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Canon PowerShot S40

A new shape, sleek design, direct support for a Canon inkjet printer, and four megapixels of resolution!

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Page 2:Executive Overview

Review First Posted: 10/1/2001

Executive Overview
The moment you pick up the Canon PowerShot S40, you feel like you're handling a well-built, high-quality digital camera. The size and style are reminiscent of a point-and-shoot model, though it offers 4 megapixels(!) of resolution and a wide range of shooting options -- from fully manual operation to programmed, automatic, and several preset exposures. The telescoping 3x zoom lens is made of Canon's high-quality optical glass, protected by a clamshell sliding lens cover that blends almost seamlessly into the camera's front panel. As with the majority of Canon's high-end digicams, primary functions are accessed via external controls, providing quick and easy adjustments to flash, exposure compensation, white balance settings, manual focus, and light metering modes. This combination of compact design, sturdy construction, and flexible exposure options makes this camera a real pleasure to work with, and a great value for the $799 list price.

The S40's sleek-looking, steel-gray body is made of high-impact polycarbonate, entirely surrounded with brushed and anodized aluminum body panels. Measuring only 4.4 x 2.3 x 1.7 inches (112 x 58 x 42mm) with the lens retracted, and weighing just 11.5 ounces (310.5 grams) with the battery and storage card installed, the S40 is only a little longer and heavier than the"ultra-compact" S110 Digital Elph. Sliding open the protective lens cover powers on the camera, automatically activating the lens and placing the camera in Shooting mode. When sliding closed, the cover stops just short of the lens barrel, giving it time to retract and shut down before you can close the cover completely (preventing the dreaded "bumped lens" syndrome). Rather than incorporating the playback mode on the camera's main Mode dial, the S40 has a Replay switch that doubles as a quick-review button. At any time you can switch to playback mode and scroll through captured images, and then quickly return to the Shooting mode without having to change the Mode dial. (You can also use this switch to access the Replay mode without opening the lens cover.) While the S40 has too many external controls to cluster them all on the right side of the camera, you'll find it suitable for one-handed operation in most situations. The S40 is small enough to fit into a coat pocket or purse, and comes with a 0.25-inch braided nylon wrist strap for added convenience.

The camera features an eye-level "real image" optical viewfinder that zooms along with the 3x lens and features a central autofocus / exposure target for composing images. Two LEDs on the left side of the viewfinder report the camera's ready status. When the camera is powered on in most Shooting modes, the 1.8-inch LCD monitor briefly displays camera settings and then turns itself off. It can be reactivated by pressing the Display button, which cycles through: Screen on with image only, screen on with image and settings, and screen off. Depending on the Shooting mode, the LCD reports the flash setting, drive mode, metering mode, image size and quality, and the number of frames remaining. Additional functions are shown as they are enabled and battery status is only displayed when power is low.

The 7- 21mm zoom lens (equivalent to 34-102mm on a 35mm camera) offers both manual and automatic focus control. Manual focus mode is accessed by holding down the MF button on the left side of the monitor and toggling the up and down arrows on the Multicontroller pad in the upper right corner of the camera's back panel. A vertical scale on the LCD monitor shows the focus distance in meters and feet when manual focus is active. The S40 also offers three selectable AF Frames, which can be selected using the Multicontroller. Focus ranges from 2.7 feet (80cm) to infinity in normal mode, and from 3.9 inches to 2.7 feet (10 to 80cm) in Macro mode. The 3.6x Digital Zoom can be turned on in the Record menu, then activated by zooming past the maximum optical telephoto range with the camera's Zoom lever. (Remember that because digital zoom only enlarges the center portion of the CCD image, it compromises the image quality by reducing resolution.)

The S40 provides as much or as little exposure control as you want. All exposure modes are accessed by turning the Mode dial on top of the camera. Canon has divided the dial into three exposure types: Auto, Creative Zone, and Image Zone. Shooting in Auto mode puts the camera in charge of everything except the Flash and Macro modes. Exposure modes in the Creative Zone include: Program AE (P), Shutter Speed-Priority AE (Tv), Aperture-Priority AE (Av), and Manual Exposure (M). Program AE lets the camera choose the aperture and shutter speed settings, but gives you control over all other exposure options. Aperture and Shutter Speed Priority modes allow you to set one exposure variable (aperture or shutter speed) while the camera chooses the best corresponding variable. Manual mode gives you full control over all exposure controls. (The camera's aperture can be set from f/2.8 to f/8.0, and the shutter speed ranges from 1/1,500 to 15 seconds.)

