Canon PowerShot S95 at a glance:

  • 10 million pixels
  • 28-105mm (equivalent) f/2-4.9 lens
  • Hybrid Image Stabilizer
  • 720p HD movie recording
  • Street price around £399

Canon PowerShot S95 review – Introduction

Many compact cameras aimed at the more serious user are, well, not quite so compact. Canon’s PowerShot G11 is 49mm in depth, and Samsung’s EX1 is 46mm. In contrast, the Canon PowerShot S95 slips easily into the pocket and is truly compact at less than 30mm deep, while offering many of the same functions as the bulkier models. With fully manual controls, raw and JPEG capture, an aperture of f/2 at the wideangle focal length and an intuitive lens control ring, the main sacrifices from the larger Canon models are no viewfinder and a more modest focal range.

The Canon PowerShot S95 comes roughly one year after the launch of the previous model, the PowerShot S90. So, the first thing that many S90 owners will consider is whether or not any significant changes have been made that will justify upgrading to the newer model, or, if a new buyer, whether to fork out the extra money for the latest version. There have, in fact, been a number of refinements, and the addition of a Hybrid Image Stabilizer makes it worth considering.

Build and Handling

Canon Powershot S95Users of the PowerShot S90 will be hard-pressed to notice any changes to the exterior of the S95.

There are no ergonomic frills; the S95 is slim and simple, using the same tough and tactile material as the EOS 7D. Its understated elegance looks and feels professional, although on a practical level there is no grip to speak of on the front or back.

This is no major issue on a compact camera, but the inclusion of one would have aided handling. The shutter button sits naturally under the index finger and the mode dial is flush to the body and operated from the back. The latter requires a little persuasion, but this helps prevent accidental mode changes.

Although the flash pops up where the left-hand finger will rest, there is enough space behind it to grip the body.

At 29.5mm deep and weighing 193g (including the battery and memory card), the S95 is a fraction slimmer and lighter than the PowerShot S90, which is 1.4mm and 5g greater respectively.

In the absence of a viewfinder there is a robust, bright, 3in LCD screen. In one screen display mode, there is the usual nine-section grid for composing and a live histogram, which I found very useful. Navigating through images is speedy using the control wheel on the back, and images can rotate to suit the angle at which the camera is held.

One of the most popular features maintained from the S90 is the lens control ring. This allows quick access to manual controls. Canon has refined the S95, and included manual focus, aperture, white balance, ISO, zoom, exposure compensation, i-Contrast and aspect ratio options. This intuitive feature feels and handles to a level that will satisfy the demanding user. However, while there are fully manual controls and it feels like a camera for the serious photographer, there are plenty of fun scene modes to play with when the mood takes you.

Image: Aspect ratio options add a creative dimension to shooting, and 16:9 suits landscapes well

Image: Aspect ratio options add a creative dimension to shooting, and 16:9 suits landscapes well

Canon has kept the sensor to 10MP in order to maintain low-light performance.

In addition to the optical Image Stabilizer (IS), Canon has introduced its Hybrid Image Stabilisation for the first time in a compact camera. Coupled with the optical IS, the Hybrid IS is designed to keep images sharp for macro settings, where blur and movement are more obvious.

Other new features include multi-aspect shooting at 3:2, 4:3, 1:1, 16:9 and 4:5 ratios. As a keen landscape photographer, I particularly enjoyed using the 16:9 setting.

There are also new scene modes of fisheye effect, miniature effect and poster effect, but perhaps the most notable is an HDR mode. A tripod is necessary when using this mode as the camera takes three exposures, one after the other, and then combines them for a high dynamic range image.

The video mode has been improved from the S90 to 720p HD movie recording in the S95, and scene modes such as miniature effect can be applied. Unfortunately, the zoom control can’t function during shooting.


In situations where there is no time to take manual control, the auto shooting mode is reliable, producing generally well-metered images with natural tones.

Auto white balance struggles a little when there is a dominating colour in a scene, but this is not unusual and generally it produces accurate results.

The compact Canon Powershot S95 makes it a great pocket camera. Photo: Joshua Waller

The compact Canon Powershot S95 makes it a great pocket camera. 1/1000s, f/5, ISO80, 11mm. Photo: Joshua Waller

In tricky landscape scenes with a wide dynamic range, the evaluative metering generally meters correctly for land but leaves the sky too bright, so I leaned towards using spot metering. Enabling manual control places the emphasis on the photographer, and I am very pleased with the quality of my images, both in auto and manual settings.

Image: Hybrid IS enabled me to shoot this lily in low light, handheld at 1/15sec, with an ISO of 200. Results are sharp with little noise

Image: Hybrid IS enabled me to shoot this lily in low light, handheld at 1/15sec, with an ISO of 200. Results are sharp with little noise

One of the more significant changes from the PowerShot S90 is the introduction of the HS system (which was introduced to the IXUS series in the 300HS model) and Canon’s first Hybrid IS in a compact camera.

With a 4-stop optical IS combined with the Hybrid IS, the S95 is capable of handheld shooting at 1/8sec even in a macro scene. I found that when shooting handheld without support I could achieve a minimum shutter speed of 1/15sec and, with support such as propping my elbows on a surface, 1/8sec. The same minimum shutter speeds apply for macro scene.

This enables the use of low-sensitivity values even in low light, which is important as compact cameras are less able to avoid noise than DSLRs.

Resolution images: These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured with the lens set to its 100mm point. 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 is at the specified sensitivity setting.

The resolution chart shows that images have good detail for a compact camera and this only really drops off at higher sensitivities.

My images are very usable at ISO 200, but noise is recognisable to the discerning viewer at ISO 400 and only really becomes obvious at ISO 800 and beyond.

Autofocusing is generally good, but can struggle to isolate objects, particularly with crowded macro scenes, and the auto-centrefocus option of normal or small size makes little difference. Using manual focus goes some way to helping in such situations. Tracking AF has been introduced in the S95, and after selection it is activated by pressing the shutter button halfway. Movement is then detected and the tracking AF system locks onto the moving subject, represented by a blue box, and follows it. This is a good concept, although I found it struggles, particularly in scenes where there is a lot of movement going on, even once it has already locked onto its target.

Our verdict

There are not too many reasons to upgrade from a Canon PowerShot S90 to the PowerShot S95, as many of the differences are refinements rather than outright changes.

However, intuitive manual controls using the improved lens control ring in the later model will satisfy serious users and, in its own right, the S95 is a great performer.

There are few cameras that slip comfortably into pocket that will produce better images than this one.

For more options have a look at the best classic compact cameras.