Pros: Build quality, resolution, picture quality, fast 12x zoom with optical stabilization
Cons: Price, 4 AA batteries, flimsy lens cap, slow flash recycle, no RAW, control layout
I have used the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ5, the Panasonic FZ7 and the Canon PowerShot S2 IS and wanted to try the new Canon PowerShot S3 IS. I bought the Canon S3 IS and after using it and comparing it to other stabilized-zoom cameras, I sold the S3 on eBay. Overall, the S3 IS is a good camera, but it has its shortcomings, especially apparent after using the Panasonic FZ7.
I took some photos of the Canon S3 IS, which you can see at
You can copy and paste the above address into your browser's address area.
Sample photos I took with the S3 IS are available at http://www.review-shop.com/Canon_S3_IS/Canon_S3_IS_Samples_1.html
An Improvement Over the Canon S2 IS?
A replacement for the last year's hugely successful Canon PowerShot S2 IS, the Canon PowerShot S3 IS is a digital camera with optical image stabilization, 12x zoom, 6 Megapixels vs. 5MP, 2-inch LCD vs. 1.8-inch. The camera has a focus assist light to aid low-light focusing and features improved DIGIC II processor - the same generation that is used in new Canon digital SLR cameras like Canon 20D or Digital Rebel XT (350D).
Just as the S2 IS, the S3 IS has articulated LCD, uses 4 AA batteries and stores photos on SD memory cards. But it adds ISO 800 mode.
The monster 12x optical zoom and optical image stabilization work together to give you sharp pictures when shooting handheld and/or at long distances. Only a handful of digital cameras have 12x optical zoom and even less have optical image stabilization that makes 12x optical zoom usable without introducing blurriness when shooting handheld. In addition to Canon S3 IS and S2 IS, I can mention Panasonic DMC-FZ5, FZ4, FZ20, FZ30 and FZ7.
The Canon S2 IS was an impressive and very popular camera. The only things I did not like about it were its use of 4 AA batteries, the fact that the filter adaptors were sold separately, whereas Panasonic FZ cameras came with them and the flimsy lens cap, as well as the fact that the flash had to be raised manually (unlike Panasonic cameras where you could just push a button).
The S3 has not improved in the areas I criticized, but did improve in the area of resolution, LCD size, ISO range. But do the improvements warrant a $100 difference in price with the S2 IS?
About Canon PowerShot S3 IS
The Canon S3 IS is a 6-Megapixel digital camera with 12x optical zoom (36-432mm in 35-mm equivalent), optical image stabilization with maximum apertures of f/2.7 at wide angle and f/3.5 at full telephoto. It stores images on an SD card in JPEG format.
The S3 IS is only available in black color (unlike the S2, which was silver). It has a 2-inch fully-articulated LCD screen. The camera is relatively compact and feels solid (except for its lens cap), features USB 2.0 connectivity that is fast.
The 12x optical zoom optics features ultra-low dispersion (UD) lens and ultrasonic motor (USM) for fast and silent zooming. In addition to digital still photographs, the camera can record video clips with stereo sound. You can output video and sound to your TV (be it your pictures or video clips) using the supplied audio/video cable.
The S3 IS lets you shoot at the following resolutions of up to 6 Megapixels and lets you print enlargements or crop the part of the picture and print it with excellent results. And, of course, it is more than enough for the standard 6x4 prints.
The camera features selectable ISO between 80, 100, 200, 400 and 800 as well as Auto. It also has manual focus (with focus bracketing) in addition to automatic 1-spot focus (the focus spot in auto mode can be moved to any position on the screen by using [SET] and arrow buttons).
The camera has an autofocus assist light for better and faster focusing in low-light conditions. It works well in dim light.
Metering and Exposure
The exposure modes include Program AE, Aperture and Shutter Priority mode, and even full Manual mode. The shutter speed can be set between 15 and 1/3,200 sec with speeds slower than 1.3 sec available in Shutter Priority or Manual mode and operating with noise reduction.
The light metering can be selected between Evaluative, Center-Weighted and Spot (center or AF point). I find Spot and Center-Weighted modes useful when taking pictures of people at distances where the flash doesn't reach in backlight. In Evaluative metering mode, the faces might turn out underexposed, unless you dial some exposure compensation.
In Spot mode, you can set metering to properly expose the face. Also, the Spot metering mode can help you figure out the proper exposure in difficult lighting conditions be metering off the object with known tonal characteristics and then dialing some exposure compensation. The camera even has a live histogram.
The camera has a built-in stereo microphone for recording sounds while filming video clips and a speaker, which can be used for operational sounds or to play back the sounds recorded. The camera can record AVI movie clips at up to 640x480 pixels at 30 or 15 fps with stereo sound.
