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Canon PowerShot S100 Digital ELPH

Canon packs 2 megapixels and a 2x optical zoom into the "smallest digicam on the planet!"

Review First Posted: 6/20/2000



Must-have e-book for this camera -- $20, Click Here!

MSRP $699 US

 

*
True 2 megapixel sensor for 1600 x 1200 pixel images
*
True 2x optical zoom lens
*
(Incredibly!) tiny body, smallest currently on the market
*
Rugged all-metal construction, auto lens cover

Manufacturer Overview
Canon has long been a leader in the film-based photography world, and has developed a solid line of digital cameras as well. About a year and a half (this is being written in June, 2000), their PowerShot Pro70 introduced exceptional image quality and many "studio-friendly" features at the 1.7 megapixel level. Subsequently, they made waves with a series of digicams in exceptionally compact metal bodies, echoing the style of their wildly popular "ELPH" film cameras. Their latest though, is both the most compact (by far!), and the only one so far to bear the coveted "ELPH" name. Literally smaller in height and width than a standard playing card, the Digital ELPH packs a considerable "Wow!" factor, and is easy to just stick in a pocket and bring anywhere. (The exceptionally rugged all-metal body and retracting lens with built-in protective cover further encourage a casual approach and handling.)


Highlights

Executive Overview
Canon's new PowerShot S100 Digital Elph camera is definitely deserving of its "ELPH" name. Its tiny size and extremely light weight easily make it the most portable digicam we've seen to date (June, 2000). The sleek, silvery body design recalls the PowerShot S10 and S20 body styles, but on a much smaller scale, of course. The S100 features a well designed, retractable lens with a sliding lens cover built in (no lens cap hassles!). When the lens is fully retracted, there are virtually no protrusions on the camera and it easily glides into just about any pocket. All the main controls are on the back panel of the camera, with the exception of the zoom lever, power and shutter buttons, and a small, notched thumb grip on the back gives you a nice, firm hold.

An optical and LCD viewfinder are both located on the back of the camera. The optical viewfinder features a pair of LEDs that inform you of the camera's status, while a central autofocus target inside the viewfinder helps you line up shots. The LCD viewfinder can be turned on and off with an adjacent button and features a 1.5 inch screen with a low temperature polysilicon, TFT color display. (Gobbledygook that means it's a very sharp little LCD.)

The Canon 5.4 to 10.8 mm zoom lens (equivalent to a 35-70 mm lens on a 35mm camera) offers a maximum aperture ranging from f/2.8 to f/4.0, depending on the zoom setting. Focus ranges from 22 inches (57 cm) to infinity in normal mode and from four to 22 inches (10 to 57 cm) in Macro mode. A TTL autofocus function utilizes an efficient AiAF (artificial intelligence autofocus) system which evaluates a broad field in the center of the image for more accurate focusing. There's also an Infinity Focus mode (controlled by the Macro/Infinity button) that quickly sets focus at infinity for fast shooting. The optical zoom lens is controlled by the Zoom lever on top of the camera, and an optional 2x/4x "digital zoom" function can be engaged by zooming past the optical telephoto range.

A sliding switch places the camera in Record or Playback mode. In Record mode, you can leave the camera in charge of the exposure by selecting Automatic exposure control through the Record menu, or you can select Manual mode and adjust things such as white balance, flash and exposure compensation (EV) through a menu system employing the LCD screen and rear-panel controls. There's also Black & White and Stitch Assist (panoramic) modes. Aperture and shutter speed are controlled automatically in all modes. The Self-Timer and Continuous shooting options are available in most exposure modes, via the back-panel buttons. The built-in flash offers five settings (Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced On, Forced Off and Slow-Sync). White balance also offers five settings (Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten and Fluorescent light), all controlled through the Record Menu. Exposure Compensation (EV) can be adjusted from –2 to +2 in 0.3 EV (f-stop) units, also through the Record Menu.

The Self-Timer gives a 10 second delay with a flashing LED countdown before the shutter fires and the Continuous Shooting mode allows you to shoot approximately two frames per second, depending on available memory and image quality. The two Stitch Assist modes (one for left to right and one for right to left) allow you to capture up to 26 images in sequence, to be "stitched" together with the accompanying software.

