Canon PowerShot S3 IS Digital Camera Review

Recommendations are independently chosen by Reviewed’s editors. Purchases you make through our links may earn us a commission.

Testing / Performance

**Color ***(9.69)*

The Canon PowerShot S3 IS is fitted with a Digic II image processor, the same type included in last year’s S2. The new S3 has a different image sensor with more resolution though, which could affect the camera’s ability to accurately record colors. To test this, we snapped several exposures of a GretagMacbeth color chart. This chart consists of 24 colored tiles and is used by many imaging professionals to standardize what colors should look like. We uploaded the Canon S3’s colors into Imatest Imaging Software, which output the following modified chart. The chart below shows the GretagMacbeth’s original colors in the vertical rectangle in each tile. The colors produced by the Canon PowerShot S3 IS appear in the outer portion of each square and the inner square shows the ideal color corrected for luminance.

Imatest also output the following graph, which shows the differences between the colors more quantitatively. The squares represent the ideal colors and the circles represent the colors that the Canon S3 produced.


As seen in the above chart, the colors are all kept on a tight leash. None of the colors are extraordinarily erroneous – and that shows in the excellent overall color score of 9.69. This performance is much better than the S2’s score of 7.94 and even the S1’s score of 8.8. The Canon PowerShot S3 IS had a mean color error of 6.19 and over-saturates colors by 10.3 percent, which is well within normal range.

**Still Life Scene

**The colorful still life displayed below was captured using the Canon PowerShot S3 IS. Click the still life scene to view in full resolution glory.

Resolution/ Sharpness* (3.12)*

The Canon S3 IS has a 6-megapixel CCD image sensor that is brand new in the PowerShot lineup this year. The new sensor has more resolution than the 5-megapixel Canon S2 and is designed to handle the new ISO 800 inclusion. We tested the S3’s ability to keep images crisp and sharp by taking several exposures of an industry standard resolution chart. Imatest software analyzes all of the images, then reports the best results.


Click on the chart above to view the full resolution file](

The sharpest shot came from an image taken at a focal length of 16.8 mm with an aperture of f/4.5. The image is pictured above, and the results are decent. The resolution chart is clear from edge to edge, which is more than what can be said of many digital cameras. Imatest output resolution results in terms of line widths per picture height (lw/ph), which is a theoretical measurement of how many alternating black and white lines could fit across the frame.

Related content

Across the horizontal axis of the frame, the Canon PowerShot S3 IS resolved 1542 lw/ph and over-sharpened by 11.3 percent. Vertically, the camera read 1606 lw/ph and had hardly any in-camera sharpening with only 0.273 percent. These results are similar to Fujifilm’s 5-megapixel FinePix S5200, which read 1639 lw/ph horizontally and 1607 lw/ph vertically. Granted, the S5200 performed very well. The 6-megapixel Canon PowerShot S3 IS received an overall resolution score of 3.12, which is just plain average.

**Noise – Auto ISO ***(3.22)*

We tested noise levels using the automatic ISO setting and the Canon S3 returned a level equivalent to about ISO 150. This is more noise than what most cameras produce in the automatic setting, so the S3 received a disappointing automatic ISO noise score of 3.22. This is lower than the S2’s 3.67 score and the S1’s 3.69, but that is to be expected with more pixels on the same size imaging sensor.

**Noise – Manual ISO ***(4.31)*

The Canon PowerShot S3 IS provides a wider ISO range than its predecessor. The S1 and S2 both had a maximum sensitivity of 400, but the new S3 extends it up to 800. It can do this with its new 6-megapixel chip, which was specially designed to handle the demands of higher sensitivities and suppress the accompanying noise. We tested these claims and came up with the following results, shown in the chart below. The ISO settings from 80-800 are plotted on the horizontal axis and the noise levels are shown on the vertical axis.


There is a steady slope from 80-400 that looks very similar to the S2’s noise graph, except that the noise levels in the S3 are slightly less than the equivalent ratings in the older model. As expected, there is a significant jump in noise from ISO 400 to ISO 800. The specially designed image sensor can only do so much. Still, the ISO 800 setting isn’t completely unusable and is a nice inclusion on the Canon PowerShot S3 IS. For its performance, the camera received a 4.31 overall manual ISO noise score.

**Low Light Performance ***(6.25)*

The color testing was done in optimal lighting, but because not every picture will be taken in gorgeous conditions we tested the camera in low light. We took pictures at 60, 30, 15, and 5 lux. The 60 lux test is approximately equivalent to two soft lamps in a living room after dusk, where everything in the room is still clearly visible and the dim light is hardly noticed until pictures start turning out ugly. The 30 lux test is about what comes from a single 40-watt bulb in****the basement – not much. 15 lux is about what comes out of a night light and 5 lux is when objects are hardly visible when they’re only a few feet away. The last two tests check the image sensor’s limits more than anything else; photographers won’t often shoot in those last two conditions. Below are the GretagMacbeth color charts shot in the four low light tests.

The images are incredibly noisy and the colors suffer as the light dims. To its credit, though, the Canon PowerShot S3 IS does include an ISO 800 setting and optical image stabilization to help keep images illuminated even in extremely dark settings without the assistance of a tripod. Below is a chart showing just how noisy the images get as the shutter remains open longer. The horizontal axis shows the exposure times and the vertical axis shows how much noise was present.

Despite the fuzzy pictures, the PowerShot S3 actually performed better than many compact digital cameras. The S3's 1-second exposure had about 50 percent less noise than the Olympus SP-500 in similar conditions and performed far better than the Fujifilm FinePix S5200, although it did not perform as well as the Panasonic FZ7, one of the cameras chief competitors. Overall, the Canon S3 IS performed decently in low light conditions.

**Dynamic Range ***(5.5)*

Camera light meters are calibrated to reproduce medium-gray tones – not the brightest shades in the picture, nor the darkest. Dynamic range measures how well a camera records tones that are brighter or darker than the medium tone it is calibrated to.

