Canon PowerShot S100 at a glance

  • 12.1-million-effective-pixel CMOS sensor
  • Up to 9.3 frames per second
  • ISO 80-6400
  • 1080p HD video
  • 24-120mm f/2 equivalent optical zoom lens
  • Street price around £439

With the Canon PowerShot G12 at the top of Canon’s compact camera line-up, enthusiast photographers might be forgiven for asking what is so special about the PowerShot S100. After all, it looks like any other compact camera, especially when compared to the rangefinder styling of the G12. But, therein lies its appeal – the slim compact exterior of the S100 hides a wealth of features that are ideal for the enthusiast photographer looking for a compact camera, and unlike the G12 the S100 is truly compact.

When we tested the S100’s predecessor, the S95, in AP 2 October 2010, it received an impressive 4 out of 5 stars. The latest version has a number of improvements, the most significant being the Canon-developed 12.1-million-pixel CMOS sensor.


There is no doubt that the most important feature of the new Canon PowerShot S100 is its sensor. Unlike that used in the Canon PowerShot G12 and the preceding PowerShot S95, the sensor has been produced by Canon itself and developed using the company’s ‘EOS-sensor know how’.

Although the 1/1.7in (approximately 7.6×5.7mm or 43mm2 ) sensor size remains the same as the S95, it is a CMOS rather than a CCD sensor. Canon states that the size of the microlenses has been improved compared to previous sensors. This means that less of the light that reaches the sensor is lost, as the larger microlenses should direct more light the photosites, which helps reduce noise.

The resolution of the sensor has also been increased from 10 million pixels to 12.1 million. This is significant, because when Canon increased the resolution of its PowerShot G-series cameras from 12.1 million pixels in the G9 to 14.7 million in the G10, it affected image quality enough to warrant a reduction of resolution to just 10 million pixels in the subsequent G12. The same sensor used in the G12 was also found in the PowerShot S90 and S95, so increasing it to 12.1 million in the S100 indicates Canon’s confidence in the technology. It also hints that we may see this sensor in the next PowerShot G-series camera.

Processing the data created by the sensor is a Canon Digic 5 processor. According to Canon, this processor is 6x faster and should help the camera produce 75% less noise than the Digic 4 processor used in the PowerShot S95. The new sensor and increased processing power give the S100 an ISO sensitivity range of ISO 80-6400, improved from ISO 3200 in the S95. It also allows full 1080p HD video capture.

Another consequence of the increased processing power is a continuous shooting rate of 2.3fps, or 9.6fps in an eight-frame burst in high speed burst mode. However, there are restrictions on AF. In the standard shooting rate it is locked at the first image, but exposure can change. In the high-speed mode, all the exposure settings are locked at the first frame and images can only be saved as JPEG files.

Optically, the PowerShot S100 is also different from the two previous incarnations of the camera. The maximum aperture is still f/2, but the focal length of the lens is now extended at both ends, increasing from a 3.8x zoom in the S95 to a 5x zoom with the equivalent focal length of 24-120mm in the S100.

Another feature new to the Canon S series is in-camera GPS. This embeds the location data of where an image was taken into the image file. There are two modes in the S100, with one using the GPS when an image is taken and the other tracking the location data even when the camera is turned off. This creates a log of the exact route you have taken, and it can then save this data as a log file for use in other applications. However, as these features use up battery power, even when the camera is turned off, I would advise using the standard mode instead, which should be more than sufficient for most photographers.

Build and Handling

With dimensions of just 98.9×59.8×26.7mm the metal-bodied S100 can properly be described as compact camera. In fact, the camera is as small as some of the Canon IXUS models. Unlike the G12, the S100 is truly pocketable, and will fit in a trouser pocket easily.

To help the user access and change manual controls and advanced features as quickly and as easily as possible, the S100 has four buttons on the rear of the camera, as well as a directional control. Surrounding this is a wheel that allows an exposure setting to be changed quickly.

Similarly, there is wheel around the rear of the lens, where it meets the body. When turned, this can also be used to change any number of settings, including aperture, shutter speed, EV compensation and even the focal length of the lens. Using a control around the lens will feel familiar for any DSLR photographers, and it feels natural using this dial to change settings, particularly if it is set to control the aperture or zoom function of the lens.

Anyone who has used a compact camera will have no trouble navigating the PowerShot S100’s menu system, while those more used to using a DSLR will find that there are enough direct controls to change settings quickly.

One minor issue with the build of the camera is that the pop-up flash, on the top left of the camera, is placed where most people will naturally rest the forefinger of their left hand.


As with other Canon PowerShot compact cameras, the S100 has a full complement of metering modes in the form of spot, centreweighted and evaluative. I spent most of my time with the S100 set to its evaluative mode. This generally produces good results and can be relied upon in most situations.

When shooting landscapes, evaluative metering tends to prioritise the foreground, which can often lead to blown-out skies. I tended to use the EV compensation to slightly underexpose the foreground, thus leaving some detail in the sky.

Images taking using the flash are well exposed, and there are a few basic flash controls, such as flash exposure compensation and slow sync flash when in the PASM exposure modes. However, in most of the scene modes the flash is automatic and the only real control is to switch it on or off, or to select the anti-redeye option. Given the situations in which the camera is likely to be used, these options should more than suffice.

