The Canon PowerShot S110 hits the shelves a little less than a year after the release of Canon’s previous high-end S100 compact. But, oh, how the high-end compact landscape has changed in that short time. An abundance of releases with all sorts of varying sensor sizes - such as the Sony RX100 with its 1-inch sensor and Panasonic Lumix LX7 with its less-than-1/1.7-inch sensor - have shaken up the field.
Canon’s answer? The S110 adds a touchscreen and built-in Wi-Fi, among some other improvements, compared to its S100 predecessor. Is this PowerShot mighty enough to retain its high rank in the powerful-yet-pocketable compact camera hierarchy?
Features & Design
Pocket-lint first got our mitts on the S110 at Photokina 2012, a huge camera trade show in Cologne, Germany. The limited time we had with the camera there confirmed that the S110 was more a refresh of the S100 than a total overhaul.
This small-in-size compact comes loaded with a 12.1-megapixel 1/1.7-inch sensor and a 24-120mm f/2.0-5.9 equivalent zoom lens with optical image stabilisation.
It’s possible to shoot both raw and JPEG files, as well as capture 1080p HD movie clips and even geotag shots via the built-in GPS logger.
As well equipped as the S110 is for point-and-shoot snaps with its face priority autofocus, there’s also a mode dial to access full manual controls, including a single point, user-definable autofocus.
It may be small, but this slender good-looker crams in some high-spec design features too. The camera’s front has a textured finish for better grip, while the ring around the lens is used to adjust settings - in aperture priority, for example, it operates as an aperture ring, while in auto it functions as a "step zoom" to jump quickly between the classic focal lengths throughout the given range.
If those pre-set features don’t suit what you want, then a single press of the "Ring Func" button on the rear allows for customisation. It’s a great feature to have and, although the ring itself is rather small, it’s possible to work a single finger around the side, or cup the whole camera to get a pinch-like control from underneath.
The rear d-pad also doubles up as a rotational ring so, in combination with the front lens ring, the dual ring method makes light work of manual control.
It’s hard to argue with the S110’s simple, elegant and small design. It continues to show Canon’s pedigree in this category.
Sensor Wars & Image Quality
Let’s rewind for a moment: the S110’s 12.1-megapixel sensor is larger than those found in most standard compacts. Its 1/1.7-inch size is a cut above but the fact that there are now yet larger-sensor compacts on the market, such as the Sony RX100, opens up the gates for a whole lot more choice.
But it’s hard to question the S110’s quality. Images from ISO 80-800 are largely noise-free and sharpness is top notch too. Even ISO 1600 shots - which is where the Auto ISO setting maxes out, despite manual selection of ISO 3200 and 6400 being possible from within the menu - in low light hold enough detail to pass off as decent. It’s a carbon copy of the S100’s image quality though and even the HS system with Digic 5 processor is the very same.
There is of course the lens to consider too. The f/2.0 aperture available at the wide-angle 24mm equivalent is an essential for letting more light reach the sensor for blur-free exposures even in dim conditions. The fact this maximum aperture dips down to f/5.9 at the 120mm equivalent focal length is a disappointment however, in particular when thinking about the Panasonic LX7’s ability to open up to f/2.3 at its 90mm equivalent.
However, the S110’s slightly larger sensor knocks the socks off the Panasonic in low-light conditions, and also has a longer-reaching zoom lens, so it’s really six of one and half a dozen of the other.
Now that we’ve been living with the S110 for some time, we’ve been able to get a better appreciation of what’s different. Although, unfortunately, it’s not all entirely "appreciative".
Premier to the S110’s feature set is a touch-sensitive LCD screen. It’s responsive and perfect for positioning a focus point by hand (quite literally) and is an excellent update to the series. However the screen’s close proximity to the edge of the camera’s design and lack of any sizeable grip - short of a textured surface throughout the flat front - can throw up one or two accidental-press hiccups.
There’s also the inclusion of Wi-Fi but its implementation is long-winded and sloppy. And that’s being kind.
First up you’ll need to install Canon’s CameraWindow software, restart your system, then wire the camera to the computer via USB, before then registering with Canon Image Gateway services. Once that’s set up, wait for an email in order to log in and associate the connected camera to your account - though when we did this the site was being updated so we had to come back later on.
Amid the settings it’s possible to associate Canon Image Gateway, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and email services to the camera - but each one has to be specifically allotted to the chosen camera before they will become functional. Oh, and that’s after setting up the latest SSL certification on the camera. Still with us? No, we’d lost interest too.
Once all of that’s done, things appear to ease up. From within the camera’s playback gallery an upward click on the rear d-pad will open up access points - and here’s the part where you’ll want to enter WEP passwords as required, before sending the image.
However everything centres around Canon’s Image Gateway - the sent email doesn’t include the full image, it instead links an invite to an online gallery; and the apparent Twitter and Facebook posts didn’t show up on feeds and walls at all, even though confirmed as sent from within the Image Gateway history. This is no Twitpic.
It’s also possible to pair with a smartphone for a connection on the go, though we found the pairing process slow and even Wi-Fi connectivity in good signal areas was poor.
In short: this implementation of Wi-Fi is not how it should be done. It put us off using it, and it’s a battery beater just to further add to the pain.
But let’s not dwell on that low point. Put the camera to use and it’s autofocus that gets a recognisable injection of speed. It’s now got some extra pep compared to previous S-series models and, even if it’s not heaps faster, it’s definitely swift.
It’s really the combination of the touchscreen that makes focus that much better. It’s quick to respond to the touch, and if it doesn’t feel sensitive enough then there’s an increased sensitivity option that can be activated within the menus. An improvement would be increased control over the focus point size - a two-finger pinch control would be ideal, but instead it’s a nudge of the S110’s d-pad that will jump between small and medium focus area sizes.
The face-detection autofocus is quick to identify faces, although sometimes it thinks there are faces in strange places, such as brick walls. It can be easy to confuse, which will throw the focus off. Our preference was not to use this focus option, but point-and-shoot types will likely want to leave it on.
The camera can focus on a subject 3cm from the lens at its widest setting, dropping to 30cms at the full extent of the zoom.
Battery life is an ongoing moan too. The 200 shots per charge quota isn’t particularly high, and this worsens when switching on GPS or trying to use Wi-Fi. More juice next time please!
Even though the high-end compact camera market is hotting up, the Canon PowerShot S110 still delivers in many areas.
We’ll get the bad stuff out the way first: the Wi-Fi is poorly implemented, battery life really isn’t up to scratch and, just like its predecessor, there’s still no hotshoe or accessory port. In fact the S110 isn’t wildly different from its predecessor at all.
But when the S110 comes good, it does so in style. Not only does it look elegant and is truly pocketable - something ever rarer in high-end compacts - but the 1/1.7-inch sensor also produces great-looking images straight from camera and the f/2.0 aperture at the wide-angle setting is great to have.
The touchscreen and improved autofocus combine for the biggest step forward though. Coupled with the lens ring and rear rotational d-pad this camera is more of a joy to use than any S-series before it.
We sure do have the blinkers on about Wi-Fi, and the S110 might not be quite the king it once was, but otherwise it’s still a little joy.