Field Review: Canon PowerShot S95 (Day 2)

After an afternoon of shooting the Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market, Times Square, and Bryant Park, I discovered some of the most notable issues with the S95‘s picture quality: extensive halos and noise. If you do any shooting outside or near fluorescent light sources, you’ll see purple and green fringes along contrasting lines between light and dark objects. If you shoot above ISO 100, you’ll notice significant grain, especially in darker, gray objects.

As a Casual Walkabout

I shot at ISO 100 and 160 to capture the bright, sunny day, and rotated between Manual, Shutter, and Program modes to get a feel for the settings. In my usual skyline shot from the subway going across the Manhattan Bridge, the Canon PowerShot S95 produced a striking, vivid image. Once you look closely, however, the flaws become apparent. The edges of the bridge’s supports against the blue sky showed significant purple fringing, as did the Manhattan skyline and any other dark object that stood out from the bright background. At ISO 160, the supports appeared very fuzzy even for being in a moving train car and shooting through glass, showing noise even at such a low sensitivity level.

For a compact camera, the S95 feels surprisingly solid and comfortable to an SLR photographer. While it lacks the bulk of an SLR camera, it’s built very sturdy, and the lens ring and thumb wheel make adjustments incredibly easy. In manual mode, I shot with shutter speed linked to the thumb wheel and aperture linked to the lens ring, so adjustments went very fast. In priority modes, the thumb wheel adjusted the priority setting, while I set the lens ring to adjust manual focus as needed.

The S95 focused quickly, and the lens ring made switching to manual focus and adjusting much faster than I’ve seen in any other compact camera. Unfortunately, if you want to use manual focus in manual mode through the lens ring, you’ll have to press the Ring Function button to switch back to “Standard” mode to adjust aperture. It’s a slightly clunky set-up, but still easier to work with than most other compacts’ manual modes. The manual focus is a great boon, because changing autofocus settings requires some menu-diving. The main choices are Center (the default), Face AiAF (the “smart” autofocusing, with facial recognition), and Tracking AF (locks onto the center subject, then tracks it through the frame).

The camera fared a bit better once I got to the flea market. Again, the Canon PowerShot S95 produced colorful, well-saturated pictures with its automatic white balance, and from a stationary position at ISO 100 the photos looked much sharper. While some areas of the picture got a bit soft, like the inflatable devil’s face, fine textures like the brick on surrounding buildings and the individual leaves on the trees were visible.

The S95 gets much sharper the closer you get to the subject. These colorful glass baubles on a table at the flea market look gorgeous from just two feet away. The fine details of each trinket are bright, sharp, and clear, with much less fringing and noise.

Coming in from the sunlight, I shot this picture of some pizza from Two Bros. Like the colored glass, the glistening cheese of the pizza looks vivid and full of life. At ISO 100 and F/2.2, all but the very tips of the slices are in focus and sharp. For the record, both slices and the can of soda cost $2.75, which is why frugal photographers in New York swear by Two Bros.

More to come in the field review!

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