Dropping 430 big buckaroos at Christmas for a Canon PowerShot S100 (and waiting several weeks stuck in the quagmire of backorder hell), I added the first point-and-shoot camera to my arsenal since 2003, when I bought the very underwhelming Canon PowerShot S50 while living in Hawaii (and after several years of unrequited love, that oddly-designed little camera died on me in 2007). While I’m fairly happy with my iPhone 4 camera for candid shots while out and about, I have missed the lack of control and creativity (beyond that offered by the bazillion new iPhone camera apps out there now) that my Canon DSLRs have offered over the years, most recently my fantabulous Canon 5D Mark II. Despite my overall disappointment with my S50, I did take notice when Canon reintroduced the line several years ago with the PowerShot S90. And even more notice when the S95 was released a year later to rave reviews. Still not convinced I needed a P&S though (at least not at a price point of over $400), I waited. And when the PowerShot S100 was announced last Fall with a better lens focal range (24mm equivalent on the wide end!), 1080p HD recording, and a DIGIC V processor, I was sold.
I’ve had the camera for about 6 weeks now, and I’ve shot almost 3000 photos with it thus far. While I’ve briefly tested just about all of the features on the camera, I’ve mostly stuck to shooting RAW files in full manual mode. And I’m very pleased with my results. As expected, I greatly miss the creamy bokeh and super sharpness I can achieve with my DSLR and L lens combinations, but the results far surpass anything I could get out of my iPhone 4. And having RAW images that I can push to extremes in Aperture alongside my DSLR images is great. No longer do I have to relegate my out and about pictures to iPhoto to collect dust and never see the light of day… or monitor.
One feature I do wish Canon would start putting in their high-end point-and-shoot cameras (i.e. anything over $300-$400) is an intervalometer, much like Nikon does with its DSLRs. I’ve been shooting a lot of time lapses over the past few years, and for landscape time lapses this camera could produce more than adequate results in RAW. Also, it wouldn’t require lugging around a heavy tripod. My idea is to throw (or rather gently set) this in my CamelBak bag with a miniature tripod when I go bike riding on the outskirts of Beijing (or anywhere for that matter), and if there happen to be good clouds or a lovely sunset, I could stop and grab a nice time lapse. I can assure you I won’t ever be lugging my 5D and a tripod around on my bike to attempt something like that. Fortunately there is hope that some kind soul will port CHDK for the S100 (the S90 and S95 both have CHDK releases) in the near future, which would add tons of extra functionality, including an intervalometer feature that would allow me to grab my coveted time lapses. To be honest, part of the motivation to buy this camera was the hope that this functionality would be made available through CHDK in due time. At the time of writing this article though, there is still no news of an imminent release. I guess I’ll just have to keep my fingers crossed… or otherwise keep them occupied shooting more photos with the S100.
As a filmmaker, I figured it wouldn’t hurt having full 1080 HD output from the camera, though on purchase I really didn’t expect to use it much for my projects when I’ve got a 5D Mark II in my lineup. However after shooting some fun little videos in a number of different lighting situations, I’m quite impressed with the video performance and have actually thought up a number of situations this camera might come in handy for shooting a bit of b-roll footage for a project. It’s small and light enough to be mounted just about anywhere (in fact I found a few sites dedicated to doing kite aerial photography (KAP) while searching for info on a CHDK release for the S100, as a number of kite photographers have made good use of CHDK on the S90 and S95 cameras… imagine getting some insane aerial shots with just a small kite rig… it’s very tempting to try that here in Beijing, where there is no shortage of places to fly kites), hardly noticeable when wanting to get covert shots, and it is always in your pocket to pick up some B-roll or stock footage when you stumble across an unexpected Arri moment (sorry Kodak, I love you dearly, but I think that with your recent bankruptcy announcement it might be time to pass on the name to someone else).
Speaking of its small size, that really is the whole point behind the PowerShot S100, isn’t it? And I couldn’t be more pleased. Much smaller (and SEXIER!) than my old PowerShot S50, it fits easily in any of my pockets even with a case on it (in my case I purchased this one for $6 on Amazon, and it has been perfect for the S100 and my needs), and in the winter I don’t even have to worry about squeezing it into my jeans with my iPhone because I can put it in any of my jacket pockets. I do have big hands though, and I appreciate the addition of better hand grips on front and back that were missing on the S95. Still, I went ahead and bought a Flipbac G4 grip to add onto the front of the camera, and for $11 it was certainly well worth the money (and Kristin at Flipbac provided fantastic customer support when I had issues with the Chinese postal service delivering my package).
When you hold this diminutive camera in your hand and think about it, it’s truly amazing what incredible results you can get out of such a tiny device! I’ve been impressed at least. You can decide for yourself. Below I’ve made a gallery of a handful of shots from the camera, some chosen to show off the performance of the camera, some chosen to show off the performance of the photographer (or lack thereof!), and some chosen just for their fun content (like my farmer father on his tractor). And yes, of course all of the images have been processed (in Aperture). This gallery isn’t here to show off the raw output of the camera (there are plenty of places around the Internet to find those), but rather to show how far the RAW files can be pushed to get the final product, which is what is most important to me, and I suspect to a number of other photographers out there looking to get a P&S camera for reasons similar to mine.
Enjoy the pics!