Canon PowerShot S3 IS review: Canon PowerShot S3 IS

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CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars Very good
  • Overall: 7.7
  • Design: 8.0
  • Features: 8.0
  • Performance: 8.0
  • Image quality: 7.0
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Fast and responsive; comfortable design; decent movie capture; flip and twist LCD; fast, high-quality lens with effective optical image stabilization.

The Bad Tiny LCD; lacks raw support; faux wide-screen capture.

The Bottom Line A very well-executed megazoom camera, the Canon PowerShot S3 IS reminds you why dSLRs still have competition for photo enthusiasts' hearts.

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I went car shopping awhile back--the first time I'd ever looked for one on my own--and, accustomed to the rapidly changing pace of the tech sector, I innocently asked the salesman what the differences were between last year's model and the new versions slated to come out soon. He looked at me blankly, blinked, then responded, "The shape of the headlights." Well, Canon changed a bit more than the shape of the headlights between the PowerShot S2 IS and the S3 IS, but not much. The newer model integrates a 6-megapixel CCD instead of 5 megapixels, and Canon tosses in a few new features, but ultimately, it's the same camera. That's not necessarily a bad thing--the S2 remains a great camera, and the S3 carries on the tradition.

The Canon PowerShot S3 IS's aesthetic seems to be a cross between those of a classic Volkswagen Beetle and a Busy Box. Granted, it's the same body as its predecessor's, but the silver bits stand out more against the current version's iridescent, dark gray plastic than they did against the previous model's silver coloring. As with the S2, there's certainly enough here to keep you busy for a long time, though, and loving every minute of it. (For more details about the S2/S3's basic design and features, read the PowerShot S2 IS review .)

For the S3, Canon upped the size of the flip-and-twist LCD to 2 inches from 1.8, which is still disappointingly small. The company also added a ludicrous 16:9 aspect mode: not only does it simply crop and letterbox the standard 4:3 image, but the LCD is too small for a functional letterbox display. More useful is the new 320x240 60fps movie-capture mode, which produces slick little movies, as does the VGA, 30fps mode. Unfortunately, the camera still lacks raw format support.

Oddly, despite the different sensors--or perhaps because they use the same f/2.7-to-f/3.5, 36mm-to-432mm lens and Digic II imaging processor--the S3's photos look almost identical to the S2's. They display a broad tonal range, albeit with some clipping in the highlights and shadows, very good color accuracy and saturation, and acceptable edge-to-edge sharpness. Its noise profile follows suit as well: low until about ISO 200, then increasingly bad. Though the camera can now boost ISO sensitivity to as high as ISO 800, either manually or by enabling ISO Boost in a programmed-exposure mode, the noise at that setting is quite obtrusive. In general, the S3's photos look good but can't really shake the digital look, either onscreen or in print.

Canon PowerShot S3
The haloing around the hands, the smearing in the corduroy, and the general lack of detail in the bricks make this photo look obviously digital. Keep in mind that this was shot at maximum telephoto, however.

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Where to Buy See all prices

Canon PowerShot S3 IS

Part Number: 1101B001 Released: May 15, 2006
MSRP: $349.99 Low Price: $649.00 See all prices

Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date May 15, 2006
  • Digital camera type Full body
  • Optical Zoom 12 x
  • Optical Sensor Type CCD
  • Sensor Resolution 6.0 Megapixel
  • Image Stabilizer optical
  • Lens 36 - 432mm F/2.7
  • Optical Sensor Size 1/2.5"