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Canon Powershot S95 Digital Camera Review

Duncan Evans reviews the Canon Powershot S95, with a 10Mp sensor and a 3.8x optical zoom.

|  Canon Powershot S95 in Compact Cameras
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Canon Powershot S95: Click on the thumbnail for the larger image.
Canon Powershot S95 front

Take the technical panache of the Canon G-series, marry it to the svelte-lines and ease of use of the S-series and hope the Powershot S95 offspring has the best of both worlds. That’s clearly the thinking here. The S95 has the same simple, easy to use compact shape of its sibling, the S90, but after that, it’s clearly been working out to deliver a lot more and justify the quite high price tag of nearly £400.

Canon Powershot S95: Features
The headline features are the 10Mp resolution and 3.8x optical zoom off the 28mm wide angle, f/2.0 lens. In themselves, those specs are not really earth shattering, so you may wonder what justifies the price tag. The answer is that instead of foolishly packing more pixels into a small space, Canon has drawn the line and said 10Mp is plenty, let’s look at what else we can do. That means dual control rings on the body, f/2 lens and HS system, combined optical and digital image stabilisation, RAW and JPEG file formats and a smart high dynamic range function. There’s a full range of program, aperture and shutter priority and manual shooting modes, plus auto, low light, video (720p) and a range of scene modes. There’s a couple of interesting Scene modes – HDR, underwater, fish-eye and one to simulate tilt-shift lenses to give that miniature effect. What’s missing is a portrait at night and party mode. However, the ISO range is a pleasing ISO80-3200 and there’s a large 3in LCD screen on the back. Inside the camera is the DIGIC 4 image processor, which combined with the other features, promises great quality images in low light.

Canon Powershot S95 key features: Click on the thumbnail for the larger image.
The rear of the S95 features a large 3in LCD screen but thumb room is definitely cramped.   The battery is held in by a clip and Canon estimate around 200 shots of typical usage.
The interest here is not the modest 3.8x optical zoom but the control ring that clunks satisfyingly around it.   In an attempt to be all smooth and stylish, in the S-class tradition, the controls are a little too recessed into the body.

Canon Powershot S95: Handling
The build quality is nice, but not exceptional, with a matte black finish , pop up flash and control ring around the lens. This is the main talking point on the build and handling side as the large ring can be configured to change aperture/shutter, exposure compensation, focus mode, white balance, custom contrast, dynamic range or less usefully, step zoom and aspect ratio. There’s a button on top to allow quick changing of the function which is very handy. Personally, I use it to change the ISO, which ranges from 80 to 3200 but uses intermediate steps. On top of this, around the joypad is a little thumbwheel with a raised edge. It can be used both directionally and in a circular fashion which makes it very versatile. There is an element of patting your head while rubbing your belly using both rings, but it’s easy to get to grips with them and they really enhance the control system. The rest of the handling isn’t as good, with a zoom rocker and mode dial that are both recessed too far and little room to hold the camera one handed with any degree of comfort or security.

Canon Powershot S95: Performance
Focusing is reasonable, no better or worse than most compacts, on standard mode. On face detection it’s very good, picking up multiple faces and prioritising them according to size/nearness. When there isn’t someone in the picture the multi-points will simply pick up something with lots of contrast and focus on that. There’s also a tracking mode and this works quite well, though the issues is actually focusing fast enough in the first place. Once you do have a lock though, the continuous shooting mode will please anyone trying to capture sports. In the 10 second the S95 rattled off 13 JPEG hi-res shots before slowing down and still managed to capture an impressive 16 shots in the entire test.

Canon Powershot S95 performance: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.
Canon Powershot S95 HDR   Canon Powershot S95 shooting at dusk
The HDR Scene mode works by taking three consecutive pictures and combining the results. The scene here was utterly murky with grey skies and the result is much brighter.   Shooting at dusk is easy thanks to the f/2 lens and optical stabilisation. This shot used ISO200 just to make sure it was sharp.
Canon Powershot S95 tonal correction   Canon Powershot S95 centre-weighted metering
There’s tonal correction in 200% and 400% flavours which makes a slight, but noticeable difference – there is detail in the sky that isn’t in any other shot taken here.   The centre-weighted metering produces the result you want here because the sky was a featureless grey-white canvas.

