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Canon PowerShot S2 IS Digital Camera

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Review Date
06/28/05
User Level
Novice to Experienced
Product Uses
Family / Travel / Special Events
Digicam Design
Point-and-Shoot or Manual control
Picture Quality
Very Good, 5.0-megapixel CCD
Print Sizes
11 x 17 or 8 x 10 with some cropping
Availability
May, 2005
Suggested Retail Price
(At introduction)
$499

 

Introduction

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Details
Design
Operation
Test Images
Specifications
Conclusion
Article: Digital SLR or All-in-one Digicam?
By Shawn Barnett

With the price of digital SLRs finally within reach, should you stick with the All-in-one digicam or move up to an SLR? Why buy a high-end digicam when digital SLRs are so close in price? Do digicams still have a purpose? What are the pros and cons? An avid photographer, I spent some time thinking about that myself. Come see what I discovered about digital SLRs versus all-in-one digicams.

The Canon PowerShot S2 IS is the sequel to an extremely popular long zoom camera, the 3.2 megapixel S1 IS. The 5.0 megapixel Canon S2 IS and its predecessor follow in the footsteps of a well-received model from four years past, the 2.6-megapixel PowerShot Pro90 IS.

The Canon S2 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 12x zoom Canon optics, and optical image stabilization - a feature found on only a handful of digital cameras, most of them more expensive, the Canon S2 IS will feature prominently on the shopping lists of photographers looking for a long-zoom camera. A big part of the story of the Canon S2 IS though, has to do with its movie capability: Not only can it record at 640x480 pixels and 30 frames/second, but you can use the zoom lens while recording movies (a surprising rarity), and it records stereo sound. All in all, the Canon S2 IS is quite a package, with an amazing range of capabilities and good picture quality, all at an affordable price. Read on for all the details!

User Report
By Shawn Barnett

The S1 IS (the Canon S2 IS's predecessor) is easily one of the most popular 3.2 megapixel cameras still on the market. Indeed, as of this writing in June 2005, the S1 IS is still number 9 in the Top Ten Sellers with our readers, among the Dave's Picks cameras. Maybe it's the camera's handsome, burly looks; or perhaps the low price for such a long, image-stabilized zoom. There's no question that the S1 IS hit a sweet spot in the market, but it had a few shortcomings.

Canon's PowerShot S2 IS overcomes most of those shortcomings and increases the camera's utility as a digital still/video hybrid. Of the two main (only?) complaints with the S1 IS, the first is not really all that valid: Folks wooed by high pixel counts were put off by the S1's 3.2 million pixels, and scads emailed to ask whether it was okay to get one anyway. I told most that it was absolutely okay, with one cautionary note -- Which brings me to the S1's second major problem: image noise at ISO 400. Our tests showed the ISO 400 results to be pretty good, even in low light; but out in the field, I personally found the color to be unacceptably blotchy at ISO 400, and recommended that people stick to ISO 200 or lower. It's not a problem unique to the S1 IS; what is unique is that both of these nice little image-stabilized cameras will get you accustomed to shooting in low light precisely because of their image stabilization, and you'll develop a tendency to push your exposure too often.

The Canon S2's 5 megapixel sensor handles both the perceived and the literal shortcoming with ease. While it still has noise at high ISO (like all point and shooters), it is far better controlled, appearing more even than that of the S1, and its higher megapixel sensor allows for plenty of cropping after capture.

Body
The Canon PowerShot S2 IS features a body design similar to that of the S1, with slightly more aggressive contours and accents throughout. It 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 3.0 inches (113 x 78 x 77.5 millimeters) and weighing some 18.55 ounces (526 grams) with batteries and SD memory card, the Canon S2 IS only a little heavier and just a smidge fatter our front due to the larger lens. This isn't a camera you'll slip into a shirt pocket, to be sure - it might fit larger coat pockets, but most likely you'll wear the camera around your neck on the included neck-strap, as I've seen so many proud S1 owners do.

We were also pleased to note that the grip on the Canon S2 IS is much better than that on the Canon Digital Rebel XT, a larger SLR camera. It's the only major criticism we had of the XT, and here the smaller, less expensive PowerShot S2 IS turns out to be a better camera ergonomically regardless of family member. It is sized just right, with your two middle fingers wrapping comfortably around the grip, the pinkie curling around underneath, and the index finger resting comfortably on the shutter. Your experience will vary, but even Dave (who was positively incensed by the XT's grip) liked the grip on the S2 IS, finding it easy to hold and balance the entire camera.

The rest of the camera body is smooth and fits the hand nicely. All controls work as expected, and the design is easy and comfortable. My only complaint is the odd power toggle/off button combination. While I understand the design, I still find myself turning it in the wrong direction. To access Record mode, whose icon is on the top left of the toggle, you have to put your thumb on the back of the toggle and move it to the right (which moves the indicator on the front of the toggle to the left). It's unnecessarily complex, and I'm not sure why they didn't just put an on/off button and a Record/Playback button to switch between the two modes.

