The PowerShot S110 makes a number of improvements and alterations to what was already a very popular and well-liked model but, crucially, nothing Canon has done compromises its prime attraction and its biggest competitive advantage – its compact and lightweight body. A couple of minor changes aside, the S110 looks like the earlier S100 and shares exactly the same dimensions and weight.
It also retains the same 12 Megapixel sensor and 5x zoom lens as its predecessor, all of which might lead you to assume not much has changed. But the S110 now has a touch screen which makes a huge difference in terms of handling, allowing not just quick access to menu items and more versatile and intuitive playback control, but the ability to set the AF area and even shoot with just a tap on the screen.
The S110 substitutes the GPS antenna of its predecessor for a Wi-Fi one, allowing connection to the Internet as well as wireless communication with a smartphone. This is a smart move on Canon’s part as it means you can still tag your images with location data via your smartphone if you want to (albeit not quite so easily), but also have access to a range of other options for sharing photos online. The time is fast approaching when a camera that doesn’t connect to the Internet will appear as useful as a computer or phone that doesn’t, so Canon is undoubtedly on the right track here. But sharing photos from the PowerShot S110 isn’t nearly as straightforward as it could be. If Canon wants to maintain the headstart it has here it needs to work on providing quick, seamless and direct uploads to social networking and photo sharing websites rather than via its own gateway.
As before, the PowerShot S110 remains the smallest camera with advanced features like a bright lens, RAW files and manual controls, and the only one with a built-in motorised lens cap. The competition from Panasonic and Olympus meanwhile continues to travel in a different direction, offering brighter lenses, hotshoes and accessory ports, but in a less compact form factor with lens caps. Sony’s RX100 comes closest physically and packs in a bigger sensor too, but again lacks the motorised lens cover and some of the S110’s other features. While you may think having a manual lens cap isn’t a big deal, it does make a camera larger and delays the time to first shot; certanly when shooting with the S110 alongside any of the aforementioned rivals, it’s been noticeably quicker to action and that can mean the difference between capturing or missing a brief opportunity, and that’s worth taking into consideration. So before my final verdict, lets see how the S110 compares to its closest rivals.
Compared to Panasonic Lumix LX7
Like the Powershot S110, the Lumix LX7 is a popular choice among enthusiasts looking for a compact with a larger sensor than a point and shoot, manual exposure control and advanced features like exposure bracketing and RAW shooting. The LX7 is chunkier, heavier and more robust than the S110 as well as sporting more physical controls.
The LX7 has a 10 Megapixel CMOS sensor so produces slightly smaller images than the S110, but in terms of quality and noise performance there’s little to choose between them. But when it comes to their respective lenses it’s a different story. Both models provide a 24mm super wide angle, the widest you’ll find on a compact, but the S110’s 5x zoom extends to 120mm equivalent where the LX7’s 3.8x zoom extends only as far as 90mm. More importantly though, the LX7’s lens is much brighter than the S110’s with an impressive maximum aperture of f1.4 at the wide angle setting reducing to f2.3 at the telephoto end of the zoom. Compare that to the S110’s f2.0-5.9 and you can see that the LX7 starts a stop brighter, but as you zoom in its advantage becomes progressively greater and is between two and three stops brighter at the telephoto end. In practice this means that with both cameras zoomed in to around 90mm, you’d need to set the ISO to 800 on the S110 where 200 ISO would suffice for the LX7.
The S110 sports fewer physical controls than the LX7, and its touch-screen makes operation a little simpler. The S110’s lens control ring is programmable, making it more versatile than the dedicated aperture control ring on the LX7. Those used to an SLR might prefer the LX7 control layout with its dedicated AF/AE lock button, rear control dial and ND/Focus rocker, but the addition of the touch-screen provides the S110 with a high degree of accessibility and control without sacrificing the simplicity of its more conventional compact design.
The LX7 offers faster continuous shooting with a wider range of options than the S110. It can fire off a 12 frame full resolution burst in a second, compared with 10 frames for the S110. Beyond that the S110 offers fixed AF continuous shooting at under 2fps, but the LX7 can manage 5fps with continuous AF along with 40 and 60fps reduced resolution modes. The LX7 also trumps the S110 for video with 1080p50/60 HD recording compared with 1080p24 and also provides full PASM exposure control for video recording. However, for many videographers the film-like appearance of the Canon’s 1080p24 mode is a big draw added to which the convenience of having QuickTime files stored in the S110’s still image folder is preferable to Panasonic’s labyrinthine AVCHD folder structure.
Finally, there’s the PowerShot S110’s trump card, its Wi-Fi connectivity. The implementation could be better but the importance of connectivity in a camera like the S110 shouldn’t be underestimated. While the ability to share photos direct from the camera is currently more of a feature on consumer models, in a very short space of time a cameras that don’t offer this feature will be in a very small minority. Having taken the first step Canon has some work to do to make this a truly useful feature though.
