Canon Powershot S70 Review
The Canon PowerShot S70 is the big brother of the S60 we reviewed earlier this year. It offers a substantial improvement in resolution (7.1-megapixels versus 5), while retaining the S60's small size and versatile 28-100mm optical zoom lens. Canon also improved the camera's buffering, offering greater shooting depth during rapid or continuous operation. Like the S60, it is an enthusiasts camera, offering complete exposure control and manual focus, while its automatic and scene modes will allow the beginner to obtain good results without any fuss.
The S70 is an attractive package, identical in size to the S60 but with a matte black finish versus the S60's silver. It is small enough to fit in your pocket, yet large enough to house its 1.8-inch LCD and ample controls. The sliding lens cover and ergonomic control layout are duplicates of the S60; there was no need for improvement. The only flaw I found with the body was occasional interference between the camera strap and the lens cover, preventing the camera from powering on; it's easy enough to correct, but may cause you to miss an occasional spontaneous shot. Battery life was good, the NB-2LH lithium ion battery capturing over 200 images before the low battery warning flashed.
Have you ever found yourself with your back pressed against the wall or corner opposite your subject when shooting indoors? The 3x optical zoom lenses of most consumer digicams have a maximum wide angle focal length in the 35-38mm range, limiting the camera's field of view and making certain interior or landscape shots difficult, if not impossible, to capture. If you value the wide angle end of your camera's zoom range, the S70 is quite worthy of your interest. Its focal length at full wide angle is 28mm, offering plenty of field of view for interiors, group portraits, and landscapes. And shots of your distant subjects won't be compromised; the versatile 3.6x zoom extends to 100mm at the telephoto end of the range. There are 9 zoom steps between 28mm and 100mm; that's adequate for most shot composition needs but you may need to zoom with your feet a bit for precise framing.
The S70's lens is not only versatile, it's sharp as well. Combined with Canon's excellent autofocus system, the lens produced razor sharp results shot after shot, although I noticed some softness at the corners at wide apertures. Like most camera's in its class, the S70 exhibits noticeable barrel distortion at wide angle, and moderate chromatic aberration (purple fringing) throughout the zoom range.
The S70's shooting performance is quite good. From power-on till the first shot is captured takes about 3.3 seconds, while a shot can be captured from sleep mode in under 2 seconds. Shutter lag, the delay between depressing the shutter button and capturing the image, measured only 1/10 second when pre-focused and 6/10 second including autofocus delay; use of the LCD viewfinder will add about 1/10 second to those measurements. In single shot mode, the S70 was able to capture images at a rate of one every 2 seconds without flash, and between 2.5 and 7 seconds with flash, depending on subject distance.
The S70's enhanced buffering became evident in both Standard and High Speed Continuous shooting, capturing more images before slowing down than the S60. Standard Continuous Shooting captured 17 shots in 14 seconds, with subsequent shots at 3 second intervals; in this mode, the LCD viewfinder displays the last image captured, not the live image. High Speed Continuous Shooting captured 10 shots in 5 seconds, with subsequent shots at 3 second intervals; in this mode, the LCD viewfinder was blank for the entire sequence. You'll prefer to use the S70's optical viewfinder when shooting a moving subject in either continuous mode. Performance measurements were made shooting Large Superfine images with a Sandisk Extreme 1 GB CF memory card installed. The S70's responsiveness is more than adequate for capturing most family events, spontaneous action and children's sports activities.
Things bog down a bit when shooting in RAW mode; shot to shot performance slowed to 5 images at 3 second intervals with subsequent shots coming every 6.5 seconds. Standard Continuous mode captured 5 RAW images in 6.4 seconds, and High Speed Continuous captured 6 RAW shots in 7.6 seconds; subsequent shots came at 6.5 second intervals in both modes.