Lens
The main reason to look at the Canon PowerShot S2 IS is the big lens. This really is the kind of lens we all want on our cameras. Just pull the zoom ring to the right, and you're able to get right up on whatever you want. Years ago, people were disappointed when they got their 200mm SLR zoom lenses because that didn't amount to such a high magnification; and they were even more disappointed when they found out how much the 300 and 400mm lenses cost. The Canon S2 IS will take you out to the equivalent of a 432mm lens, and that's not counting the digital zoom (something we don't encourage users to consider; you'll be happier cropping after the fact). Still, if you need to make your friends cry, you can tell them that your 4x digital zoom gives you the reach of a 1,728mm zoom (if not the clarity).

Image Stabilization
As if that almost ludicrous sounding focal length weren't enough, the Canon S2 IS will help you get a solid shot even at the longest zoom settings. A computer-controlled lens element inside the lens is actually moved around in time with most detected camera movement. Like most such systems, it's calibrated to adjust for twitches, breathing, heartbeat, wind; all the things we don't think about that affect our ability to hold a camera still. While we don't think about it, our cameras are honest storytellers, and will usually report these minute movements to the image sensor, which will in turn deliver blurry images to our memory cards. Even if you're a rock solid person with nerves of steel, you're going to get at least some motion blur at either the longest focal lengths or the lowest shutter speeds (like indoors in low light). Image stabilization means you'll get more clear shots more of the time.

If you shoot in Continuous mode with the Canon S2 IS, you'll be able to see the image start to float as soon as you tease the shutter button. It's the best way to shoot in low light, because it tells you how well you're holding the camera. You'll soon work with the camera better when you learn to wait for the image to stabilize. As I mentioned earlier, getting used to such a system is both good and bad, so you do have to carefully review your results. Switch to Playback mode and use the zoom lever to check for motion blur if you already know you're pushing it. If you're getting blur, you might need to raise the ISO, brace the camera against something, or flip up the flash. The IS system is excellent, and will help you get great shots you'd have never gotten otherwise, but you'll be even happier if you check how well it's doing. (Also note that the S2 IS has several different IS modes. Faced with a really challenging situation, you'll probably find that the "Shoot Only" IS mode will be more successful at compensating for extreme shake.)

Another area image stabilization comes in handy is in video capture. Usually a feature of high-end video cameras, the Canon S2 IS's always-present video mode is also enhanced by the camera's image stabilization, lending a more professional look.

AF
The S2 IS has seen an improvement in AF speed and sensitivity, due to its DIGIC II chip. This chip has been improving Canon's entire line over the last year, making all manner of functions faster and more efficient. One feature I'm missing though is the 9-point AF found on other cameras like the Canon S70, and the popular A95. In its place is the AF system borrowed from the Canon G6, called FlexiZone AF. This system allows the photographer to move the AF point all around the screen so focus can be set to wherever you deem important. In portraits, for example, you'd want to move the AF point to keep the eyes of your subject in focus. As much as I like that, in fast action settings, I've preferred the 9-point AF system, for its surprisingly accurate and speedy processing of image data. Its decisions have impressed more than they've disappointed, and I think the typical S2 IS user would be better served.

There's a manual focus mode as well, accessible by pressing the Manual Focus button on the side of the lens. I suppose it's a good feature to have, but I've never found it that useful. Even with the magnified view and distance scale, you have a heck of a time seeing any change as you adjust the focus. I find the AF system reliable enough that I've never had occasion to use manual focus. Still, it's there if you need it.

LCD
The S2 IS is really a combination of much of Canon's best PowerShot technology, and among the high points is the 1.8 inch flip out and swivel LCD. You really don't know you need this until you start to use it. Shots you'd have never considered are suddenly possible. Overhead, down low, even pictures of yourself can be framed with unprecedented accuracy and comfort. If you like to try new angles on a subject, you need a camera with a versatile LCD like this. Because LCDs generally wash out in sunlight, Canon wisely included an EVF (electronic viewfinder), to which you can switch for easier, more familiar image framing. It's a shame you can't have an optical viewfinder, but this compromise is necessary with such a long zoom.

Exposure
As seems to be the case with more and more all-purpose Canon digicams, the S2 IS has the full complement of manual and automatic exposure choices. If you just want to get the shot, you can set the camera to Auto (green zone) or P (program) and just point and shoot. But if the lighting is challenging a quick turn either left or right puts you in greater control. In Shutter, Aperture, and Manual modes, you can control how much depth of field or how much you want to freeze or blur action. But in the Scene modes, you still wield control, because you're telling the camera just what situation you're facing; and it will make the decisions from there. Settings like Portrait and Fireworks are great examples of the camera handling very unique and specific settings for you. By far, my favorite mode is Night Portrait. I've found this mode useful both in night scenes and indoor scenes, softening the impact of the flash on a subject by dialing it back, and leaving the shutter open a little longer to capture the true ambient light of the room or night backdrop. The result is a better picture that tells a truer story of the setting I saw and wanted to capture.

Long movies in stereo
The Canon PowerShot S2 IS has an unusually capable movie mode for a relatively inexpensive digicam, and its capabilities have been extended over the S1. Its movie mode allows you to capture up to 1GB 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. (Note though, that while a gigabyte of movie sounds like a lot, its only about 9 minutes worth of action at the highest quality and frame rate setting on the S2 IS.) A high-speed memory card is necessary if you want to record at the larger image size and/or higher frame rate. Its unique stereo microphones appear above the lens to the left and right, and do seem to create some separation, especially when the subjects are nearby; however, to experience the stereo, you'll need to transfer the video files to a device that can play stereo, or else play the video through a TV through the included stereo A/V cable. Several sound options allow you to change the recording bit rate and reduce wind noise on recordings. (This last is a nifty feature that's been carried over from Canon's camcorder line. - As far as I know, this is the first time that it's appeared on a digicam.)

