I recently bought one of these things. The Canon Powershot S100 is also known as the 'Digital Elph', and in non-U.S. markets, the 'Digital Ixus.' It is a USB-equipped digital camera, with a 2.11 megapixel CCD. It has NTSC out, takes a CompactFlash memory card, and has a full-bleed LCD display/viewfinder on the back. The catch is that it's 87mm x 57mm x 26.9mm (3.4 x 2.2 x 1.1 inches) in size, and weighs only 190g (6.7 oz)!

It can be had in the U.S. for around $520-$600 depending on the vendor. It comes with the following:

  • Camera
  • Lithium-Ion battery pack (internal, included in weight)
  • Battery charger, wallmount
  • Strap
  • 8 MB CompactFlash data card
  • USB/NTSC cable
  • Software for MacOS, Win9x, WinNT - Canon's ImageBrowser, Photostitch, Adobe Photodeluxe and a Photoshop-compatible plugin for acquisition directly into Photoshop or similar app.

Note that it does not come with a carrying case or AC adapter. I bought mine with an additional 48 MB CompactFlash card from SanDisk.

The Camera

The Camera itself is made of metal, and feels surprisingly solid for its light weight. The controls are a bit cryptic due to space limitations on the labels and the controls themselves, but are fairly easy to handle after a quick read through the manual. The manual is quite comprehensive from a technical standpoint. I have no trouble holding the camera or shooting with it despite its small size, using either the LCD or the optical viewfinder. The wrist strap is highly recommended; this thing is small enough that you need to hold it by your fingertips, and any jostling might cause you to lose it. Better to have it strapped.

It comes with a 2x optical zoom and a 2x electronic zoom - the latter only good if you don't mind video-like artifacts in your images at full zoom. The flash is auto/slow-sync/off. There's no hotshoe (duh, given its size). I find the menu layout on the LCD a bit confusing since it's all icons, but easy to nav once you know it.

The Images

The images are actually excellent. The default resolution is 1600x1200 'Fine'; there is a 1600x1200 'High Resolution' mode which, AFAIK, means the image isn't compressed. I haven't been able to find artifacts without looking for 'em. In Photoshop, I usually have to zoom in several times. The color is nice, as well; a little light on saturation, but only if I look careful-like. :-) The images survive digital editing quite well, indicating a wealth of available information in the pix. When split into channels, it looks like the noisiest channel is the red, which is normal; however, this is visible only when zoomed into the image on a 1600x1200 shot. The printout I have made (on a Tektronix Phaser 850) shows no sign of it.

The Software

I've used the Canon Imagebrowser utility on my Mac (PowerMac 8500, MacOS 9.0, G3 upgrade, USB upgrade). I was pleasantly surprised. I installed the software (double click a single installer, dead easy) and rebooted. Plugging it into my 3rd party USB card (the first periph to do so) caused the ImageBrowser software (which was running) to flip its 'selected camera' drop-down menu to 'Canon Powershot S100' immediately - an excellent sign. In fact, the software was completely well-behaved. The ImageBrowser allows you to view thumbnails from the camera, and download those images you'd like; it then presents them to you in a contact sheet format from your hard drive and lets you do basic manipulation (cropping, balances, etc). My only gripe: I couldn't get ImageBrowser to let me rotate the pic, although PhotoDeluxe obviously can. Photoshop took the plug-in and promptly offered me the 'Canon Powershot S100' in its 'Acquire' submenu, and it worked fine. 1600x1200 images (regular rez) take about 3-4 seconds to xfer over USB each.

One cool feature the camera has is auto panoramas! When in this mode, every time you take a shot, the LCD on the back shows you the edge of the image you just took (left or right, you decide) alongside the live viewfinder image, allowing you to match the image relatively precisely. But wait, that's not the cool part. :-) In the ImageBrowser software, shots from panoramas are numbered with a 'PA' and identified by the software by a graphic of 'thread' stitched through the strip of film it shows you the previews in. Photostitch will, on one button click, go into the camera and nab all panorama images, and then say "please wait." While I waited (not long) it munched all the shots and automatically joined them all into a panorama about 6,500 pixels wide. I know some of them didn't quite match too. When it has a 'bad' seam, it blurs it slightly, and can shuffle or stretch the edge of the next image to handle it. When you preview the image, you can have it show you the seams, and manually tweak it.

Conclusions I love this thing. It's way cool. It's tiny, too! I like it because when clipped to my belt in a carrying case, it's smaller than my cell phone, and only about 1.5 times the size of my alpha pager. It can go anywhere without taking up space! With the 48 MB card (under $100) it holds around 60 images; the included 8 MB gives me another 10. I've used it over a weekend, taking around 50 images using the LCD, and the battery was fine, it seemed about 2/3 discharged, and that's with lots of 'oohs and aahs' over the LCD display. You can shut down the LCD to conserve power.

Digital Elph: The Spy Camera for the Rest Of Us!


Note: I recently discovered that the camera can take 95 images without recharging over six days while I went to Venice. While only perhaps five or six of the shots were flash shots, and I wasn't using the LCD except at night to preview/triage my pix, it not only made it through 56MB of CompactFlash but the battery charge sufficed to download all the images into my Mac when I got home!

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