We test dynamic range by photographing a standard test target called a Stouffer step chart, which shows a row of rectangles that run from very bright to very dark. We analyze each image of the chart with Imatest software, which measures the range of tones that can be distinguished at high and low quality.


The Canon S3 IS scored significantly below the average for comparable cameras, in both high and low quality measures. It did best at ISO 100, with performance quickly deteriorating as the ISO rose. Interestingly, it also did considerably worse at ISO 80.



***Canon S3 IS - Dynamic Range - ISO 80*


***Canon S3 IS - Dynamic Range - ISO 400



***Canon S3 IS - Dynamic Range - ISO 800 *

**Speed / Timing

***Startup to First Shot (7.6) 

*The Canon S3 IS took 2.4 seconds to start up and take a shot in our tests. This is a typical delay – most compacts take about this long. Unfortunately, it's a frustratingly long delay. Two seconds is long enough for a spontaneous moment or fleeting opportunity to be lost. S3 users should keep the camera turned on whenever they think a picture might present itself.

Shot-to-Shot (9.34)

The S3 IS shot 1.6 frames per second in burst mode, with file size and quality set at their highest. It will continue at that rate until the memory card is full – we couldn't overload its buffer.

Shutter to Shot *(8.08)*

The S3 IS took on average 0.46 seconds to take a shot after we pressed the shutter. This is a long delay, and limits the camera's usefulness for action and spontaneous photography. Sports, wildlife and candid images will require both luck and patience. S3 users should try to press the shutter just before the peak of action, though anticipating by nearly a half-second is tough to do.

Physical Tour

 **Front *(7.5)*A prominent hand grip and lens barrel characterize the front of the Canon PowerShot S3 IS. The hand grip is on the left side when viewing from the front; its inner half is covered with a textured material. The material isn’t rubber, and its texture is that of a nail buffer. At the top of this hand grip is the shutter release button, surrounded by the zoom switch. This shiny silver combo is sloped halfway between the top and the front. To the right of the hand grip’s top is the PowerShot S3 IS logo, with an LED above it that blinks when the self-timer is enabled, when movies are being recorded (if the Tally Lamp option is activated in the setup menu), or when the red-eye reduction is necessary.  The Canon zoom lens dominates the right side. Along with its brand name, its label sports other fine specs: "12x IS, 6.0-72.0mm, 1:2.7-3.5 USM." Above the lens barrel is the pop-up flash with the Canon logo on the front. Below the flash, but above the lens, are two sets of holes that act as microphones; they frame the lens barrel nicely. To the right of the right speaker is a large auto focus assist lamp; it is about the size of a pinky fingernail. At the bottom left corner of the lens is a half-moon-shaped button that releases adaptors and conversion lenses from the S3 IS.  Back***(7.75)*The back of the Canon S3 is quite busy looking but is still organized. A hinge on the left edge allows the LCD monitor to fold in and out, rotate, and snap back into the camera body with the screen facing in or out. The Canon logo graces the back side of the monitor. Above the LCD monitor is the electronic viewfinder, which is large and square-shaped with a cushy eyepiece around it. Its diopter adjustment sits at its left side, with the circular dial protruding vertically. Directly to the right of the viewfinder is a silver button with a red dot in the middle; this isn’t labeled with any icons or text but is the Movie button. To its right is a set of bumps that keep the thumb from slipping. Below the bumps and to the right of the LCD monitor are three circular buttons on a sloped edge. On top is the Func. button, which accesses the frequently used settings while recording and deletes pictures in playback. The middle button adjusts the ISO setting in recording mode and jumps images in playback mode. At the bottom is the Print/Share button, which doubles as a Shortcut button in recording mode. Below these buttons, off of the sloped surface, is the Disp. button. It changes the display from the LCD to the viewfinder and adds and subtracts info from the frame.  On the right edge of the Canon S3 are a few more controls. At the top, the power switch protrudes out the back. Below it is the multi-selector, with two more buttons and an LED beneath it.  When the camera is reading or writing to the memory card, or transferring files to a computer or printer, the LED lights up. The top button selects the auto focus frame and makes on-screen selections with its "Set" designation, while the bottom button accesses the menu system.  ** ****Left Side ***(7.5)*The left side of the camera shows the large lens barrel with "12x Optical Zoom" printed on it. At the rear of the barrel are two circular buttons: the top accesses the manual focus and the bottom turns on the macro and super macro modes. The camera body’s top holds an eyelet for a neck strap. Below, and slightly to the right, is a rubber cover that hides the A/V-out port. Almost centered on the side is the stereo speaker, which appears to be a circular pattern of dots.


**Right Side ***(7.5)*Much of the right side is simply smooth plastic where the right hand grips the camera. At the top is a neck strap eyelet which matches that on the left side. Below this feature, on the rear, are two doors. The top "door" is actually a rubber cover that protects the USB and DC-in jacks. The bottom is made of plastic and has a hinge that opens to reveal the memory card slot.


**Top ***(8.5)*The top shows the SLR-like shape of the Canon PowerShot S3 IS. A protruding lens barrel and viewfinder sit on the left side, while the right side has a protruding hand grip. To the left of the viewfinder is a circular button that switches flash modes while recording and adds voice memos while playing pictures back. A large mode dial, silver with white icons except for the green Auto position, is to its right. To the right of the dial is the power switch, which has an Off button in its center and a surrounding switch that moves left to recording modes and left to playback mode. Above this feature, on the tip of the hand grip’s peninsula, is the enormous shutter release button with its surrounding zoom switch. Below it is a much smaller circular button that can activate the self-timer or burst mode. ** 


****Bottom ***(6.5)*A battery compartment occupies the bottom of the hand grip and holds four AA batteries. Sliding a switch to the left while pushing upward toward the camera’s front opens the compartment. To the right, almost centered on the camera body, is the quarter-inch tripod mount. Below it is all the required legal information, along with the serial number and such. From the bottom, users can also see that the rear LCD monitor is disjointed from the rest of the body.


