Canon PowerShot S100

      Photo Review 8.5

      In summary

      Canon’s new pocketable digicam provides improved handling and a longer lens plus support for raw capture and Full HD video recording.

      Full review

      Canon has taken one of its most successful digicams, the PowerShot S95, and upgraded it with a new sensor and image processor, longer zoom lens and better ergonomics to produce the PowerShot S100. It’s also reduced the price by $50 and added a GPS receiver/logger to make the new model even more appealing to travellers.

      When we reviewed the S95 in September, 2010, it was the smallest, slimmest digicam with advanced manual control and raw file support on the market. Even though the S100 is marginally heavier, it will still win acclaim for its compact size and light weight at its level of sophistication. The table below lists the major changes that have taken place to produce the new model.

      PowerShot S100 PowerShot S95
      Sensor size/type 1/1.7 type (7.6 x 5.7 mm)
      Sensor technology CMOS CCD
      Effective resolution 12.1 megapixels 10 megapixels
      Lens focal lengths (35mm equiv.) 24-120mm 28-105mm
      Lens aperture range f/2.0-f/5.9 f/2-f/4.9
      Shutter speeds 15 to 1/2000 second 1 to 1/1600 second
      HD Video resolution 1080p 720p
      Max. ISO 6400 3200
      Max. burst speed 9.6 fps 1.9 fps
      GPS receiver Yes No
      Battery/CIPA rating NB-5L/approx. 200 shots NB-6L/approx. 200 shots
      Dimensions (wxhxd) 98.9 x 59.8 x 26.7 mm 99.8 x 58.4 x 29.5 mm
      Weight (incl. battery and card) Approx. 198 grams Approx. 195 grams

      Build and Ergonomics
      The new model retains the basic shape of its predecessor but is slightly taller and thinner and not quite as long. A slim, rubberised finger grip has been added to the front panel and a rubber thumb rest on the rear panel provides a more secure grip.


      Front view of the PowerShot S100, showing the new finger grip. (Source: Canon.)

      The lens remains the dominant feature on the front panel but it’s new and provides an increased zoom range at both wide and tele ends of the scale (24-120mm in 35mm format). Consisting of seven elements in six groups, it’s quite complex for a digicam and includes two double-sided aspherical elements (one UA) and a single-sided aspherical lens.

      The maximum aperture at the wide position remains at f/2 but by full zoom extension it’s reduced to a relatively slow f/5.9. Lens-shift stabilisation provides up to four f-stops of shutter speed advantage, which helps to address the reduced light transmission at higher zoom ratios.

      The S100 also introduces a new Intelligent IS technology that can detect the shooting situation and select the most appropriate stabilisation mode from seven options. Normal IS is used to correct regular camera shake, Panning IS detects panning movements and applies corrections for vertical shaking, Macro IS corrects angular and shift-shake when shooting close-ups, Tripod mode turns off IS, Dynamic IS produces steadier video clips by compensating for low-frequency vibrations, Powered IS is used when shooting movies with the highest focal length settings and Dynamic and Macro IS is engaged when shooting close-up movies.

      Surrounding the lens is the same lens control ring as was used on the previous S-series models. Customising options have been increased in the S100 to allow users to pre-set the settings for this ring and the rear multi-control dial in different shooting modes. For example, in Av mode, the default setting for the lens control ring is the aperture setting. However, it can be changed to adjust the ISO, white balance or exposure compensation, allowing users to set the multi-control dial to adjust the lens aperture – or another parameter.


      Rear view of the PowerShot S100. (Source: Canon.)

      Aside from the new, larger thumb rest and some shuffling of buttons, little has changed on the camera’s rear panel. The 3-inch LCD monitor has the same 461,000 dot resolution and 4:3 aspect ratio but a tempered glass outer layer gives it extra strength and both contrast and colour reproduction have been improved.

      A new button for triggering video recording has been added to the cluster of button and dial controls to the right of the monitor. The Play button has been shifted down, where it replaces the Display button on the previous model. The Short Cut/Direct Print button on the S95 is gone and in its place is the Ring Func./Delete button for changing the function assigned to the control ring, which has been moved from the top panel.


      The top panel of the PowerShot S100 with the lens fully extended. (Source: Canon.)

      This shift makes the top panel less cluttered, since only the power and shutter buttons and the mode dial remain. The zoom ring is, as usual, around the shutter button and the pop-up flash is recessed into the left hand end of the top panel.

