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Canon PowerShot S100

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      17.05.2011 22:42
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      Of historical interest, but not really the best choice for an everyday camera

      [NB: My camera is branded Ixus, but the S100 is absolutely identical except for the name, as explained in the introductory section of the review.]

      == Introduction ==

      Canon's range of Ixus digital cameras has been highly successful for a very long time now. And not surprisingly so, either: they generally do a very good job in blending style, compactness, usability and range of features. However, this is where it all began, way back in the prehistoric days of the 20th century (just; it came out in 2000). This is the original Ixus. Not Ixus 1, or Ixus 10, or Ixus anything. Just Ixus. Unless you're American, in which case it's the PowerShot S100 Digital Elph (S100 was used to some extent over here too), or Japanese, in which case it's the Ixy. Let's stick to the original European name, eh?

      == Look and feel ==

      This is a *small* camera, even by today's standards. It was touted at the time as being the smallest two-megapixel digicam you could buy, no larger than a credit card, and in size if not in thickness that is essentially true. It reminds me of the equally tiny Pentax Optio S of a few years later in that regard, but back in 2000 this really was remarkable. You might even mistake it for a toy camera at first glance, especially given its not entirely attractive looks, but that would be doing it a bit of a disservice.

      One welcome feature of the Ixus range over the years has been its generally excellent build quality, and it's pleasing to find that with the original model Canon began as they meant to go on. It manages the typical Ixus trick of feeling both solid and light, and that's always pleasing. This makes it a genuine pocket camera, since you won't worry that it's going to fall to bits the moment you bump it about a little bit. The lens cover helps on that score, too; in 2000 it was still not taken for granted that you'd have an automatic one.

      == Lens and LCD ==

      The lens on the Ixus has only a 2x optical zoom (equating to 35 to 70 mm), which can feel a bit limiting these days. Back when it was released it was good to have any sort of proper zoom on a camera so small, but there were times when I wished for just a little extra. The zoom on mine is not that fast, and is a little bit whiny, though I'm prepared to accept that that's simply a function of its advanced age. On the plus side, the autofocus seems to do a good job, and in bright light at least is quite fast considering the vintage.

      As you'd expect, there's both an LCD and an optical viewfinder. The latter is uninspired and (inevitably) small, though it does the job acceptably when the sun's out. Mind you, there does seem to be less reflection from the screen than on even some much more recent cameras, and while I still wouldn't recommend using it in full sunlight, it isn't quite the complete impossibility that it would be on some competing models. The LCD itself is good enough, I suppose: a bit laggy by modern-day standards, but brighter and less grainy than some.

      == Features and settings ==

      Look at the back of the Ixus and you'll see something missing: like most old digicams, this one has no four-way pad. How did people live without them? Anyway, you get five (inevitably small) buttons, sufficient for the rather limited feature set and negotiating the menus. Canon's menu system hasn't changed all that much in look and feel in over a decade, so if you're used to using a more recent model you should be able to get acquainted with this one's navigation quite fast. The setup menu does feel very old-fashioned, though, with rather clumsy control.

      For me, the single biggest disappointment with the Ixus is its complete lack of user control over ISO. Worse yet, it's not merely camera-controlled but actually fixed, at 100. That's okay for brightly-lit outdoor landscapes, but completely useless for anything dingier, especially if you're using the zoom. You can at least choose from a (limited) range of white balance settings, and the usual +/- 2.0 exposure compensation. Beyond that, there's not much more than landscape or macro mode; scene settings were quite common by this time, but you won't find them here. This is, without doubt, a point-and-shooter.

      == Photo quality ==

      It's sad to have to say it given how important it is and how good some of its successors are, but the Ixus rather falls down on this crucial point. Considering that the camera cost £500 when new, which was quite expensive for a small digital camera even a decade ago, I'd have expected a little better. That's not to say that photo quality is terrible, but even allowing for its relatively low resolution I was a little underwhelmed. Specifically: there was noticeable noise even on brightly-lit pictures, an annoying moiré effect appeared on things like closely tiled surfaces, and low-light shots were poor all round. (On which note, the flash fires twice for each shot, I suppose as an anti-redeye measure.)

      == Consumables ==

      The main worry you'll have when buying an original Ixus on the second-hand market is the battery, as it's a proprietary Li-ion type. The hassle of finding a good battery is the main reason I prefer AA cells on cameras as old as this, but happily the NB-1L is not a hard one to find, and you can pick them up for a fiver or so. The original battery had a depressingly short life, with a capacity of just 680 mAh you'll be lucky to get more than 50 shots under your belt unless you keep turning the LCD off. Third-party replacements can have a mAh rating well into four figures, and that's certainly something that's well worth investigating.

      Memory storage isn't a problem, at least, as the Ixus accepts standard CompactFlash cards. It is a little bit amusing to see a camera as small as this taking cards as bulky as that, but in 2000 it was the obvious way to go. At Superfine Large (the best image resolution) the average file seems to take up about 2 MB, so I'd recommend a 128 MB card as a practical minimum; a 256 MB card will give you a little more leeway. As you'd expect from a camera this old, it's not particularly fast (especially when powering up) and so you can only take two or three shots in a row in burst mode before having a longish wait for buffering.

      == Buying and verdict ==

      The main difficulty with buying an Ixus is knowing what to search for, since just using that term will bring up all the later models in the series too! You might try its alternative designation, S100, or its part number, PC1001. Not a huge number of these things turn up nowadays, and as mine was part of a mixed job lot I can't give its price as a guide, but they're not particularly coveted by collectors and so £15 or so should be sufficient for one in acceptable condition with the all-important charger.

      I have mixed feelings about the Ixus overall. As an unrepentant Canon fan there is a bit of an emotional pull for me in having the first entry in what has become a hugely successful line for the company. However, when it comes to actually using the thing as a camera I can't deny that it's rather outshone by a few of its 2 mp contemporaries, and that its photo quality is acceptable rather than impressive. As such, I don't feel able to give it more than three stars, and would suggest that those looking for an ultra-compact consider some of the later Ixus models instead.

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