Canon PowerShot S400 Digital ELPH Camera
|High, 4.0-megapixel CCD|
|4x6, 5x7, 8x10 inches|
Suggested Retail Price
Ask a photographer, either professional or amateur, to name the a couple of
camera manufacturers and chances are one would be Canon. In the digital arena,
Canon's continued their history of innovation, with a broad line of products
ranging from entry-level models all the way to no-holds-barred digital SLRs
for professional photographers. In the consumer arena, their products are distinguished
by superb design, sharp lenses, and excellent color.
In both the film and digital worlds, Canon is known for their high-style, diminutive "ELPH" cameras. Long a popular APS film camera design, Canon brought the ELPH size and styling to the digital world with the original S100. The S400 launches the fourth generation of the design, with a larger, 4.0-megapixel CCD. Other improvements include a Center-Weighted metering mode option, faster maximum shutter speed (1/2,000 second), and improved macro capabilities. Add an improved user interface, easy point-and-shoot operation, a sharp lens, and great image quality, and the S400 is sure to please a host of consumers. Read on for all the details, this one looks like another winner from Canon.
The latest in Canon's digital ELPH series, the S400 continues the line's tiny dimensions and stylish looks. Portable and quick on the draw (thanks to its smooth retractable lens design), the S400 offers point-and-shoot control with a handful of extra exposure features. Its flat front panel (with lens retracted) makes the camera pocket friendly, while the aluminum body panels keep it rugged yet lightweight. Equipped with a 4.0-megapixel CCD and a sharp lens, the S400 captures high quality images, suitable for printing photos as large as 8x10 inches with nice detail, even with some cropping. Smaller resolutions are also available for email transmission, and a movie mode captures short videos with sound.
The S400 features a 3x, 7.4-22.2mm glass zoom lens, equivalent to a 36-108mm zoom on a 35mm camera. Aperture is automatically controlled, but the maximum setting ranges from f/2.8 at full wide angle to f/4.9 at full telephoto. A maximum 3.6x digital zoom option increases the S400's zoom capabilities to 11x, but keep in mind that digital zoom decreases the overall image quality in direct proportion to the magnification achieved, as it simply crops out and enlarges the center pixels of the CCD image. Image noise is likely to be more prominent with digital zoom, and details softer. Focus ranges from 1.5 feet (46 centimeters) to infinity in normal AF mode, and from 2.0 inches to 1.5 feet (5 to 46 centimeters) in Macro mode. An Infinity fixed-focus mode is also available. The S400 uses Canon's sophisticated, nine-point AiAF (Artificial Intelligence Autofocus) system to determine focus, which examines a broad active area in the center of the image to calculate the focal distance. Also built into the S400 is a bright AF assist light, which aids the focus mechanism in low lighting. For composing images, the S400 has a real-image optical viewfinder, as well as a 1.5-inch color LCD monitor. (In my testing, the S400's optical viewfinder was rather tight, but the LCD monitor showed almost exactly 100% of the final image area.) The LCD reports a fair amount of camera information, but excludes exposure information such as aperture and shutter speed. In Playback mode, a histogram display reports the tonal distribution of a captured image, useful in determining any over and underexposure.
Like the rest of the ELPH line, exposure control is automatic. The S400 does provide some manual adjustments, however, as well as a range of exposure modes for specific shooting situations. The Mode dial on the rear panel controls the main operating mode, offering Auto, Manual, Stitch-Assist, and Movie modes. A Mode switch on the back panel offers Record and Playback settings. Shutter speeds range from 1/2,000 to 15 seconds, with the 1.3- to 15-second end of the range only available in Long Shutter mode (which also automatically invokes a Noise Reduction system to reduce image noise in longer exposures). In straight Auto mode, the camera essentially controls everything about the exposure except for file size, flash, etc. Manual mode provides more hands-on control, with White Balance, Exposure Compensation, ISO, and a host of creative effects. Camera operation is straightforward and simple, as you literally just point and shoot most of the time. Pressing the Shutter button halfway sets focus and exposure, and the small LEDs next to the optical viewfinder let you know when the camera is ready to take the picture.
