Canon S120 Image Quality

Color: The Canon S120 produced vibrant default colors, with slightly higher-than-average mean saturation levels, and about average color error. Mean saturation at base ISO is 115.2%, or 15.2% oversaturated. That's a little higher than average these days, with the camera pushing reds, greens, blues and purples moderately. Some colors such as yellow and aqua are actually undersaturated, but only slightly. In terms of hue accuracy, cyans were moderately shifted toward blue, red toward orange, orange toward yellow and yellow toward green, though those shifts are fairly common. Hue accuracy was about average with a mean delta-C error after correction for saturation of 5.48 at base ISO. Overall, pretty good performance here, especially if you prefer bright colors.

Auto WB:
Good, slightly magenta
Incandescent WB:
Cool, with magenta tint
Manual WB:
Good, slightly green

Incandescent: The S120's Auto white balance setting performed better than average, with just a slight magenta tint in our indoor portrait test. The Incandescent setting was a bit cooler with a slightly stronger magenta tint. Results with the Manual white balance setting were good but a little greenish.

Horizontal: 2,200 lines
Vertical: 2,200 lines

Resolution: Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 2,200 lines per picture height horizontally and to about 2,200 lines vertically, which is good for the megapixel count. Extinction of the pattern occurred between 2,600 and 2,700 lines per picture height both horizontally and vertically.

Wide at 23 ft.:
Tele at 7.5 ft.:
Normal, +0.3 EV: Bright
Slow Sync, +0.3 EV: Bright

Flash: Our manufacturer-specified testing (shown at right) produced bright results at wide angle, with the rated distance of 7m / 23 ft. when using Auto ISO which selected ISO 500. The telephoto target also came out bright at the specified 2.3m / 7.5 feet with Auto ISO (the camera chose ISO 800 this time), so we'd say Canon's flash range rating is credible and quite good for a compact.

Normal flash mode produced good results at ISO 200 with just +0.3 EV compensation, and the camera did select a reasonably fast shutter speed of 1/60 second. Image stabilization should help with camera shake at slower shutter speeds, but movement of the subject could be problematic at slower shutter speeds unless detected by the camera. The S120's slow sync mode used 1/12s shutter speed to produce a bright image, but with a strong orange tint due to the ambient lighting. Shot taken at ~5 feet (~1.5m) on a stable tripod.

Low Light AF: The camera's AF system was able to focus down to below the 1/16 foot-candle light level without AF assist enabled, and in complete darkness with the AF assist lamp enabled. Excellent results here.


ISO: Noise and Detail: Detail is strong and well defined at ISO 80 through 200 using default noise reduction, with ISO 80 showing ever so slightly better detail than ISO 100. ISO 400 is a bit softer, but fine detail is still pretty good. We start to see a more noticeable decline in image quality at ISO 800 due to fairly aggressive noise reduction, though fine detail is still decent especially for the size of sensor. ISO 1600 shows a lot more luminance noise but images still contain some fine detail, however image quality drops off rapidly from there with much stronger noise and blurring at ISO 3200 and above. Chroma noise is effectively controlled except at the highest ISOs.

Overall, though, good high ISO performance for its class, and an improvement over its predecessor, the S110.

See Printed section below for more on how this affects printed images.

Print Quality: A good 13 x 19 inch print at ISOs 80 thru 200; a nice 8 x 10 at ISO 800; a good 4 x 6 at ISO 3200.

ISO 80 through 200 prints are good at 13 x 19 inches, with nice detail and sharpness given the relatively small sensor size.

ISO 400 shots look quite good at 11 x 14 inches, with only mild softening in reds beginning to occur.

ISO 800 images are good at 8 x 10, which is not bad for this sensor size at this ISO. Only mild noise is visible in flatter areas, but it's hardly noticeable.

ISO 1600 makes a nice 5 x 7 inch print, with good color reproduction still intact.

ISO 3200 makes a reasonable 4 x 6 inch print, although overall quality declines rapidly here and there is some noise apparent in some flatter areas.

ISO 6400/12,800 do not yield usable prints and these settings are best avoided.

We've been fans of this Canon enthusiast compact line dating back to the excellent S90, and were disappointed when the S110's image quality took a step downward. We're glad to report the move back in a positive direction, as the S120 performs superior to the S110 at most all ISO settings, including a nice and sharp 13 x 19 inch print at lower ISOs and a good 8 x 10 at ISO 800.


The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Canon PowerShot S120 Photo Gallery .

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Canon PowerShot S120 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!

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