familiar with the old PowerShot S series will be right at home with the S100. Build quality is still excellent and the camera is sturdy and reassuringly robust—the controls even make reassuring 'click' noises. The only small complaint we have is that the settings wheel around the four-way arrows is a bit loose. Although it clicks round in steps for precision control, we still found it was far too easy to end up moving the wheel accidentally.

New features include a vertical bar on the front of the camera and a thumb-rest on the back, both of which help improve grip. A few buttons have been moved around too, namely Disp. and Ring Func. (which allows you to change the function of the control ring around the lens and the click-round settings wheel). A video record button has been added too. Direct access to the self-timer has found itself ditched in this shake-up, but if need be it can always be assigned to the Ring Func. button, which can be customised with around 20 different options.

Canon PowerShot S100 review

The screen has been lifted straight out of the S95. It's reasonably sharp and is nice to use but colours aren't reproduced accurately (deltaE over 9) and the excessive contrast swamps dark areas and overexposes light tones.

The addition of a GPS isn't necessarily the most revolutionary idea, but this actually works better than the GPS chips typically found in compact cameras, finding a location in under a minute while most models take two to five minutes. The GPS does use up battery power, though, and the S100 isn't exactly the most power-packed camera out there—Canon only announces a battery life of 200 photos according to CIPA standard (GPS off). Note that this is ultimately why the S100 loses its fifth star in our review, as a camera needs to shoot at least 300 photos to bag a top score in our tests, especially an expert model that's likely to be used quite intensively.


Canon doesn't seem too bothered about competing for speed with the other CMOS sensor cameras on the market right now. Don't get us wrong—the S100 is a responsive camera, but it's certainly no speed demon. The autofocus works in 0.6 seconds, for example, which isn't particularly slow, but which takes twice as long as the fastest point-and-shoot compacts.

Photo-to-photo turnaround takes just under two seconds for Jpeg shots and 2.5 seconds for RAW photos, while the continuous shooting mode snaps at two frames per second or one frame per second for RAW shots. Again, that's good, but nothing extraordinary.

Canon PowerShot S100 review test

One thing that did disappoint us, however, was the start-up time of 2.4 seconds. That's actually slower than the S95, and when you're out and about it can be pretty annoying to have to wait for the camera to switch itself on. It's really something we'd like to see manufacturers (not just Canon) make more of an effort with.

Picture Quality

On the inside, the S100 couldn't be more different from the S95. For starters, there's a new lens that boasts improved wide-angle (24 mm instead of 28 mm) and telephoto (120 mm instead of 105 mm) settings in spite of its highly compact design. Next, the long-serving 10-Megapixel CCD has been replaced with an all-new 12-Megapixel CMOS sensor made by Canon.

Since a compact design rarely does any favours to a zoom lens, we were particularly keen to put the S100 though its paces. We were interested to see what the sensor was made of too. Note that while for super-small sensors with very high resolutions, BSI CMOS technology has certainly revolutionised things, it's apparently pretty much useless on SLR sensors. For this sensor then, with an intermediate pixel density, Canon has stuck to a standard CMOS.

Canon PowerShot S100 review - ISO test

So has the CMOS sensor changed things radically? Well, not really. The image processing system in the S100 does an excellent job, with Jpeg pictures that show no noise or smoothing up to 800 ISO. Even 1600 ISO shots come out reasonably well and can generally be used without a second thought. Things go noticeably downhill at 3200 ISO, however, as the picture loses a great deal of quality particularly in areas of coloured detail. On the whole, there is a noticeable improvement on the S95's CCD but, to be honest, it's pretty minor.

The S100 lens performs in a surprisingly similar way to its predecessor. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that at wide-angle settings the image isn't as consistently sharp across the frame as it is at telephoto settings. Compared with the SX230, for example, sharpness is comparable at long focal lengths, but at wide-angle settings the edges of the frame are noticeably more hazy.

We suspect that this actually shows up the limit of Canon's image processing system, as in RAW shots, wide-angle pictures show quite spectacular barrel distortion and correcting this—by stretching the edges over 15% of their original size—is bound to mean that some quality is lost.


Thanks to its CMOS sensor, the S100 can finally film Full HD video. At a time when even the Ixus 115 HS films 1080p video, expert compacts can't really be left trailing behind with 720p modes, after all!

Video quality is pretty much the same as in Canon's other cameras, but speckling noise is less of a problem since the S100 sensor has a lower pixel density and is more sensitive. Video images are crisp and sharp, and distortion is thankfully corrected in video mode too.

Sound is decent, and although the stereo effects aren't spectacular, they're still audible, and distinct sounds are recorded with no confusion. The only slight problem is the zoom, which is a little noisy. That said, you'll only really notice it when filming very quiet scenes.

All in all, the S100 is a perfectly satisfactory replacement for a camcorder from time to time. That's something pretty new for an expert compact!

What's in a Name?
With the S100, Canon has done something no manufacturer should never do—recycle a product name!

In the UK, Europe and Japan, this 2011 model is the first PowerShot S100 to hit the market. But in North America, Canon's Ixus range of compacts are also known as PowerShot cameras, and so our Canon Digital Ixus which launched the range all the way back in 2000, was called the PowerShot S100 in the US.

That has caused a few small problems. For starters, we noticed some camera news sites (that use automatic image publishing systems) publish stories presenting the S100 with photos of the original Digital Ixus. It's also caused a few database mix-ups. Some price comparison websites, for example, still bring up results for the Digital Ixus and search for this model as a priority, while others show the new S100 with a liberal sprinkling of recent Ixus models for good measure since the original Ixus is no longer on sale. Spec sheets can sometimes a bit random too, with some sites' databases mixing the spec of the Digital Ixus with some of the S100 specs.

None of this is very serious, but it's a bit of a mess, and we're sure Canon could easily have come up with a new name to get around the problem. Make sure you pay extra attention to what product you're actually buying when shopping around for an S100.

This can't help but remind us of the whole panel-switching issue in TVs and monitors—manufacturers should never use the same product name or reference number for two products that are different, no matter whether they're monitors, cameras or any other types of device!


  • Excellent build, great design and handling
  • Settings control rings can be customised
  • Picture quality up to 800 ISO or even 1600 ISO
  • Manual mode and RAW mode
  • 1080p HD video with stereo sound and optical zoom


  • Edges of the frame aren't as sharp at wide-angle settings
  • Heavy distortion in RAW shots at wide-angle settings
  • Aperture soon drops as you zoom (f/2 for wide-angle, f/5.9 for telephoto)
  • Limited battery life (200 photos or less with GPS active)


The Canon PowerShot S100 is a camera that's great to use, with plenty of advanced functions and handling that's sometimes worthy of an SLR. What's more, it takes high-quality pictures and videos. It's just a shame that the lens isn't a little more consistent but, most of all, it's the disappointing battery life that really cost this camera its fifth star!
4 Canon PowerShot S100 DigitalVersus 2011-11-08 00:00:00
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