DPInterface Canon PowerShot S2 IS Review
Brad Soo - June 6th, 2005 (Updated January 1st, 2006)

The brand new Canon S2 IS, the follow-up to last year's S1 IS, features some excellent upgrades such as the addition of an AF-assist beam, a longer 12x image-stabilized optical zoom, larger LCD and the ability to record unlimited VGA 30 FPS movies with stereo sound.

I'll highlight the differences between the S2 IS and the S1 IS as we go along in the review.

Size and Weight

The Canon PowerShot S2 IS is larger and heavier than the S1 IS:

111.0 x 78.0 x 66.1 mm (370 g) - Canon PowerShot S1 IS
113.0 x 78.0 x 75.5 mm (405 g) - Canon PowerShot S2 IS

Open up the Box

In the box, you'll find the S2 IS itself along with:

  • 4 AA alkaline batteries
  • 16 MB Secure Digital card
  • Neck strap
  • Lens cap with strap
  • USB and stereo video cables
  • User's manual
  • CD-ROM (Digital Camera Solution)

The neck strap which comes along with the PowerShot S2 IS is very useful as it allows you to bring the camera wherever you go (It would be almost impossible to fit the PowerShot S2 IS into your pocket anyway).

Storage and Power

The S2 IS uses SD cards and comes with a 16 MB one which holds about 6 high resolution (super fine) five megapixel photos. I would recommend getting a 512 MB card to start with. A 1 GB card will do great if you want to frequently take VGA 30 FPS movies as well. The S2 IS benefits greatly from high-speed cards such as unlimited continuous shooting and VGA movies with stereo sound.

Get 4 or 8 rechargeable AA NiMH batteries as well (Just a thought) if you want to improve battery life by a whole lot and save yourself a lot of money from long term use. Remember to bring along some spares when traveling or using the PowerShot S2 IS for long periods of time. Canon quotes that the battery life of the Canon PowerShot S2 IS using AA alkaline batteries is 130 shots and about 4 times more using AA NiMH rechargeable batteries, that is 550 shots (CIPA Standard)!

Extras

Like other ultra-zooms, the PowerShot S2 IS has a wide range of accessories:

  • Conversion lens adapter
  • Wide-angle conversion lens (0.75x, 27 - 324 mm)
  • Telephoto conversion lens (1.5x, 54 - 648 mm)
  • Close-up conversion lens
  • External slave flash
  • AC adapter

Camera Tour

Sadly, the S2 IS is only available in silver. I think it would've looked more professional in black though.

Let's have a look at the S2 IS starting from the front. There's a  36 - 432 mm (35 mm equivalent) aperture F2.7 - F3.5 zoom lens with optical image stabilization. It goes from wide-angle to telephoto in just a second (Literally - Yes, it's that fast!) thanks to the Ultra Sonic Motor (USM).

There are 4 optical image stabilization modes: Off, Continuous (Always on), Shooting (Image stabilizer activates when the shutter button is pressed half-way down till the shot is taken) and Panning (Stabilizes only up/down movements). Image stabilization is exceptionally useful when taking photos in low-light or at full 12x optical zoom. Taking pictures with image stabilization set to "Shooting" can extend battery life.

And above the lens are two separate microphones (Left and right) which enables VGA 30 FPS movies with stereo sound. Nearby is the AF-assist beam which allows the S2 IS to focus better in low light by emitting a green light. Above the words "PowerShot S2 IS" is a small tally/self-timer lamp.

Conversion lenses and more can be attached to the S2 IS by pushing down the button close by the "5.0 megapixels" and turning the lens thread. At the very top is the pop-up flash which has a range of 0.7-5.2 m at wide-angle and 0.7-4.0 m at telephoto. It is manually opened/closed by pushing it up/down.

On the right side of the lens barrel, there are two buttons. 1. Macro - For close-ups. Hold it down to activate super macro mode (Lens locked at wide-angle) which allows close-ups of 0-10 cm. And yes, the camera is able to focus at 0 cm. and 2. Manual focus.

Finally, a big grip protrudes on the left for a more steady hold of the S2. This grip is textured and is more ergonomic than the one on the S1.