Viewfinder ***(5.75)*

The Canon PowerShot S3 IS has an electronic viewfinder with a nice cushioned eyecup. A dioptric adjustment sits at its left; the tiny dial is difficult to turn because of its size and the tiny grooves in its side. Still, consumers who actually use this feature should only have to turn it once – unless their eyeglass prescription changes daily. The actual viewfinder window is quite large compared to its ultra-zoom competitors: the S3 specs claim that it’s 0.3 inches, but measuring the window with a ruler revealed that it is 6/10 of an inch diagonally and a half-inch wide. This is much larger than the viewfinder on the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H5, which only measures 0.2 inches across.  While its size and cushy eyecup are plusses, the viewfinder’s resolution is inexcusably poor. The image is pixilated and manually focusing is nearly impossible, even when the center is magnified. The viewfinder can be set, via the setup menu, to display shooting information and histograms or to show a clutter-free view. Overall, the viewfinder is best used when battery power is waning (which is often if powered by alkaline AA batteries); the larger LCD monitor which flips and folds makes a much easier viewing device.  LCD Screen (6.0)
Users can switch the view from the viewfinder to the LCD monitor with the touch of the Disp. button. This cycles between the two display screens and adds shooting information and histograms to both when desired. The LCD monitor is one of the Canon PowerShot S-line’s hallmark features. It folds out, rotates 270 degrees, tilts to almost any angle, and can fold back into the camera body facing in or out. This camcorder-like LCD monitor is similar to those found on compact camcorders. Users will have to fold and tilt often because the screen solarizes easily and needs to be perpendicular to the viewer’s eye to be seen. The image on the screen will always be right side up when the setup menu’s Reverse Display feature is on, however, and the LCD Brightness feature has standard and bright options to choose from. The S2’s monitor moved in the same way, but was only 1.8 inches.  The new Canon PowerShot S3 IS has a 2-inch low temperature polysilicon TFT color LCD, but the resolution is still 115,000 pixels, just as it was on the S3’s predecessors. Its substandard resolution is a bit disappointing, considering the viewfinder’s poor quality. With both displays showing pixilated images, it is difficult to focus properly and um, see. Still, there is 100 percent coverage of the field of view, so using the LCD will always frame subjects properly.  Flash *(7.5)*The Canon PowerShot S3 has a built-in flash that does not pop up but must be manually pulled, though tiny tabs on its front make the effort a bit easier. Once the flash is up, the button to its left accesses the following flash modes: Auto, On, and Off. If the list looks a little short, it is. That’s because the rest of the options are located in the shooting menu. From there, users can activate the red-eye reduction function and activate the slow synchro mode. They can also tell the camera to fire the flash with the "1st curtain" or "2nd curtain." More options are elsewhere. The flash exposure compensation in the Func. menu adjusts the flash +/- 2 in 1/3 increments. Finally, in the recording menu, the Flash Adjust section lets users set the manual compensation to Manual or Auto.  The flash reaches from 1.6-17 ft at the widest focal length. In the macro mode, the flash is only good from 1-1.6 ft; most of the time it is necessary to dull the flash because of its close proximity to subjects. Using the flash any closer than a foot is totally ineffective because of the long lens’s shadow. The Canon PowerShot S3 IS is compatible with the HF-DC1 external slave flash, which retails for about a hundred dollars. This accessory lengthens the flash’s reach to about 30 ft and reduces the occurrence of red-eye, which wasn’t terribly frequent but still appeared more often than it should for a $499 camera.  Zoom Lens ***(8.0)*The 12x Canon optical zoom lens is one of the defining features on this digital camera. It measures from 6-72 mm, which is equivalent to 36-432 mm in the traditional 35 mm format. The lens has an ultrasonic motor, so it moves through its zoom range fairly quietly and quickly. Almost too quickly, in fact. The zoom moves so fast that users are likely to zoom in on a subject, only to find they have to zoom out because they passed up the desired focal length. Pressing with the lightest touch can finesse about 20 stops out of the zoom range, but this is quite difficult and not efficient.
 The ultra-zoom lens has incredible range. Its super macro mode can take pictures of subjects that are so close they touch the glass: it extends to 3.9 inches, where the macro mode takes over to focus, to 1.6 ft in the widest focal length. The camera normally focuses from 1.6 ft, or 19 inches, to infinity. When completely zoomed in, it can focus as close as 3 ft. This kind of range is pretty incredible; users can focus on anything in front of the lens in one mode or another.  A UD lens in the lens system is designed to keep images sharp and contrasted. Still, the outer edges of the frame show some barrel distortion. It isn’t enough to turn a rectangle into an oval, but it will make your smile a little wider. The aperture is wide enough to let in lots of light, even at the 432 mm focal length. The maximum aperture is f/2.7 in wide and f/3.5 in telephoto. The Canon S3 IS is compatible with accessory lenses such as the WC-DC58 wide converter and the TC-DC58B telephoto converter.  The camera’s flagship feature, its image stabilization system, functions alongside the Canon zoom lens. The system can be turned Off or to Panning, Continuous, or Shoot Only in the recording menu. Panning corrects vertical shake only, Continuous corrects the shake for the live view even when not recording, and the Shoot Only option stabilizes only when recording. The optical image stabilization system works incredibly well. The difference is evident in the decreased numbers of blurry still images, but is even more dramatic in the movie mode. When zoomed in on a far-away subject, the camera still keeps the image steady rather than producing the shaky videos that usually come from ultra-zoom cameras. The image stabilization only enhances the strong 12x optical zoom lens.

