DigitalCameraReview.com
Canon Powershot S70 Digital Camera Review
by yusakugo -  6/5/2005
I've bought many Canon digital cameras... maybe too many.  Although I have been moving towards dSLR cameras as of late, there are many advantages to a point-and-shoot digital camera.  Point-and-shoot cameras are much smaller, more integrated solutions that also offer excellent ease of use with minimal loss of image quality.  The Canon Powershot S70 is a mid-end to high-end point-and-shoot digital camera that allows flexibility and creativity with few faults and still provides excellent image quality.
 

Short Take

Over the years, I've put my trust into Canon digital cameras... the majority of my digital camera collection is composed mostly of Canons... with a few Nikons, a couple of Sonys, and a Pentax. The S70 continues a strong tradition started from the S30 of a well constructed, semi-compact, and nearly full featured digital camera with solid performance.  The S70 is a camera that is easy enough for beginnings to take out at any time to snap photos while allowing the user room to grow by providing the user control over aspects of the camera.  The camera has slimmed down a tad although the reality is that the S70 is barely a pants pocketable camera.  The S70 is rated as a 7 MP camera although you don't need that kind of resolution especially for 4x6 and 5x7 shots.  Image quality is superb due to the excellent and large lens.  Almost all of the features of Canon's more expensive G6 camera has been stuffed into the S70, which is where the flexibility comes into play.  The S70 lens reaches 28mm for a wide zoom which is great for group photos and extends to 100mm for decent telephoto range (all 35mm equivalents).

The S70 weak points includes the flash... which actually seems weaker than the older S50 especially at distances beyond 10 feet. There also seems to be some mild distortion at the wide angle settings. Canon still doesn't have an add-on flash unit for the S60/70 series. Other weak points are the lack of the DiG!C II processor which also limits the movie mode capabilities versus the competition and more recent Canon digital point-and-shoots.

Design

The S70 basically looks like a black version of Canon's S60... black standing for the higher end camera in the series. The S70 camera is significantly lighter than the S50 and just a tad smaller... the loss of an ounce of weight makes it feel a little less solid than the S50. The camera has dimensions of 4.49 x 2.22 x 1.5 inches with a weight of 10.1 oz. with the Compact Flash (CF) card and battery installed. Compare this to the S50's dimensions of 4.41 x 2.28 x 1.65 inches and a weight of 11.2 oz. That ounce really is the biggest difference between S50 and the S70.  Although the S70 is a bit longer and thinner than the older S50, it fits rather nicely into Canon's S50 leather case. On the flip side, the S50 has a more solid and metalic feel versus the S70. To me, the S70 feels a bit more plastic than the S50. In reality, the S70 follows the use of a rigid polycarbonate body with overlying metal plating (aluminum for the S70). The front of the camera is the flash (partially covered with the cover closed) and the microphone hole and IR remote sensor below it (both are always exposed). When you slide the lens cover open, the lens, the optical viewfinder, and the AF/red-eye lamp are all exposed.


The S70's camera lens is no longer centered in the middle of the camera but slightly to the left of center (if you're looking at the back of the S70). The tripod mount is mounted further left from the midline of the camera lens.
 
The S70 fixes user complaints from the S50 like the loose control pad from the S45/50 models and the playback switch. On the S70 is a D-style control pad and a button to activate playback mode.  Overall, the S70 is more pleasant and easier to use and control than the S50 model it replaces. For the most part, the controls of the S70 are almost entirely in reach of your right index finger and thumb. Like most digital cameras, the S70 was made to be held and operated in your right hand. The only three buttons out of reach (being of the far left side of the back of the camera) are the FUNC button (important), Manual Focus/Delete, and the Light Metering/Audio buttons. The rest of the back of the S70 include the 1.8 inch color TFT LCD on the left side and the new Omni-selector (i.e. 5-way joypad) with the direct print button, playback, display, and menu buttons surrounding the Omni-selector at the diagonals. The zoom lever is now at the back of the camera (compared to the top front on the S50) above the Omni-selector. Two more buttons are above the LCD which are the Macro/Jump and the Flash/Index buttons. There is a green LED and a blue LED (the blue LED is embedded in the Direct Print button). The green LED lights up in playback mode. The blue LED lights when the camera is connected to a computer or a PictBridge compatible printer. There are two smaller LEDs by the optical viewfinder that tell you the camera's status. I should note that the LCD can be hard to read in bright sunlight due to the lack of anti-glare coating on it.

