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Canon PowerShot S120 Review

The Canon PowerShot S120 features a new star mode for astronomy shooting and a DIGIC 6 image processor with a 12.1 megapixel CMOS sensor. Daniel Bell reviews.

| Canon PowerShot S120 in Compact Cameras
BUY NOW CANON PowerShot S120

Canon PowerShot S120 Review: Canon Powershot S120 (3)

The Canon PowerShot S120 is an update to the S110, Canon's serious compact camera range. The latest model has a new star mode for astronomy shooting, a 12.1 megapixel CMOS sensor, 5x optical zoom and 9.4 fps continuous shooting. It is available for £389.99.

Canon PowerShot S120 Review: Canon Powershot S120 (2)

Canon PowerShot S120 Features

The Canon PowerShot S120 has a 12.1 megapixel backlit CMOS sensor and a 5x optical zoom, which is a 35mm equivalent of 24-120mm, that also has a fast f/1.8 aperture. To help reduce camera shake there is optical image stabilisation. Continuous shooting is available at 9.4 fps, although this is 12.1 fps for the first five shots.

The S120 comes with built-in Wi-Fi to allow you to connect to home wireless networks, smartphones, tablets, printers and PCS's for sharing, GPS tagging and printing of images. There is an auto shooting mode where the camera settings are automatically adjusted. There are a number of scene modes including Star Mode, Handheld HDR and Background Defocus. You can take pictures using full manual controls and RAW shooting is available as well. There camera also has a Neutral Density Filter.

Videos are recorded in full 1080p HD at 60fps, with stereo sound and optical zoom available during recording as well as Focus Peaking and Touch AF. Enhanced Dynamic Image Stabilisation compensates for user movements over 5 axes for steady movies.

Canon PowerShot S120 Review: Canon Powershot S120 (4)

Key Features

  • 12.1 megapixel back-illuminated CMOS sensor
  • 5x optical zoom f/1.8-5.7 lens (35mm equiv: 24-120mm)
  • Optical image stabilisation
  • 3.0 inch 922k dot LCD touch screen
  • RAW shooting and full manual controls
  • Built-in Wi-Fi
  • Full 1080p HD video recording
  • ISO 80-12800
  • 3cm minimum focusing distance
  • 12.1 frames per second (for 5 shots)
  • HDR mode
Canon PowerShot S120 Review: Canon Powershot S120 (5)

Canon PowerShot S120 Handling

The Canon PowerShot S120 is a pocketable camera with a metal body and rubberised square on the rear for your thumb to rest. There is a lens control ring which allows you to quickly adjust settings such as zoom, aperture, shutter speed, focus or ISO - there is a ring function on the button to choose which. At 3.0 inch, the touch screen is a good size, with an impressive 922k dot resolution and is great for selecting your focus point. The pop-up flash is activated with a switch on the side of the camera.

On the top of the camera is a mode dial, on / off button, zoom rocker and shutter release. Other buttons on the rear include menu, playback and movie record. There is also a d-pad with a function / set button in the middle as well as a rotating wheel. The d-pad also gives access to macro, exposure compensation and the flash. When in playback, the exposure compensation also activated the Wi-Fi.

The S120 has a simple menu system - to change picture settings you press the function button. Options here include white balance, light metering and drive mode, with the options available depending on which mode you are in. The rest of the settings are available via the menu button.

Canon PowerShot S120 Review: Canon Powershot S120 App Screenshot 1 Canon PowerShot S120 Review: Canon Powershot S120 App Screenshot 2 Canon PowerShot S120 Review: Canon Powershot S120 App Screenshot 3

The Wi-Fi is easy to setup, just enter playback and press the Wi-Fi button. You then just need to follow the on screen instructions to connect the camera to a mobile device or PC for example. If you are connecting to a smartphone / tablet, ensure you have the free app installed before connecting.

Battery life is rated at a disappointing 200 shots according to CIPA test results. We took a number of shots to test the camera's responsiveness, from switch on to first photo, shot to shot, focusing speed etc. We take a number of shots and then use the average to ensure accurate and consistent tests, making it easy to compare with other cameras.

Shutter Response   0.09 secs
Wide - Focus / Shutter Response   0.2 secs
Full zoom - Focus / Shutter Response   0.2 secs
Switch on Time to Taking a Photo   1.65 secs
Shot to Shot without Flash - JPEG   1.6 secs
Shot to Shot without Flash - RAW   1.0 secs
Shot to Shot with Flash   2.6 secs
Continuous Shooting - JPEG   10.9 fps (for first 5 shots)
Continuous Shooting - RAW   1.6 fps
Continuous Shooting - Flash   0.7 fps

The continuous shooting modes all record in full resolution, we tested the flash speed using JPEG only. 

Canon PowerShot S120 Review: Canon Powershot S120 (6)

Canon PowerShot S120 Performance

Additional sample photos and product shots are available in the Equipment Database, where you can add your own review, photos and product ratings.

Canon PowerShot S120 Sample Photos

Sample Photos - Images have good colour reproduction and are well exposed, the S120 has taken a good picture even with the sun in shot. Portraits have decent skin tones, although there is a little red-eye when using the flash. The star mode has three options - star nightscape, star trails and star time-lapse movie. Results are impressive, particularly the star trail picture. The total exposure time for our example above was 60 minutes.

