Comparison: Canon PowerShot S95 vs. Pentax K10D and 28-80 SMC Pentax-FA

Welcome to probably the least likely camera comparison on the entire Internet. But these are the two good-quality digital cameras that I own. So I’m comparing them.

I’ve loved my compact Canon PowerShot S95 from the moment I got it. It’s so small and capable. But I’m not impressed with the JPEGs the camera generates. So I shoot RAW all the time and use Photoshop to do a handful of adjustments that give the results I want.

I’ve yet to fully figure out my large, heavy Pentax K10D DSLR, but I do respect that it can use all of my manual-focus Pentax lenses. For this comparison I used my 28-80mm f/3.5-4.7 SMC PENTAX-FA lens, which offers a zoom range close enough to the S95’s 28-105mm (35mm film equivalent) range to make the comparison useful.

For the comparison I set both cameras to set white balance automatically. I meant to set both cameras for automatic ISO selection as well, but it looks like I inadvertently left the K10D set at ISO 400. All other settings were whatever they happened to be, which is essentially camera default.

I’ve written several times how I wish the S95 returned usable in-camera JPEGs. The photo below might be the first time I’ve shown you a JPEG straight from the camera. This photo shows both common S95 faults: how white balance runs cold, and muted colors (typical of all Canon digital cameras, I hear).

CR 800

Here’s what this photo looks like after one minute of work in the Photoshop RAW processor. First I manually adjust color temperature until I’m satisfied. Then I click “Auto” above all the basic settings (exposure, contrast, etc.) and then tweak them. I finally use the built-in lens profile to correct distortion, because the S95 doesn’t go far enough to correct it in camera.

CR 800

In contrast, the K10D gave me usable in-camera JPEGs in every shot.

CR 800

A tiny bit of work in the Photoshop RAW editor brought out what is, to my eye, more natural warmth and color, and helped un-wash-out the sky. All I did was tweak the basic settings a tiny bit.

CR 800

From here on out I’ll show just the RAW-processed photos. At this cemetery gate, the S95 struggled to navigate the shadows, and I had to bring out the details in Photoshop.

Salem Cemetery

The Pentax K10D handled the shadows much better.

Salem Cemetery

I was surprised and disappointed by this photo from the S95. This is exactly the kind of scene I’ve shot over and over using this camera, with lovely results. I couldn’t Photoshop this one credibly to the level of warmth I saw at the scene.

Salem Cemetery

The K10D nailed it.

Salem Cemetery

Maybe the S95 was having an off day. Maybe comparing it to the K10D with its larger sensor makes the S95’s performance just seem worse than usual. Maybe my eyes see more keenly now than in 2010, when I got my S95 and it impressed me so. Maybe the camera really does perform worse now than when it was new — although I can’t imagine how that is physically possible.

Salem Cemetery

Whatever: the K10D blew the S95 away in most of these photos, in that the K10D’s photos are simply more appealing. And the K10D is even older than the S95, having been released in 2006.

Salem Cemetery

One place where the S95 did edge out the K10D was in focusing close. I should have put the camera into macro mode — it’s not hard to do, and it would have let the camera focus on the C. But even in regular mode it focused on the E immediately with a cheerful bee-beep and I made the shot.

Salem Cemetery

In contrast, the K10D would simply not focus on anything in this frame. That 28-80 lens hunted like mad. So I turned on manual focus with a single lever flip and brought that C in sharp with the lens’s focus ring. The S95 has a manual-focus mode, too, by the way. But it involves using the tiny wheel on the back of the camera to focus, and you have to trust your eyes reading that 3-inch screen to know when you’ve focused correctly.

Salem Cemetery

This is the only pair of photos where it’s hard to tell which camera I used. First the S95.

Salem UMC

Now the K10D. On the in-camera JPEGs, the church’s doors were lost in the shadows. Photoshop fixed that easily in both RAW images.

