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Canon PowerShot S110 review: A nice compact for the ambivalent snapshooter

It's still the smallest compact available with advanced features like raw support, but the S110 just doesn't feel like an enthusiast camera anymore.

Lori Grunin Senior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
Expertise Photography, PCs and laptops, gaming and gaming accessories
Lori Grunin
9 min read

Canon's PowerShot S series has previously consisted of compact cameras for enthusiasts, but the PowerShot S110 is less so, despite its fast-ish lens, support for raw format, and manual exposure controls. Canon made a few changes in its replacement for the popular S100, including much-needed improved autofocus performance, but the image quality hasn't really changed despite a new sensor. And the most welcome new feature, support for wireless uploading, is implemented annoyingly and replaces the S100's geotagging capability. Yes, it's still the smallest camera available in its class, and a lot of people will continue to be attracted by the fact that it has a 5x zoom lens compared with the faster but less zoomy lenses on slightly more expensive models from Panasonic, Samsung, and Olympus. But the photo quality isn't sufficiently better than that of cheaper, full-featured point-and-shoots that cost a lot less.


Canon PowerShot S110

The Good

The <b>Canon PowerShot S110</b> has better autofocus than its predecessor while maintaining good-to-excellent photo quality.

The Bad

A not-very-impressive implementation of the new wireless connectivity features and still-sluggish image processing weigh down the camera.

The Bottom Line

Nice photo quality, improved autofocus performance, and a very compact design make the Canon PowerShot S110 a solid option if you're looking for something between a point-and-shoot and an enthusiast compact. But if you can find them cheaper, the S100 or S95 are still good alternatives.

Image quality
Despite the change in sensor, the S110's image quality is very much like the S100's. For its price, quality remains what I'll call "borderline excellent" -- that is, a lot of people will be very happy with it, and raw shooters can get very good results. ISO 800-and-lower photos that didn't stand up to scrutiny on a display viewed at 100 percent still look good printed at 13x19. But pickier photographers will likely want to pay more for something like the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 and get unambiguously better photos.

Canon PowerShot S110 photo samples

See all photos

This is not a camera that excels in low light. You can get usable JPEGs as high as ISO 400 but processing raws delivers better results at all ISO sensitivities, mostly because you can minimize the edge artifacts that way. At ISO 800 images look fine scaled down to about 50 percent; at high sensitivities they're okay for small Web posts or viewing on smaller mobile devices. As with many small-sensor cameras, the in-focus areas of higher-sensitivity shots can look fine, but the out-of-focus areas become seriously mushy because of the necessarily aggressive noise reduction.

While the color rendering looks fine overall, I did find daylight white balance a little cooler than I like. The camera's dynamic range is pretty good, with a reasonable amount of recoverable detail in highlights and shadows, though as with its dSLRs, Canon's default color settings push the contrast too much, which results in clipped highlights and shadows in the JPEGs. You can adjust the settings to resolve that, however.

Overall, the video quality is fine for typical movies -- kids, pets, vacations, and so on. In bright light there's some highlight clipping but no serious artifacts. In low light the video looks noisy, but it's acceptable and no worse than you see from competing cameras.


Editors' note: We recently updated our testing methodology to provide slightly more real-world performance, so the results aren't necessarily comparable with previous testing. Until we're finished refining our procedures we will not be posting comparative performance charts.

Although the S110 gains some speed over the S100 for autofocus, its processing remains relatively slow and lags behind a lot of the competition (unfortunately common for Canon's enthusiast compacts). It powers on, focuses, and shoots in about 2.3 seconds, mostly due to the wait for the lens to extend. Time to expose, focus, and shoot in good light runs a fast 0.2 second, rising to an equally good 0.4 second in darker conditions. Like the S100, though, the camera gets bogged down with processing, slowing sequential shot times: 2.1 seconds between shots for JPEG and 2.7 seconds for raw, bumping up to 3 seconds when you need to wait for the flash to recycle. These shot-to-shot times drop a little if you're zoomed in rather than at wide-angle.