The right side of the camera holds only the eyelet for the strap. The left side of the camera has a portion of the three buttons mentioned above and the rubber cover for the A/V out and Digital/mini-USB 1.1 jacks.
 
The bottom of the camera holds the cover to the CF slot and the battery (the cover slides out to the right instead of back) and the off-lens-center tripod mount. The good thing about the location of the tripod mount is that you can open the battery/CF cover while the camera is mounted on a tripod, but the location of the tripod mount makes stitch photos a bit harder to take.
 
The top of the camera holds the mode dial, the shutter button, and the speaker grille.

The S70 uses only Compact Flash type memory... it will accept Type I or II CF cards and microdrives as well. Faster CF cards like the Sandisk Ultra II series do help. Lexar 80x CF cards with Write Acceleration (WA) also help but don't seem to be as fast as in particular Nikon models (maybe Canon does conform to the Lexar WA technology?) and slower than the Sandisk Ultra II series from my use.


Movies?

One of the weaknesses of the S70 is the limited movie capturing modes versus just about the rest of the competition and even Canon latest digital point-and-shoot cameras. Canon offers only 160x120 @ 15fps, 320x240 @ 15fps, and 640x480 resolution @ 10fps. Although every other digital camera maker offers the same resolutions and then some. However, the S70 (like just about all the other Canon models) is limited to 30 sec clips at 640x480 resolution and 3 minutes at 160x120 and 320x240 resolution. Part of these limitations are due to the older processor in the S70 which is the original DiG!C processor compared to DiG!C II processor in Canon's more recent cameras.
 
Although the movie capture is a bit grainy, it is acceptable for small clips... but will not replace a camcorder anytime soon.  Note that you cannot zoom in and out while recording video... all that must be set before you press the record button.

Lens and Optical Zoom
 
The large lens opening allows more light to reach the S70 image sensor and allow it to take great shots.  You'll be especially pleased in daytime and early evening photos with the S70.  The S70 has a high quality Canon glass for the lens so that should give you every chance to take excellent photos.

The S70 offers the 35mm equivalent of 28mm-100mm. Canon states this is an optical zoom of 3.6x. The important aspect here is the 28mm wide angle zoom.  There are very few digital point-and-shoot cameras that allow such a wide zoom.  You do get a slight problem of distortion at the edge of the image when closer to the 28mm range.  The S70 maximum telephoto range of 100mm is decent and should agree with most users.  You don't have the distortion you get at the wide angle setting.
 
If you care, the digital zoom is 4.1x... but digital zooms are pretty useless in my opinion (It's about the same as cropping and enlarging the original shot on your home computer!).

Image Quality and File Sizes

The S70 pictures are nothing short of stunning for a point-and-shoot. Overall, the pictures retain more detail than those taken with the S50 and maintain just about the same excellent color reproduction and vibrancy. Overall detail was sharper than my Canon Digital Rebel... although colors on the Digital Rebel were more subdued but realistic compared to the more vibrant (and some reviewers call consumery colors) hues on the S70. Regardless, the images were sharper than those on the 7MP Sony DSC-P150 as well (both camera use the same imaging sensor apparently). Note that I felt the noise levels and purple fringing/chromatic abberation seemed to be better controlled than that in the S50. You notice a bit of purple fringing/chromatic abberation in high contrast areas... in reality, you won't notice it at all if you print your photos in sizes under 8x10 inches.  On a side note, pretty much all digital cameras have some chromatic abberation... I think it is just the nature of the technology currently.

As far as chromatic abberations are concerned, this is influenced by several factors. These include the size of the lens, the size of the image sensor (smaller the sensor the worse the abberation), and the size of the image (I referring to the MP count in this case)(Higher MP count the worse the abberation). In this case, the high MP count, relatively small lens (although the lens opening is larger than many other digital cameras) and form factor of the camera, and the small size of the sensor (1/1.8 inch sensor which is fairly small). I was expecting chromatic abberation that was worse than the S50 but I was plesantly surprised. The chromatic abberation is slightly better than the DSC-P150 although the image noise is slightly worse. Chromatic abberation is worse at the wide angle view (28mm) and minimal at other zoom lengths. I don't think it is a deal breaker by any means... besides, I don't think I've seen any digital non-SLR camera have little to no chromatic abberation to date! Even the Canon Digital Rebel and Rebel XT has a little bit as well.

