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Canon S100 (Digital ELPH)

by Philip Greenspun, 2000

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 image.


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).

Digital photo titled jin-in-pool 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.

Digital photo titled melbourne-arcade Digital photo titled hyperbaric-chamber-end Digital photo titled tub-girl-flash Digital photo titled tub-girl-no-flash

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 these flowers look better. The camera has poor dynamic range. Highlights become easily washed out. Here are some examples:

Digital photo titled barcliff-av The image at left looks pretty good with an unchallenging scene.

Digital photo titled barcliff-av-washed-out 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 humidity.


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 system.

The other software that comes with the S100 is panoramic stitching software. It was easy to use and effective.

Bottom Line

The S100 is a great vacation camera. It doesn't work for artistic available light photography.

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.


among the Olgas (Northern Territory, Australia)

Digital photo titled olgas-tree Digital photo titled olgas Digital photo titled uluru-sign Digital photo titled olgas-reflection

King's Canyon (Northern Territory, Australia)

Digital photo titled roadside-vegetation Digital photo titled tree-and-mesa Digital photo titled camel-head

Billabong Sanctuary; Townsville, Australia

Digital photo titled eve-feeding-roo Digital photo titled emu-closeup Digital photo titled eve-and-emu Digital photo titled eve-and-python-2 Digital photo titled eve-holding-koala-1

Ayer's Rock

Digital photo titled ayers-rock-aerial Digital photo titled ayers-rock-classic

Whitsundays (Queensland, Australia)

Digital photo titled ocean-rafting-tour-boat Digital photo titled clam Digital photo titled reef-overview


Text and photos (c) Copyright 2000 Philip Greenspun.

Article created 2000

Readers' Comments

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Matthias Wandel , October 24, 2000; 10:14 P.M.

I have owned an S100 for about 4 months now. Great little camera. In terms of exposure range, its way better than the Olymous D340R I had previously - in that shadow detail shows up much better, and the colours look much more natural.

I do have one beef with this camera though: It doesn't have a medium compression mode. Even the non fine 1600x1200 mode will produce pictures that are on average 650k in size, and sometimes over a meg. These pictures can be re-compressed to half their size without noticeable loss of image quality. I always end up doing this on my PC later using ImageMagic and Jpegtran. I store thousands of images, so size on the PC does matter. I wish the camera compressed images better - this would allow me to make better use of my flash cards. The Olympus was really good that way.


Andrew Grant , October 27, 2000; 06:37 P.M.

The tonal range issues Phil reported are common to all digital cameras below about $3000. The higher end consumer cameras like the Olympus 3030 or Nikon 990 have much better lenses that the S100 though. They are also higher resolution. It is still very difficult to use them for "artistic available light" photography. $3000 will buy a Canon EOS D30 though, which apparently has tonal range greater than some slide film. I don't have one though. $3000 is a little too much for me. I hope Phil gets one though. I would love to read his review of it. He does have all the lenses.

Dave Wong , October 29, 2000; 10:53 P.M.

Just picked up the Powershot S100 a week ago and have had a chance to break it in. It's worth repeating that this really is meant to be a point-and-shoot camera, to be taken anywhere to capture those casual moments. To that end, it is highly successful in fulfilling the promise. Its miniscule dimensions allow you to easily slip it in a pocket or purse and go. The user interface is quite intuitive, and I appreciate the ability to zoom in and pan across an image when reviewing the shots I've taken. There are certainly other cameras that will run circles around the S100 in terms of features and performance, but what good is a camera if it sits at home most of the time because you don't want to lug it around? And once again -- this is a point and shoot camera. You wouldn't compare a Canon EOS 1V to a Yashica T4, so you certainly shouldn't compare the Nikon Coolpix 990 to the Canon Powershot S100. Some concessions were made to fit all of this technology in such a compact box, but for its intended use, the sacrifices are quite acceptable.

With that in mind, there are a few caveats which should be noted. Phil is quite correct about the lag times. It may take up to a 1/2 second, possibly more, between the time you press the shutter button and the instant the shutter actually opens, due to the slow focusing mechanism. Quite annoying if you're trying to capture spontaneous moments. Battery life is nothing to write home about; after 4 recharge cycles, my batteries currently will handle around 50 shots with the LCD off most of the time. (Perhaps this may improve with a few more recharging cycles.) So just be sure that you buy an extra battery and keep it with you at all times.

For artistic compositions, I have my SLRs to keep me busy. But for candid shots around town (or out of town) that will eventually get posted on the net or digitally printed on 4x6, the S100 is a dream come true. Buy it, use it and love it.

Jeremy Good , November 03, 2000; 06:30 P.M.

I've had an S100 now for about three months. Great little camera to keep with you. This is my first digicam, so some of my gripes may be common to others on the market:

As others mentioned, the lag time is frustrating because I'm used to shooting with a film-based SLR, focused manually. Also, it's hard to tell when the camera actually takes the picture when the flash is off. The optical viewfinder, which I often use to save the battery, shows a surprisingly small proportion of the image the camera takes. The covers for the battery and CF card seem pretty flimsy to me. Since I often keep the camera on me and use it frequently, I'm worried I'll snap one off. And the camera won't power up if either of them are open (or broken!). Most of my pictures with this camera are of people, and I haven't been thrilled with the red-eye reduction flash mode. The flash on my Yashica T4 Super does better with the red-eye mode off. And, finally, image quality is fine, though I would have preferred an optically improved (and faster) single focal-length lens to the mediocre zoom.

Enough complaints, though. This camera has been fantastic overall. I'm able to share pictures that I wouldn't have otherwise gotten (thanks to its portability) with others easily via the Internet. It fits easily into most pockets. The user interface is very good, and it has the features I want in a point-n-shoot camera. It's been knocked around and dropped and hasn't malfuctioned. The slide-show feature works great while the camera is connected to a TV so many people can see photos without finding or huddling arounding a computer.

