Review of Canon S2 IS Still Camera

By Stuart Sweetow of Audio Visual Consultants © 2005

Originally published in Digital Photographer Magazine

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In the land of the 3.2 MP cameras, the Canon S1 IS was king. With its image stabilized 10x zoom lens and twist-open LCD screen it was a favorite in its category. Soon Panasonic, Kodak and Sony released 5 MP digicams with long zooms, and the S1 stepped down from its pedestal. Now, the 5 MP S2 IS can once again bring Canon to the minds of purchasers who want a feature-laden, semi-pro camera.

Upgrades from S1

This is no minor version upgrade. While the S2 looks similar to the S1, it has benefited from a major re-design. The 12x zoom has three image stabilizing modes, and the close focusing distance specification is down to 0 cm. The S2 sports12 scene modes–double those of the S1. These include Foliage, Night Snapshot and Fireworks. The camera uses the same DIGIC II processing engine found in Canon’s pro SLR and it boasts such features as an auto-focus illuminator, high resolution video and stereo audio.

You can shoot as many as 2.4 frames per second, the flash range has been extended and the S2 uses a high speed USB 2.0 port. The flip and twist LCD has grown to 1.8 inches and the fastest shutter speed is now 1/3200 sec. These new features add 1.3 ounces to the weight, about 10mm to the depth and a barrel of fun to users of the S2.

A Tour of the S2

As was the case with the S1, this camera is designed to be held by one hand. The on/off rocker switch has positions for record or playback. The variable-speed zoom control is placed in front of the shutter button. Just behind that is a little self-timer button that provides the option of multiple shots.

The large Mode Dial, also on the top of the camera has a total of 12 custom settings in addition to Auto. It is divided into Image Zone and Creative Zone. The Creative Zone controls such parameters as shutter or aperture priority, program AE, manual exposure and a Custom mode where you can set a manual white balance. The Image Zone selects settings based on the type of image, such as landscape, portrait and night scene. Here is where you select the movie mode and special scenes (beach, fireworks, night flash, indoor, foliage and snow). Within the Image Zone is a feature called My Colors for a variety of creative color adjustments and Stitch Assist where you can create a wide panorama from several overlapped images (using the enclosed software).

The pop-up flash is at center top, and to the left of that is a small button that manually turns on the flash. That button doubles as the microphone-on control when narrating playback of images. Moving down the camera on the left side is the covered AV output jack and a little loudspeaker. Next to the lens are the manual focus and macro-mode buttons.

The back of the S2 has the flip-out LCD screen that is normally closed, protecting the screen. To the right of the LCD is a red Movie button and four buttons below that: The Function button lets you adjust several settings such as white balance, ISO speed, bracketing, flash output and movie mode resolution. Below that is a Jump button that displays nine images and lets you jump ahead 10 to 100 images at a time; it doubles as a metering button that offers choices of spot or center-weighted averaging and evaluative metering. Below that is a Shortcut button that lets you store regularly-used settings; it doubles as a Direct Transfer button for downloading. At the bottom of the stack is the Display button to display settings in the viewfinder or on the LCD.

On the right side of the back is a round, four-position Omni Button. The Menu button and the Set button reside just below. The SD card slot is just around the corner, behind the handgrip. Above that reside the covered USB 2.0 and power input ports. In the front of the camera, are two microphones, placed at the 11:00 and 1:00 o’clock positions above the lens. Near the left mike is a red-eye reduction light, and near the right mike is the autofocus assist light.

A Walloping Array of Features

While the S2 has a full-auto mode that produces excellent pictures, it packs a complement of features that will delight the professional photographer.

The 12x optical zoom lens works at f/2.7 at the wide angle and f/3.5 in telephoto. The camera also has a 4x digital zoom. The equivalent lens range is 36-432mm, as compared with a 35mm camera. Canon has optional wide-angle and telephoto adapters available. It has two levels of macro, including Super Macro designed to capture sharp images right up to touching the lens. According to Canon, among the 11 lens elements is one aspherical surface and one ultra-low dispersion glass (UD) element (an upgrade from the S1). The UD element is designed to reduce chromatic aberration in the telephoto position.