      Digital (A/V out plus USB) and HDMI terminals are located below a lift-up cover on the right hand side panel. As with previous models, the S100 comes with a wrist strap and rechargeable lithium-ion battery, which shares a compartment in the base of the camera with the memory card slot. Unlike the S95, the S100’s tripod socket is positioned in line with the optical axis of the lens. It is also metal-lined.

      Sensor and Image Processing
      The new CMOS sensor and DIGIC 5 processor combine to make the next generation of Canon’s HS (high sensitivity) System, which is designed to record images at all ISO speeds with significantly less noise than non-HS System cameras. The sensor is the same-sized (7.6 x 5.7 mm) chip as the previous model, but with an effective resolution of 12.1 megapixels. This is relatively high, although not excessively so for the chip’s surface area.

      According to a technical paper we downloaded from Canon Europe’s press resources website, improvements have been made to photo-cell and microlens construction to improve light capture. On-chip noise reduction technology combines with the noise reduction processing from the DIGIC 5 processor to enable ISO sensitivity to be expanded to 6400, while also delivering ISO 1600 shots with up to 75% less noise than the DIGIC 4 processor produced.

      Unfortunately, above ISO 80 you can’t use shutter speeds longer than 1.3 seconds, which limits the value of this camera for taking shots after dark and in dimly-lit environments. After dark, you’re forced to choose between exposures of up to 15 seconds at ISO 80 or one second or less at ISO 3200 or 6400 because the intervening ISO settings will usually produce under-exposed pictures.

      The increased light sensitivity also provides an improved dynamic range in recorded shots and four-channel sensor read-out technology enables fast image and movie capture. Together, these technologies have increased the camera’s continuous shooting rate to enable it to record full resolution, high-speed bursts of up to eight frames at up to 9.6 frames/second and Super Slow Motion Movies at 240 fps.

      The S100 offers the same raw file and RAW+JPEG capture options as its predecessor, along with the same range of image aspect ratios. Two levels of JPEG compression are also provided. Typical file sizes are shown in the table below.

      Aspect Ratio Image size Pixels Compression
      Fine Normal
      4:3 RAW 4000 x 3000 18.96MB
      RAW+JPEG 4000 x 3000 21.33MB
      L (Large) 4000 x 3000 3.3MB 1.60MB
      M1 (Medium 1) 2816 x 2112 1.75MB 0.85MB
      M2 (Medium 2) 1600 x 1200 0.61MB 0.32MB
      S (Small) 640 x 480 0.19MB 0.12MB
      3:2 L (Large) 4000 x 2664 2.94MB 1.41MB
      M1 (Medium 1) 2816 x 1880 1.55MB 0.76MB
      M2 (Medium 2) 1600 x 1064 0.54MB 0.29MB
      S (Small) 640 x 424 0.17MB 0.10MB
      16:9 L (Large) 4000 x 2248 2.49MB 1.21MB
      M1 (Medium 1) 2816 x 1584 1.31MB 0.64MB
      M2 (Medium 2) 1920 x 1080 0.66MB 0.34MB
      S (Small) 640 x 360 0.15MB 0.08MB
      1:1 L (Large) 2992 x 2992 2.47MB 1.88MB
      M1 (Medium 1) 2112 x 2112 1.30MB 0.64MB
      M2 (Medium 2) 1200 x 1200 0.47MB 0.24MB
      S (Small) 480 x 480 0.15MB 0.08MB
      4:5 L (Large) 2400 x 3000 1.99MB 1.88MB
      M1 (Medium 1) 1696 x 2112 1.05MB 0.64MB
      M2 (Medium 2) 960 x 1200 0.37MB 0.24MB
      S (Small) 384 x 480 0.12MB 0.08MB

      Unlike its predecessors, the PowerShot S100 is equipped to record Full High Definition video at 1080p resolution with a ‘cinema-like’ frame rate of 24 frames/second and with stereo soundtracks. A dedicated movie button (also new) starts and stops movie recording and users can choose from three movie modes: Standard, iFrame Movie (which records Full HD in the file format supported by Apple devices and software) and Super Slow Motion Movies.

      Three frame rates are available in the Standard mode and two in the Super Slow Motion mode. The table below shows typical recording times for each setting.

