As a Canon SLR 35mm owner and user, I’ve been reluctant to change to the digital side, however, the PowerShot S1 might just be the camera to change that. Canon’s selling points for the S1 are the 10x zoom and the Image Stabilizer, but there is a lot more going on here than just those defining features. At 3.2-megapixels, it’s in the middle of the park.
In terms of size and features, the S1 sits somewhere closer to the digital SLR cameras that an advanced user might want, than the everyday "handbag" camera. The dimensions mean that it is going to be living on the strap, rather than in the pocket. What that does mean is that there is a full range of features for you to play with - as many, in fact, as my old Canon 35mm. The camera is supplied with 4AA batteries, a strap, lens cover and 32MB CF card.
There are 12 modes, from Auto, through the normal Canon range of presets for night shooting, portraits and so on, and then the manual set-ups. The usual movie mode is also there, and because it is a 10x optical zoom, you can get close to your movie subject. On the zoom front this works very well, being both fast and silent (using Canon’s Ultrasonic Motor) that they harp on about in the literature. In truth, it’s very good. There is also a 30x digital zoom, which cunningly, you have the option to turn off, so you can keep things real.
The image stabilizer (IS) is designed to work in tandem with the optical zoom and take out the inevitable shakes that appear with close zooms. It is what this camera is all about, and again, you can get some impressive shots at 10x zoom. At first I dismissed the IS as a gimmick, but after taking a few pictures, I was surprised with the clarity I achieved, so a thumbs-up to Canon.
At the other end of the scale, I did find some focusing issues. AF does fall down in low-light conditions. There is the normal "red-eye reduction" LED that doubles up to light the target and help get a good focus, but if you decide to turn that off, it has some issues. We also tried a close-up in bright daylight and were surprised that the IS struggled so much to find anything to focus on. There is no macro function to support this close detail work. There is, however, a basic manual focus, although in truth, this takes time and involves using the thumb pad whilst it runs through the focusing range. For normal shots and distance work, there were no problems at all, the emphasis being on zoom rather than microscopic photography.
Another popular feature is the choice between the TTL LCD viewfinder or the 1.5-inch screen. The viewfinder can be a little grainy, but gives the feel of a real camera. The screen is a cunning twist and flip design, so that it can be stored safely away, or viewed from a variety of different angles say, for example, over your head in that classic back-of-the-pack wedding photo. There is an onboard flash that automatically pops-ups on demand, and a range of options so that it does what you want it to.
To describe all the features would take up too much space but I did test them all out. In the process, I took the camera from new batteries to dead batteries, so I would recommend some quality rechargeable, and take some spares, as all the shooting and subsequent reviewing and showing off of pictures to everyone will eat through them. It’s a difficult option to fault when you want a little more from a digital camera. There are range of accessories including a waterproof case (good down to 40m, but costing £140) that raises a few eyebrows and extra telephoto adapter lens options. Overall, it felt good in the hand, like a real camera, well-balanced and the subsequent results were very impressive - certainly a consideration for keen photographers and a pleasure to shoot photos with.