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You are hereHome> Digital Camera Reviews > Canon PowerShot S1

Canon Digital Cameras


Canon PowerShot S1 Review

Review Date: Dec 4, 2004

Category: Beginner to Serious Amateur

Canon PowerShot S1 IS

User's Experience

Tuesday, Nov 16, 2004 - Here's what I receive in the box:

  • PowerShot S1 IS
  • Neck Strap
  • Lens Cap
  • 4 AA Alkaline Batteries
  • 32MB CompactFlash (CF) Memory Card
  • Interface Cables: A/V; USB
  • Documentation: User Guide; Software Starter Guide; Quick Start Guide; System Map
  • Software CDs: Digital Camera 17.1; ArcSoft Camera Suite 2.1

The Canon PowerShot S1 IS has so many good features all in one camera: 10x optical zoom, with the addition of image stabilization; full exposure flexibility, plus AEB and Focus Braketing; a Vari-Angle LCD and a large and comfortable EVF; an excellent movie mode; very good image quality, and low noise at ISO 50. All this in a compact and attractive design. You feel you are handling a more expensive pro model from the design, layout and practical feature set.

The Canon S1 comes with 4 disposable standard AA Alkaline batteries. Battery life is excellent, but I believe most people would still want to get rechargeable NiMH batteries. I recommend buying the optional battery charger and 1 set of 4 AA NiMH rechargeable batteries. l also usually carry 4 fresh AA Alkaline batteries as spare. According to Canon, fresh AA ALkaline batteries give up to 120 shots using the LCD, 125 shots using the EVF; with AA NiMH batteries, you can get up to 550 shots using the LCD and 570 shots using the EVF.

Concerning the documentation, the handy Quick Start Guide is all I need to get the Canon S1 up and ready for picture taking. Read this card first before you put in the battery and memory card.

The User Guide is well illustrated and written, though with the usual small fonts. You can download a softcopy of the manuals (English version only, sorry) from Canon Canada's site and view them in as large a font as you want on your own PC display monitor: Canon PowerShot S1 IS Manuals.

Here are the settings I use and that I found (for me, at least) to bring the best out of the Canon S1:

MENU (Rec. Menu tab):

  • Spot AE Point = AF Point (allows AF point to be moved around)
  • MF-Point Zoom = ON (center of image is enlarged in Manual Focus)
  • AF = Continuous (seems to provide better low-light focus capability)
  • Digital Zoom = Off
  • Review = Off (reduces shot to shot time)
  • Shortcut Button = WB

MENU (Set up tab):

  • Mute = On
  • LCD Brightness = Bright
  • Power Saving: Auto Power Down = On; Display Off = 2 min.
  • File No. Reset = Off
  • Auto Rotate = Off (the intelligent orientation sensor automatically rotates portrait shots -- I personally find this annoying, especially when taking macro shots and it keeps changing orientation on me)


  • Exposure Compensation = 0
  • White Balance = Auto
  • ISO = 50
  • Effect = Off
  • Bracket = Off
  • Flash Strength = 0
  • Image Size = 2048x1536 (L)
  • Image Quality = Superfine

The included 32MB CompactFlash memory card holds about 18 SuperFine Large (2048x1536) images. I recommed you either get a 256MB or 512MB CF card (the 512MB CF card holds about 308 SuperFine Large pictures).

Garden Glimpse: 1/80 sec., F5.6, +1/3EV and ISO 50, with Flash
"Sunrise, Sunrise" (Norah Jones)
12.5mm, Program AE, Evaluative
1/640 sec., F4.5 and ISO 50

The Canon S1 handles very well, except for the placement of the Omni Selector which gets in the way of my thumb. I believe it could be moved down to free up that space.