Images are stored on CompactFlash type I cards (an 8MB card comes with the camera) with quality choices of SuperFine and Fine, and image sizes of 1600 x 1200 and 640 x 480.

An included Video Out cable allows you to connect to a television set for image playback and composition and utilizes the same interface connector on the side of the camera as does the USB digital output. A software CD comes with the camera and provides Canon's Solution Disk software for image downloading and stitching together panoramic images. Additionally, a copy of Adobe PhotoDeluxe comes with the camera for image correction, manipulation and a variety of fun templates and filters. Both software packages are compatible with both Windows and Macintosh operating systems.

Design
Canon didn't go wrong with the naming on this camera, PowerShot S100 Digital Elph says it all. Canon's ELPH series of APS-based film cameras have been runaway bestsellers in camera retail shops around the world. Consumers really like their exceptionally compact design and easy pocketability, thanks to their rugged cases. The Digital ELPH duplicates these features, and in all ways begs to be taken along. We highly approve of this, since we're firm believers that cameras that sit home in drawers don't take many pictures. The retracting lens features a smart design that keeps the camera front completely flat when the camera is off, making it a perfect fit for the smallest of pockets, while an automatic metal lens cover means you don't have to worry about smudging the lens. The S100 measures 3.4 x 2.2 x 1.1 inches (87.0 x 57.0 x 26.9 mm) and weighs in at a mere 6.7 ounces (190 g) excluding the battery. Need we say more about the S100's compact portability? (OK we will: This is by far the most compact digicam we've tested to date!)


The front of the camera reveals the distinctive ELPH styling, with the lens off-center slightly toward the right, and viewfinder, flash, and focus-assist illuminator windows just above it. The focus-assist light is in the middle, a bright white LED that helps the camera focus in low light levels. (Yes, that's a standard-size playing card just peeking out from behind the camera! That gives you some idea of just how small the digital ELPH is!)


The zoom control, shutter button and power button are all on top of the camera, each making just the slightest protrusion in the S100's sleek design.


On the right side of the camera (when looking at the back panel) are the wrist strap attachment and the CompactFlash slot, the latter of which fits securely beneath a locking plastic door.


The opposite side of the camera simply holds the USB/video input jack, which is protected by a snug rubber cover. This is an interesting space saver on the camera, as the video and USB cables share the same output jack.


The majority of the camera controls live on the back panel with the optical and LCD viewfinders. A small, textured thumb grip provides a relatively secure hold on the camera and gives a good grip for one-handed operation (for small to medium hands, those with larger hands may have a little difficulty negotiating the controls, which are a little close together).


The S100 features a nice, flat bottom, which holds the metal tripod mount and battery compartment. We don't usually like to see the tripod mount so far over to the side of the camera because the weight of the camera so far off-center on the tripod head can overly stress the mount threads. Given the S100's tiny size and the solid metal tripod socket, this may not even be a concern though. One consequence of having the tripod socket so close to the edge though, is that the camera may not rest level on some tripod heads. (Again, a minor concern, since you can usually just tilt the tripod to align the camera however you'd like.)


Viewfinder
The S100 offers both an optical viewfinder and an LCD monitor for image composition. The real image optical viewfinder is just left of center on the back panel and features center target marks for autofocus and exposure. Two LEDs on the left of the viewfinder report the camera's status, such as when focus is set, if the flash is ready or if Macro mode is enabled. The 1.5 inch, low temperature, polycrystalline silicon, TFT LCD monitor comes on automatically when the camera is turned on, but can be canceled by pressing the Display button (you can also set it to remain off when the camera is powered on, simply by turning the LCD monitor off before turning the camera off). At all times, the LCD monitor displays a variety of camera information such as white balance setting, flash mode, the number of available images, image quality and others (this display will actually turn itself off after a few seconds, but can be recalled by pressing the Display button twice or by pressing any of the control buttons). In Playback mode, the LCD monitor offers an index display mode and a playback zoom for close-up examination of captured images.