The LX7 is a very capable camera that’s also enjoyable to use. I can see it holding more appeal for those who’d really rather use a DSLR were it not for the bulk, but the S110 takes no prisoners in it’s quest to be the smallest lightest advanced compact around. That, combined with wireless connectivity makes it much more of a unique proposition.
See my Panasonic Lumix LX7 review for more details.
Compared to Olympus Stylus XZ-2
Like the Lumix LX7, the Olympus Stylus XZ-2 is an advanced compact with a larger sensor than a point-and-shoot that also features a very bright lens and offers a high degree of advanced control. In fact it’s very similarly proportioned to the LX7 and at 346g a little heavier again. So it won’t slip so easily into your jeans pocket, but it will perform better in low light conditions than the S110. While its 28-112mm 4x zoom doesn’t extend as far at either end of the range as the S110’s it’s significantly brighter with a maximum aperture of f1.8-2.5. That’s less of a gap at the wide angle setting than between the S110 and LX7, but, as with the LX7 the gap widens as you zoom in, again allowing you to exploit lower ISOs or quicker shutter speeds under the same conditions.
Brightness isn’t the only feature of the XZ-2’s lens. Like the S110 it has a control ring which can be assigned to different functions depending on the shooting mode. In some respects the XZ-2’s control ring is more versatile the the S110’s. It has a dual mode function that operates smoothly for zooming and manual focussing and in descrete click-stops for exposure control and other modal functions.
Like the LX7, the XZ-2 is a bigger, heavier camera than the model it replaces and one of the main reasons for the extra bulk is the addition of a 3 inch 920k dot flip up LCD touch-screen. Like the S110’s screen the XZ-2’s can be used to choose one of the 35 AF areas an includes a tap to shoot option. Olympus’s Super Control Panel layout combined with the touch-screen provides a much better method for controlling the XZ-2 than the PowerShot S110’s Func.Set menu though and, with a dedicated function button and two custom positions on the mode dial, the XZ-2 provides much better customization potential than the S110.
Both cameras are quite closely matched for video features with the XZ-2’s 1080p30 best quality mode broadly equivalent to the 1080p24 of the S110. Neither offers anything beyond auto exposure control for movie shooting but both allow you to use the optical zoom while recording. Both allow the use of filters for movie shooting, but the S110 additionally provides Super Slow Motion shooting. The XZ-2 has faster continuous shooting at 5fps but rather than a short one-second 10fps burst as on the S110 it offers a faster reduced resolution mode.
Finally, though the Stylus XZ-2 doesn’t offer built-in Wi-Fi, you can transfer images to an iOS or Android smartphone using a Toshiba FlashAir Wi-Fi SD card and the Olymous OI.Share app, which allows you to apply Art filters and upload to sharing sites.
While the Olympus Stylus XZ-2 provides better low light performance, a flip up screen, more customisation and the ability to attach accessories including an electronic viewfinder, external flash and microphone, it lacks the S110’s compactness. The XZ-2 is closer in size and weight to some mirrorless models than the S110, so the question really is how much of a compromise on compactness are you prepared to make for those advantages?
Canon PowerShot S110 final verdict
Anyone who was worried that the successor to the S100 would sacrifice its diminutive dimensions to add more of the things that get enthuiasts excited, such as a hot shoe, accessory port, brighter, longer lens or a flip out LCD screen, can relax. The S110 is the same size and weight as its predecessor. Thankfully, Canon has resisted the temptation to compromise the one thing that defines the PowerShot S range and this is still a camera very much in the pocket compact mould.
Instead Canon has retained what was best in the S100 and added a couple of new features in an attempt to stay ahead of the competition. The 3 inch touch screen isn’t unique by any means, though it does add a new dimension to the S110’s handling making it faster and easier and generally more pleasurable to use. It would be great to see its functionality extended so it could be used for focussing during video recording, but other than that, Canon has done a good job integrating it with the existing physical controls.
Wireless connectivity is something that’s been more heavily featured on consumer models up to now, but it’s only a question of time before it becomes commonplace across the board and it makes a lot of sense for Canon to implement it on the S110, a camera that looks like a consumer model, but behaves in a much more advanced fashion. It’s a shame Canon has fallen into the same trap as Sony and sought to use the camera to support its own photo sharing network. If instead, it concentrates on providing its customers with direct transparent access to social networking and photo sharing sites I’m convinced they’ll enjoy a better experience and be more prepared to buy Canon in future.
For now though, the PowerShot S110 remains the best bet for enthusiast photographers seeking the rare combination of advanced control in a truly compact connected camera. Had Canon made a better job of the connectivity features it would have been Highly Recommended, as it is the PowerShot S110 comes Recommended; if you value genuine take-anywhere portability over the bright lens, hot shoe and accessory options of larger models it’s hard to beat.
(relative to 2013 advanced compacts)
17 / 20
18 / 20
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17 / 20