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.
The S110 has some stiff competition including the Sony RX100, the amazingly good Samsung EX2F and the $800.00 Leica D-Luxe 6, but the S110 is not only the cheapest option available on the premium P&S digicam roster, it is competitive with those other cameras.
The S110 features the same TTL Contrast Detection AF system as its predecessor. In all exposure modes, the camera analyzes the scene in front of the lens and then calculates camera-to-subject distance to determine which of the multiple AF point is closest to the primary subject (closest subject priority) and then locks focus on that AF point. The S110's face detection AF mode is linked to the camera's exposure and WB systems. The S110 automatically finds, locks focus, tracks and then optimizes exposure for up to 12 faces or shooters can lock on a single face and track it through a crowd. The S110's Center AF option is good for traditional landscapes and even better for street shooting, because serious shooters don't want the camera deciding which face in the crowd to focus on. AF is dependably fast and almost unerringly accurate -- in good lighting.
The S110's tiny multi mode pop-up flash provides an acceptable selection of artificial lighting options, including auto, flash on (fill flash), flash off, and slow synchro plus menu flash options including flash exposure compensation (+/- 2EV in 1/3 EV increments), first and second curtain synch, red-eye correction, red-eye lamp, and Safety FE. According to Canon, the maximum flash range is about 16 feet, which seems very optimistic given the tiny size of the unit. Based on my very limited flash use, the S110's flash recycle time is between 3 and 4 seconds.
According to Canon, the S110 is good for about 200 exposures (without flash) or 300 minutes of video on a freshly charged NB-5L Lithium-ion power pack. That's fewer exposures than average for cameras of this type. The S110 supports SD, SDHC, SDXC memory formats.
Like its predecessor, the little S110 is built around a fast f/2.0-f5.9/ 5.2mm-26.0 mm (35 mm equivalent is 24mm-120 mm) 5x zoom lens. Construction consists of 7 elements in 6 groups (1 double-sided aspherical element, 1 double-sided aspherical UA element and 1 single-sided aspherical element). Most point-and-shoot digicams offer zooms with maximum apertures of f/2.8 or slower--the S110's f/2.0 maximum aperture lets in twice as much light. This allows for faster shutter speeds (in dim light) and slightly shallower depth of field for less distracting backgrounds.
When the S110 is powered up, the zoom extends from the camera body automatically, and when the camera is powered down, the lens retracts into the camera body and a built-in iris-style lens cover closes to protect the front element. Zooming is smooth and relatively quiet.
The S110's zoom is surprisingly good even though it does produce some very minor corner softness. Barrel distortion (straight lines bow out from the center of the frame) at the wide-angle end of the zoom range is about average at the wide-angle end of the zoom range.
Pincushion distortion (straight lines bow in toward the center of the frame) is virtually invisible at the telephoto end of the zoom. Chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is remarkably well controlled - essentially absent at both ends of the zoom range. It takes the S110 about three seconds to move its 5x zoom from wide-angle to telephoto. The zoom can used during video capture, but lens motor noise may be recorded as well. The S110 features the same lens shift 4-stop Intelligent IS optical Image Stabilization (with 6 IS modes) featured on its predecessor.
S95/S100 image files were (like those from most Canon P&S digicams) optimized for bold bright colors and hard-edged but slightly flat contrast. Once I started using the S110 I noticed that the colors seemed slightly less saturated (intense) and that contrast was a bit harder than what I had seen on earlier Canon point and shoots. Overall, reds are warm, but not wet paint red. Blues are a tiny bit brighter than they are in real life, and greens are impressively vibrant, but not garish. The S110's images are highly-detailed and surprisingly sharp, at least in bright outdoor lighting with highlight detail only rarely blown-out. The bottom line here is that potential S110 purchasers are going to have to spend substantially more money to get better image quality from a point and shoot camera and those images are only going to be subtly (not substantially) better.
The S110 provides users with an acceptable selection of WB options, including Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Flash, Underwater, Custom 1, and Custom 2. The S110's auto WB mode does an excellent job under outdoor lighting and a provides better than average performance indoors and in poor/dim lighting. The S110 features Canon's Multi-area White Balance system that makes images look more natural by detecting situations where there are two different light sources in the frame and then automatically applying area-specific white balance correction.
The S110 provides a comprehensive range of sensitivity options, including auto and user-set options for 80, 100, 125, 160, 200, 250, 320, 400, 500, 640, 800, 1000, 1250, 1600, 2000, 2500, 3200, 4000, 5000, 6400, 8000, 10000, and 12800 ISO. ISO 80/100/125 images are remarkably similar and show bright saturated colors, somewhat flat contrast, and very low noise levels. ISO 200 images were also very good. ISO 400 images look like ISO 200 images from other cameras -- noise levels are marginally higher and there's a barely perceptible loss of minor detail (hair, grass, etc) from lower ISO images.
Additional Sample Images