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Canon PowerShot S20

Canon packs 3 megapixels and a 2x optical zoom into their "smallest digicam" body!

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Page 2:Executive Overview

Review First Posted: 4/4/2000

Executive Overview
If you liked the smooth, compact, sophisticated styling of the Canon S10, you'll love the new S20. With the same control layout, body design and lightweight portability, the S20 keeps all the best features from the S10 with the addition of a larger 3.3 megapixel CCD. The body of the S20 is extremely slim and compact, with no major protrusions (except the lens, when extended), so that it easily fits into a shirt or coat pocket. The control layout is consistent with the older model and simple to navigate (one-handed operation is definitely possible). The small status display panel on top of the camera provides a fair amount of detail on current camera settings, helping to save on battery power by not using the large LCD display on the camera's back panel. Although many of the features still rely on the LCD based menu system, we liked the fact that the exposure mode, flash mode, continuous shooting, self-timer, and macro modes can all be controlled without referring to the LCD.
You have a choice of using the real-image optical viewfinder or the 1.8 inch, low temperature, polycrystalline silicon color LCD monitor for composing images. The optical viewfinder features center autofocus target marks and a small LED to let you know when the camera is ready for the shot. The LCD monitor offers a nice, sharp image as well as an information display that can be turned on and off. In Playback mode, the LCD offers an optional nine-image index screen and zoom capability for closer examination of captured images. The S20 is equipped with a 2x, 6.5 to 13mm lens (equivalent to a 32 to 64mm lens on a 35mm camera) with a focus range from 26 inches (66 cm) to infinity and from 4.7 to 26 inches (12 to 66 cm) in macro mode. An autofocus assist light on the front of the camera is activated in dim lighting situations. A 2x/4x digital zoom option can be activated through the Record menu, increasing the S20's zoom capabilities up to 8x (but beware that quality always suffers proportional to zoom level with digital zoom).
Exposure-wise, we experienced good control on the S20 with many of the camera's features accessible without resorting to the LCD menu system. From the mode dial, you can choose from four main exposure modes: Automatic, Manual, Image and Stitch-Assist (panorama). Immediately upon entering Stitch-Assist mode, the screen splits into "live" and "already captured" segments, helping to line up each new image with those already captured. The Image exposure mode lets you select from Night Scene, Landscape, Slow Shutter, Fast Shutter and Black & White special exposure modes, giving a nice amount of flexibility. (The various modes change the exposure program to favor fast or slow shutter speeds, smaller lens apertures, or higher light sensitivity & longer exposure times.) Manual mode lets you adjust the exposure compensation, white balance, etc. (although not the shutter speed or aperture as the name would perhaps suggest) while Automatic puts the camera in charge of everything.
The S20 offers either standard center-weighted average or "spot" exposure metering. White balance offers the standard options (Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten and Fluorescent) as does the built-in flash (Auto, On, Off and Red-Eye Reduction). When shooting in Manual exposure mode, the S20 gives you control over ISO, through the Gain setting, with choices of 100, 200 and 400. (200 and 400 listed on the menu as "+1" and "+2".) Additionally, you can adjust the image sharpness and contrast. A Continuous shooting mode allows you to snap the shutter as fast as 1.7 images per second (not to be confused with the Fast Shutter exposure mode which simply fires a single shot at a higher shutter speed).
Image storage on the S20 is based on the CompactFlash standard, with the card slot accommodating both Type I and II card sizes. (Making it compatible with the capacious IBM MicroDrive.) An NTSC video cable comes with the camera, making it a snap to review or compose images with a television screen. Likewise, for quick image downloading to a computer, the camera comes with a serial and USB cable compatible with Macs and PCs. In addition to Canon's PowerShot software, which downloads images and stitches together any panoramic shots, a copy of Adobe PhotoDeluxe provides additional creative options for image enhancement and correction. PhotoDeluxe offers a variety of filters and effects as well as templates for things like greeting cards and calendars.
All in all, the S20 is a portable, well-designed, easy to use camera that will please anyone on the go. It takes great pictures and offers enough options for most snapshooters, stopping short of the full manual control sought by advanced photographers. The special exposure modes give you greater flexibility when shooting in more difficult situations like night scenes or sporting events. User-friendly, highly pocketable and feature-laden, the S20 is the perfect choice for the consumer who wants a camera that takes really good pictures, is fun to use, and (often most importantly) is small enough to fit into a pocket to be packed along on any excursion.

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