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Canon PowerShot S1 IS Digital Camera

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Review Date
5/27/04
User Level
Novice to Experienced
Product Uses
Family / Travel / Special Events
Digicam Design
Point-and-Shoot or Manual control
Picture Quality
Good, 3.2-megapixel CCD
Print Sizes
4x6, 5x7, 8x10 inches
Availability
April, 2004
Suggested Retail Price
(At introduction)
$499

 

Introduction

Review Links
Overview
Picky
Details
Design
Operation
Test Images
Specifications
Conclusion
The Canon PowerShot S1 IS is the latest in a long line of high-quality digicams from Canon. Canon U.S.A. has long been a strong contender in the film and digital camera markets, well-known for its high-quality optics, technical innovations, and aggressive product development. The 3.2-megapixel PowerShot S1 IS follows in the footsteps of a well-received model from three years past, improving on the 2.6-megapixel PowerShot Pro90 IS in several respects.

The Canon PowerShot Pro90 IS was notable for its use of an optically stabilized zoom lens with an effective focal range of 37 to 370mm, coupled with a 3.3 megapixel image sensor. At first glance, the PowerShot S1 IS might appear similar, with a 10x optically stabilized zoom lens and a 3.3 megapixel image sensor. Looking at the specs a little more closely, however, you're immediately struck by what a difference three years can make! The S1 IS is significantly smaller than its predecessor, and just over half the weight. Its lens is brighter at telephoto, and resolution is higher (the Pro90's sensor masking limited effective resolution to 2.6 megapixels, versus 3.2 megapixels on the S1 IS). Overall, the camera is more feature-rich all around, and yet it costs a whopping 60% less than the Pro90 IS.

The PowerShot S1 IS accommodates a wide range of users with its variable level of exposure control. Experienced shooters will appreciate the Manual, Aperture Priority, and Shutter Priority modes, while novices will find the Auto, Program AE, and Scene modes useful. With a full range of creative effects, the added attraction of 10x zoom Canon optics, and optical image stabilization - a feature found on only a handful of digital cameras, most of them more expensive - the S1 IS will feature prominently on the shopping lists of photographers looking for a long-zoom camera. Read on for more details.

 

Camera Overview

The Canon PowerShot S1 IS features a new body design, but shares a familiar look and feel to the rest of the PowerShot line, along with many of the same exposure options and features. With dimensions of 4.4 x 3.1 x 2.6 inches (111 x 78 x 66.1 millimeters) and weighing some 17.0 ounces (383 grams) with batteries and CompactFlash memory card, the PowerShot S1 IS is currently the smallest long-zoom image-stabilized digicam on the market. This isn't a camera you'll slip into a shirt pocket, though - it might fit larger coat pockets, but most likely you'll wear the camera around your neck on the included neck-strap. The S1 IS features a retracting lens that keeps size to a minimum when the camera is powered off, protected by a removable plastic lens cap (with attached strap to keep it safe from accidental loss), which fits snugly (a little too snugly, IMHO) over the lens casing. Images are captured using a CCD sensor with a resolution of 3.2 megapixels, for a maximum resolution of 2,048 x 1,536 pixels - enough for printing to 8x10 inches with great detail. (Lower resolutions are also available, including an email-friendly size.)

Equipped with a 5.8-58mm lens, the S1 IS offers an impressive 10x optical zoom range equivalent to a 38-380mm lens on a 35mm camera. Equally impressive, the maximum aperture ranges from f/2.8 to f/3.1 depending on the zoom setting, and can be manually or automatically adjusted to a minimum of f/8.0. (This is an unusually "fast" lens for such a long-ratio zoom.)

Image Stabilization
The lens offers an optical image stabilization function, which acts by moving an image stabilizer module at the rear of the lens to counteract vibration or movement of the camera. Particularly useful at the telephoto end of the zoom, where even a slight camera movement translates to significant camera shake, this feature and the excellent zoom range of the lens are two of the biggest reasons to consider buying the camera. Nature photographers, for example, will enjoy the ability to stay a long ways away from their subjects so as not to disturb them, but still obtain tightly framed, sharp, blur-free images. (While I don't have any way of really quantifying how good or bad a camera's image-stabilization feature is, I have to say that the IS system on the S1 IS seems to be unusually effective. It really makes a difference! To let you see the difference it makes, I recorded two short movie clips, one with it turned off, the other with it on. This is a pretty unscientific test, as I was just hand-holding the camera with the lens set to maximum zoom. I was just holding it normally (although extended from my body somewhat), neither trying especially hard to hold it steady (holding my breath, propping my elbows on the table, etc), nor trying to make it jiggle any more than my aging, unsteady muscles did on their own. Since my muscle tremors are random, there's likely some variation between the amount of shake the camera received while recording the with/without movies, but I think it was pretty consistent, certainly relative to the huge difference that turning the IS on or off made in the images. Without further ado, here are links for movies recorded with the IS System Off, and IS System On. (These files are in the AVI format, require a QuickTime browser plugin to view.) -- Overall, it's really hard to overstate the dramatic improvement in usefulness an effective IS system brings to a long-zoom digicam, and the IS system on this PowerShot S1 IS seems to work better than most.

The S1 IS uses Canon's single-point FlexiZone TTL AF system, which judges focus based on the center of the frame only by default. With a couple of button-presses, the focus point can be moved over most of the image area (with the exception of the extreme edges of the frame). The S1 IS also offers a manual focus mode, displaying a numeric distance scale on the LCD display, and enlarging the center portion of the image while focus is adjusted to assist in determining the exact focus point. A focus bracketing feature captures three consecutive frames with varying focus to help get a sharply focused image in difficult conditions. In addition to the optical zoom, the S1 IS also offers as much as 3.2x digital zoom. However, I always remind readers that digital zoom often decreases the overall image quality because it simply enlarges the center pixels of the CCD image.

The S1 IS has both an "electronic" optical viewfinder and a larger rear-panel LCD monitor for framing shots. The electronic optical viewfinder is actually a miniaturized version of the larger LCD, and shows the same information displays. Canon doesn't say what the resolution of the EVF's display is, but visually, its images appear a bit coarser than those shown on the 114,000 pixel rear-panel LCD. A Display button switches the viewfinder display between the two monitors, so that only one is active at a time. As an eyeglass wearer, I appreciated the inclusion of a dioptric adjustment on the EVF, as well as the unusually high eyepoint it offers. The dioptric adjustment also covers an unusually wide range, easily accommodating my own 20/200 vision. (Overall, the S1 IS is one of the more eyeglass-friendly cameras I've seen in recent memory.) The LCD monitor lifts out of a compartment on the rear panel and flips out to face the front of the camera. It can then swivel 270 degrees. In addition to the selection of viewing angles, another benefit is that you can flip the LCD monitor around to face the rear and then close it up in the compartment, thus protecting it from incidental scratches. (When you do so, the LCD is automatically powered off and the electronic optical viewfinder is enabled for image framing instead). The LCD monitor and electronic optical viewfinder's information displays include detailed exposure information, including shutter speed and aperture settings in the manual shooting modes.