Design / Layout

 **Model Design / Appearance***(8.25)*The Canon PowerShot S3 IS has the same dimensions and body shape as its predecessor, but comes in a more professional looking black color. The shape of the camera is meant to mimic that of a single lens reflex model, providing a large hand grip and a wide lens barrel. This model also flaunts its hybrid functionality by incorporating some elements more common on camcorders, specifically its rotating and tilting LCD monitor. It also has a button next to the viewfinder that records movies from any mode. The body color shows that Canon wants this model to look more professional, while its components highlight its dual functionality.  **Size / Portability***(5.5)*As stated previously, this camera has the same dimensions as the S2. Measuring 4.46 x 3.07 x 2.97 inches and weighing in at 14.5 oz (not counting the memory card nor the hefty four AA batteries), the Canon PowerShot S3 IS is one of the larger ultra-zoom cameras. It still doesn’t even approach the size of a DSLR, though: it falls somewhere in between. The design certainly doesn’t aim to be compact like the ultra-zoom Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ1. Instead, this chunky digital camera goes for hybrid functionality in a sturdy plastic shell. Its protrusions will keep it from conveniently sliding into a pocket, and users should look into purchasing a small camera bag for transporting it. When it is out and on the ready, the Canon PowerShot S3 IS has a neck strap that attaches to an eyelet on each side. This camera isn’t for the weak of wrist, but it shouldn’t cause a production when snapping a shot at a birthday party.  **Handling Ability***(8.0)*This model has weight issues, but its handling helps keep things steady. The base is nice and wide, so the left hand can support it from beneath. The S3’s weight is also evenly distributed; while a little heavier in the battery compartment, it can sit on a flat surface and not tip forward. Its right side has a large hand grip that is textured on the inner portion where the fingers rest. The buttons are within reach of the right thumb, with the exception of the focus and flash buttons on the left side.  The power switch at the top of the right side is a bit tough to turn with just the thumb, and users will be twisting and turning the LCD screen a lot to keep it from catching the sun’s glare. Other than those issues, handling is pretty comfortable.

Control Button / Dial Positioning / Size ***(8.25)*The multitude of buttons on the back, top, and left side of the S3 are reminiscent of those on a DSLR. They are all properly sized and spaced, and, for the most part, are labeled well. Most buttons have two icons next to them because of their dual functionality in the recording and playback modes. A few exceptions exist, however, such as an AE Lock that works by pushing the shutter release halfway then pushing the ISO button, which is not labeled for such a function.  The movie recording button is also not labeled; it is a chrome button marked with a red dot in its center.  

The buttons on the back of the camera are within reach of the right thumb, but the Set button below the multi-selector is a little tough to get used to. Usually that button is located in the center of the multi-selector and makes pushing for selections simpler than moving the whole thumb down to select, then up again to scroll some more. The buttons on the left side of the lens barrel make quick shooting changes difficult. To activate the manual focus and macro modes, users have to turn the whole camera to push the buttons. The Canon PowerShot S3 IS’s control interface has its pros and cons. Its large mode dial, about the size of a quarter, has grooved edges which make it comfortable to turn and large, easy-to-see icons. The shutter release button is also very large and comfortable. For users who don’t want to enter the menu system often, there are plenty of designated buttons to switch shooting settings. A Function menu button also accesses more frequently used settings like white balance and image size, and a Shortcut button can also be set as one-touch button for an option of the user’s choice. Cons include the out-of-reach buttons on the lens barrel, the misplaced Set button, a few unlabeled features, and a power switch that requires too much energy to turn. ** **Menu *(7.0)*The menu system is split so that frequently used shooting settings are located in the Function menu, which puts all the settings on the screen at once, and the rest are crammed into a lengthy standard menu system. The Function menu shows up with settings listed vertically on the left side of the screen and options listed horizontally across the bottom. All of the icons and text are white atop a gray shadow that overlays the live view; there is still plenty of room to see the view. The Function menu has the following options.   Many Canon digital cameras use this split menu setup. Pushing the Menu button brings up the regular system, which holds the bulk of the camera’s settings. In the recording menu, there are three folder-type tabs across the top of the screen: the red tab with the camera is for the shooting settings, the yellow tab with the wrench is for the setup menu, and the purple tab with the portrait icon is for custom settings. The menu below is the first red tab; because the menu options change from mode to mode, these are the options from the manual mode, which offers the most variety.   The central setup menu is as follows, and can be found in recording and playback modes.   The custom settings menu has a purple tab with an icon of a person on it. This menu is quite noisy if the camera isn’t muted; it offers all kinds of different sounds for different functions. The custom settings are a good fit for animal lovers who appreciate dogs howling and birds chirping, but aren’t exactly what most users have in mind.   In the playback menu, there are four tabs that include the same setup and custom tabs as before. The first tab in the playback menu is light blue and has all of the standard options, shown below.    Overall, the menu system is simple to navigate with the multi-selector – which is good because there is so much material. The only drawback is that the selection button is located below the multi-selector instead of centered in it, so users have to move their thumbs down to select an option and then move back up to scroll some more. The menus are organized into folders with color-coded tabs, but each tab contains a massive number of settings. Users won’t venture into the menu system often, though, especially with the Function menu that keeps frequently used settings at the ready.  Ease of Use ***(6.75)*The Canon PowerShot S3 IS has so many designated buttons on the camera body that it really looks difficult to use. Looks can be deceiving, though, and subtle features make the S3 easy to use. A Shortcut button accesses a shooting setting – customized by the user, of course – with one touch. The Function menu keeps frequently used settings in easy reach. The Jump button helps to scroll through lots of pictures in playback. This camera will be easy to use for someone who has had a digital camera, but will be completely beyond someone with no previous photography experience.