Zoom and snap during movie recording
The Canon S2 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, digital cameras 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 S2 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 is 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. Autofocus operation is relatively silent, thanks to the Ultrasonic focusing motor built into the S2 IS.

New to the Canon S2 is the ability to capture images during video recording. Because you activate video from the red and silver button on the camera's back, the main shutter button remains available to focus and snap a picture. And these on-the-fly still shots aren't 640 x 480 images, but full 5 megapixel images. The video stream is interrupted for a bit under a second for this capture, which creates a gap, but Canon was clever about dealing with this. In video Playback they've allowed the gap, then inserted a shutter sound and added just under a second of the still image that is captured. The resulting video looks very like the stereotypical movie scene where the private investigator is training his lens on his unsuspecting subject and snapping shot after shot. The shutter sound is inserted whether you have the sound on or not, and it cannot be disabled. I think Canon is doing that purposefully so the source of the gaps is always understood. If the AF light is turned on, you see not only the camera's focus action, but the beam itself. Personally, I'm not sure why you'd want to take a picture while doing video, but if you want to you can with the S2 IS.

Playing with the Canon S2 IS makes it clear that its designers were having a good time making not only a versatile camera, but a camera that would be fun as well. In addition to the color effects that were available on the S1, the S2 has added a Custom Color setting. You can perform all kinds of tricks with this, including intensifying or dimming specific colors, or even completely replacing one color with another. The example given in the manual shows how you can sample a color from one car and see what your own car might look like in that other color. It's really only effective if the two objects are distinct and evenly lit, but can nonetheless be fun to create surreal effects right in the camera. You can also easily darken or lighten skin tones, and emulate slide film, giving your pictures that lovely saturated "Kodachrome(tm)" look.

Memory
Add at least $70 for a nice-sized memory card to your budget before purchasing the S2 IS, because the camera only comes with a 16MB SD card. If you plan on taking advantage of the video mode, get a high speed card (Lexar 32x or above or SanDisk Ultra or Extreme) of at least 512MB, if not a full 1GB. If you have no plans to use video, then still invest in a large SD card or two. The camera captures images that are about 2MB in size apiece. You'll enjoy the camera enough that you'll fill a smaller card pretty quickly.

Battery
When I first used the camera I burned through the batteries, but it turns out I had a few sets of bum AA's. Loaded with a set of new high-quality NiMH AA rechargeables, I've been getting very good battery life, and Dave and Luke's direct tests of power drain show very good battery life indeed. The camera comes with a set of four AA alkalines, but go stick those in a flashlight and get a good set of rechargeables. Click here to read the "battery shootout" page to see which batteries currently on the market are best, or here for the review of the Maha C-204W charger, Dave's current favorite.

An AC adapter is available for the camera, which plugs into the right side of the camera, so if you're doing a lot of studio or video work, you might want to invest in one of these. A couple of sets of high-capacity rechargeable NiMH batteries and a good-quality charger really eliminate the need for the adapter in all but the most extreme cases though.

Overall, the Canon S2 IS is an impressive camera that is bound to be very popular. Its speed improvements are welcome, and its utility as a digital video/still hybrid is enhanced with the larger lens, higher resolution, and AF assist lamp. Photo enthusiasts will likely be torn between the S2 IS and the Canon G6, and family buyers will wonder whether to invest in an A95 or the S2 IS. Enthusiasts might want to augment their G6 with the S2 given its longer-ratio zoom and familiar controls, but family cam buyers looking at a 5 megapixel A-series should absolutely give the Canon S2 IS a serious look. For just a little more money and with a slightly larger body, they'll get an image stabilized 12x zoom with a virtually silent Ultrasonic focusing motor, and a camera that does double duty as a still and video camera. When it comes to viewing your images and videos at the end of the day, it's a quick upload of both types of content via the fast USB 2.0 connection from the S2 IS to the home computer, making it more likely that the content will actually be viewed in the first place. Compared to carrying separate digital still and digital video cameras, carrying the Canon S2 IS is both lighter in the bag, and easier on the pocketbook. I expect to see a lot of these little silver cameras around a lot of necks this year, this one is a real winner.

Basic Features

  • 5.0-megapixel CCD delivering image resolutions as large as 2,592 x 1,944 pixels.
  • 1.8-inch color LCD monitor with 115,000 pixels.
  • Electronic optical viewfinder (unknown resolution, appears similar to LCD though).
  • Glass, 12x 6.0-72mm lens (equivalent to 36-432mm zoom on a 35mm camera).
  • 4x digital zoom (48x combined with optical).
  • FlexiZone autofocus and a manual focus mode.
  • Full Automatic, Program AE, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Manual, and Custom exposure modes, as well as nine preset exposure or "Scene" modes.
  • Manually adjustable aperture setting ranging from a maximum of f/2.7 to f/3.5 depending on lens zoom position, to a minimum of f/8.0.
  • Shutter speed range from 1/3,200 to 15 seconds (max shutter speed only available at f/8, goes down to 1/1,600 at f/2.7).
  • Built-in flash with five operating modes.
  • Secure Digital (SD) memory storage.
  • Power supplied by four AA batteries or optional AC adapter.

