Bang on its promised schedule, Canon recently announced a number of new cameras including the PowerShot S70, a 7.1-megapixel follow-on to the 5-megapixel PowerShot S60 that appeared in the spring. The company markets any number of high-end cameras for keen amateurs, but the philosophy behind these particular models is to offer a decent complement of “serious” features for those who want them but without insisting that the average photographer spend hours poring over the manual just to take a picture.
That’s the ambition anyway: a camera that is both complex and simple at the same time, and in the S60 we’d say Canon has met this brief with something to spare.
You can, if you like, turn on the S60 and just take a picture of more or less what you point it at and get excellent results. Fussier photographers will find a decent level of sophistication (eg RAW capability and histogram review) should they want it, so there’s a lot more to it than point-&-shoot.
Nothing particularly jumps out from the spec sheet, but there are no obvious weak points either. You get a handy 28mm wide-angle lens setting (at f2.8), and a slightly short “telephoto” focal length of 100mm (f5.6), ISO sensitivity that goes down to 50, and the usual variety of manual and automatic exposure modes. The LCD monitor is a decent size for a change, and the controls and menus are intuitive.
With the exception of image browsing, the S60’s raw speed is excellent, and a huge improvement on the sluggish electronics you find on some digital cameras even now. Specifically, it zooms at a decent pace, charges the flash rapidly, and shutter delay and file writes are fast enough not to be intrusive. Canon has even managed to solve one of its biggest headaches in previous models, namely poor low-light focussing. This might have something to do with the inclusion of an assist beam, but focussing was noticeably snappier and more accurate than on some of its predecessors.
On the subject of flash photography, the S60 performs like a camera way above its price range, consistently getting indoor shots right. Even fill flash – the sneaky way to compensate for tricky exposure outdoors – was far better than we’d expected. The red-eye compensation didn’t always seem to work, but that can be sorted out using software.
It seems harsh to pick holes, but let’s do it anyway. The macro is rubbish – more of a close-up feature than proper macro for serious photography – and the optical viewfinder is fine but shows you considerably more of the image than is actually photographed. Build quality was delightful despite the plastic battery cover on our review model that didn’t quite sit flush.
Let’s leave the moans about the odd bit of purple fringing to the fastidious; the S60 is one of the best digital compacts yet. If cameras start being this good, vendors will struggle to get people to fork out for yet another “must-have” upgrade.