When Canon finally released the PowerShot S1 IS (image stabilization) earlier this year, the words it is about time were no doubt coursing through the minds of IS fans. Since 1995, when the first Canon IS lens was developed, Canon has been concentrating its IS technology exclusively on lenses (with the exception of a long-discontinued 2.6mp camera from 2001) for professional photographers.
So it was a pleasant surprise when Canon announced the development of a new consumer-grade PowerShot that would carry the IS technology. Enter the PowerShot S1 IS. Geared towards the Upper-middle consumer market, the S1 boasts a variety of features including a 10x optical zoom, a variable-angle LCD, and of course, Canon’s optical image stabilizer.
However, with only 3.2 effective megapixels, the S1 falls behind in raw image recording power when compared other, more powerful cameras in its price range. Do the S1’s features and IS capabilities make up for the lack in megapixels? Read on to find out.
PowerShot S1 IS Kit Contents
PowerShot S1 IS Body
Neck Strap NS-DC3
4 AA-Type Alkaline Batteries
CompactFlash™ Card CF-32
Interface Cable IFC-400PCU
AV Cable AVC-DC300
Digital Camera Solution CD-ROM
ArcSoft Camera Suite CD-ROM
Type: Compact digital still camera with built-in flash and 10x optical zoom and Image Stabilizer System.
Image Capture Device: 3.2 M pixel, 1/2.7 inch charge coupled device (CCD).
Sensitivity: Auto; ISO 50/100/200/400 (Equivalent to ISO).
Resolution (Recording Pixels): 2,048 x 1,536 (Large), 1,600 x 1,200 (Medium 1),1,024 x 768 Medium 2), 640 x 480 (Small); Movie: 640 x 480 or 320 x 240.
JPEG Image Quality Modes: Normal, Fine, Super Fine.
File Format: Design rule for Camera File system, Digital Print Order Format (DPOF) Version 1.1 compliant.
Image Recording Format: Still Image: JPEG (Exif 2.2 compliant); Movie: AVI.
Recording Media: CompactFlash™ (CF) card, Type I and Type II.
Shooting Modes: Auto, Creative (P, Av, Tv, M), Image (Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene, Fast Shutter, Slow Shutter, Stitch Assist, Movie) and Custom.
Shooting Speed: Continuous approx. 1.7 fps (Large/Fine)
Photo Effect: Vivid, Neutral, Low Sharpening, Sepia, Black & White, Custom.
Playback Modes: Single, Index (9 thumbnail image), magnification (Approx. 2x to 10x), Slide Show or Movie.
Erase Modes: Still image: Single images, All images; Movie: Part of Movie, All of Movie.
Interfaces: USB, A/V out (Video: NTSC or PAL selectable; Audio: monaural)
Direct Printing: Direct connection with Canon Direct Photo Printer, Card Photo Printer and PictBridge supported printers.
Lens: 5.8-58mm, f/2.8-f/3.1 zoom lens (equivalent to 38-380mm in 35mm format)
Shutter Speed: 15-1/2000 sec. Slow shutter operates with noise reduction.
Focus Range: Normal AF: 3.9 in/10cm–Infinity (WIDE); 3.1 ft./93cm–Infinity (TELE). Manual: 3.9 n/10cm–Infinity (WIDE); 3.1 ft./93cm–Infinity (TELE)
Light Metering Method: Evaluative, Center-weighted average or Spot metering.
Exposure Control: Program AE, Shutter speed-priority AE, aperture-priority AE or Manual.
Compensation: +/- 2.0 EV in 1/3-step increments.
Built-in Flash: Auto, On/Off, Red-Eye Reduction On/Off.
Flash Range: 3.3 ft./1m–14 ft./4.2m (WIDE); 3.3 ft./1m–12ft./3.8m (TELE) (When ISO speed is set to 100 equivalent)
White Balance Control: Auto, Pre-set (Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Flash) and Custom White Balance.
Electronic Viewfinder: Color LCD viewfinder
LCD Viewfinder: Low-temperature polycrystalline silicon TFT color LCD
Power Sources: Size AA Alkaline battery (x4) or Size AA NiMH battery (NB-2AH/NB-1AH) (x4)
Dimensions: 4.4 (W) x 3.1 (H) x 2.6 (D) in. / 111.0 (W) x 78.0 (H) x 66.1 (D) mm
Weight: (w/o battery and CF card) 13.1 oz./370g.
The design element behind the S1 was engineered by a team of experts lead by Masakazu Kumakura. Kumakura and his team sought to achieve the highest level of functionality while maintaining eye-catching craftsmanship. In this respect, they have succeeded. The S1’s elegant curves and complimentary colors make for a stylish camera, while strategic placement of components such as the pop-up flash (centered to minimize vignetting) also improves camera functionality.
According to Canon’s design room, Mr. Kumakura had in mind to “express the beauty of circular tension with an ellipse that reminds (him) of a scoop of ice cream” when he designed the upper portion of the S1. Ice cream was certainly the last thing on my mind when I set out to describe the S1, but I am sure that Kumakura knows what he is talking about.