Special Features

  • Optical image stabilization. (Very effective.)
  • New AF Assist Beam.
  • 30fps VGA Movie mode (with sound), up to one hour per clip.
  • Stereo recording in Movie mode.
  • Sound caption recording.
  • Stitch-Assist mode for panoramic shots.
  • Continuous Shooting, and 2 or 10-second Self-Timer modes.
  • Unique "My Colors" mode.
  • Night Display brightens images for easier framing of dark subjects.
  • Six custom Photo Effects including Low Sharpness setting.
  • White balance (color) adjustment with eight modes.
  • ISO adjustment with four ISO equivalents and an Auto 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

Selecting a flagship camera to represent the PowerShot line is a difficult task, because Canon offers so many fine cameras in each category, the top offering in each would differ depending on an individual's need. For the multi-purpose, Family Cam category, we'd have to name the S2 IS as the flagship, presiding over even the A95 and A520. Offering a complete range of auto and manual exposure controls, the S2 IS is equally suited for novice users and experienced amateurs alike, and it has a big image-stabilized zoom for getting the shot no matter the situation. The full automatic controls keep things simple for novices, while the manual settings offer 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 5.0-megapixel CCD captures high quality images, quite suitable for printing as large as 8x10-inches with good detail, eliminating the main complaint that critics of the S1 IS had. The design is reasonably compact given the increased magnifying power of the 12x optical zoom lens, and the camera should fit in a larger coat pocket or be comfortable when using the neckstrap. The Canon S2 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 Canon S2 IS also offers a capable movie mode, capable of recording movie files up to 1GB in size each, even at 640x480 resolution and a 30 frame/second frame rate. The S2 IS is priced competitively, but its features and capabilities set it apart from the myriad camera choices in its price range. If you're looking for a long-zoom camera with image stabilization that captures excellent photos and videos, the Canon PowerShot S2 IS could be the camera for you!

 

Design

The Canon PowerShot S2 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 3.0 inches (113 x 78 x 77.5 millimeters), the S2 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 Canon S2 IS has a modest heft for its size. Weighing 18.55 ounces (526 grams) including batteries and SD card, it isn't at all uncomfortable to carry. The two-toned silver body echoes the visual style of an SLR camera, and should be both sophisticated and simple enough for any age group or user level.

The Canon S2 IS's front panel features the telescoping 12x image-stabilized zoom lens, which projects one and one eighth inch further when fully extended. Also on the front panel are the pop-up flash, red-eye reduction lamp (a lamp that doubles as a self-timer and tally lamp), and a bright green AF assist beam. Flanking the lens are holes for the stereo microphones. Unlike the S1 IS, the PowerShot S2 IS appears to have no infrared remote sensor for remote shutter release. 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 area 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 SD 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 are the USB port, DC in jack (both covered by a rubber door), and an eyelet for attaching the neck strap.

The opposite side of the camera has holes a small speaker, the A/V Out port, and the second neck strap eyelet. On the side of the lens casing are the Manual Focus and Image Stabilizer buttons.

The Canon S2 IS's top panel features a number of controls located on either side of the pop-up flash. To the right of the flash is a Mode dial with 13 shooting positions divided into three basic categories: Auto Exposure, Image Zone, and Creative Zone. The Shutter button is located out on the grip, with a Zoom lever surrounding it. Behind that is the Continuous/Self Timer button. 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 activating the camera in either Record or Playback mode; pushing the release button (which happens naturally when you actuate the control with your thumb) 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 is the Flash/Mic button.

The rest of the exposure controls are located on the camera's rear panel, along with the electronic optical viewfinder and flip-out, 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 inward 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 inward against the camera body in any mode, duplicates 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 / JUMP, Shortcut / Print and Display buttons. To the right of the electronic optical viewfinder is the Movie button, which begins recording movies regardless of mode (pressing it in Playback mode returns you first to Record mode, and another press is required to start recording). On the other side of the viewfinder is a Diopter Adjustment Dial.

The Canon PowerShot S2 IS's bottom panel is reasonably flat, with a sliding door to access the battery compartment and a threaded plastic 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. On the other hand, Canon's AC adapter plugs into the right side 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 SD card door on the side of the camera is also conducive to use on a tripod.

 

Camera Operation

While the Canon S2 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 S2 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 Canon S2 IS's user interface shouldn't take more than an hour to get comfortable with.


Record Mode LCD Display: In Record mode, the S2 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 information, and electronic optical viewfinder with or without information.


