Canon Powershot S230 Review

Steve's Digicams

Canon PowerShot S230

Steve's Conclusion

Canon took the popular PowerShot S200 and made it even better by using a higher resolution 3-megapixel imager. It still has a 2x optical zoom and the same rugged, small "pocketable" size. The body is 95% stainless steel, the only non-metal parts on the outside are the CompactFlash door, the battery door and the small rubber flap over the I/O ports. When powered down the lens retracts into the body and is protected by a built in lens cover. Unlike a lot of other cameras with retracting lenses that take 5 or 6 seconds to power up, the S230 is ready to go in under 3 seconds. This is an excellent camera for the "on the go" tourist or the extreme sportist and will handle pretty much anything you can throw at it short of getting it wet.

The S230 features a high-resolution 1.5" color LCD with a non-reflective coating that makes it quite visible in bright light as well as resistant to nose smears. The back light for the LCD is supplied by very energy efficient white LEDs, this is a good thing as a small camera also means a small power supply. The S230 is powered by a hefty 840mAH rechargeable lithium battery that's good for about an hour of continuous use. The problem with a proprietary battery is that you can't use an off-the-shelf battery if it dies on you out in the field. So the smart owner will buy a second battery and keep it charged and ready. Canon supplies an AC charger for the battery that takes a little over two hours to charge a fully depleted pack. The charger is very compact and portable, it plugs directly into an AC outlet and has fold-away prongs.

Images are stored on CompactFlash Type I cards, Canon includes an 16MB card which is OK for a starter card but you'll soon buy a larger one. I'd suggest at least a 96MB or 128MB size card, the price is down to about $.50/MB or less nowadays. The USB 1.1 port lets you move your pictures from the camera to your computer, drivers are included for Windows 98 SE, ME, and 2000 and Mac OS 8.5+. The overall operation of the S230 is very robust. As already mentioned, it only takes about three seconds from pushing the power button until it is ready to snap the first picture. It takes less than a second to go from Record to Play mode. The camera has a fairly fast autofocus system that is further enhanced in dim lighting to complete darkness by a focus assist lamp - something that Nikon, Fuji and others should start using too (hint, hint!) If the LCD is on you'll see the nine auto focus points and which ones have been used for the AF lock. The S230's Macro mode has excellent coverage from six inches to about two and a half feet and controls the flash perfectly even at the closest range. The total shutter lag (time from pressing shutter to actually capturing) varies from less than a second to about a second, this is a little better than average. In Large/Fine mode the shot to shot time is about a second and a half, this is faster than most other three megapixel digicams.

Overall the image quality is excellent and there are a number of recording options that you can apply when desired. Don't let the small size of this camera fool you, there are a lot of selections in the menus. The Photo Effects (Vivid color, Neutral, Sepia, B&W) give you the ability to massage the look of your images in-camera. If you like shooting night pictures then you'll appreciate the "slow shutter" option that gives you access to 1 to 15 second shutter speeds. To insure the best possible image, Noise Reduction can be enabled and applied when the shutter speed is 1.3 second or slower. The S230 has ISO sensitivity settings for 50, 100, 200, 400 or Auto. In addition to the automatic white balance setting there are presets for sunny, cloudy, incandescent, fluorescent, fluorescent H (daylight temperature) and a custom setting for use with a white or grey card. Being a small camera it also has a small built in flash and its coverage is somewhat limited. In wide angle it's good to about ten feet but in telephoto that drops off to around six feet. The 2x zoom lens exhibits moderate barrel distortion in full wide angle and a little pincushioning at full telephoto but no more than most zoom lenses and better than some. The optical viewfinder covers about 92% of the captured image, it has no dioptric adjustment.

For anyone that wants or needs a very portable and extremely durable camera it's hard to beat one of the Canon Digital ELPHs. Canon was the first to make these small but fully functional digicams and is still making the best ones. On vacation the S230 makes for an excellent "tourist" camera and around holiday time it is a perfect stocking stuffer. It will fit in the smallest pocket and can be easily carried in your hand all day, ready in seconds to capture that special moment. If you want more zoom then check out the PowerShot S330, it's the same size camera with a megapixel less of resolution but with a 3x optical zoom.

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