Optics
For optics, the S100 features a 5.4 to 10.8 mm zoom lens (equivalent to a 35 to 70 mm lens on a 35mm camera) with a maximum aperture setting of f/2.8 at wide angle and f/4.0 at full telephoto. The AiAF (artificial intelligence autofocus) function uses a broad metering field in the center of the image to calculate the focal distance and is very precise, especially with subjects slightly off center. (Which might be missed by more conventional autofocus designs.) In normal mode, focus ranges from 22 inches (57 cm) to infinity and from four to 22 inches (10 to 57 cm) in macro mode. The S100's optical zoom is controlled by the zoom switch on top of the camera and provides a smooth zoom actuation, although the S100's lens seems to favor a number of specific focal lengths. This "preferred zoom" behavior is fairly common among cameras we've tested, and slightly annoying when you're trying for very precise framing. On the other hand, you can usually just step forward or back slightly to get things exactly right, so it isn't an insuperable obstacle. A 2x and 4x digital telephoto feature is enabled through the Setup menu and accessed by zooming past the optical zoom range with the zoom lever. Digital zoom on the S100 ELPH works the same as on a number of Canon's other digicams, and differently from most others we've seen: With the digital zoom enabled, as you zoom out, the lens will move through its full zoom range, stopping at the 2x position (the limit of the optical zoom). The digital zoom then engages, doubling the apparent size of the image, and the lens simultaneously returns to its 1x position. This leaves you with a 2x zoomed image, and the lens ready to deliver another 2x of smooth zooming. The effect is probably more intuitive than other approaches requiring an explicit action to engage the digital zoom, and it's also very clear when the digital zoom function is operating. The cost though, is a noticeable pause as the lens racks back to the 1x position. As with any digital zoom function, remember that image quality suffers somewhat from the enlargement, with sharpness decreasing in direct proportion to the degree of "digital zoom". Macro mode is controlled by the Macro/Infinity Focus button on the back panel. One press sets the camera for macro photography and a second press sets the focus at infinity. The third press puts the camera back into normal photography mode. The Infinity Focus mode is a nice plus, allowing a little faster shooting since the camera isn't having to determine focus.


Exposure
We found the exposure control on the S100 pretty straightforward, although the LCD menu was a little time consuming to navigate through at times. The camera features Automatic and Manual exposure modes, Manual simply meaning that you have control over the flash mode, image quality, exposure compensation and white balance. The camera controls shutter speed and aperture in all exposure modes. Putting the camera in Automatic exposure mode means that the camera controls everything, with the exception of the self-timer and macro modes. Additional exposure modes include Black & White, Stitch Assist (or panorama) and Continuous shooting, all of which will be described below. The S100's sensitivity setting is equivalent to ISO 100 and is not adjustable. We usually like to see a selection of ISO settings, but given the tiny size of this camera, we're quite happy with the range of features offered.

Camera operation is a breeze, you just point and shoot most of the time. Halfway pressing the shutter button sets focus and exposure, and the small LEDs next to the optical viewfinder let you know when the camera is ready to take the picture. In low-light situations or if the camera needs to use a slow shutter speed, the hand shake symbol appears in the LCD monitor - meaning you should either get out a tripod or turn on the flash. Many of the camera functions are controlled by individual control buttons on the back panel, but a few features require the LCD menu system. We always like to see the least amount of reliance on the LCD monitor as possible, but the small size of the camera's back panel means we have to give somewhere. Regardless, we found the LCD menu system very navigable, and it only took a glance at the manual to make sure we were on the right track.

The S100 uses a center weighted metering system, which means that the camera averages exposure values from a small area in the center of the image to determine the proper exposure. Although there is no adjustable AE/AF Lock function on the camera, you can change the auto exposure area yourself by simply moving the camera. Basically, you place the area you want to base the exposure on in the center of the field of view, half way press the shutter button to set the exposure and focus, then reposition the subject into the desired composition while continuing to hold down the shutter button. Once you've framed the picture, just fully press the shutter button to capture your photo.