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 and general exposure details. 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. 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 1/3,200 second.
    • Shutter-Speed Priority AE (Tv): Allows you to control the shutter speed settings from 1/3,200 to 15 seconds, while the camera controls the aperture. All other exposure settings are available. (Note that the maximum 1/3,200 shutter speed is only available when the lens is at its maximum wide-angle setting.)
    • Aperture Priority AE (Av): Allows you to set the lens aperture from f/2.7 to f/8.0, while the camera controls the shutter speed. The maximum aperture depends on the zoom setting, ranging from f/2.7 at the wide angle end to f/3.5 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:
      • 1/1600 at all apertures
      • 1/2000 at f/4.0 and higher (wide) or f/5.0 and higher (tele)
      • 1/2500 at f/5.6 and higher (wide) or f/7.1 and higher (tele)
      • 1/3200 at f/8.0 (wide only)
    • 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:
      • 1/1600 at all apertures
      • 1/2000 at f/4.0 and higher (wide) or f/5.0 and higher (tele)
      • 1/2500 at f/5.6 and higher (wide) or f/7.1 and higher (tele)
      • 1/3200 at f/8.0 (wide only)
    • 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.
    • SCN: Special Scene Mode: Accesses specially tuned exposure modes for specific situations as outlined below. The left/right arrows on the multi-controller step through the following choices:
      • Foliage: For trees, leaves and flowers, this mode enhances colors to be more vibrant.
      • Snow: Compensates for bright snowy backgrounds, keeping the snow white, and the subjects properly exposed, also eliminates the bluish tint common in snow shots.
      • Beach: Similar to snow mode, compensates for brightly lit backgrounds where sand and water dominate the scene.
      • Fireworks: Optimized for night skies speckled with fireworks.
      • Indoor: Biases the exposure for common indoor lighting situations, automatically adjusting between fluorescent and tungsten light sources. The camera attempts to use flash as little as possible in this mode to allow for a more natural appearance.
      • Night Snapshot: Fires a flash to illuminate the foreground, while leaving the shutter open just a little longer to properly expose the background, while still making the scene look like a night scene.
    • My Colors: An unusual mode new to Canon cameras, My Colors allows you to modify color saturation settings to enhance all colors, individual colors, skin tones, or to individually change a single color. This mode affects both stills and videos; with stills, a special "Save Original" setting will save two copies of each image, one with and one without My Colors applied.
    • 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. Maximum recording size is 1GB.


Off Button
: To the right of the Mode dial, in the center of the Mode Lever, 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/Sound Memo Button
: When the Flash is manually deployed (there is no pop-up function), 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 and Flash On with Red-Eye Reduction or Auto and Flash On. The Flash Off setting is achieved by closing the flash.

In Playback mode, this button calls up the Sound Memo Panel, allowing sound memos to be recorded to accompany images.


Continuous / Self Timer 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 or Custom, the options are: Single, Continuous Shooting, ten second Self-timer / two second Self-timer / Custom 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. In movie mode, the shutter button can be used to capture full-size still images (the scene blanks and the shutter sound is recorded during exposure).


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). Automatic Exposure Bracketing is not available in Manual exposure mode, since you're controlling the exposure settings directly.
  • 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.
  • Frame Rate: Sets the frame rate for recording movies. Options are approximately equivalent to 15 or 30 frames per second. Movie resolution options are 640 x 480 @ 30fps, 640 x 480 @ 15fps, 320 x 240 @ 30fps, and 320 x 240 @ 15fps. (Because this is a movie/still camera, both frame rate and resolution are shown on the same screen.)
  • Resolution: Specifies the image resolution and quality settings. Still image resolutions are 2,592 x 1,944; 2,048 x 1,536; 1,600 x 1,200; and 640 x 480 pixels. Quality options (activated by pressing the Set button) are Superfine, Fine, and Normal.

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


Metering / JUMP 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 calls up the Jump Bar, allowing you to move through images stored on the card very rapidly with the left / right arrows on the Multi-Controller Rocker button. Once the Jump Bar is displayed, you can use the up/down arrows to cycle through a variety of options, namely Jump 10 images, Jump 100 images, Jump Shot Date, and Jump to Movie. This is a very handy set of options, particularly Jump to Shot Date, which displays the number of images it found taken on each date, and Jump to Movie, which is very handy for finding scattered movie files buried amongst dozens of still images.


Shortcut/Print/Share Button
: Below the Metering / Microphone button, in Record mode this button allows you to call up a frequently used function, and can be assigned via the Setup menu to Resolution, ISO Speed, AF Lock, AE Lock (all in still image mode only); Recording Size or Frame Rate (both for movies only); or to Photo Effect, White Balance, Image Stabilizer, My Colors, or Display Off. When connected to a PictBridge-compatible printer, this button glows blue and pressing it initiates the print function. When connected to a computer running Canon's software package, this button also glows blue, and pressing it initiates an automatic transfer of the camera's images to the computer.


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 area 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. (Another uncommon but handy feature.)


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.


Macro Button
: Underneath the MF Button, this button enables or disables the lens' Macro Mode, a mode that used to be entered automatically on the S2 IS. This mode allows focus in the 3.9 inch to 1.8 foot range. (When Super Macro mode is enabled via a menu option, the S2 IS can focus down almost to the front element of its lens.)


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 1/3,200 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/2.7 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.
      • Special Scene Mode: Accesses specially tuned exposure modes for specific situations as outlined below. Each mode is selected by pressing the left or right arrow keys.
        • Foliage: For trees, leaves and flowers, this mode enhances colors to be more vibrant.
        • Snow: Compensates for bright snowy backgrounds, keeping the snow white, and the subjects properly exposed, also eliminates the bluish tint common in snow shots.
        • Beach: Similar to snow mode, compensates for brightly lit backgrounds where sand and water dominate the scene.
        • Fireworks: Optimized for night skies speckled with fireworks.
        • Indoor: Biases the exposure for common indoor lighting situations, automatically adjusting between fluorescent and tungsten light sources. The camera attempts to use flash as little as possible in this mode to allow for a more natural appearance.
        • Night Snapshot: Fires a flash to illuminate the foreground, while leaving the shutter open just a little longer to properly expose the background, while still making the scene look like a night scene.
      • My Colors: An unusual mode new to Canon cameras, My Colors allows you to modify color saturation settings to enhance all colors, individual colors, skin tones, or to individually change a single color. This mode affects both stills and videos; with stills, a special "Save Original" setting will save two copies of each image, one with and one without My Colors applied.
      • 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. Maximum recording size is 1GB.

