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Canon Powershot S70

By: Dave Etchells

With the same wide angle lens as its predecessor, the S70 boosts resolution with its 7.1 megapixel sensor, but holds the line on image noise.

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Page 2:Executive Overview

Review First Posted: 9/30/2004

Executive Overview

Like Canon's other mid-size PowerShots, the S70 immediately convinces you that you're handling a well-built, high-quality digital camera. The size and style are reminiscent of a point-and-shoot model, even though it offers seven megapixels of resolution and a wide range of shooting options -- from fully manual operation to programmed, automatic, and several preset exposures. The telescoping 3.6x zoom lens is made with Canon's new technology UA optical glass, which stands for Ultra-high refractive index Aspherical Lens; what it means in shorthand is a physically shorter lens with a wider angle of view than previous cameras in this line. The lens is protected by a clamshell sliding lens cover that blends well into the camera's front panel. As with the majority of Canon's high-end digicams, primary functions are accessed via external controls, providing quick and easy adjustments to flash, exposure compensation, white balance settings, manual focus, and light metering modes. This combination of compact design, sturdy construction, and flexible exposure options makes this camera a real pleasure to work with, and a good value for the $599 "expected selling" price, occupying as it does the higher end of the category.

The S70's streamlined user interface includes an expanded Function menu with direct access to all base-level camera settings (such as resolution, exposure compensation, white balance, etc.). The S70 has a 7.1-megapixel CCD, which delivers high resolution images for making sharp prints, as well as lower resolutions more suited for email and other electronic uses.

The S70's sleek, black body is made of high-impact polycarbonate, entirely surrounded with brushed and anodized aluminum body panels. Measuring only 4.49 x 2.22 x 1.5 inches (114 x 56.5 x 38.8 millimeters) with the lens retracted, and weighing just 10.1 ounces (286 grams) with the battery and memory card installed, the S70 actually isn't all that much longer and heavier than the "ultra-compact" Digital Elph models. Compared to last year's PowerShot S50, it's a little longer, but a little slimmer and shorter, and almost three ounces lighter. Sliding open the protective lens cover powers on the camera, automatically extending the lens and placing the camera in Shooting mode. When slid closed, the cover stops just short of the lens barrel, giving it time to retract and shut down before you can close the cover completely (preventing the much-to-be-avoided "bumped lens" syndrome). Rather than incorporating the Playback mode on the camera's main Mode dial, the S70 has a Playback button that doubles as a Quick-Review button. At any time you can switch to Playback mode and scroll through captured images, and then quickly return to the Shooting mode without having to change the Mode dial, either by pressing the Playback button again or by pressing on the shutter. (You can also use this switch to access the Playback mode without opening the lens cover.) While the S70 has too many external controls to cluster them all on the right side of the camera, you'll find it suitable for one-handed operation in most situations. The S70 is small enough to fit into a coat pocket or purse, and comes with a braided nylon wrist strap for added convenience.

The camera features an eye-level "real image" optical viewfinder that zooms along with the 3.6x lens and features a central autofocus / exposure target for composing images. Two LEDs on the left side of the viewfinder report the camera's status. When the camera is powered on in most Shooting modes, the 1.8-inch LCD monitor automatically illuminates. Pressing the Display button cycles through three display modes: screen on with image only, screen on with image and settings readout, and screen off. Depending on the Shooting mode, the LCD settings readout reports the flash setting, drive mode, metering mode, image size and quality, and the number of frames remaining. Additional functions are shown as they are enabled and battery status is only displayed when the remaining power is low.

The 5.8-20.7mm zoom lens (equivalent to 28-100mm on a 35mm camera) offers both manual and automatic focus control. Manual focus mode is accessed by holding down the MF button on the left side of the monitor and toggling the up and down arrows on the new Omniselector pad to the right of the LCD on the camera's back panel. A vertical scale on the LCD monitor shows the focus distance when manual focus is active. In Image Zone modes (Full Auto and modes like Portrait and Landscape), the S70 will select from among nine different AF frames automatically, depending on the location of the subject closest to the camera. In Creative zone modes, like Program or Shutter Priority, you can use the new Omniselector to manually position the AF frame wherever you like, within an area covering approximately the central 60 percent of the image area. Focus ranges from 1.4 feet (44 centimeters) to infinity in normal mode, and from an impressive 1.6 inches to 1.4 feet (4 to 44 centimeters) in Macro mode. The 4.1x Digital Zoom can be turned on in the Record menu, then activated by zooming past the maximum optical telephoto range with the camera's Zoom lever. (Remember that because digital zoom only enlarges the center portion of the CCD image, it compromises the image quality by reducing resolution.)

The S70 provides as much or as little exposure control as you want. All exposure modes are accessed by rotating the Mode dial on top of the camera. Canon divided the dial into three exposure types: Auto, Creative Zone, and Image Zone. Shooting in Auto mode puts the camera in charge of everything except the Flash and Macro modes. Exposure modes in the Creative Zone include: Program AE (P), Shutter Speed-Priority AE (Tv), Aperture-Priority AE (Av), Manual Exposure (M), and Custom (C). Program AE lets the camera choose the aperture and shutter speed settings, but gives you control over all other exposure options. Aperture and Shutter Speed Priority modes let you set one exposure variable (aperture or shutter speed) while the camera chooses the best value of the other variable (shutter speed or aperture). Manual mode gives you full control over all exposure parameters. (The camera's aperture can be set from f/2.8-f/5.3 (wide to tele) to f/8.0, and the shutter speed ranges from 1/2,000 to 15 seconds.) Finally, Custom mode lets you save a variety of specific exposure and function settings in one of the other modes, which can then be recalled instantly, simply by rotating the mode dial to the "C" position.