Auto Mode ***(7.25)*The auto mode keeps things simple by blocking access to some shooting settings and limiting the choices in others. In the Function menu, users can change the movie and image size settings. The regular menu system is truncated as well, providing access only to the setup and custom tabs. Have no fear, though: the image stabilization system is still available. Macro mode is also available, and the ISO button lets users select from the Auto ISO or High Auto ISO options. This is a nice feature to have, as most compact models’ auto ISO ranges aren’t sensitive enough to capture decent pictures in low light. The auto mode did capture good pictures for the most part; there were a few blurry pictures of my one-year-old crawling across the floor, but 80 percent of the images looked great.  Movie Mode***(8.0)*Movies can be captured at any time in any mode, although the mode dial has a designated movie position. Pushing the designated button on the back of the camera body, which is chrome with a red center and otherwise unlabeled, records movies. Dual recording buttons allow for Canon’s MovieSnap feature, which lets users take full resolution still images while recording movies. This feature is just one of many that make the Canon PowerShot S3 IS a very lucrative option for consumers who need video and still imaging capabilities in one hybrid device.  The movie mode can record clips in the following sizes and frame rates: 640 x 480 at 30 or 15 fps, and 320 x 240 at 60, 30, or 15 fps. The camera shows a live view of the frame rate, so users can see just how choppy (15 fps) or smooth (60 fps looks beautiful) the video will be. When the movie mode is recording, a tally lamp on the front blinks red; this can be turned off in the setup menu.  Users can access My Colors modes for interesting effects and can even properly white balance the video so Cousin Amy’s wedding dress doesn’t look moldy and yellow under the poor church lighting. The 12x optical zoom is available while recording and the image stabilization system even makes it look smooth! The system works very well, keeping normal hand shakes from ruining footage. Other fancy movie features include adjustable microphone levels from 1-5, a wind filter that can be turned on and off, and selectable sampling rates from the following options: 44.100kHz, 11.025kHz, and 22.050kHz. While most digital cameras still record monaural audio, the Canon S3 records and plays back stereo audio.  Still, the Canon PowerShot S3 IS’s movie mode has its flaws. It can only record up to 1 GB at a time. At the top file size and frame rate, this is just over 8 minutes of footage. The MovieSnap feature is innovative, but not very intuitive. It isn’t easy to keep a thumb or finger over the movie recording button, so users may accidentally snap a still shot when trying to stop the video. Pressing the movie button at the end of a video isn’t great on handling either; the heavy camera doesn’t have much support, so the ends of movies were always quite bumpy – even with the image stabilization. When users do want to use the MovieSnap feature, the button’s depression is audible in the stereo microphone and the movie blacks out for a quarter of a second or so.  The Canon S3’s movie mode offers many more options than do most compact digital cameras and even many hybrid models. The video is good quality except in low light, where dancing blue speckles seem to creep into the video. The MovieSnap feature is cool, but has its problems too. Nevertheless, this PowerShot is a great option for consumers seeking out a hybrid camera/camcorder.  **Drive / Burst Mode *(6.5)*The Canon S3 is equipped with a burst mode that can shoot at two different speeds. The high-speed burst can snap 2.3 frames per second, while the standard burst shoots 1.5 fps. Both modes have great endurance and can take full resolution pictures until the card reaches capacity.  A designated button next to the shutter release activates the burst, which is not available in the auto mode, but users must choose between the standard and high-speed options in the recording menu. The button atop the camera cycles through the single, continuous, and self-timer shooting modes. The self-timer has its own interesting set of options – selectable in the shooting menu once again: it can take a picture after 2 or 10 seconds or can be customized to snap 1-10 shots after 0-30 seconds.  A related feature is the intervalometer, which is kind of like an anti-burst mode. It produces time lapse photography and can take 2-100 pictures at intervals of 1-60 minutes. The intervalometer can be found in the recording menu. Using it extensively requires a power adaptor, so that the S3 doesn’t run out of batteries mid-shoot.  Playback Mode *(7.5)*The Canon PowerShot S3 IS has a power switch on its back right corner that requires some serious effort to turn it toward the playback icon (the other side is for recording). Once there, plenty of options await. Users can view images one at a time or in screens of nine frames at once; they can protect or rotate individual pictures, view them with shooting info and histograms, and magnify them 2-10x. Pictures can also be erased one at a time or all at once, but there is no option to scroll through and pick and choose a deletion order.  An option in the setup menu automatically rotates images. Finally, pushing the button left of the viewfinder, which has a microphone icon next to it, adds sound memos that can last up to a minute per still image file.  

When dealing with large quantities of pictures, the Jump function can be helpful. This has its own button to the right of the LCD and can jump to every 10th or 100th shot. It can jump to different shooting dates or folders – and even to movie files.  Stereo sound is available for movie files. Pushing up and down on the multi-selector adjusts the audio through 5 levels. Users can play movies back normally, fast forward them, or rewind them. A five-step scale adjusts the playing speed, permitting frame by frame or slow motion viewing, and a simple "editing" function erases all or part of a movie by cutting off the beginning or end.  Lastly, playback mode can play slide shows. Users can choose to display all of the camera’s images, only those from a certain date or folder – or just the stills or movies. Users can also select pictures to create up to 3 custom slide shows. Pictures are displayed for 3-30 seconds and can be jazzed up with two transitions and three effects. The transitions include a fade and wipe, but the effects do things like pan and zoom into pictures. If users choose, they can put the slide show on a loop and watch it over and over and over again.  Custom Image Presets ***(6.0)*The Canon S3 includes four scene modes directly on its large mode dial—Portrait, Landscape, Night, and Sports—but hides its other 8 options within a "SCN" position. The Sports preset is the only mode included on the S3 that wasn’t on the older S2; the rest are the same. In the four dial modes, users can still access the exposure compensation, white balance, and flash compensation. The following options are located in the "SCN" position and only have access to exposure compensation: Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Indoor, Night Snapshot, Color Accent, and Color Swap. The latter two presets were included in the My Colors mode in Canon digital cameras prior to this year. Color Accent lets users pick one color within the frame and enhances it while making all else black and white. Color Swap can make a green car turn red.  This mode isn’t perfect--its colors don’t look even all the time—but scene mode selection is generally great, and the modes themselves work well in their specific situations.

