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Canon PowerShot S230 Digital ELPH Camera

 

Camera QuickLook
Review Date
11/13/02
User Level
Novice to Advanced
Product Uses
Family / Travel / Special Events
Digicam Design
Automatic Exposure Control
Picture Quality
Good, 3.2-megapixel CCD
Print Sizes
4x6, 5x7, 8x10 inches
Availability
Now
Suggested Retail Price
$399

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Review Links
Overview
Picky
Details
Design
Operation
Recommended Accessories
Test Images
Specifications
Conclusion

Introduction
Canon's Digital ELPH cameras have consistently been characterized by small size, solid build quality, and a generous range of features. Until now though, they've been limited to a resolution of two-megapixels, a level that's sufficient to make good-looking 8x10 prints, but that's now increasingly behind the times. With the S230, Canon adds a 3.2-megapixel CCD to the ELPH line, as well as an improved nine-area AiAF autofocus system. While the improvements are more evolutionary than revolutionary, the increase in resolution alone will likely be enough to make the PowerShot S230 a runaway best-seller. All in all, the S230 is very much an ELPH, with all the sterling qualities that name implies, but now with half again as much resolution as its predecessors. Read on for all the details!

 

Camera Overview
Made from virtually the same mold as the Canon ELPH PowerShot S200, the PowerShot S230 features the distinctive ELPH styling and small dimensions that have characterized that line. The ELPH cameras' small size continues to please consumers, as does their consistently good image quality and overall performance. Like the rest of the ELPHs, the S230 can go anywhere, even underwater with the optional accessory housing. The S230's rugged, all-metal body can withstand heavy usage, and its flat front when the lens is retracted makes the camera very pocket friendly. Equipped with a 3.2-megapixel (effective) CCD, the S230 captures good-quality images, with enough resolution to make sharp 8x10 prints. Combine this with a sharp, 2x zoom lens, straightforward user interface, and plentiful exposure options, and the S230 should appeal to a wide audience.

The S230 has a 2x, 5.4-10.8mm glass zoom lens, equivalent to a 35-70mm zoom on a 35mm camera. Aperture is automatically controlled, but the maximum setting ranges from f/2.8 at full wide angle to f/4 at full telephoto. A maximum 3.2x digital zoom option increases the S230's zoom capabilities to 6.4x, but keep in mind that digital zoom decreases the image quality in direct proportion to the magnification, as it simply crops out and enlarges the center pixels of the CCD image. Focus ranges from 1.5 feet (47 centimeters) to infinity in normal AF mode, and from 3.9 inches to 1.5 feet (10 to 47 centimeters) in Macro mode. An Infinity fixed-focus mode is also available. The S230 uses a sophisticated, nine-point AiAF (Artificial Intelligence Autofocus) system to determine focus. This autofocus system uses a broad active area in the center of the image with no fewer than nine AF points to determine the focusing distance. In my testing, I found the AiAF system to be very precise, especially with the slightly off-center subjects that can cause problems for cameras with center-only autofocus systems. The S230 also has a built-in AF assist light, which greatly aids the focusing system in dim lighting conditions. For composing images, the S230 has a real-image optical viewfinder, as well as a 1.5-inch color LCD monitor. The LCD reports a fair amount of camera information, but excludes details such as aperture and shutter speed. In Playback mode, a histogram display reports the tonal distribution of a captured image, useful in determining over and underexposure. (A histogram option is very unusual on consumer-oriented cameras like the S230.) Viewfinder framing was nearly 100 percent accurate with the LCD monitor, though just slightly loose (meaning the LCD display showed slightly more than what made it into the final image), but the optical viewfinder proved rather tight, with about 83 percent frame accuracy.

Like the rest of the ELPH line, exposure control is largely automatic. The S230 does provide some manual adjustments though, as well as a couple of exposure modes. A Mode switch in the top right corner of the rear panel selects the main operating mode, offering Record, Movie, and Playback modes. Within Record mode, you can choose between Auto, Manual, and two Stitch-Assist modes (selectable by holding down the Set button). Shutter speeds range from 1/1,500 to 15 seconds, with the one- to 15-second end of the range available only in Long Shutter mode. Long Shutter mode automatically engages a Noise Reduction system, producing surprisingly "clean" images even in very dim lighting conditions. There's also an autofocus illuminator lamp on the front of the camera, enabled by a menu selection, that helps the camera focus in low light situations. (Excellent low light capability like this is also quite rare in mostly-automatic cameras like the S230.) In straight Auto mode, the S230 functions as a pure point & shoot, with the camera controlling everything about the exposure apart from file size, flash mode, etc. Manual mode provides more hands-on control, with White Balance, Exposure Compensation, ISO, and a range of creative effects available. Even in Manual mode, camera operation is straightforward and simple, as 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.

