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First Look: Canon PowerShot S95

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First Look: Canon PowerShot S95

3:22 /

Though we'd like it to perform better, dSLR shooters looking for a sidekick camera will find the Canon PowerShot S95's top-flight photos and a full manual feature set worth the tradeoffs of its compact size.

Hi. I'm Lori Grunin, and this it the Canon PowerShot S95. When Canon shipped the S90 about a year ago, it made a big impression on advanced photographers. Tiny with a wide aperture lens and all the essential manual shooting features, it was practically irresistible for DSLR lovers. It did have a few flaws, however, some of which Canon has attempted to address with the successor, the S95. These include a 720p video capture upgrade, improved image stabilization, and some minor tweaks to the design and feature set. Performance, though, remains on the slow end of acceptable. I have to admit, the S95 just has a body that feels nice. It's well built with a slightly more textured finish than the S90. It's the smallest and lightest among its class but as a tradeoff, it's also the only model that lacks a hot shoe and the option for a viewfinder. It might feel a bit too small for some photographers. Small can be great on ultracompacts where you're not trying to change the settings too often, but there's no point buying the S95 to run it in complete auto. It's got a nice big bright LCD which is pretty viewable in direct sunlight, though, like all LCDs, can still be a little difficult to see. The front ring can be set to control a variety of shooting options such as shutter speed, ISO sensitivity, exposure compensation, and so on. The functions can be set independently of shooting mode so that, for example, it can control focus in manual mode or shutter speed while in aperture-priority mode. It's a nice design, and because of it, I ended up holding the camera more like a DSLR than a compact. There's also the ability to save a group of custom settings for quick mode dial access. The back controls remain basically unchanged from the S90, although the dial, which you use for adjusting contextual settings, operates better and isn't quite as free-spinning as on the previous model. I do have the same problem as Josh who reviewed the S90 with the review button. I kept hitting it accidentally. Though it's not big on whizzy features, it does incorporate the HS system, Canon's late-to-the-game implementation of a multishot low-light mode. It automatically brackets three exposures and combines them to produce a low light photo with better dynamic range and less noise than simply raising the ISO sensitivity would allow. Unfortunately, I was not impressed. In part, that's because Canon's trying to do it with the wrong sensor. All of the other implementations used a fast-discharging CMOS, not a slow CCD. You have to use Canons on a tripod which kinda defeats the purpose which is being able to shoot better in low light photos handheld. The image quality overall is top notch for a compact, although it's a shame that Canon doesn't offer a less compressed JPEG option. There's a visible difference between RAW and JPEG shots. That said, its JPEG photos are comparatively clean and relatively usable up to ISO 400. The lens is sharp and bright, but there is some asymmetrical distortion at its widest. Metering and exposure are both good and consistent. I found that the defaults pushed the color saturation excessively. The colors are similarly overwrought in videos, but overall the movie quality is pretty good and despite being tiny, the stereo mics produced a surprisingly full-bodied sound for a compact. The S95's performance improves over the S90's in some respect. However, it falls behind it in a lot of others. It's faster at focusing and shooting in bright light, but it's slower in dim and the shot to shot times have generally increased as well. The image stabilization works fine but the fact remains that the battery life is pretty short. You'll still have to lug your DSLR to photograph kids, pets, wildlife, and anything else that moves quickly or randomly, but the S95 is probably the best, if expensive, alternative that an advanced shooter will find in such a small package. I'm Lori Grunin and this is the Canon PowerShot S95.

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