Canon S95 – A First Impression Review

This is kind of silly perhaps, but I do this mostly for future reference: What is the difference between an almost immediate review or a review made after several months of continuous use? The “first feel” can indeed tell you something. A long use can tell an entirely different story. This is that first-feel-review.

Since recently, two days ago actually, my gear includes a small compact Canon S95. This was quite unexpected as I have told myself that a viewfinder is a must on any camera for me… Apparently not so, then.

My absolutely first reaction was: “Gee, it’s small!”. It really is. Specially for me since I am used to carrying the 5D2 along – or heavier/larger stuff like Mamiya 645 etc. This one will easily fit in any pocket.

After shooting a few pictures in “AUTO” my second reaction was “Gee, it sucks!”. The pictures were noisy and the jpg-compression was making unpleasant things specially with  lines and edges in the scene. How could this be?

Some experimenting with different settings made the pictures look good again. The main problem was the “AUTO” setting. It gladly uses up to ISO 3200, even though it is not strictly necessary! Judging from the result as seen on the back of the camera a maximum ISO of 160 is more to my liking. Being used to the results of a 5D2, and reading all those rave reviews on the net, my expectations are set high.

The picture on the screen on the back looks worse than it really is. Apparently the image has a reduced number of pixels in the first place and when zoomed in, it pixelates quite heavily. On a larger screen the picture looks much better. So the camera’s screen is more for determining exposure and general composition than scrutinizing the result in detail. Pictures will come out better than the screen shows.

First lessons:

  • Keep ISO at 80 if possible, 160 max.
  • Skip the “AUTO” mode and use aperture priority instead.
  • Turn off digital zoom.
  • Stay away from jpeg at all costs, use RAW. RAW allows more post-processing.

With these settings this camera begins to deliver photos of acceptable quality.

Furthermore these hints make for better photographs too:

  • Use a f-stop of 2 or thereabouts if possible. This incidentally means use the camera at wide angle. Zooming in quickly reduces the f-stop and it ends at a mere f/4.9 at the far end.
  • From the menu, enable the histogram.
  • Finally, make sure the exposure compensation is accessible with the rotating control on the back of the unit. Careful use of exposure compensation is vital for reducing noise in the final image.

So, with that out of the way, what can you do with it? Well, there are numerous menus and settings and styles to chose from.  All of these are mostly ploys and there for fun. The fisheye style is for example nothing but a distorsion of the center of the image. Since I plan to download the images for editing in Aperture as I usually do, I would rather see a way to disable these menu cluttering alternatives.

Bearing in mind that this entire camera costs less than my 40 mm f/2 prime lens for the 5D2 perhaps I should have more reasonable expectations…

Two photos, both very contrasty. The first one is the shot where the featured image in the top of this article is culled.

The second one shows sun (and accompanying lens flare).

Here endeth this post for today. Below, additions to the original will go, if they get written!


Low light.  Closeup. 1/15@f/2 ISO 125:

Tarmac and grass. 1/100@f/2 ISO 160:

Low light. 1/20@f/2 ISO 800 (not fantastic but still it’s a picture):

Low light. 1/80@f/2 ISO 3200(look at the noise…):

Crop of larger image:

Crop of larger image:

More nature:

Crop from close-up at f/2:

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