Slimmer and more sophisticated than ever before, Canon's top-end snapper shoots for the compact crown
If you weren't aware of its heritage, you might not have high hopes for Canon's super-slim PowerShot S95, the follow-up to last year's popular S90. One of the cardinal rules of digital photography is that the bigger the camera, the better the picture, and the S95 is very, very small.
Large lenses let in more light, big sensors capture more of it, and supercomputer processors do more with the data to create stunning shots. That's why premium-price compacts like Sigma's DP2, Panasonic's LX5 or Canon's own G12 tend to be bulkier than the slip-it-in-your-pocket styling of a simple point-and-shoot. Some, like the Sony HX1, rival SLRs for sheer bulk.
The body of the S95, though, is just 2cm deep without the lens. It's easier to slip into your trouser pocket than an iPhone, and yet it can compete with entry level DSLRs for image quality.
Both the 10MP sensor and the F2.0-4.9, 3.8x zoom lens have made it across unchanged from the S90. Canon's Digic 4 processing engine has also been retained wholesale.
That's no bad thing, as it means that like the S90, the S95 has incredible noise control that can make usable pictures out of any sensitivity up to ISO 3200. Colours are rich and well balanced, and even though JPEGs are oversharpened by default, you do have the option to shoot in RAW, which gives you full control over this.
There's a small amount of barrel distortion at the widest (28mm) end of the zoom, but this soon becomes impressively imperceptible for such a tiny lens.
Arguably the best extra feature, though, is not a photographic one at all. The S95 now shoots 720p video and has an HDMI-out. You can also apply effects to movies in-camera, including the ability to shoot in a “tilt shift” mode that blurs the top and bottom of the frame, making everyone look like small toys.
A professional, coarse finish to the body makes it handle superbly and hybrid image stabilisation can add almost three stops to a low-light or close-up shot.
But the camera's defining achievement remains a rotating lens ring for mapping certain controls. It can be set to alter any one shooting value from ISO speed to zoom, including manual focus, although the LCD doesn’t quite have enough resolution to check sharpness on screen.
Elsewhere, controls are pared down for simplicity. Sometimes this is frustrating, as with the focal point which is locked in the centre of the frame unless you're in a tracking mode. The only real problem, however, is the combination wheel/cursor control to the right of the screen. It feels just that little bit too small and fiddly to make navigating the menus really comfortable.
However, even the most experienced photographer will enjoy surrendering control to the S95’s superlative snapshot ability. If you want a compact that bares its soul for the tweaking, go for the Panasonic LX5.
But if you're after professional-quality shots with the minimum of weight or fuss, the S95 is the camera for you.
Canon PowerShot S95 review
The S95 is a pocketable point-and-shoot that delivers pro results
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