Camera Reviews

Canon PowerShot S95

As much as I love my film cameras, my everyday camera is digital. I’ve taken countless thousands of photographs with my Canon PowerShot S95.

Canon PowerShot S95

Going digital was a purely economic decision: it was getting expensive to shoot film on my road trips! I started with a refurbished Kodak digital camera that performed surprisingly well. Then a reader helped me move up in the digital world when he sent me a Canon PowerShot S80 he no longer used. It was such a great 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. It automatically switches into macro mode when you’re inches from your subject. You can also set the camera to programmed, shutter-priority, aperture-priority, and full manual modes. For the first several years I shot this camera in Auto mode. Then for a few years I shot it in Program mode with RAW capture turned on. I got tired of processing the RAW files, so I switched back to just JPEGs. But I stayed in Program mode so I could turn on the S95’s Vivid Color option, which yields more pleasing colors.

The S95 features two control rings, one around the lens and another on the back next to the screen, that you can customize. I set the front ring to cycle through 28, 35, 50, 85, and 105mm zoom settings. I love being able to dial in these focal lengths!

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.

Canon PowerShot S95
Canon PowerShot S95

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.

On the Dixie - Canon PowerShot S95

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.

1932 Standard Station - Canon PowerShot S95

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.

Rendering purple - CanonPowerShot S95
Rendering purple - iPhone

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. Newer cameras do even better low-light work, but the S95 remains plenty usable today. I took this inside a round barn in Fulton County.

Inside the round barn - Canon PowerShot S95
State Theater, Logansport - Canon PowerShot S95
Early autumn sunrise, almost Indianapolis - Canon PowerShot S95

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.

First color - Canon PowerShot S95
Roadside flowers - Canon PowerShot S95

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.

Sunset at the park

Even today the Canon PowerShot S95 remains my everyday, go-to camera. It continues to deliver terrific work. Here’s a smattering of images.

1951 Chevrolet Deluxe c
On the beach in Ocean City, MD
Auditorium Theatre, Chicago
Dublin at golden hour
On N59, County Galway
IMG_3729 rawproc.jpg
At Slieve League
Brooklyn Bridge
Moon through the oak tree
Michigan City Lighthouse
Lincoln Memorial

I’ve shared all of these photos before on this blog, but always in the context of whatever it is I’m doing, not about the camera itself. 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 the inaccurate purples I mentioned earlier. At and below 35mm there is some barrel distortion. 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. This camera is from 2010, after all, and imaging technology has made giant strides forward since then. My wife’s Sony RX100, for example, is clearly a superior camera in nearly every way.

But the S95 does almost everything I need, in a small, light package. It’s often in my pocket when one of my film cameras hangs around my neck. The Canon PowerShot S95 is a fine performer and a great companion.

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22 thoughts on “Canon PowerShot S95

  1. John Smith says:

    I flirt with the notion of buying a good digital camera a few times each year it seems. I have so many old Nikkor manual focus lenses that one of Nikon’s full fame DSLRs make good sense for me, but they’re so expensive. I came close recently to buying the Df since it’s so retro looking. I didn’t and ended up buying two Hasselblad bodies, several finders, film backs and a couple of lenses all for far less than the Df. For now, my iPhone seems to fill my digital needs.

    • For casual photos, you really can’t beat the iPhone. I write for an old-car site and almost all of the photos I take for it are from my iPhone. It’s a versatile camera, and most importantly, it is absolutely always in my pocket.

      Because of my road trips, I needed a reliable and good-performing pocketable camera. There really are shots it can get that my iPhone can’t, especially closeups of roadside flowers. The S95’s low-light capabilities also beat the iPhone hands down, and I’ve gotten lots of excellent use of it.

      Given all the excellent film equipment you have, I see little reason for you to invest in any serious digital equipment. You can take wonderful photos all day long with the gear you already have.

