A Viewfinder Darkly

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Canon Powershot S100 Compact Digital Camera Review.

December 28 2011

by Philip Northeast

The Canon Powershot S100 looks like any other compact point and Shoot digital camera, but DxO Mark test reveals a very competent performer underneath the slick exterior.

Canon Powershot S100

Canon Powershot S100 front view with lens extended

The first surprise is that DxOMark were able to test the S100, as their testing methods use the RAW image data from the camera’s sensor. Most compact Point and Shoots only save digital photos to the memory card in JPEG form.  The Powershot S100 saves digital photos as unprocessed RAW files, or processes them in the camera and saves as compressed JPEG images.  The big advantage of RAW capabilities is the flexibility for photographers to optimise the image according to their creative vision using their own digital photo software.

To put its performance in perspective A Viewfinder Darkly compared it to two other Canon cameras. We chose Canons for the comparison to avoid any pointless brand bashing.

DxOMark Sensor Tests

In the DxOMark test summary the S100 achieved a respectable overall score of 50, slightly better than the Canon G12, a leading compact digital camera. The entry level DLSR, the Canon Rebel T3 ( or 1100D), had a higher score due to its lower noise for photographing in lower light conditions.

DxOMark  three way canon scores

DxOMark three way Canon comparison scores for S100, EOS T3 and G12

The more detailed graphical noise results show the Canon EOS T3 has a significant advantage over the two compact digital cameras. This is expected as the DSLR has larger pixels due to its bigger sensor. The larger pixels collect more light, minimising the effect of inherent digital noise from the sensor.

DxOMark  three way canon noise results

DxOMark three way Canon noise results in more detail

The surprise in the DxOMark tests came in the dynamic range performance of the Powershot S100. The little Canon outperformed the DSLR, and so did the other compact digital camera, the G12.

DxOMark  three way Canon  dynamic range comparison results

DxOMark three way Canon dynamic range comparison results with the S100 surprising by topping the test

Dynamic Range is an often overlooked aspect of a digital camera’s performance. Dynamic range is a measure of the range of light, from dark to bright, the camera can capture. This is usually where part of a scene is in bright light that casts shadows on other parts of the scene. When the camera runs out of dynamic range part of the image is either all white or all black, with no discernible detail in these areas. Camera with better dynamic range capture more of the detail in this difficult circumstances. Because bright light is involved normally the ISO is set to the minimum value, just where the S100 has the biggest advantage over the EOS T3 DSLR.

Convenient Size  for Carrying

The DxOMark test result show the Canon Powershot S100 is a very good performer for a compact digital camera, although it may not produce the same high quality images as an entry level Digital SLR.  The Canon Powershot S100 has a distinct advantage in its size and slim design making it one of the best digital cameras for carrying in pockets and purses.

Looking at the top view photo of the S100 show when it is off, the lens retreats right into the camera body, the same as the lenses on most compact digital cameras.   The rear view shows the controls on top of the camera are recessed into small depressions, and the rear panel controls are set flush with main back of the camera. All this combines to make the S100 a slim digital camera that is easy to slip in and out of a purse or pocket without snagging, or accidentally altering a camera setting by bumping an external control.


Canon Powershot S100 top view with the lens closed

One result of the compact size of the Canon Powershot S100 is there is no room for a conventional hot shoe to mount an external flash unit. Although the S100 does have pop up unit, Canon also have a wireless connected accessory flash unit, the HF-DC2.

The Canon Powershot S100 has HD video capability and a range of automated systems to help get photographers started, or just take the hassle out of capturing those precious moments.

One handy tool is the new multi-area white balance tool that applies colour correction in different areas of a digital photo.  In photos where there are two different light sources, such as mixture of artificial light and daylight, this will show slightly different colours in the photo.  Canon says the S100 can selectively apply the correct white balance to the photo, compensating for the difference, so the whole photo has the correct colour interpretation.  

Canon Powershot S100 rear view

Canon Powershot S100 rear view

The Canon designers have produced a carry anywhere camera that is easy to use yet still gives high image quality under most lighting conditions. To achieve this there are inevitably compromises.  This is apparent in the lack of an optical viewfinder and the relatively low number of shots from a single battery charge.

These two are interrelated as using an optical viewfinder uses far less battery power than composing and shooting with the LCD screen. The Canon G12 has an optical viewfinder and can take nearly a 1000 shots on single battery charge only using the optical viewfinder.

The other detrimental effect of the lack of an optical viewfinder is holding the camera in the awkward position out in front of your face. Particularly in low light conditions this makes pictures more susceptible to camera shake. The image stabilisation helps but holding the camera properly the S100 would enable slower shutter speeds to be used without a tripod.


Adding to the S100’s versatility there is an optional waterproof housing from Canon for the S100.

The Canon waterproof housing  S100 - WP-DC43

The Canon waterproof housing S100 – WP-DC43


Despite the restrictions on image quality imposed by its compact size the Canon Powershot  S100 shows as a competent performer in the DxOMark sensor tests. The key to the S100 is the size and clean lines of the camera body with the lens retracted. The S100 is the camera you carry everywhere without the hassle of a larger and more complex DSLR kit. Instead of a camera bag full of gear, the S100 goes in a pocket or purse and is easy to slip out for those priceless candid moments.



Model Name Powershot S100 EOS Rebel T3 PowerShot G12
Price (approx) $US430.00 $US500.00 $US430.00
Megapixels 12M 12.2M 10M
Sensor Size 1/1.7 type APS-C 1/1.7 Type
ISO range 80-6400 100-6400 80-3200
Size  WxHxD 98.9 x 59.8 x 26.7 mm 129.9 x 99.7 x 77.9 mm 112.1 x 76.2 x 48.3 mm
Focal Length Multiplier 4.6 1.6 4.6
Lens Focal Length  (35mm equivalent) 24-120mm 28-88mm 28-140
Image Stabilisation Lens Shift Lens Shift Lens Shift
Battery Life 200 Shots 700 Shots 390 shots
Optical Viewfinder No Yes Yes


Easy to carry  Canon   S100

Easy to carry Canon S100 fits easily into your hand


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