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. (Second-curtain sync produces sharp images with the blurred motion trails streaming behind them (rather than in front of the subjects), generally the effect you'd want in that situation.)
  • 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. (Tv and Av modes only)
  • Red-Eye: Turns the Red-Eye Reduction pre-flash on or off, which works with all flash modes.
  • Continuous Shooting: Selects between Standard Continuous mode (1.5fps) and High-Speed Continuous mode (2.4fps).
  • Self-timer: Sets the delay of the camera's self-timer to either two or ten seconds. The Custom option lets you choose delays ranging from 0 to 30 seconds, and program the camera to shoot anywhere from 1 to 10 shots when the self-timer goes off. (Very handy for group portraits, to make sure you get at least one shot with nobody blinking.)
  • 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.
  • Safety Shift: In Tv and Av mode only, automatically adjusts the exposure setting you've chosen if the camera can't manage a good exposure with it.
  • 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).
  • AF Assist Beam: Sets the AF Assist Beam to on or off. If on, the bright LED on the front of the camera will illuminate when the camera is trying to focus in dim lighting.
  • Tally Lamp: Determines whether or not the Self Timer / Tally Lamp LED on the front of the camera blinks while movies are recorded.
  • Digital Zoom: Turns the 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, plus a new Hold option to leave the image on the screen until the shutter button is depressed halfway again.
  • Reverse Disp.: Designates whether images are displayed in reverse when the LCD monitor is open and tilted 180 degrees.
  • IS Mode: Cycles Image Stabilization mode through Off, Continuous, Shoot Only, and Panning modes. In Shoot only, IS only comes on when the shutter is pressed, and in Panning mode IS only affects vertical shake for sharper images while panning (otherwise the IS system would try to compensate for the panning motion as well).
  • Converter: Used to tell the camera which conversion lens is attached to the S2 IS.
  • 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); Recording Size or Frame Rate (both for movies only); or to Photo Effect, White Balance, Image Stabilizer, My Colors, 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 shutter button in Playback mode takes you immediately to Record mode, something we describe as a Shooting Priority design, because the camera is always ready to shoot. 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.
  • Rotate: Rotates the current image 90 or 270 degrees clockwise.
  • Sound Recorder: Allows user to make audio recordings up to two hours in length, limited only by the battery life and card capacity.
  • Erase All: Erases all files on the memory card, except protected ones.
  • Slide Show : Automatically plays captured images in a slide show. You can choose to show all images or just selected ones, and can set the duration of each frame from 3 to 30 seconds, or to only change when the left or right arrow is pressed. You can also choose whether to have the slide show loop back to the beginning and run continuously or not. Up to three separate slide shows of selected images can be saved for later playback.
  • 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.
  • Transfer Order: Marks images to be transferred to a computer later.

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

  • Mute: Turns the camera's start-up, operation, self-timer, shutter and playback sounds on and off. Note that the camera's error warning signal is not disabled by the Mute function.
  • Audio: Allows user to select from five Mic levels, switch the wind filter on and off, and select an audio sampling rate (11.025kHz, 22.050kHz, and 44.100kHz).
  • 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.
  • Date/Time: Sets the camera's internal calendar and clock.
  • Format: Formats the SD card, erasing all files (even those marked for write-protection).
  • File No. Reset: Resets file numbering with each new SD card. If disabled, the camera continues numbering in sequence, regardless of memory card.
  • Auto Rotate: Specifies whether images shot with the camera held vertically appear vertically in the LCD monitor when played back.
  • Distance Units: Sets the manual focus indicator to Meters/Centimeters or Feet/Inches.
  • Language: Sets the camera's menu language to one of 21 (!) choices. English is the default setting. (At least, for models sold in the US.)
  • Video System: Sets the camera's video-out signal to NTSC or PAL timing.

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 SD card. The image is copied to the camera's internal memory, and is still displayed when the SD 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 SD card. The sound is copied to the camera's internal memory, and is still displayed when the SD 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 Canon PowerShot S2 IS comes with the following items:

  • Neck Strap NS-DC3 .
  • Four AA-type alkaline batteries.
  • USB cable IFC-400PCU.
  • Stereo Video cable STV-250N.
  • 16MB SD card SDC-16M.
  • Two software CDs.
  • Instruction manual, software guide, and registration kit.

 

Recommended Accessories

Recommended Software: Rescue your Photos!
Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. We get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A lot of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digital camera reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...

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 full details on each of the test images, see the Canon PowerShot S2 IS's "pictures" page.

For a look at some more pictorial photos from this camera, check out our Canon PowerShot S2 IS Photo Gallery.