Andrew Stephens , December 24, 2000; 01:54 P.M.

This is no longer the only digital still camera for which the manufacturer makes/offers an underwater enclosure.

Sony offers an underwater enclosure for the very compact 3 megapixel Sony DSC-P1 Cybershot.

More info here:



RF Briggs , March 01, 2001; 09:53 A.M.

I got this camera as a holiday present and I'm just in love with it. I think if I were coming from the world of SLRs and doing everything manually, I would probably find a lot lacking in this camera, but from where I sit, this has a lot going for it:

1. Size. I travel light. And I like to take my camera everywhere. As someone who barely has room for a cell phone in my bag, the convenience of a camera this small cannot be underestimated. In short, it is no longer an excuse that I "don't have room for it". It goes with my everywhere, so I end up taking more pictures.

2. Power-on speed. While it might seem slow to someone who's never owned a digital camera, compared with many other digital cameras I've owned, it's incredibly fast, maybe one second. Yes, you have to have it on already to catch something quickly, but it's much much faster than others.

3. Formats. This camera connects to the PC via USB - wonderfully fast! And better yet, the pictures are stored in JPEG format (no silly proprietary format) on a Compact Flash (CF) card, the most widely available type of card there is. Canon went out of their way to make a camera that would work with the most easily found disks, any software program, with any reasonably new Windows computer. Very nice.

One last thing I want to say about digital photography: YOUR PICTURES ARE NOT FINISHED ONCE YOU TAKE THE PICTURE! YOU HAVE TO USE GOOD EDITING SOFTWARE! You CANNOT rely on whatever software comes with the camera. Go out and splurge $50 on Jasc's Paint Shop Pro 7 (I do not work for Jasc or have any vested interest in it). It is an incredible program, 1/10 the price of Photoshop with about 95% of the functionality. Most of my digital pictures (whether scanned or natively digital) require editing - factor that into the production of the photo. Most true photographers will never be satisfied with their digital photos until they learn to edit them properly. The only thing you can't change is the resolution, so always take pictures on the highest resolution. Aside from that, ANYTHING can be done to correct a digital photo.

Thanks for listening to my $0.02.

Shaun Bliss , April 14, 2001; 04:56 P.M.

I just bought the S100 Elph and the big thing I notice is that the 1.5MB super-fine mode is pretty much the same as the 600K large mode. This is annoying. The 1.5MB file size tricks the buyer into thinking that this camera really can deliver a quality image, when in fact it cannot. Also, did anyone notice the samples on Canon's web site, which are excellent are not originals, they have no S100 meta data, just Photoshop meta data. Don't get me wrong, it is a good camera, but the 1.5MB mode is a bit of a waste of time. I have a Fuji FinePix Pro which really takes 1.5MB and 16MB images, and there is no comparison. I also have a Kodak DC240, which takes 1280x800 pictures at 500k which look as good as the Elph's 1.5MB resolution. The big winning point with the Elph is the true "pocket" size.

Keith Neundorfer , June 14, 2001; 12:46 A.M.

The latest version of this camera, the s110, has been available for about a month. It has an additional medium resolution (1024x768), 3 video modes (The mic is next to the lens), and direct print capability with the new Canon printers. It is the same size and weight as the s100 and has the same optics and accessories. From a reasonably reputable merchant you can get one delivered to your door for less than $440. Now if they'd just make a clip-on battery back that would last a whole day and have a center tripod socket...

Paul Fisher , June 29, 2001; 03:05 A.M.

I find that my Digital Ixus (the name it goes by in Australia) is in use about 4 days a week. My Nikons get taken out on the weekend. As mentioned by other reviewers the Ixus is a point'n'shoot. Having said that, it is certainly capable of taking some very nice images if you take the time to set things up - but for that I usually use the Nikons. It's also a great party camera - connect it to the TV and put it in slide-show mode, or else just use it as a video camera.

John De Ryckere , August 18, 2001; 05:31 P.M.

I just bought an S300 and really like it. I agree with Keith, a snap in battery adapter would be nice. I think there is a solution though, I was at Ritz today looking for the in car charger. I didn't find that but I did find an AC adaptor for the S110/S300. It's comes with a little fake battery that slips into the battery receptacle of the camera with a jack to hook up to the wall wart.

It wouldn't be very difficult to make something that would take normal 1.5 V AA batteries, regulate the voltage down to whatever the camera runs at and attach a plug.

Ben Lunsford , November 27, 2001; 10:21 A.M.

In the last link posted yesterday the photographer who took those great images in Morocco said it may be a good idea to "get the S100 now and then trade up to a 4 MP or 5 MP camera later." Wait a minute!! There is a new camera that was released earlier this month that is as small as the ELPH line but takes 4 MP photos. The Pentax Optio 430 can be had for around $560 (November '01) from at least one reputable seller online. A twice-as-powerful alternative to the ELPH for a go-anywhere digital.

Christopher Thomas , May 29, 2002; 05:23 P.M.

I've owned an S100 for the past two years, and have been quite pleased with the results, using it as my travel camera. While the shots may not compare with film, the old adage is so true that you don't get the photos if you don't have a camera. It has provided great images from several extended trips, enduring all types of weather. The problems with film and travel are only increasing and digital is a reasonable alternative. Since Phil missed the shot, I've attached photos of a sea turtle taken in Hawaii with my Canon S100 in the waterproof housing.

Image Attachment: Turtle & coral.jpg

Christopher Thomas , May 30, 2002; 09:00 A.M.

Here's a close-up:

Image Attachment: Turtle.jpg

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