The S70's outdoor results were very good. Images were consistently well saturated with accurate color reproduction. Exposures were also accurate, but Programmed Auto seemed to favor high shutter speeds over small apertures, frequently choosing a speed of 1/1000 with apertures of f/4.5 or wider under bright sunny conditions. The auto exposure settings can be modified by using AE Lock, then adjusting the combination of Aperture/Shutter Speed using the left and right buttons of the 4-way controller. The versatile zoom range offered enough field of view at wide angle for pleasing panorama's and enough magnification at telephoto to bring your subject closer. The S70's LCD was quite usable on the brightest of days even without using its brightness adjustment, and the 10x magnification available in playback was quite useful for critically reviewing shots in the field.
The S70 also performed very well indoors. As I mentioned earlier, the 28mm focal length at wide angle is very useful, offering plenty of field of view for cramped interiors. The flash is quite powerful by consumer digicam standards; its useful range exceeded the 14 feet claimed by Canon. The S70 uses a single lamp for both AF-assist and red eye reduction; red eye was reduced at close range, but its effectiveness diminished as the subject distance increased. The AF-assist function worked well at full wide angle, but was much less effective toward the telephoto end of the zoom range. The LCD viewfinder was usable in average room lighting, but you'll prefer to use the optical viewfinder in dim lighting conditions. With its close-focusing macro mode and effective squelching of its flash at close range, the S70 would be a good camera for photographing your online auction listings.
The S70's movie mode lags the competition. It does offer a 640x480 resolution, but it is limited to 10 frames per second and a maximum length of 30 seconds; others offer 15 and 30 fps with clip lengths limited only by the amount of remaining memory. The S70 does provide an in-camera editing function, allowing you to trim movie length to a desired length and content. Movies are recorded with sound; you'll be able to use the zoom lens to compose, but not during recording.
The S70's versatility is not limited to its zoom range; it offers a set of exposure modes that will please both the beginner and the enthusiast. Beginners will enjoy the S70's fully automatic exposure mode, and will appreciate the assistance offered by the camera's 5 scene modes (landscape, portrait, night scene, fast shutter and slow shutter).
Enthusiasts will enjoy using the Creative Zone of the shooting mode dial, where they will find Programmed Auto, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, and full Manual exposure modes. The S70 offers help in these modes by warning you of potential under/over exposure and camera shake caused by slow shutter speeds. In addition, it offers a Safety Shift feature in Shutter and Aperture priority modes, overriding user settings that may make it impossible to obtain a good exposure. As good as the S70's AF system is, there are subjects and shooting conditions that render it ineffective. For those conditions the S70 offers Manual Focus, which assists you by magnifying the AF frame, and AF lock, which allows you to lock focus on an object at a distance similar to that of your subject. The S70 also provides an AE lock, allowing you to meter your off center subject for proper exposure.
Advanced users will find complete control of exposures, including the ability to set ISO, White Balance (including a unique Underwater setting), Exposure compensation, saturation, contrast, and sharpness. Center-Weighted Average, Spot, or Evaluative metering can be selected via a dedicated button. The S70 also offers both exposure and focus bracketing, taking a series 3 exposures with differing exposure or focus settings, improving the likelihood that you'll come home with a good shot of a subject taken in difficult conditions. With such a broad range of adjustments, it can be a daunting task to reproduce the camera settings you like; the S70 allows you to Save Custom Settings and later recall them, minimizing the time necessary to set up the camera, and eliminating any mistakes you might make changing one setting at a time.
With an MSRP of $599, the Canon S70 presents an excellent value for families wanting a small camera that can be used by photographers of every experience level, and capable of producing large high-quality images. Its 7-megapixel images are stunning both in terms of resolution and quality, allowing you to make 8x10-inch prints of a heavily cropped image, or 13x19-inch prints of the entire shot. The average size of a 7-megapixel Superfine image is over 3-megabytes, so make sure that you get a CF memory card large enough for a days worth of shots. And because the S70 can not be powered by common batteries, make sure that you get a spare NB-2LH battery, keeping it fully charged so that you don't miss that once in a lifetime photo op. The S70 is an excellent camera, one that I highly recommend. Please have a look at our sample photos to see for yourself what it is capable of. If 5-megapixel resolution is adequate for your needs, consider the Canon Powershot S60; it offers identical features for about $100 less.
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