The new Canon PowerShot S110 is an understated and rather elegant little P&S digital camera that offers a lot of professional features. The S110 (like its "S" series predecessors) was designed for serious photographers looking for a pocketable compact camera with lots of creative capability. I've owned several small cameras over the years, but nothing like this tiny workhorse digicam - the snazzy little Canon S110 packs more features and functions into it's sturdy metal-alloy body than most DSLRs provide. It has a high-sensitivity 12 megapixel CMOS sensor, a very good 5x zoom lens with a fast f2.0 maximum aperture, a 3.0 inch touchscreen LCD monitor, built-in wi-fi connectivity, GPS functionality, 1080p HD movies, auto mode ease of use, the full range of manual exposure shooting modes, and RAW format support. In fact, pretty much the only thing the S110 can't do is switch lenses. The Canon S110 is currently priced at $349.
My photographic heroes have always been "straight shooters" - documentary, street/candid, available light, and environmental portrait photographers - so when I found myself in temporary possession of Canon's new S110, I was psyched up to take some pictures. In the past, "Straight Shooters" used compact 35mm Leica rangefinder cameras to capture many of the moments that defined 20th century society, history, and culture. 35mm Rangefinders were unobtrusive and unintimidating to subjects, but they were also are very responsive in the hands of a skilled shooter; capable of generating images that were every bit as good as those produced by larger, bulkier, and more conspicuous cameras. After using the S110 for a while, I'm convinced this tiny camera is a 21st century reincarnation of those classic cameras from the golden age of photography.
Build and Design
Visually, the new Canon PowerShot S110 is nearly identical to its predecessor (the S100, which it replaces) and at first glance may appear to be a typical compact P&S digicam - since it is pocket-sized and will function nicely in auto mode, but unlike the flood of compact auto-exposure only P&S digicams inundating the hi-tech marketplace the S110 is an enthusiast's camera. The S110, even though quite compact, feels solid in your hands, features a robustly constructed all metal body with first-rate dust/moisture seals, permits lots of personal input into the image making process. captures still images in either RAW or JPEG formats, and allows full manual control of exposure.
The S110 is a rather retro looking precision-built imaging tool that was obviously designed for photography enthusiasts. The S110 is also an easily pocketable P&S digicam that will function nicely as a general purpose camera, but its strongest appeal may be that it is small and not intimidating to subjects. It is also a dependably competent picture maker, easy to use, responds almost intuitively to the photographer, and is fast enough to capture the decisive moment - making it an almost perfect tool for straight-shooters. All this photographic capability and creative potential is stuffed into a package that measures 3.5 inches (98.8mm) x 2.3 inches (59.0mm) x 1.0 inch (26.9mm) and tips the scales at 7 ounces (198 grams) with battery and memory card.
The back of the camera is dominated by the LCD screen. To the right of the screen is a decent sized thumb rest and directly below that the lens ring function button paired with a perfectly placed one tough video stop/start button. Next is the compass switch surrounded by a rotary jog dial. Below the compass switch are the review button and the menu button. All dedicated controls are logically placed and easily accessed with the exception of the on/off button. The S110's new wi-fi capabilities allow users to share images with another camera, a smartphone, a computer, a printer, or the internet. The S110's wi-fi functionality is also utilized to geo-tag images with GPS data recorded by the user's smartphone.
Auto (Smart Auto): Automatic scene recognition mode that instantly compares what's in front of the lens with an on-board image database and then matches that information with the specific scene's subject distance, white balance, contrast, dynamic range, lighting and color (just before the image is recorded) to determine the best exposure.
Program: Auto exposure with limited user input (sensitivity, white balance, exposure compensation, etc).
Aperture priority: Users select the aperture and the camera selects an appropriate shutter speed.
Shutter priority: Users select shutter speed and the camera selects an appropriate aperture.
Manual: Users select all exposure parameters.
Custom: Permits users to pre-program personal shooting preferences for quick access via the mode dial.
HDR: High Dynamic Range.
Scene: Portrait, landscape, smart shutter, kids & pets, super vivid, power effect, color accent, color swap, nostalgic, fish-eye effect, miniature effect, beach, underwater, foliage, snow, fireworks, stitch assist, indoor, face/self-timer, low-light, super vivid, poster effect, beach, foliage, snow, fireworks and long shutter.
Movie Digest: The camera captures a brief video clip with each shot to create a mini-video of the day's shooting adventures.
Movie: The S110 records HD video at a maximum resolution of 1920x1080 (1080p) at 24 fps for up to 4GB or one hour. Canon recommends a class 6 or higher SD card for optimal video capture.
The S80 was the last "S" series camera to feature an optical viewfinder. S110 users must rely instead on the 3.0-inch (461k) LCD for all touchscreen, framing/composition, Wi-Fi, captured image review, and menu navigation chores. Many modern shooters don't like optical viewfinders anyway and in lots of shooting scenarios (macro shots and portraits for example) it is actually quicker and easier to watch the decisive moment come together on the LCD screen than it is through an optical viewfinder.
The S110's TFT LCD screen is bright, hue accurate, fluid, automatically boosts gain in dim/low light, and covers approximately 100% of the image frame. The user-enabled grid display combined with the exposure histogram are very useful options for serious shooters. The S110's LCD (like all LCD monitors) is subject to fading and glare/reflections in bright outdoor lighting, but users can adjust brightness.
The Canon PowerShot S110's touch screen functions like the touchscreens on today's smart phones -- meaning it is sensitive to contact rather than pressure and therefore much more responsive than earlier generations of camera touchscreens. There is a nifty touch, focus, shoot option - simply enable the Touch Shutter option in the main menu - after which the camera will lock focus on the place where you touch the screen and then trip the shutter automatically.
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