The shooting modes include:
Creative zone: Program, Shutter-speed priority, Aperture priority, Manual, Custom
Image zone: Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene
Special Scene: (Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Indoor, Night Snapshot, Color Accent, Color Swap)
My Colors, Stitch assist and Movie
The camera has a Macro mode as well as Super Macro mode, in which it can focus as close as 0 inches. That's right - zero inches!
Normal: 50 cm (1.6 ft.) - infinity (W)/ 90 cm (3.0 ft.) - infinity (T)
Macro: 10 - 50 cm (3.9 in. to 1.6 ft.)
Super Macro: 0 - 10 cm ( 0 to 3.9 in.)
LCD and Viewfinder
The camera has a fully articulated 2-inch LCD with 115,000 pixels that covers 100% of the view. The LCD requires quite a lot of force to flip outward or rotate, but feels sturdy as a result.
In addition to the LCD, there is an electronic viewfinder (EVF). Since it is difficult (and expensive) to make a 12x zooming optical viewfinder and impossible to easily confirm focus in a non-SLR optical viewfinder, the Canon S2 IS has an EVF.
Both the LCD and EVF are fluid, has pleasing colors and good resolution. Both are fluid, even in low light.
I found that the LCD is well-visible in regular conditions, but in sunlight, visibility decreases and you have to use the EVF, which works well in sunlight. The EVF by default is slightly dim.
The power is supplied by 4 AA-sized batteries. Canon includes four alkaline batteries with the camera, but obviously you have to get your rechargeable batteries, preferably NiMH of high capacity and a charger if you plan to use the camera at all as the alkaline batteries that are included don't last long and cannot be recharged. I have used 4 Rayovac 2300 mAh NiMH batteries.
I personally dislike cameras that don't come with rechargeable batteries, unless they are inexpensive. The advantage of using AA batteries is the ease of finding replacement rechargeable or disposable batteries. Also, if you use high-capacity rechargeable NiMH batteries, you can get 550 shots out of the S3 (according to Canon, in reality the number is much lower), comparing to about 300 shots I used to get from my Panasonic FZ5 on one battery charge.
The disadvantage is the price of batteries and the charger, the weight and inconvenience of having to deal with 4 batteries instead of one. The S3 IS was already heavier than the Panasonic FZ5 or FZ7 and got even heavier when batteries were loaded. It is also more expensive without the batteries than the FZ7 with its rechargeable battery and a charger.
One thing to note: the camera comes preset to continuous focus and continuous image stabilization, both of which are battery hogs. I recommend that you disable both of them (and switch to focusing and OIS only after the shutter release button is depressed), unless you like and have an opportunity to recharge your batteries often.
The difference between 5MP and 6MP is minimal. For majority of people who only print 6x4 or 5x7 photos and do not crop, there is no difference at all.
After my camera arrived (I bought it for $423), I found it to be well built and have a solid feel. The lens cap is slightly more solid than the one I experienced on the S2, but is still on the flimsy side. It has no retaining mechanism and is held by friction (the inside surface of the lens cap has felt rim that helps it stay on the lens barrel). Good thing there is a little strap that keeps it from being lost.
Also, the flash is opened and closed manually and is not spring-loaded. I did not like this arrangement in the S2 and do not like it here. Panasonic FZ5 and FZ7 have spring-loaded flashes that work better for me.
The camera is relatively convenient to hold (I like the feel and the balance of the FZ7 better) with controls located conveniently, but the Set button could be bigger and better located.
Upon arrival, I loaded my four 2300 mAh Rayovac NiMH batteries in the camera, inserted my 512 MB SD card (although the S2 IS comes with a 16-MB SD card, it is too small to be usable) and was ready to shoot. I liked the fact that the batteries and the memory card have separate compartments.
In the Box
The camera comes with 4 AA-sized disposable batteries, a neck strap, a stereo video cable, USB cable, a lens cap, a 16-MB SD memory card, CD-ROM and manuals.
The camera's operation is fast. The power-up takes less than 2 seconds (mostly taken by the lens extension) and is relatively quiet. The camera focuses very fast as well (under a second), seemingly as fast as the Panasonic FZ7.
The zooming is the most impressive aspect of this camera. It is precise and can be very fast (although slightly noisier than the FZ7's). The S3 IS has variable speed zoom (2 speeds) with faster speed being very fast - you can zoom from wide to full telephoto in about a second. Viva Canon USM (ultra-sonic motor)! And the slower speed lets you fine-tune the composition precisely, but the sound the camera makes when zooming slow is strange - like squeaking rubber wheels slowly rubbing.
The shutter lag when pre-focused is virtually absent and the picture is taken almost instantaneously. The shot-to-shot delay is a bit more than one second. In high-speed shooting modes, the images were captured at about 2 fps.
