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Canon PowerShot S60

An already sleek 5 megapixel design is updated and improved with a 28mm wide angle lens and new control and menu system.

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Page 12:Test Results & Conclusion

Review First Posted: 05/10/2004, Updated: 06/28/2004

Test Results

In keeping with my standard test policy, the comments given here summarize only my key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the PowerShot S60's "pictures" page.

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the PowerShot S60 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!

As with all Imaging Resource product tests, I encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the camera performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how S60's images compare to other cameras you may be considering.

  • Color: Very good to excellent color, Incandescent and Manual white balance settings handle incandescent lighting well. The S60 produced pleasing, natural color throughout most of my testing. The Auto white balance setting produced good results with most subjects, although it was fooled by the heavy blue content of the difficult Musicians poster. Marti's skin tones were slightly warm in the Outdoor portrait shot, but the S60 handled the always-difficult blue flowers there very well, and other color was spot-on. Indoors, while the Auto white balance setting had trouble with the very warm-hued household incandescent lighting of the Indoor Portrait test, both the Manual and Incandescent white balance settings produced very good-looking results. All in all, the S60 produced the sort of bright, accurate, pleasing color I've come to expect from Canon cameras.

  • Exposure: Accurate exposure, and a very effective contrast-adjustment option. The S60 handled my test lighting quite well, accurately exposing most shots. The Davebox shot looked slightly overexposed, but the camera still differentiated the subtle pastel tones of the Q60 target without too much trouble. Outdoors, under the high-key lighting, the camera performed well, requiring an average amount of positive exposure compensation. Indoors, the camera also required an average amount of positive exposure compensation, and the flash exposure was more accurate than most. I particularly liked the S60's contrast adjustment option, which did an excellent job of taming the harsh lighting of the Outdoor Portrait shot, adjusting both shadow and highlight ends of the tone curve, yet leaving the overall exposure unaffected. - A much better than average implementation of this very useful control.

  • Resolution/Sharpness: Very high resolution, 1,200 lines of "strong detail." The S60 performed very well on the "laboratory" resolution test chart. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 1,000 lines per picture height, in both horizontal and vertical directions. I found "strong detail" out to at least 1,200 lines in both directions. (I suspect that some reviewers would rate the camera more highly than this, as there's clearly still something visible, even beyond 1,200 lines, but my own more conservative standard is to resist rating cameras' resolution as extending past the point where the artifacts begin to seriously compete with the actual subject detail. Hence the 1,200 line rating.) "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until 1,600 lines or so.

  • Image Noise: Noise is present but for the most part invisible at ISO 50 and 100, visible at ISO 200, objectionable at ISO 400. In common with essentially all the other five megapixel consumer and prosumer cameras on the market today, the S60 is starting to show some of the consequences of the megapixel race, in the form of increased noise levels relative to earlier models with lower-resolution sensors. - By way of comparison, the noise levels in my "Davebox" test shot captured at ISO 50 with the S50 are almost twice those found with Canon's own S30 3-megapixel model from a year or two back. That said, the S60's noise levels are quite acceptable at ISO 50 and 100, and within the range of what I'd personally accept at ISO 200. At ISO 400, the noise is obtrusive to the point that I really wouldn't consider the camera usable at that level, but even there, it isn't as nasty-looking as that of some of its competitors.

  • Closeups: A small macro area with excellent detail and good color. Flash has trouble throttling down though. The S60 performed well in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of only 2.28 x 1.71 inches (58 x 43 millimeters). Resolution was very high, showing a lot of fine detail in the dollar bill, coins, and brooch. Details were slightly soft in the coins and brooch, due to the limited depth of field at such a short shooting distance (an optical fact of life, not the fault of the camera). All four corners of the frame were somewhat soft (a common failing of digicam macro modes, caused by "curvature of field" in the optics), but details were sharp in the dollar bill. The S60's flash didn't throttle down well for the macro area, however, and overexposed the shot. - Plan on using external lighting for your closest macro shots with the S60.

