Even though the PowerShot S120 looks like a beginner-level model on the outside, its 1/1.7-inch CMOS image sensor on the inside gives it quite a bit more punch than the majority of basic point-n-shoot models on the market. Few cameras that are as thin as the S120 offer an image sensor as large.
It would be nice to have a slightly larger optical zoom lens than the 5x lens (24 -120 mm equivalent) found with the S120. However the small camera body and larger-than-average image sensor limit the telephoto capabilities of this model. The zoom motor works quickly, moving through the entire zoom range in a little over 1 second.
The PowerShot S120 measures 1.14 inches in thickness when powered down. When the camera is turned on, the lens automatically extends a bit, making the camera about 2 inches in thickness. With the full 5x telephoto measurement enabled, the camera is about 2.25 inches in thickness.
Canon included an fast lens with the S120, offering a minimum f-stop setting of f/1.8 at wide angle and f/5.7 at telephoto. The S120 includes both a TTL autofocus mode and a basic manual focus mode. The focusing range for this camera is:
- Normal: 2.0 in. (5 cm) - infinity (W), 12 in. (30 cm) - infinity (T)
- Auto/Manual: 1.2 in (3 cm) - infinity (W), 12 in. (30 cm) - infinity (T)
- Macro AF: 1.2 in. - 1.6 ft. (3 - 50 cm) (W) or 1 ft. - 1.6 ft. (30 - 50 cm) (T)
- Quick: 4.9 ft. - 66 ft. (1.5 - 20 m) (W and T)
The PowerShot S120's lens retracts completely inside the lens housing when the S120 is powered down, and a lens covering slides in place to protect the glass.
In this image you can see the large ring with the textured edge that surrounds the lens housing, which is a control ring. This ring is used with the Ring Func. button on the back of the camera, which we'll discuss later.
Another feature rarely found in a thin camera that Canon included with the S120 is a popup flash unit, which provides better image quality with flash photos than what you'd receive with a tiny flash unit that's built into the front of the camera body.
The operational range for the flash is:
- Wide: 1.6 - 23.0 ft. (0.5 - 7 m)
- Tele: 1.6 - 7.5 ft. (0.5 - 2.3 m)
When turned on the S120 offers three flash functions: On, Auto, and Slow Synchro.
You'll activate the flash through a toggle switch on the left side of the camera (as you're holding it). You do have to open the flash unit manually. The S120 will not open the flash automatically whenever it is needed.
You'll find most of the operational buttons for the PowerShot S120 on the right side of the top panel. There aren't many buttons and controls on the S120, which makes it look more like a basic point-n-shoot camera.
The mode dial is on the far right, and it offers a good group of settings that provide a nice mix between automatic shooting and manual shooting options. The mode dial 10 options are:
- Hybrid Auto - Camera with A and film icon, combination of still images and video clip recorded at the same time
- P - Program Auto
- Tv - Shutter priority
- Av - Aperture priority
- M - Manual
- C - Custom
- Movie - Video camera icon
- Special Effects - Interlocking rings icon
- SCN - Scene modes
To the left is the shutter button with the zoom ring surround it. The shutter button is a good size, and the placement of the zoom ring works well with the size of the S120.
The power button is to the left of the shutter button. It's small and depressed versus the PowerShot S120's camera body, which makes it tough to press if you're in a hurry. It's also a little close to the zoom ring.
You may notice there's something missing from the S120 that quite a few cameras in this advanced fixed-lens category have: A hot shoe. This means there's no opportunity to add an external viewfinder or an external flash unit to the S120.
The 3.0-inch LCD screen included with the S120 is an impressive unit, offering touchscreen capabilities in a very sharp and bright LCD screen with 922,000 pixels of resolution. You can control the camera's menus and activate the shutter through the touchscreen.
Canon certainly could have made the PowerShot S120's touchscreen more efficient by redesigning the camera's interface. For example this camera's on-screen menus look the same as any other PowerShot camera, which means they don't offer icons, on-screen dials, or other user interface options that would make it easier to interact with the touchscreen. You also cannot open the handy popup menu through the touchscreen, although you can control the popup menu through touch once it's opened. Canon's designers could have done so much more to make the touchscreen more interactive and to make the camera easier to use overall.
The right side of the PowerShot S120's back panel looks a lot like other PowerShot cameras, as this area contains the majority of this model's controls.
Just below the thumb pad is the Ring Func. button and the movie button (marked with a red dot). You start and stop video recording by pressing the movie button. You can record movies from any setting on the mode dial, although you'll need to be in the Movie mode on the mode dial to have access to the full set of video recording controls. If you rarely shoot video with the S120, you can use the on-screen menus to assign a different function to the movie button.
The Ring Func. button provides access to an interesting feature found in the S120. When you press this button, you can choose to assign a particular camera function to the control ring that surrounds the lens housing. After you press the Ring Func. button the options are listed as icons across the top of the screen as you twist the control ring. Either touch the icon you want to assign to the control ring or just stop turning the ring once the icon you want is highlighted. Once a function is assigned, you then can access it and change the setting by simply twisting the control ring.
In Program mode the control ring options are: ISO, exposure value, manual focus, white balance correction, optical zoom setting, DR correction, shadow correction, aspect ratio, and custom. When shooting in Manual or Aperture Priority mode you can select the aperture value with the control ring. For those who are used to using interchangeable lens cameras where various functions are controlled using rings on the lenses, the S120's control ring function is very natural to use.
In the middle of the control panel is the four-way ring, which spins to allow for faster scrolling through menu options or images stored on the memory card. You also can press the four-way ring in any of four areas to access a particular function. The top area opens the EV options, the right opens the flash options, the bottom changes the display information on the screen, and the left controls the basic manual focus and macro shooting options. In Playback mode the top area also controls the PowerShot S120's Wi-Fi capabilities.
Along the bottom are the Playback button, which opens Playback mode, and the Menu button, which opens the on-screen menus.
As you're holding the PowerShot S120, you'll find a compartment on the right side of the camera body. The compartment is protected by a flexible hinged covering.
The compartment contains a USB and HDMI port. However Canon chose not to include a USB cable with this camera kit, which is a very strange decision for a model that has a suggested price in excess of $400.
To keep the PowerShot S120 as a thin camera model, Canon included a pretty thin rechargeable battery that slides into a compartment along the bottom panel of the camera body. Canon rates the S120's battery capacity at 230 shots per charge, and my tests found that number is pretty accurate when using the camera in real world shooting conditions.
Canon included a separate battery charger, which makes it easier to purchase and make use of a second battery, in case the S120's battery capacity isn't large enough to meet your needs.
The PowerShot S120 makes use of an SD sized memory card, which fits in the same compartment as the battery. A hard plastic hinged door that locks in place protects the compartment. The S120 weighs a little less than 8 ounces with the battery and memory card installed.