The S230 uses an Evaluative metering system, which means that the camera divides the image area into multiple zones and considers contrast and brightness variations between the zones to determine the best overall exposure. A Spot metering option ties the exposure to the very center of the frame, and is useful for off-center or high contrast subjects, since you can pinpoint the exact area of the frame to base the exposure on. (This is very handy for dealing with backlit subjects.) Exposure Compensation increases or decreases the overall exposure from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments, in all modes except Automatic, simply by pressing the Exposure Compensation / White Balance button on the back panel. The same button activates the White Balance settings menu, which offers Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, and Custom (manual) settings. (The Custom white balance option lets you handle unusual lighting by using a white card to tell the camera what "color" white is. This is a powerful feature usually associated with higher-end digicams, a pleasant surprise to find on the S230.) A third press of the same button displays the Photo Effect menu, which adjusts image sharpening, color, and saturation.

In Auto mode, the camera automatically adjusts the ISO (light sensitivity) rating across a range from ISO 50 to 150, but in Manual mode, the available ISO range expands, including 50, 100, 200, and 400 ISO equivalents. The S230's built-in flash operates in Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced On, Suppressed, and Slow-Synchro modes, and the exposure-lock function works the same for both flash and non-flash shooting. Like most digicams, the S230 will lock exposure and focus when you half-press and hold the shutter button, but (as with most cameras) that mode locks only non-flash exposure, and the lock only holds while you keep the shutter button halfway depressed. You can lock the S230's exposure more permanently by half-pressing and holding down the shutter button, and then pressing spot-metering (up-arrow) button on the camera's back panel while you're still holding down the shutter button. If a flash exposure is called for, the flash will fire, and the legend "FEL" (flash exposure lock) will appear in the corner of the LCD display. If the flash isn't required, the camera will simply trip its shutter and then display the legend "AEL" (auto exposure lock) on the LCD. The exposure will remain locked until the shutter button is finally fully pressed, the flash mode is changed, or the spot-metering (up-arrow) button is pressed again. As with many other features on the S230, a flexible exposure lock option like this is seldom found on compact cameras. The mode of actuation is a little awkward, since it requires two hands and the controls are inconveniently positioned. (It would have been much more convenient if the "Set" button was used instead of the up-arrow control.) Still, it's a great feature to see included on a subcompact camera model.

A two- or 10-second self-timer option counts down by flashing a small LED on the front of the camera before firing the shutter, giving you time to duck around the camera and get into the shot. (The two-second option is great for times when you've propped the camera on a table, rock, or other rickety support to snap a photo in dim lighting conditions, and don't want the pressure of your finger on the Shutter button to jostle it.) Stitch-Assist mode is the S230's panoramic shooting mode, which lets you shoot as many as 26 consecutive images, keeping the exposure and white balance the same for all of them, and providing a convenient image overlay to help you line the shots up with each other. The series of images can then be "stitched" together into one large panoramic photo with Canon's included software. Two Stitch-Assist modes are available, one going from right to left and the other in reverse. The S230 also has a Movie record mode, which records moving images with sound for as long as three minutes per clip, depending on the resolution setting and amount of memory card space. (Movies are recorded at either 640 x 480, 320 x 240, or 160 x 120 pixels.) Finally, a Continuous Shooting mode captures a series of images in rapid succession, much like a motor drive on a traditional camera. Shooting speeds in Continuous mode average about 2 frames per second, although the interval between the first two shots in the series is somewhat longer, roughly 0.75 seconds, vs the 0.5 seconds of subsequent frames. The number of shots you can take before the camera has to pause to copy the photos to the memory card likewise varies with resolution, ranging from 17 shots (!) in large/fine mode to 65 in small/basic. (Of course, you're always restricted by the available space on your memory card: You won't get 17 large/fine shots in a sequence if your card only has room for three.)

