In many respects, it's at the smaller end of the camera market where it's all happening right now. The S110 is a case in point. It's not much bigger than an IXUS, yet it's actually a full-blown PowerShot with plenty of manual controls and Canon's HS system for improved low-light performance. You can pick it up for around £240 online.
Design and build
By far the most exciting feature is the lens arrangement. Here it sports a maximum aperture of f/2. Admittedly it's not the brightest lens we've seen on a compact, with both Samsung and Panasonic producing rivals that stretch as far as f/1.4 in the shape of the EX2F and LX7 respectively, but it's a very tempting feature nonetheless. At full telephoto, the widest aperture stands at f/5.9, and in any position you can narrow it as far as f/8.
As with the LX7, the aperture is controlled by a ring on the front of the chassis surrounding the lens, which brings a dSLR feel to this truly compact camera. If you've switched to shutter priority mode, the wheel handles that instead. Either way, it's intuitive, and you quickly learn to head for the wheel first when you need to control any mode's primary function.
The lens itself offers a 5x zoom, equivalent to 24-120mm on a regular 35mm camera. Behind it sits a 12.1-megapixel sensor producing 4,000x3,000 images.
Those stats already make for a fairly high-end compact, but Canon's gone further. As well as regular JPEG shooting, you can save raw files to maximise your options for creative editing when you get back to base, and it also has built-in Wi-Fi so you can connect to a home network to share images or print wirelessly to a compatible Canon printer.
The default shutter speed ranges from 1/2,000 to 1 second, but you can push it as far as 15 seconds in some modes. This will be sufficient to capture streaking headlights and illuminated buildings in city night shots.
Sensitivity kicks off at ISO 80 and runs through to ISO 12,800 with compensation of three stops in either direction in 1/3 stop increments.
Naturally, at higher sensitivities the image was slightly degraded, and at ISO 1,600 it became difficult to read finer print on the spirit miniature used in the standard still-life test setup. This didn't adversely affect the colours within the frame however, and without zooming in to 100 per cent it wouldn't be possible to make out the grain with the naked eye.
The 3-inch rear LCD is touch sensitive, allowing you to change mode settings, navigate the menus and make some neat adjustments, such as setting the focal point with a single tap and then using the front control wheel to change the size of the focus area.
The S110's minimum focusing distance is 3cm in both regular wide-angle and macro modes, which allows it to produce attractive shallow depth-of-field images with a sharp subject and defocussed surroundings.
The oyster shell below was shot with the S110's macro mode active, and the bladderwrack surrounding it quickly falls out of focus, helping draw the eye to the subject matter. If you're shooting in auto mode rather than one of the priority modes, you can rely on the camera itself to switch to macro whenever it feels it's appropriate. Otherwise, pressing left on the multi-function controller lets you switch between auto and manual focusing, or macro.
The lens did an excellent job of focusing each wavelength of incoming light in sync, and thus avoided introducing unwanted colour fringing along the edge of sharp, fine detail.
It did a good job of accurately exposing my shots when shooting directly towards the sun, too. In the image below, both the rocks and the marker have strong, well-defined edges, despite the fact that the image could have become overwhelmed by the brighter background.
When shooting in more conventional setups, such as the boatyard below, it kept up the good performance, with the rigging clearly defined, and the subtle transitions in the sky sky accurately reproduced.
Detail was sharp right across the frame, with little discernible fall-off as you moved towards the edges. This is a sign of a good lens, as it's trickier for the glass in a camera to focus the light encroaching on the edges as it does in the centre, where it's not necessary to bend it to such an extreme degree.
Shooting less organic shapes revealed slight barrel distortion at wide angle however. The plaque below had straight edges, but as you can see, there is a slight bulge in both the upper and lower edges that no longer run exactly parallel to one another.
Colours were well handled and accurately reproduced. None of the tones captured in my outdoor tests were overcooked, and so the result was a measured, controlled set of images that accurately represented the original settings.
Still life test
Moving indoors, the PowerShot S110 clearly preferred the studio lighting in the still-life test -- as most cameras do. This enabled it to keep its sensitivity down to ISO 100 for a sharp, accurate and grain-free result. Text on the test subjects was easy to make out and smaller subjects, such as the spices in the box at the centre of the scene were very cleanly captured.
When relying solely on ambient light it was necessary to increase its sensitivity to ISO 500, which did soften the result slightly, but text remained legible and the level of grain was slight. Some finer detail such as the texture on the sides of the spice box was fudged, however.
The result achieved when using the on-board flash was disappointing as the contrasts were too harsh and the shadows cast were strong.
The still-life test is conducted with the camera set to auto wherever possible, but the S110 only allows the flash to be set to auto or off in this mode. Because of this, I switched to aperture priority for the final shot, so that I could force the flash, as this is not possible in auto mode.
In common with just about any compact you'd care to mention, the S110 shoots full high-definition video at 1,920x1,080. The maximum frame rate at that resolution is 24fps. If you want to push it further, you can reach 30fps at 1,280x720 and 640x480. It has two high speed options for shooting footage that plays back in smooth slow motion, providing for 120 and 240fps at 640x480 and 320x240 pixels respectively. I performed my tests at 1,920x1,080, 24fps.
You can quickly start recording by pressing the video button in the regular stills modes, but switching to the dedicated video mode gives you greater flexibility, with control over focusing, zoom, wind filter and so on. The wind filter was active throughout my tests, but the wind was still fairly loud in some instances.
When out of the wind however, the soundtrack was well observed, and the video footage itself was good throughout my tests. Fast moving subjects were accurately captured, optical zoom remained accessible throughout and both colours and contrasts were a true reflection of the originals.
The S110 is a great little camera. It's much smaller than you'd expect as you read through the specs. It put in a very good performance in these tests and could hold its own as a more ambitious compact to live alongside a conventional dSLR in a pro's kit bag.
It's very keenly priced when you consider that it has Wi-Fi built in, and if you shop around you'll be able to pick it up for the same price as the Samsung EX2F, with which it shares many features.
Unfortunately for Canon though, the EX2F also has a fold-out screen, which is the final piece of the puzzle where creative photography is concerned. It makes the Samsung a more versatile and ever so slightly more tempting proposition.
The EX2F is a considerably larger camera however, and heavier too, which means it won't fit in a jeans pocket as comfortably as the S110. The choice you have, then, will come down to picking between an articulated display or smaller body. Fortunately, whichever camera you opt for is sure to impress.