The S400 uses an Evaluative metering system, which means that the camera divides the image area into zones and evaluates contrast and brightness across the entire image to determine the best overall exposure. A Spot metering option ties the exposure to the very center of the frame, and is useful for off-center or high contrast subjects, as you can shift the metering region to pinpoint the exact area of the frame to base the exposure on. There's also a Center-Weighted metering option, which bases the exposure on a large area in the center of the frame. Exposure Compensation brightens or darkens the overall exposure from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third step increments. A White Balance option offers Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, and Custom (manual) settings. The S400 also offers a creative Photo Effects menu, which adjusts sharpening, color, and saturation. Sensitivity equivalents include 50, 100, 200, and 400 ISO settings, as well as an Auto adjustment. The S400's built-in flash operates in Auto, Forced On, Suppressed, Red-Eye Reduction, and Slow-Synchro modes. You can also lock the flash exposure in a similar manner to locking normal exposure. Pressing the Shutter button halfway and keeping it pressed initiates the exposure lock, signaled by two beeps. Pressing the metering-pattern button (the up-arrow button) while you're still holding down the shutter button fires the flash, locking the flash exposure as well. When this is done, an "FEL" icon appears in the LCD monitor until the Shutter button is released or fully pressed.
A two- or 10-second self-timer option counts down by flashing a small LED on the front of the camera before firing the shutter, giving you time to duck around the camera and get into the shot. Stitch-Assist mode is the S400's panoramic shooting mode, which lets you shoot as many as 26 consecutive images with the same exposure and white balance. The series of images can then be "stitched" together into one panoramic frame with the accompanying software. The S400 also has a Movie Record mode, which records moving images with sound for up to three minutes per clip, depending on the resolution setting and amount of memory card space. (Movies are recorded at either 320 x 240, or 160 x 120 pixels.) Finally, a Continuous Shooting mode captures a series of consecutive images (much like a motor drive on a traditional camera), at approximately 1.5 frames per second, for as long as the Shutter button is held down. The actual frame rate will vary with the resolution setting, and the total number of images will depend on the amount of memory card space and file size. Through the Record menu, a High Speed Continuous Shooting mode is also available, capturing images as fast as 2.5 frames per second. (See my "picky details" page for detailed timing of these modes, along with information on buffer-memory capacity, etc.)
The My Camera settings menu lets you customize camera settings to a specific theme. Everything from the startup image to operating sounds can be assigned to a theme, either one of the preprogrammed themes or one downloaded via the host software. The S400 also lets you record short sound clips to accompany captured images, via the Sound Memo option, great for lively captions to vacation photos or party shots.
The S400 stores images to CompactFlash Type I memory cards. A 32MB card accompanies the camera, but I strongly recommend picking up a larger capacity card so you won't limit your shooting due to insufficient card space (CompactFlash cards are available as large as one gigabyte). The camera uses a rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack for power, which accompanies the camera, along with the necessary battery charger. Because the S400 does not accommodate AA-type or other readily available batteries, I advise picking up an additional battery pack and keeping it freshly charged. The optional AC adapter is useful for preserving battery power when reviewing and downloading images, and actually has a "dummy" battery that inserts into the camera's battery compartment to couple the power adapter to the power contacts. (Most users would find a second rechargeable battery more useful though, at least in my opinion.) A USB cable and interface software are also packaged with the camera, for downloading images to a computer and performing minor organization and corrections. Two software CDs provide the necessary drivers and editing software, both compatible with Windows and Macintosh platforms, but no added driver software is required with Windows XP or Macintosh OS X. One CD holds Canon's Digital Camera Solution Disk version 12.0 and the other features ArcSoft's Camera Suite version 1.2. Finally, an A/V cable connects the S400 to a television set, for reviewing and composing images. The S400 is DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatible, with detailed print settings in the Playback menu. Canon offers a selection of direct-connect printers as well, which simplify printing even more. (Read my review of Canon's excellent little CP-100 photo printer for an example of one of these.)
- 4.0-megapixel CCD.
- Real-image optical viewfinder.
- 1.5-inch color TFT LCD monitor.
- Glass, 3x, 7.4-22.2mm lens, equivalent to a 36-108mm lens on a 35mm camera.
- Maximum 3.6x digital zoom.
- Automatic exposure control, with Long Shutter mode for longer exposures.
- Shutter speeds from 1/2,000 to 15 seconds.
- Maximum aperture f/2.8 to f/4.9, depending on lens zoom position.
- Built-in flash with five modes.
- CompactFlash Type I memory card storage, 32MB card included.
- Power supplied by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack (charger included) or optional AC adapter.
