Canon S95 Review
Canon PowerShot S95 Image Quality
Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Very good overall color and hue accuracy, with moderate oversaturation of some colors.
Saturation. The Canon S95 produced good saturation overall, with minor to moderate oversaturation in reds, greens, browns and blues. Some colors such as bright yellow, aqua and cyan were actually undersaturated by a small amount. Overall, the Canon S95's images appeared to have natural looking color that wasn't too vivid, and you can always adjust saturation to your liking. Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life.
Skin tones. Here, when using Auto white balance, the Canon S95 also did well, producing natural-looking skin tones, though just slightly on the pink side. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc.
Hue. The Canon PowerShot S95 produced a few color shifts relative to the correct mathematical translation of colors in its subjects, most visibly pushing cyan towards blue (for better-looking skies), red toward orange, and yellow toward green. Mean "delta-C" color error after correcting for saturation was excellent at only 4.03; much better than average. Hue is "what color" the
| See full set of test images
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images
Exposure and White Balance
Indoors, incandescent lighting
Good color with both Auto and Manual white balance settings. Slightly better than average exposure accuracy.
|Auto White Balance
|Incandescent White Balance
|Manual White Balance
Color balance indoors under incandescent lighting had a very slight magenta cast with the Auto white balance setting, but was actually quite accurate. The Canon S95 did much better here than the majority of digital cameras we test. The Incandescent white balance option resulted in a fairly strong reddish cast. The Manual setting produced reasonably accurate color, though a touch cool with very slight green bias. The Powershot S95's exposure system handled this lighting well, producing good results with with no exposure compensation. (The average for this shot is + 0.3 EV.) Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulbs, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the U.S.
Good overall performance outdoors, though high contrast and hot highlights. Good color as well.
|Auto White Balance,
|Auto White Balance,
The Canon PowerShot S95 performed reasonably well under harsh outdoor lighting, though default contrast was quite high. About average exposure compensation (+0.7 EV) was needed to keep the model's facial skin tones bright, resulting in some blown highlights in her shirt and flowers. Overall exposure was pretty good in the outdoor far-field house shot at the default exposure, though some highlights were clipped there as well. Color outdoors is good with the Auto white balance setting, with somewhat pink skin tones in the portrait shot. Though contrast is high, the shadows hold onto a fair amount of detail. Fortunately, there's a contrast adjustment to help tame the highlights a bit, though it works better at bringing out shadows.
High resolution, 1,400 to 1,500 lines of strong detail from in-camera JPEGs.
Strong detail to
1,500 lines horizontal
Strong detail to
1,400 lines vertical
Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,500 lines per picture height in the horizontal direction, and about 1,400 lines per picture height in the vertical direction. (Some might argue for over 1,800 lines, but artifacts such as moire begin to appear at much lower resolutions.) Extinction of the pattern occurred between 2,200 and 2,400 lines. Adobe Camera RAW does not support the Canon S95's .CR2 files at the time of writing (late September 2010), so we can't tell if additional resolution is available from RAW files, though we suspect there is. Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail.
Sharpness & Detail
Sharp, detailed images overall, with only minor edge-enhancement on high-contrast subjects. Noise suppression limits definition in low contrast areas, though better than average results here.
|Very good definition of high-contrast
elements, with only minor
|Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression blurs
detail in areas of subtle contrast,
as in the darker parts of hair here.
Sharpness. The Canon PowerShot S95 captures very good detail and fairly sharp JPEG images at default settings. Only slight enhancement artifacts are visible on high-contrast subjects such as the crop above left. Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.
Detail. The crop above right shows moderate levels of noise suppression, as the low contrast areas of hair show less distinct detail. However, many individual strands remain fairly well defined, so performance here is actually better than average for a compact digicam. Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears.
RAW vs In-Camera JPEGs
As noted above, the Canon S95 produces fairly sharp, detailed in-camera JPEGs. Normally, more detail is available from RAW files, but the amount of noise present in images from these small sensors means noise reduction must be fairly sophisticated to extract more detail. In the image below, processing from RAW using Canon's bundled software brought no real improvement in visible detail. Take a look below, to see what we mean:
PS95FARI0080 (ISO 80)
In the table above, mousing over a link at the bottom will load the corresponding crop in the area above, and clicking twice will open the full resolution image.