Exposure modes in the Image Zone include: Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene, Fast Shutter Speed, Slow Shutter Speed, Color Effects, Stitch Assist, and Movie. Portrait, Night Scene, and Landscape all make automatic camera adjustments to optimize settings for specified shooting conditions. The Portrait mode uses a large aperture setting to focus on the subject, while maintaining an out-of-focus background. Landscape mode slows the shutter speed and maximizes depth of field with a small aperture setting. Night Scene mode illuminates your subject with flash and uses a slow shutter speed to evenly expose the background. Color Effects offers a choice of Vivid or Neutral color, Sepia tone, or Black-and-White shooting modes. The Stitch-Assist mode is Canon's answer to panorama shooting, in which multiple, overlapping images can be captured horizontally, vertically, or in a clockwise grouping. Images are then "stitched" together on a computer using Canon's bundled PhotoStitch software. Movie mode allows you to capture up to 30 seconds (320 x 240 pixels) or 120 seconds (160 x 120 pixels) of moving images and sound at approximately 15 frames per second.

The S40's specific exposure controls, most of which are accessed through the camera's external control buttons, are quite extensive. They include a White Balance setting with seven options: Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H (daylight), Flash, and Custom; adjustable ISO sensitivities from Auto to 50, 100, 200, 400 and 800 (a Record menu item); Exposure Compensation from -2 to +2 EV, in one-third-step increments; Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) from -2 to +2 EV in one-third-step increments (a total of three exposures); and a choice of Evaluative Light Metering, Center-Weighted Averaging, and Spot (AE) Point metering modes. The S40's built-in flash offers five operating modes (Auto; Red-Eye Reduction, Auto; Red-Eye Reduction, Normal; Flash On; or Flash Off) and Flash Exposure Compensation from -2 to +2 EV in one-third-step increments. The Flash Exposure (FE) Lock function allows you to lock the flash exposure setting for one specific subject in the frame.

Other special shooting modes include: Macro, which allows you to photograph subjects within a range of 3.9 inches to 2.7 feet (10 to 80cm) at the maximum wide-angle setting, and from 1 to 2.7 feet (30 to 80cm) at maximum telephoto. There are two Continuous Shooting modes. Standard Continuous Shooting captures multiple, successive still images, at about 2.5 frames per second, providing enough time to display each image briefly after it is captured. High Speed Continuous Shooting captures images at 1.5 frames per second, as long as you hold down the shutter release. (The number of images and actual shot-to-shot speed depend on several factors, including the amount of memory remaining on the flash card.)

In Replay mode, the LCD monitor provides a full-frame display of captured images, which you can view individually or as an index of nine thumbnail images simultaneously. The optical Zoom lever (marked by magnifying glasses) doubles as a Digital Enlargement button, which allows you to enlarge captured images by 2.5X and 5X for closer inspection, and the arrow keys permit you to move around the enlarged images to pinpoint important details. By pressing the Light Metering / Audio button, you can record up to 60 seconds of sound with individual images.

Depressing the Display button one time in Replay mode brings up information about the captured image, including the file name, date and time it was recorded, compression, resolution, and what number it is in the sequence of captured images. Another press of the Display button brings up a thumbnail view of the image with detailed information such as the shooting mode, aperture, f/'stop, exposure compensation, and metering mode. In addition, the screen shows a histogram next to the image to indicate the distribution of tonal values.

Images are saved onto CompactFlash Type I or II memory cards, with possible image resolutions of 2,272 x 1,704; 1,600 x 1,200; 1,024 x 768; 640 x 480 pixels; (movies are saved at 320 x 240 or 160 x 120 pixels). Three JPEG compression levels are available, as well as a RAW data file format, which results in a higher quality image compression. (Canon software is required to process RAW images.) A USB cable is provided for speedy connection to PC or Macintosh computers, and two software CDs offer an impressive selection of utilities. Canon's own Digital Camera software package includes ZoomBrowser EX (Win) and ImageBrowser (Mac) for downloading and organizing images, and processing RAW files; PhotoRecord (Win) and ImageBrowser for printing images; PhotoStitch for merging panoramic images captured in Stitch-Assist mode, and a unique application that allows you to operate the camera remotely through your computer (RemoteCapture 1.1). RemoteCapture not only controls the shutter, but also provides a histogram of the subject so that you can check the exposure. ArcSoft PhotoImpression and VideoImpression are provided for editing images and movies.

US and Japanese models come with an NTSC cable for connecting to a television (European models are equipped for the PAL standard). Power is supplied by a rechargeable NB-2L lithium battery which comes with a charger. An optional AC power adapter is available as a separate accessory.

Overall, we liked the PowerShot S40 quite a lot. It offers the extensive exposure control we're accustomed to seeing in much larger digicams, with the benefit of a reasonably slim, portable camera body. Its varying levels of exposure control are great for novices who want to learn camera functions incrementally, but will also keep more advanced photographers satisfied. Though we've delayed running our standard image quality tests until we receive a shipping version of the camera, we were impressed with the color, clarity, and sharpness of the photos we viewed. The anticipated high quality, plus loads of great features, will make the S40 a versatile, user-friendly digital camera that should appeal to a wide variety of consumers.


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