If you need to use autofocus during continuous shooting you'll get about 0.9 frames per second for JPEG and 0.8fps raw, and that's for a fixed 10 frames. Without autofocus, it rises to about 2fps for JPEG and 1.1fps for raw, and you can obtain a usably large burst run.

I'm a bit torn about the autofocus performance, mostly because of the options offered. You have two choices: single-point AF and Face AiAF. I think using the center focus point and recomposing is always the only way to guarantee a focus on the subject, because multipoint autofocus systems usually make the wrong decisions and simply focus on whatever's closest in the scene. Regardless, the majority of point-and-shoot photographers use the latter. But face-detection modes tend to have a lot of false positives in scenes without people -- mistaking facelike objects for faces -- so I think Face AiAF works worse than standard AiAF in some shooting scenarios. The single-point AF works pretty well (despite pulsing a bit in continuous mode when shooting video) and that's what you should be using; the more traditional multipoint doesn't work well at all.

The lens also remains a disappointment on this camera. Though it has a longer zoom than some of the S110's competitors' lenses, the aperture also narrows very quickly (and it starts out narrower) and you end up needing a lot of light simply to shoot at the longest focal length -- even more than at comparable focal lengths for cheaper cameras. If the high-ISO-sensitivity image quality were a lot better then it might not be so much of a problem.

The touch screen operates very smoothly and remains visible enough in direct sunlight. The battery life is on the short side, though.

Design and features
The S110 has the same basic design as the S100, albeit with a few tweaks. It's still the most compact option available in its class, and has a solid-feeling build and matte finish. Canon jettisoned the tiny grip on the front of the S100 and removed the rubberized material on the thumb rest in the back, so overall the S110 isn't as comfortable to use as its predecessor, but it's still okay. The touch screen is new, though you can't operate the camera completely from it; for instance, you still bring up the shooting options via the Func Set button, but then you can select them via the screen. It does support useful capabilities such as touch shutter and touch focus, however.

The S110 retains the control ring around the lens that's becoming an increasingly popular interface design. The ring can be set to control shutter speed, ISO sensitivity, exposure compensation, manual focus, white balance, stepped zoom, i-Contrast, aspect ratio, or its function when in Custom mode. 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. The stepped zoom can also be a surprisingly useful feature for some; it jumps to popular preset focal lengths (24mm, 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm, 120mm), which is quite convenient if you need repeatable shots. You can quickly access the ring control assignments via a dedicated button on the back of the camera. If you don't plan to change the ring function that often, you can even reassign the button to a host of other options, including some important ones like metering, raw+JPEG override, or the built-in neutral density filter.

On top are a shutter button and the mode dial, which has the usual PASM, auto, movie, and scene modes, as well as a custom-settings slot and special-effects mode. The custom settings that you can save include a manual focus position, zoom position, and My Menu items in addition to the relevant shooting settings.

While the menus are structured into three seemingly short screens, you nevertheless have a lot of control and customization over the camera's behavior and the options. Rather than force you to maneuver through the menu system, in several cases deeper controls for the direct-access functions (like flash) can be accessed using a secondary button press. New in the S110 are a couple of "safety" options: Safety MF, which allows the camera to autofocus once you've used manual focus to indicate the subject, and Safety FE, which automatically adjusts your shutter speed and aperture if it thinks a flash exposure will be blown out.