Control Options

 **Manual Control Options       The Canon PowerShot S3 IS is stacked with plenty of manual control options. Not only does it have manual adjustments for the shutter speed and aperture, it offers custom white balance and manual focus. A shortcut button on the camera’s back accesses one of the following frequently used settings: Resolution, Rec. Pixels/Frame rate for movies, Light Metering, White Balance, My Colors, IS Mode, AE Lock, AF Lock, Display Off, and Create Folder. The manual controls still don’t work the way they would on a DSLR – there is no jog dial to scroll through shutter speeds or focus ring on the lens to manually focus – but they are on the Canon S3 in some form.  Focus***Auto Focus (7.5)

Using a through-the-lens auto focus system, the Canon PowerShot S3 is generally quick to focus. It takes a little longer in low light, when it shoots out a green auto focus assist beam (if activated in the setup menu). Options in auto focus mode include single or continuous control with a point fixed in the center as well as a movable focus point. The Set button fixes the focal point, which shows up as a green box on the screen that can move to 273 different spots around the frame. A bracketing option in the Function lets users snap three shots – one at the current focal position, one closer, and one farther away. The Canon S3 also has an AE Lock function that users can access by pushing the shutter release halfway, then pushing the ISO button to lock the focus so they can compose the shot without refocusing. This is a little non-intuitive, but is a nice feature nonetheless. Overall, the auto focus system is quick and reliable. * ****

Manual Focus (4.0)

Don’t expect the manual focus feature to be so quick or reliable. It takes a while to adjust; users have to push down the MF button on the left side of the lens while scrolling up and down with the multi-selector. This makes handling difficult. The display options on the Canon S3 don’t help either. The viewfinder has awful resolution, as does the 2-inch, 115k pixel LCD screen. Both displays look pixilated and make manual focusing nearly impossible – even with a magnified central view, which is available in the setup menu. It is nice to have the manual focus option for the rare occasion when the auto focus simply can’t focus through the front window, but the function itself isn’t very easy to use.


The Canon PowerShot S3 IS lets users control the exposure with manual, priority, and program modes. Users who would rather leave the exposure up to the camera will also find plenty of automatic and scene modes – although the +/- 2 exposure compensation scale is available, in 1/3 increments. Exposure bracketing, grouped with the burst modes, is also available for those who can’t decide on an exposure value. For more advanced users, there is a live histogram available for checking exposure. However, it is difficult to use. The histogram itself is tiny; it is also colored white and is hard to see on light backgrounds.

Users can link the auto exposure to the center of the frame or the auto focus point in the recording menu. To ensure that users don’t mess pictures up with the priority modes, the Canon S3 has a Safety Shift function that automatically corrects the exposure; this feature can be turned on and off in the setup menu. As with other digital cameras, the exposure locks once the shutter release button is halfway down.


In the Function menu, users can pick and choose from the following standard metering choices: Evaluative, Center-weighted Average, and Spot. The first option is the camera’s default and uses multiple points around the frame to determine the exposure. Center-weighted uses only points in the center, while Spot meters from only one point. This point can be fixed to the center or linked with the auto focus point, which the Set button moves around the frame. With focus and proper exposure, this gives users plenty of flexibility, and could garner some cool effects for portraiture. 

White Balance*(8.25)*

The Function menu offers white balance options, keeping the icons at the left side and a large live view on the right side of the screen. The following options are available: Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Flash, and Custom. Automatic mode looked fairly accurate in simple lighting indoors and outdoors, but a little off in mixed lighting, when the Custom setting comes in handy. The setting is easy to use: on-screen instructions direct users to push the Set button when they frame something white within the tiny central brackets on the frame. The white balance can be set in the manual, priority, and program modes – as well as the four scene modes located directly on the mode dial. 


******One of the biggest complaints about the PowerShot S2 was that it had a short 50-400 sensitivity range. Canon addressed this by loading a 6-megapixel image sensor, which is optimized to handle higher sensitivities into the new S3. Thus the Canon PowerShot S3 IS has a wider 80-800 range. Manual options include 80, 100, 200, 400, and 800, and there are two automatic ISO options to boot; pushing the ISO button brings up all of these options.  The S3 also has a standard Auto ISO setting, but couples it with a High ISO Auto mode, which extends the standard range so that beginners can get better pictures in limited lighting. This is a good move, because most automatic ranges hardly surpass 200 and therefore take awful pictures in low light. While the ISO range still isn’t as extensive as some of the Fujifilm cameras, it is definitely a big improvement over the S2’s.  **Shutter Speed ***(8.0)*

The Canon PowerShot S3 IS has a wide shutter speed range of 15-1/3200th of a second, with 48 steps which can be manually set in the manual and shutter speed priority (Tv) modes. When users scroll through the range with the multi-selector, a live view makes the image brighter or darker.


**Aperture ***(8.0)*The live view also shows manual aperture adjustments. To make these, users must scroll right and left with the multi-selector. There are ten steps in the full aperture range, beginning with a maximum f/2.7 in the widest focal length and f/3.5 in the telephoto end of the lens. The smallest the aperture can go is f/8.


Image Parameters

 **Picture Quality****/ Size Options *(8.25)*While the Canon S3 IS may attract enthusiasts, it still only shoots in JPEG format. Images sizes, available in the Function menu, are: 640 x 480 (small), 1600 x 1200 (medium 2), 2272 x 1704 (medium 1), 2816 x 2112 (large), and 2816 x 1584 (widescreen). The last choice has a new 16:9 ratio made for the big-screen televisions, but the rest of the choices are 4:3-formatted. This means that there are no image sizes for perfectly cropped 4 x 6-inch prints. When users are checking out the size options in the menu, pushing the Set button shows the compression settings: Normal, Fine, and SuperFine. The finest – or shall I say SuperFinest – resolution in the top 4:3-formatted image size can take 4 pictures on the included memory card. Because photographers will probably want to shoot around a little more, they’ll need much more memory to support different file sizes.  Picture Effects Mode ***(8.0)*The Canon PowerShot digital cameras are quickly becoming known for their interesting picture effects. The S3’s scene mode selection includes two: Color Accent and Color Swap.  Previous models included these in the My Colors section, but the S3 only uses them for recording in the scene modes. The Color Accent mode lets users pick a color within the frame to highlight, so Aunt Mary’s red lipstick will show up even redder. The Color Swap mode lets users change Aunt Mary’s lipstick into any other color in the frame.