- ArcSoft Camera Suite 1.2, Canon Digital Camera software, and USB drivers included for both Windows and Mac platforms.
- Movie mode with sound.
- Standard and High Speed Continuous Shooting modes.
- Stitch-Assist panorama mode.
- Infinity and Macro focus modes.
- Customizable "My Camera" settings.
- Two- or 10-second Self-Timer for delayed shutter release.
- Sound Memo option for recording captions.
- Spot, Center-Weighted, and Evaluative exposure metering.
- White balance (color) adjustment with seven modes, including a Custom setting.
- Photo Effect menu for color adjustment.
- Adjustable ISO setting.
- DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatibility.
- USB cable for connection to a computer (driver software included).
- A/V cable for connection to a television set.
Canon's "Digital ELPH" cameras have proven popular with consumers, thanks to their tiny size and reputation for quality, both in construction and in the images they deliver. The PowerShot S400 Digital ELPH updates and extends the line with a 4.0-megapixel CCD for higher resolution images. The increased resolution lets you print images as large as 8x10 inches with good detail, even with some cropping, and lower resolution settings are good for printing snapshots or sending to family and friends via email. Although exposure control is mainly automatic, the availability of exposures up to 15 seconds, adjustable ISO, and flexible white balance and color saturation options increases the camera's exposure versatility. The uncomplicated user interface is comfortable for novices and more advanced users alike, with simple operation for the novices, and enough variable exposure control to keep the advanced folks happy. All in all, an excellent "all around" digicam that just happens to live inside a super-compact case.
Practically identical to the PowerShot S300 and S330 before it, the S400 maintains the small dimensions that made the ELPH line so popular. The compact size is perfect for quickly stashing in a pocket or purse without worrying damaging delicate camera mechanisms. The retracting lens is a smart design that keeps the front of the case completely flat when the camera is off, underscoring the camera's pocket friendly design, while an automatic lens cover means you don't have to worry about smudging the lens or losing the lens cap. Measuring 3.4 x 2.2 x 1.1 inches (87 x 57 x 28 millimeters), the S400 is actually a hair smaller than the S330 model. The camera weighs a mere 7.96 ounces (226 grams) with battery and memory card.
The front of the S400 is distinctively ELPH, with the lens off-center slightly toward the right, and viewfinder and flash just above it. A light emitter, next to the optical viewfinder, serves multiple purposes, including autofocus assist, red-eye reduction, and the self-timer countdown. The camera's telescoping lens moves into place quickly when the camera is powered on, and retracts fully within the camera to maintain a flat profile when powered off. A small ridge from the wrist strap eyelet is about all the finger-grip provided, although the accompanying wrist strap should help give a more secure feel.
The Shutter button, Zoom lever, and Power button are all on top of the camera, protruding slightly from the surface. There's also a tiny microphone for recording sound with movies, and a speaker for playback.
On the right side of the camera (as viewed from the rear) are the wrist strap attachment and the CompactFlash slot, the latter of which fits securely beneath a locking plastic door. The release lever for the card slot is actually on the camera's back panel.
The opposite side of the camera simply holds the USB and A/V output jacks, which are protected by a snug rubber cover.
The remaining camera controls are on the back panel, along with the optical and LCD viewfinders. A small ridge along the right side provides a subtle thumb grip and reinforces the finger grip on the front of the camera when shooting one-handed (for small to medium hands, those with larger hands may have a little difficulty negotiating the controls, which are a little close together). Lining the bottom side of the LCD monitor are the Set, Menu, Display, and Function buttons, with a Four-Way Arrow pad just to the right of these. A sliding switch on the right side releases the CompactFlash slot door, and a Mode switch accesses Record and Playback modes. Directly above the LCD monitor is the Exposure Mode dial. Two LED lamps next to the viewfinder report camera status, lighting to indicate when focus is set or the flash is fully charged.
The S400 features a nice, flat bottom panel, which holds the metal tripod mount and the battery compartment. I don't usually like to see the tripod mount so far over to the side of the camera because the weight of the camera, placed off-center on the tripod head, can overly stress the mount threads. Given the S400's tiny size and the solid metal tripod socket (kudos for that), this may not be a concern. One consequence of having the tripod socket so close to the edge although, is that the camera may not rest level on some tripod heads. (Again, a minor concern, since you can usually just tilt the tripod to align the camera however you'd like.) The locking battery compartment cover slides open and then outwards, with a small, rubber flap in the center of the compartment door. This flap covers a hole in the battery compartment cover provided to allow access to the connector jack in the "dummy battery" coupler used in the AC adapter kit. (Like many other Canon digicams, the S400's AC adapter scheme employs a dummy battery that fits into the battery compartment, and which provides a plug for the AC power converter's cable.)