The S2 has three modes of optical image stabilization: Continuous IS, Panning IS and a new “Shoot Only” IS mode that is only active during exposure while shooting still photos. The camera is designed to capture still photos continuously at rates up to 2.4 fps.

The ISO may be adjusted manually between 50 and 400 to enable you to shoot in low light without a flash. There is a variety of white-balance and exposure modes plus an auto-focus frame feature that lets you set focus for an off-center subject.

The Photo Effects mode has seven settings to increase or reduce contrast and color saturation. Included here are image softening, sepia tone, B&W and a Custom setting for manual adjustments.

The My Colors Function lets you add tan to your subjects’ skin tones, or lighten them. The Color Swap feature lets you change the color of a single object, such as a car, while leaving the rest of the scene alone. The Vivid options let you separately increase the saturation of reds, blues or greens. The Color Accent puts the background in black & white while a single color you choose is displayed in color. You can save both the original image and the enhanced versions as separate files on the SD memory card.

The camera is powered by four AA batteries, and it accepts either alkaline batteries or rechargeable Nickel-Metal Hydride (Ni-MH) batteries. Alkaline batteries are rated for approximately 130 shots before they need to be replaced, while Canon says their Ni-MH NB4-200 AA-size batteries provide approximately 550 shots on a single charge.

This camera also is a stereo audio recorder with adjustable levels. It records 15-bit audio at adjustable sampling rates up to 44 kHz, and it has a wind filter setting. You can narrate your photos using the audio recording feature.

Movie Mode

If still pictures and sound recording are not enough, the S2 has a Movie Mode with options that range from 15 frames per second at low resolution, up to 30 fps at VGA (640 x 480 pixels) resolution. For maximum recording times, resolution can be reduced to QVGA (320 x 240 pixels). The S2 features a five-mode slow-motion replay function, as well as an in-camera editing that lets users remove unwanted footage from the beginning or the end of a movie clip. The zoom control is quiet during filming, and such features as manual focus, Photo Effects and My Colors work during shooting in the Movie Mode. The MovieSnap feature lets you capture still images at resolutions up to 5MP while recording movies.

Taking the S2 for a Spin

We shot some movie clips with this still camera and edited them with the included ZoomBrowser and QuickTime software. A storyboard of the shots we selected was displayed at the bottom of the screen. The program lets you move each image to the left or right on the storyboard.

We were able to trim the start and stop times of each shot, rearrange the order of the shots in the storyboard, add transition effects and type titles from the keyboard. The program lets you make color adjustments, add music or narration from your hard drive and even fade the audio and video. When the movie mode is set to 30 frames per second and to VGA resolution (640 x 480) the video looks every bit as good as video from a camcorder. And the audio is in stereo.

The well-written 185 page manual has an alphabetized index as well as a table of contents. The manual guided us through a variety of settings and functions. We created a panorama using the included PhotoStitch software. Following the instruction manual, we shot a sequence of four photos as we panned across a lake. The software is so easy that it literally took under two minutes for us to stitch together the four photos into a single panorama shot.

We tried the accent color feature to let red flowers retain their color while the background went to black & white. The manual provides step by step instructions, and the result was red color in the brightly lit portions of the flowers, but the shadow areas turned grey.

The 2nd curtain feature of the S2 lets you combine a time exposure together with flash. In this case, we used shutter priority to set the shutter speed at ¼-sec, and we put the camera on a tripod for stability at this slow shutter speed. Then we took photos of cars at driving through an intersection at night. With a little practice we figured out how to create a photo that showed trails of the car’s lights as well as the car fully illuminated by our flash. The flash activates at the end of the shutter opening duration. The quality of these images was excellent.