The S230 stores its images on CompactFlash Type I memory cards. A 16MB card accompanies the camera, but I really recommend picking up a larger capacity card, so you can take all the shots you want without worrying about memory space. Memory cards are dirt cheap these days (I'm writing this in early November, 2002), with 64MB cards selling for only $20-30 in some outlets. Buy a nice big memory card, and it'll be money well spent.

The S230 uses a rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack for power, one of which accompanies the camera, along with the necessary battery charger. I couldn't conduct my normal power tests on the S230, because Canon didn't give me the necessary power adapter cable with the camera. - Casual testing showed a worst-case battery life of well over 90 minutes, a good level for a compact camera. Because you can't use AA-type batteries as spares for the S230, I'd strongly advise picking up an extra battery pack and keeping it freshly charged. (Several third parties now sell battery packs matching the one in the S230, so they should be readily available in the market.) The optional AC adapter is useful for preserving battery power when reviewing and downloading images, connecting via a "dummy" battery that inserts into the camera's battery compartment. A USB cable and interface software are also packaged with the camera, for downloading images to a computer and performing minor organization and image adjustments. Finally, an A/V cable connects the S230 to a television set, for reviewing or composing images. The S230 is DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatible, with detailed print settings in the Playback menu. Canon offers a selection of direct-connect printers as well, simplifying printing even more by letting you print directly from the camera. (For more information on these, read my review of the Canon CP-100 dye-sublimation photo printer. Some recent Canon inkjet printers also support direct-connect printing.)

Basic Features

  • 3.2-megapixel CCD.
  • Real-image optical viewfinder.
  • 1.5-inch, color TFT LCD monitor.
  • Glass, 2x, 5.4-10.8mm lens, equivalent to a 35-70mm lens on a 35mm camera.
  • Maximum 3.2x digital zoom.
  • Automatic exposure control.
  • Shutter speeds from 1/1,500 to 15 seconds.
  • Maximum aperture f/2.8 to f/4, depending on lens zoom position.
  • Built-in flash with five modes.
  • CompactFlash Type I memory card storage, 16MB card included.
  • Power supplied by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack (charger included) or optional AC adapter.
  • ArcSoft Camera Suite 1.2, Canon Digital Camera software, and USB drivers included for both Windows and Macintosh platforms.

Special Features

  • Nine-region AiAF autofocus system.
  • AF-assist illuminator option helps low-light focusing.
  • Built-in orientation sensor optionally auto-rotates images to correct orientation for playback.
  • Movie mode with sound.
  • Continuous Shooting mode.
  • Stitch-Assist panorama mode.
  • Infinity and Macro focus modes.
  • Two- or 10-second Self-Timer for delayed shutter release.
  • Spot and Evaluative exposure metering.
  • Autoexposure lock, including flash exposure lock.
  • White balance (color) adjustment with seven modes, including a Custom setting.
  • Photo Effect menu for color adjustment.
  • Adjustable ISO setting.
  • Optional histogram display in playback mode.
  • DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatibility.
  • USB cable for connection to a computer.
  • A/V cable for connection to a television set.

Recommendation

With its 2x zoom lens, 3.2-megapixel CCD, and host of features, the S230 is an excellent addition to the Digital ELPH line. It's a great camera for anyone wanting super portability, an attractive and rugged case design, and the ability to make sharp 8x10 prints. The uncomplicated interface will make novices comfortable, while a well-rounded offering of advanced exposure control options (such as variable ISO, spot metering, exposure lock, and long exposure times) will appeal to more advanced users. A true "take anywhere" camera that'll snap great-looking photos under a wide range of conditions.

Design

The PowerShot S230 is slightly smaller than the S300 and S330, matching the dimensions of the S200, but including a CCD with half again as many pixels. The S230's rugged body can withstand more than its share of knocks, and the retracting lens with built-in lens cover means you can quickly stash it in a pocket or purse without fear of damage. (In my opinion, the ELPH line represents some of the best-built subcompact camera models on the market.) Measuring 3.4 x 2.2 x 1.1 inches (87 x 57 x 27 millimeters), the S230 weighs only 6.4 ounces (180 grams) without battery or media.