The S400's user interface is very straightforward and relatively uncomplicated, like the rest of the ELPH series. Most of the camera's functions are controlled by the control buttons on the top and the back panel, while a handful of settings are controlled through the LCD based Record menu. A Function menu provides faster access to basic settings like image size, quality, and exposure compensation, without forcing you to sift through menu screens. The LCD menu system efficiently lets you scroll through menu items on-screen instead of through a series of pages. Additionally, the Setup and My Camera menus are always available, regardless of the camera mode. And even if the LCD monitor is switched off, pressing one of the control buttons on the back panel (such as the Exposure Compensation or Flash buttons) activates the display temporarily, so you can save battery power by switching off the LCD monitor without losing functionality. With the instruction manual in hand, it shouldn't take more than a half an hour to an hour to get comfortable with the camera.
Shutter Button: Located on the top panel, this button sets focus and exposure when pressed halfway and fires the shutter when fully pressed. If the Self-Timer is activated, a full press of the Shutter button triggers the countdown.
Zoom Lever: Surrounding the Shutter button on the camera's top panel, this lever controls the optical and digital zoom in any record mode. In Playback mode, the wide-angle end activates an index display, while the telephoto setting enlarges captured images for closer inspection of fine details.
Power Button: To the left of the Shutter button on the camera's top panel, this button turns the camera on or off.
Mode Dial: Just above the LCD monitor on the rear panel, this dial controls the camera's exposure mode, offering the following selections:
- Automatic Exposure Mode: Places the camera in charge of all exposure decisions, with the exception of image size/quality, flash mode, macro focusing, and the Self-Timer.
- Manual Exposure Mode: Allows more user exposure control, such as Exposure Compensation and White Balance settings. The camera still determines the shutter speed and aperture settings however.
- Stitch Assist Mode: Sets the camera to capture a series of overlapping still images, to be "stitched" together into a panoramic image on a computer after capture.
- Movie Mode: Captures moving images with sound, with a maximum recording time of three minutes.
Mode Switch: In the top right corner of the rear panel, this switch puts the camera into Record or Playback modes.
CF Open Latch: Just below the Mode switch on the rear panel, this sliding latch opens the CompactFlash card slot.
Metering Button (Up Arrow Key): As the top button in the Four-Way Arrow pad in the lower right corner, this button cycles through Evaluative, Center-Weighted, and Spot metering modes. In any settings menu, this button navigates through options and selections. When the shutter button is half-pressed (locking exposure and focus), pressing this button fires the flash and independently locks the flash exposure, displaying the legend "FEL" on the LCD screen. Tripping the shutter or pressing this button again clears the flash exposure lock.
Macro/Infinity Button (Left Arrow Key): Pointing to the left in the arrow key pad, this control cycles between Macro, Infinity Focus, and normal focusing modes while in Record mode. When the shutter button is half-pressed in Record mode (locking exposure and focus), pressing this button locks the focus independently of the exposure, displaying the legend "AFL" on the LCD screen Tripping the shutter or pressing this button again clears the autofocus lock. In both Playback and Record menus, this button acts as the left arrow key to navigate through menu items. In Playback mode, this button scrolls backward through captured images.
Flash Button (Right Arrow Key): Pointing to the right in the arrow key pad, this button cycles through three of the available flash modes (options may change depending on the exposure mode selected):
- Automatic: The camera determines when to fire the flash based on existing light levels.
- Forced On: The flash always fires, regardless of lighting conditions.
- Forced Off: The flash never fires, regardless of lighting conditions.
- Red-Eye Reduction: Fires a small pre-flash before firing the full flash, to reduce the occurrence of Red-Eye in portraits.
- Slow-Sync: Times the flash with a slower shutter speed, to allow more ambient light into dark exposures.
In both Playback and Record menus, this button acts as the right arrow key to scroll through menu items. In Playback mode, this button scrolls forward through captured images.
