Canon S110 Review
The Canon PowerShot S110 is the latest revision of the company's premier high-end compact camera model.
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The Canon PowerShot S110 is the latest revision of the company's premier high-end compact camera model, offering a 5x optical zoom, touchscreen control, a 1/1.7-inch image sensor, and built-in WiFi. The S110 looks and acts almost exactly like its predecessors, with only a few meaningful changes compared to 2009's S90.
The S110 is designed to appeal to amateur and enthusiast photographers who want a pocketable camera that also offers good image quality and a finer level of control than most compacts provide. While the S90 entered the market with the fresh idea of pairing a large aperture with a larger-than-normal sensor, other companies have since stolen Canon's fire. Can the S-series compete with cameras like the Sony RX100?
Design & Usability
The S110 adheres to one clear design principle: keep it small, stupid.
They say great design is invisible, and it's evident that the Canon S-series designers have taken this maxim to heart. The Canon S110 has a simple design that emphasizes function over form, with a largely unadorned body that fits easily into your pocket. The camera's basic soap bar shape includes slightly rounded corners and a powder-coated finish (in black or white) providing a modicum of traction. The S110 doesn't feature the small grip indentation that we saw on last year's S100, but it is still quite easy to hold and handle. It slips effortlessly into your pocket, with a point-and-shoot control layout that absolutely nobody should be intimidated by.
The S110 features three physical dials: a standard control ring, a shooting mode dial, and a control ring around the lens that has become a hallmark of Canon's S-series compacts. The control ring is the defining feature of the S110, and something that has been emulated on some other recent cameras. Overall, it's a functional design that won't any beauty pageants, but the S110's simplicity belies the level of control it possesses.
We're also impressed by the usability of the Canon menu system. Competing cameras like the Nikon P7700, Olympus XZ-2, and Sony RX100 have a lot going for them, but they're agonizingly complicated for a novice shooter. The Canon S110 offers advanced options like RAW shooting and control customization, but it's no more complicated than the AA-powered Canon compact you bought your grandparents four years ago. Bring a DSLR on vacation and you're the de facto trip photographer; bring the Canon S110 and anyone can pick it up and take photos with ease.
WiFi and touchscreen features are nice additions, but they're not exactly a giant leap forward.
The Canon S110 is an attempt to take a successful model—one that already had great image quality in a compact point-and-shoot package—and graft on some extra, trendy features. While the S100's GPS module is long gone, the S110 now features both built-in WiFi and a touchscreen LCD. Neither is particularly convincing as a photographic feature, but they're nice extras to have when you need them.
Wireless connectivity is the more useful of the two, but significant setup time makes it a hassle when you're first starting out with the camera. This has been the case with just about every WiFi-enabled camera we've seen in 2012, save for Samsung's excellent Galaxy Camera (which is really more smartphone than camera). Unfortunately, it looks like it'll be 2013 before we see a convincing WiFi implementation in a compact.
Otherwise, the S110 doesn't offer much more than the S100 did. A touchscreen can be useful in certain cases, but in our time shooting with the S110 there wasn't a single instance where touchscreen control allowed us to do something that physical control did not. There just wasn't a compelling reason to utilize it most of the time.
Second verse, just like the first: the S110 and S100 are virtually identical performers.
The Canon S110 performed well in our image quality tests, with very good color accuracy, exceptional (if software-assisted) sharpness, and very good noise characteristics. We found that the camera's image processing engine took over in most cases, employing effective but not overbearing noise reduction to minimize grain and preserve details.
We were also impressed with the S110's speed, as it was able to continuously rattle off approximately 2 frames per second, with a separate "high quality burst mode" recording 10 shots in a one-second burst. Overall, the S110 lives up to the S-series' reputation of great image quality from a compact camera.
That said, don't get carried away: We've seen these numbers before. Just replace every "S110" reference in the paragraphs above with "S100" and you'd have our S100 review of a year ago. True, there's a slight improvement to the noise reduction algorithm this time around, but on the whole there's nothing revolutionary about the S110's performance. While it's a good performer within its class, it's an altogether uninspiring effort given what has come before. Canon just doesn't seem all that interested in pushing the limits—a syndrome we've diagnosed in other cameras from the market leader this year.
For better or worse, the is more of the same.
Since 2009's S90, Canon's S-series cameras have been perennial favorites for shoppers looking to get good image quality in a pocketable form factor. With so much success, perhaps it's understandable that Canon hasn't changed the formula much in the past three years. The PowerShot S110 is the third update, and it looks almost exactly like its predecessors—touch control and wireless connectivity are the only real additions over last year's PowerShot S100.