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Canon PowerShot S2 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, with good performance under incandescent lighting . The Canon PowerShot S2 IS showed very pleasing color throughout my testing, with good saturation and color accuracy. Skin tones looked very good, though the blue flowers of the bouquet in both the indoor and outdoor portraits were just a little dark and purplish. The camera's Auto and Manual white balance settings typically performed well, though the Auto setting had some trouble with the incandescent lighting of my "Indoor Portrait" test. On that test though, both the Incandescent and Manual white balance settings worked quite well. All in all, the S2 IS' color should be pleasing to most users.

  • Exposure: Generally accurate exposure, pretty good dynamic range and slightly high contrast. The Canon S2 IS handled my test lighting quite well, and produced only slightly high contrast under the deliberately harsh lighting of the "Sunlit" Portrait and the outdoor house shot. (Although I shot the former using the camera's low-contrast option.) While some detail was lost in the strongest highlights, midtone and shadow detail were quite good. Indoors, the camera required an average amount positive exposure compensation, and the standard flash exposure was well exposed with pretty good coverage. In the studio, the Canon S2 IS had no trouble distinguishing the subtle pastel tones on the Q60 target of the Davebox. Overall, very good results.

  • Resolution/Sharpness: High resolution, 1,250 lines of "strong detail." Slightly coarse detail in real-world subjects. The Canon PowerShot S2 IS performed well on the "laboratory" resolution test chart with its 5.0-megapixel CCD (effective). It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 800 lines per picture height vertically and horizontally. I found "strong detail" out to at least 1,200 lines vertically and 1,300 lines horizontally. "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until about 1,600 lines. In "real-world" subjects, I felt that the S2 IS frequently produced slightly coarse-looking detail, the result of a slightly soft underlying sensor image, coupled with slightly heavy-handed sharpening.

  • Image Noise: Some noise present at all ISO levels, but not visible at ISO 100 and below. Some blue-channel noise was present in the Canon S2 IS' images, even at ISO 50, but it really wasn't visible unless you examine just the blue channel by itself. Subject details softened somewhat and noise levels increased as we moved up the ISO scale, but even the ISO 200 shots were usable for 8x10 prints for framed display on walls or tables (where they won't be squinted at up close). At ISO 400, the images became quite soft, and the noise much more pronounced, making 8x10 prints rather rough-looking. At a print size of 5x7 inches though, ISO 400 images from the S2 IS should be acceptable to most users, and at 4x6 inches, noise entirely ceases to be an issue. All in all, a bit better than average noise performance for a 5-megapixel digital camera. (For whatever reason, most 5-megapixel cameras currently on the market are a bit noisier than their 7-megapixel or 4-megapixel cousins.)

  • Closeups: A large macro area in the normal mode with pretty good detail, but a much smaller macro area in Super mode. Flash has a little trouble, isn't available for Super Macro mode, and corners there get quite soft as well. The S2 IS captured large macro area in its normal mode, measuring 4.55 x 3.41 inches (116 x 87 millimeters). Super Macro mode captured a much smaller area, measuring 1.04 x 0.78 inches (26 x 20 millimeters). Resolution was high, with strong detail. However, in Super Macro mode, the corners showed strong blurring. (Many digital cameras get soft corners in their macro-mode images, the S2 IS was a bit worse than average when in Super Macro mode.) The S2 IS' flash throttled down pretty well for the macro area in normal mode, though the lens created a shadow in the bottom of the frame. As noted, flash isn't available in Super Macro mode, due to the very short shooting distance.

  • Night Shots: Very good low-light performance, with good color, though slightly high noise. The Canon PowerShot S2 IS was a pretty competent low-light shooter. It captured good exposures at ISO 200 and 400 down to the 1/16 foot-candle limit of our test, to 1/8 foot-candle at ISO 100, and 1/4 foot-candle at ISO 50. Its autofocus system worked down to about 1/4 foot-candle without the AF-assist light, and in complete darkness on nearby objects with the AF-assist light on. For reference, typical city street lighting at night is about one foot-candle, so the Canon S2 IS should do quite well with typical urban night scenes. Image noise is on the high side, particularly at the higher ISO settings, but not far from average when compared with competing 5-megapixel consumer camera models. Flash range is also better than average, usable to 14 feet with the lens at a medium-telephoto setting.

  • Viewfinder Accuracy: A very accurate EVF and LCD monitor. The S2 IS' electronic optical viewfinder (EVF) and LCD monitor turned in the same results, since they essentially show the same view. Both were just very slightly loose, showing slightly more than the final image area, but both were very close to 100 percent.

  • Optical Distortion: Average barrel distortion at wide angle, virtually no distortion at telephoto. Higher than average chromatic aberration at all focal lengths, some softening in the corners at telephoto. I measured approximately 0.8 percent barrel distortion at wide angle, and only 0.04 percent pincushion distortion at telephoto (about one pixel). Chromatic aberration was higher than average at both wide angle and telephoto. (This distortion is visible as a slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.) Corner sharpness was pretty good overall, but some softening was noticeable at full telephoto.

  • Shutter Lag and Cycle Times: Good to very good shooting speed, several significant improvements over S1IS model. The Canon PowerShot S2IS is a pretty responsive camera, improving over the performance of its S1IS predecessor in startup/shutdown times, as well as autofocus, single-shot cycle times, and continuous-shooting speeds, even though the S2IS's files are considerably larger. Startup time is quite fast at only 1.5 seconds from power on to the first shot, a very good number for a camera with a telescoping lens. With a full-autofocus shutter delay of 0.60 - 0.62 second, the PowerShot S2IS focuses more quickly than most cameras on the market. (The S1IS had corresponding shutter lag numbers of 0.77 - 0.78 second.) In high-speed continuous mode, it really shines, able to shoot at 2.3 frames/second more or less indefinitely, until the card fills. (Note though, that this is likely only possible with a fast memory card, our tests here were performed with a Lexar 32x SD card. Slower cards are likely to encounter buffer-capacity limits.) All in all, a very responsive camera, particularly for a long-zoom model.