Salem UMC

I have really loved my Canon S95. It is so tiny yet has returned wonderful images for years. Over the last few years I’ve been shooting it RAW+JPEG, which coincided with the time my satisfaction with the in-camera JPEGs trailed off. I think I’ve figured it out: lots of in-camera JPEG-optimizing settings are unavailable the minute you turn on RAW. I think the camera assumes you’re going to post-process and don’t therefore need the in-camera boosts. Well, I want those enhancers and the RAW file. I guess I’m out of luck. But I’m growing weary of all the post processing. I’m ready for a camera that delivers good-enough JPEGs at the second I touch the shutter button.

The Pentax K10D delivers usable in-camera JPEGs. But it slips into no pocket in any coat I own. Slung over my shoulder I am keenly aware of it at all times — it might be the heaviest camera I own, heavier than my wonderful Nikon F2AS. And I haven’t found the right lens for it yet. The 28-80 I used here tends to a little chromatic aberration and too frequently blurs the foreground in long shots. My 35/2 delivers good work, but I shoot it in manual-focus mode most of the time because the K10D focuses it accurately only 1 or 2 out of 10 times.

Because do a lot of documentary work, such as on my road trips, I really want a camera that slips into my pants pocket, offers a zoom range starting with at least 24 or 28mm and running to at least 85mm, does credible close work, and yields usable JPEGs. The S95 ticks all but the last of those boxes.


16 responses to “Comparison: Canon PowerShot S95 vs. Pentax K10D and 28-80 SMC Pentax-FA”

  1. Joshua Fast Avatar
    Joshua Fast

    I love comparisons, even the oddball ones! Excellent post. I have a whole host of K lenses, a digital K may be in my future. You seem to be getting excellent results with it.

    I know we’ve spoke of this before, but i highly recommend Olympus when you are ready to replace the Canon. Unless i’m doing professional work Olympus killed raw for me. I even flirted with an X100t for a few months and i’m back to carrying around my ep5. OOC jpgs are so good and the cameras are tiny. The best feature is the lenses. Even the stock kit zooms are sharp, the 14-40 is a great lens to walk around with. Add the 17mm 2.8 pancake (35mm fov) and its jeans pocket-able.

    I’m looking forward to more K10D work in 2018!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Actually, I’ve decided to sell the K10D and the AF lenses I bought for it!

      I just haven’t bonded with this kit. I’ve tried. It’s not like I can’t get good results with it. But the AF is so fussy on these two lenses, and the kit is so big and heavy… ugh. I’ll just stick with my Canon S95. I’ve reset it to factory defaults and will be experimenting with shooting straight JPEG to see if I can recapture some of its lost glory.

      When I do upgrade, I will look very seriously at the Olympus OM-D. A buddy of mine shoots pro (in addition to his day job designing integrated circuits), mostly automotive and racing, and shoots the high-spec version of the OM-D. He gets amazing work from it straight out of the camera.

      1. Joshua Fast Avatar
        Joshua Fast

        Bummer! Totally understand though, connecting with a camera is a critical part of the process.

        I moved from a 5d Mk3 shooting weddings to a OM-D kit. I had a E-M1 Mk2 on preorder, received it and didn’t like the colors i was getting compared to my E-M1 Mk1’s. Returned it and repurchased another E-M1. If i shot sports the Mk2 would be the better choice, the AF speed is mind blowing. However for portrait work i love the Mk1 and it’s a quarter of the price which makes it easier to replace.

  2. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    Seems like a lot of fiddling to get the results you want. It also seems odd that Canon would assume that everyone who purchased a S95 would want to post process every image they made. Isn’t the S95 essentially a convenient point and shoot digital camera?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      When I first got the S95 it did pretty darned good JPEG work. Here are a couple photos I made with it the day I got it. These are from full Auto mode.

      When I set up Program mode to shoot RAW is when I started being disappointed with the JPEGs. I wonder if RAW+JPEG yields lesser JPEGs than straight up JPEGs from Auto mode. So I’ve reset the S95 to factory defaults and am going to shoot Auto for a while to see what happens.

      Even in Auto, I think the color I get could be more vivid. And the camera really doesn’t do a good job of fully correcting the lens’s inherent barrel distortion — the auto correction in Photoshop (using lens profile) fixes it the rest of the way.

