Look at the picture and you’ll think Canon’s new PowerShot S100 ($430) is exactly the sequel everyone’s wanted since the company debuted the breakthrough S90 two years ago. Well, it’s not: whereas the 2009 S90 and 2010 S95 were targeted directly at a different kind of camera buyer—the person who cared less about megapixels, huge zoom ranges and other specs than shooting speed and image quality—the S100 has taken a turn for the mainstream, packing lots of spec bumps into a slightly slimmer body. Some of the changes are wow-caliber, including the addition of a GPS chip for geotagging, as well as Canon’s new DIGIC 5 processor for rapid noise reduction, 1080p full HD video recording, and 8 frame-per-second shooting. And other changes… let’s just say serious “enthusiasts” won’t all be happy, but ambitious point-and-shoot upgraders may have just found their holiday toy of choice.
One of the most obvious changes from the prior cameras to S100 is a switch from a 28mm wide-angle lens to a 24mm ultra wide-angle lens, which will make landscape snapshots easier at the cost of introducing additional distortion into some portraits. Canon has also expanded the lens’s zoom range from the relatively fast f/2.0-f/4.9 3.8X zoom to a slightly slower f/2.0-f/5.9 5X zoom, which sounds nice enough on paper, but will most likely lead to blurrier zoomed shots unless you’re in very bright lighting conditions. There’s also the new 12-Megapixel sensor, which obviously represents a bump from the prior model’s 10-Megapixel imager. Like the zoom boost, it sounds nice, but wasn’t exactly what S90 and S95 fans wanted, since adding more pixels to a same-sized sensor tends to increase noise and reduce color accuracy. To offset these issues somewhat, Canon promises that serious enhancements to the sensor and DIGIC 5 will improve its low-light performance and noise reduction, bumping its maximum ISO up to 6400 and noticeably improving the quality of lower-ISO images. As fans of the prior models, we’re not sure whether to grab or skip this one, but we suspect that it will be very popular with a new group of customers.