The Good Great image quality; snappy performance; sturdy and attractive.
The Bad Vignetting at widest angle; slowish lens; no uncompressed or raw-file support; jaggies and audio noise in movie mode.
The Bottom Line Aside from one or two very minor lens shortcomings, Canon's new flagship S-series model stands out in its class.
Canon PowerShot S80
Canon's latest PowerShot S-series flagship, the 8-megapixel PowerShot S80, stands out just about every way you look at it. It's a fun little camera that packs a wallop in terms of features, performance, and photo quality. Its automatic-exposure modes and intelligent processing will impress casual shooters who want good images without a lot of fuss. Its manual controls and advanced features will provide enjoyment for fiddling amateurs. And its big 2.5-inch LCD, elegant good looks, and excellent build quality will please any shooter. This camera is packed with useful photographic features, and it looks great, too. The Canon PowerShot S80 is attractive and sturdy, covered in glossy-black aluminum with a matte-silver trim and textured black-rubber accents that not only look classy but help improve your grip. The panels and the doors fit snugly, and the camera's density just screams quality. The S80 isn't as small as the ultrathin models out there, but it will easily fit in a jacket or a loose pants pocket. Simultaneously justifying and belying the camera's size are a big 2.5-inch LCD plus an optical viewfinder, which is a rare combination these days. While the ultrathins tend to have those big LCDs, they're usually too small to accommodate viewfinders as well.
The camera's controls are fairly easy to understand, though some icons may send you to the instruction manual. Useful touches include a four-way switch that also doubles as a scrollwheel, à la the iPod, and a shortcut button that you can program to control image size, white balance, color mode, metering mode, or autoexposure lock, among other settings. For a photographer trying to work in a quickly changing situation, this button can help keep that once-in-a-lifetime shot from getting away. Other quick-access settings are drive mode, ISO sensitivity, autofocus point, flash mode, macro mode, and manual-focus mode. Unfortunately, switching the control wheel from aperture adjustment to shutter-speed adjustment in manual-exposure mode requires an extra button push. When you do need to invoke menus, Canon has made it as clear a process as possible. Captions accompany cryptic icons, and the LCD's large size makes reading the menus easier. Like its predecessors, the Canon PowerShot S80 is packed with features for both casual shooters and more advanced amateurs. It incorporates the same f/2.8-to-f/5.3, 28mm-to-100mm (35mm equivalent) lens as the PowerShot S70. The lens is on the slow side and doesn't offer a very high zoom range, but it provides a relatively wide-angle focal length.
We miss uncompressed image formats such as TIFF and raw, which would take advantage of the camera's 8-megapixel sensor. Other features, however, work to compensate. Three exposure modes include a spot mode for more precise control and a well-designed evaluative mode that handles backlighting and mixed lighting very well. A noise-reduction algorithm automatically kicks in for exposures longer than 1.3 seconds, but unfortunately the effect is subtle. It also doubles processing time, and you can't disable it.
For tinkerers, the Canon PowerShot S80 offers some interesting color tools. Though not entirely practical they are fun without being too cheesy, and are certainly better than the hokey frames and the preset captions many other cameras offer. In Color Accent mode, every color in the frame except one the user selects is converted to black and white, for that hand-painted look. Color Swap mode replaces one selected color with another--turn that green apple red or that red light green (not to endorse insurance fraud!). Users can also customize the camera's color palette by adjusting the individual red, green, and blue channels or a special Skin Tone channel.
Those interested in shooting short movies with the Canon PowerShot S80 will appreciate the full-motion VGA mode, at 640x480 pixels and 30 frames per second (fps), and the less common 1,024x768-pixel mode, at 15fps.
The S80 caters to underwater photographers with a special white-balance setting and an optional waterproof housing. For creative enthusiasts, it also has an optional wireless external flash and optional wide and telephoto add-on lenses. Thanks to its Digic II processor and some savvy programming, the Canon PowerShot S80 is a snappy performer in the right places, beating many competitors and higher-end models in several speed tests. The S80 takes only 2.8 seconds to snap your first shot after start-up, and while its shutter lag of 0.7 second in good light isn't notable, its ability to maintain that speed under low-contrast lighting is quite impressive. Its upgraded autofocus sensor is probably responsible for its good low-contrast performance. Canon claims the S80 is one stop more sensitive than its predecessor, the S70. Despite a sluggish continuous-shooting rate (between 1fps and 1.3fps), the S80 has a whip-fast shot-to-shot time, firing off two frames in 0.7 second--1.4 seconds with flash.
The S80 performs quickly and responsively when you're navigating and changing menu settings, reviewing shots, or formatting memory cards. It doesn't just sprint, either. It's also great over the long haul, with its proprietary lithium-ion battery providing excellent battery life. We took more than 1,000 top-resolution shots on a full charge, half of them with flash, with about 100 full zooms and 10 power-downs in between--the battery-level indicator didn't even change.
The big 2.5-inch LCD could be brighter, but it refreshes quickly and renders colors accurately. The tiny optical viewfinder lacks diopter adjustment for people who need eyesight correction, but optical viewfinders are rare on big-LCD digital cameras anyway. Manual focus is difficult: the S80 automatically magnifies the view in manual-focus mode, but the LCD image is too grainy for the task.
The 12 best Black Friday camera deals we've found so far
Rather than dump every available Black Friday discount on you, we've hand-picked the seasonal deals we think are actually worth your money.
Get a Canon EOS Rebel T6 dSLR kit for $279.64
That's the lowest price to date on this widely loved model. It's a refurb, but a good-as-new refurb. Plus: Own "Logan" for just $6.
Get a GoPro Hero action camera for $63
Wait, what? Yep, it's the real deal -- but you'll have to wait a few weeks to get it, and there are more capable cameras for the same price.
Google Clips uses AI to capture life's spontaneous moments
The $249 smart camera brings together the best of AI, software and hardware, says Google.
Get a Canon EOS Rebel T6 dSLR kit for $344
Your phone's camera may be good, but it's nowhere near this good. This top-rated model would normally run you at least $100 more. Plus: a speaker that fits in your pocket and plays FM radio.
Monday mishmash: Great new deals, plus some updates and reruns
For example: the cheapest 1TB portable hard drive I've ever seen, and an unbeatable price on a lifetime of guided meditation.
Want to photograph rockstars? This $13K camera will let you
Leica releases a new special-edition camera as a tribute to late rock-n-roll photographer Jim Marshall.
GoPro has a new 360 VR camera that you can't have
The spherical camera, called Fusion, is small and wearable, but a lot of other details are a mystery.
GoPro will give you $100 for your old Hero, sort of
A new trade-up program lets you send in your old GoPro for money off a new Hero5 camera.
Nikon bails on advanced compacts and that's not good
Opinion: The company announced that it was dropping the attempt to produce its ill-fated series of enthusiast-targeted fixed-lens models and it doesn't sound like it plans to try again.
This crazy camera could be a boon to VR filmmakers
Researchers have found a way to build a 360-degree camera that's compact but shoots high-quality video. It could be just the thing for virtual reality.
GoPro lays off 200 people, shutters its aspiring media arm
The action-camera maker, struggling with weak sales, makes cuts to save more than $650 million in costs next year.