On the back of the S2 IS, you'll find a rotating 1.8 inch LCD which has 115,000 pixels - Up from 1.5 inches on the S1. The LCD can flip out 90 degrees, rotate 180 degrees to the front and 90 to the back. This is useful when taking shots in large crowds, photos below waist level or self-portraits. Above the LCD is the electronic viewfinder (EVF) with a diopter correction knob. When the rotating LCD is closed, it automatically turns off and the EVF comes on. Both the LCD and EVF automatically brighten in low light conditions at the cost of a reduced refresh rate. This, though, is very useful when taking pictures late in the evening or at night.

Beside the LCD is the movie button (Button with red dot) which can be pressed at anytime to start or stop a movie. The S2 IS has a "movie snap" function which lets you take a full 5 megapixel photo when recording a movie so you won't miss any photo opportunities.

On the right of the LCD are 4 buttons - Prints in black for options in shooting mode and blue for options in playback mode with the exception of the DISPlay button. I'll cover their functions top to bottom, left to right.

The FUNCtion button (The button on the top, right of the LCD) brings up a menu with almost all the settings you'll need such as exposure compensation, effects, flash power, etc. In playback mode, the FUNCtion button deletes photos.

Next comes the metering method button which, of course, selects the camera metering method. It doubles as a JUMP button in playback, and as the name says, it allows several options for you to jump between photos.

The third button is a print/share button in playback mode but in shooting mode, it's a shortcut button! You can assign any one of these functions to it:

  • Image size (5MP, 3MP, 2MP, VGA)
  • Movie settings
  • AE/FE (Auto exposure/Flash exposure) lock
  • AF (Auto focus) lock
  • LCD display
  • IS (Optical image stabilization)
  • W/B (White balance)
  • ISO sensitivity
  • Effects
  • Canon's My Colors (Explained later)

I chose the IS function so I can quickly cycle between continuous, shooting and panning modes. Lastly, the display button toggles between the LCD and EVF when shooting and amount of information displayed when playing back.

The SET button is used most of the time as an "okay button". The MENU button brings up a menu with most camera settings such as AF-assist beam, Canon's AiAF (Artificial Intelligence Auto Focus), camera time and stuff like that. You can exit the menu by pressing the MENU button again or pressing the shutter button half way down.

A mode dial is one of the few things located on the top of the S2 IS:

  • Custom - Settings your prefer.
  • Manual - Full manual control.
  • Aperture priority - You choose an aperture and the S2 will choose an appropriate shutter speed.
  • Time (shutter) priority - You choose a shutter speed and the S2 will choose an appropriate aperture.
  • Programmed auto - The S2 chooses both aperture and shutter speed while you control other manual functions.
  • Automatic - You choose only image size and compression.
  • Portrait
  • Landscape
  • Night
  • Scene
  • My Colors
  • Stitch assist
  • Movie

The Canon PowerShot S2 IS has a unique My Colors mode which allows skin tone selection, vivid colors in photos, color accent (The desired color is preserved while everything else turns black and white), color swap (Swap one color for another. For example, make your silver camera turn green) and color balance adjustment. The unique and great My Colors mode found on the Canon PowerShot S2 IS is a new 2005 Canon digital camera feature. My Colors are also found on the Canon PowerShot SD400 Digital ELPH (AKA Digital Ixus 50) and the Canon PowerShot SD500 Digital ELPH (AKA Digital Ixus 700).

Stitch assist allows you to make a panorama with a few images stitched together using the supplied software. What makes this useful is sometimes, not even the wide angle converter for the Canon PowerShot S2 IS will do the trick for wide landscape shots.

Other things you'll find on the top is the shutter button with zoom lever, continuous/self-timer selection, power/mode switch and flash mode/sound memo button. The S2 IS has a zoom lever which resembles those found on video cameras - The zooming speed depends on the amount of pressure put on it.

At the bottom of the camera, you'll find a tripod mount and a battery compartment with a very sturdy door to protect those 4 AA batteries. The SD card slot, located on the right side of the camera, is also covered with a fairly sturdy door.

Shooting

The 5 effective megapixel S2 IS has 4 selectable image sizes along with 3 different choices of image quality.

In addition to full manual controls, there's also:

  • White balance (Auto, 6 presets, custom)
  • Metering method
  • Bracketing (Exposure, focus)
  • ISO (50, 100, 200, 400)
  • Flash output adjustment
  • Focus point selection
  • Photo effects

The Canon PowerShot S2 IS features your average 10 cm macro mode and a 0 cm super macro mode - I don't think that the light from the flash can even reach a subject so close!