In terms of metering and exposure, the performance is more traditional than recent compacts. Even with centre-weighted metering, a backlit subject will still be dark, though scenes with white, cloud-filled skies, the metering goes right for the landscape and exposes that perfectly. There’s two interesting features here as well. One is tonal correction that boosts shadows and/or lowers the exposure to capture more sky. It’s available in 200% and 400% varieties and makes a slight, but noticeably difference. The other is the HDR scene mode. Obviously, control is surrendered to the camera for this and also you will absolutely need a tripod because it takes three consecutive pictures and then combines them to capture more highlight and shadow detail.

Canon Powershot S95 test chart ISO speed test: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.
Canon Powershot S95 test chart ISO80 speed test
Canon Powershot S95 test chart ISO80 speed test Canon Powershot S95 test chart ISO100 speed test Canon Powershot S95 test chart ISO200 speed test Canon Powershot S95 test chart ISO400 speed test
ISO80 ISO100 ISO200 ISO400
Canon Powershot S95 test chart ISO800 speed test Canon Powershot S95 test chart ISO1600 speed test Canon Powershot S95 test chart ISO3200 speed test  
ISO800 ISO1600 ISO3200  

The S95 boasts that it’s king of the low light shot thanks to lens aperture, image processing and optical stabilisation. Well, on the one hand, the old foe of coloured, blotchy noisy has been vanquished, because the images are usable all the way through to ISO3200. The noise control at the top end of the ISO range is spectacularly impressive for a compact. However, the image quality, even at ISO200, isn’t as good as you might expect for this class of camera. Areas can lack detail, there’s clear variation in tone in solid colours and it all gets blotchy quite quickly. This is something of a shame because the stabilisation systems are top notch, meaning that you can get sharp pictures, hand-held at 1/8th sec without any real effort. Now, those observations are made based on shooting JPEGs, which is what most compact users would shoot with. The S95 can also shoot RAW and here there is a big difference. There is a lot less contrast in them to the extent that may need tweaking. However, the image quality is significantly better, though there is still tonal variation. On building shots the sharpness appears very similar, but on macro shots, the RAW version is definitely crisper with a little more detail.

There’s another area that causes concern and that’s the flash. It’s clearly far too strong when shooting portraits, either as regular flash or first-curtain slow synch. In fact, I had to use -2EV flash compensation to make it usable.

Finally, colour reproduction is rich and vibrant in saturated situations, subtle with pale tones, and healthy with skin tones. A typical Canon performance in fact.

White Balance
In the indoor test shots for white balance the S95 nailed every test spot on except for the AWB in tungsten light. This was too warm. On the tungsten setting it was perfect. On the outdoor shots the AWB gave a result that was too cool in the shaded graveyard test, but the custom setting of daylight gave a neutral result and the cloudy custom setting gave a pleasing warm result. In mixed light tests, the AWB aims for the dominant light source and again, produces good results. So, it’s worth checking the AWB results when in clearly challenging situations and would be worth trying the manual settings because they worked a treat.

Canon Powershot white-balance test: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.
Canon Powershot S95 auto white-balance in incandescent lighting   Canon Powershot S95 incandescent preset in incandescent lighting
Auto white-balance in incandescent lighting.   Incandescent preset in incandescent lighting.
Canon Powershot S95 auto white-balance in fluorescent lighting   Canon Powershot S95 fluorescent preset in fluorescent lighting
Auto white-balance in fluorescent lighting.   Fluorescent preset in fluorescent lighting.

Lens performance
There’s certainly plenty of colour fringing at the wide angle end of the lens, but there’s also a little more than you might expect when the aperture is closed right down as well. The f/2 rating certainly helps out in low light situations though. In terms of sharpness, at the wide angle end the middle of the lens is nice and sharp, though perhaps it’s a little too processed on the JPEGs. Detail is less sharp at the edge, but not dramatically so. Interestingly, at the end of the telephoto, the distortion is the same at the wide angle end, and there is barely any drop in sharpness.

Canon Powershot S95 lens quality: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.
Canon Powershot S95 fisheye   Canon Powershot S95 daylight shot
One of the scene modes is an amusing fish-eye style effect. To be honest, you are better taking normal pictures and doing this in Photoshop without affecting the original.   This daylight shot shows great colour saturation, but the JPEG format is significantly poorer than the RAW, with a lack of detail in places plus tonal variation in solid colours.
Canon Powershot S95 optical zoom   Canon Powershot S95 macro
The optical zoom is very modest, with only a 3.8x reach. The aperture at the end of the zoom narrows to f/4.9 making shots a little trickier to capture without increasing the ISO.   Macro mode works very well, and though 5cm range doesn’t seem spectacular, it’s a good enough distance to get shots from and the RAW process is especially crisp.