The front of the S230 boasts the distinctive ELPH styling, with the lens off-center slightly toward the right, and viewfinder, flash, and focus-assist illuminator windows just above it. A tiny microphone is just beneath the flash, for recording sound with movies. The camera's telescoping lens moves into place quickly when the camera is powered on, and retracts fully within the camera to maintain a flat profile when the camera is turned off. The focus-assist light is a bright, bluish-white LED that helps the camera focus at low light levels, a welcome feature. A small, round Canon logo is about all the finger grip provided on the front of the camera, though the accompanying wrist strap and the recessed thumb grip on the camera's back help provide a more secure feel. (I highly recommend using the wrist strap. The S230 is rugged, but there's no point in tempting the fates.)

The Shutter button, Zoom lever, and Power button are all on top of the camera, barely protruding above the smooth, flat panel.

On the right side of the camera (as viewed from the rear) are the wrist strap attachment and the CompactFlash slot, the latter hidden securely beneath a locking plastic door.

The opposite side of the camera simply holds the USB and A/V dual-purpose output jack, protected by a snug rubber cover. This cover seems to do a good job of protecting the port, but it sticks out a little on the otherwise very sleek case, and I also worry a bit about flexible flaps like this breaking over time.

The remaining camera controls are on the rear panel, along with the optical and LCD viewfinders. A shallow indentation on the right side provides a subtle thumb grip, reinforcing the finger grip on the front of the camera when shooting one-handed. For such a small camera, the S230 fit surprisingly well in my larger than average hands, but the controls may be a little close together for users with large fingers. In particular, I found it awkward to activate the autoexposure lock function, although in fairness this is a seldom-used function. Arranged below the LCD monitor are the Set, Menu, Display, and Exposure Compensation / White Balance / Photo Effect buttons, with a Four Way Arrow pad just to the right of them. The Mode switch is in the top right corner, and a sliding latch on the right side releases the CompactFlash slot door. I always appreciate having plenty of external control buttons, as this minimizes the amount of fishing through LCD menu screens that's required to change settings. The S230 does a pretty good job in this respect despite its small size. Two LED lamps next to the viewfinder report camera status, lighting to indicate when focus is set (or not, as the case may be) or the flash is fully charged.

The S230 has a nice, flat bottom panel, which holds the metal tripod mount and the battery compartment. While I applaud Canon's use of metal for the tripod socket, I don't like to see the tripod mount so far to one side of the camera. The off-center tripod mount places extra strain on the socket, and also results in the camera not resting level on some tripod heads. Not a huge concern, but a minor design comment I feel compelled to make. (Of course, the flip side to all this is that most tripod heads won't interfere with the battery compartment cover, essential for using the optional power adapter with the camera mounted to a tripod.) The battery compartment cover slides open with a click, and then outwards, with a small, rubber flap in the center of the compartment door. This flap covers a hole in the battery compartment cover provided to allow access to the connector jack in the "dummy battery" used in the AC adapter kit. (Like many other Canon digicams, the S230's AC adapter uses a dummy battery that fits into the battery compartment and provides a plug for the AC power converter's cable.)

 

Camera Operation

The S230's user interface is very straightforward and relatively uncomplicated to use, although the host of external controls may seem daunting at first. Most of the camera's functions are controlled by the buttons on the top and the back panel, while settings such as image size and quality and other less-frequently accessed options are adjusted through the LCD based Record menu. The updated LCD menu design, which first appeared on the S200 and S330, lets you scroll through menu items on-screen instead of through a series of pages. Additionally, the Setup menu is always available (via a tab at the top of the menu screens), regardless of the camera mode. Even if the LCD monitor is switched off, pressing one of the control buttons on the back panel (such as the Exposure Compensation or Flash buttons) activates the display temporarily, so you can save battery power by leaving the LCD monitor off most of the time. The convenient menu layout and good use of external controls make the S230 a pretty straightforward camera to operate. With the instruction manual in-hand, it should take an hour or less for the average user to get comfortable with its various functions.

