Field Review: Canon PowerShot S95 (Day 1)

Photographers tend to shun compact cameras of all stripe. It’s easy to understand why: they’re much slower than SLRs, their sensors are much smaller, and they have inferior picture quality and low-light performance. Still, camera makers keep producing high-end, premium compacts with features aimed at appealing to skilled photographers. They can’t replace SLRs, but in some cases they can augment them, thanks to their small size and flexibility. That’s the thinking behind the Canon S95, a high-end compact camera brimming with manual controls and unique features.

Tech Specs

The Canon PowerShot S95is a 10-megapixel camera, with a top sensitivity of ISO 3200 and a 28-106mm-equivalent, F2.0-4.9 image-stabilized optical zoom lens. The camera can shoot in JPEG or RAW, and can capture 720p HD video. You can read more about this in our S95 hands on review posting and how it fares against the LX-5.

Ergonomics

The Canon PowerShot S95feels very solid for a compact camera, with a thick, no-frills body featuring a matte black finish. Unlike the PowerShot SD-series, the S95 isn’t built to win any beauty contests. It’s simple and both large enough and textured enough to grip comfortably.

While it lacks any sort of viewfinder, the S95‘s 3-inch LCD is suitable for framing shots in most lighting conditions. Like most compact cameras, it’s difficult to use in bright sunlight, but it works great in nearly any other lighting situation.

Button Layout

For a compact camera, the Canon PowerShot S95takes a few useful cues from DSLRs. It has a standard mode dial and direction pad for menu navigation, but it adds two extremely useful clicking wheels. The back wheel sits around the direction pad, and offers fast adjustments to ISO sensitivity, shutter speed, and aperture. The front wheel sits on the base of the lens, and can be set to change nearly any settings. A dedicated lens ring function button lets you choose whether you want the lens ring to change focal length, manual focus, aperture, shutter, and several other useful options.

Autofocus

The S95 can reach a focus lock on most subjects very quickly, though it’s sluggish in low light. Fortunately, by setting the lens ring to manual focus, you can focus on your subjects yourself in a way that feels like a DSLR. It’s more difficult to manually focus through the camera’s LCD screen than a viewfinder, but just having the manual focus available and making it so convenient to access is a major advantage.

Outstanding features

The lens ring is the S95‘s greatest design feature, but it’s not the only unique trick in the camera’s bag. The S95 boasts an in-camera HDR mode that takes three bracketed shots and compiles a high dynamic range shot from them. While its 3.8x optical zoom isn’t a particularly impressive reach for a compact camera, its 28mm-equivalent wide angle means it can capture some great panoramic shots.

More to come in the field review later on.

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