Canon PowerShot S120 Lens test images

Lens Performance - Detail is good throughout the zoom range, although if you use the ZoomPlus there is clearly a reduction in image quality. Purple fringing and chromatic aberration aren't an issue. The lens has a minimum focusing distance of 3cm which allows for well detailed macro shots.

Canon PowerShot S120 ISO test images

ISO Noise Performance - Noise is low and not at issue at ISO 80, 100, 200, 400 and 800. At ISO 1600 images become a little soft in places with detail lost in places at ISO 3200. Noise worsens at ISO 6400, there's less detail and images are very soft. The highest setting of ISO 12800 produces images of poor quality, there's lots of detail lost and this setting is best avoided where possible.

Canon PowerShot S120 White-balance test images

White Balance Performance - Under the incandescent lights the Auto White Balance (AWB) struggles a little, with a colour cast present in the image. The incandescent preset performs much better under the incandescent lights. The AWB performs well under the fluorescent lights, there is a slight colour cast when using the fluorescent preset. 

Canon PowerShot S120 Digital filters

Digital Filters - The S120 has a number of creative modes such as fisheye and miniature. There are also a number of "My Colours" which can be used when in PSAM modes.

Video - Below is a video recorded in full 1080p HD. Quality is excellent and the Enhanced Dynamic Image Stabilisation does well at keeping videos steady. The example below also includes use of the optical zoom during recording.

Value For Money

The Canon PowerShot S120 is available for £389.99. Other serious compact cameras include the Olympus Stylus XZ-2 at £259, Nikon Coolpix P330 at £235, Fujifilm X100s at £933, Sony Cybershot RX100 II at £557 and Panasonic Lumix LX7 at £289. For more, read our top 10 serious compacts article.

You'll also need to buy a memory card and a case or bag to keep your camera safe and protected - have a look at our complete guide to camera bags.

Canon PowerShot S120 Verdict

The Canon PowerShot S120 is a steady upgrade of last year's S110, with a slightly faster aperture, faster continuous shooting and a higher resolution screen. This might not be enough to tempt S110 owners to upgrade, but the star trail feature does offer something unique and the results we achieved during testing are quite impressive.

There are some issues with battery life, it has a CIPA rating of just 200 shots and you're likely to see this reduce when using the Wi-Fi to share your images. The S120 also lacks GPS, but given the battery life, you probably would avoid using it anyway - you can use your smartphone instead to add GPS data.

Overall, the S120 packs a number of superb features and is a premium compact camera we are happy to highly recommend.

Canon PowerShot S120 Review:
  The Canon PowerShot S120 is a steady upgrade to the S110, with the new star mode being a particular highlight.

Canon PowerShot S120 Pros

Easy to take impressive star trail shots
Has built-in Wi-Fi
Fast continuous shooting
Good image quality
Fast f/1.8 aperture when shooting wide
Screen has an excellent resolution

Canon PowerShot S120 Cons

Poor battery life
No GPS built-in
No rubber hand grip


Canon PowerShot S120 Specifications

Max Aperturef/1.8 - f/5.7
35mm equivalent24mm - 120mm
Optical Zoom5x
Image Sensor
Pixels12.1Mp (Megapixels)
Pixels (W)4000
Pixels (H)3000
Sensor TypeCMOS
Sensor Size1/1.7 inch
Sensor Size (width)No Data
Sensor Size (height)No Data
Aspect Ratio
  • 4:3
  • 3:2
  • 16:9
  • 1:1
  • 4:5
LCD Monitor
LCD Monitor3in
Screen resolution461,000 dots
Touch ScreenYes
Min Focus3cm
Focusing modes
  • Autofocus
  • Face Detection
  • AF Tracking
  • Touch AF
Exposure Control
Shutter speeds shortest1/2000sec
Shutter speeds longest15sec
Bulb modeNo Data
Exp modes
  • A
  • Program
  • Aperture-Priority
  • Shutter-Priority
  • Manual
  • Scene modes
  • Centre-weighted - Average
  • Spot
ISO sensitivity80 - 12800
White balance
  • Auto
  • Manual
  • Outdoors/Daylight
  • Cloudy
  • Incandescent
  • Fluorescent
  • Flash
  • Underwater
Exposure Comp+/-3
Shooting Options
Continuous shooting2.1fps
Movie modeYes
Video Resolution
  • 1920x1080 FullHD
  • 1280x720 HD 720p
  • 640x480 VGA
  • 320x240 QVGA
Video FPS30
Stereo SoundNo
Optical Zoom with VideoYes
Other Features
Image StabilisationYes
Card Type
  • SD
  • SDHC
  • SDXC
File Type
  • RAW
  • JPG
  • RAW + JPG
Power Source
Battery TypeRechargeable Li-ion Battery NB-5L
Battery Life (CIPA rating)200shots
Box Contents
Box ContentsNB-5L Lithium-Ion Battery Pack (3.7v, 1120mAh), CB-2LX Charger for Canon, NB-5L Lithium Battery Pack, Wrist Strap WS-DC11, USB Interface Cable, Digital Camera Solution, CD Instruction Manual (CD-Rom)

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