Flash
The built-in flash on the S100 features five operating modes, all controlled by the Flash button on the back panel. The button cycles through Auto (lightning bolt icon with an "A"), Redeye Reduction (eyeball icon), Forced On (lightning bolt), Forced Off (lightning bolt with a slash) and Slow-Synchro (person icon with a star). Auto, Forced On and Forced Off are pretty self-explanatory. Redeye Reduction means that the camera fires a small pre-flash before the full flash, to reduce the occurrence of the Redeye Effect. The Slow-Synchro mode times the flash with a slow shutter and is perfect for night subjects because it allows more ambient light into the image. All of the flash modes are available in Manual and Black & White shooting modes, with a small assortment available in Automatic and Stitch Assist modes. The flash takes about 10 seconds to charge. The top LED next to the optical viewfinder glows red when the flash is ready. Flash power ranges from 11 inches to 10 feet (27 cm to 3 m) in normal wide angle mode, and from 11 inches to seven feet (27 cm to 2 m) in telephoto mode. Although the flash looks like a "single pop" design to the naked eye, it does in fact use two very closely-spaced flashes, so you'll need a special slave trigger to use with it. (You can find one at www.srelectronics.com.)

Self-Timer
A 10 second self-timer mode is accessible through the Continuous/Self-Timer button on the back panel and is available in all photography modes. Once in this mode, a half press of the shutter button sets focus and exposure, and a full press triggers the self-timer. The timer will count down from 10 seconds by flashing a small LED on the front of the camera, which will accelerate at two seconds. The mode is canceled by simply pressing the Self-Timer button again or turning the camera off.

Continuous Shooting
Once activated by pressing the Continuous/Self-Timer button on the back panel, the S100's Continuous Shooting mode will shoot approximately two frames per second as long as the shutter button is held down or until the buffer memory is filled (shooting times may vary depending on the subject and shooting setup).

Macro and Infinity Focus Modes
Macro mode is accessible through the Macro/Infinity Focus button on the back panel. Once in Macro mode, the focus ranges from four to 22 inches (10 to 57 cm). The same button also accesses the Infinity Focus mode, which fixes the camera's focus at infinity for far away subjects and panoramic shots. While the Macro function is available in all exposure modes, the Infinity Focus option is available in all modes except Automatic.

Exposure Compensation (EV Adjustment)
Through the Record menu, the S100's exposure compensation can be adjusted from -2 to +2 in half step EV increments. The setting is canceled through the same method. Note that the exposure compensation setting will remain the same even after the camera is powered off, so it must be changed through the Record menu. The exposure compensation adjustment is available in all record modes except for Automatic.

White Balance
Also through the Record menu, the camera's white balance can be adjusted in all modes except for Automatic and Black & White exposure modes. Options are Automatic, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten and Fluorescent, to match a variety of light sources. As with the exposure compensation adjustment, the white balance setting remains the same after the camera is powered off.

Black and White Mode
This mode is accessed through the Record menu and simply records images in black and white monotones. All the exposure adjustments and modes are available in this mode, except for white balance. As usual with digicams we've seen though, the black and white mode simply removes the color information from the image, but saves no memory space, since the photos are still stored as full RGB files. (We haven't studied this, but it does seem likely that black and white mode images could show better tonal range and less noise, since the camera is able to concentrate solely on the luminance (brightness) information in its image processing.)

Stitch Assist Mode
The S100 features a panoramic shooting mode, called Stitch Assist, which is accessible through the Record menu. Once the mode is selected, a guideline tool appears in the LCD monitor to help you line up shots (a small arrow tells you which way to swivel the camera). There are actually two Stitch Assist modes to choose from: left to right and right to left, indicated by a small arrow on the mode icon. All exposure adjustments (flash, image quality, exposure compensation, white balance and macro/infinity mode) are set with the first image. Note that digital telephoto and certain flash settings (Auto and Redeye Reduction) are not available with this mode, nor is the video output capacity. You can shoot up to 26 images in a sequence and don't worry about minor discrepancies in the overlapping portions, as these can be quickly fixed with the stitching software.


Shutter Lag/Cycle Times
When you press the shutter release on a camera, there's usually a lag time before the shutter actually fires. This time allows the autofocus and autoexposure mechanisms time to do their work and can amount to a fairly long delay in some situations. Since this number is almost never reported on, and can significantly affect the picture taking experience, we now routinely measure it using an electronic test setup.

