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From the Archives: Canon S95 Review

Given that the Canon Powershot S100 is currently available and out on the shelves, I figured that now would be the best time to post a subjective and non-technical review of its older brother, the Canon Powershot S95.

Searches for the S95 on both Flickr and Google images frequently generate hits for my Flickr photostream, and even a year after its release, people still contact me asking for my opinion of this camera.

I knew that the S95 was special when one of my first pictures with the camera skyrocketed to the top of Flickr's 'most interesting' list for my photostream, where as of writing it still remains.

Having used it for over a year now, I can safely say that it's my "go to" camera for when I don't want to carry my (D)SLR around. I particularly like the fast f/2.0 aperture (at least when zoomed out), which gives not only the ability to blur the background slightly (bokeh) but also makes this camera easier to use in darker situations.

The "pocketability" of this camera is really its main merit, and if you're not concerned about size then there are plenty of other options in this price bracket, such as large-sensor interchangeable-lens compacts like Olympus' PEN series or Sony's NEX series, not to mention relatively cheap DSLRs.

I really liked the wider and faster (overall) lens of the the Panasonic LX5, but it was simply too large, and if I had to make the same decision today, I'd also consider the Olympus XZ-1, and probably find that a little too large also. For my needs, it was worth sacrificing some specifications and features for the ability to fit easily inside of a trouser or jacket pocket.

But it's not all about size, it's what the little blighter can achieve that counts. Not only can you easily change almost any setting you wish to assign by using both front and rear control dials, but you can even see those changes take effect almost instantly on the rear screen.

The image stabilization system works surprisingly well, but cannot help with motion blur at longer shutter speeds. I've taken it along to floodlit football games and even dark, damp bonfires and achieved brilliant results simply from tinkering around with the settings and finding the right combination for the situation.

Being able to control exposure in a quick and intuitive way is one of the best things about this camera, and it's no surprise that other companies have taken to using a dual control-ring for their compact cameras, such as with the Olympus XZ-1, mentioned earlier.Sadly this camera is not for everyone, and I do have a few trivial criticisms, which I might as well list in no particular order:

1. The included hand strap is useless without an adjuster, as it just slips off the hand. I use a strap from a Nintendo Wii remote instead.

2. The flash is underpowered, but exposes well when used at shorter distances. However, it pops up where most people would place their left index finger, and cannot be pushed back in manually. When coupled with a bad strap and small physical size, don't be surprised if the camera takes a bit of a tumble!

3. The battery life is indicated with a measly three bars, and appears to stay on one bar for quite a while before suddenly running out of power. It's caught me out a couple of times, but it's never been during anything too serious so far.

That being said those are quite minor quibbles with quite a remarkable camera that continues to make me smile after over a year of use.

I'll leave it up to the other reviewers to compare the S95 to the S100. The S95 certainly deserves much of the praise it gets online, and I expect that despite similarly priced but larger cameras having superior specifications, the S100 will get quite a bit of praise also.

Simply put if you're wanting a "pocketable" camera with full manual controls, you can't go wrong with the Canon Powershot S series.

Adam Simmons

January 4, 2012

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