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The young green sea turtle came up to breathe just six feet from me. I was
snorkeling around a coral reef in the Whitsunday Islands, off the coast of
Queensland, Australia. We swam together for a minute or so. The turtle was
neither afraid nor especially curious. I raised my Canon S100, secure in its
Canon AW-PS200 underwater housing, to my SCUBA mask. The LCD screen on the back
of the camera clearly proclaimed "battery low".
I did not get the turtle photo.
Such is life with a digital camera. For underwater use I'd kept the LCD screen
on and the flash firing with every picture. The 192 MB flash card made me snap
happy and I'd exhausted the tiny Lith-ion battery pack on a banal coral
The S100, introduced in February 2000, was the first truly shirt-pocketable
digital camera. It is sometimes called the "Digital ELPH" in the United States
and "Ixus" in other countries. It was half to two-thirds the size of comparable
quality point-and-shoot digital cameras with no compromise in performance or
features and no price premium. It costs about $600 (October 2000).
The S100 is the only digital camera for
which the manufacturer produces an underwater case. This rigid case makes the
camera ideal for snorkelers and rainy day photographers though its 10-foot
pressure rating limits its utility for SCUBA. All controls are easy to use from
the stalks that come out the plastic AW-PS200 housing (about $200).
Controls are reasonably intuitive and analogous to film cameras. Never having
used a digital camera before, I was able to operate the unit without referring to
the owner's manual. The only thing that sent me digging into the manual was the
camera's default behavior of forgetting all custom settings after being powered
off. Within five minutes I was able to set the camera to power up with whatever
image quality and flash settings had been previously set.
The camera is rated for ISO 100 sensitivity and indeed its behavior is what
you'd expect a point and shoot camera with a slow lens and ISO 100 film. Indoor
images without flash tend to be blurry and grainy unless you're careful to steady
yourself by leaning against a wall.
Even at superfine resolution, the 1600x1200-pixel images are not very sharp
when viewed at 100%. See
this ferris wheel for example. The problem may have been the typical point
and shoot unwillingness to focus at infinity because
flowers look better. The camera has poor dynamic range. Highlights become
easily washed out. Here are some examples:
The image at left looks pretty good with
an unchallenging scene.
The gray roof at right is
completely washed out even though it didn't look too much brighter to the human
eye and film would certainly have captured detail in the roof.
Lag times are long and unpredictable. It takes a second or two after powering
up before you can zoom the 35-70mm lens. There is a lot of lag between when you
press the shutter release and when the image is captured. This is not the camera
with which you're going to capture the decision moment.
The S100 survived months of being in a front pants pocket with keys, change,
and a mobile phone. It survived Australian salt air, desert dust, and
Canon ships the S100 with easy to use software for managing images downloaded
from the camera. I was able to install and use it on a Windows 2000 machine
without reading the manual. Images can be downloaded via a USB cable from the
camera or by removing the flash card and inserting it into either a desktop USB
adaptor or a PC card adaptor. Using the PC card adaptor and a Windows 2000
notebook computer, the images show up as standard JPEGs in the Windows file
The other software that comes with the S100 is panoramic stitching software.
It was easy to use and effective.
The S100 is a great vacation camera. It doesn't work for artistic available
Where to Buy
The S100 has been discontinued. Canon has introduced an S100 upgrade, the
S110. The new S110 keeps the same 2.5x lens (vs the 3.0x zoom on the S300), but
has added movie capability, as well as a minor ISO boost when shooting in low
light. Adorama currently does not carry the S110, but they carry the S300, another new
model with a 3x(vs 2x) optical zoom. Adorama has agreed to support photo.net by a
referral fee for each customer, which helps keep this site in operation.