  2. I think I got a dslr because that was the kind of camera I was used to using for a long time. After some years of experience i’d have to say that there isn’t a big advantage to having one. The bigger sensor is good sometimes. However that is mostly if I was wanting to make larger prints which I rarely do. I think the viewfinder in a SLR is a lot better that anything that I have seen so far in the lcd ones. However the lcds are certainly workable. Overall considering what they cost I don’t think that a dslr has all that much advantage for the kinds of pictures that most of us take and the way we share them.

    • The LCD panels are getting better in terms of being visible in bright light. Thank goodness for the viewfinder on my old Kodak digital camera, because that LCD washed out every chance it could.

      I’ve never blown up anything bigger than 8×10, and even my 5-megapixel Kodak digicam creates great 8x10s.

      DSLRs can be more versatile than even a fine p&s like the S95 in terms of being able to clip on a zoom lens or a macro lens and all. But like I said in the post, and as I’m sure is true for you, it’s easy enough to use one of our film SLRs when we need that.

  3. Lone Primate says:

    Heyo. :) That tree silhouette is dead enviable. I’d sure be proud of that shot if I’d taken it.

    I can remember when I started regularly carrying a camera around with me day-to-day… it was a cheap little Kodak CX7330. It was slow and the quality wasn’t fantastic, but it was affordable and it did just a little bit of everything, just well enough. It even recorded video at 352×288, 15 fps. I got the photo bug big time using it, taking dozens of shots a day… of anything… gumball machines, logos, the coffee maker at work… it was like having eyes that saw in a new colour or something. I took nearly 3000 pictures with it over 8 months, before I realized I really needed something better, and I got my first of three (so far) S80s. Took Canon ages to come out with its successor, the S90. Just when I thought they never would… they did! By the time I was ready to step up, they’d come out with two successors to that. Currently my pocket camera of choice is the S100.

    I don’t shoot anything like I used to anymore. I don’t even regularly carry the S100. My phone, a Samsung S4, takes photos of reasonable quality in good light, and even shoots HD video. I used to scoff at the idea of cameras in phones (jeez, I even used to scoff at the idea of video in digital cameras once!), but it’s just so much easier carrying around the one thing. If I really need a shot, and I want to send the picture to a friend, it all gets done in one go. The only time I take cameras out now is when I’m taking pictures for the photo set of Ontario’s changing landscape that I’m hoping to eventually donate to the provincial archives… and lately that tends to be with the Fuji 3D cameras rather than the Canon 2D camera I have. Funny how things change.

    But I guess the main thing is, while there was certainly a lot of artistry involved in film cameras, the portability and immediacy of digital cameras has made self-expression a lot more convenient, and even possible in a way it wasn’t before. And there’s still plenty of room for artistry outside a darkroom and inside Photoshop, Lightroom, Premiere, After Effects, etc., etc., etc.

    • Like you, I use my phone to take a lot of pictures now, simply because it’s always on me. I’ve probably taken 1,500 photos with my iPhone in the year and a half I’ve had it. It’s a good enough camera. (The camera on my previous phone, the Palm Pre, was not good enough. I used it in a pinch but that was about it.) But mostly these are photos I would not have otherwise taken. When I’m on a road trip, or when I’m documenting family functions, it’s the S95 almost all the way.

      I love the convenience of digital. I never want to lose that. And I’ve taken plenty of artsy shots with my digital. But my heart belongs to film.

  4. I fell in love with you camera :) is that a blue color camera? I am no camera expert, and I do love my digital camera (even though is considered an “oldie” by now) but yours is lovely! I do have to say my camera delivers lovely pictures, is just not as smooth looking as yours. Your pictures are beautiful.

  5. Nancy Stewart says:

    Beautiful photos Jim. I always enjoy them whatever the subject. You capture beauty,design and history so well.

  6. Dave B says:

    Jim, if you fancy squeezing a bit more performance out of the S95, try the CHDK firmware. Have been using CHDK on both my Ixus 870 and S90 and it certainly adds a little extra control over the camera. Best thing about CHDK? Temporary only.

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