PowerShot S120

PowerShot S120

Steve's Conclusion


Steve's SnapShot
    S120 275 wide.jpg
  • 12.1-megapixel High-Sensitivity CMOS image sensor
  • 5x optical zoom, fast f/1.8 lens
  • Continuous High Speed Capture of up to 12.1 frames-per-second
  • 3.0-inch touchscreen LCD with 922,000 pixels
  • Full 1080/60p HD Video
  • ISO up to 12800
  • Full manual shooting mode
  • Creative Shot Modes
    • Star Mode
    • Background Defocus
    • Handheld HDR Scene
  • Smart AUTO Technology
  • Built-in Wi-Fi
    • Canon Camera Window app
  • Thin camera with powerful list of features
  • One of the thinnest cameras available that can shoot in RAW
  • Image quality is very good in all shooting conditions
  • Extremely fast performer both in lack of shutter lag and in strong continuous shot mode in JPEG
  • One of thinnest f/1.8 lens cameras on market
  • Popup flash unit works well in low light situations
  • Touchscreen LCD simplifies camera operation
  • LCD offers sharp and bright images
  • Great mix of advanced manual control features and fully automatic features
  • Price is very competitive versus other cameras in this advanced fixed lens category
  • Limited telephoto capabilities at 5x optical zoom measurement
  • No hot shoe for adding accessories, such as an external viewfinder
  • S120's suggested price is almost equal to a basic interchangeable lens camera
  • Limited manual control options when shooting movies
  • Camera's burst mode slows considerably when shooting in RAW
  • Wi-Fi feature drains battery quickly and can be a little tough to set up for novices
  • Battery life overall is disappointing
  • Touchscreen options could be better with redesigned menus
  • No USB cable included in S120 kit
Timing Test Results
  • Power up to first image captured = 1.4 seconds
  • Shutter lag when prefocused  = less than 1/10 of a second
  • Shutter lag with autofocus = about 0.1 seconds
  • Shot to shot delay without flash = 1.5 seconds between frames with minimum review time On, 1.1 seconds with review Off
  • Shot to shot delay with flash = 2.8 seconds between frames with minimum review time On, 2.6 seconds with review Off
  • Continuous = 10 frames in 1.0 seconds @ 12M
  • Continuous AF = 10 frames in 2.2 seconds @ 12M
  • All tests were taken using a SanDisk Class 10, 16 GB SDHC memory card, Program Mode, Flash off, Review on, ISO Auto and all other settings at the factory defaults unless noted otherwise.
Bottom Line
Canon has created a very likable pocket-sized advanced fixed-lens camera with its PowerShot S120 model. This camera creates great images and works faster than its predecessor, thanks to the impressive DIGIC 6 image processor. The S120 minimizes shutter lag and provides a very impressive burst mode of about 10 frames per second. You'll find a sharp and bright touchscreen LCD with the S120 as well as built-in Wi-Fi, although both of these features could be better designed. Poor battery life, a limited 5x optical zoom lens, the lack of a hot shoe, and a high price hold the S120 back a little bit, but it's still an impressive thin camera.
Pick This Up If...
You need plenty of manual control shooting options, RAW capability, fast performance, and great image quality in a camera that fits easily in a pocket, and you don't mind a high price tag.
The thin PowerShot S120 camera from Canon may look like other beginner-level cameras in the PowerShot family, but this model is a fast performer that easily surpasses those less expensive options.

Of course once you see the $449 suggested price tag for the PowerShot S120, you'll realize there's more features and power inside this camera than what you'll find in your typical PowerShot model.

The S120 measures just 1.14 inches in thickness, which helps to set it apart from other advanced fixed lens cameras, allowing it to fit easily inside a pocket. Unlike most pocket-sized cameras though, the S120 can create high-quality images with fast performance.

The PowerShot S120 offers a 12.1-megapixel 1/1.7-inch CMOS image sensor, which is larger than what you'll find in most pocket-sized cameras. Canon also gave this model the ability to shoot in RAW or JPEG format, further improving its ability to create high quality images. Several different video resolution modes are available too, including full HD 1080p at 60 frames per second.

Image quality is outstanding with the S120, regardless of the shooting conditions. If you're shooting outdoors, you'll find sharp photos that are properly exposed and that have realistic and bright colors. Indoor photos are of a high quality, too, and you probably won't notice noise in your low light images until you reach ISO settings of 800 and higher. 

Both beginners and experienced photographers will find something to like with the operational aspects of the S120. You can shoot at a variety of advanced shooting modes, including full manual and shutter or aperture priority. You can control almost any aspect of the individual camera settings, including ISO and white balance, in these advanced shooting modes.

This model includes the most basic shooting modes too, including fully automatic, and several different scene modes; as you'd expect to find on the most basic point-n-shoot cameras. With such a good mix of basic and advanced shooting features, the S120 works well as a camera that can grow with you as your photography skills improve.

Canon simplified things further for beginners with the PowerShot S120 by including touchscreen functionality. You can control the shutter through the touchscreen, as well as make some menu selections. 

