Review: Canon PowerShot S95 Review

Jeff's Rating: 4/5

tl;dr: A great pocketable camera that shoots RAW, gets pretty good low-light results, and has a sharp new HD video recording mode.

Canon PowerShot S95 on Table

After having used an excellent RAW-capable point and shoot, the Canon PowerShot G11, for about 6 months, I sold it on eBay and bought the new Canon PowerShot S95, the G11's smaller sibling. I had originally been looking into buying the S90 (another excellent camera), but thought the G11's flip-screen and handling would be worthwhile assets.

Unfortunately, I had bought the G11 to be my pocketable 'vacation-cam,' and though it worked pretty well, it wasn't quite pocketable. I had to keep it in its case, and it was another item of luggage to carry around wherever I took it.

The S95's form factor allows me to truly pocket this camera, and not sacrifice the quality of image I can get with it too much. It's a heck of a lot better than my iPhone 4's camera, but still nowhere near as amazing as my D90 SLR paired with a good lens. To better convey a sense of how the S95 works in my life, I'll break down this review into a few relevant categories.

Pocketability / Portability

The S95 excels where my G11 didn't—it's completely unobtrusive in my pockets (even jeans pockets), and it also fits in areas the G11 couldn't quite fit, like my fiancée's purse (meaning one less thing for me to carry!).

The camera is thin enough, and the buttons protected enough, that I can always have it either with me or somewhere near me, which means I will more often than not have a pretty high-quality camera/lens combo on my person. Some in my family complain when I don't bring my D90 to a party because my iPhone 4, though it has a good lens and takes okay photos in low light, doesn't get the highest quality images. Highlights are blown, focus isn't always spot-on, and colors are sometimes a bit muddy.


The S95 is in some ways radically better, in other ways not as great, than my G11.

Canon PowerShot S95 - Top and Front

One thing that I absolutely love about the S95 is the front lens-mounted ring that can be set to control a variety of things—I usually keep it on ISO, but you can set it to control focus, zoom, etc. (makes it feel a lot more responsive!). Also, the dial selector on the back feels amazingly fluid for being so tiny.

The buttons up top are unobtrusive and don't get accidentally pressed when you don't want to press them (I remember an older PowerShot G3 getting its lens broken because someone bumped the power button while it was in a case!).

Sadly, the shutter button is in a very odd location—it's just a little bit too far towards the middle of the camera for my moderate-sized hand, causing me to hold the camera with a slight bit of an awkward grip. Zoom controls are passable, but nothing to write about.

Nothing can compare to the amount of analog control I get with my D90, or something like the Nikon D3, but the S95 is, so far, the best feeling and most intuitive camera I've used in terms of exposure and camera setup controls.

Finally, there is a somewhat rough matte finish to the camera body that affords a pretty secure grip; I'm a fan of it—it feels almost like fine sandpaper.


For me, a camera must get good results, and stand the test of pixel-peeping to be acceptable. The S95 delivers almost exactly the same results as I could get with the G11. I can't measure RAW files as well yet, since neither Aperture nor Adobe RAW support the S95's .cr2 files at this time, but JPEGs stand up pretty well up to ISO 800 or so (just like the G11). ISO 800 and beyond are not quite unusable, but I wouldn't do any serious work with these cameras past that range anyways.

IS on the camera works about as well as any of the other cameras I use. It seems to provide enough stability to hand-hold shots down to about 1/6 or 1/8 of a second (as long as you're not zoomed way in).

The camera has an M and C mode for manual and custom shooting, which is very nice—this allows me to tell the camera what I want, rather than rely on it's little digital brain all the time.

iPhone 4 Macro shot by Canon PowerShot S95

The Macro mode is exceptional, as it has been with most of my Canon Point-and-Shoot cameras in the past (the image above shows my iPhone 4, as shot by the S95 in macro mode).

Video (HD / 720p Recording)

The PowerShot S95 adds HD video recording to it's list of features (the S90 only recorded in standard definition), and the quality of the video (even in moderate lighting) is superb. However, like many other still cameras with 'HD video' included, the video is nothing spectacular.

First, you can't plug in an external mic... this alone forces me to stick to recording videos on my iPhone 4, which easily allows me to use external microphones. Second, there is no autofocus (nor manual focus) while recording, so you can only set one focus point at the start of the clip... this severely limits camera movement and creativity. Third, you can only zoom digitally, so clips get blurry if you try zooming in.

Here's a quick HD video of me, in my condo, talking to the camera:

As with my G11, the video capabilities are nothing to write home about. But, if you want great video, but a video camera. Or an iPhone 4.

The Bottom Line

I had originally purchased a Canon PowerShot G11 to use as a pocketable walkaround camera. It took great images, but pocketable it was not. The S95 fits the bill perfectly, as it is extremely thin (and pocketable), and takes images that are nearly identical in quality to the G11. I heartily recommend it to anyone looking for a great and tiny camera.

Buy the PowerShot S95 used on Amazon for $200. (The PowerShot S100 is out, and it's about $280).