  • Night Shots: Great low-light performance, with good color and exposure even at the darkest light levels. True in-the-dark focusing (at close ranges, anyway) too, thanks to a bright AF-assist light. The S60 produced clear, bright, usable images down to the 1/16 foot-candle (0.67 lux) limit of my test, with good color at all the 100, 200, and 400 ISO settings. Images were only bright as low as 1/8 foot-candle (1.2 lux) at the ISO 50 setting, though you could arguably use the image shot at the 1/16 foot-candle light level. As you'd expect, noise was low at the ISO 50 setting, increasing with the ISO level, becoming quite pronounced at ISO 400. At all levels though, the noise was quite fine-grained, which made it less obtrusive than it would be otherwise. The S60 also focused very well in the dark, at least for subjects that were within the roughly 5-8 foot range of its bright autofocus-assist illuminator. (The range of the AF-assist light will obviously vary strongly as a function of the brightness, color, and contrast of the subject.)

  • Viewfinder Accuracy: A tight optical viewfinder, but very accurate LCD monitor. The S60's optical viewfinder was quite tight, showing only about 82 percent of the final image area at both wide angle and telephoto. The LCD monitor did much better, with close to 100 percent accuracy across the zoom range. Given that I like LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the S60's LCD monitor performed very well here, but I'd really like to see a somewhat more accurate optical viewfinder.

  • Optical Distortion: Slightly high barrel distortion, but almost no pincushion. Coma and chromatic aberration at wide angle, virtually none at normal and telephoto focal lengths. Optical distortion on the S60 is a little higher than average at the wide-angle end, where I measured approximately 0.9 percent barrel distortion. (Average is about 0.8 percent, still too high in my opinion, but for better or worse, more or less the industry standard. Note though, that the 0.8 percent average is common on lenses that don't extend as far in the wide angle direction as the one on the S60 does.) The telephoto end fared much better, as I found only 0.08 percent pincushion distortion (about two pixels' worth). Chromatic aberration in the S60's lens is a fairly strong function of focal length, showing a fair bit of distortion at the widest angle zoom setting, but relatively little at "normal" focal lengths (~50mm equivalent) or at telephoto. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.) As I observed earlier, the S60's lens generally shows good optical quality, but doesn't seem to be markedly better than lenses with similar zoom ratios on full-sized cameras. - It looks like Canon chose to apply the technical benefits of their advanced high-index aspheric lens-molding technology to deliver a more compact, wider-angle lens but the same optical quality, rather than one with more conventional focal length and size characteristics but better quality.

  • Shutter Lag and Cycle Time: Average shutter lag and cycle time performance. With full-autofocus shutter lag times ranging from 0.77 to 0.99 seconds depending on the zoom setting, and cycle times on the order of 2.4 seconds for up to five large/fine images in a series, the S60 hits the "average" speed bracket pretty much right on the money. Where it does excel though, is in its prefocus shutter lag, which is a very fast 0.084 seconds.

  • Battery Life: Very good battery life for a fairly compact camera. While I couldn't perform my usual direct power-drain measurements on the S60, I did measure its worst-case run time with a freshly-charged battery at 132 minutes. This is a fair bit better than average for cameras of the S60's size, although I do still strongly recommend purchasing a second battery right along with the S60 when you buy it.

Conclusion

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Last year's PowerShot S45 and S50 impressed me as well-built cameras with excellent image quality and rich feature sets. This year's S60 model constitutes a significant upgrade to the S50, with a wider-angle zoom lens and improved control layout. As always though, image quality is the real test, and fortunately the S60 does very well in that department as well. Image noise on the S60 seems slightly higher across the board than on the S50, but it's kept pretty well in check for ISOs of 200 and below, to the point that most users won't notice it. Color, tonality, and resolution are all about the same as on the S50, while viewfinder accuracy is somewhat improved. Also, along with the wider-angle capability, the S60's new lens offers dramatically improved macro performance. The one down-note I found relative to the S50 was that image noise levels were slightly higher than those of the earlier model. The big question with the S60 though, is how big a difference does Canon's unique high-index aspheric lens-molding technology make in the optical quality of the lens: Is the new lens indeed of better quality than one would expect, were it made conventionally? The answer seems to be a qualified yes. At its widest angle setting, I found about as much coma and chromatic aberration as I've come to expect from consumer-level digicam lenses, but it bears noting that the S60's lens is (a) wider-angle than most, and (b) more compact than most. The upshot seems to be that Canon's advanced lens technology did make a difference, even though the absolute distortion levels were on par with physically larger lenses of similar focal length range and aperture. Once you get away from the wide angle focal lengths and into the range from "normal" to telephoto though, the S60's lens really shines, producing very sharp images from corner to corner, with very chromatic aberration. All in all, the S60 is a really fine all-around digicam, with the advantage of providing wider-angle focal lengths than you'd normally be able to find in such a compact case size. Definitely a Dave's Pick.

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