Unfortunately the S120's touchscreen isn't quite as useful as it could be. Canon has not undertaken a redesign of its menus for a few years, which means these menus are not specifically created to be used with a touchscreen. So while the touchscreen LCD does help make the S120 easier to use, the camera doesn't take full advantage of what a touchscreen can offer, which is disappointing.

The LCD screen measures 3.0 inches diagonally, and it's a sharp and bright model. It didn't seem to collect fingerprints as much as some other touchscreen cameras I've tested, which is nice. There is no viewfinder with the S120, so you'll need to use the LCD screen to frame all photos, and there's no hot shoe with this camera that would allow you to attach an external viewfinder or an external flash unit.

You'll find the latest image processor from Canon inside the S120, the DIGIC 6, which provides impressive burst mode speeds and overall performance. During my tests using JPEG, I was able to capture 10 frames at full 12-megapixel resolution in 1 second, which is a strong result in a camera of this size. Even better, you can continue to shoot at that speed for almost a full minute consecutively. The burst mode performance does slow to about 2 frames per second in RAW mode, which is still a good performance. Shutter lag is not really a problem with the PowerShot S120, and its ability to minimize delays between shots is very impressive.

Canon included a fast f/1.8 lens with this model, which is uncommon in such a thin camera. The lens only offers a 5x optical zoom measurement, which may disappoint some users. Despite offering very good image quality and fast performance, the PowerShot S120 won't be the perfect camera for shooting photos of far-off animals in nature or of your child standing in the outfield in a baseball or softball game.

Despite carrying quite a few advanced photography features, the physical design of the Canon PowerShot S120 doesn't really offer any advanced components, outside of a handy control ring that surrounds the lens housing. When you twist the control ring, you can make quick changes to a certain setting on the camera, such as the aperture, which makes this model feel a bit more like an interchangeable lens camera. You also will have access to a popup flash unit with the S120, which provides better flash photography results versus what you find with most thin models that have a flash embedded into the front panel of the camera. The camera's other buttons and dials are about what you'd expect to find with any camera in the PowerShot family.

The camera body has no widened area for a right-hand grip, which may make it tough for some people with large hands to operate the PowerShot S120 comfortably. Canon included a thumb pad on the back of the camera, and the front of the camera body has a slightly rough coating, which makes it easier to hold and use this model. The S120's edges are slightly rounded, but otherwise this is a basic looking camera that's available in black only.

Canon included a very thin rechargeable battery with this model, and you almost certainly will want to purchase a second battery to use with the S120. You can expect to receive about 200 shots per battery charge when using this model under typical shooting conditions, which is below average compared to other advanced cameras in this price range. And if you choose to try to employ the S120's built-in Wi-Fi capability, you'll see the battery drain extremely quickly. Although it's handy to have Wi-Fi built into this camera, the Wi-Fi is tricky to set up and use, especially for someone who has little to no experience with wireless networking. Throw in the fast loss of battery power, and it's tough to recommend this model's Wi-Fi as a great feature.
Additionally Canon chose not to include a USB cable with the PowerShot S120 kit. It's difficult for me to understand why the manufacturer would make this choice in a camera that has a suggested price of $449. Obviously, you could insert the memory card directly in a card reader to download photos, but not every photographer has this option. And you could download photos through the Wi-Fi, but with the poor battery life of the camera, the USB cable at some point likely will be a needed component. Not including a USB cable is a disappointing choice by Canon.

Bottom Line - The PowerShot S120 is the latest advanced pocket-sized fixed lens camera from Canon, replacing the PowerShot S110 from a couple of years ago. The S110 and S120 offer almost identical designs, other than the higher resolution touchscreen LCD and the slightly faster f/1.8 lens included with the S120. Inside the S120 is the greatly improved DIGIC 6 image processor, which gives the newer model advancements in speed and image quality versus what was found with the PowerShot S110. While that may not be enough to entice all S110 owners to purchase the upgrade, anyone else looking for a thin advanced fixed lens camera (measuring 1.14 inches in thickness) will appreciate the PowerShot S120's strengths, which include outstanding image quality, extremely fast burst mode performance, fast autofocus, and a great mix of advanced and automatic shooting modes. It would have been nice to see a larger optical zoom measurement with the S120 than the 5x that Canon included, as the limited telephoto range of this model will force some prospective customers to cross the S120 off their lists. The Wi-Fi feature included in the S120 isn't as good as it could be, nor is the touchscreen LCD feature. Both features are nice to have, but they could be better. However this model's photographic capabilities easily allow it to overcome those shortcomings. So for those who are looking to pick a camera because of its great add-on features, the S120 probably isn't the best choice. But if you don't mind the limited telephoto capabilities and can fit this high-priced model into your budget -- the $449 MSRP is close to the cost for a beginner-level interchangeable lens camera -- the S120's ability to create high-quality photographs and to operate with minimal shutter lag and with an extremely fast burst mode is very impressive ... especially for a model you comfortably can carry in a pocket.

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