Canon PowerShot S2 IS review: Canon PowerShot S2 IS

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The Good Excellent feature set; one-touch high-quality movie mode; decent performance and image quality.

The Bad Average burst-shooting performance; some image artifacts.

The Bottom Line An excellent feature set and improved performance make the Canon PowerShot S2 IS megazoom camera even more attractive than its predecessor.

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7.7 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8
  • Image quality 7

Review summary

The successor to the image-stabilized S1 IS has more than just a slightly expanded waistline. The Canon PowerShot S2 IS boasts an upgrade to a 5-megapixel sensor (from 3.2), a 12X zoom lens (up from 10X), and a 1.8-inch LCD (vs. 1.5 inches). A Digic II processor and a high-speed USB connection speed things up. Add a full complement of manual controls, as well as high-quality video with stereo sound, and the S2 IS is sure to find its way into the hands of photo enthusiasts who want to shoot long and print big. The Canon PowerShot S2 IS is well designed overall and feels well balanced, even for one-handed shooting. The S2's silver plastic body is well built, although we'd prefer a lens cap that snapped on a little more securely. It's a little larger and heavier than its predecessor--at 1 pound, 2.1 ounces with four AA batteries and an SD card installed--but not enough to be noticeable. What users familiar with the S1 will notice is a larger 1.8-inch tilt-and-swivel LCD, a minor step up from 1.5 inches and certainly no match for the Sony DSC-H1's 2.5-inch LCD. However, the ability to rotate the LCD and fold it inward to protect the screen is almost worth putting up with a smaller monitor. The electronic viewfinder (EVF), with its adjustable diopter, is larger and seems brighter than the Sony DSC-H1's, though.

On the top of the camera, you'll find the shutter button surrounded by the zoom lever, the continuous-shooting/self-timer button, the mode dial, and the power/play/record button. The latter is interesting in that you can jog the lever to the right to enter playback but can switch back to record simply by pressing the shutter button.

The variety of buttons, dials, and levers are well positioned, although the sound/flash button to the left of the pop-up flash may initially escape your attention. Other standard controls include a small four-way rocker, as well as display and menu buttons. A Function button takes you directly to the most frequently used settings, such as ISO speed, white balance, image size, compression, exposure compensation, and more. You cal also customize a separate shortcut button to access a single function.

Canon has improved the operation of the S2's Jump button. You can now scroll through images in multiples of 10 or 100 as well as by date or go directly to a video clip. Furthermore, shooting spontaneous movies doesn't get any easier--there's a single button that will begin recording regardless of your current mode. Keep in mind that you'll need a high-capacity, high-speed SD card (at least 60X) to make the most of this camera's features. Add a set or two of nickel-metal-hydride rechargeables and a charger, too--the S2 IS comes with alkalines only. The IS in the Canon PowerShot S2 IS's name stands for image stabilizer and, in combination with the camera's 12X optical zoom (36-432mm in 35mm-equivalent terms), provides the main attraction. With a maximum aperture range of f/2.7 to f/3.5, the lens is respectably fast at the telephoto end.

A trio of image-stabilization options include shooting only (when the shutter is pressed halfway for focus lock), continuous, and panning. The latter works to prevent vertical camera shake when photographing a horizontally moving subject such as a bicyclist or racing car. We found that the shooting-only mode worked best for all but panning shots.

Equipped with a full feature set that includes manual exposure and custom modes, the S2 IS is an affordable option for enthusiasts who want the flexibility of a long lens and digital-SLR-like features without the cost. However, like its competitors, the camera does not support TIFF or raw formats, but the S2 IS does offer four resolution and three compression options.

A handful of special effects complement standard features such as exposure compensation (EV), preset and manual white balance, sensitivities ranging from ISO 50 to ISO 400, along with a handful of scene modes. In addition to special effects such as vivid color, black-and-white, and sepia, there's a custom function that allows users to save and recall contrast, sharpness, and saturation levels. You can also adjust flash intensity.

Part useful tool, part quirky novelty, the S2's My Colors mode has a number of color adjustments that intensify reds, greens, and blues collectively or individually, as well as two skin-tone-specific (lightening or darkening) functions. For fun, you can convert a color image to black-and-white with a color accent or replace one color with another--all in-camera. And you can opt to save a copy of your original along with the color-adjusted image.

The S2 s VGA movie mode, which now supports stereo audio, is quite good, with a top resolution of 640x480 at 30fps. Unlike many cameras with similar movie-capture modes, the Canon lets you use the zoom, which operates very quietly, and the IS while capturing video. The recording capacity is limited to 1GB; the actual time will vary, but the camera estimated 15 minutes, 24 seconds with a 2GB SanDisk Ultra SD card.

Shooting movies is incredibly convenient since all you have to do is press a button, regardless of the camera mode. You can also shoot a 5-megapixel still at any point. Once the image is saved, the camera immediately starts recording video again.

A nice set of accessories are available for the S2 IS, including add-on lenses as well as an external flash that attaches via the tripod slot and is triggered by the camera's built-in flash. Thanks to the company's Digic II processing, Canon's PowerShot S2 IS performs admirably. Start-up to first shot--including the time allotted for the lens to extend--was just more than 2 seconds. The lens moved smoothly and quietly, except for minor groaning at start-up. We noticed little distortion at either extreme. Shot-to-shot time without flash was fast at 1.3 seconds, although flash recycling added almost 3 seconds of waiting. There was minimal shutter lag and autofocus worked well even in low light, thanks to the addition of an AF illuminator lamp.

Continuous shooting was only about average at about 1.6fps at high resolution, but the S2 IS was able to capture an impressive 17 frames at that speed before slowing. Dropping the resolution allowed the camera to keep going for more than 57 frames.

Both the LCD and the EVF gain up in low light, making it easier to see what you're shooting. Bright sunlight, on the other hand, often made LCD viewing difficult.

Shooting speed in seconds  
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Shutter lag (typical)  
Time to first shot  
Typical shot-to-shot time  
Sony Cyber Shot DSC-H1
Canon PowerShot S2 IS
Kodak EasyShare Z740
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ20

Continuous-shooting speed in frames per second  
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Typical continuous-shooting speed   
As expected, our test shots were generally very good, with appropriately saturated colors, accurate exposures, and sharp focus--the last, thanks to the Canon PowerShot S2 IS's excellent image stabilizer.

While the S2's macro mode worked very well, delivering nicely detailed subjects, we had less luck when we tried to take advantage of the S2 IS's Super Macro mode, which allegedly focuses down to 0.0 centimeters.

The S2 IS showed little image noise at light sensitivities below ISO 200. At ISO 200, noise became noticeable, and things got worse from there. Auto white balance when shooting indoors delivered overly warm images, which is common among Canon cameras, as is the purple fringing we discovered along high-contrast edges. The latter, however, did not seem quite as nasty as we've seen in other Canon models.