Canon Powershot S95: Verdict
The S95 is something of a mixed bag. On the one hand it is particularly good at getting low light pictures with slow shutter speeds thanks to the optical stabilisation. It’s really good at controlling coloured noise all the way into ISO3200. The control rings are great fun, very practical and make accessing complex featuring much easier than on other compacts. It’s clearly a step up from the S90. However, the JPEG image quality is good enough for up to A4, but it really isn’t as good as you might expect given the price. The RAW is a lot better. The handling as well, is tricky at times, because it has these advanced features, on a slimline compact body. The processing functions work a treat, the colour reproduction is excellent, but the flash is wayward. If the S95 were £200, it would be sensational. Unfortunately, it’s £394, which places it very close to budget DSLR territory. The bottom line is that it’s a good camera overall, at times very good, but you aren’t getting £399 worth of value.

Canon Powershot S95: Pros
Great manual controls
Excellent stabilisation in low light
Very good noise suppression
Tonal correction
HDR mode

Canon Powershot S95: Cons
JPEG image quality disappoints
Handling is a little slippy
Overpriced by some margin


Canon Powershot S95: Specification

Price £394
Optical zoom 3.8x
Resolution 10Mp
Sensor size 1/1.7in
Sensor type CCD
Max image size 3648 x 2736
Aspect ratio 4:3, 16:9, 3:2
Focusing system AiAF (Face detection), AF
Focus points 9-point and 1-point
Focus type TTL
Focus distance 5cm macro
File types RAW (CR2), JPEG
ISO sensitivity ISO80-3200
Metering system n/a
Metering types Evaluative (linked to Face Detection AF), Centre-weighted average, Spot
Exposure compensation +/- 2EV
Shutter speed range 1-1/1600th sec, 15sec mode
Frames-per-second Approx. 2fps
Image stabilisation Optical, digital
Monitor 3inch
Media type SD, SDHC
Interface Hi-Speed USB, mini-HDMI
Power Li-ion NB-6L
Size 99.8 x 58.4 x 29.5mm
Weight 193g inc battery, memory card

The Canon Powershot S95 costs £295.00 and is available from Warehouse Express here: Canon Powershot S95

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Photographs taken using the Canon Powershot S95

ShadowsArrivalPuerto SollerSleeping GiantBrodsworth HallBored StiffPlaytime in the Pool'Dog Tired'Melbourne ArcadeCheers AllShadowsSea Sun and SurfPorcini MushroomsMating Ritual'A Smile for the Camera' ... for Silly Sunday

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24 Apr 2011 11:01PM
~I find it very slow
ThatOne 13 1
1 May 2011 3:33PM
I borrowed an S95 to see if an Advanced Compact camera was for me. On all the "ease of use, quality of product" questions it did its job of opening my mind to what such a camera can do. Even so there were many strange omissions, the most glaring being the plain black plastic where the flash hot-shoe should have been.

The biggest omission of all was in the lack of inspiration, as if the camera had been designed by and for use by robots. I could not imagine myself using an S95 for longer than a trial period. Even so I would rather have an S95 than a Micro Four Thirds. It works just as well as an Olympus Pen, maybe better with its juicier lens and apertures, is much more pocketable, and costs a lot less. In the end I had to choose between the Olympus XZ-1 and the Samsung EX1, couldn't, so I bought both. And I have no regrets at all.
28 Apr 2018 11:05PM
I have just got one, and you probably note from the post date, not new.
I was looking for a compact camera that is very very pocketable. Having inherited my late fathers Ixus 300, and the tiny size, I thought what could I get that a sensor a little bigger, and provide RAW images (the 300HS albeit a controllable pocket camera, has neither).
The other day at the local second hand camera shop, had the S95 in. After a big of haggling, I got one for a very reasonable 79!
I like the control set up, but it does not have some features that my other knockout compact has, such as faster lens at telephoto end and 1cm macro. But that other compact is a bit bigger and less likely for me to put in the pocket. The wonderful Pentax MX-1 in case you are interested.
However, the S95 is so tiny for what it packs, it is scary. A perfect compliment to the MX-1 in reality. Sure the RAW files are not quite as flexible, and I do prefer the Pentax colour rendition in all honesty. But the S95 provides some serious bang for the buck even with some little foibles.
The Perfect compact pocket camera really.

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