If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that I LOVE the Panasonic GF-1. It produces stunning images for a “decent” price and its size is much more manageable than carrying around my 5D. It wasn’t easy but I recently sold the GF-1 because it was simply not getting enough use for one major reason…size.
My original intention for the GF-1 was to use it when I did not want to lug around my 5D which I did, but it wasn’t as convenient as I had expected. It’s too big to fit inside your pocket which means you need to put it in some sort of case or it needs to be strung around your neck. If I wanted to lug around a case or wear a strap, I would just take my 5D. So the GF-1 went up on eBay and I luckily I got most of my money back on the deal. Do I miss the GF-1? Absolutely. Do I think I made the right choice? Honestly, it’s tough to say at the moment…only time will tell.
So what did I get for selling my beloved GF-1? I ended up purchasing the S95 and a Benro A-169 Travel Angel which I will review at a later date.
Here are my thoughts on the S95 so far…
Compared to other cameras in the “advanced compact” category, the S95 is tiny. The S95 can easily slip into your pants pocket without anyone asking you “is that a camera in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?”. If a compact camera body is one of your major requirements, the S95 should be at the top of your list.
One plus the S95 has over its predecessor (the S90) is its textureized body. The S90 felt like a wet bar of soap which is not a characteristic I look for in a camera. This rubbery/grippy texture allows the user to gain a sold grip on the camera which is important when dealing with a camera this small. The S95 feels good in your hand although I do wish it had more of a physical grip similar to the Panasonic LX-5; I assume Canon decided against a grip to keep the body as slim and sleek as possible. I’m not too worried about the lack of grip as there are a few third party options to remedy this complaint e.g. Richard Franiec’s custom grip.
I’m not sure what people consider a good looking camera, but the S95 looks good to me. The all black body with silver lettering is a color scheme that should be familiar to most. The display takes up the majority of the real-estate on the back of the camera which is a good thing because it is a pleasure to use. Colors are bright and blacks look decent as well. My only complaint with the display, which is common among most point and shoot cameras, is it easily becomes washed out in bright sunlight. This is when I really wish Canon had offered an optional electronic viewfinder for the S95.
Easy access to controls is where the S95 really jumps ahead of the competition. I hate digging through levels of menus or having to cycle down a list of features just to change the ISO. Give me physical buttons! Luckily there are two dials on the S95, one in the front and one in the back of the camera. These dials allow the user to easily change the most frequently needed settings.
Like it’s older sibling, the S95 has a control ring around the lens which gives you quick access to settings like aperture, shutter speed, focal length, etc. The control ring has default settings based the mode you are using but the control ring’s function can easily be changed by a physical button on the top of the camera.
On the back of the back of the camera is another function ring. By default, this ring is setup to manage the functions which are available by pushing on the top, bottom, left and right or the ring. I would say 99% of the time I use this ring to manage exposure compensation. The other 1% of the time it is used to manage shutter speed while I’m in Manual mode…I prefer to shoot in Aperture Priority when using the S95.
Along with the dials is a programmable button on the back of the camera which can be assigned by the user; I have mine set to pull up the ISO. This can be set to a myriad of different functions like white balance or file type, but I find that setting this to ISO really gives me quick access to the essentials for getting a solid exposure.
Like any new camera, there are a million features that the S95 brings to the game. I could list them all here, but you would probably have better luck looking at a product page. To keep it short, I’ll list a few of my favorite features of this camera:
ISO max for auto ISO: Most new advanced point and shoot cameras have an auto ISO setting. The problem with this is not all of them give you a limit as to how high the camera will go when choosing an ISO setting. Thankfully, the S95 does. I personally like to set my ISO manually, but this is a nice feature if you are a beginner or if you just want to shoot and not worry about settings.
Interval timer with shot # selection: This is something I wish my old 5D had. Not only can you select the shutter timer duration, you can also select how many shots in succession the S95 will take after the timer goes off. I could see this feature being helpful for family portraits or landscapes.
