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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 12:Test Results & Conclusion

Review First Posted: 10/1/2001

Test Results
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In keeping with our standard policy, our comments here are rather condensed, summarizing our key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the PowerShot S40's "pictures" page.

As with all Imaging Resource camera tests, we encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the devices performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how well the S40 performed, and how its images compare to other cameras you may be considering buying.

The S40 performed very well throughout our testing, producing exceptional color and great image quality. The camera's White Balance system had no trouble with most of the light sources we used in our tests, as the Auto setting typically produced an accurate color balance. The Manual setting often produced nearly accurate results, but occasionally had a greenish color cast. The S40's Auto setting didn't do too well with the tough incandescent lighting of our no-flash Indoor Portrait test, but the Incandescent setting produced really excellent results, with just enough warmth to the image to convey that it was shot indoors. Color looked great on our Davebox target, with accurate saturation and hue in the large color blocks. The S40 distinguished the tough tonal variations of the Q60 target well, with good definition. Skin tones were just slightly magenta in our Outdoor and Indoor portraits, but the always-difficult blue flowers came out almost perfect, with just the faintest hints of purple appearing in their petals. Overall, the S40 did an excellent job with color.

The S40 also did a great job on our "laboratory" resolution test chart. It started showing (hints of) artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 700 lines per picture height, in both horizontal and vertical directions, but found "strong detail" out to at least 1,200 lines horizontally and 1100 lines vertically. "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until about 1,400 lines.

Optical distortion on the S40 was about average at the wide-angle end ("average on digicams still being more than we'd like to see), where we measured an approximate 0.68 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end fared much better, as we found only two pixels of barrel distortion. Chromatic aberration was moderately low, showing only about three or four pixels of faint coloration on either side of the target lines. (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.) We did notice quite a bit of "coma" in the corners of the target image though, explaining the softness we observed in the corners of many of our other tests. Overall, we liked the low level of chromatic aberration and geometric distortion, but would really have liked to see less coma in the corners.

With exposure times as long as 15 seconds available, the S40 can capture bright images at very low light levels. In our own testing, the S40 captured bright, usable images at light levels as low as 1/16 foot-candle (0.67 lux) at the 100, 200, and 400 ISO settings, with great color and clarity. At ISO 50, the target is just a little dim at the 1/16 foot-candle light level, but the 1/8 foot-candle (1.3 lux) light level image is bright enough for use. Perhaps the biggest news though, is that the S40's Auto white balance setting produced almost perfect color, even at the 1/16 foot-candle light level, with virtually no color cast. (This is very unusual in our experience, most digicams' white balance systems really fall apart in very dim lighting.) The S40 automatically employs a noise reduction system for exposures longer than one second, which did an excellent job of controlling image noise, even at ISO 400. Though noise is visible at 400 ISO, the grain pattern is small, tight, and fairly inconspicuous. Overall, the S40 can capture very pleasing images at very low light levels, and its autofocus illuminator means it can focus in very dark conditions as well.

One of our biggest beefs against the S40 was that its optical viewfinder was very tight and inaccurate, showing only 77 percent of the final frame area at wide angle, and approximately 78 percent accuracy at telephoto. Our evaluation unit may have had a shifted CCD sensor, as images framed with the optical viewfinder were slanted toward the lower right corner. The LCD monitor proved to be very accurate though, showing about 97 percent of the frame at wide angle, and about 98 percent at telephoto. Since we generally prefer LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the S40 nearly meets our expectations. While the LCD viewfinder was very accurate, we'd like to see much higher accuracy in the optical viewfinder - We regard 85% frame coverage as a minimum for a digicam's optical viewfinder, and would really prefer 90% or better.

Apart from its optical viewfinder, the only category in which the S40 fell a little short was Macro shooting, where the camera performs a bit below average. The camera captured a minimum area of 4.29 x 3.22 inches (108.98 x 81.74 millimeters). However, resolution is high, with well-defined detail in the coins, brooch, and dollar bill. Color looks reasonably good, though the gray background has a magenta cast. We also noticed a fair amount of corner softness and some barrel distortion from the wide angle lens setting. The S40's flash also couldn't throttle down enough for the macro area, and overexposed the entire frame and lost most detail.

Overall, the PowerShot S40 performed exceptionally well throughout our testing. Though we'd like to see improved macro shooting capabilities and a much more accurate optical viewfinder, the S40 met or exceeded our expectations in nearly every other category. The S40's low-light capture abilities are outstanding, and the camera produces great color and image quality. We were very pleased with the S40's performance.

When we first received a prototype unit to evaluate, we were immediately impressed with the design and "build quality" of the S40: The PowerShot S40 fairly exudes quality, with a very pleasant heft and all-metal body panels. The feature set is first rate, stopping just short of some of the high-end "enthusiast" capabilities of the PowerShot G2. We would like to see somewhat longer battery life, but shorter battery life is the first casualty of compact camera designs. We applaud the excellent responsiveness of the S40, as we view sluggish response to be one of the biggest remaining disappointments the general public still experiences in making the transition from film to digital. We'd like to see a more accurate optical viewfinder, better macro capabilities, and less coma in the corners of the frame, but the picture quality the S40 delivers is really exceptional. Color is accurate and well saturated, and the camera's white balance system does an excellent job under a wide variety of lighting conditions. Overall, an excellent camera for high-end consumers looking for a full-featured digicam with great image quality. It's easy enough to operate in auto mode that most anyone could be comfortable with it, yet it sports enough advanced features (save only an external flash connection) to satisfy most enthusiasts. A great camera, if not a cheap one: If it fits your budget, the PowerShot S40 should make you happy!

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