S100 Digital ELPH Timings
Operation
Time (secs)
Notes
Power On -> First shot
4.1
Start with lens retracted. Time is delay until first shot captured.
Shutdown
1.6
Time until lens is retracted, camera is powered down. (No pending image processing though.)
Play to Record, first shot
2.8
Time is delay until first shot captured.
Record to play (max/min res)
1.5/1.0
Slower for max res images
Shutter lag, full autofocus
1.1/0.88
Wide/Tele
(Wide is faster than tele)
Shutter lag, prefocus
0.19

Cycle time, Max/Min Res
2.9/2.4
Quite fast, almost the same in high res as low.
Cycle Time, Continuous Mode (high/low resolution)
0.9-2.0/0.95
Strangely variable cycle time in high resolution mode.


Operation and User Interface
As we mentioned earlier, we found the S100's user interface very straightforward and relatively uncomplicated, but just a little wearing. Most of the camera's functions are controlled by the control buttons on the top and the back panel, while settings such as exposure mode, white balance, exposure compensation, etc. are controlled through the LCD based Record menu. Rather than scrolling through pages, you scroll through menu items by repeatedly pressing the Menu button. This was the trickiest part of the menu system, but was quickly figured out by glancing through the manual. Our only complaint here is that changing menu settings is a little tedious, with a lot of screens to scroll through. We generally like to see more external controls and less reliance on the LCD monitor. For example, it's a lot faster to change the exposure compensation by hitting a button a couple of times than fishing through a multi-screen menu system. That said, we are pleased to see that a fair range of camera modes and features are controlled externally, such as the flash, self-timer and macro modes.


Shutter Button
Located on the top panel and encircled by the zoom lever, this button sets focus and exposure when halfway pressed and fires the shutter when fully pressed.


Zoom Lever (Index Display and Playback Zoom Control)
Located on top of the camera and featuring a small tab for easy turning, this lever controls the optical and digital telephoto when the camera is in Record mode. In Playback mode, the lever pulls up a nine image index display (when pushed to the wide angle end) and zooms into captured images (when pulled to the telephoto end).


On/Off Button
Also located on top of the camera, but to the left of the shutter button, this button powers the camera up and shuts it down. When the camera is powered on, the lens extends outward into its operating position. Likewise, the lens retracts back into the camera body when the camera is switched off.


Mode Switch
Located on the top right of the back panel of the camera, this switch slides back and forth between Record and Playback modes.


CF Open Latch
Located on the right side of the back panel, this switch opens the CompactFlash card slot.


Display Button
Located beneath the LCD monitor on the back panel, this button turns the LCD display on and off.


Menu Button
Located to the left of the Display button, this button accesses the LCD menu system in Record and Playback modes.


Macro/Infinity Button (Right Arrow Key)
Located to the left of the Menu button, this button cycles between Macro, Infinity Focus and normal camera modes while in Record mode. In both Playback and Record menus, this button acts as the right arrow key to navigate through menu items. In Playback mode, this button scrolls through captured images.


Continuous/Self-Timer Button (Left Arrow Key)
Located to the left of the Macro/Infinity Focus button, this button cycles through Single, Continuous and Self-Timer shooting modes while the camera is in Record mode. In both Playback and Record menus, this button serves as the left arrow key to navigate through menu items. In Playback mode, it scrolls through recorded images.


Flash Button (Set Button)
Located beneath the bottom left corner of the LCD monitor, this button cycles through the following five flash modes:

In both Playback and Record menus, this button serves as the "OK" to select menu options and return to the main display.


Camera Modes and Menus

Automatic Exposure Mode
Accessed by placing the camera into Record mode and selecting the Automatic exposure mode from the Record menu, this mode puts the camera in charge of all exposure settings. You can control the digital zoom, certain flash modes, the self-timer and Macro mode. Pressing the Menu button sequentially takes you through the following options:


Manual Exposure Mode
Also accessed through the Record menu when the camera is in Record mode, this mode puts the camera in control of shutter speed and aperture only. You can adjust the digital zoom, flash mode, image quality, shooting method (Single, Continuous or Self-Timer), Macro mode, Infinity Focus mode, exposure compensation and white balance. Pressing the Menu button cycles through the following options:


Black and White Mode
Accessed through the Record menu, this mode allows you to take pictures in black and white monotones. All of the same exposure adjustments are available as with the Manual exposure mode, with the exception of white balance. Pressing the Menu button calls up the same exposure menu as in Manual exposure mode.