Exposure modes in the Image Zone include: Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene, Fast Shutter Speed, Slow Shutter Speed, Stitch Assist, and Movie. Portrait, Night Scene, and Landscape all make automatic camera adjustments to optimize settings for specific shooting conditions. The Portrait mode uses a large aperture setting to produce shallow "depth of field," focusing on the subject while maintaining an out-of-focus background. Conversely, Landscape mode slows the shutter speed and maximizes depth of field with a small aperture setting. Night Scene mode illuminates your subject with flash, while using a slow shutter speed to increase exposure on background objects. The Stitch-Assist mode is Canon's panorama shooting solution, in which multiple, overlapping images can be captured horizontally, vertically, or in four quadrants, in clockwise sequence. Images can then be "stitched" together on a computer, using Canon's bundled PhotoStitch software. Movie mode lets you capture 30 seconds to three minutes of moving images with sound at resolutions of 640 x 480, 320 x 240, or 160 x 120 and either 10 or 15 frames per second. (30 seconds and 10 frames/second for 640 x 480, 3 minutes and 15 frames/second for the smaller sizes.)

The S70 has extensive exposure controls, most of which are accessed through the camera's external control buttons using sub-menus and indicators displayed on the LCD screen. They include a White Balance setting with nine options: Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H (daylight), Flash, the new Underwater mode, and two Custom options; adjustable ISO sensitivities including Auto and manually selected values of 50, 100, 200, and 400; Exposure Compensation from -2 to +2 EV, in one-third-step increments; Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB), with a series of three exposures spanning a range of +/- 2 EV; Auto Focus Bracketing; a choice of Evaluative Light Metering, Center-Weighted Averaging, and Spot (AE Point) metering modes; and a handful of color and tone options, including custom adjustments for sharpening, color saturation, and contrast. The S70's built-in flash offers five operating modes (Auto; Red-Eye Reduction, Auto; Red-Eye Reduction, Normal; Flash On; or Flash Off) and Flash Exposure Compensation from -2 to +2 EV in one-third-step increments. The Flash Exposure (FE) Lock function lets you lock the flash exposure setting for one specific subject in the frame. You can also manually control the flash output, and activate a Slow Synchro mode for longer exposures.

There are two Continuous Shooting modes. Standard Continuous Shooting captures multiple, successive still images, at about 1.5 frames per second, providing enough time to display each image briefly after it is captured. High Speed Continuous Shooting captures images at 2.0 frames per second, as long as you hold down the shutter release. At highest resolution, the camera was able to capture 8 frames before having to clear the buffer, and the flash fired all eight times (this was at close range, so the flash didn't have a lot of work to do). The number of images and actual shot-to-shot speed depend on several factors, most obviously including the amount of memory remaining on the flash card. An Interval shooting mode mimics time-lapse photography, capturing as many as 100 total images at set intervals from one to 60 minutes between frames.

In Replay mode, the LCD monitor provides a full-frame display of captured images, which you can view individually or as an index of nine thumbnail images simultaneously. The optical Zoom lever doubles as a Digital Enlargement button, which lets you enlarge previously-captured images as much as 10x for closer inspection, with the arrow keys providing navigation control for you to move around the enlarged images to pinpoint important details. Also in Replay mode, you can record up to 60 seconds of sound with individual images by pressing the Light Metering / Audio button.

Depressing the Display button one time in Replay mode brings up information about the captured image, including the file name, date and time it was recorded, compression, resolution, and what number it is in the sequence of captured images. Another press of the Display button brings up a thumbnail view of the image with detailed information such as the shooting mode, aperture, f/stop, exposure compensation, and metering mode. In this mode, the screen shows a histogram next to the image to show the distribution of tonal values. Any overexposed values will flash in the thumbnail image display.

Images are stored on CompactFlash Type I or II memory cards, with possible image resolutions of 3,072 x 2,304; 2,592 x 1,944; 2,048 x 1,536; 1,600 x 1,200; and 640 x 480 pixels. Three JPEG compression levels are available, as well as a RAW data file format, which uses lossless image compression to preserve all the original data from the CCD in a relatively compact format. (Canon software or any one of several third-party applications is required to process RAW images.) A USB cable is provided for speedy connection to PC or Macintosh computers, and two software CDs offer an impressive selection of utilities. Canon's own Digital Camera software package includes ZoomBrowser EX (Win) and ImageBrowser (Mac) for downloading and organizing images, and processing RAW files; PhotoRecord (Win) and ImageBrowser for printing images; PhotoStitch for merging panoramic images captured in Stitch-Assist mode, and the unique "RemoteCapture" application that lets you operate the camera remotely through your computer. ArcSoft PhotoStudio and VideoImpression software packages for both Mac and Windows operating systems complete the bundle.

An A/V cable connects the camera to a television, with NTSC and PAL timing options available via the Setup menu. Power is supplied by a new rechargeable NB-2LH lithium battery with a rated capacity 26% greater than that of the previous version of the battery. A charger ships with the camera as well. An optional AC power adapter is available as a separate accessory.

Overall, I liked the PowerShot S70 a lot, with well thought-out updates to the external controls and a wider-angle zoom lens that make it a worthy upgrade. It offers the extensive exposure control I'm accustomed to seeing in much larger digicams, packed into a reasonably slim, portable camera body. Its varying levels of exposure control are great for novices who want to learn camera functions incrementally, while also providing the level of precise control needed to satisfy advanced photographers. The nice wide angle lens is particularly welcome, allowing one to capture a room with greater ease. The updated interface, expanded custom features, and overall increased flexibility of the camera combine to make this a really exceptional camera in every respect.

 

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