The S2 has a host of other features that bear discovery once you tackle the hefty instruction manual. The PictBridge feature lets you print, without a computer, to certain printers. The super macro mode lets you shoot objects that are right up to the lens, the continuous shooting mode lets you shoot as many as 2.4 pictures a second and an intervalometer enables you to perform time-lapse photography.

Other 5 MP, 12X digicams on the market include the lower-priced Konica Minolta Z5 that has a hot shoe for external flash, which the Canon lacks. However it doesn’t have the folding LCD screen, and its movie mode records at a lower resolution than the Canon. The similarly priced Sony H1 has a large, but not folding, 2.5-inch LCD. It has low-light noise reduction, but it doesn’t have the number of image effects the Canon sports. The higher-priced Panasonic FZ 20 has a black body, a flash shoe and a live histogram; the Canon’s histogram can be viewed only after a shot is taken. However, the Panasonic doesn’t have a fold-out screen, and its video resolution is lower.

This feature-laden Canon S2 IS camera works equally well using auto or manual settings. The DIGIC II processor is very fast, the autofocus illuminator works well and the image stabilization helps to capture sharp pictures with the lens in the telephoto position. This is a well-designed tool with features and conveniences that would appeal to the hobbyist and as well as the professional.

Just the Facts

Canon S2 IS

MSRP: $549

Image Sensor: 1/2.5″ CCD, 5.3 megapixels

Maximum Resolution: 2592 x 1944

Zoom: 12X optical, 6.0 – 72.0mm, f/2.7-3.5 (35mm film equivalent: 36-432mm); 4X digital.

Focusing capability: TTL autofocus, center area AF, AE area selection, single / continuous AF, manual focus, focus lock , 1-point AF, Macro: 3.9 in.-1.6 ft./10-50cm
Super Macro: 0-3.9 in./0-10cm.

Display: 1.8 inch 115,000 pixel tilt, twist and swivel TFT color LCD; 0.33 inch TFT color LCD viewfinder.

Manual Exposure Controls: Program AE, shutter speed-priority AE, aperture-priority AE, manual, AE lock is available
ISO: Auto, 50, 100, 200, 400

Speed Shutter: 15-1/3200 sec.; slow shutter speed of 15-1.3 sec. is available only in select modes.

Flash: Built-in, auto, off, red-eye reduction on/off

Image Storage: SD Memory Card

Image Playback: Single, index (9 thumbnail images), slide show, magnification (approx. 2 to 10x), jump, movie

File Formats: Exif 2.2 (JPEG), AVI (Motion JPEG) , DPOF Version 1.1 (Digital Print Order Format)

Sound Recording: Stereo WAV

Other Features: Direct connection to Canon CP printers and PIXMA photo printers via camera’s USB cable (no computer required) or PictBridge compatible printers.

Bundled Software: ZoomBrowser, PhotoRecord, PhotoStitch, Camera TWAIN Driver, Camera WIA Driver, ArcSoft PhotoStudio, QuickTime

Computer Interface: USB 2.0 Hi-Speed (mini-B PTP).

Recording Clarity: Excellent, but noise at ISO 400. VGA resolution video.

Power Source: 1. AA-size alkaline battery (x4), AA-size NiMH battery (x4), Compact Power Adapter CA-PS700

Size: 4.45 x 3.07 x 2.97 in., approx. 14.3 oz. (camera body only)

Warranty: One year

Contact: www.canonusa.com, 800-OK-CANON

Camera Summary:

Features: 4
Ease of Use: 5
Image Quality: 4
Value for Your $$$: 5

With its fold-out screen, the wide range of shooting options and its ease of use, the Canon S2 IS is well suited to the photographer who wants to experiment with creative camera angles and image processing.

+ Long optical zoom, twist and flip-open LCD, high-resolution video with stereo audio
– Limited flash options, small LCD size, no RAW or TIFF files

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