BUILD AND DESIGN
The PowerShot S95 is a thoughtfully designed, precision built and robustly constructed imaging tool that was obviously designed for serious shooters. The S95, unlike the auto-everything point-and-shoot digital cameras inundating the high tech marketplace these days, permits lots of individual input into the image making process via an enhanced feature set, plenty of creative flexibility and manual control of exposure.
The S95 re-utilizes the same 10 megapixel sensor as the S90, which indicates that the megapixel wars may finally be drawing to a close - at least in the advanced category. Most recent OEM updates would have kicked the resolution up to 12 megapixels. Canon seems committed instead to improving performance at higher ISO settings for better low light and indoor pictures.
The megapixel wars have finally gotten us to the point of diminishing returns - continually crowding more pixels onto tiny sensors reliably results in higher levels of image degrading noise. P&S digicams with 12 or 14 megapixel resolution don't produce better pictures than digicams with 10 megapixel resolution - they just generate larger (and usually noisier) image files.
In general, the S95's styling is similar to earlier "S" series digicams; its rectangular metal alloy body is stylish in an understated way and eminently durable. The S95's handling and operation quickly become intuitive. The predecessor of the S90 and S95 (the S80) featured an optical viewfinder and a rudimentary handgrip; the newest "S" series PowerShots eschew both.
Ergonomics and Controls
The Canon S95 looks and feels like a point-and-shoot digicam, but it performs much like Canon's top of the line "G" models. Even though the S95 is small (3.9x2.29x1.16-inches) and very light in the weight (6.8oz) department it feels solid and stable in your hands. The S95 features the same easy grip, non-reflective body surface coating as the EOS 7D DSLR and that provides some extra protection since there's no handgrip - users should deploy and religiously use the included wrist strap.
The S95's user interface is logical and uncomplicated - all buttons and controls are a bit small, but they are all clearly marked, sensibly placed and easily accessed. The S95's compass switch (four-way controller) provides direct access to the exposure compensation function, flash settings, and macro mode. Canon's "func" button offers direct access to WB, ISO, image size, etc.
The compass switch is surrounded by a rotary jog dial. Press the review button and use your right thumb on the rotary jog dial to quickly and easily scroll back and forth through your saved images - the S95 makes it easy to compare and assess a series of similar shots and winnow them down to the best image in the sequence.
The S95 also features a nifty manual control ring. The control ring surrounds the base of the zoom lens and enables shooters to select from variety of functions by turning the click-stopped ring either right or left. The control ring can be used as a manual zoom ring with steps at the equivalent of 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm and 105mm. It can also be enabled to adjust ISO (in 1/3 stop increments), WB, shutter and aperture, or exposure compensation - I used the control ring to provide direct access to the exposure compensation function to quickly and easily lighten or darken images incrementally.
Menus and Modes
The PowerShot S95 features a three tab version of Canon's classic digicam menu. The S95's menu system, accessed via a dedicated button beneath the compass switch, is simple, logical and easy to navigate.
The S95 provides a complete selection of shooting modes including:
*Canon's High Dynamic Range function (unique to the S95) captures 3 images (bracketed at different EV) with one push of the shutter button and then merges those three separate pictures into one enhanced image.
The S80 (predecessor of the S90 and S95) featured an optical viewfinder, but the S95 doesn't. Users must rely instead on the LCD for all framing/composition, captured image review and menu navigation chores. Most modern shooters rarely use optical viewfinders anyway and in many shooting scenarios (macro and portraits, for example), it is usually quicker and easier to watch the decisive moment come together on the LCD screen than it is through an optical viewfinder.
The S95 may lack a viewfinder, but makes up for it by providing a noticeably better than average 3.0 inch wide-viewing angle PureColor II LCD with 461k-dot resolution. The S95's TFT LCD screen is bright, hue accurate, relatively fluid (not jerky), automatically boosts gain in dim/low light, and covers 100% of the image frame. The user-enabled grid display combined with an exposure histogram is a very useful option for serious shooters. The S95's LCD, like all LCD monitors is subject to fading and glare/reflections in bright outdoor lighting.
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