Like it's predecessor, Canon designed the S95 for the advanced amateur to professional user who wants a pocket camera that still allows them to use their photography skills to produce some creative photos. Not to mention one that offers superior image quality compared to other cameras of the same size, thanks mostly to the larger image sensor. However, that doesn't mean you beginners can't get the S95 and enjoy it any less. The S95 is loaded with powerful and easy to use exposure options, such as Canon's Smart Auto exposure mode. This beginner-friendly exposure program makes taking quality snap-shots a no brainer, as the camera chooses not only the appropriate exposure values, but also the best scene settings too by analyzing the subject being framed. Like we saw with the S90, Smart Auto was quite robust, correctly determining the scene being framed within a fraction of a second. On top of this helpful exposure mode, Canon has packed the S95 with creative and easy to use options, like in-camera HDR (tripod required), Nostalgic and Low-light modes, etc.
For our more advanced users, the S95 offers a wealth of manual controls and adjustments, that are pretty much unmatched by most all other cameras of this size. You can choose from Program AE, Shutter speed priority, Aperture priority, and full Manual modes. There's also a Custom option, that allows you to tailor an exposure mode to your specific needs. One of the more unique features Canon implemented on these new S-series models is a control ring that is mounted on around the lens bezel. This ring can control many functions (ISO, Step Zoom, Aperture, Shutter speed, etc.) depending on the exposure program being used. You can also change what function this ring controls by pressing the RING Function button on the top of the camera. Like mentioned in our S90 review, the control ring is a really cool feature that makes these cameras more versatile, and more fun to use.
The control layout and body dimensions have not changed compared to the S90. The only real difference is Canon has removed and/or shrank the small "hump" that use to sit under the mode dial on the back of the camera, which allows your thumb to rest a bit more comfortably when using the camera. This is still an ultra-compact camera that closely resembles Canon's Digital ELPH line, including the mostly metal construction. This helps the S95 offer a nice well built feel in your hands, and should help the camera offer a good life span for active consumers. While this is a pocket sized camera, I had no problems while using it. and I have rather large hands. The controls are spaced out in a comfortable manner, just within reach of my thumbs or finger tips. The control ring on the front also offers a nice secure grip on the camera with your left hand. Like the S90, you still have to watch exposure compensation closely in certain modes (like program), as the rear control wheel on the back is very easy to move. This can cause your images to appear rather dark or bright due to the change in Ev comp; I found myself adjusting EV Comp. and other settings, when I was merely trying to press one of the directions on the 4-way controller. While this isn't a huge issue, it is worth noting.
The S95 also still utilizes a handy built-in, auto pop-up flash unit that is located on the left leading edge of the camera. Depending on the exposure mode being used, this unit stays hidden inside the body of the camera, only showing itself when the need arises. Depending on how you hold the camera, this might cause an issue at times. If you are like me, and have your left hand on the control ring when holding the camera, you'll be worry free. However, if you hold the S95 like a typical ultra-compact by pinching the left side, there could be instances where you will find that your index finger is over top of the flash, which could cause some unneeded wear on the lift mechanism due to the added resistance from your finger; just be sure you are aware of your finger placement.
Like mention above, Canon has used the same 3.0-inch LCD on the S95. This is a fine LCD display that boasts 461,000 pixels of resolution for a crisp and clear image, with nice contrast and color reproduction. This unit also incorporates an anti-reflective coating to help reduce the amount of glare caused by bright light. Also, due to it being a larger display, most of the menu text and icons are larger as well, making them more legible for those with failing eyesight. Overall, I found this display was a pleasure to use, both indoors and out. Another small change on the S95 were some of the menu options and arrangement. Overall the menu is pretty similar to the one found on the S90, which is logically organized and easy to navigate.
Unlike your typical point-n-shoot, the S95 offers both RAW and JPEG image formats. While I don't see most consumers using the RAW option, it's still an excellent resource for those who process their photos on a regular basis. The RAW+JPEG mode is especially nice, giving you an unprocessed copy of your JPEG, which will allow you to easily edit the photos later, just in case you captured a once in a lifetime shot, however the white balance was off. Using RAW mode slows the camera down only slightly, which is caused by it having to process much larger file sizes (~10MB or more each). For editing your RAW photos, Canon has included their Digital Photo Professional software, which is an excellent tool for processing Canon RAW format images; whether from your S95 or an EOS dSLR.
Since the S90 and S95 share the same imager, processor and lens, it's not surprising that our image quality results were pretty much identical. That said, the S95 is able to produce some Very pleasing photos for such a compact package. Our images both indoors and out show good exposure, sharpness and fine details. Depending on which exposure mode you are using, color saturation is very realistic. Like the S90, we did notice that the Smart Auto mode produced a bit more vivid colors, which most users will appreciate as it makes you photos stand out a bit more.
