Canon PowerShot S95

Canon PowerShot S95

Last month I put a new camera in my pocket, and I have a feeling it’s going to stay there for a long while. I bought a Canon PowerShot S95.

Like you, I shoot mostly with DLSR cameras. But they’re heavy and not always convenient to take along. For years I’d been carrying a Fujifilm Finepix F30 compact camera to use when the lights are low, and high-ISO shooting in order. I own three of them, and will probably buy the next one I run across—they’re that good. It’s a “cult camera,” and to know it is to love it.

Vintage 2006, the Fuji looks like a shiny bar of Ivory soap. The plainly styled F30 has unremarkable features, simple controls and a CCD that’s only 6-megapixel. But it’s a big CCD, and that makes all the difference in the world. Measuring 1/1.7 (0.59) inches, the CCD is large enough that the distance between pixels, or pitch, is larger than what’s found on comparable cameras. That means low noise at high ISO.

This blog is not intended to be a review. It’s a subjective list of things I like about the Canon S95—things that you might like, too. My disclaimer is that I purchased this myself; I did not get it for free, and did not get a discount.

Image quality is terrific. Taking sharpness, white balance, contrast and saturation as parameters, Canon engineers have done an excellent job of delivering image quality that is consistently outstanding. Almost as important is the low light, high-ISO performance. I can use it confidently in the darkest situations—where I’d otherwise have to use a DLSR—and get pictures I’m happy with every time.

RAW capture. This capability is appearing on more and more compacts, but this is certainly one of the smallest I know of that can shoot RAW files.

It’s small, and it’s slightly rounded, so it is highly portable. The lens retracts, and the lens cap is built in, and all buttons and dials are flush or recessed. In other words, it slips into and out of pockets without a snag. Remember, you’ll take the best pictures with the camera that’s with you most often.

Encircling the 3.8X zoom lens is a control ring that can be configured to perform any of several different functions. I have mine set up to operate as a Step Zoom, so by rotating the ring I can select 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm or 105mm focal lengths. That’s very cool.

I have not comprehensively tested it, but the Image Stabilization system seems to perform better than most. I’m getting very sharp results at slow shutter speeds. Maybe it’s partly because the shape makes the camera easy to hold. Despite the fact that some have criticized it because of the non-existent grip, I find that the bottom right corner, where the battery compartment is located, sits snugly upon the meaty part of the thumb. It’s very stable.

The Low Light scene mode reduces the capture resolution to 2.5-megapixel and kicks up the ISO. Frankly, I thought I’d use it more, but I’m getting such good results at ISO 400 and ISO 800 in Program mode that it hasn’t been necessary.

The HDR mode is much more than a gimmick. Set the camera on a tripod and select HDR. Use the adjustable self timer for best results. What happens is this: The PowerShot S95 shoots three shots at bracketed exposure settings, then melds them together to deliver improved shadow detail, great mid-tones and detailed highlights that are not blown out—all in the same image.

Once Over Briefly Video is rarely my first objective, but it’s nice that the Canon S95 records HD video at 1280x720, 24 fps.

PASM is important to me, too. I enjoy using Aperture priority and Shutter priority, and when the need arises, Manual. There is also a “C” Custom setting you configure yourself.

I also appreciate that you can assign the “S” Shortcut button to one of about 20 other useful functions.

And it accepts SDXC cards, in addition to SDHC. So it’s a little bit future-proof, too.

Last but not least, Zoom Browser EX, the image browser Canon supplies, is well above average. The Mac version is called ImageBrowser. If you PhotoShop and use Bridge, you may not install it. That would be a mistake. Zoom Browser is a fast, nicely functional and easy to use.

—Jon Sienkiewicz