Continuous/Self-Timer Button (Down Arrow Key): The final button on the key pad, this button cycles through Single, Continuous, and Self-Timer shooting modes while the camera is in Record mode. In both Playback and Record menus, this button serves as the down arrow key to navigate through menu items.
Function / Erase Button: To the left of the circular key pad, this control activates the Function menu in any record mode. The following options are available:
- Exposure Compensation: Increases or decreases the exposure from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments.
- Long Shutter: Accesses longer shutter times, from one to 15 seconds. (Only appears as a submenu to Exposure Compensation when the feature has been enabled in the Record menu.)
- White Balance: Controls the color balance of images. Options are Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, and Custom (manual setting).
- ISO Speed: Sets the camera's sensitivity to Auto, or to 50, 100, 200, or 400 ISO equivalents.
- Photo Effect: Enables Vivid Color, Neutral Color, Low Sharpening, Sepia, or Black-and-White picture effects.
- Compression: Sets the JPEG compression to Superfine, Fine, or Normal.
- Resolution: Specifies the image resolution. Still image resolutions are 2,272 x 1,704; 1,600 x 1,200; 1,024 x 768; and 640 x 480 pixels. Movie resolutions are 320 x 240 and 160 x 120 pixels.
In Playback mode, this button pulls up the single-image erase menu, which deletes the currently-displayed image (unless write-protected).
Display Button: On the left side of the Function / Erase button, this button turns the LCD image and information displays on and off. In Playback mode, this button controls the information display only, and activates a histogram display of the captured image.
Menu Button: Nestled between the Set and Display buttons, this button accesses the LCD menu system in Record and Playback modes.
Set Button: Directly beneath the lower left corner of the LCD display, this button confirms menu selections and changes.
Camera Modes and Menus
Movie Mode: Records short movie clips with sound, at either 320 x 240 or 160 x 120 pixels. The actual recording time varies with the resolution setting and amount of CompactFlash space, but the longest clip time is three minutes. A handful of exposure controls are available in this mode, although options like flash mode, Continuous Shooting, and digital zoom are disabled.
Stitch Assist Mode: Records a series of as many as 26 images to be "stitched" together as a panoramic shot. Two directions are available: Left to Right Stitch Assist and Right to Left Stitch Assist (based on which direction the camera will move to create the panoramic sequence). The majority of the exposure controls are available in this mode, with the exception of digital telephoto, Auto and Red-eye Reduction flash modes, and Continuous Shooting mode.
Manual Exposure Mode: Restricts the camera's control to shutter speed and aperture only, letting you adjust the digital zoom, flash mode, image quality, shooting method (Single, Continuous, or Self-Timer), Macro mode, Infinity Focus mode, Exposure Compensation, White Balance, Photo Effect, metering, and ISO.
Automatic Exposure Mode: Places the camera in charge of all exposure settings. You can select only the digital zoom option, certain flash modes, the self-timer, and Macro mode.
Playback Mode: This mode allows you to scroll through captured images and movies, write protect images, view a nine-image index display, zoom into a captured image, delete unwanted images, rotate images, and set up images for printing on DPOF compatible devices.
Record Menu: Accessed by pressing the Menu button in Automatic, Manual, Stitch Assist, and Movie modes (some options are not available in all modes). Three menu tabs appear, one for Record, Setup, and My Camera sub-menus.
- AiAF: Turns on the AiAF focus system. If switched off, the camera bases autofocus on the center of the frame.
- Continuous Shooting: Designates whether the Continuous Shooting drive setting is set to Standard (1.5 frames per second) or High Speed (2.5 frames per second) modes.
- Self-Timer: Sets the Self-Timer countdown to 2 or 10 seconds.
- AF Assist Beam: Turns the AF assist light on or off. If on, the light automatically activates in low lighting.
- Digital Zoom: Enables the digital zoom function, which is engaged by zooming past the optical zoom range. Also disables digital zoom.
- Review: Turns the instant review function on or off, or sets the amount of time that the captured image is displayed on the screen from 2 to 10 seconds in one-second intervals. (Still images only.)
- Long Shutter: Activates Long Shutter mode, so that it appears in the Function menu.
- Beep: Designates whether a beep sound plays when the Shutter button is pressed.
- LCD Brightness: Adjusts the brightness of the LCD display.
- Auto Power Down: Toggles the automatic shut down, which turns the camera off after a period of inactivity.