What I know is that the curves and contours on the S1 are both attractive and comfortable, and that I would much rather take the S1 to a party or night out than my bulkier SLR, or even my Sony Cybershot.
The S1 is only about 4.5 inches wide, so it is relatively small, making for a compact, easy-to-handle camera. Pictured above is the top-right part of the camera, which is the area right above the grip. The large dial by the flash is the mode dial, which can cycle through auto, creative, and preset picture-taking zones.
The smaller dial directly to the right of the mode dial toggles between shooting and playback modes, and also contains the off button. The remaining dial contains the zoom lever and shutter release.
The black teardrop-like area by the shutter release is the wireless receiver.
The left side of the camera is much less cluttered than the right. Above the circular on-board speaker are two small buttons: the flash toggle and another button which alternates between single and continuous shooting, self timer, and wireless shutter release.
The manual focus and image stabilization buttons are located on the side of the lens for easy access with the left thumb.
The back of the S1 contains a small directional pad with the AF-selector and menu buttons below it. Running along the right side of the LCD from top to bottom are the movie, function, light metering, shortcut, and display buttons. The function, light metering, and shortcut buttons also double as the single-frame erase, microphone, and jump buttons respectively.
Finally, the bottom of the camera contains the battery compartment (the S1 takes four AA batteries) and tripod socket. Notice also the CF slot built into the grip.
Functionality – The Good
The S1 has many features common to most prosumer digital cameras, such as an electronic viewfinder, advanced metering capabilities, and a relatively quiet zoom. The last of this is the product of Canon’s USM--or ultrasonic motor--technology, which powers the zoom lens without giving off too much unwanted noise.
Another notable feature of the S1 is its 270-degree-swivel-LCD. It swivels on two axes and can be tilted to the photographer’s preference. This is useful for a variety of reasons. Flip the LCD out and rotate it, and now you can frame a quick self-portrait. Taking a photo of something out of your immediate view? Just swivel the LCD and you can photograph above a large crowd. Swivel it the opposite direction and you can photograph the underside of your car, without getting on the ground and craning your neck. And when you want to protect your LCD from damage, just flip it back around and dock it in back of the camera.
The video below shows the electronic viewfinder and illustrates the swivel motion of the LCD.
View The Movie
The most important feature of the S1 obviously lies with its anti-shake function. It is toggled by a button located on the side of the lens and works well to eliminate camera shake in both picture and movie shooting modes.
However, the image stabilization is somewhat compromised in low-light situations, an area which Minolta’s anti-shake technology still prevails.
To demonstrate this feature, I shot two video clips; one with and one without antishake. I did this at full 10x zoom while gripping the camera with only one hand to pronounce the shake.
As you have probably already guessed, the first movie was shot without image stabilization, and the second with. The difference, as you can see, is a big one.
Functionality – The bad
So far we have looked at the positive aspects of the S1, but unfortunately, there are a few shortcomings that bear mentioning. The first and most disappointing is the wimpy 3.2 megapixel sensor and lack of RAW mode. At a top resolution of 2048x1536 (pixels), the S1 is practically useless for blowing up large photos. So if you are a landscape or architectural photographer who likes to enlarge your pictures, you would do better to look elsewhere.
Even so, the low resolution could be tolerated if the S1 performed well in other areas, such as high speed action photography. Unfortunately, it once again falls short of the mark. In our tests, we found that shooting at ISO 400 produced very ugly noise. This is the same when shooting at high shutter speeds; once again, the unwanted noise. See the illustration below for an example of noise at varying ISO settings. All images are 100 percent crops.
As you can see from the illustration, the noise level at ISO 400 is horrible. The shots were a section of fence taken in the morning, so lighting was adequate. At night, expect noise to be even more apparent.
Lastly, the S1 suffers from irritating focusing issues. Especially at high zooms and close-ups, it is sometimes impossible to achieve focus on automatic. Fortunately, the S1 has a manual focus capability, but many photo opportunities are not going to wait for you to achieve focus manually before disappearing.
Sporting Canon’s exclusive image stabilization and a sleek, silver body, the Powershot S1 IS packs excellent features for a consumer digicam. But with a price tag of $400 retail and a few disappointing setbacks, it is both too expensive for the bargain hunters and too underpowered for those willing to shell out that kind of cash.
Still, those in the market for a fashionable camera with powerful zoom (and who are willing to pay $400 dollars for it) may want to give the S1 a chance. Its superb movie-clip shooting capabilities and swivel-LCD make the S1 a good, albeit pricey, choice for a family camera.
It is really too bad that the S1 was plagued by so many performance issues, because it could have been so much more. Unfortuantely, its not.
- Image Stabilization is effective
- Great movie clip shooting mode
- Stylish design
- Electronic viewfinder and swivelable LCD
- Powerful 10x Zoom
- Wimpy 3.2 Megapixel sensor
- Lots of noise at ISO 400
- Some focusing issues
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