The late George Carlin would have probably frowned upon my use of the term, but I could think of no better words for describing the Powershot S110.
I bought this camera last December to replace my underwhelming IXUS 105. The S110 was released back in September of 2012, but I had intentionally delayed my purchase to see if it would suffer the dreaded lens error which had plagued it predecessor, the S100. Finding no such reports for this iteration of the S series, I finally got my hands on one.
My experiences thus far with the S110 have shown that it is a very capable alternative to bulkier DSLRs and MILCs. Here, I place emphasis on the word "alternative" because in no way is it meant to be a substitute for high-performance cameras. The convenient pocketable size comes with trade-offs, but at the same time, this little gadget has a few tricks up its sleeve which most entry-level DSLRs could only dream of.
Recent additionsThe S110 offers two new features differentiating it from its predecessors. Unnecessary? Perhaps, but both are interesting additions nonetheless.
The first "improvement" over the S100 is that the S110 does away with its predecessor's GPS feature and replaces it with Wi-Fi capability instead.
In theory, this should make image sharing significantly easier, but my experience with it was hampered by low resolution previews and long loading times for full image downloads. I've yet to figure out if the bottleneck is due to the read speed of my SD card, the transfer rate between devices, or the rendering on my tablet (an ASUS A500). Based on what I've experienced though, an S100 combined with an Eye-Fi card may be a cheaper and more efficient alternative in this regard.
The second notable variation from the S100 would be the touchscreen. As with smartphones, the S110's capacitive touchscreen makes operations such as image browsing and moving the focusing point feel a lot more intuitive. More importantly (in my opinion), the shutter may also be triggered by tapping on the screen.
Purists might shun the latter feature as gimmicky since the shutter button on the upper right is functional enough, but there are practical reasons for using the touchscreen in this manner. Touching the screen is equivalent to a half-press of the shutter button (focus and exposure are locked), while lifting the finger from the screen is equivalent to a full-press of the shutter button (a photograph is taken). Since using the touchscreen involves light contact rather than application of pressure, this method could mean reduced camera shake and steadier shots in low light situations.
Also, if a particular shot requires that you hold the camera in an unusual manner, the larger surface area of the touchscreen may be more preferable to an awkwardly positioned shutter button. Basically, it allows less conspicuous ways of taking photographs. Great for
As the latest model in Canon's Powershot S series, the S110 also inherits many of the features which made its predecessors popular.
SizeThe compact form remains to be one of the main selling points of the S series. Even the modest EOS 600D looks like a behemoth when placed back-to-back with the S110.
This light weight and inconspicuous size make it ideal for capturing candid situations.
The contrast in size becomes less apparent when comparing the rear displays of these two cameras. There are differences in the aspect ratio (4:3 vs. 3:2) and resolution of the actual LCD screens (461,000 dots vs. 1,040,000 dots), but both are officially 3-inch LCD screens. In fact, the screen protector covering my S110 is a backup originally meant for the 600D.
The S110 has a variable aperture zoom lens. On the wide end of the range, it's equivalent to 24mm at f/2.0. Not bad, considering that even the most expensive zoom lenses for DSLRs typically start at only f/2.8. This makes the S110 even better in low light than your average DSLR paired with a kit lens.
At the other end of the scale, the lens can zoom to an equivalent of 120mm with the maximum aperture reduced to f/5.9. It's a less versatile option, but it's there if the lighting is decent or if you're desperate enough.
Besides the non-constant aperture, the minimum focusing distance varies from 3cm on the wide end to a little over 20cm on the narrow end. This is sufficient for getting most close-up details even if true 1:1 macro cannot be attained.
It should also be noted that the wide end of the zoom range exhibits strong barrel distortion. This can only be observed when using RAW format since the camera automatically corrects the issue for in-camera JPEG images. Although the camera makes adjustments in JPEG images to make the lines appear straighter, this is done by stretching the edges of the images. This results in loss of details along the perimeter of the photograph.
On the other hand, barrel distortion is hardly noticable on the telephoto end of the zoom range.
FocusingFor the autofocus, the S110 still makes use of the standard contrast detection which is typical of most compact cameras. It's not instantaneous, but it's still fast (leagues ahead of the notorious EOS M anyway). It would probably work well enough for most casual shooting, though I wouldn't want to rely on it for moving subjects.
Since I prioritize proper timing over perfect focus, my own S110 is permanently set to manual focus mode in order to minimize delays. There's a zoomed-in magnified display available for fine adjustments, but what I use most of the time is the focus distance indicator (combined with my own sense of scale). It's a style that requires a bit of preparation and anticipation; but it sits well with my obsessive-compulsive tendencies.
Granted, it's actually difficult to get a completely out-of-focus shot with this technique, thanks to the sensor/lens combination. As with virtually all other compact cameras, the S110 lacks shallow depth of field. This could be an advantage unless you're the portrait photographer who demands bokeh in all of your images.
ControlsThe Powershot S-series offers enough features to satisfy most control freaks.
The front and rear control dials have been there since the S90. That's actually one dial more than my EOS 600D. It certainly makes changing settings less of a hassle.
Another feature that my entry level DSLR lacks is the <C> mode on the mode dial. This allows instantaneous loading of a preset previously saved by the user. I find it more reliable and more predictable than switching to Auto mode. Great for quick snapshots when you're caught with your pants down.
RAWLike most proper cameras, saving in RAW is also an option. Surprisingly, my S110 is once again a step ahead of my 600D in this regard.
The S110 allows simultaneously saving in RAW and different JPEG resolutions (12MP, 6MP, 2MP, and 0.3MP). In contrast to this, my 600D is stuck with 18megapixel JPEGs once RAW is also enabled. For a workflow that relies on JPEG for quick previews and RAW for serious editing, being able to vary JPEG resolutions makes image culling significantly faster.
The S110 also allows independent deletion of JPEG or RAW images that were captured together. The 600D offers no such option.
Anybody familiar with photo editing would know the advantages of processing RAW files, but the most notable among these would be the retention of finer details. Canon's in-camera JPEG processing is well-known for giving images that extra "pop" (i.e. stronger contrast), but it does occasionally obliterate subtle graduations in color.
Other notable features
- in-camera HDR
- exposure bracketing
- focus bracketing
- built-in 3-stop ND filter
- 10fps burst mode (no manual controls, all JPEG)
- 1080p recording
LimitationsThere's the usual caveats involving compact cameras:
- A 1/1.7" sensor won't match the sharpness of APS-C sensors, let alone full-frame sensors.
- Contrast detection autofocus is slower than the the nearly instantaneous phase detection autofocus used by DSLRs.
- Limited battery life is the inherent problem of keeping both the image sensor and LCD display constantly active.
- The S110 feels solid in the hand, but I wouldn't dare subject it the same trials my 600D has experienced (light rain, salt spray, tipped over tripods, etc.)
For those into light painting, the S110 might not be the most ideal option given certain limitations of Manual mode. The primary limitation is that the ISO is automatically locked to ISO 80 once the shutter speed exceeds 1 second. The second limitation is the upper limit of the shutter speed which is 15 seconds. That's barely enough time for drawing any complicated figures or long lines of text in the dark.
There is no bulb mode either, which is a pity given that long exposures could have worked well with the camera's built-in 3-stop ND filter.
Focus peaking is another option which is notably missing when the S110 is compared to its competitors.