The Canon S100 is a compact camera that’s all about providing the utmost user control and top-notch pictures. It’s the highest-end Canon compact on the market (excluding the G12), though it does carry an equally high-end £429 price point. For the money the S100 is littered with features, but is it worth the cash?
What’s it all about?
Small in size and big on features: As well as a 12.1-megapixel sensor, the S100’s 24-120mm f/2.0-5.9 optically stabilised lens is rangier and wider-angle than its closest rivals. Despite increasing zoom capacity compared to the S95 model the S100 succeeds in being a slimmer camera. Quite a feat, and we sure are impressed. Controls are handled by a front lens ring and rear rotational d-pad that double up as thumbwheel-like controls to ensure adjusting options is quick and easy.
Stills shooting in both raw and/or JPEG is met by a 1080p HD movie mode and GPS (global positioning satellite) technology also features. The latter can be used to auto-tag images’ EXIF data with location information, though Canon has gone one further by adding a GPS logger that can track your location - even when the camera’s ‘off’ - and plot your route using bundled software. However the files are a .LOG format, not the more universal .GPX type, for use with other mapping devices.
Scene and Effects modes feature alongside full manual (P/Tv/Av/M) controls, auto and a 9.6fps high-speed burst mode. For standard burst shooting while in a manual mode a less impressive yet still capable 2.3fps mode is available.
The S100 has been redesigned from its previous S-series brothers to incorporate a front grip and textured finish that makes the camera all the easier to hold.
Most compact cameras come equipped with teeny-tiny sensors, but the S100’s 12.1-megapixel 1/1.7in size chip is a size up from the norm. With that extra surface area, each photo diode - which correlates to each pixel in the resulting image - is therefore larger and more able to catch better quality light. The result is for cleaner images where image noise and JPEG processing become less of a bother, plus the extra size gives a little more control when it comes to throwing the background into a blur (shallow depth of field) – something made all the easier thanks to the S100’s f/2.0 aperture when at the wide-angle setting.
The S100’s resolution is a little higher than its S95 predecessor but some engineering wizardry means that the photo diodes are larger due to the use of different materials. It may sound illogical, but it sounds equally brilliant to us. Although Canon’s latest sensor isn’t ‘back-lit’ like so many of the other top sensors in high-end compacts today it still does a mighty fine job. Its ISO 80-6400 range is impressive, for the most part, around a stop better than the S95 to our eyes. This is thanks to the latest HS System and DIGIC 5 image processor that Canon claims is some six times more powerful than its predecessor (results aren’t six times better, but it’s an improvement).
Images from ISO 80-800 are, by and large, noise-free and sharpness is on point too. Even ISO 1600 shots in low light retain great levels of detail and we’d have no qualms about using the camera with confidence throughout these sensitivities. It’s not going to outperform a DSLR, but for a small form compact it takes pictures that stand out above and beyond its older 1/1.7in rivals.
The S100’s lens has a wide range and is easy to use. A seven level ‘step zoom’ is also available to rapidly jump between focal lengths in double time (pre-set to 24, 28, 35, 50, 85, 100 and 120mm).
Close-focusing is fine at the 24mm wide-angle setting where subjects can be as near as 3cms from camera. Although a claimed 30cms from lens is achievable at the 120mm setting, this is much harder to reproduce when out shooting in the field. This mis-focusing is the S100’s single biggest issue, as it will frequently be problematic to focus on nearby subjects, in particular if there’s any movement. Changing the focus point to a smaller size was still met with difficulty and it was only when switching to manual focus that a far closer focus was possible.
In more standard use the S100’s focusing system is swift and the inclusion of Servo AF means full time continuous autofocus is also possible. Where the S100 trumps the previous S95 is with the inclusion of FlexiZone AF that allows the AF point to be moved around the camera’s screen – a feature the centre-only focus S95 lacked.
The S100’s battery pack doesn’t see an improvement from the S95’s quoted 200 shots per charge, either. A shame as a camera like this ought to be able to succeed in a whole day’s shooting, especially at this high price point.
When it comes to customised controls the S100 excels. The front lens ring adjusts default settings but there’s a ‘ring func.’ button on the rear of the camera to assign a new setting, should you so wish. In full these are - take a deep breath now - default, ISO exposure compensation, focus, white balance, step zoom, i-contrast and aspect ratio. There’s also a custom setting where the defaults for M, Av, Tv and P can be changed.
The rear of the camera also houses a four-way d-pad to control Focus, Display, Flash and Exposure Compensation, plus there’s a centre Set button to open up an on-screen menu where almost all settings are available for quick adjustment. In short you’re never far from the options you need to get the most out of using the camera.
There’s not much the S100 can’t do. We love the picture quality, the small size, that front lens ring with customisable shooting modes and the GPS technology. FlexiZone AF and the new grip also right the S95’s wrongs.
On the downside the S100’s autofocus isn’t always 100 per cent when subjects are closer to the camera, there’s no hotshoe (though this would bulk the camera out) and the price is, er, pricey. Perhaps too pricey. But if you want quality then you’ll just have to fork out for it: the S100 outsmarts all other similar high-end compact cameras. It’s a little joy.