      Recording pixels Frame rate 4GB card capacity Max. clip length/playback time
      1920 x 1080 24 fps 14 minutes 34 seconds 29 minutes 59 seconds
      1280 x 720 30 fps 20 minutes 43 seconds
      1280 x 720 iFrame 13 minutes 35 seconds
      640 x 480 43 minutes 43 seconds
      640 x 120 120 fps n.a. Approx. 2 minutes
      320 x 240 240 fps n.a. Approx. 4 minutes

      Most of the scene pre-sets and some of the built-in special effects can be used in movie mode and the camera can apply scene recognition to match shooting parameters with pre-programmed scene pre-sets. Most of the built-in effects produce similar results for both still pictures and video clips.

      However, the Miniature Effect works a little differently in movie mode, gradually blurring the top and bottom, or the left and right of the scene to emphasise perspective. It’s only available with the 720p setting but users can choose the frame rate at which the movie is shot from 6fps, 3fps or 1.5fps.

      The image quality defaults to VGA if the camera is set for a 4:3 aspect ratio or 720p for a 16:9 aspect ratio. When played back, the effect is like watching a time-lapse movie of a miniature scale model.
      The Super Slow Motion Movies are recorded without soundtracks. Focus, exposure and white balance are set at the start of each clip and the zoom is fixed during shooting, although available before recording is begun. Clips are restricted to 30 seconds with playback over two minutes for 120 fps clips or four minutes for 240 fps clips.

      For all other movie modes, focus can be adjusted, either automatically or manually. However camera noises may be recorded in the soundtracks. A wind cut filter is available for suppressing noise when recording movies outdoor with the other modes.

      New Features
      Multi-area White Balance is one of several new features provided through the new DIGIC 5 processor. It enables the camera to  detect different light sources, identifying tungsten lighting, flash and daylight. In mixed lighting, the processor will compensate for differences between them to produce more realistic and consistent colour reproduction.

      For point-and-press shooters, the Smart Auto mode in the PowerShot S100 includes Scene Detection, Motion Detection, Face Detection and Advanced Subject Detection to analyse the scene, looking at subject brightness, contrast, distance and overall hue. The camera then selects the most appropriate scene type from 32 pre-sets and displays a colour icon indicating the type of scene detected and the lighting conditions. Smart Auto also includes enhanced i-Contrast and Smart Flash Exposure.

      Face detection has also been improved with the ability to detect up to 35 faces in a frame and optimise focus, exposures (ambient light and flash) and white balance as well as applying red-eye correction, if required. Advanced Subject Detection in the Smart Auto mode also allows the camera to identify a moving non-human subject, such as a pet, and keep it in focus and correctly exposed until the shutter is released.

      Focus and exposure tracking is also applied in the Servo AF/AE mode, while the Tracking AF mode gives photographers the ability to select objects from the centre of the frame and track them if they move, or if the frame is recomposed. Motion Detection Technology automatically detects motion in the scene and causes the camera to increase the ISO or shutter speed to reduce the risk of blurred shots.

      The Smart Shutter mode uses Face Detection Technology and includes Smile Detection, Wink Self-Timer and Face Self-Timer settings. Blink Detection makes it easy to see when a subject’s eyes were closed when the shot was taken, allowing users to re-shoot on the spot.

      Built-in shooting effects are the same as those in other recent cameras and include monochrome, fish-eye, toy camera, super vivid, poster and miniature effects. The S100 also comes with a built-in GPS receiver that records location information in the image metadata.

      The GPS unit also allows the camera’s internal clock to be updated according to time zone, allowing users to track where they have been on a particular journey. Data can be logged at

      set time intervals as you travel and the log file saves a day’s journey, enabling users to pinpoint where shots were taken with the supplied Map Utility software, which integrates with Google Maps. Unfortunately, leaving data logging on will drain the camera’s battery overnight.

      Playback and Software
      Image playback is essentially unchanged from the PowerShot S90. The software bundle is also the same. Both are covered in the review of the PowerShot S90.

      Despite the new sensor, image processor and lens, the review camera delivered similar image quality to its predecessor. Shots taken in bright outdoor lighting often contained blown-out highlights, although shadow detail was usually well recorded even when -0.3EV of exposure compensation was applied to make highlight details recordable. (This wasn’t always successful but applying 0.7EV of exposure compensation often blocked up shadow detail.)

      In most situations, colours were accurately recorded and saturation was well contained. Autofocusing and metering were fast and accurate and the image stabiliser enabled shots to be taken using shutter speeds as slow as 1/4 second with moderate zooming-in.

