Canon PowerShot S3 IS
At a Glance
The 6-megapixel Canon PowerShot S3 IS ($500 as of August 25, 2006) offers a lot of features for the price. Among the most attractive of these are its optical image stabilization, 12X optical zoom, fast maximum shutter speed, and swiveling 2-inch LCD (which comes in handy for shooting at creative angles).
The S3 IS fit well in my hand and felt sturdy, though it's light and fairly compact. The plentiful buttons offer quick access to manual settings such as ISO, macro mode, and manual focus. Jumping into the menus, you can access a number of other settings such as color controls, exposure bracketing, and focus bracketing--the last of which might come in handy when you use the camera's manual focus. Even though the LCD or electronic viewfinder magnifies details of your shot to help you focus, it's not enough to get an exact lock on your subject.
I found the camera's optical image stabilization quite effective at countering minor shaking and delivering an image with fairly sharp details. The powerful 12X zoom was a joy to use, though the ring that controls it (and that surrounds the shutter button) took a little getting used to. Turning the dial slightly activates the zoom more slowly than if you crank the dial all the way over. This response seems squirrelly until you get accustomed to it.
One interesting feature, called movie snap, allows you to trigger the shutter to capture stills while shooting a movie. When you watch the movie, the screen will go blank momentarily at the points where you shot still images, but the soundtrack will remain continuous.
In our lab tests, the S3 IS delivered impressive overall image quality, its best attributes being color and exposure accuracy. The camera's scores for distortion and sharpness, however, were below average. In my informal shots, the S3 IS generally delivered good results, though I did notice a fair amount of noise in landscape photos taken just after sunset and in close-ups taken during daylight in macro mode. In our battery life tests, the S3 IS's battery lasted for just 331 shots on a single charge.