Stitch Assist Modes
These panoramic modes are accessed through the Record menu and feature two options: Left to Right Stitch Assist and Right to Left Stitch Assist (based on which direction the camera will move to create the panoramic sequence). The majority of the exposure controls are available in this mode, with the exception of digital telephoto; Auto and Redeye Reduction flash modes; and Continuous Shooting mode. Pressing the Menu button cycles through the same exposure menus as in Manual exposure mode.

Playback Mode
This mode is accessed by sliding the camera mode switch to the Playback position. From here, you can scroll through captured images, write-protect images, view a nine-image index display, zoom into to a captured image and delete unwanted images. Pressing the Menu button in this mode cycles through the following menu options:



Image Storage and Interface
The S100 stores images on CompactFlash type I cards, and an 8MB card comes with the camera. Upgrades are of course available to 16MB, 32MB and 64MB sizes from Canon, and up to 192 MB from third parties as of this writing in June, 2000. The remaining image capacity is shown on the LCD monitor when the camera is turned on. When the number reaches zero, the camera beeps and the LED next to the optical viewfinder flashes or, if the LCD viewfinder is enabled, a "CF card full" message appears on the display. The table below shows the number of images of each size that can be stored on the provided 8MB memory card, and the approximate level of JPEG compression used for each.

Resolution/Quality Vs Image Capacity
High Resolution
Standard Resolution
Images
Approx. Compression
Images
Approx. Compression
Super Fine
4
2-3:1
N/A
N/A
Fine
12
9:1
46
5:1

As you would expect, the CompactFlash card should never be removed while the camera is in operation to avoid damaging the media. The card fits into a slot on the side of the camera, protected by a plastic flap that snaps firmly into place and that is released by a sliding switch.

You can protect individual images on the CompactFlash card while in Playback mode through the Playback menu. Once protected, images cannot be erased unless the entire CompactFlash card is formatted or the protection is subsequently removed.

Frames are stored on the CompactFlash card and assigned file numbers from 0001 to 9999, organized in folders containing up to 100 images. Through the Setup menu, the File Number Reset option allows you to turn on the file number reset option, which resets the file number each time a card is inserted into the camera. Otherwise, the camera assigns a continuing number from the last file number of the last card used. This prevents the same file number being used for images taken together and saved on multiple cards.

The Erase menu option under the Playback menu allows you to erase individual images while in Playback mode. Likewise, the Erase All option allows you to erase all frames on the card (except those that are write-protected). The entire card can also be erased by formatting, also available in the Playback menu by hitting the Menu button.

The S100 uses the speedy USB interface to connect to a host computer for transferring files. This means you likely won't need a card reader for your computer, as transfers directly from the camera should be fast enough to satisfy most users. We say "should be" because a *very* balky PC prevented us from actually measuring the transfer rate of the camera. (Our main PC has numerous devices attached to it, and we couldn't manage to resolve some deeply-buried driver conflict.) Past experience though, indicates that even the slowest USB connections routinely transfer data at 0.2 megabytes per second. If the S100 followed suit (we'll bet it's faster), it would take about 40 seconds to empty an 8 megabyte memory card.


Video Out
The S100 comes with a video out jack that allows you to connect the camera to a television set for reviewing images or composing shots (US and Japanese models come set up for NTSC and European models for PAL). An accompanying VC-200 video cable features a USB adapter on the end that connects to the camera, meaning that the S100 uses the same output jack for video and digital connections. The television can be used as a viewfinder in all modes except Stitch Assist.