LCD Screens, Shooting Mode
In Record mode, pressing the DISP button selects one of three modes: Display off, display on with no information overlay (showing only the active focus-area rectangles when the shutter button is half-pressed), and display with information overlay (showing the current status of a variety of camera settings, as well as the number of shots remaining on the memory card at the current size and quality setting). When you half-press the Shutter button, the camera indicates which focus area or areas have been selected by highlighting the corresponding focus-area boxes on the LCD screen in green. (The middle frame of the animated screenshot sequence above right shows this in action. Here, the camera indicates that two regions are in focus.) When the Shutter button is half-pressed, the information overlay display also disappears momentarily, so it won't interfere with your view of the subject.

LCD Screens, Playback Mode
In Playback mode, the S230 offers a variety of views of your recorded images. Accessed by pressing the zoom lever in the wide angle direction, an index mode shows nine tiny thumbnails at a time, letting you scroll through the images on your memory card very quickly. Normal-sized playback options include a display with no information overlay, one with a limited overlay (showing image size and quality, date, and time the photo was captured), and a view showing very detailed information, including some exposure information (although not shutter speed or aperture settings) and a histogram. Finally, pressing the lever toward the telephoto position enlarges the displayed image anywhere from 2.5 to 10 times, letting you closely inspect images to check focus and framing. (You can scroll around the enlarged view by using the arrow keys on the back of the camera.)

External Controls


Shutter Button
: Located on the top panel, this button sets focus and exposure when pressed halfway and fires the shutter when pressed all the way. If the Self-Timer is activated, a full press of the Shutter button triggers the two- or10-second countdown.

Zoom Lever (Playback Zoom and Index Display Control): Surrounding the Shutter button, this ring-with-lever control actuates the zoom lens and digital telephoto when the camera is in Record mode. In Playback mode, the lever brings up a nine image index display (when pushed to the wide angle side) and zooms into captured images (when pushed to the telephoto side).


Power Button
: Adjacent to the Shutter button and Zoom lever, the Power button turns the camera on or off. Turning on requires holding the button down for a second or so, an intentional design choice by Canon, to avoid the camera accidentally turning on while in a pocket or purse. When the camera is powered on, the lens telescopes out into its operating position. Likewise, the lens retracts back into the camera body when the camera is switched off.


Mode Switch
: In the top right corner of the rear panel, this slide switch controls the camera's exposure mode, offering the following selections:

  • Playback: Allows the user to scroll through captured images and play back movie files. Files can be enlarged for closer inspection, displayed in an index format, write protected, or set up for printing on a DPOF compatible output device. When the camera is connected to a Canon printer supporting direct printing, you can print photos directly from the camera, with no computer required.
  • Movie Mode: Captures moving images with sound, with a maximum recording time of three minutes (depending on the resolution).
  • Record: Puts the camera in shooting mode, with Auto, Manual, and Stitch-Assist exposure modes available.


CF Open Latch
: Located on the right side of the back panel, this sliding latch opens the hatch covering the CompactFlash card slot.


Spot Metering Button (Up Arrow Key)
: The topmost button in the Four-Way Arrow pad, this control activates the Spot Metering option in Record mode. In any settings menu, this button navigates through options and selections.


Macro/Infinity Button (Left Arrow Key)
: Pointing to the left in the arrow key pad, this control cycles between Macro, Infinity Focus, and normal focusing modes while in Record mode. In both Playback and Record menus, it acts as the left arrow key to navigate through menu items. In Playback mode, this button scrolls backward through captured images.


Flash Button (Right Arrow Key)
: Pointing to the right in the arrow key pad, this button cycles through the following five flash modes (options may change depending on the exposure mode selected):

  • Automatic: The camera determines when to fire the flash based on existing light levels.
  • Red-eye Reduction: The camera fires a small pre-flash before the full flash to reduce the occurrence of Red-eye in pictures of people and pets.
  • Forced On: The flash always fires, regardless of lighting conditions.
  • Forced Off: The flash never fires, regardless of lighting conditions.
  • Slow-synchro: The flash is used with a slow shutter speed to allow more ambient light into the exposure. (This produces more natural-looking nighttime photos, with lighter backgrounds.)

In both Playback and Record menus, this button acts as the right arrow key to scroll through menu items. In Playback mode, this button scrolls forward through captured images.


Continuous/Self-Timer Button (Down Arrow Key)
: The final button on the key pad, 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 down arrow key to navigate through menu items.