The PowerShot S100 is one of our favorite compact cameras, a go-to for anyone looking for a pocket-friendly camera capable of great looking snapshots. The S110 is practically identical, with the same 1/1.7-inch CMOS image sensor, built-in flash, and front control ring.
We're tempted to give Canon points for not messing up the formula, but it's a little dismaying to see such stagnation in their consumer-oriented camera lines over the last few years. Sure the Canon SX260, PowerShot G15, Rebel T4i, and S110 are solid cameras that offer competitive performance, but they're really just plodding evolutionary updates over the SX230, G12, Rebel T3i, and S100. Those older models' equivalent performance and discount pricing should give any buyer pause when considering a new Canon these days.
In a vacuum, the S110 is still a heck of a camera. Its 1/1.7-inch CMOS sensor performs very well in our image quality tests, with plenty of processing done in-camera to make your images come out looking sharp and colorful. If you prefer a more hands-on approach, you can still shoot in RAW and take full control of manual settings, utilizing the camera's front and back control rings to adjust a whole host of options on the fly. Simply put, we love everything about the S110—but we love it a lot more when it's called the S100 and costs $50 less. Unless you really need finicky WiFi in your compact camera, the S100 is a better value.
This is Canon's second go-round with practically the same combination of lens, sensor, and processing. It's no surprise that they've refined performance slightly, but there are few huge improvements. Color accuracy is still good, low ISO shots still look great, and the f/2.0 lens is sharp and offers nice depth of field. That said, there's no appreciable change in high ISO shooting, shot-to-shot speed has remained the same, and the focus system still struggles in low light.
Strong color fidelity is a common strength among Canon cameras.
The Canon S110 held its own quite well in our color accuracy tests, though we found turning off the "My Colors" mode resulted in the most accurate colors overall; in this mode, the camera managed an error of just 2.58—right on par with most cameras in its class and even some in classes above.
The other color modes were slightly less accurate, but intentionally so. Modes like neutral, vivid, sepia, monochrome, and positive film are mostly designed to push color in fun, creative ways. If you're shooting portraits we recommend turning these modes off to get the most accurate color, but otherwise experimenting is definitely encouraged.
Sharpness and Resolution
Exceptional sharpness scores, achieved with some strong in-camera processing
In our lab testing we found the Canon S110 produced very sharp images, though they suffered from severe haloing as the camera turned up the processing. Most point-and-shoot cameras make details pop out more by increasing contrast near the edges of your subject, and the S110 is no exception.
We saw a great deal of this in the test shots, with the S110 creating white outlines around each section. A little of this makes images look better, but the Canon S110 takes it to extreme levels, especially at full wide angle. Otherwise the S110 performed like most other point-and-shoots, with sharp images in the center and very soft details in the corner of the frame.
Noise Reduction and Detail Loss
Noise is kept to an absolute minimum, but detail loss is significant whenever you shoot JPEGs.
The Canon S110 keeps noise to an absolute minimum through most of its ISO range, with three noise reduction settings available to stem the tide against digital grain. We found all three were quite effective at keeping noise down, with even the "low" setting showing some detail loss by ISO 1600.
The normal and high noise reduction settings were less lenient, each beginning to trim noise from the image right from the base ISO of 80. The Canon S110's sensor is not particularly noisy for a point-and-shoot, with noise reaching just 0.67% at ISO 80 with noise reduction on low. It doesn't go up much from there, however, as Canon only allows you to capture shots without noise reduction if you're shooting in RAW (which we don't do for point-and-shoot testing as of this time).
A surprising area of strength for Canon's latest compact models
It's probably an understatement to say that we were pleasantly surprised by the video performance we saw from the Canon S110. Both it and the Canon G15 were capable of some very sharp, very smooth video in our test labs. Our motion rig, in particular, looked great in bright light, with very little image degradation.
The sharpness results were also quite promising, with 650 line pairs per picture height of vertical sharpness and 625 lp/ph horizontal. When perfectly still the camera could exceed that, but any movement and the image tended to suffer from increased moire and artifacting, limiting sharpness.
In low light, the S110's video sharpness dipped slightly on the horizontal, though it stayed at 650 lp/ph of vertical sharpness. The biggest issue seemed to be the increased noise due to the auto ISO kicking up, which reduced sharpness significantly. We did note that moire was practically nonexistent in low light, however. We found the S110 was quite sensitive in low light as well, able to produce an image that hit 50 IRE on a waveform monitor with just 4 lux of light. This is on par with many DSLRs and it's a testament to the bright f/2.0 lens.