As much as I love my film cameras, my everyday camera is digital. I’ve taken about 8,000 photographs so far with my Canon PowerShot S95.
Going digital was a purely economic decision: it was getting expensive to shoot film on my road trips! Money was tight in 2007 when I bought a refurbished Kodak digital camera. I think I paid $150 for it. And then I promptly took a road trip during which I shot 300 photos. That much film and processing would have cost at least $150!
Reader Lone Primate helped me move up in the digital world when he sent me a Canon PowerShot S80 he no longer used. It was such a sweet camera that when Canon restarted its PowerShot line with the svelte S90, I knew I wanted one. Shortly, they upgraded it a little and rechristened it S95; that’s the model I got.
And what a sweet little camera it is. It’s about the length and width of a credit card and is less than an inch thick, so it fits in almost any pocket. Its Auto mode is remarkably versatile, giving good results in all but the dimmest light, and it automatically switches into macro mode when you’re inches from your subject. You can also set the camera to shutter-priority, aperture-priority, and full manual modes, as well as a host of special modes that I never use.
The S95 features two control rings, one around the lens and another on the back next to the screen, that you can customize. In Auto mode, I have the front ring set to cycle through 28, 35, 50, 85, and 105mm zoom settings. I love being able to dial 50mm in! In aperture-priority mode, I have the front ring set to adjust aperture, and the back ring set to adjust exposure value up and down.
The S95’s screen is big and bright, and isn’t as prone to washing out in the sun as my previous digital cameras. Because of that, its missing viewfinder isn’t much of a problem.
It packs a 28-105mm (equivalent) f/2-4.9 zoom lens. That wide angle is super handy on road trips, where I can’t always back up enough to get everything I want into a picture. I could use a deeper zoom, though. This is the old Dixie Highway north of Bloomington.
This 1932 Standard station is on Route 66 in Odell, IL. The S95 has a typical Canon color signature, and it’s fine, but I prefer the more vibrant colors my old Kodak digital camera delivers.
You can fiddle with the S95’s color settings in the menus, but the default is best, I think. This photo is of a restored iron bridge in nearby Boone County.
Maddeningly, the S95 renders purple as blue or blue-violet. Below left is a photo of my purple Zippo lighter taken with the S95; on the right, with my iPhone. The iPhone renders purple much more accurately.
The S95 simulates ISO from 80 to 3200, and its noise-reduction software is pretty effective. With those advantages and its f/2 lens, the S95 easily handles low-light situations. I took this inside a round barn in Fulton County.
This is the State Theater in Logansport. Last time I drove through, the STATE letters had been removed from the sign.
I photographed this tree against the sunrise one morning on my way to work.
The S95 usually does good work in macro mode, although its autofocus system sometimes can’t see light colors at short distances. When that happens, after I get over my frustration I switch to manual mode. While that involves wrangling with menus, it’s not terribly hard to learn. These daffodils come up every spring in my front yard.
I shoot a lot of flowers with the S95. I found these along the National Road in Ohio. This shot showcases the sharpness this lens can deliver. The S95 also offers image stabilization for when you can’t hold perfectly steady.
When not in Auto mode, the S95 lets you adjust white balance. I do that routinely to get the warmth I’m looking for, as I did in this photograph in a park near my home.
Both the S95 and the S80, along with extra batteries, accompany me to the Mecum car auction every May, as I shoot a thousand photos in a day there. I tend to shoot the S80 outside and the S95 inside, because the S95 is better with available inside light. But I can control the S95 much better than I can the S80, so sometimes when an outside subject is right I reach for the S95, as I did with this Chrysler Airflow.
I just love this photo of the domed hood of a 1951 Chevrolet.
I’ve shared all of these photos before on this blog, but always in some other context: documenting a road trip, or telling stories about my life, or illustrating something when I don’t want to wait for film to be developed. I guess that’s the nature of a workhorse camera – it fades into the background and does its job.
I do have some complaints about the S95 beyond inaccurate purples I mentioned earlier. At and below 35mm there is some barrel distortion. I bought the PTLens Photoshop plugin, which quickly and automatically corrects it. I also find that most shots have a slight haziness to them, which Photoshop’s Auto Levels command always fixes. But for everyday shooting, especially the documentary work I do on the road, 90% of the photos I take can be used just as the camera captured them.
I’ve thought about upgrading a couple times. The S95’s successor, the S100, geotags each photo. That would be so useful when I’m on the road! Instead, I use a program called GeoSetter to tag each photo by hand.
And I’ve thought about buying a DSLR for the extra layer of versatility it would offer. I’ve hovered over an “Add to Cart” link more than once. But I always talk myself out of it, because the S95 does almost everything I need, but in a small, light package. And heaven knows I have plenty of film SLRs lying about the place. When I need what an SLR offers, I drop film into one of them. And even my lowest-spec film SLR gives me much more control than a DSLR can.
But even when one of my film SLRs hangs around my neck, the S95 is likely to be in my pocket, too. It’s a fine performer and a great companion.
Do you like old film cameras?
Then check out my collection.