Exposure Compensation / White Balance / Photo Effect Button
: To the left of the circular key pad, this control activates the Exposure Compensation, White Balance, and Photo Effect displays in Manual, Stitch Assist, and Movie modes. Pressed once, the button displays the Exposure Compensation scale, adjustable from -2 to +2 in one-third EV steps. A second press displays the White Balance options, which include Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, and Custom. The third press displays the Photo Effect menu, with choices of Vivid Color, Neutral Color, Low Sharpening, Sepia, and Black and White. When the Long Shutter mode is activated, this button also lets you set the camera's shutter speed, from one to 15 seconds. In Automatic mode, this button has no effect.

In Playback mode, this button calls up the single-image erase menu, which deletes the currently-displayed image (unless write-protected).


Display (DISP) Button
: Just to the left of the Exposure Compensation / White Balance / Photo Effect button, this button turns the LCD display on and off. In Playback mode, this button controls the information overlay display, one option of which includes a brightness histogram of the displayed image.


Menu Button
: Nestled between the Set and Display buttons, this button calls up the LCD menu system in Record and Playback modes.


Set Button
: Directly beneath the lower left-hand corner of the LCD display, this button confirms selections and changes in the LCD menu system, in both Record and Playback modes. When pressed in Record mode with the Record menu not being displayed, this it calls up the Set menu, providing options for Auto, Manual, and Stitch-Assist exposure modes.

Camera Modes and Menus

Record Mode: Records still images, with a variety of exposure options available. The Set menu offers the following exposure modes:

  • Automatic Exposure Mode: Places the camera in charge of all exposure settings. You can select only the digital zoom option, certain flash modes, the self-timer, and Macro mode.
  • Manual Exposure Mode: Expands your control options, letting you adjust the digital zoom, flash mode, image quality, shooting method (Single, Continuous, or Self-Timer), Macro mode, Infinity Focus mode, Exposure Compensation, White Balance, Photo Effect, metering, and ISO.
  • Stitch-Assist (Right and Left): Records a series of as many as 26 images to be "stitched" together later on the computer as a single panoramic shot. This mode bases the exposure and white balance for the entire series on the first shot taken after entering the mode. This insures that exposure and color will be consistent across all the shots, so you won't see "seams" between adjacent frames when the sequence is assembled into the final image. Two directions are available: 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 Red-eye Reduction flash modes, and Continuous Shooting mode.

Movie Mode: Records short movie clips with sound. The actual amount of recording time varies with the resolution setting and amount of CompactFlash space, but the longest clip time is three minutes at the lower resolution settings. A handful of exposure controls are available in this mode, though options like flash mode, Continuous Shooting, and digital zoom are disabled.

Playback Mode: This mode lets you scroll through captured images and movies, write protect images, view a nine-image index display, zoom into a captured image, delete unwanted images, rotate images, and set up images for printing on DPOF compatible devices. You can also print to a Canon photo printer supporting direct printing, directly from the camera, with no computer connection required.

Record Menu: Accessed by pressing the Menu button in Automatic, Manual, Stitch Assist, and Movie modes (some options are not available in all modes). Two menu tabs appear, for Record and Setup sub-menus.