Power
The S100 utilizes a Canon NB-1L rechargeable battery pack for power, which is a little disconcerting as it's less convenient than the standard AA batteries (which are readily available in most grocery and drug stores). The good news is that the battery pack uses lithium ion cells, meaning you can recharge it at any time without worrying about permanently reducing its charge capacity. Lithium ion batteries also have the advantage that they don't "self discharge" (lose charge just sitting there) the way the more common NiMH batteries do. Canon estimates that a fully charged battery pack will provide approximately 85 shots with the LCD monitor on and about 270 shots with it off. In Playback mode, Canon estimates that a fully charged battery pack will provide about 50 minutes of playback time. These numbers are fairly consistent with our own measurements shown below. (Due to the odd battery compartment shape and special battery, we weren't able to measure power consumption directly as we normally do. Instead, we timed how long the camera would operate in various modes with a fully-charged battery. An optional AC adapter is available and highly recommended for use during image playback or when downloading captured images to your computer. There's also an Auto Power Off function that can be turned on through the Setup menu and which shuts down the camera automatically after three minutes of inactivity. The table below details power consumption in various operating modes.

Operating Mode
Operating Time
Capture Mode, w/LCD
57 minutes
Capture Mode, no LCD
5 hours(!)
Playback Mode
79 minutes


Included Software

Learn what the manual left out -
How to *use* your camera.

Camera manuals are (sometimes) fine for knowing which button does what, but where do you go to learn how and when to use the various features? Dennis Curtin's "Shortcourses" books and CDs are the answer. (Cheap for what you get, too.) Order the Shortcourses manual for the camera reviewed in this article.


Packaged with the S100 is a software CD containing Canon's Digital Camera Solution Disk (ver 1.0), compatible with Windows 95/98/NT 4.0 and Macintosh OS 7.5.3 or higher. The Solution Disk software provides an image browser tool that handles image downloading, manages files (displays, moves, copies, etc.), sets up images for printing and allows you to set up images for e-mail. As part of the Solution Disk, the PhotoStitch software allows you to connect your panoramic sequence images by automatically arranging them into the correct order. The software also assists with cropping and alignment. Another CD packaged with the camera contains Adobe PhotoDeluxe, which provides image correction and manipulation tools, as well as a variety of templates for creating greeting cards, calendars, flyers, etc.



Test Results
As always in our reviews, we strongly encourage you to view the sample pictures we shot with the PowerShot S100 Digital ELPH. If you're shopping for a camera, there's simply no substitute for looking at and directly comparing images from various cameras you may be considering. What makes a "good" picture is almost entirely subjective, and it's ultimately up to each person to decide what makes them happy. (Kinda like life, that way... ;-) View the pictures on the S100 sample photo page, and compare them with ones shot under similar conditions by other cameras, in the Comparometer(tm). Download them and print them out on your printer, since appearances on-screen can be deceiving. Then make your decision, based on what you see! Besides an index to the pictures we shot with the S100 though, the pictures page also has much-expanded analysis of each of our test shots.

As we said at the outset, the S100 Digital ELPH distinguishes itself as the smallest digicam we've seen yet (June, 2000), as well as one of the most ruggedly constructed. This is clearly a camera to drop in a pocket and take anywhere, with little concern for things like a scratched or smudged lens, dinged body, etc. In our testing, it became apparent that you pay at least some price for the incredible compactness relative to Canon's (excellent, and already pretty compact) previous models, the S10 and S20. Still, the image-quality penalty is fairly modest, mostly in the form of a somewhat softer image and a slightly odd tone curve. Overall, if portability is a key concern, there's literally nothing on the market that can touch the S100 Digital ELPH!

As noted, we found the S100 had pretty accurate color overall, but slightly uneven color saturation relative to other Canon digicams we've tested: Some colors are slightly muted (yellows, some shades of blue), while others (bright reds) tend to over-saturate slightly. The S100's peak contrast point is also about where most (Caucasian) skin tones are, causing it to emphasize skin blemishes somewhat. Overall though, color on the S100 is quite good, probably about in the middle of the range for current 2 megapixel cameras.

In our past tests of Canon's digicams, we've always been impressed with the exceptional sharpness of their lenses. Perhaps due to its much smaller size, the lens on the S100 doesn't appear to be quite as sharp, turning in more average results for a 2 megapixel camera. We don't want to make too big a deal of this though: The S100's images are clearly those of a 2 megapixel camera, with noticeably better resolution and detail than even the best 1.3 megapixel units. If you want two megapixels and supreme portability, the S100 is the way to go. If space in your pocket or purse is at less of a premium, Canon's own PowerShot S10 will give sharper pictures.