Image: The PowerShot S100’s black & white mode is good, but sadly there are no contrast-adjustment options


For a compact camera, the autofocus on the S100 is very snappy, and the contrast detection AF usually has no problem locking onto a target. There are a few AF modes to choose from, with intelligent AiAF the best one for most situations. This will detect the focus from up to nine different points in the scene, and if face detection is turned on it will also look for faces and focus on these.

A single-point AF mode is also available, and the size and position of the point can be changed, with most of the frame available for selection. You can’t focus at the very edges of the frame, but this isn’t really an issue as it is unlikely your subject will be placed at these extremes.

AF tracking is also available, with the autofocus tracking the subject around the frame as it moves. This works well, particularly when photographing a subject moving at a moderate pace. It is also useful if you wish to choose the point of focus to recompose a scene. With a number of button presses required to change the AF point, using focus tracking to chose the AF point and then recompose is a useful time-saving technique.

Manual focus is also available, but given the number of AF modes on offer and its accuracy, it isn’t really necessary, except for macro images.

Noise, Resolution and Sensitivity

Canon’s claims about the low level of noise from the new 12.1-million-pixel sensor are accurate, with the camera performing well up to ISO 400. Very slight image noise is visible, but it is easily dealt with by the in-camera noise-reduction.

As expected, there is an increase in noise as the sensitivity increases, but the S100 handles it well and keeps it to a minimum. Sensitivities up to ISO 800 are still usable, with ISO 3200 and 6400 being relatively noise free, although there is a loss of detail in JPEG files.

Generally, I found the default noise-reduction feature a little too harsh, but interestingly for a compact camera, the level of noise reduction can be reduced.

There is obviously far more control over image noise and sharpness when shooting raw images. Photos shot at the lower ISO 80-200 sensitivities can have quite a lot of sharpening applied to reveal small details, and virtually all colour noise can be removed. I tended just to take the edge off luminance noise, preferring a slight speckling to a smudged appearance and loss of detail.

Resolution, Noise & Dynamic Range:  These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured using the zoom lens set to a 50mm equivalent. We show the section of the resolution chart where the camera starts to fail to reproduce the lines separately. The higher the number visible in these images, the better the camera’s detail resolution at the specified sensitivity setting.

White Balance and Colour

There are no surprises with the white balance and colour settings of the Canon PowerShot S100. The AWB settings do a good job of neutralising any colour casts, but I would suggest using the dedicated white balance mode for the best results, particularly in bright sunlight.

There are a variety of colour settings, including the now-familiar Canon compact camera options of light and dark skin tones, and vivid red, green and blue settings. Also of note is the positive film setting, which produces rich colours to replicate transparency film. One minor complaint is that the settings can’t be adjusted. There is the option to create your own custom colour, but you cannot create or adjust the black & white setting. While the black & white setting produces nice images, it would be nice to have the option to increase the contrast for a more dramatic effect.

Generally, colours are bright and punchy, even in the default setting. For most situations I would recommend this basic setting, or the neutral settings for a more realistic, natural colour.

LCD, Live View and Video

The 3in, 461,000-dot screen of the S100 takes up most of the rear of the camera and provides a bright screen that is great for composition. Although not as detailed as similar sized screens found on DSLR and compact system cameras, its resolution is high enough to check for fine details.

Video has been a feature of compact cameras for far longer than it has on DSLRs and it was only a matter of time before new cameras had full 1080p HD video. Up to 30mins of HD video footage can be captured in a continuous recording, and the accompanying audio is recorded in stereo with video saved as MOV files.

Dynamic Range

With a smaller sensor than a DSLR, and therefore smaller photosites, the dynamic range of the PowerShot S100 is obviously more restricted. This is demonstrated by the blown-out highlights in scenes with bright skies. This is no surprise and is common with all compact cameras. However, with careful exposure there is still a good level of detail in both highlight and shadow areas.

There is also a DR correction feature, which works by increasing the ISO speed to either ISO 180 or ISO 320, and then underexposing the image to preserve the highlights.

The shadow areas are
then boosted to bring out detail. This should increase noise, but as the camera handles noise well up to around ISO 400, using DR correction doesn’t affect the image quality.

If you wish to produce good JPEG images straight from the camera, I recommend leaving the DR correction set to auto or DR 200%. Obviously, the effects aren’t available for raw images, but a similar effect can be achieved by exposing for highlights and then adjusting the shadow areas.

Images: The S100’s DR correction feature can make a big difference in high-contrast scenes.


By combining raw image capture with features such as HD video and GPS tagging, the Canon PowerShot S100 is certainly one of the most highly featured compact cameras we have seen. But the camera isn’t all bells and whistles. The new Canon 12.1-million-pixel sensor and Digic 5 processor at the S100’s core produce great images that are among the best quality I have seen from a compact camera, particularly when shooting raw at low sensitivities.

However, what really makes the S100 appealing is its size. It is small enough to carry anywhere, which is something few other compact cameras that shoot raw can boast.