Canon PowerShot S100 Canon PowerShot S110 Fujifilm XF1 Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 Samsung EX2F
Sensor (effective resolution) 12.1MP CMOS 12.1MP CMOS 12MP EXR CMOS 10.1MP MOS 12.4MP BSI CMOS
1/1.7-inch 1/1.7-inch 2/3-inch 1/1.7-inch
Sensitivity range ISO 80 - 6400 ISO 80 - 12800 ISO 100 - ISO 12800 ISO 80 - ISO 6400 ISO 80 - ISO 3200/ 12800 (expanded)
Lens 24-120mm
f1.8 - 4.9
Closest focus (inches) 1.2 1.2 1.2 0.4 0.4
Continuous shooting 2.3fps
(with AF)
(without AF)
12 JPEG/ n/a raw
(11fps without tracking AF)
Viewfinder None None None Optional EVF None
Autofocus n/a
Contrast AF
Contrast AF
Contrast AF
Contrast AF
Contrast AF
Metering n/a n/a 256 zones n/a
Shutter 15 - 1/2,000 sec 15 - 1/2,000 sec 30 - 1/2,000 sec 60 - 1/4,000 sec 30 - 1/2,000 sec
Flash Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Hot shoe No No No Yes Yes
LCD 3-inch fixed
461,000 dots
3-inch fixed touch screen
461,000 dots
3-inch fixed
460,000 dots
3-inch fixed
920,000 dots
3-inch articulated AMOLED
614,000 dots
Image stabilization Optical Optical Optical Optical Optical
(best quality)
H.264 QuickTime MOV
H.264 QuickTime MOV
1080/30p H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/60p AVCHD @ 28Mbps; 1080/60p QuickTime MOV @ 28Mbps
H.264 MP4
Manual iris and shutter in video Yes Yes n/a n/a No
Optical zoom while recording Yes Yes Yes n/a Yes
External mic support No No No No Yes
Wireless connectivity None Wi-Fi None None Wi-Fi
Battery life (CIPA rating) 200 shots 200 shots 300 shots 330 shots 260 shots
(non-CIPA rating)
Dimensions (WHD, inches) 3.9 x 2.3 x 1.1 3.9 x 2.3 x 1.1 4.2 x 2.4 x 1.2 4.4 x 2.6 x 1.8 4.4 x 2.4 x 1.1
Weight (ounces) 7 7 7.9 (est) 10.6 (est) 11.4 (est)
Mfr. price $429.99 $449.99 $499.95 $499 $499.99
Availability November 2011 October 2012 October 2012 August 2012 August 2012

The back has the typical set of controls, including focus mode, flash, and exposure compensation, plus a quick function access button and dedicated movie record button. The physical buttons are flatter and slightly less easy to feel than on the S100, though the back of the camera does look a little sleeker.

You access the new wireless upload features from the back control dial when in playback mode.

This is the entry point for all your connectivity options: camera-to-camera, to phone, to computer, to printer, and Web upload.

To connect to your phone, either Android or iOS, you need to install the CameraWindow app. That's not unusual, though the app is currently pretty basic, with a single or gallery view of the images on the camera and the option to geotag images. (FYI, my old Android 2.3.4-based phone couldn't connect directly but a newer Samsung Galaxy S3 had no problems.)

The camera's upload interface

To upload images to the Web -- right now your only choices are to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube (video uploads are iOS-only), and e-mail -- you have to first create a Canon Image Gateway account and then link the services to CIG via the CameraWindow software on your computer. In order to connect to Facebook, you have to grant CIG the right to access your basic Facebook data. For Twitter, it's an authorization that, among other things, gives CIG the right to see who you follow and follow new people. Though not uncommon, this whole process is a big fail in terms of convenience and privacy that unnecessarily inserts Canon into the middle of everything. The workaround, of course, is to connect to your phone, save the images, and then upload them directly wherever you want -- more convenient than having no connectivity at all, but a lot less convenient than it should be.

For someone who's looking for something a little better than a point-and-shoot, with more manual features and slightly better photo quality, but still wants the smallest camera possible, the Canon PowerShot S110 is a good choice. But it's not substantially better than its predecessors or the latest generation of competitors, so if you can find them for less, the S100 and S95 are still good options as well.


Canon PowerShot S110

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 7Image quality 7