Our laboratory resolution test revealed some interesting facts about the S100's: It turned in a surprisingly good performance on our resolution test. We say "surprising" because as just noted, we felt that many of its other test images were a little soft compared to the best performers in the 2 megapixel field (Canon's own S10 chief among them). The laboratory results though, showed that the camera captures a reasonable amount of detail, but loses out somewhat in the sharpness category. (A good illustration of the difference between "resolution" and "sharpness".) Horizontal resolution was a solid 700-750 lines per picture height, while vertical resolution was 600-650 lines. These numbers are quite competitive within the 2 megapixel market. As to the sharpness, we found that applying strong unsharp masking with a small radius (130%, 0.3 pixels) in Photoshop(TM) greatly improved the crispness of the image, without introducing any unpleasant artifacts. Seeing this, we went back to some of our other shots, and tried the same trick. We found that 130% unsharp masking was a bit much for general subjects, but unsharp masking of 100% and 0.3 pixels radius made a significant difference in how the pictures looked: Noise was increased somewhat, but the photos overall picked up a much sharper, crisper appearance. This suggests that some routine post-processing of the S100's images could significantly improve their apparent image quality. (Just don't try this on portrait shots of your significant other: You'll be able to count every pore, hair, and wrinkle!)

The S100 also did pretty well in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of 3.97 x 2.98 inches (100.88 x 75.66 mm). This isn't the smallest minimum capture area, but is sufficient to get pretty detailed shots of many small objects. (Jewelry, bugs, etc.)

We were pleasantly surprised by the S100's low-light capabilities, as we obtained useable images as low as 1 foot-candle (11 lux). We were still able to see a fair bit of detail as low as 1/16 EV (0.67 lux), but noticed a major jump in image brightness between 1/2 and 1 foot-candles (5.5 and 11 lux). Most likely, this is due to the camera's lowest shutter speed being one second, which is probably not slow enough for the 6 EV light level. For reference, 1 foot-candle is about the light level of a reasonably well-lit city night scene under typical streetlights.

The S100's optical viewfinder is a little tight, showing approximately 84 percent of the final image area at wide angle and about 85 percent at telephoto. The LCD monitor was much more accurate, showing about 99 percent of the final image area at both wide angle and telephoto settings (it actually seemed a little loose on the 640 x 480 image size at wide angle, cutting off part of the heavy black outline that we use as a guide). We generally like to see LCD monitors as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, so the S100 comes through with flying colors in this category, and it's optical viewfinder accuracy is very typical of other digicams, as most seem to be designed for 85% coverage. We also shot at the 2x and 4x digital telephoto settings, which were very accurate, but resolution became worse with each setting. (And we had significant difficulty in the studio, discerning where the lines were on the LCD display in these modes, as the viewfinder display became quite fuzzy in digital tele mode.)

Optical distortion on the S100 is fairly low at the wide angle end, showing an approximate 0.4 percent barrel distortion. Oddly enough, we found barrel distortion at the telephoto end as well, albeit an almost imperceptible 0.1 percent. (Most lenses switch to pincushion distortion in telephoto mode.) Chromatic aberration was very low, maybe showing half a pixel of coloration on each side of the target elements. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target). Flash distribution looked very even at the telephoto setting, but had some falloff at wide-angle.

In summary, the PowerShot S100 Digital ELPH offers good image quality in an unbeatable compact package that's built to take the bumps and bruises of everyday toss-it-in-your-pocket handling.


Conclusion
The PowerShot S100 Digital ELPH packs the most "wow" factor than just about any other digicam we've tested this year. Its teeny, tiny size immediately draws attention, and its unusually rugged all-metal case invites you to treat it casually, just dropping it in a pocket to take anywhere. We're big believers in the axiom that cameras that sit at home don't take many pictures, a fate the Digital ELPH will never face. It offers a nice array of exposure modes and features, but is also clearly intended for the point & shoot user, rather than the serious photo buff who wants complete exposure control. It's image quality is a slight notch down from Canon's previous (and already pretty compact) PowerShot S10, but the images are clearly those of a 2 megapixel camera, in terms of resolution and overall quality. If you're looking for the ultimate in digicam portability, the S100 wins the contest hands-down!

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