  • Battery Life: Really excellent battery life. With a worst-case run time (capture mode, with the rear-panel LCD in use) of just under four hours, the Canon S2IS has much better than average battery life. In playback mode, run time stretches to a bit under 8 hours. (Note too, that these numbers are based on the "standard" 1600 mAh battery capacity that I've referred to since starting these measurements. Modern cells with true capacities of well over 2000 mAh would produce correspondingly longer run times.) Still, it's important to get high-capacity NiMH rechargeable AA cells and a good-quality charger. See my NiMH Battery Shootout page for actual test results for a wide range of cells currently on the market, and read my review of the Maha C-204W NiMH battery charger, to see why it's my current favorite.

  • Print Quality: Good prints to 11x14 inches, sharp at 8x10. High-ISO shots are rather soft and noisy at 8x10, but look fine at 5x7 and below. Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon i9900 studio printer, and on the Canon iP5000 here in the office. (See our Canon i9900 review for details on that model.) Looking at output from the Canon S2 IS, I found that it produced nice-looking prints at 11x14 inches, but the finest detail had a bit of a coarse appearance to it. (While I noticed this, I doubt most users would be aware of it, unless they were comparing images of the same subject shot with both the S2 IS and a camera like the Canon Digital Rebel, side by side.) While the S2 IS' images start to get visibly noisy at ISO 200, they held together quite well in prints as large as 8x10 inches at that ISO level. At ISO 400, prints were a lot rougher looking, to the point that most users would probably find them too soft and noisy. Dropping to 5x7 inches though, even ISO 400 shots looked pretty decent, and noise ceased to be an issue altogether at a 4x6 print size. Overall, I'd say that the S2 IS' high-ISO print performance is a bit better than average among competing 5-megapixel digital cameras.


Conclusion:

Pro: Con:
  • Very long (12x) zoom ratio
  • Image-stabilized lens, usable for both stills and movies
  • Nice color, bright without being overbearing
  • Natural skin tones
  • Good shutter response, particularly when "prefocused"
  • Very good shot to shot speed
  • Very good continuous-mode speed
  • Great movie modes, with stereo sound(!)
  • Silent zoom lens can be used during movie recording
  • Incandescent and manual settings handle household incandescent lighting quite well.
  • Excellent close-focusing for macro shots
  • Accurate LCD viewfinder
  • Good low light capability, both exposure and focusing
  • Bright AF illuminator
  • Excellent movie performance, nicely integrated with still-image shooting
  • Very quiet operation overall
  • Nice tilt/swivel LCD screen
  • Excellent battery life
  • Comfortably high viewfinder eye-point for eyeglass wearers, broad range on the dioptric adjustment
  • "Jump" bar offers very flexible options in playback mode for quickly skipping through your images and movies
  • Very unique "My Colors" feature for unusual color effects
  • Lots of accessories available: Several lenses, slave flash unit
  • Slightly high contrast
  • Slightly limited dynamic range on the highlight end
  • Slightly coarse rendering of fine details (soft sensor image/stronger in-camera sharpening)
  • High image noise at ISO 400
  • Higher than average chromatic aberration, at all focal lengths
  • Focus is difficult to determine from the LCD screen in Manual Focus mode (unfortunately, quite a common digicam shortcoming)
  • No rechargeable batteries/charger included, you'll definitely want to purchase a set right with the camera
  • Very highest shutter speeds only available with small lens apertures. (Not uncommon on digital cameras though.)
  • Movie files restricted to 1 GB each. (Big, but you'd be surprised how quick you get there at the 640x480, 30 fps)
  • No RAW file support
  • Plastic tripod socket (was metal on the S1 IS)

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The long-zoom digital camera market is getting pretty crowded these days, so it takes a lot for a product to really stand out. Despite the stiff competition though, the Canon PowerShot S2 IS is indeed a standout product. Building upon the already very popular S1 IS model, the Canon S2 IS shows substantial improvements in just about every parameter: Resolution is substantially higher, autofocus performance and shutter response are much quicker, and its movie mode is greatly enhanced and much better-integrated with the still-camera functions. At the same time, the excellent image stabilization system has been carried forward, and image quality is very good. Quibbles are that images from the S2 IS are a little coarser-looking than those from the best of the current crop of 5-megapixel digicams, and that image noise is a bit high at ISO 400. Taken as a package though, the Canon S2 IS is one fine digital camera, and one that's a lot of fun to use besides. Based on our testing (and playing with) it, it's clear that this is going to be a huge favorite in the market. If you're looking for a good "all around" camera with great features, a long zoom lens, image stabilization, and a really excellent, well-integrated movie mode, all at an affordable price, there really isn't another model on the market that'll fill the bill the way the Canon S2 IS does. Highly recommended, and an easy "Dave's Pick."


Related Links

Side-by-Side review of the Sony H1 and the Canon S2 by DCViews

 

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