The S1 IS provides a full range of exposure control, from Manual to Auto exposure modes, and a handful of preset scene modes as well. All exposure modes are accessed by turning 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 Image Stabilizer, 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 allow you to set one exposure variable (aperture or shutter speed) while the camera chooses the best corresponding variable. Manual mode gives you full control over all exposure options. Custom mode allows you to store a group of settings for later reuse.

Exposure modes in the Image Zone include Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene, Fast Shutter, Slow Shutter, 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 focus on the subject, while maintaining an out-of-focus background. Landscape mode slows the shutter speed and maximizes depth of field with a small aperture setting. Night Scene mode illuminates your subject with flash and uses a slow shutter speed to evenly expose the background. Fast Shutter mode uses a fast shutter speed to freeze action, while Slow Shutter mode uses a slower shutter speed to blur moving objects (such as waterfalls or fountains). The Stitch-Assist mode is Canon's answer to panorama shooting, in which multiple, overlapping images can be captured horizontally or vertically, or in four-image rectangular arrays. They can then be "stitched" together on a computer using Canon's bundled PhotoStitch software or other image editing software.

Extended recording movie mode
The S1 IS has an unusually capable movie mode, for a relatively inexpensive digicam. Its movie mode allows you to capture up to an hour (depending on memory card capacity) of moving images and sound at either 15 or 30 frames per second, with available resolutions of 640 x 480 or 320 x 240 pixels. At the 640x480 resolution, both normal and "fine" image quality settings are available, the Fine mode involving less image compression. NOTE though, that a high-speed memory card is necessary, if you want to record nonstop at the larger image size and/or higher frame rate. More and more digicams are offering "non-stop" movie recording modes, at higher resolutions, like the 640x480 modes on the S1 IS, but it's still fairly uncommon to find full 640x480, 30 fps recording on a camera in the S1 IS's price range.

Zoom during movie recording
The S1 IS's movie mode is also unusual in that it allows the zoom lens to operate while recording movies with sound. In almost all cases, digicams that record movies with sound disable the zoom mechanism during movie recording, as the noise of the zoom motor tends to interfere with the audio track of the movie. With the S1 IS though, Canon has chosen to allow zoom operation during movie recording, but at a reduced speed of actuation. The result is moderately successful. In quiet surroundings, you can still clearly hear the noise of the zoom motor, but it's not terribly intrusive, while in noisier environments, the noise should be entirely masked by the ambient sound. This strikes me as a useful compromise, but I do think that the manual should include a caution about zoom motor noise, to make users aware of the potential impact on their sound tracks.

The White Balance setting adjusts color balance, with settings for Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H (for daylight fluorescent lighting), and Flash. There's also a Custom setting to manually set color balance based on a white or gray card. Exposure Compensation increases or decreases the overall exposure, from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments. An ISO adjustment offers 50, 100, 200, and 400 ISO equivalents, as well as an Auto setting. By default, the S1 IS uses an Evaluative metering mode, which links the metering area to the focus area. Also available is a Spot Metering option, which bases the exposure either on the center of the frame or the position of the AF point, and Center-Weighted Average, for a larger area in the center of the frame. The S1 IS's flash operates in either Auto, Forced, Suppressed, or Slow Synchro (in Night Portrait mode only) modes, with an available Red-Eye Reduction setting through the Record menu.

A creative and fun Effects menu lets you play around with image color, offering Vivid and Neutral color settings, as well as Sepia and Black and White options. A Low Sharpening option softens the image, and a Custom Effect setting allows you to tailor contrast, sharpness and saturation to your own preferences. Continuous Shooting mode works like a motor drive on a 35mm camera, capturing a rapid burst of images for as long as the Shutter button is held down (or until the memory card runs out of space). Actual frame rates will vary depending on the image size and quality selected. The S1 IS also features a 10-second self-timer, which delays the shutter for about 10 seconds after the Shutter button is pressed, letting you run around and jump into the shot. (You can also set the delay interval to two seconds, useful for eliminating camera shake when using a tripod.) The S1 IS also features the My Camera menu, which lets you customize camera settings to your own preferences. For example, you can set the image that appears at startup, or assign a fun sound at startup or to button functions. For further camera customization, the S1 IS features a Custom mode (C on the Mode dial), which let you save a set of exposure settings for quick recall. For example, if you frequently shoot in specific conditions, you could easily save the exposure settings for those conditions and then immediately recall those settings.

The S1 IS stores images on CompactFlash memory cards, and comes with a 32MB starter card. I highly recommend purchasing a larger-capacity CompactFlash card right away, given the S1 IS's maximum 2,048 x 1,536-pixel resolution. The camera uses four AA-sized batteries for power, either alkaline or NiMH type. Four alkaline batteries come with the camera, but I strongly advise picking up a couple of sets of rechargeable batteries and a charger, and keeping a spare set freshly charged at all times. Click here to read my "battery shootout" page to see which batteries currently on the market are best, or here for my review of the Maha C-204F charger, my longtime favorite. The optional AC adapter is useful for preserving battery power when reviewing and downloading images, and plugs straight into a DC In jack on the rear of the camera, but good-quality rechargeable batteries really eliminate the need for it. The S1 IS features a USB jack for quickly downloading images to a computer, and comes with two software CDs, one loaded with Canon Digital Camera Solution Disk version 16.0 and the other loaded with ArcSoft Camera Suite version 2.1 (both compatible with Macintosh and Windows systems). Additionally, an AV Out jack and the included video cable lets you connect the camera to a television set. The S1 IS is DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatible, with a range of print settings available through the Playback menu. The camera can also print directly to several of Canon's accessory photo printers using Canon Direct Print or Bubble Jet Direct, and to printers from various manufacturers supporting the PictBridge standard..

Basic Features

  • 3.2-megapixel CCD delivering image resolutions as large as 2,048 x 1,536 pixels.
  • 1.5-inch color LCD monitor with 114,000 pixels.
  • Electronic optical viewfinder (unknown resolution, appears lower than LCD though).
  • Glass, 10x 5.8-58mm lens (equivalent to 38-380mm zoom on a 35mm camera).
  • 3.2x digital zoom.
  • FlexiZone autofocus and a manual focus mode.
  • Full Automatic, Program AE, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, and Manual exposure modes, as well as five preset exposure modes.
  • Manually adjustable aperture setting ranging from a maximum of f/2.8 to f/3.1 depending on lens zoom position, to a minimum of f/8.0.
  • Shutter speed range from 1/2,000 to 15 seconds.
  • Built-in flash with five operating modes.
  • CompactFlash memory storage.
  • Power supplied by four AA batteries or optional AC adapter.