Low light and Nighttime conditions were a weak point of the S70. The flash seemed to be noticably weaker than the S50. I felt that the S70 flash was good up to 10 feet... possibly decent up to 12 feet. Past that distance, you need to have decent backlighting or use some kind of external light source for shots other than landscaping/skyline shots. The S50 averaged a few feet better than that at least. The flash is still stronger than that on the Sony DSC-P150 (although weaker than the DSC-P150 with the add-on flash unit).
 
Because of how close the lens and the flash are, red eye is still a minor problem.  Even with red-eye reduction, you still get a couple of shots with red-eye on portrait and group shots.
 
Image File Sizes and Options

The S70 allows you to select from resolutions of 3072x2304 (Large), 2592x1944 (Medium 1), 2048x1536 (Medium 2), 1600x1200 (Medium 3), 640x480 (Small) pixels. There are three levels of JPEG compression (Normal, Fine, and Superfine) as well as RAW files (for manual settings... not for the automatic mode).
 
These are 7 MP photos you're preserving to memory here.  At the Large Superfine setting, each image file is about 3 MB each! With a 512MB CF card, you can save around 170 shots. Saving to RAW files (3072x2304 i.e. 7.1 MP images), the image files are at least 7 MB each! The RAW file type saves all the information captured by the camera so you have greater flexibility in editing it on the computer (like on PhotoShop).  At this setting, a 512MB CF card will net you only 70 shots.  The Medium 1 Superfine setting yields 5 MP images whose file size is around 2.5 MB.  A 512MB card will get you a little more than 200 images here.

Modes, Options, and Features

The S70 has a ton of features and modes... if Canon keeps with tradition, the S70 should share almost all the same features as the Canon G6!

The mode dial allows you to select from:
1) Program AE (P): camera controls shutter speed and lens aperture
2) Shutter Speed (Tv): camera controls shutter speed, you set lens aperture
3) Aperture-Priority Av (Av): camera controls lens aperture, you control shutter speed
4) Manual (M): You control pretty much all the exposure settings. 
5) Custom (C): Recall your previous saved manual settings
6) Auto: Camera controls almost everything (you just set the flash mode, macro mode, image size and compression settings)
7) Portrait
8) Landscape
9) Night Scene
10) Fast Shutter
11) Slow Shutter
12) Stitch-Assist
13) Movie

The FUNC button allow you to control (not all options are available in all modes):
1) Exposure Compensation -/+ 2 EV in 1/3 increments
2) White Balance (Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Flash, Underwater, or 1 Custom mode).
3) Drive (Single, Continuous, or High-Speed Continuous and 2 and 10 second Timer)
4) ISO (Auto, 50, 100, 200, 400) selection
5) Effects (Vivid Color, Neutral Color, Low Sharpening, Sepia, Black and White, or Custom) to apply to your photos.
6) Flash Exposure Compensation
7) Resolution and Quality... this is where you choose the file size and file compression scheme
 
DPOF

You can attach the XT to any PictBridge supporting printer to directly print your photos from the camera. The camera allows basic picture printing options however. Editing options are also limited as well.

Battery Life

I tested the S70 with my older S50 lithium-ion battery. The S50 battery is the older NB-2L (570 mAh). The S70 uses the newer NB-2LH (720 mAh)which has a much higher charge capacity than the older NB-2L battery. I pulled off about 200 shots with moderate flash use and with the LCD on with the older battery. On the NB-2LH battery, I easily obtained 270 shots on a full charge with the LCD on and about a quarter of the shots using the flash.  I was able to record and play back video clips for 2 1/2 hours on a fully charged NB-2LH battery.  Unfortunately, the S70 continues the awful Canon tradition of giving the low power warning when the battery has enough power for 10 or less shots.

Accessories

If you're upgrading from a S30/40/45/50, you'll be happy to know that you can use the old batteries and AC adapter. Camera cases like the leather case from Canon is usable with the S60/70 model. I am not sure about the underwater case however. New for the S60/70 is the ability to add specific lenses through an optional lens adapter. The adapter runs about $30-40 and additional lenses run about $100 a pop. The 2x teleconverter makes the S70 a 48mm-200mm equivalent (although the chromatic abberation increases and there is a slight decrease in image sharpness). The lens adapter allows the use of appropriately sized lens filters as well.
In the package, you get a hefty camera manual, two software CDs, the A/V and USB-to-mini-USB cable, a camera strap, a high speed 32MB CF card, a NB-2LH lithium-ion battery, and NB-2L/LH battery charger.