- Date/Time: Sets the camera's internal date and time settings.
- Format: Formats the CompactFlash card, erasing all images (even write protected ones). (Option not available in Stitch-Assist mode.)
- Shutter Volume: Controls the volume of the shutter noise.
- Playback Volume: Adjusts the volume of playback sounds.
- Startup Volume: Sets the volume for the camera's startup sounds.
- Operation Volume: Controls the volume of operational sounds.
- Self-Timer Volume: Adjusts the volume of the self-timer beep.
- File No. Reset: Resets file numbering with each new CompactFlash card, if enabled. If disabled, the camera continues file numbering from card to card.
- Auto Rotate: If enabled, reflects the camera's orientation in the LCD monitor.
- Language: Changes the menu language to one of 12 languages.
- Video System: Establishes the type of video signal, NTSC or PAL.
- 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 settings listed below automatically are set to their values for that theme.
- Start-Up Image: Sets the startup image when you turn on the camera to: Black screen, Canon logo, Canon logo w / sunset, and nature scene. You can also apply your own image using the Canon software.
- Start-Up 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 also apply your own sounds using the Canon software.
- Operation Sound: Sets the sound when any control or switch is use (except the Shutter button). Options include Beep, Loud beep, Boing, and Chirp.
- Self-Timer Sound: Sets the sound that signals you when the shutter release is two seconds away. Options include Fast beeps (1), Fast beeps (2), Telephone ring, and Howling.
- 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 Beep, Shutter sound, Boing, and Bark.
Playback Menu: Accessed by pressing the Menu button in Playback mode, the Playback menu also has subject tabs for the Setup and My Camera menus described above.
- 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 degrees clockwise.
- Sound Memo: Records a short sound clip to accompany a captured image.
- Erase All: Erases all files on the memory card, except protected ones.
- Slide Show: Automatically plays all captured images in a slide show.
- 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 via email.
See the full set of my sample pictures and detailed analysis here. The thumbnails below show a subset of my test images. Click on a thumbnail to see the full-size photo.
For those readers interested in a set of less "standardized" photos from the P10, here are some thumbnails of more random shots snapped with it. Click on one any of the thumbnails below for a larger view. Click on the larger view again to see the original image from the camera. (Photos in this gallery were shot by Gibbs Frazeur or Stephanie Boozer. Thanks Gibbs and Stephanie!)
NOTE: that these are big files, so be aware that (a) they'll take a while to download, and (b) they'll chew up a pretty good chunk of bandwidth on us. (Read the "support this site" blurb at the top the carrier pages, and think about it while you're waiting for the images to download.
NOTE TOO: Some browsers have difficult with very wide images, and distort them a lot when they display them. (I don't know about others, but IE 5.0 on the Mac definitely does this. If the full-sized images appear to be stretched horizontally, you may need to just download them to your hard drive and view them in an imaging application, or possibly try another browser.)
See camera specifications here.
Cycle times, shutter lag, battery life, etc. can be found here.
- Canon PowerShot S400 user reviews on PriceGrabber.com
- Canon PowerShot S400 user review on PC PhotoREVIEW
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 S400's "pictures" page.
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 S400's images compare to other cameras you may be considering.
- Color: The S400 produced excellent color throughout my testing, with accurate results under a wide variety of lighting conditions. Color saturation was typically just about right, and hue was nearly always dead-on (even with the difficult blue flowers in the outdoor and indoor portraits). Strong additive primaries such as red and blue were generally just slightly oversaturated, but the effect was slight indeed. Skin tones were typically accurate as well, with just a hint more pink than the actual color of the subject. White balance was very good under virtually all light sources, even the very difficult household incandescent lighting of my "indoor portrait" test, although that light source required either the Incandescent or Manual white balance settings to produce good results. I noticed a tendency for the Auto and Daylight settings to run slightly warm, and the Manual setting to be a little cool and greenish, but once again the effects were very slight, and overall color was really excellent.
- Exposure: The S400's metering system accurately gauged exposure under most of my lighting as well. As is typical, it underexposed the very high-key outdoor portrait shot, but required very little positive exposure compensation to correct the exposure nicely. It also underexposed the indoor portrait shot somewhat, both with and without flash, and required a little more positive exposure compensation to achieve a good exposure. (The amount of positive compensation required for this was on par with other consumer digicams I've tested though.) On my "Davebox" test, the S400 had no trouble distinguishing the subtle pastel tones on the Q60 target, while still holding good detail in the deep shadows. Overall, an excellent job.