Special Features

  • Optical image stabilization. (Very effective.)
  • 30fps VGA Movie mode (with sound), up to one hour per clip. (An unusually capable movie mode for a digital still camera.)
  • Sound caption recording.
  • Stitch-Assist mode for panoramic shots.
  • Continuous Shooting, and 2 or 10-second Self-Timer modes.
  • Creative Effects menu.
  • White balance (color) adjustment with eight modes.
  • ISO adjustment with four ISO equivalents and an Auto setting.
  • Low Sharpness setting.
  • Automatic Exposure Bracketing and Automatic Focus Bracketing.
  • Evaluative, Center-Weighted, and Spot metering options.
  • DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) and PictBridge compatibility.
  • USB cable for connection to a computer or certain printers (driver software included).
  • Video cable for connection to NTSC/PAL televisions, VCRs, etc.

Recommendation

Offering a complete range of auto and manual exposure controls, the S1 IS is equally suited for novice users and experienced amateurs alike. The full automatic controls keep things simple for novices, while the manual settings offering the opportunity to gradually step up to more control. Plus, the range of preset exposure modes ensures that less-experienced photographers will get good pictures in difficult shooting situations. The 3.2-megapixel CCD captures high quality images, quite suitable for printing as large as 8x10-inches with good detail. The design is fairly compact given the strength of the zoom lens, and the camera should fit in a larger coat pocket or be comfortable when using the neckstrap. The S1 IS reaches beyond the normal limits of its category by offering not only a long-ratio zoom lens, but a very effective image-stabilization system as well, that makes the long lens much more usable than it would be otherwise. The S1 IS also offers an unusually capable movie mode, capable of nonstop recording to the limits of capacity of the memory card, even at 640x480 resolution and a 30 frame/second frame rate. The S1 IS is priced competitively, but its features and capabilities set it apart from the maze of camera choices in its price range. If you're looking for a long-zoom camera with image stabilization, that also captures excellent photos, the S1 IS could be the camera for you!

 

Design

The S1 IS's all-plastic body has a solid feel, with little in the way of flexing or creaking, and has a healthy heft that helps hold the camera steady. Measuring 4.4 x 3.1 x 2.6 inches (111 x 78 x 66 millimeters), the S1 IS definitely won't fit into your shirt pocket. It may find its way into larger coat pockets, but most likely will be worn around the neck with the included neck strap. The S1 IS has a modest heft for its size, with its 17.0-ounce (483-gram) weight, including batteries and CompactFlash card, but isn't at all uncomfortable to carry. The two-toned silver body echoes the visual style of an SLR camera, and should be sophisticated enough for any age group or user level.

The S1 IS's front panel features the telescoping 10x image-stabilized zoom lens, which projects just slightly over an inch further when fully extended. Also on the front panel are the pop-up flash, red-eye reduction lamp (located on the pop-up flash, below and to the left side of the strobe when viewed from the rear), a light emitter lamp (between the flash and hand-grip) that serves multiple purposes- the self-timer countdown and as a "Tally Lamp" which flashes red while movies are recorded - and the remote sensor (located in the black almond-shaped area at the top of the hand grip). On the lower right side of the lens (as viewed from the rear) is a small button that releases the ring around the lens barrel. Removing the ring reveals a bayonet-style mounting flash that allows you to attach a lens adapter for extended telephoto, wide angle, or macro capabilities. There's also a large hand grip on the front panel, created by the battery compartment.

On the right side of the camera (as viewed from the rear) is the CompactFlash card slot, covered by a hinged, plastic door. The door slides toward the back panel before opening outward. At the top of the right side is an eyelet for attaching the neck strap.

The opposite side of the camera is mostly smooth, with the exception of a small speaker, and on the side of the lens casing the Manual Focus and Image Stabilizer buttons. A second eyelet for attaching the neck strap is located at the top of this side.

The S1 IS's top panel features a number controls located on either side of the pop-up flash described previously. To the right of the flash is a Mode dial, with 14 shooting positions divided into three basic categories: Auto Exposure, Image Zone, and Creative Zone. The Shutter button is located diagonally in front of the Mode dial, with a Zoom lever surrounding it. An Off button to turn off the camera's power is on the right side of the Mode dial. The Off button is surrounded by a Mode lever with a locking release button to prevent accidentally changing modes; pushing the release button inwards and turning the lever counter-clockwise sets the camera in Record mode, while turning it clockwise sets the camera in Playback mode. Directly above the Power button is a Power / Mode Indicator LED, which lights orange, green or yellow when the camera is powered on to indicate the current mode (Record, Playback, or PC Connection respectively). To the left of the pop-up flash are the Self Timer / Continuous Shooting button and the Flash button. A microphone is located on the top of the electronic optical viewfinder housing, directly behind the pop-up flash.

The rest of the exposure controls are located on the camera's rear panel, along with the electronic optical viewfinder and rotating LCD monitor. The LCD monitor lifts off of the rear panel to face forward, can swivel 270 degrees to face several viewing angles, and can be closed against the rear panel with the LCD facing inwards to offer protection against accidental knocks or scratches. The electronic optical viewfinder, activated by pressing the Display button in Record mode or turning the LCD to face inwards against the camera body in any mode, mirrors what would otherwise be shown on the rotating LCD monitor. At the top right corner is a four-way multi-controller that navigates settings menus, pressing up, down, left, and right. Below the multi-controller are the Set and Menu buttons. To the right of the LCD monitor are the Function / Erase, Metering / Microphone, Shortcut / Jump and Display buttons. To the right of the electronic optical viewfinder is the Movie button. On the other side of the viewfinder is a Diopter Adjustment Dial. Also on the rear panel the connector compartment, covered by a flexible, rubbery-plastic flap that snaps in and out of place. When opened, the flap remains connected to the camera body, and swivels out of the way to accommodate cables. Inside the compartment are the DC In, Digital (USB) and A/V Out jacks.

The S1 IS's bottom panel is reasonably flat, with a sliding door to access the battery compartment and a threaded metal tripod mount at about center. Because the battery door and tripod mount are so close to one another, it would be difficult to make quick battery changes while working with a tripod, something I always look at, given the amount of test shooting I do in the studio. On the other hand, Canon's AC adapter plugs into the back of the camera. Thus, for studio use, there's a convenient way to get power to the camera while on a tripod. The location of the CompactFlash door on the side of the camera is also conducive to use on a tripod. Kudos to Canon for the use of a metal tripod mount, rather than the cheaper but less durable plastic.