Based on my results, the S2 IS took about 17 photos at 2.2 shots/second using a normal SD card whereas when I used a 256 MB SanDisk Ultra II SD card with the same settings, it took photos at 2.4 shots/second until the whole card filled up! Excellent!

Recording

The S2 IS can record movies up to VGA size at 30 FPS along with stereo sound, limited only to 1 GB or 1 hour (whichever comes first) per movie. Because of Canon's Ultrasonic Motor (USM), the zooming is so quiet you can use optical zoom when recording a movie without compromising audio quality. Digital zoom can be used as well, if you wish. Audio and video quality are both selectable and adjustable to accommodate user needs.

The Canon PowerShot S2 IS has also a wind filter which can be used during movie recording as well as recording sound memos. Oh yes, did I mention that the PowerShot S2 IS can record sound memos up to 2 hours? Superior compared to only one minute on the PowerShot S1 IS!

A full resolution 5 megapixel still photo can be taken at anytime during a movie with a press of the shutter button. Movie recording will pause and resume after the photo is taken. The two parts of the movie can be put together using the bundled software. Movies can be played back with sound in playback mode.

Movie quality was quite good and so was audio quality.

Performance

The Canon PowerShot S2 IS extends its lens in 1.5 seconds and is ready immediately. Focusing time is always under one second, even in low-light. Shot-to-shot speed was excellent, taking about 1.2 seconds between photos (slightly longer if the flash is used). Flash recharge time was above average; taking just 4 seconds.

During continuous shooting and movie recording, the S2 IS seems to be constantly flushing its buffer (writing to card) and the "busy light" barely blinks twice after stopping. The lens took literally 1 second to reach telephoto - insanely fast for a 12x lens! Powering down the camera (Even from telephoto position) was close to instant.

Image Quality


Full sized photo

Shown above is a picture of the PowerShot Pro 1. This was a photo taken by the S2 IS in macro mode. The reproduction of small details in the photo are amazing - Especially the speckles on the grip and reflection of the light on the lens. There is some noise but it's not noticeable unless you look really closely, even on prints. Chromatic aberration (Color fringing) is at a reasonably low level. As with noise, color fringing is not noticeable unless you look closely (Shutter button and words "PowerShot"). Overall, photo quality is excellent except for a few photos with blown-out highlights.

Playback

In playback mode, you can select no information, basic information or show all the shooting details - Including a histogram. Several options are also available such as protect image, "jump" through images, erase all and a few others. Still images can be zoomed in up to 10x and you can look around by scrolling using the four way controller. The PowerShot S2 IS is PictBridge compatible.

Conclusion

The Canon PowerShot S2 IS features some major improvements over the S1 IS it replaces. It features 5 effective megapixels (compared to 3.2), 12x optical zoom (compared to 10x), a more low-light visible 1.8 inch rotating LCD (compared to a total darkness 1.5 inch LCD) and has a much faster DIGIC II processor (compared to DIGIC I).

The PowerShot S2 IS also adds an AF-assist beam, VGA 30 FPS movies with stereo sound, wind filter and adjustable sound quality (Among other things), Canon's My Colors feature and support for USB 2.0 High-speed. One cool feature the S2 has is its 0 cm (Yes, ZERO cm) super macro mode which allows you to take photos of subjects that are literally touching the lens.

Despite that, the S2 lacks some features that other cameras of its class have. Some things that the S2 IS lack include manual zoom/focus rings, live histogram, a jog dial and a battery indicator. And maybe Canon should forget about including a memory card and just bundle in some rechargeable AA NiMH batteries with charger?

What's hot:

  • 12x optical zoom with optical image stabilizer
  • Rotating 1.8 inch LCD (visible in low-light too!)
  • Class-leading battery life
  • Full manual controls
  • 0 cm super macro
  • Lots of accessories
  • Unlimited smooth continuous shooting
  • VGA 30 FPS movie mode with stereo sound and many advanced functions
  • Extremely fast
  • Excellent image quality

What's not:

  • 1.8 inch LCD quite small (most competition have at least a 2 inch screen)
  • Blown out highlights and redeye
  • 1 GB per movie limit
  • No zoom/focus rings and jog dial

Recommended Accessories

~Extra set of 4 or 8 rechargeable AA NiMH batteries
~1 GB Secure Digital card
~Camera bag
~Conversion lenses

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