  • Record Menu
    • Resolution: Sets the image resolution to Large (2,048 x 1,536 pixels), Medium 1 (1,600 x 1,200 pixels), Medium 2 (1,024 x 768 pixels), or Small (640 x 480 pixels) for still images. Movie resolution options are 640 x 480, 320 x 240, and 160 x 120 pixels.
    • Compression: Controls the amount of JPEG compression. Options are Superfine, Fine, and Normal. (Still images only.)
    • ISO: Sets the camera's sensitivity to Auto, or to 50, 100, 200, or 400 ISO equivalents. (Stills only)
    • AiAF: Turns on the AiAF focus system. If switched off, the camera bases autofocus on the center of the frame. (Stills only)
    • Digital Zoom: Enables the digital zoom function, which is engaged by zooming past the optical zoom range. Also disables digital zoom. (Stills only)
    • Self-Timer: Sets the Self-Timer countdown to two or 10 seconds.
    • Review: Turns the instant review function on or off, or sets the amount of time that the captured image is displayed on the screen from two to 10 seconds in one-second increments. (Stills only)
    • AF Assist Beam: Turns the AF assist light on or off. If on, the light automatically activates whenever the Shutter button is half-pressed. (Leave it off in bright surroundings, to save battery power.)
    • File No. Reset: Activates or deactivates the file numbering reset. If activated, the camera resets the file numbers with each new CompactFlash card. If left off, file numbering simply continues from card to card. (Most users will want to leave this off, to avoid accidentally overwriting files when downloading to the computer.)
    • Auto Rotate: When enabled, Auto Rotate tells the camera to automatically rotate the image when it is tilted 90 degrees. (As far as I can tell though, this rotation only affects display on the camera's own LCD. The images aren't rotated when you download them to your computer.) (Stills only)
    • Long Shutter: Enables a slower shutter speed mode for night shooting, extending the shutter speed range to 15 seconds. (The S230's noise reduction engages automatically for exposure times from one to 15 seconds.) (Stills only)
  • Setup Menu
    • Beep: Turns the camera's beep sounds on or off.
    • Auto Power Down: Enables or disables the automatic shut down, which turns the camera off after a period of inactivity.
    • Date/Time: Sets the camera's internal date and time settings.
    • Format: Formats the CompactFlash card, erasing all images (even write protected ones). (Option not available in Stitch-Assist mode.)
    • Language: Changes the menu language to one of 12 languages.
    • Video System: Establishes the type of video signal, NTSC or PAL.
    • Communication: Sets the camera's USB communication settings to Normal or PTP.

Playback Menu: Accessed by pressing the Menu button in Playback mode, the Playback menu also has a subject tab for the Setup menu described above.

  • Protect: Write protects the currently displayed image (except from card reformatting).
  • Rotate: Allows you to rotate the image 90 or 270 degrees in the display.
  • Erase All: Deletes all images on the CompactFlash card, except for protected ones.
  • Slide Show: Automatically plays back each image on the CompactFlash card, one by one. You can also mark specific images to be played back in a show.
  • Print Order: Sets up individual images to print on DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatible printers. Through this setting, you can set the number of prints to be made, turn on the date and time stamp, and setup the print style.
  • Transfer Order: Transfers the print order to an email program, so that small images can be sent via email.

 Test Images
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

 

"Gallery" Photos
For those readers interested in a set of less "standardized" photos from the P10, here are some thumbnails of more random shots snapped with it. Click on one any of the thumbnails below for a larger view. Click on the larger view again to see the original image from the camera. (Photos in this gallery were shot by Gibbs Frazeur or Stephanie Boozer. Thanks Gibbs and Stephanie!)

NOTE: that these are big files, so be aware that (a) they'll take a while to download, and (b) they'll chew up a pretty good chunk of bandwidth on us. (Read the "support this site" blurb at the top the carrier pages, and think about it while you're waiting for the images to download.

NOTE TOO: Some browsers have difficult with very wide images, and distort them a lot when they display them. (I don't know about others, but IE 5.0 on the Mac definitely does this. If the full-sized images appear to be stretched horizontally, you may need to just download them to your hard drive and view them in an imaging application, or possibly try another browser.)

Click to see YIMG_3555.JPG
YIMG_3555.JPG
1,380.1 KB
Shutter: 1/200
Aperture: F10
Exposure EV: 14.2
ISO Speed: 100
Click to see YIMG_3556.JPG
YIMG_3556.JPG
2,155.7 KB
Shutter: 1/200
Aperture: F9
Exposure EV: 13.9
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Specifications
See the specifications sheet here.

Picky Details
Information on shooting speed, battery life, etc. can be found here.

User Reviews

Test Results

  • Color: Like other Digital ELPH digicam models I've tested, the S230 delivered generally excellent color, under a wide variety of shooting conditions. It did an excellent job on skin tones, both indoors and out, and handled the very difficult blues of the flower bouquet in the outdoor portrait test with aplomb. Colors were generally hue-accurate and well saturated, although the 230 tended to oversaturate bright reds and blues somewhat. Indoors, the 230's automatic white balance had a hard time with household incandescent lighting, but its incandescent and custom white balance options performed remarkably well. All in all, very nice color!

  • Exposure: The S230 exposed most of the test shots well, though the Davebox shot came out just a little dark. The bright sunlight resulted in high contrast in the outdoor images, causing some loss of shadow and highlight detail. The S230's limited dynamic range was most evident in the outdoor house shot, although the camera still managed to pickup some detail in the bright, white bay window trim. The camera distinguished the subtle tonal variations of the Davebox well, often a difficult area for many digicams. Overall, generally good exposure, although a little trouble with very high-contrast lighting.