 

Camera Operation

While the S1 IS's user interface may seem a little cryptic at first approach, it's actually very efficient once you become familiar with it. Most camera functions are controlled externally, and a few of the external control buttons serve multiple functions. When you do need to enter the LCD menu system, navigation is very straightforward with only two main pages of options. The S1 IS's external controls cut down on the amount of time spent searching menu screens, and I particularly like the "Function" menu which became standard on Canon digicam models as of the 2003 model year. Combined with the instruction manual, the S1 IS's user interface shouldn't take more than an hour to get comfortable with.


Record Mode LCD Display: In Record mode, the S1 IS's LCD reports various exposure settings, including camera modes, the resolution and quality settings, number of available images, etc. Half-pressing the Shutter button reports the aperture and shutter speed settings, in all modes except Manual. Pressing the Display button cycles through the available display modes, including the image with information, no display at all, and electronic optical viewfinder (which displays the same information as the LCD display, but doesn't allow you to disable it).


Playback Mode LCD Display: In Playback mode, the LCD reports the image series number, resolution and quality setting, file name, and the date and time of image capture. Pressing the Display button once pulls up an enhanced information display, with a histogram for checking the exposure. A third press cancels the information overlay entirely. Unlike in Record mode, the Display button will not let you view images through the electronic optical viewfinder, although you can force the electronic viewfinder to be used by rotating the LCD monitor so that it is closed pointing towards the camera body. In playback mode, pressing the zoom control in the wide-angle direction switches to a 9-up thumbnail display of previously captured images. Pressing it in the wide-angle direction a second time produces a "jump bar" at the bottom of the screen, which shows where the current group of nine thumbnails is relative to the total collection of images on the memory card, and that lets you jump through them nine images at a time. (In the screen shot above, there's only 3 images on the card total, so the cursor on the jump bar fills the whole bottom of the screen.) Toggling the zoom lever in the telephoto direction takes you back out of the thumbnail displays, and if continued beyond the point at which you see the full-sized image, zooms in on the image up to 10x, letting you check focusing and very fine details.


External Controls


Shutter Button
: Resting in the center of the Zoom lever, this button sets focus and exposure when halfway pressed, and fires the shutter when fully pressed.

Zoom Lever (see previous image): Surrounding the Shutter button on the top panel, this lever controls the optical and digital zoom while in Record mode. In Playback mode (when not using the playback zoom), the "W" side displays a nine-image index display of all images on the memory card, and accesses a "Jump" function that lets you scroll through index display screens quickly. Alternatively, the "T" position enlarges the currently displayed image as much as 10x, so that you can check on fine details.


Mode Dial
: Also on the camera's top panel, this large, notched dial is used to select the camera's shooting modes. Canon divides these functions into three categories: Auto, Image Zone, and Creative Zone. The options are as follows:

  • Auto: The camera controls everything about the exposure, except for Flash and Macro modes, image size and quality settings.
  • Creative Zone
    • Program AE (P): Places the camera in control of shutter speed and lens aperture, while you maintain control over everything else (i.e., white balance, ISO, metering, exposure compensation, flash, etc.). Available shutter speeds range from one second to 1/2,000 second.
    • Shutter-Speed Priority AE (Tv): Allows you to control the shutter speed settings from 1/2,000 to 15 seconds, while the camera controls the aperture. All other exposure settings are available.
    • Aperture Priority AE (Av): Allows you to set the lens aperture from f/2.8 to f/8.0, while the camera controls the shutter speed. The maximum aperture depends on the zoom setting, ranging from f/2.8 at the wide angle end to f/3.1 at the telephoto position. In this mode, you maintain control over all other exposure variables. Maximum exposure time in Aperture Priority mode is one second. Maximum possible shutter speed varies with the aperture chosen:
      • 1/1250 at all apertures
      • 1/1600 or 1/2000 at f/5.6 - f/8 (wide) or f/6.3 - f/8 (tele)
    • Manual (M): Provides complete control over all exposure settings, including shutter speed and lens aperture. As with aperture-priority mode, the maximum aperture varies with the zoom setting from f/2.8 to f/3.1. The fastest shutter speed varies with the aperture and zoom setting:
      • 1/1250 at all apertures
      • 1/1600 or 1/2000 at f/5.6 - f/8 (wide) or f/6.3 - f/8 (tele)
    • Custom (C): This position recalls previously-saved exposure settings.

  • Image Zone
    • Portrait: Uses a large aperture setting to blur the background while keeping the primary subject in sharp focus.
    • Landscape: Employs a small aperture setting to keep both the background and foreground in focus. (May use a slower shutter speed, so a tripod is recommended.)
    • Night Scene: Uses slower shutter speeds and flash to even out nighttime exposures. The slow shutter speed allows more ambient light to be recorded in the low-light areas, while the flash freezes the subject. The Red-Eye Reduction mode can be used with this exposure mode to eliminate Red-Eye in night portraits.
    • Fast Shutter: Uses fast shutter speeds to stop action and maintain sharp focus on moving subjects.
    • Slow Shutter: Uses slow shutter speeds to blur fast-moving subjects.
    • Stitch-Assist: Allows you to record a series of images, either horizontally, vertically, or clockwise in an array of two by two images, to be "stitched" together into one large image or panorama on a computer.
    • Movie: Records as much as one hour of moving images with sound per clip (depending on memory card space), at either 640 x 480 or 320 x 240 pixels, with frame rates of approximately either 15 or 30 frames per second.


Off Button
: To the right of the Mode dial, this button turns the camera off.

Mode Lever (see previous image): Surrounding the Off button, this lever turns the camera on (if it is currently off), and sets it to either Record (counter-clockwise) or Playback (clockwise) modes, depending on which direction it is turned. The Mode Lever has a locking release button to prevent accidentally changing modes, which must be pushed inwards before the dial can be turned.


Flash Button
: When the Flash Pop-Up Function is set to On, this button sets the flash operating mode, cycling through the available options with each press. Depending on whether the Red-Eye Reduction Function is set to On or Off, the options are either Auto with Red-Eye Reduction / Auto, Flash On with Red-Eye Reduction / Flash On, and Flash Off. The flash then pops up as required when the Shutter Button is half-pressed. When the Flash Pop-Up Function is set to Off, pressing this button immediately pops up the flash, and the flash operates in Flash On with Red-Eye Reduction / Flash On mode.


