Shooting the Canon PowerShot S95 in Positive color mode

Reader Retrocrank commented on this post that he’s had smashing results setting his Canon cameras to P mode, choosing Positive color, and shooting at -1/3 stop. He suggested that using these settings he’s been happy with the JPEGs the camera generates.

I’ve been shooting my Canon PowerShot S95 in RAW+JPEG mode for a few years now, but have grown weary of the post processing RAW demands. I started using it because I wasn’t thrilled with the color I got from the default settings. I really want good JPEGs straight from the camera. So I decided to try Retrocrank’s idea.

To enable color modes, I had to turn off RAW+JPEG. But then there they were, all 11 color modes. They just do some predetermined processing in the camera, things like vivid color, black and white, and enhanced blues or greens. Positive mode is meant to simulate color slide film. To set a color mode, turn the mode dial atop the camera to P (or Tv or Av or anything that’s not Auto), press the Func Set button on the back of the camera, and click the bottom of the wheel to scroll down to the menu item that looks sort of like a whisk broom. Then click the left or right edges of the wheel to scroll among the color choices.


I took the S95 with me one mostly cloudy day and shot a range of color. The only post-processing I did was to add Photoshop’s lens profile for this camera, which corrects noticeable barrel distortion.

North End

The results are pretty reasonable, as you can see. Here’s this shot before I added the lens profile, so you can see how much distortion the camera doesn’t correct. It’s mighty disappointing. I shot this at 50mm-equivalent focal length. The wider you go, the worse the distortion.

North End, distorted

I walked a little around downtown Fishers on a break from work. Positive color really seems to deliver true-to-life color, at least on a cloudy day.

Treble clef

I wasn’t choosy about subject matter — I just wanted color. So you get a pink porta-john.

Pink pots

That’s a super nice red. And I’m impressed with the muted green on those overhead doors. This is how I remember the scene in my mind.

Fire station

Here’s a brighter green to show that Positive mode doesn’t simply mute greens.


I did enhance exposure of this shot of my sunglasses on my desk, because it was too dim out of the camera.

My sunglasses

I made this dusk shot of a strip mall at maximum zoom (105mm equivalent). Zoomed this far out, the lens displays no perceptible barrel distortion.

Dusky strip mall with trucks

I’d like to find out how well these settings perform on a sunny day. If they’re reasonable, then I think I’ve found settings I can live with. The only bummer is that I still have to correct for lens distortion. That’s just a limitation of the camera’s firmware, and one I can’t fix in the camera’s settings.


13 responses to “Shooting the Canon PowerShot S95 in Positive color mode”

  1. Dan James Avatar

    Jim, given this was a cloudy day, the results seem really good, and true to the kind of colours you’d expect. I don’t think anyone would look at these images and think they weren’t natural looking, or ask you whether you shot RAW or JPEG.

    It comes down to what “look” you’re going for, and I think this is why so many people (over?)use things like Instragram filters, iPhone filters, LightRoom Presets and so on. I know on my iPhone for example, for any photos I take of the family I have it set to the “Transfer” setting by default, just because it gives a warmer more appealing look to the photos, a bit like a film photograph from the 70s. The standard JPEGs are fine, I just like the extra aesthetic charm of that Transfer setting, especially for portraits.

    With my Pentax Q I’ve set up a couple of colour presets (the Quick Dial on the front lets you save a collection of settings and then access just by turning the dial that specific number), one is for warmer colour, one for muted colour, plus I have one for contrasty b/w too. I just turn the Quick Dial to the setting I want then pretty much point and shoot.

    So the point is if you want natural, life like colours, I think this setting looks a good option with your Canon. But you might be interested in playing with other settings to see what other results you can get, you might find something you like even more.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m looking for a natural color look, for my documentary and family work. It’s really that simple, and so far this mode gives it to me.

      It would be very cool to be able to have a quick, good b/w setting on the S95. I could set my front dial to do that, but then I’d lose the ability to step through the zoom (28, 35, 50, 85, 105mm) which is just a killer feature for me.

      1. Dan James Avatar

        Great, really happy the colour JPEGs are working. So much less faffing about than shooting RAW and processing every image.

        Is there any other kind of Custom/MY setting on the main mode dial that you can set up with your favourite settings?

        If not, your colour set up sounds pretty simple – Positive Colour, -1/3 exposure comp. So you can probably find a similarly simple b/w set up, maybe B/W mode, -1/3 exposure comp, plus increase contrast (if this is possible on your Canon?).

        So even if you have to manually change these settings for each photo walk, depending on whether you want colour or b/w, it’ll still be a lot simpler than doing it all in post processing.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Oh sure, there’s a b/w mode. I ought to try that one day. It’s on the Color Modes menu just like Positive mode. I don’t know if I can adjust contrast in camera or not.