On Canon PowerShot cameras released prior to 2006, the My Colors mode was only available in recording, but now it can be used in playback as well. The following modes are available: Vivid, Neutral, Sepia, Black & White, Positive Film, Lighter Skin Tone, Darker Skin Tone, Vivid Blue, Vivid Green, Vivid Red, and Custom Color. The sepia looks a bit too orange and the black and white could use some more contrast, but the effects are otherwise decent and quite fun to play with. The custom color mode allows users to adjust the Contrast, Skin Tone, Blue, Green, Red, Saturation, and Sharpness parameters with +/- 2 scales in whole steps. The Canon PowerShot S3 IS has a Stitch Assist mode on the dial; this shows an overlay of the previous shot so users can easily line it up with the next shot. The camera doesn’t stitch the pictures together, though: to do this, users will need the included software.

Connectivity / Extras

 **Connectivity***Software (6.75)*The Canon PowerShot S3 IS comes packaged with a CD-ROM of browsing and editing software. Canon Solution version 28.0 software has a utility program that connects directly with the camera to manage folders and allow remote capture. As usual, users can also select files to download and load them into ZoomBrowser EX, an organizational and simple editing program with three viewing modes: zoom, scroll, and preview. The zoom mode shrinks all of the images to fit on a single screen, then magnifies them when scrolled over. The scroll mode lets users scroll through thumbnails and control their size. Finally, preview mode has the scrolling view at the bottom, then shows a larger selected image at the top of the screen.  There are several organizational features in the software. Users can rename files, manage folders, add comments and keywords, rate pictures with one to three stars, and search files by rating or keyword. The organization of the software is great, but its editing features are a little too basic – especially for the target enthusiast audience of the Canon S3 IS.  Editing options include the following: rotation, red-eye correction, auto adjustment, color/brightness adjustment, sharpness, trimming, and text insertion. In all modes, images can be exported to home printers or online printing services. Slide shows can also be played on the fly, with more options than the setting on the camera. There are 32 different transitions and picture intervals of 1-120 seconds.  *Jacks, ports, plugs (6.5)*Rubber covers hide the power adaptor and USB ports on the Canon PowerShot S3 IS’s right side and the AV-out jack on its left. The AV-out cable connects to televisions, delivering stereo audio as well as the images, and can be set to NTSC or PAL standards in the setup menu. The USB 2.0 high-speed mini-B jack connects to computers and PictBridge compatible printers, so that users can download images or use the included software to remote capture. As an incentive to use their printers, Canon offers ID Photo Print and Movie Print modes that are only available when connected to Canon CP and Selphy photo printers. The camera comes with the USB and AV cables, but does not include a power adaptor. This optional accessory will be quite necessary if users plan to use the intervalometer (time lapse) feature or the remote capture feature.  *Direct Print Options (7.0)*The S3 has a designated Print/Share button, but it isn’t as prominent as it is on other PowerShot digital cameras, perhaps simply because of the number of buttons on the S3’s back. At any rate, this model has DPOF version 1.1 and is compatible with PictBridge printers. Users can scroll through pictures, select which ones to print, and choose the number of copies—from 1 to 99—that they’d like. They can also select all the pictures at once, but can only print one copy of each. A printing menu within the playback mode lets users create index prints, include the date and file number on images, and manage print orders. An ID Photo Print mode, available only on Canon CP and Selphy photo printers, creates passport-sized pictures. Also exclusive to Canon printers is a Movie Print mode that makes an index print of a movie, similar to a filmstrip. Printing directly from the camera is easy, and plenty of options ensure that users get what they want.  **

**Battery*(4.5)*The Canon PowerShot S3 IS runs on four AA batteries. Canon claims that its Digic II image processor and iSAPS technology conserve battery power. That may be true with Canon-branded Ni-MH batteries, with which users can get 550 shots per charge. However, the camera comes packaged with cheap alkaline batteries that only take 110 shots before they’re toasted. When the batteries run dry, users will only get about five seconds’ warning before the camera shuts down. There are some ways to conserve power: an auto power down feature is available in the setup menu, and the display can be shut off after inactivity from 10 seconds to 3 minutes. Even with all of the battery-saving techniques, though, alkaline batteries just won’t last long. For $45, consumers can get the Canon CBK4-300 batteries and charger kit, which will last much longer. Changing batteries requires some effort, as the compartment below the hand grip is a tight one.  *****Memory (3.0)*The S3 has no internal memory and only includes a 16 MB SD card. Because only 4 full-resolution pictures can fit on this tiny card, users will want to look into purchasing a larger SD or MMC card. On the cards, users can create folders manually or set up the camera to automatically create daily, weekly, or monthly folders, setting the day of the week and time for exactly when they want it. The formatting options are in the setup menu. Besides the standard Cancel and OK options, there is a Low Level Format function in case, as Canon’s user manual says, "you suspect the read/write speed of a memory card has dropped." *Other features (2.5)**Sound Recorder* – The S3 has a voice recorder, available from the playback menu, which can capture stereo audio for as long as the card can store it or the batteries last.  Users can change the sampling rate and play audio back with 5 steps of volume.  **Value ***(7.5)*The Canon PowerShot S3 IS is priced at $499, which puts it in the upper level of the ultra-zoom digital cameras. Its unique feature set—a folding and rotating 2-inch LCD monitor, an electronic viewfinder with a cushioned eyecup, a full range of manual and automatic control, a movie mode with plenty of clip sizes and frame rates, and options to adjust the audio sampling rate and the stereo volume level—justifies its inclusion in this range. The $499 price tag is definitely cheaper than buying separate digital camera and camcorder devices would be. Still, users will have to spend extra cash on AA batteries and more memory.

