In the super- or ultra-zoom marketplace, things have changed dramatically since the S2's predecessor, the S1, was launched around 18-months ago. Competition from Olympus, Sony, Konica Minolta and Panasonic means the S2 has its work cut out. Happily, Canon seems to have poured in plenty of kit and boosted its performance over the predecessor, and then some.
First up, the camera boasts an all-new body, it's deeper and easier to handle with a more sculpted handgrip. Sadly, even a cursory glance at the camera's many buttons may have the technophobes quaking in their photographic boots.
This apparent complexity actually makes the S2 easier to use because all the main controls and modes are accessed via direct buttons, rather than through menus. This is a boon given the huge specification crammed into the new bodywork that would otherwise necessitate the type of menu browsing usually reserved for computer programmers.
The typical control top plate shutter release and mode dial remain with a rocker-style on/off/playback control. The pop-up flash is better than the S1's and sits higher too. On the back plate, key controls surround the LCD monitor that can swivel, tilt and turn into almost position making composing shots a doddle in almost any situation except bright sunlight where it's disappointingly hard to see anything.
A four-way jog button scrolls the camera's menus and in playback mode, allows you to move through stored images held on the camera's SD/MMC storage; or bring up extra information such as histogram displays.
Handling is surprisingly simple (though you may want to carry the manual with you for a while until you're familiar with it) and while it can be used as a point'n'shooter, the many manual control options make this an enthusiast's camera too. You even have a separate video capture button on the back plate for example, so confusion over what mode you may be in is not an issue.
Scene modes include the pretty standard modes, such as portrait, landscape and night scene modes but there are a few extra choice morsels in there too. These include the ‘my colours' setting, which allows you to tailor colour balance in your shots or the ‘custom' setting that allows you tailor many aspects of the image you shoot to suit your preferences.
Other standout features include the S2's ability to focus to within a distance of 0cm from the front lens element. This is a first for a digital camera of this ilk and means you quite literally have frame filling macro at your fingertips. The image stabilisation works wonderfully well and given the huge 36mm to 432mm 12x zoom focal range, its benefits at helping prevent the worst vagaries of camera shake, for example, cannot be ignored. The improved-over-the-S1 video mode with stereo sound is also a winner providing video to the limit of the storage in use.
Image quality is pretty much on a par with all the other cameras in its class barring a couple of issues. Image noise over ISO 200 sensitivity is noticeable and in low lighting, there are annoying lapses in the AF, which seems to be a tad hit and miss in those conditions. Nevertheless, colour and exposure are great and the lens, despite its jack-of-all-trades focal length is impressively free of distortion.
The Canon Powershot S2 IS provides a superb range of features and great handling abilities in a relatively small package and gives more than adequate results at a resolution that is ample for prints up to and over A3 in size. Even with Canon's recently announced avalanche of new cameras, it still sits neatly in the range providing an enthusiast level of performance and specification at nearly half the price.