Self Timer / Continuous Button
: Sets the camera's drive mode, cycling through the available options with each press. Depending on whether the Self-timer Function is set to 10 or 2 seconds, the options are: Single, Continuous Shooting, ten second Self-timer / two second Self-timer.


Multi-Controller Rocker Button
: This four-way rocker button can be pressed left, right, up, or down to navigate through settings menus. In Playback mode, the left and right buttons scroll through captured images. When an image has been enlarged, all four arrows pan within the view.


Diopter Adjustment Dial
: Directly to the left of the electronic optical viewfinder, this dial is used to adjust the dioptric correction of the viewfinder, accommodating eyeglass wearers.


Movie Button
: Directly to the right of the electronic optical viewfinder, this button starts and stops recording of movies, instead of the shutter button (which has no function in Movie mode).


Function / Erase Button
: Directly below the Movie button, this button displays the following Function menu while in Record mode:

  • Exposure Compensation: Increases or decreases the exposure from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments. Not available in Manual mode, since the user controls the exposure variables directly there.
  • White Balance: Controls the color balance of images. Options are Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Flash, and Custom (manual setting).
  • ISO Speed: Sets the camera's sensitivity to Auto (except in Manual), or to 50, 100, 200, or 400 ISO equivalents.
  • Photo Effect: Enables Vivid Color, Neutral Color, Low Sharpening, Sepia, Black-and-White or Custom picture effects. The Custom effect option allows you to select your own choice of Contrast, Sharpness and Saturation with three steps (Low, Normal, or High) available for each variable.
  • Bracketing: Enables the camera's automatic bracketing function, with choices of Automatic Exposure Bracketing or Focus Bracketing. Automatic Exposure Bracketing captures three images with bracketing of up to 2.0EV between shots, adjustable in 1/3EV steps. Focus Bracketing captures three images with three arbitrary bracketing step sizes available (Small, Medium or Large steps).
  • Flash Output:: When the Mode Dial is set to Program or one of the Scene modes, or in Shutter or Aperture Priority mode with the Flash Adjust Function set to Auto, offers +/- 2.0EV of Flash Exposure Compensation in 1/3EV steps. When the camera is in Shutter / Aperture Priority modes and the Flash Adjust Function is set to Manual, adjusts the overall flash intensity in three steps from Low to Full. When the camera is in Manual mode, Manual flash output is the only option available.
  • Resolution: Specifies the image resolution and quality settings. Still image resolutions are 2,048 x 1,536; 1,600 x 1,200; 1,024 x 768; and 640 x 480 pixels. Quality options (activated by pressing the Set button) are Superfine, Fine, and Normal. Movie resolution options are 640 x 480 Fine, 640 x 480 and 320 x 240 pixels.
  • Frame Rate (Movie Mode only, not shown in the screen shot above): Sets the frame rate for recording movies. Options are approximately equivalent to 15 or 30 frames per second.

In Playback mode, this button displays the single-image erase menu.


Metering / Microphone Button
: Below the Function / Erase button, this button switches between light metering modes in Record mode, with options of Evaluative Light Metering, Center-Weighted Averaging, and Spot. When set to Spot, the metering area depends on the Spot AE Point function, and sets the Spot point either in the center of the frame, or to the location of the AF point. In Playback mode, this button calls up the Sound Memo Panel, allowing sound memos to be recorded to accompany images.


Shortcut / Jump Button
: Below the Metering / Microphone button, in Record mode this button allows you to call up a frequently used function, and can be assigned to Resolution, ISO Speed, AF Lock, AE Lock (all in still image mode only); Image Quality or Frame Rate (both for movies only); or to Photo Effect, White Balance or Display Off. In Playback mode, this calls up the Jump Bar, allowing you to move through pages of thumbnails with the left / right arrows on the Multi-Controller Rocker button.


Display Button
: Below the Shortcut / Jump button, this button controls the information and image display modes in Record and Playback modes, and switches between the LCD monitor and electronic optical viewfinder in Record mode only.


Set / AF Frame Selector Button
: Directly below the Multi-Controller Rocker button, this button confirms menu selections. It also allows you to adjust the location of the camera's autofocus point. Pressing it in Record mode highlights the AF frame in green on the LCD or electronic optical viewfinder, allowing the location of the AF point to be adjusted with the Multi-Controller Rocker button. A second press locks in the new location of the AF point, indicated by the color of the AF frame returning to white.

When in Manual Focus mode, this button tells the camera to search for autofocus lock near the currently set manual focus distance.


Menu Button
: Underneath the Set / AF Frame Selector Button, this button calls up the settings menu in Record and Playback modes. It also dismisses the menu screen and backs out of menu selections.


MF Button
: On the left side of the camera (as viewed from the rear), this button enables or disables the manual focus mode. Manual focus is set by holding down the Manual Focus button while pressing the Up or Down arrows on the Multi-Controller Rocker button, and if the MF-Point Zoom function is set, an enlarged view of the center of the image is shown on the LCD or electronic optical viewfinder while the Manual Focus button is held down.


IS Button
: Underneath the MF Button, this button enables or disables the lens' optical image stabilization function, reducing camera shake in images and allowing much longer exposures without the use of a tripod. If held down for a second, this button brings up the Image Stabilizer Mode menu, where you can select whether an accessory lens is being used with the left / right arrows on the Multi-Controller Rocker button. Options on the Image Stabilizer Mode menu are Standard, TC-DC52B (Tele-converter), or WC-DC52A (Wide-converter).


Battery Compartment Latch
: Nestled in the center of the battery compartment door on the bottom of the camera, this sliding switch unlocks the door, so that it can slide forward and open.


Lens Ring Release Button
: Tucked under the lens on the camera's front panel, this button releases the lens ring. Once unlocked, the lens ring can then be turned and removed to accommodate accessory lens kits.