Shooting with flash is slower since the flash needs time to recharge. I was surprised to see that the flash recycle time reached 7 seconds (shooting indoors at f/7.1. At least the screen did not go blank in the meantime, unlike some 2-AA battery equipped Canons of the A-line.
The flash has red-eye reduction modes, which still don't eliminate the red eye completely. No worries - I can fix that in Photoshop.
The image stabilization has several modes: Off, Continuous, Shoot Only, Panning. The camera comes with mode set to Continuous by default, which is a batter hog.
I haven't used the continuous image stabilization as it reduces battery life and, more importantly, produces slightly more motion blur in images in comparison to the image stabilization during the shutter release only. I got good pictures, but still not so good battery life.
I was able to take more than 200 pictures without seeing the low-battery warning.
I liked the manual focus ability. When focusing manually, you see the focus area enlarged to help you fine-tune your focus and you also see the distance markings. Truth be told, I find manual focus rarely needed as the automatic focus works really well.
The camera focuses fast, even in dim light and even at full telephoto. It had no issues in any light indoors.
You can see sample photos I took with the Canon S3 IS at the following address:
The camera produces excellent pictures, although some of them were slightly overexposed. They are richly saturated, sharp from wide angle to telephoto and have pleasing colors. I really like the sky colors and the way the camera renders clouds.
The image stabilization worked well and let me take handheld photos at full telephoto at 1/100 and sometimes at slower speeds. I also could take handheld photos at 1/10 (and slower) at wide angle. This is much better than the rule of the recommended handheld shutter speeds (1/equivalent focal length) suggests. Without image stabilization I wouldn't be able to take pictures at the above shutter speeds. 1/500 at telephoto and 1/50 at wide angle would be the slowest I could use.
I mostly used the lowest ISO available (ISO 80) and saw no noise. At higher ISO settings, the noise starts to appear. At ISO 200, you can see noise appear in the shadows/darker areas and ISO 400 has quite detectable noise, the ISO 800 features even worse noise. Fortunately, you can avoid having to use it in most situations by simply using a slower shutter speed and/or larger apertures (e.g. F2.7 at wide angle). Image stabilization lets you use those slower speeds handheld without fear of motion blur appearing on your pictures.
But if you have to have a faster shutter speed, then you have to use ISO 400-800. Surprisingly, the noise at ISO 800 is not as bad as I expected and ISO 800 photos can be printed at 4x6 size.
The lens of the S3 exhibits very slight barrel distortion and no noticeable pincushion distortion at telephoto. There is chromatic aberration (CA) to be found in high-contrast scenes, especially at the telephoto end of the zoom. This is despite the UD element in the lens. As is usually the case with mega-zoom cameras, the telephoto shots have slightly soft corners, but nothing major.
More on Sample Photos
You can see links to a couple of sample photos below. You can see small amounts of chromatic aberration (on the full-sized images, available by going to addresses below). You can also see a small amount of corner softening at telephoto. Both photos are taken from the same location: one at full wide angle, another at full telephoto (both handheld).
You can see samples from Canon PowerShot S3 IS taken with Auto White Balance, ISO 80 at the following addresses:
Ease of Use
Once you get used to Canon menu systems, they are pretty easy to use.
The USB cable that comes with the camera has a label that states that you have to install the software first before attempting to connect the camera to your computer. This is in the worst tradition of Canon - I never had to install any software with my Panasonic cameras.
The USB 2.0 on this Canon is a "real" USB 2.0 High Speed however - the transfer speeds are fast. I also used my memory card reader.
The camera comes with 1-year parts and 90-day labor warranty.
So Is It An Improvement Over The S2 IS?
Although the S3 IS improves on the S2 in some areas (resolution, LCD size, ISO 800), it is still pretty much the same camera. Which is not a bad thing. The Canon PowerShot S2 IS was an excellent camera in many respects. You have to decide if slightly larger LCD, higher resolution, different color and usable ISO 800 are worth the difference in price. Currently, that difference is roughly $100.
If I had to decided, I would buy the S2 IS and saved $100. But later, when the price difference gets smaller, the S3 might be a better choice, even if only by a virtue of usable ISO 800 or slightly higher resolution.
You can get a Panasonic FZ7 with 12x optical stabilized zoom by Leica, 6MP resolution and battery pack with charger and other accessories for even less than the S2 currently sells for or $110 less than the S3 IS. For my money, I would prefer the FZ7 to either the S3 or S2.
The Canon PowerShot S3 IS is an excellent choice if you need a camera with 12x optical zoom and optical image stabilization. But you can save by getting the S2 IS and only slightly loose in resolution and LCD size. And check out the Panasonic FZ7: it is an excellent and inexpensive camera..