A year down the line from the resurrection of Canon's S series, the range once reserved for the brand's expert compacts has a new addition: the PowerShot S95. It has no major new features but a few interesting improvements such as HD video and more customisation options. On paper, it's got plenty going for it ... let's just hope it won't be overshadowed by Canon's G series expert compacts.
HandlingThe S95 looks very much like its predecessor, the S90. The outer casing is identical, as is the 3-inch screen with 460,000 dots. It also has the same excellent frontal control ring and a click-round wheel around the four-way controller.
There are a few small modifications, including extra custom controls (see insert), plus the On/Off button and Ring Func buttons have swapped place. It's a minor change but a welcome one, as we found ourselves constantly pressing the wrong one!
On the whole, we found very few bad points in the S95's design and handling. What's more, we're very pleased to see the S95's control ring and a click-round wheel have also cropped up in the replacement of the G11, the recently announced G12.
ResponsivenessOn the whole, the S95 is pleasant to use. It doesn't take too long to start up, the autofocus is reasonably fast and photo-to-photo turnaround is acceptable too. It's all OK, but other cameras can do better. Focusing in under a second is no longer considered excellent, as some models take half that time.
Then, there's the classic Canon pitfall of a slow burst mode at just 1 frame per second. That's really quite slow considering that CMOS sensors now allow many competitors' models to take 10 or more pictures per second, or snap 3 fps over longer periods of time.
Picture QualityThe S95 has the same very good lens as the S90. It's just a bit of a shame that the aperture drops so dramatically (from f/2 at 28 mm to just f/4.9 at 105 mm). In fact, whereas the Panasonic LX5 remains at f/3.3 at 90 mm, the S95 doesn't open wider that that from 50 mm. However, picture quality is still good although, typically, in wide-angle the picture is sharper in the centre and a little more hazy around the edges, with traces of chromatic aberration. That said, the S95 is still one of the few compacts able to pick out a few contour lines on our relief map featured in our test scene. In telephoto mode, picture quality is quite simply excellent across the frame.
Note that RAW-format photos take in wide angle will require a lot of post-editing to correct the distortion. Jpeg pictures and the on-screen display quality are, however, excellent, and Canon's system corrects distorted straight lines effectively on the fly.
Sensitivity is managed in a truly exemplary manner for a compact camera (although the S95 is equipped with a slightly bigger sensor than the average compact). Up to 800 ISO picture quality is excellent and only a few, more complex patterns lose detail. At 1600 ISO noise is visible but won't be a major problem on a 4" x 6" print or a full-screen shot.
VideoCanon has finally decided to bring 720p HD video to an expert compact, recording in the H.264 format and with stereo sound. Sound is recorded quite well and the picture quality is excellent, with clear, sharp images and fuzzy noise kept well under control, even in low light.
The only thing the mode is lacking is an optical zoom. In the S95, there's only a poor-quality digital zoom available, as the optical zoom is out of action during video capture.
- Well-made, good screen definition, pleasent design and controls
- Plenty of customisation options (buttons and control ring)
- Good picture quality at all focal lengths and up to 800 ISO
- Manual mode and RAW mode
- 720p HD video with stereo sound
- Optical zoom can't be used in video mode
- No separate video record button
- Heavy distortion in RAW mode in wide angle shots
- Limited burst mode
- Aperture drops from f/2 in wide angle to just f/4.9 in telephoto
The Canon S95 is to expert compacts what ultra-compacts are to regular compact cameras (bear with me on this): it's smaller, more stylish, but just as effective and with just as many functions as its bulkier counterparts. As far as we're concerned, the S95 is a genuine success, in spite of the few minor drawbacks in the video mode and overall responsiveness.