We all appreciate professional-looking photographs, but hate the bulk associated with both digital SLRs and hybrid models. Ideally, we want something that will fit in our pockets. Enter Canon's much-anticipated, 10-megapixel PowerShot S95, updating the well-received . Like its forebear, the £400 S95 is a thing of beauty. This diminutive fixed-lens camera puts the 'power' in PowerShot, promising serious performance at a pocket-friendly size.
Size it up
The new S95 premium compact is slimmer than its predecessor, at 29.5mm deep. It packs a 3.8x optical zoom and purports to offer improved handling and optical image stabilisation, more manual control, plus high-definition movie and raw capture capability. Impressively, the writing speed of shooting raw and JPEG in tandem isn't noticeably longer than that for stand-alone JPEG. Those wanting to maintain both highlight and shadow detail when taking trickier shots will also appreciate the high-dynamic-range shooting option, which combines different exposures into one evenly exposed image. As is the case with any of its rival models, the camera must be held rock-steady while this feature is in use to avoid a distinctly jittery-looking result.
The one immediate bugbear with this PowerShot is the same as that which haunted the S90. The cost of the S95 is around £400, a similar price to what you'd pay for an entry-level dSLR, which feels expensive. At the time of writing, street prices were still almost as high, given its newness.
Power in the palm of your hand
In the pocket-rocket stakes, the S95 goes up against the likes of Panasonic's LX5 and, to an extent, Nikon's . To be fair, Canon's rugged G12 is a closer match for the latter. Keeping matters streamlined, the S95 features a pop-up flash that sinks within the body when inactive. It sits well in the palm, feeling solid yet portably lightweight. It weighs 193g, including the battery and SD/SDHC/SDXC memory card. Support for wireless transfer is also offered, but not guaranteed.
Since there's nothing resembling a handgrip on the camera, the flat surface of the S95 has been given a rougher feel to stop it slipping from your fingers. It's the same coating used on itsdSLR, claims Canon. The top-mounted mode dial juts out slightly at the right-hand edge of the back plate, meaning your thumb automatically presses up against it when shooting. It's quite stiff, each setting slotting into place with a definite click. These design features mean the S95 has a limited degree of support. Something obviously had to be sacrificed in order to bring a serious camera of snapshot proportions to the market and, unfortunately, it was a decent grip.
The shooting mode dial features program, aperture priority, shutter priority, manual and user-definable settings, plus smart auto (reliably comparing the subject against 28 pre-programmed variables), low-light mode, scene modes and movie mode. Video is not quite 1080p resolution, with just 1280x720 pixels at a standard frame rate of 24 frames per second, alongside stereo audio recording. Commendably, Canon has found space for an HDMI output alongside the standard AV port.
With this ring…
The S95 incorporates the funkyof its predecessor, which handily encircles the lens barrel. With a press of the top-mounted 'ring func' button and a twist of said ring, you can manually set the focal length. The zoom buzzes and adjusts as warranted, its 35mm equivalent range of 28-105mm offered in incremental steps. For those preferring a smoother continuous zoom action, a conventional zoom lever encircles the shutter release button on the top plate. Hit this lever and the camera powers through its focal range in all of two seconds. Unfortunately, because of the optical zoom's operational buzz, you only have access to the alternate digital zoom when recording movie clips.