You must buy an additional CF card of at least 512MB capacity. I would recommend a high speed CF card of at least 512MB if not 1GB! I would recommend Canon's leather case for the camera... I think it's one of the nicer ones out there. A second battery would be nice but not necessary.

I haven't looked into this... but I believe there is an external flash unit for the S70.  The HF-DC1 is the model number, but I haven't really seen this item around.

In Actual Use and Sample Shots 

Here are two sample shots of purple/pink and white cherry blossoms in Northport, NY. I've included comparison photos against the 6.3MP Digital Rebel.  Color reproduction is more pleasing with the S70 and more vibrant at automatic settings although Digital Rebel seemed more realistic due to the more subdued colors (again at automatic settings). The S70 retained a bit more detail over the Digital Rebel when examined at their true size on a computer monitor. However, the Digital Rebel controls the picture noise better than the S70 shots (which can be due to the larger physical size of the sensor).  Overall, the extra detail is washed out by the additional picture noise so to me the images of the Canon Digital Rebel and the S70 are pretty equivalent for regular consumers.  You'll note the chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is darker in the S70 (you'll see in on the branches against the background of the sky).  The S70 shots are a bit blurry at the left corner as well.  Prints of 8.5 x 11 showed no loss of quality. Note that I used the kit lens on the Digital Rebel for the shots.

Digital Rebel [larger][original] S70 [larger][original]

Digital Rebel [larger][original] S70 [larger][original]

This is a shot from the S70 of an insect on one of those decorative stones you buy from Home Depot or Lowe's.  It was at the 28mm wide angle setting in early evening.  You'll note that the S70 captured and maintained the fine details of the insect and kept excellent color accurracy.  You'll note the distortion of the image at the corners however... especially the left upper corner which can be considered blurry even.  Note that the focus was centered on the insect as well.


[larger][original]

Camera startup was a bit slower than more recent digital camera I've played with. It took 2-3 seconds to start up. Menus were fairly easy to navigate and the Omni-Selector extremely easy to get used to.

My comments on the flash and nighttime/low light shots stand as above.  I would be careful of the distance from your subject in such conditions (for portrait and group photos).  Below are two nighttime photos from the S70 and comparison photos from the original Canon Digital Rebel.  As you can see, the combination of stronger built-in flash, bigger opening for the lens, and the larger sensor on the Digital Rebel gave better shots than the S70.  You can make out more details on the parked cars from the Digital Rebel pictures as well as less picture noise.  The S70 pictures are good but suffer from substantially more noise and the smaller size of the sensor (the physical size of the sensor and not the MP of the sensor).  Note that all photos were taken on each cameras automatic mode... with manual settings and a tripod, the pictures can be optimized a good deal with both cameras.

Digital Rebel [larger][original] S70 [larger][original]

Digital Rebel [larger][original] S70 [larger][original]

The age of the original DiG!C processor comes into play with playback.  It can take a good second or two to view a highly detailed image on the LCD.  The S70 can be a tad slow in focusing in low light and nighttime shots... especially after trying cameras like the Canon Digital Rebel XT and the Canon Powershot SD500.

Conclusions

The S70 represents an overall excellent camera that makes a few compromises.  It's strength lie in the overall flexibility of the camera and its ability to compete even with bargain dSLR cameras while remaining fairly compact.  The S70's main weakness is the low light and nighttime performance especially for medium distance group photos or portrait shots and may require use of external flash or lighting units (although you can compensate a bit with a tripod and optimizing the settings in manual mode).

Pros:
1) 7.1 MP camera
2) 3.6x optical zoom
3) Better wide angle than previous models (S30/40/45/50)
4) A little more compact than the previous models
5) Compact Flash card for storage... enhanced size of memory buffer for the 7MP images
6) Extensive advanced features.
7) Print Direct button
8) Improved controller interface from previous models
9) Improved lithium-ion battery
10) Uses most of the accessories from the previous models

Cons:
1) A bit expensive but you get a feature rich camera!
2) Proprietary lithium-ion battery (but used by several Canon models like the Digital Rebel XT)
3) Weaker flash than S45/50
4) No hot shoe or external flash capability
5) Only 32MB memory card included (about 10 shots at full JPEG resolution or 4 shots in RAW mode!)
6) Movie modes outpaced by the competition and newer Canon digital point-and-shoots
7) Off-center tripod mount