Camera Modes and Menus

Record Mode: Marked on the Mode switch with the red camera icon, this mode sets up the camera for capturing still and moving images. The Mode Display LED lights in orange to indicate this mode is active. The following exposure modes are available:

  • Custom (C): This custom mode instantly calls up a previously-saved set of exposure options.
  • Manual (M): Provides complete control over all exposure settings, including shutter speed and lens aperture (available shutter speeds depend on the aperture and lens zoom settings).
  • Shutter-Speed Priority AE (Tv): Allows you to control the shutter speed settings from 1/2,000 to 15 seconds, while the camera controls the aperture. All other exposure settings are available.
  • Aperture Priority AE (Av): Allows you to set the lens aperture from f/2.8 to f/8.0 (depending on the zoom setting), while the camera controls the shutter speed. In this mode, you maintain control over all other exposure variables.
  • Program AE (P): Places the camera in control of shutter speed and lens aperture, while you maintain control over everything else (i.e., white balance, ISO, metering, exposure compensation, flash, etc.).
  • Auto: The camera controls everything about the exposure, except for Flash and Macro modes, and image size and quality settings.
  • Portrait: Uses a large aperture setting to blur the background and keep the primary subject in sharp focus.
  • Landscape: Employs a small aperture setting to keep both the background and foreground in focus.
  • Night Scene: Uses slower shutter speeds and flash to even out nighttime exposures. The slow shutter speed allows more ambient light to be recorded in the low-light areas, while the flash fully exposes the subject.
  • Fast Shutter: Uses fast shutter speeds to stop action and maintain sharp focus on moving subjects.
  • Slow Shutter: Uses slow shutter speeds to blur fast-moving subjects.
  • Stitch-Assist: Allows you to record a series of images, either horizontally, vertically, or clockwise in an array of two by two images, to be "stitched" together into one large image or panorama on a computer.
  • Movie: Records as long as one hour of moving images per clip with sound, at either 640 x 480 or 320 x 240 pixels, with frame rates of approximately either 15 or 30 frames per second.

 

Record Menu: Pressing the Menu button in Record mode pulls up the following options (not all options are available in all modes):

  • Flash Sync : For long exposures, sets the flash to fire either immediately after the shutter opens (first-curtain) or immediately before it closes (second curtain), allowing you to change the effect the flash has on the picture.
  • Slow Synchro : For dark shooting conditions in Program exposure mode, determines whether the flash is used with a long shutter time (on) or a faster shutter speed (off).
  • Flash Adjust: Determines whether the flash intensity is adjusted automatically or manually.
  • Red-Eye: Turns the Red-Eye Reduction pre-flash on or off, which works with all flash modes.
  • Flash Pop-Up : Sets whether or not the flash will automatically pop up when the camera is set to 'Flash On' or 'Auto' flash modes. If set to 'Off', the flash is disabled but can be manually popped up and switched on by pressing the Flash button.
  • Self-timer: Sets the delay of the camera's self-timer to either two or ten seconds.
  • Wireless Delay: Sets the delay after pressing the optional wireless remote control shutter button is pressed before the shutter fires, to either zero, two or ten seconds.
  • Spot AE Point: Sets the Spot AE point (from which Spot exposure metering is determined) to either the center of the frame, or the current AF point location.
  • MF-Point Zoom: Turns the MF Point zoom option on or off. If on, the center of the frame is enlarged on the LCD display for better viewing while adjusting the manual focus.
  • AF Mode: Sets the autofocus mode to either Single (the camera focuses when the shutter button is depressed), or Continuous (the camera adjusts focus continually between images).
  • Tally Lamp: Sets whether or not the Self Timer / Tally Lamp LED on the front of the camera blinks while movies are recorded.
  • Digital Zoom: Turns the 3.2x variable digital zoom on or off.
  • Review: Turns the instant image review function on or off, with available image display times from two to 10 seconds in one second steps.
  • Reverse Disp.: Designates whether images are displayed in reverse when the LCD monitor is open and tilted 180 degrees.
  • Intervalometer: Automatically captures images at predefined intervals, from two to 100 frames with a delay of one to 60 minutes between shots, in one minute steps.
  • Set shortcut button: Selects functions to be registered to the Shortcut / Jump button in Record mode. Functions that can be registered are Resolution, ISO Speed, AF Lock, AE Lock (all in still image mode only); Image Quality or Frame Rate (both for movies only); or to Photo Effect, White Balance or Display Off.
  • Save Settings: Saves the currently-set camera settings in both the Function and Record menus, for instant recall via the C option on the Mode dial.

 

Playback Mode: This mode lets you review captured images and movies on the memory card, as well as erase them, protect them, or tag them for printing and transfer. The traditional green Playback symbol denotes this mode on the Mode switch, and the Mode Display LED lights in green to indicate this mode is active. Pressing the Menu button displays the following options:

  • Protect: Marks the current image for write-protection, or removes write-protection. Protected images cannot be deleted or manipulated, except through card formatting, which erases all files. (secondary screen)
  • Rotate: Rotates the current image 90 or 270 degrees clockwise. (secondary screen)
  • Erase All: Erases all files on the memory card, except protected ones. (secondary screen)
  • Slide Show : Automatically plays all captured images in a slide show. (secondary screen)
  • Print Order: Determines how many copies of the current image will be printed, with options for creating an index print, imprinting the date and time, and imprinting the file number. (secondary screen)
  • Transfer Order: Marks images to be transferred to a computer later. (secondary screen)

Setup Menu: This menu is available in all exposure modes, simply by pressing the Menu button and selecting the Setup tab.

  • Mute: Turns the camera's start-up, operation, self-time, shutter and playback sounds on and off. Note that the camera's error warning signal is not disabled by the Mute function.
  • Volume: Displays the volume settings for the camera's start-up, operation, self-timer, shutter, and playback sounds, with each sound being able to be disabled or set to one of five levels individually.
  • LCD Brightness: Sets the brightness level of the LCD to either Normal or Bright.
  • Power Saving: Accesses the camera's Auto Power Down and Display Off settings. Power Down can be enabled or disabled, and Display Off can be set to 10 / 20 / 30 seconds, or 1 / 2 / 3 minutes. (secondary screen)
  • Date/Time: Sets the camera's internal calendar and clock. (secondary screen)
  • Format: Formats the CompactFlash card, erasing all files (even those marked for write-protection). (secondary screen)
  • File No. Reset: Resets file numbering with each new CompactFlash card. If disabled, the camera continues numbering in sequence, regardless of memory card.
  • Auto Rotate: Specifies whether images appear vertically in the LCD monitor when the camera is held vertically.
  • Distance Units: Sets the manual focus indicator to Meters/Centimeters or Feet/Inches.
  • Language: Sets the camera's menu language to one of 12 choices. English is the default setting. (secondary screen)
  • Video System: Designates the camera's video-out signal as NTSC or PAL.

My Camera Menu: This is the third menu tab on the menu screen, and appears in every mode.