      1. bodegabayf2 Avatar

        I wonder if digital sensors degrade over time?

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Yeah, me too. If the Auto-mode JPEGs are poor now I’ll have to conclude either that the sensor has degraded or some sort of damage has happened to the camera.

  3. retrocrank Avatar

    Over the years my wife has given me digital cameras – I’ve used both a lot, filling up a box full of 16 and 32 Gb SD cards. The first was a Canon G12 six or seven years ago – and then when that camera stopped being really reliable, she gave me a G1x Mkii a couple of years ago. (She has an S95 which she loves, by the way).
    I had similar experiences with both the G12 and the G1x as you— the color palette seems to lack richness and it’s too cold. In Auto mode.
    I’ve learned that with these cameras, shoot in P mode, set the color balance to Positive, and routinely shoot at -1/3 f/stop. Make sure the exposure adjustment is easy to set because I find I often need to tweak it just a little to hit that exposure/saturation sweet spot. I’ve played a lot with the AF and AE settings and find there is no consistent solution with those options.
    I’ve been getting back more and more to my 40-50 year film cameras and processing my own negatives for scanning. Much more satisfying that digital photography………

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Phil, as I experiment with the S95 I’ll try your P-mode, positive-color, -1/3 suggestion and see how it goes. Thanks for offering it!

      I love to shoot film. But for a lot of the documentary work I do, digital is so much more efficient. If I can make the S95 work better for me it will be a giant win.

  4. Dan James Avatar

    Jim, yes it might be an obscure comparison test but enjoyable to read and of use to anyone considering either of these cameras or something similar.

    I love my K10D, but I have used what I would class as very good lenses on it, mostly primes (K and M42) and got some lovely results. I’m not familiar with the FA zoom you’re using, but I do know that whilst the 35-105mm A series zoom I had gave amazing results with the K10D, it was a super heavy and bulky combo.

    With something like a DA 35/2.4 (which weighs next to nothing) the K10D becomes much lighter as a package.

    But to be fair the K10D is no bigger than its competitors at the time I don’t think, and does (in my view) have excellent handling and controls.

    Having said all this in defence of the K10D, I confess that since I discovered my Ricoh GRD III last October I don’t think I’ve shot a single frame with the K10D. Add the GX100 (very similar in controls, size and handling to the GRD but with a 24-72mm lens) and the Pentax Q, I’ve found it hard to justify picking up a camera four or five times the weight.

    If you wanted something a but smaller but very similar to the K10D, try the older *ist D series. Results are very similar with their 6MP CCD sensors, but they’re significantly smaller and lighter.

    On our digital kitchen scales my K10D with Pentax-A 50/1.4 weighs 1075g , the Samsung GX-1s (A Pentax DS2 clone) plus the DA 35/2.4 (stunning lens by the way) weighs only 645g, just 60% of the weight. Then my Q with 01 Prime weighs about 220g, only 20% of the weight of the K10D!

    But I get the feeling you’re done with DSLRs! And I just might be too!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I use my wife’s Nikon D3200 sometimes and it’s fine. Lightweight and capable. If I had one, it would be reasonably acceptable. Still can’t slip it into my pocket but it would be a good enough machine for my purposes.

      That is, if I didn’t already own any number of wonderful film SLRs.

      I dunno. Maybe if I had an Olympus OM-D I wouldn’t be all that hot for a DSLR.

      1. Dan James Avatar

        Yes, I guess we don’t know until we try. The OM-D might be your dream machine, you might find it clumsy, awkward or anything else. Do you know anyone who has one you could borrow? Even just to handle it and get a feel for it?

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Perfect question. I don’t know of an OM-D I can borrow. I wonder if Roberts Camera downtown will rent me one.

          1. Dan James Avatar

            Yeh, even an hour with one would give you a good idea…

  5. M.B. Henry Avatar

    I had a Powershot before I got the Canon 60D. I loved it!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ve loved my S95, too. I’ve done a lot of great work with it!

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