Canon S100 Review: First impressions

I owned the Canon PowerShot S90, skipped upgrading to the S95 and now own the S100. I like the S100 a lot especially it’s diminutive size, advanced features and overall image quality. For my needs, the camera is a keeper. But, quite honestly, it’s not for everyone.

S100 Image Quality

The S100 produces excellent image quality in a wide variety of shooting conditions from bright sun to low light. Images are sharp and well-exposed. However like most digital images, they benefit from light editing such as a Levels Adjustment and Sharpening.

Dynamic range is decent for a camera with a small sensor. When photographing scenes in bright, contrasty light, there are less washed out areas than in images taken with other compacts I’ve owned. I often use minus Exposure Compensation but others may want to try i-Contrast, also known as Dynamic Range Correction. When using the latter, be aware that the higher percentage settings increase ISO and therefore noise. Of the three settings, Auto i-Contrast selects a lower ISO. [Outside shots gallery]  [Inside shots gallery]

S100 High ISO performance

Considering it’s small sensor size, the S100 does well in low light, somewhat better at higher ISO numbers than the S90/95.  When an image is reduced in size, noise is barely visible at ISO 800 and the level of noise is quite acceptable at ISO 1600.  [High ISO sample gallery]

ISO 800 – 100% crop taken from a different photo than the samples below

100% crop of wall in the distance

S100 Exposure

The S100 exposes similar to it’s predecessors the S90 and S95, which for most scenes is very good. Colors are rich and realistic, though some tend to produce too much blue for my liking. Not a problem since the colors can be adjusted in My Custom Colors or when editing.

S100 Speed and focus

Shot-to-shot time is quite decent, about 1.8 seconds between shots. Surprisingly, shot to shot time takes longer when shooting at high ISO numbers even in good light. Time between shots is faster shooting JPEG. Shooting RAW or JPEG+RAW slows things down a bit.

The S100 definitely beats its predecessors when it comes to the Continuous and High Speed burst modes, approximately 2.3 images per second in continuous modes; approximately 9.6 images per second in High Speed Burst mode (up to 8 continuous shots). Shot-to-shot time is slower using Continuous Shooting AF, presumably so the camera can refocus between shots.

Focus is accurate and fast in all but the most difficult lighting conditions where there is little contrast in a scene.

S100 zoom lens

The S100 has a fast 2.0 lens at the 24mm equivalent setting but an unimpressive aperture at maximum telephoto (120mm equiv/f-5.9). Don’t expect to get the best quality images in low light when using at or near the maximum zoom.

In good light, using the long end of the zoom is effective for photographing subjects that are relatively close. However, there is nothing to write home about when optically zooming in on subjects that are far in the distance. Sure you can crop to “zoom in” when editing but the results, while passable to casual photographers, are not very sharp. This is due to the cameras inability to capture fine detail for distant shots, coupled with some loss of image quality when making a large crop. Get as close as you can to a subject when zooming. [Close-up and zoom shots gallery]

Should Canon S90/95 owners upgrade to the S100?

The decision to upgrade should be based primarily on whether or not you find the new features useful. Image quality is very good for all three cameras.

All sample photos taken with the Canon S100


Note: there have been reports of extreme corner softness in images taken by some S100 cameras, especially in the lower right-hand corner. A few have reported intermittent focus problems, where one photo is properly focused and the next is not. It’s unknown whether the latter is a user problem, or a problem with the camera itself. My s100 does not exhibit these problems but, if you buy the S100, check it out.


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