  2. Reinhold Graf Avatar

    So your suspicion of ‘sensor aging’ is gone?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yes. Not that I was entirely sure that “sensor aging” was a real thing. It was just a wild guess. I think that the camera just delivers crap JPEGs in RAW mode.

      1. Dan James Avatar

        I wonder how many of us have used a camera with RAW + JPEG mode, looked at the JPEGs and not liked them so felt there was no option but to use the RAWs. But if we shoot JPEG only and experiment a little, we can get very pleasing results.

        1. Reinhold Graf Avatar

          Yep, maybe that’s true. Shooting raw+jpg all the years as one might lose an ability to get ‘better’ photos while post processing. Someone at least told us. However jpg OOC are so good nowadays, that I didn’t use raw for a while now. Nevertheless I still have raw+jpg as main setting … should change that now finally and focus more on what’s the real important thing … standing behind a camera, not behind the screen ;)

        2. Dan James Avatar

          Here are some things I’ve heard/found over the last couple of years –

          Cameras that shoot RAW only, still create a JPEG, embedded in the RAW image.
          Most cameras show you a JPEG on screen, which has already been altered/processed in some way compared to the RAW file you will get when you upload the RAW file to your computer.
          All RAW files are not equal. Even if two different cameras produce the same “untouched” (literally raw) file, depending on which processing software you use, it applies different degrees of processing automatically. I know I tried RawTherapee for a while as an alternative to LightRoom. Aside from greatly dislking the user interface, I couldn’t get any decent colours from it. With LightRoom, I was importing my Pentax K10D RAW files, and just exporting to JPEG with zero processing (by me) and getting pleasing results. Turns out after a bit of research that RawTherapee gives you the true, untouched RAW file as a blank canvas, whereas LightRoom automatically applies its own optimisation. I like LightRoom’s decisions, so went with that.
          Some cameras will only let you adjust the look of the JPEG in camera if you’re shooting JPEG only. If you shoot RAW + JPEG, you’re stuck with the basic JPEG. Personally I don’t really get why there’s a RAW + JPEG option.
          Some cameras, when you shoot JPEG only, will still let you save a RAW file. My Pentax Q is like this – after each shot on JPEG only mode you can press a button to “retrieve” and save a RAW version if you wish. Or just ignore it, like I do.

          Because of the complex minefield of all of the above (and because I like things to be direct and simple) I now only use JPEG only mode with my Ricoh GRD III and Pentax Q.

          With the Ricoh I still like to tweak in Hipstamatic (I have a favourite set of settings saved so it’s a case of applying that once to each photo), and only really ever shoot b/w with the Ricoh. With the Pentax Q I have created a high contrast b/w, muted colour and warm colour profile in camera and saved to the Quick Dial. So I just choose 1 on the dial for b/w, 2 for warm colour, 3 for muted colour. Then pretty much point and shoot, with no post processing.

          I’m sure there are RAW users who will tell me all I’m missing out on by using JPEG only, but I like the approach I’ve found – it suits my preference for simplicity, lets me just get on with taking pictures, and gives me results I like. What more could I want?

          Sorry Jim, I didn’t mean to write so much – I should probably write my own post about this! : )

  3. jon campo Avatar
    jon campo

    This has been a very enlightening conversation for me, I am only on first base with all these settings. Your pictures look good to me Jim.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks Jon! Always happy to shine a little light from what I’ve learned.

  4. retrocrank Avatar

    Over the past Holiday season I tried shooting RAW + JPEG on my G1x mk2. First, it’s a lot of memory use for a lot of images that are for memories, not attempted art. Second, processing the RAW files so they can be put on a screensaver or uploaded to Shutterfly (or similar) is a huge time sink – which would be worthwhile if the JPEGs were no good. But the JPEGs are great. For my eyes with my camera, I like the tweaks I suggested to Jim.
    On the topic of B/W, on both my G1x and my G12, and my iPhone, I’ve tried to manipulate the settings to get B/W JPEGs that I like. Can’t do it. They’re either lack depth or are too contrasty (depending on the settings). Only way to get nice B/W is to shoot RAW and then process. But then, that’s nowhere near as satisfying as developing a roll of Kentmere 100 or TriX and scanning or printing the negatives. And I really like the tonal range I’m getting with these films, don’t have to adjust the end results at all. Short answer is, for B/W work, digital is too much work of a kind that’s not enjoyable for me. Color is a different story, digital wins.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I haven’t dived deeply into b/w on my digicams but I’ve had much the same results: it’s either all muddy gray or it’s all stark blacks and white whites. Meh. I’m with you; I’ll shoot film when I want good b/w.

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