  • Theme: Selects a common theme for each My Camera menu settings item. Four options are available, the first one being Off. When a theme is selected, all of the following settings automatically adjust to that theme.
  • Startup Image: Sets the startup image when you turn on the camera to: Black screen, Canon logo, Canon logo w / sunset, nature scene and user. You can apply your User image in Playback mode by pressing the Display button and choosing an image from the CompactFlash card. The image is copied to the camera's internal memory, and is still displayed when the CompactFlash card is removed.
  • Startup Sound: Sets the startup sound when you turn on the camera to: No sound, Musical tone (1), Musical tone (2), or Birds chirping. You can apply User sounds in Playback mode by pressing the Display button and choosing a sound from the CompactFlash card. The sound is copied to the camera's internal memory, and is still displayed when the CompactFlash card is removed.
  • Operation Sound: Sets the sound when any control or switch is use (except the Shutter button). Options include No sound, Beep, Boing, Chirp and User. See the Startup Sound item for a description of User sounds.
  • Self-Timer Sound: Sets the sound that signals you when the shutter release is two seconds away. Options include No sound, Fast beeps, Telephone ring, Howling and User. See the Startup Sound item for a description of User sounds.
  • Shutter Sound: Sets the shutter sound that you hear when you depress the Shutter button (there is no shutter sound in Movie mode). Options include No sound, Shutter sound, Boing, Bark and User. See the Startup Sound item for a description of User sounds.

 

In the Box

The PowerShot S1 IS arrives with the following items:

  • Neck Strap NS-DC3 .
  • Four AA-type alkaline batteries.
  • USB cable IFC-400PCU.
  • AV cable AVC-DC300.
  • 32MB CompactFlash card FC-32MH.
  • Two software CDs.
  • Instruction manual, software guide, and registration kit.

 

Recommended Accessories

Recommended Software: Rescue your images!
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. I 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 surprising number 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 digicam 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...



Specifications

See camera specifications here.

 

Picky Details

Cycle times, shutter lag, battery life, etc. can be found here.

 

Sample Pictures

See our test images and detailed analysis here. The thumbnails below show a subset of our test images. Click on a thumbnail to see the full-size photo.

Outdoor
Indoor
Indoor Flash
 

 

 

House
Musicians
Macro
 

 

 

Davebox
Resolution
Viewfinder Accuracy

 

Test Results

In keeping with my standard test policy, the comments given here summarize only my key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the S1 IS's "pictures" page.

As with all Imaging Resource product tests, I encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the camera performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how S1 IS's images compare to other cameras you may be considering.

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the S1 IS 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!

  • Color: Very good color, appropriate saturation, good white balance. The S1 IS produced good color throughout my testing. I often found I had to choose between a slight warm cast or a slight cool cast, depending on the white balance setting I selected, but the amount of color cast was generally pretty slight. Both the Auto and Manual white balance settings performed well, though the Auto was typically warmer and the Manual setting a little cooler. Depending on personal taste, you could easily pick either of the two. Color saturation was generally right where it should be, although the camera tended to slightly oversaturate strong reds and blues. The S1 IS handled the tough incandescent lighting of the Indoor Portrait (without flash) quite well with both its Incandescent and Manual settings, although the Auto option left way too much yellow cast in the image. Overall, typically good-looking "Canon color," quite accurate and natural.

  • Exposure: Good exposure accuracy, but rather high contrast. The S1 IS handled most of my test setups pretty well, and frequently required less exposure compensation adjustment than the general run of cameras I test. Its native contrast is somewhat high though, which led to lost highlight detail and more contrasty-looking images than I'd personally prefer under the deliberately harsh lighting of the outdoor test shots. There is a contrast-adjustment option on the Function Menu though, which will help some under harshly-lit conditions.

  • Resolution/Sharpness: Good resolution, 1,000 lines of "strong detail." (More, with artifacts.) The S1 IS performed well on the "laboratory" resolution test chart. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 600-650 lines per picture height, in both horizontal and vertical directions. I found "strong detail" out to at least 1,000 lines, although you could argue for as high as 1,200 horizontally. I chose to rate it at the lower 1,000 line number though, due to the level of moire artifacts that are present beyond that point. (I tend to rate cameras more conservatively than some reviewers.) "Extinction" of the target patterns occurred around 1,300 lines.

  • Closeups: Very good macro performance, with good detail. However, the flash is blocked by the lens and doesn't throttle down enough. The S1 IS did quite well in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of 2.17 x 1.63 inches (55 x 41 millimeters). Resolution was high, and fine detail was strong in the dollar bill and coins. However, the coins and brooch were soft due to the very short shooting distance. (Not at all the camera's fault, depth of field is very shallow in extreme closeups like this.) A small amount of softness was noticeable in the corners along the left side of the frame, but it didn't seem too bad. The S1 IS' flash was partially blocked by the lens, and didn't throttle down for the macro area.

  • Night Shots: Good low-light performance, with good color and low noise. No AF-assist light, but focuses down to 1/4 foot-candle anyway. The S1 IS produced clear, bright images down to the 1/16 foot-candle (0.67 lux) limit of my test, with good color at the 100, 200, and 400 ISO settings. At ISO 50, results were good as low as 1/8 foot-candle (1.3 lux), though you could arguably still use the image taken at the 1/16 foot-candle light level. Noise levels remained pretty good, even at the ISO 400 setting. Though noise is high at ISO 400, it is lower than I actually expected it to be here. Color remains good even at the dimmest light levels, without any strong color casts. The surprising part though, was that the S1 IS has no AF-assist light.(!) This is particularly surprising because Canon is a manufacturer that really pioneered the use of AF-assist lighting across their product range some years back. Despite the lack of AF-assist, the camera will still focus (albeit very slowly) down to about 1/4 foot-candle, a light level roughly one-quarter that of typical city street lighting at night. This isn't bad, but the camera is obviously capable of taking pictures under much darker conditions. (Fortunately, the manual-focus scale does show numeric distance values, so you should be able to guesstimate the focus closely enough much of the time.)

  • Viewfinder Accuracy: Excellent accuracy from the electronic viewfinder. The S1 IS' electronic "optical" viewfinder (EVF) was very accurate, showing 99 percent frame accuracy at both wide angle and telephoto zoom settings. The LCD monitor was also very accurate, since it shows the same view, just on a larger screen. Given that I like LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the S1 IS' LCD monitor is almost perfect in this regard.

  • Optical Distortion: Average barrel distortion, but very low pincushion. Optical distortion on the S1 IS was a bit better than average at the wide-angle end, where I measured approximately 0.7 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end fared much better, as I found only 0.09 percent pincushion distortion (about two pixels) there. Chromatic aberration was moderate at wide angle, where there was only relatively faint coloration around the target elements in the corners, but fairly strong with the lens at its telephoto setting, with rather bright red/green fringes visible in the corners. (This distortion is visible as a slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.)

