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Canon S 95 Review

May 27, 2011

If you’re looking for a pocketable camera that has reasonably high quality images, lets you control aperture, speed and focus and shoot in RAW format, this is it. I bought mine as an upgrade from a previous small but versatile camera, a Canon Powershot S70.

The Powershot S95 was introduced in August 2010 as a slight upgrade to the S90, which was widely praised for its image quality and excellent interface but criticized for being hard to hold (“like a bar of soap in the shower”) and for having a control dial that turned too easily. The S95 fixes both problems and adds a couple of other features in a package that fits in the pocket of your jeans (if they’re not super tight). The case is metal, and although there are no finger grips on the body, it’s not slippery at all. It feels like it’s covered with super-fine sandpaper (like 1000 or 1500 grit, for those you who know what that feels like).

The second major complaint about the S-90 was that the function selection ring on the rear moved too easily. The ring on the S-95 has a slight click when you move it, and it doesn’t move unless you want it to.

There are a couple of other cameras of this type, including the Panasonic LX-3 and LX-5 and the Samsung TL500. They all have let you control camera functions, and like the S95 they have 10 MP sensors that are almost twice as large as a typical pocket camera, so the pixels on the sensor are larger. That lets them gather light more efficiently, which reduces digital “noise” when you shoot in dim light. Image quality is noticeably better than photos from typical pocket cameras. You can make an 8 x 10 or perhaps 11×14 enlargement, although a digital SLR will be significantly better for larger prints. They also have f/2.0 lenses at their widest angle, although the aperture closes down as you zoom in.

The Canon has two advantages over the Panasonic LX-3 & LX-5. First, you really can put it in your pocket or in a belt case no bigger than the one you use for a mobile phone. Second, the interface is a brilliant re-thinking of how a very small camera with a full set of controls should work. There’s not much room for buttons on the small surface, but you don’t have to get into a multi-level menu on the LCD, and yet changing settings is fast and intuitive.
For example, there’s a ring around the lens that you can grip easily to control zoom, or, shutter speed, or aperture, change ISO, or manually focus. You select what you want it to do by pressing a button on the top, and when you look at the LCD screen you can see what it’s programmed for. There’s a selection wheel on the back for other functions, and when you move it, a clear set of choices appears on the screen. The selections are context-appropriate, so they change depending on whether you’ve set the camera for aperture control, “Program” control, etc.

The two Panasonics have the same sensor as their Canon equivalents, but they offer a slightly wider lens (24mm vs. 28 for the S95). The LX-3 has a much shorter telephoto – only 60 mm. The LX-5, which was introduced a couple of weeks before the S95, has a 90mm telephoto, and you can buy an add-on optical viewfinder. It also has a flash shoe in addition to the pop-up flash, although you can buy a dedicated add-on flash for the S-95 to supplement its pop-up flash The LX-5 is about 25% more expensive than the Canon S95 (and 60% more with the optional viewfinder) and while it would fit in a coat pocket, you can’t stuff it into a trouser pocket.

If you want a truly pocketable camera that gives you good image quality and full control over your photography, the S95 is an excellent choice.

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