While it is good that there are dedicated buttons and we don't have to go into the menu to set the most common settings, there seems to be more than necessary. Here is my list of suggestions for improvement:

  • I find the "switch Mode Lever left to turn on (Shooting Mode), switch Mode Lever right to go into Playback Mode, and press down OFF Button to turn off" design just a tad confusing. First of all, I am too used to either press a button down, or switch a lever around the shutter release button, to turn the camera ON and OFF. But since on the Canon S1, I need to switch the Mode Lever left to turn the camera on, I find myself switching the Mode Lever right to turn the camera off.
  • The placement of the Omni Selector also confuses me because I am so used to have a Zoom Lever at that position.
  • The separate SET button is nice but its proximity to the MENU button means I am forever mixing the two especially when I have my eye glued to the EVF. I personally prefer the SET button to be in the middle of the Omni Selector to avoid all confusion and for the fastest operation.
  • There is a separate Movie Button when most digital cameras simply reuse the Shutter Release Button.
  • The IS and MF buttons are correctly placed around the lens barrel but I find them way too touch sensitive. I would prefer the need for a deliberate push to engage them.
  • The flash still pops up a bit too loud for my taste, and I would rather be allowed to manually lift it up silently.
  • The Zoom does not have enough intermediate steps so it's difficult to stop exactly where you want to.
  • The tripod socket is not inline with the lens. [It's probably to balance the camera on a tripod that the different camera engineers keep doing this, but with the panorama feature, you'd think this is important? And with a good tripod, weight balance is taken care of?]

As you can see, nothing major here, nothing that I won't get used to if I use this camera for a long time. More serious improvements that need to be mentioned are:

  • Add an AF-Assist Illuminator (I never thought I would ask this from Canon, seeing that their digital cameras were for a long long time the only ones that had one).
  • Improve the Shutter and AF lag.
  • To earn an Editor's Choice, the Canon S1 needs to improve on the following: reduce CA, improve shutter and AF lag, fix the EVF freeze.

OK, things I love on the Canon S1:

  • I love the large and clear EVF with the big rubber cup around it (large EVF compared to the tunnel view of most optical viewfinder). I can easily see the whole screen with glasses on.
  • I love the diopter adjustment wheel that is easy to turn and easy to reach on the left side of the EVF.
  • The shutter release button has excellent tactile feel for half press and full press.
  • I like the separate FUNC button with all the settings you would use; no need to go into MENU. The only time I go into MENU is to erase the memory card after I have transferred all images from camera to PC.
  • I also like the fact that the rubber Terminal Cover housing the USB and A/V Out connectors swivels out of the way.
  • The Movie quality is very good, plus the image stabilization makes a real difference. You can even zoom during the movie recording -- just like a real camcorder -- thanks to the super quiet Ultrasonic Motor. You can also record as long as you like, limited only by the capacity of the memory card (or battery power left). Throw a 2GB CF card in, and you do have the best of both worlds (digital camera and camcorder in one, with long zoom and image stabilization)!
  • Metering Mode and Drive Mode have their own dedicated buttons.
  • FlexiZone AF.
  • Choice of 2 sec. and 10 sec. self-timer. I usually use the 2 sec. in macro photography: long enough to eliminate camera shake, not so long that the ladybug has time to crawl off screen.
  • Histogram in Playback Mode is a very good way to judge whether your image is under-, over- or correctly exposed. See the Canon S1 User Guide for a simple explanation of how to use the histogram on the S1 (P. 154) or read our Histogram Tutorial. Would be nice if the histogram also displayed in Shooting Mode.

There is no separate Macro Mode: the Canon S1 simply focuses as close as 10 cm (3.9 in.) at wide-angle and 93 cm (3 ft.) at telephoto.

There is even a Manual Focus mode for those who want to use it. The center of the frame can be viewed enlarged (option can be preset via Menu) when using Manual Focus. FlexiZone is active even in Manual AF mode meaning the portion that is enlarged is wherever the AF frame is pointing to.

There are more features to be explored on the Canon S1, such as Remote Capture where you can hook up the S1 to your computer and control it from your computer, Intervalometer (for cool lapse time photography), the ability to save your settings, scene modes (Image Zone), ....

The Canon PowerShot S1 IS is a camera you'll love especially if you are new to photography and want to learn, learn, learn. It has the image quality Canon is famous for; plus, it provides the features and exposure flexibility a beginner can experiment with to learn and grow in photography. Add an unbeatable price, and you've got one hard-to-beat attractive package.

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