Overall Impressions


***Canon PowerShot S2 IS*– The predecessor of the S3, the Canon S2, has the same long 12x optical zoom lens and image stabilization system. The older model has a different image sensor, though, which only has 5.1 megapixels and supports ISO sensitivities from 50-400. The Canon S2 has the same chunky body shape and dimensions, and even the same hefty weight, but comes in a silver color with a slightly smaller LCD screen. The monitor still folds out and rotates, but the screen itself only measures 1.8 inches, as opposed to the S3’s 2-inch screen. Despite the smaller screen, both models have the same 115,000 pixels of screen resolution. The S2 has dual record buttons on its body to accentuate its hybrid functionality, but its movie mode does not have the 60 fps fast frame rate mode that the S3 includes. The older model is also missing a Sports scene mode and a widescreen-optimized image size. Though Canon PowerShot S2 IS originally retailed for $499 when it came out early last year, it can now be found for about $350.  *Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7* – The FZ7 comes in a much more compact frame, but its shape is still reminiscent of a DSLR. It has a large hand grip on one side and a Leica 12x optical zoom lens on the other. Like the Canon S3, the Panasonic FZ7 has an optical image stabilization system. It works well in still or movie shooting, although movie mode only supports monaural audio and doesn’t allow the FZ7 to utilize its lengthy zoom lens while recording video. Still, the Lumix can record widescreen movies. The F27 also has the format for still images, along with 4:3 and 3:2. The 6-megapixel camera has full manual control along with a Simple mode, 15 scene modes, and a Panorama mode similar to the S3’s Stitch Assist. Its viewfinder is equally unimpressive, however, and its 2.5-inch LCD screen has a measly 114,000 pixels of resolution. The Panasonic has a similar feature set in a much more compact body for $349, a fraction of the S3’s price.  *Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H5* – The ultra-zoom H5 has a bit more resolution, with 7.1 megapixels, but its CCD is also 1/2.5 inches. It comes with a Carl Zeiss 12x optical zoom lens and a similar image stabilization system, and has a chunky 4.5 x 3.3 x 3.7-inch body with a pop-up flash on the top. The flash has similar effectiveness, including the S3’s exposure compensation. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H5 has a smaller viewfinder with a hard plastic eyecup, but a much larger 3-inch LCD screen with 230,000 pixels of resolution. There is full manual functionality and several scene modes; all exposure modes are on the mode dial. Beginners will appreciate the function guide that explains what each mode does, how many images each image size can capture, and how big each can print. The Sony H5 also runs on AA batteries, but only requires two of them instead of four. This model comes with Sony-branded batteries and a charger in the package, so users won’t have to spend the extra $45 as they will with the Canon S3, and the H5’s batteries approach 340 shots per charge. Its body comes in black and silver and is compatible with conversion lenses and flash accessories. The H5 produced average colors, but kept noise very low, even with an 80-1000 ISO range. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H5 also retails at $499.  **Who It’s For***Point-and-Shooters* – One look at the abundance of controls on the back and these shooters may be scared. Point-and-shooters who do venture into the S3’s wilderness will be pleased, though. This camera has an Auto mode, 13 scene modes, and plenty of growing room.  *Budget Consumers* – A $499 price tag will make these consumers a little hesitant. Other ultra-zoom models come at cheaper prices, but the Canon S3 IS is the only one to offer optical image stabilization and a camcorder-style LCD monitor. Whether the features justify the price depends on the consumer’s budget: this model tends to be on the higher end of its price range.  *Gadget Freaks* – There is nothing incredibly innovative on the S3 IS, but its combination of 12x optical zoom and image stabilization is pretty nifty. Add in bonus features like voice memos, dual record buttons to snap full-resolution pictures in movie mode, and a jump button to make navigating through lots of pictures easy, and you have a camera which may interest gadget freaks after all.  *Manual Control Freaks* – With 48 shutter speed steps and 10 aperture stops, the Canon S3 offers lots of manual control. There is a Custom setting to save frequently used manual settings and priority modes for beginners venturing into manual controls for the first time.  *Pros/ Serious Hobbyists* – The S3 IS could be used as a backup camera for professionals or a primary model for hobbyists. It is compatible with accessory lenses and has the feel of a single lens reflex camera, but it is much more compact.  


 **Conclusion**The Canon PowerShot S3 IS comes to the ultra-zoom digital camera market with a unique set of features. It has the 12x optical zoom lens that qualifies it as part of the ultra-zoom market and couples it with an optical image stabilization system that works incredibly well. Canon put the lens on a chunky SLR-shaped body that looks almost professional with its black finish. The S3 has lots of options in its movie mode that aren’t available on any other digital camera and includes dual recording buttons so users can snap full-resolution pictures in the middle of a video clip. The optical zoom functions in the movie mode – and even looks smooth with the image stabilization system activated. Users can adjust everything from the audio sampling rate to the microphone level and wind filter feature. The still recording features are just as extensive. Full manual control is available, although the manual focusing feature is difficult to execute with the poor viewfinder and LCD resolution. There are a few scene modes, with four of the most common located on the large mode dial. The Canon PowerShot S3 IS offers hybrid functionality for a retail price of $499. With its 6.1 megapixels, high-quality 12x optical zoom lens, and smooth image stabilization system, it takes great pictures and videos. Users just have to deal with a few physical idiosyncrasies – poor battery life, a constantly solarizing LCD screen, and poor viewfinder resolution – to get those great shots.

Specs / Ratings

**Specs / Ratings


Up next