- Resolution/Sharpness: The S400 performed very well on the"laboratory" resolution test chart. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 800 lines per picture height vertically, and around 700 lines horizontally. I found "strong detail" out to at least 1,100 lines vertically and 1,200 lines horizontally. "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until about 1,300 - 1,400 lines. Overall, a very good performance for a compact digicam.
- Closeups: The S400 performed well in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of only 2.70 x 2.03 inches (69 x 51 millimeters), which is slightly better than average. Resolution was very high, with strong detail in the coins and brooch. Details are soft in the dollar bill, likely due to the S400's AiAF focusing system, which focused on the closest object to the lens (the brooch). There was more softness in the corners in this shot, but this is a very common failing of the macro modes of consumer digicams, so the S400 doesn't deserve any special criticism in this area. The S400's flash almost throttled down enough for the macro area, though it overexposed the top of the frame and produced a shadow in the bottom portion. (You should be able to get decent flash pictures in macro mode, as long as you're backed off slightly from the very closest focusing distance.)
- Night Shots: It's really "buried" in the user interface, but the S400 has a slow-shutter mode that turns it into a great low-light performer. You have to first enable long-shutter mode in the record-mode setup menu, then go to the first entry on the Function menu (Exposure Compensation) and press the Set button to set the exposure time over a range of 1-15 seconds. Once you find it though, the long-exposure mode works great. In my tests, the S400 captured usable images down to the 1/16 foot-candle limit of my test even at ISO 50, and bright ones at that light level at all higher ISOs. All photos were well-focused, even at the darkest light levels. The only catch is that the camera's exposure metering system isn't available in long-shutter mode, making it something of a manual, hit-or-miss operation finding the right exposure. (The optional histogram display comes in very handy for this.) In normal exposure mode, the camera's maximum one-second exposure time should let you capture good photos in normal city streetlighting (~1 foot-candle) at all ISO settings. In long-shutter mode though, you can easily shoot under much darker conditions.
- Viewfinder Accuracy: The S400's optical viewfinder is quite tight at the wide angle end, as it showed only 79 percent of the final frame. At telephoto, the optical viewfinder showed approximately 84 percent frame accuracy, still on the low side. The LCD monitor is more accurate, actually just a little loose, seeming to show slightly more than what appears in the final frame. My standard measurement lines were just cut off on the top and left sides, but I'd have to consider this to be within the margin of error for this test. Given that I like LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the S400's LCD monitor is excellent in this regard, although I'd really like to see a more accurate optical VF.
- Optical Distortion: Optical distortion on the S400 was slightly better than average at the wide-angle end, where I measured approximately 0.7 percent barrel distortion. (This is just slightly better than average among cameras I've tested, but I'd still really like to see much less geometric distortion in digicam images than this.) The telephoto end fared much better, as I measured only one pixel of pincushion distortion. Chromatic aberration was low, showing only very 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.) The most obvious distortion was some corner softness (caused by coma?) in the corners of the image, particularly in the upper corners. All in all though, the S400's lens did a very nice job, particularly for a subcompact camera model.
- Battery Life:The PowerShot S400 uses one Li-Ion rechargeable battery for power. Unfortunately, I couldn't measure its power consumption as I generally do, because it uses a nonstandard "dummy battery" power adapter connection. I did time how long the camera would run from a freshly-charged battery in its worst-case power consumption mode (capture mode with the LCD turned on), and found that it turned in a slightly shorter than average (for a compact digicam) run time of approximately 60 minutes. As always, I strongly advise purchasing a second battery along with the S400, so you can bring along a fully charged spare on long outings.
In the Box
Packaged with the PowerShot S400 are the following items:
- Wrist strap.
- Video cable.
- USB cable.
- 32MB CompactFlash memory card.
- NB-1LH lithium-ion battery pack.
- Battery charger.
- Battery cover.
- ArcSoft and Canon Digital Camera Solution Disk software CDs.
- Operating manual and registration card.
- Large capacity CompactFlash memory card.
- Additional NB-1LH lithium-ion battery pack.
- AC adapter kit.
- Small camera case.
Recommended Software: Rescue your images!
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. I 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 surprising number 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 digicam 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...
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More Information on this camera from...
Canon S400 review