Canon PowerShot S1 IS
At a Glance
Designed to resemble a scaled-down SLR camera, the Canon PowerShot S1 IS brings together a lot of advanced features--including the ability to captures video at up to 640-by-480 pixels and 30 frames-per-second with 22-KHz 16-bit sound--for its $499 price tag. We could argue that 3.2 megapixels is not enough for a camera with full manual settings, a fold-out LCD, and the ability to accept accessory telephoto and wide-angle lenses. But the modest resolution is one compromise that helps keep the price of a camera with an image stabilized 10X zoom lens under $500.
The S1 IS has the traditional shape of an advanced model, with a solid hand-grip on the right side and the lens center-left. Like all long-zoom point-and-shoot digitals, the S1 IS comes with a small LCD for its eye-level viewfinder; and as often happens with cameras of this type, there is a slight but noticeable lag in the viewfinder's image as you pan the camera.
Aside from that shortcoming, the S1 IS is a pleasure to operate. A dial on top lets you select the shooting mode from among six scene-assist modes and one that holds your own custom settings. Alternatively, you can get down to business with full manual modes, including aperture- and shutter-priority settings. The back of the camera contains a set of buttons that you can reach easily with your right thumb, and a four-way selector works well for navigating the menus. Most digital cameras use the shutter release to start and stop recording video, so it took us a little while to get used to the S1 IS's separate record button.
The S1 IS scored slightly above average in our photo-quality tests, achieving correct exposures and excellent color accuracy, especially in our still-life shot under daylight-balanced lighting. Color accuracy and skin tones looked attractive in our flash tests, too. Though it faltered slightly in capturing sharpness and detail as compared to higher-resolution cameras, it was on a par with other 3.2-megapixel models.
A local car race coincided nicely with our informal field testing. The S1 IS's video of cars screaming by was fun to capture, but we rapidly ate up the 32MB, high-speed CompactFlash card that came with the camera. We had some trouble framing video and stills accurately, too, because the zoom control is so sensitive.
The S1 IS depleted its four AA batteries quickly. In our tests, we had to change them after only 144 shots. If you plan to shoot a lot of video, constantly zoom the lens, frame potential shots while holding the shutter button halfway down, or run the LCD screen for extended periods, you should invest in high-capacity, rechargeable batteries. One other quibble: The S1 IS has a cord to attach the lens cap to the included neck-strap. It's just as well--the cap fell off the lens with annoying frequency while we carried the camera around.
Producing fine photos for a 3.2-megapixel camera and offering plenty of advanced features for a very reasonable price, the S1 IS makes a good choice for hobbyist photographers on a fairly tight budget.