The image on the left is an in-camera Fine JPEG taken with default settings. The image in the center is a RAW file processed using Canon's included Digital Photo Professional software, using default settings. The image on the right is also the same RAW file processed in DPP, but stronger unsharp masking was applied with strength set to 8, fineness set to 7, and threshold set to 1. As you can see, Canon's Digital Photo Professional software wasn't really able to extract more detail than the in-camera JPEG, which means the camera's JPEG engine is doing an excellent job. As mentioned previously, Adobe Camera RAW does not yet support S95 .CR2 files at the time of writing (late September, 2010).
ISO & Noise Performance
Low noise at the normal sensitivity settings, with pretty good results up to ISO 400. Strong noise and loss of detail at higher settings, however.
|ISO 80||ISO 100||ISO 200|
|ISO 400||ISO 800||
|ISO 3,200||ISO 6,400 (2.5MP)||ISO 12,800 (2.5MP)|
The Canon S95's high ISO noise performance is very similar to that of the S90's. (That's no surprise, since they likely use the same sensor and both use DIGIC 4 processors.) The PowerShot S95 produced low to moderate noise at the lower sensitivity settings, though the effects of noise reduction such as smudging and loss of fine detail can already be seen even at the lowest ISO if you look carefully. Fine detail holds pretty strong up to ISO 200, though. At ISO 400, noise is still quite good and a lot of fine detail remains intact, but additional smudging is evident. Noise grain isn't really more apparent as you move to ISO 800, but stronger noise reduction results in additional detail loss. Yellow and purple blotches (chroma noise) begin to be noticeable in darker tones and hair at ISO 400, and worsen as ISO goes up. At ISOs 1,600 and 3,200, artifacts from noise reduction and increased chroma noise dominate, blurring out most fine detail. As one would expect from a small sensor, ISOs 6,400 and 12,800 are so noisy that only 2.5-megpixel images are offered. Still, overall handling of detail versus noise is better than the typical compact camera, and detail at higher ISOs seems to be slightly improved over the S90. To see how these images held up to printing at various sizes, read the Output Quality section below
Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
High resolution with strong detail, though somewhat high default contrast limits dynamic range. Good low-light performance, capable of getting bright images in near darkness.
|+0.3 EV||+0.7 EV||+1.0 EV|
Sunlight. The Canon PowerShot S95 performed reasonably well under the deliberately harsh lighting in the test above, but with washed-out highlights and some deep shadows. Despite some noise suppression in the shadow areas, detail is still good in the shadows. At +0.3 EV exposure compensation, the face, background and some shadow areas are a little dark, so we preferred the +0.7 EV exposure, though it resulted in some blown highlights in her shirt and flowers. Some may prefer the +1.0 EV setting as the model's face is brighter, but we felt it had too many clipped highlights. The PowerShot S95 offers five contrast levels settings, but as mentioned previously they work better lightening shadows than reducing clipped highlights, so be sure to adjust your exposure accordingly. Also consider using fill flash in situations like the one shown above; and it's better to shoot in the shade when possible.
|Dynamic Range Correction Examples|
As part of the S95's Intelligent Contrast (i-Contrast) feature, the camera has "Dynamic Range Correction" to tame highlights, and "Shadow Correct" to bring out more shadow detail. A separate "High Dynamic Range" mode takes three shots at different exposures and combines them in-camera, but does not micro-align them like some other cameras, so a tripod is required.
Above are examples of our "Sunlit" Portrait scene shot with the S95's three available i-Contrast Dynamic Range Correction settings. The resulting images are a little dim at default exposure (in hindsight, it would have been better to shoot these at +0.7 or +1.0 EV compensation), but you can see that DR 400% has better detail in the highlights than the DR 200% setting. The results with DR Auto is somewhere between. Note that Dynamic Range Correction boosts ISO, so a more noise is visible with it enabled. (DR Auto above used ISO 289, DR 200% used ISO 160 and DR 400% used ISO 320.)
|Face Detection Examples|
The table above shows results with the default exposure using Aperture Priority AE, as well as Smart Auto and Portrait scene modes. As you can see, the S95's face detection in both Smart Auto and Portrait modes improved exposure automatically compared to the default exposure in Aperture Priority mode. We much preferred the Smart Auto image, as the camera also applied some Intelligent Contrast resulting in far fewer blown highlights, and used a lower ISO than Portrait mode (ISO 320 vs 400).
Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here.)
Low light. The Canon PowerShot S95 did very well in our low-light tests, capturing bright, usable images at sensitivities as low as ISO 80. Given that the S95 is capable of shutter speeds as slow as 15 seconds, the camera should have no problems capturing usable images at much lower light levels than the one foot-candle level we tested at. Noise is very well controlled to ISO 400, and color balance looks good if slightly cool with the Auto white balance setting. The Canon S95's Low Light mode (as indicated by the candle icon on the mode dial) reduces resolution to 2.5-megapixels by pixel-binning, producing lower noise and allowing higher ISOs up to 12,800. The camera's AF system was able to focus unassisted below the 1/16 foot-candle light level and in complete darkness with the AF assist lamp, keeping up well with its exposure system.
How bright is this? The one foot-candle light level that this test begins at roughly corresponds to the brightness of typical city street-lighting at night. Cameras performing well at that level should be able to snap good-looking photos of street-lit scenes.
NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) For such applications, you may have better luck with a digital SLR camera, but even there, you'll likely need to set the focus manually. For information and reviews on digital SLRs, refer to our SLR review index page.
Coverage and Range
A moderately powerful flash for its size, with uneven coverage at wide-angle. Good exposure from Auto flash mode in our indoor portrait test shot.
|28mm equivalent||105mm equivalent|
Coverage and Exposure. Flash coverage was uneven at wide-angle, with more uniform (albeit very dim) results at full telephoto. Coverage at wide-angle seems to have improved slightly over the S90. The S95's Auto flash mode did a good job with our indoor flash portrait test, resulting in a bright image at ISO 250 (automatically selected). The S95 used a fairly slow shutter speed of 1/25 second however, which could lead to some issues with subject motion blur.
ISO 100 Range. At wide-angle and ISO 100, flash shots were bright to about 12 feet, decreasing in brightness from that point on. At telephoto, flash shots started out dim at 6 feet, and got dimmer from there.
|Manufacturer-Specified Flash Range|
Auto ISO 400
Auto ISO 640
Manufacturer Specified Flash Test. Canon rates the PowerShot S95's flash range at 6.5 meters / 21 feet at wide-angle and 3 meters / 9.8 feet at telephoto, when using Auto ISO. In the shots above, the PowerShot S95's flash performs to Canon's specifications, producing bright images at both wide-angle and full telephoto, though the camera boosted ISO to 400 and 640 respectively.
Our standard test method for flash range uses a fixed setting of ISO 100, to provide a fair basis of comparison between cameras. We now also shoot two shots using the manufacturer-specified camera settings, at the range the company claims for the camera, to assess the validity of the specific claims.
Printed results from the Canon S95 are very good, showcasing the quality lens and light-taming sensor.
ISO 200 images print very nice at 11 x 14.
ISO 400 images have good detail at 11 x 14, but are slightly soft and more luminance noise appears in the shadows. This goes away when printed at 8 x 10 inches.
ISO 800 images are a bit too soft in some areas and grainy in others at 8 x 10, while 5 x 7s look good here.
ISO 1,600 is surprisingly usable at 8 x 10, though dark colors get darker, and shadows deepen. Sharpness improves a bit at 5 x 7.
ISO 3,200 shots are darker overall than any of the preceding shots, and are a little soft at 5 x 7. They're better at 4 x 6 and quite usable.
Like the LX3, the Canon S95's print test is a pretty nice and even descent down the print size slope. It would be even better printing from RAW with careful processing, so bear that in mind.
Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon Pro9000 Mark II studio printer, and on the Canon Pixma MP610 here in the office. (See the Canon Pixma Pro9000 Mark II review for details on that model.)
The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Canon PowerShot S95 Photo Gallery.
Recommended Software: Rescue your Photos!
Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. We get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A lot of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digital camera reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...
Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Canon PowerShot S95 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!
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Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.