  • Shutter Lag and Cycle Time: Average shutter lag (not bad for a long zoom), good cycle times, excellent movie mode. With a full autofocus delay that ranges from 0.77 to 0.78 seconds, the PowerShot S1 IS's shutter lag is on the short side of average, a good performance for a long-zoom digicam. Prefocus delay is very short, at only 0.078 seconds, and shot to shot cycle times are pretty good as well, at 1.71 seconds between frames, with no apparent buffer-memory limit. Continuous-mode speed is quite good at 1.7 frames/second, and a 7-shot buffer capacity at maximum image size and quality. While I don't usually report on movie mode in this "shutter lag and cycle time" section, I'll mention it anyway, as I think it deserves special attention. Able to record full 640x480 resolution movies nonstop at 30 frames/second, the S1 IS's movie mode goes a lot beyond what you'd expect from a camera in its price range.

  • Battery Life: Good battery life. With a worst-case run time of just over two hours on a "standard" set of 1600 mAh batteries, the S1 IS does pretty well in the battery-life department. (With modern NiMH cells having true (vs advertised) capacities greater than 2000 mAh, you should be able to operate the S1IS for at least 2 1/2 hours on a fresh set of batteries.) Regardless of the S1 IS's generally good battery life though, I still strongly recommend that you purchase several sets of high-capacity NiMH AA cells and a good charger to go along with them. To see which NiMH cells are best, see my battery shootout page. Read my review of the Maha C-204F charger, to learn why it's my longtime favorite.


Reviewer's Notes and Conclusion:

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In response to reader requests for more subjective comments on the cameras I review, I'm starting to add "Reviewer's Notes" to my reviews of selected cameras. (Given my seeming perpetual backlog of review work and the added time this takes though, I'll generally be restricting this to the cameras I either liked the most, or feel are the most significant to the market.)

I'll say right up front that I liked the PowerShot S1 IS quite a bit. I've always been a fan of long-zoom digicams, and the S1 IS's unusually effective image-stabilization makes it long, 10x zoom much more usable than it would be otherwise. I don't have any way to quantify how good a job an image stabilizer does, but would estimate that the one on the S1 IS should let you shoot a good 3 f-stops slower than you'd be able to otherwise, and still get sharp pictures. (That's a factor of 8 in shutter speed, for those of you not accustomed to thinking in terms of f-stops. In other words, if you'd need a shutter speed of 1/125 to get a reasonably sharp photo with the lens set to its maximum telephoto position, with the IS feature turned on, you should be able to get similarly sharp photos as slow as 1/15 - 1/20. That's a huge difference.) The lens is also optically "fast" as well, with a maximum aperture of f/2.8, dropping only to f/3.1 with the lens at maximum telephoto. This will help greatly for shooting action, and/or under low light conditions. - Most long-ratio zooms lose a lot of light-gathering ability as you zoom toward the telephoto end of their range, something the S1 IS is relatively immune to.

As I noted in the introduction to this review, it's interesting to look back at Canon's first IS-equipped digicam, the Pro90 IS of several years ago, and note that the S1 IS offers higher performance in just about every parameter, for a good bit less than half the price.

Besides the long lens and excellent IS system, I also liked the S1 IS's color and general image quality, although I found its images too contrasty for my tastes, at least when shooting under harsh lighting. While there is an option to dial-down the contrast slightly, I'd really like to see either a wider range on that adjustment, or (preferably) a lower native contrast to begin with. A minor but important mark against the camera if you shoot outdoors a lot and care about highlight detail.

As noted in the main review, the S1 IS has an unusually capable movie mode, able (with a sufficiently fast memory card) to record very high quality 640x480 images nonstop for up to nine minutes at 30 frames/second. You can also record lower-quality 640x480 movies for as much as 12 minutes, or 320x240 ones for nearly a half an hour. Also notable is the way Canon quiets the zoom motor by slowing its operation in movie mode. This lets you zoom while recording, with minimal disruption to the audio track. The zoom motor still isn't completely silent though, you'll still hear it if the surroundings are very quiet, something I think Canon should have pointed out in the manual.

The S1 does well shooting under low-light conditions, with both the electronic viewfinder and autofocus system able to work down to light levels about a quarter as bright as typical city street lighting at night. Oddly though, there's no AF-assist light, which would doubtless have let the camera focus under much darker conditions. Still, not too bad.

Size-wise, the S1 IS does well, particularly for a long-zoom model. It has a pleasant heft without being to heavy, the controls are easy to operate, with what I'd consider to be a good, functional layout. Eyeglass wearers will be pleased by the high "eyepoint" of the viewfinder, as well as by the unusually wide range of its dioptric adjustment.

The S1 IS also does well in terms of battery life, particularly considering that its EVF-based design means that one LCD display or another always has to be on for you to use the camera. I still strongly recommend getting a couple of sets of high-capacity NiMH AA cells and a good charger, but the S1 IS does better than a lot of cameras in the battery-life department.

So what's not to like about it? (Nothing's perfect, after all.)

Well, there's the high contrast I mentioned earlier. I also felt that its image noise levels were higher than I'd have expected for a 3-megapixel camera. Not terrible by a long shot, but I could see slight image noise in the (admittedly tough) "Indoor Portrait" shot I do, even at ISO 50.

The S1 IS also has a slight issue with the viewfinder freezing whenever the autofocus system is operating. I didn't find it as bad as it was on the higher-end PowerShot Pro1 (where the VF freeze drove me slightly crazy), but it could be an issue for some users.

Finally, a minor, truly niggling point, but one that bugged me a fair bit in working with the camera: The @#! lens cap gets way too tight! Even being careful about how I put it on, it seemed that just rattling around in my camera bag, the cap could get pushed on further, and a couple of times I thought I was going to pull the lens completely off the camera before the cap finally broke free. - A minor point, I know, but I'd expect a company with Canon's experience to be able to design a lens cap that works smoothly...

That's really about it: No big negatives and a lot of positives for the S1 IS. It'd make a great camera for families where an "enthusiast" who's into twiddling with camera settings has to share the camera with a pure "point & shoot" user, as the S1 IS has features galore and ease of use besides, not to mention excellent image quality. I suspect that some users may be inclined to turn up their noses at the S1 IS's relatively modest 3.2 megapixel resolution, but they'll be selling it (and themselves) short if they do so. Three megapixels will make nice, sharp-looking 8x10 prints, and a long-ratio zoom lens means you can get right up on top of your subjects, so you won't need to do nearly as much cropping as you might have to with a camera with a lesser zoom lens. - The reduced cropping you'll need to do will trump more megapixels any day of the week.

If you're looking for a good "all around" camera with great features, a long zoom lens, image stabilization, and an excellent movie mode, all at an affordable price, there really isn't another camera on the market that'll fill the bill. Highly recommended, and shoo-in for a "Dave's Pick."

 

Related Links

More Information on this camera from Megapixel.net:
Canon PowerShot S1 IS, Canon Digital Cameras, Digital Cameras


 

 

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