      We noticed no improvements to the HDR mode, which was introduced in the S95. Tripod mounting is still required and subjects should be static to avoid blurring while the three shots that make up the image are recorded. But you can’t be sure the images will combine precisely, as shown in the examples below.

      Imatest showed JPEG resolution almost able to meet expectations for a 12-megapixel camera, while raw files processed with Adobe Camera Raw 6.6, which was available as a ‘release candidate’ during the period of our review, yielded above-average resolution at low sensitivity settings. The graph below shows the results of our Imatest tests at different ISO settings for both JPEG and raw files.

      Image noise became visible in test shots from about ISO 800 on, although detail in shots was retained. This indicates superior noise-management to the average performance in most small-sensor digicams. Shots were printable at snapshot size up to ISO 3200 but at ISO 6400 contrast deteriorated and blotchiness increased at the expense of detail resolution.

      Flash exposures fared better than available-light shots, although shots taken at ISO 6400 were unsharp. The flash also had insufficient power to provide correct exposures at the 26mm focal length with ISO settings below 400.
      Lens performance was variable, with the highest resolution in our tests achieved at maximum aperture around the middle of the zoom range. However, although the lens opens to f/2 at the 5.2mm focal length, at its highest resolution, the maximum aperture here was a relatively slow f/4.5. And, with the minimum aperture of f/8 at all focal lengths, there’s not much scope for depth-of-field control beyond this point. The graph below shows the results of our Imatest tests.

      Edge softening was detected in the middle of the focal length range and could be seen in some wide-angle shots. Rectilinear distortion was obvious at the shortest focal length setting but negligible from about 13mm on.

      Lateral chromatic aberration was also negligible at most focal length settings, although traces of coloured fringing could be found in some shots of high-contrast subjects. In the graph below, the red line marks the border between ‘negligible’ and ‘low’ CA, the green line separates ‘low’ and ‘moderate’ CA.

      Close-up performance was competent, although the lens will only focus down to 3 cm at the 5.2mm focal length. At full zoom extension, the minimum focusing distance is around 50 cm. Digital zoom shots were sharp and less artefact-affected than we normally see but the limited dynamic range of the sensor tended to compromise highlight areas in contrasty conditions.

      Auto white balance performance was similar to the S95. Shots taken under incandescent lighting retained a slight colour cast while shots taken in fluorescent lighting were colour-neutral. The presets produced neutral colours with both lighting types.

      Video clips were similar to those from the SX40 HS we reviewed recently. Colours were bright, saturation was slightly elevated and detail was generally well recorded. The ability to use the zoom while shooting normal video clips was a bonus and the AF system handled moderate zooming and panning well. The slow-motion video modes were hampered by low resolution but delivered interesting footage nonetheless.

      Operating times for the review camera were slightly slower in some respects than we found with the S95, although a little faster in others. The camera took approximately 2.5 seconds to power up and roughly 1.4 seconds to shut down again.

      Shot-to-shot times averaged 2.1 seconds for high-resolution JPEGs, 3.05 seconds for raw files and 3.15 seconds for RAW+JPEG pairs. When flash was used, shot-to-shot times extended to 6.9 seconds, reflecting the slow recycling times for the built-in flash.

      We measured an average capture lag of 0.4 seconds, which reduced to a consistent 0.1 seconds when shots were pre-focused. It took 2.5 seconds, on average, to process and store each Large/Fine JPEG file, 3.2 seconds for each raw file and 3.4 seconds for each RAW+JPEG pair.

      In the continuous shooting mode, the review camera recorded 10 JPEG frames in 3.3 seconds. Switching to the Continuous AF mode slowed capture rates, extending the time to record 10 shots to 4.3 seconds. Processing appears to be on-the-fly as each burst was completed approximately 4.5 seconds after the last shot was taken.

      It took 6.8 seconds to record a burst of 10 CR2.RAW files. Only eight RAW+JPEG pairs can be recorded in a burst before shot-to-shot intervals exceed two seconds. In both cases, however, processing had been completed within 4.5 seconds of the last shot taken.

      The High-Speed Burst HQ mode, the camera recorded eight high-resolution JPEGs (the buffer limit) in 0.7 seconds, which equates to just under nine frames/second. It took approximately 4.5 seconds to process this burst.

