Though it fails to garner the same across-the-board high marks as its predecessors, the Canon PowerShot S70 nevertheless acquits itself very well as an enthusiast's compact. A 7-megapixel camera with a 3.6X zoom lens, the S70's first-rate photos and flexible feature set appeal now as much as they ever did. Only poor battery life and average performance hold it back from attaining better grades.
Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.The Canon PowerShot S70 has a pleasant heft to it, weighing 10.2 ounces with its battery and media inserted. That's enough to rest comfortably in your hands without shaking too much while you're shooting, but after hanging off your arm via the wrist strap for more than a few minutes, it starts to feel heavy. The S70's black, metal body seems uniformly sturdy; a lone exception is the sliding panel that covers the battery and media compartment, which feels as if it could snap off with one clumsy move.
The camera's body is half-again as long as one of Canon's more-diminutive Digital Elphs, measuring 4.5 inches across. In practice, the S70 is short enough to feel compact and fit in most pants pockets but also long enough to make two-handed shooting a comfortable endeavor. Those used to ultraslim or very compact point-and-shoots will likely find the S70 a bit clunky, and one-handed shooting is all but impossible without a tripod. The 1.8-inch LCD screen stays bright and fairly readable even in direct sunlight, but it's a bit small compared to the 2-inch displays that are becoming more popular in this market segment. Plus, as with most compact cameras, the S70's optical viewfinder is a diminutive and distorted alternative.
Canon logically lays out the buttons and controls on the PowerShot S70's rear. The menu button, the zoom control, the review toggle, the mode dial, and the four-way selector all lay within the arc of your right thumb, and the flash selector and the function/focus buttons are all easily reached by your left thumb. That's a lot of controls, but Canon intelligently allocates the division of labor between both thumbs: The left can bring up manual focus while the right clicks into shutter-priority mode, and tweaks both the focus and the shutter speed. Unfortunately, red-eye and flash-sync settings are buried in the main menu; they should be accessible from the flash button on the back of the camera.
The PowerShot S70's 3.6X optical-zoom lens protrudes from the front of the camera by a bit more than an inch, regardless of whether you're at a wide-angle or a telephoto setting. As a result, you can seek out a comfortable grip without the danger of accidentally getting a finger in front of the lens. The same can't be said of the flash, so if you're lining up a shot where lighting is of particular importance, you'll want to be careful, as the hand position that feels most natural on the camera brings the edge of your finger close to the corner of the flash.With the exception of a couple of minor points, the Canon PowerShot S70 has a powerful set of features for enthusiasts. Its f/2.8-to-f/5.3, 28mm-to-100mm (35mm equivalent) lens delivers one of the wider viewing angles available in a snapshot camera (some others can be found here) and can focus to as close as 1.4 inches. But the lens has a skimpy, 3.6X optical-zoom range stepped to eight positions. As for exposure modes, the S70 supplies all the essentials: full auto and program, shutter and aperture priority, and manual, as well as five scene presets. Center-weighted average, evaluative, and two spot-metering modes give advanced users some exposure flexibility as well. You can set light sensitivity between ISO 50 and 400. As with most cameras in its class, you can also tweak exposure and flash exposure to plus or minus 2EV in 1/3-stop increments. The S70's flash extends a reasonable distance, about 14 feet at ISO 100.
The S70 also offers flexible focus options. You can manually select a focus area from anywhere within the center two-thirds of the scene, fix it at the center, or let the camera automatically select it for you with its nine-point AiAF system. Additionally, you can effectively combine them with the camera's Focus Bracketing feature. White-balance options consist of seven presets--including Underwater (for when the camera's submerged in its optional underwater housing), auto, and manual.