The 3.8x Canon optical zoom lens found on the S95 is a superb unit, which offers a nice wide angle of view with a fast f/2.0 maximum aperture. This helps the camera perform better in lower lighting, along with helping you capture more creative photos with shallower depth of field. With a 35mm equivalent range of 28 - 105mm, this lens affords a good range for indoor or portrait style photos, not to mention nice wide landscapes or group shots. Just don't expect to zoom across a football field to tightly frame a player. Like mention above, this is a fine piece of glass which compliments the S95's larger 1/1.7-inch imager nicely, with moderate barrel distortion as well as some traces of chromatic aberrations when critically inspecting photos at 100%.
Like the S90, the S95 excels in low-light, thanks to it's fast f/2.0 lens and high ISO performance. Looking at our typical M&M man ISO series you can see that the S95 is able to produce usable photos for large prints right on up to ISO 1600 without a problem. Even the highest ISO 3200 setting looks far better than 90%, if not more, of the 10 - 14-megapixel compact cameras on the market currently. While we captured images in one EV steps for our ISO series, the S95 offers much finer adjustments in 1/3EV increments. With great ISO performance, fast lenses, and their proven 10M sensors, Canon's S90 and S95 produce some of the best low-light and High ISO photos we've ever seen from such a compact package. As a matter of fact, our ISO series from the S95 looks better than most of your super-zoom or bridge cameras as well.
Two of the more "fun" shooting modes to use on the S95 are the new HDR mode and of course our favorite from the S90, Nostalgic. Nostalgic mode will fade colors along with adding a rough type look with added "film" grain or noise in the photo, with 5 levels of intensity available that are controlled by rotating the control ring. Canon states that this allows you to give your photos an aged look. Overall this was a very cool feature to use, which made some of our usual subjects really stand out. The in-camera HDR mode worked rather well, just be sure you have a tripod or some other sort of solid camera support when using it. It will snap three images at different "brightness" settings, then combine them in side the camera in only moments. The outcome is a single image with a much broader dynamic range. You can see some examples on our samples page where I compare an in-camera HDR to a standard photo using both Smart Auto and Program mode. The results show that the S95's in-camera HDR setting does enhance detail in both bright and dark areas of the photo, while still maintaining a "natural" look.
Finally! Canon has answered our cries. One of our only grips with the S90 was that is only captured simple VGA (640x480) resolution video, which at the time of its release most all of their other PowerShot models offered at least 720p HD video capture. Canon has heard all of our complaints and added a quality 1280x720 (720p) HD video option on the S95. Like other models in the PowerShot line, the S95 captures nice clean video for a digital camera. Don't go giving away your digital camcorder, however the S95 can capture some pleasing video to play back with friends and family on your HDTV set (with an optional HDMI cable). Again, thanks to the camera's High-sensitivity sensor and fast f/2.0 lens, the S95 is able to capture some nice video even in lower lighting (like our example at a local ballet school).
Battery life was good for an ultra-compact packing this much fire power. For some reason the battery life estimates offered by Canon are 20 shots less than the S90 (200 on a full charge compared to 220). I'm not actually sure why the S95 wold consume any more power that its sibling, considering they are relatively identical inside. I had no problem capturing 200 + photos as well as several (20 or more) short videos on a single charge. We did have to recharge the camera in order to finish up our tests, however we were able to capture almost 400 still images, several video clips and complete all of our tests within two charge cycles. While we feel the S95 is more than capable of taking photos for a day or short weekend adventure with a single pack, it's always better to be safe than sorry by carrying a spare pack with you. Thanks to the handy AC charger with fold-away prongs, you can easily keep a spare pack charged and ready at all times.
Bottom line - Canon has taken an already awesome camera and made it better. While the S95 shares so many of its core features with the S90, the additions Canon has made to this new model are very much appreciated. I'm sure there will be some sore S90 fans out there though, as the S95's upgrades are some of the things we all thought should have been incorporated on the first model. None the less, beggars can't be choosers, and the S90 is still a fantastic camera itself. With the release of the S95, I'm sure those remaining 90s will find themselves leaping off the dealer shelves at a discounted rate. That said, if you're one like myself who was seriously contemplating picking up a S90, you'll be happy to see that Canon has produced its replacement with several needed and welcomed upgrades, all for the same MSRP of $399.99 US. While some may think $400 is a bit pricey for a compact camera, the S95 offers an outstanding value for the level of performance and features you are receiving.
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