Bright Lens: With a bright f/2.0 lens and IS, the S95 works surprisingly well in low-light conditions. I would like to see the aperture values stay on the brighter end as you move through the zoom range, sadly…this is not the case. I’m drooling over the newly announced Olympus XZ-1’s lens.
In camera HDR: HDR seems to be all the rage at the moment and most manufactures are adding some sort of “built in” solution. Well, Canon has jumped on the bandwagon by adding in-camera HDR. Results are pretty good but they are nothing close to what you would get by using a program like Photomatrix. The biggest got’cha is you have to use a tripod to get best results. I don’t know about you, but I do not carry around a tripod when using a P&S. Sony has figured out how to do this without a tripod (NEX series) so I’d like to see Canon work this out for their next model.
I’ve had quite the time trying to determine how good the IQ is of the S95. Without fancy tests charts and software, I can really only rely on my eye when it comes to IQ. You can’t compare it to a Micro Four Thirds (M4/3rd) system because they have a much larger sensor so it wouldn’t be fair. But you also can’t compare the S95 to a basic point and shoot camera because it has a much larger sensor and the S95 costs about double what you would pay for a mid-range P&S. Honestly, I would say the IQ falls right where it should, in between a basic P&S and M4/3rd setup. Head to dpreview.com if you want a true breakdown of image quality. I can’t say that I’m a “pixel peeper”, I just go off of what looks good to me. If you love to zoom into 100% and check the middle and edges of your photos, then dpreview.com should be able to help you.
I usually shoot RAW but JPEG images are so good from the S95 that I find myself shooting more and more in JPEG. Distortion is present at both ends of the zoom range but it’s nothing that can’t be cleaned up with a little post processing if needed. When shooting RAW, noise seems to creep up on you at about ISO 800 and as expected it gets much worse as you increase the ISO. The in-camera noise reduction cleans up JEPGs very well so stick with JPEGs when shooting with a high ISO unless you plan on spending time on post processing. For me, the S95 produces perfectly good images.
- Small, easily pocketable size
- Physical buttons and dials for controlling essential camera functions
- Menus are intuitive and well thought out
- RAW capability – not all compacts can match this…that was for you Nikon and your P300. What were you thinking!?!
- Good picture quality
- Focus speed. I’m actually pretty impressed with this little camera’s ability to focus. This quickly goes down hill as light becomes less available but this is the case with most cameras.
- While IQ is good, I personally think it can’t quite match it’s Micro 4/3rd competitors. I really miss my GF-1 when it comes to overall IQ. M4/3rds has the S95 beat on all fronts (image noise, dynamic range, image detail, etc.)
- Price. I understand this is an advanced point and shoot but dropping $400 on a P&S is tough.
- The Lens. Don’t get me wrong, f/2.0 is great but it would be nice if the aperture values didn’t start to skyrocket as you zoomed to longer focal lengths. The LX-5 and the newly announced XZ-1 prove it is doable…get on it Canon.
Anyone looking for a truly pocketable camera with full manual controls and decent IQ need look no further…this is the camera for you. It’s direct competitors are not truly pocketable…unless you have abnormally large pockets. I tried the Panasonic LX-5…no dice on getting that into my jeans. And you can forget about fitting a M4/3rd system into your pocket. Yes, you will have to sacrifice on a few things but no camera is perfect. If camera size is paramount on your list of requirements, then the S95 is your camera. If other requirements top your list like a large constant aperture, then something else like the Panasonic LX-5 or the Olympus XZ-1 may be a better choice.
Honestly, I’m torn with my decision about unloading the GF-1 and picking up the S95. The S95 is a great “take anywhere” camera that is technically impressive but it just doesn’t hit that sweet spot for me. It’s hard to describe, but it’s just not “fun” to shoot with this camera. On the other hand, the GF-1 with the 20mm lens was probably the most fun I’ve had shooting. I’m going to chalk it up as one of those untangle things. It’s like people that drive Alfa Romeos. They are horribly unreliable and very expensive to fix but people buy them and love them because they have a special, unmeasurable characteristic usually referred to as “soul”. I’ll probably hang on to the S95 for now to make sure I give it a chance but I’ve been keeping an eye out for a deals on M4/3rd setups.
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