  • Resolution/Sharpness: The S230 captures about as much detail as any 3-megapixel digicam out there, but its images can appear slightly soft onscreen. This is due to Canon's very conservative use of in-camera image sharpening, which preserves fine detail, but at the cost of images that look slightly soft right out of the camera. - The upside of this approach though, is that the S230's images respond very well to unsharp masking after the fact in Photoshop or other image manipulation programs. In the laboratory resolution test, the S230 delivered "strong detail" out to about 1050 lines per picture height. (Given the uncertainty in that measurement though, it would perhaps be best to simply say that the S230's resolution is in the range of 1000-1100 lines.)

  • Closeups: Macro performance was about average. The S230 captured a minimum area of 3.47 x 2.61 inches (88 x 66 millimeters). Resolution was very high, with strong detail. The camera's flash didn't throttle down for the macro area well, overexposing the shot somewhat.

  • Night Shots: The S230's partial manual controls provide an adjustable shutter speed range from one to 15 seconds, perfect for low-light shooting. From ISO 100 to 400, the camera captured bright images all the way to 1/16 foot-candle (0.67 lux), and at ISO 50, images were bright to about 1/8 foot-candle (1.3 lux).Color was warm from the Auto white balance, but noise was reasonable. Since average city street lighting at night equates to about one foot-candle (11 lux), the S230 should have no trouble with even darker shots. (The bright autofocus-assist illuminator is an added bonus for low light shooting, helping the camera focus properly even in very dark conditions.)

  • Viewfinder Accuracy: The S230's optical viewfinder was rather tight, showing 82-83% of the final frame at both wide angle and telephoto lens settings. The LCD monitor was very accurate though, showing nearly 100% of the final frame, at both telephoto and wide angle. Given that I generally prefer LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the S230 does very well in that area, but I'd really like to see better performance from its optical viewfinder.

  • Optical Distortion: Optical distortion on the S230 is a bit lower than average at wide angle, where I measured a barrel distortion of 0.6 percent. (While a good bit better than average, still too much IMHO.) At telephoto, it does even better, with 0.2 percent pincushion distortion, also a lower-than average distortion figure. Chromatic aberration was also better than average, but I did notice a fair amount of softness in the corners of the images.

  • Battery Life: Because Canon didn't ship me an AC adapter for the S230, I couldn't measure its power drain and hence was reduced to the expedient of simply timing how long the camera ran in capture mode with the LCD turned on. While not as reliable as my normal direct measurements of camera power consumption, this at least gives some idea of the sort of battery life you can expect from the S230. On this basis, I determined that a freshly-charged battery should be able to power the S230 in its worst-case power drain mode well over 90 minutes, better than average among the subcompact cameras I've tested.

In the Box

The standard U.S. retail package for the PowerShot S230 includes the following items:

  • Wrist strap.
  • A/V cable.
  • USB cable.
  • 16MB CompactFlash memory card.
  • NB-1LH lithium-ion battery pack.
  • Battery charger.
  • ArcSoft and Canon Digital Camera Solution Disk software CDs.
  • Operating manual and registration card.

Recommended Accessories

  • Large capacity CompactFlash memory card.
  • Additional NB-1LH lithium-ion battery pack.
  • AC adapter kit.
  • Small camera case.

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...

 

Conclusion

Canon's Digital ELPH series have consistently offered excellent build quality, strong feature sets, and great image quality. The S230 follows very much in that tradition, with its tiny size and rugged construction make it welcome and worthy travel companion. Although exposure control is fully automatic, the ability to adjust ISO, White Balance, and exposure compensation, and manually-accessed longer shutter times increases the camera's shooting range considerably. The 3.2-megapixel CCD and sharp lens deliver good quality images with the excellent color that I've come to expect from Canon products. As the first three-megapixel model in the ELPH lineup, it's a safe bet that Canon will sell a lot of S230's. If you're looking for great quality in a subcompact digicam, you should definitely give the PowerShot S230 a serious look.

 

Reader Comments!
Questions, comments or controversy on this article? Click this link to see what other Imaging Resource readers have had to say about Canon PowerShot S230, or add comments of your own!


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