      Buy this camera if:
      – You want an ultra compact camera that can record raw files and is small enough to fit in a shirt pocket.
      – You’d like the ability to shoot Full HD (1080p) video clips.
      – You want effective image stabilisation.
      – You’d like most of the controls and functions offered in serious DSLR cameras.
      – You require high resolution and low noise levels at high ISO settings.
      – You require high burst speeds and buffer capacity

      Don’t buy this camera if:
      – You need fast cycle times for processing shots.
      – You need a powerful flash.
      – You have large hands or fingers or limited dexterity.



      Image sensor: 7.6 x 5.7 mm high-sensitivity CMOS sensor with (12.1 megapixels effective)
      Image processor: DIGIC 5 with iSAPS technology
      Lens: 5.2-26.0 mm f/2.0-f/5.9 zoom lens (24-120mm equivalent in 35mm format)
      Zoom ratio: 5x optical, up to 4x digital
      Image formats: Stills – JPEG (Exif 2.3), CR2.RAW, RAW+JPEG; Movies – MOV [H.264 + Linear PCM (stereo)], iFrame supported
      Image Sizes: Stills – [4:3] 4000 x 3000, 2816 x 2112, 1600 x 1200, 640 x 480; [3:2] 4000 x 2664, 2816 x 1880, 1600 x 1064, 640 x 424; [16:9] 4000 x 2248, 2816 x 1584, 1920 x 1080, 640 x 360; [1:1] 2992 x 2992, 2112 x 2112, 1200 x 1200, 480 x 480; [4:5] 2400 x 3000, 1696 x 2112, 960 x 1200, 384 x 480; Movies -1920 x 1080 at 24 fps [FHD], 1280 x 720 and 640 x 480 at 30 fps; Super Slow Motion Movie: 640 x 480, 120fps, 320 x 240, 240fps
      Shutter speed range: 15 to 1/2000 second
      Self-timer: 2 or 10 seconds delay plus Custom self-timer
      Image Stabilisation: Lens-shift type; 4-stops, Intelligent IS
      Exposure Compensation: +/- 3 EV in 1/3 stop increments
      Focus system/range: TTL AF with AiAF (Face Detection / 9-point), 1-point AF (Any position is available, fixed centre or Face Select and Track); range – 3 cm to infinity
      Exposure metering/control: TTL metering with Evaluative (linked to Face Detection AF frame), Centre-weighted average, Spot (centre or linked to Face Detection AF or FlexiZone AF frame) modes
      Shooting modes: Smart Auto (32 scenes detected), Program AE, Shutter priority AE, Aperture priority AE, Manual, Custom, SCN (Movie Digest, Portrait, Landscape, Kids & Pets, Smart Shutter(Smile, Wink Self-Timer, FaceSelf-Timer), High-speed Burst HQ, Handheld Night Scene, Beach, Underwater, Foliage, Snow, Fireworks, Stitch Assist, High Dynamic Range, Nostalgic, Fish-eye Effect, Miniature Effect, Toy Camera Effect, Monochrome, Super Vivid, Poster Effect, Colour Accent, Colour Swap), Movie
      ISO range: Auto: ISO 80, 100, 125, 160, 200, 250, 320, 400, 500, 640, 800, 1000, 1250, 1600, 2000, 2500, 3200, 4000, 5000, 6400
      White balance: Auto (including Face Detection WB), Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Flash, Underwater, Custom. Multi-area WB correction available in Smart Auto
      Flash modes/range (ISO auto): Auto, Manual Flash On / Off, Slow Synchro; range – 50 cm – 7.0 m
      Sequence shooting: High-speed Burst HQ: Approx. 9.6 shots/sec., up to 8 shots
      Approx. 2.3 shots/sec., AF: Approx. 0.8 shots/sec., LV: Approx. 0.8 shots/sec.
      Storage Media: SD, SDHC, SDXC
      Viewfinder: n.a.
      LCD monitor: 3-inch PureColor II G TFT LCD with approx. 461,000 dots
      Power supply: NB-5L Rechargeable Li-ion Battery; CIPA rated for Approx. 200 shots/charge
      Dimensions (wxhxd): 98.9 x 59.8 x 26.7 mm
      Weight: Approx. 198 grams (including battery and memory card)



      RRP: $549

      Rating (out of 10):

      • Build: 9.0
      • Ease of use: 8.5
      • Autofocusing: 8.5
      • Image quality JPEG: 8.5
      • Image quality RAW: 8.8
      • Video Quality: 8.5