Hands-on review: Canon S120


Hands-on review: Canon S120

Canon generally releases its S range of premium compact cameras at the same time as it updates the G series, and it’s no different this year with the introduction of the Canon PowerShot S120 to replace last year’s Canon PowerShot S110.

Much of the outward design of the Canon S120 remains unchanged from its predecessor, but internally there have been some significant upgrades.

It is the first S series camera to feature a lens with an f/1.8 aperture. Its diminutive dimensions also make it the slimmest camera in the world to feature an f/1.8 optic. It’s still a 5x optical zoom, starting at 24mm.

Canon PowerShot S120 review

It also shares the same new 12.1 million pixel back-illuminated CMOS sensor as the Canon G16. Although pixel count remains the same as its predecessor, the new design should produce better images. Canon’s latest processor, Digic 6, is also found in both models.

The special thing about Digic 6 in these models is that not only should low light performance be greatly improved from previous models, but continuous shooting can offer something pretty exciting. The Canon S120 can shoot at 9.4fps (JPEG only, no continuous autofocus) without a buffer. That means that it can shoot, in theory, until your card is full without stopping. You can also stop shooting and restart without any lag.

Canon says that the autofocus speed of the PowerShot S120 has been improved by around 50%. As before, both models feature full manual control and raw format shooting. The Canon S120 also features a control ring around the lens.

Canon PowerShot S120 review

Unlike the Canon G16, the Canon S120’s 3-inch screen is touch-sensitive. Both of the new models now feature Wi-Fi connectivity, with GPS available if used in conjunction with your smartphone.

A new introduction for both models is Star Mode, which has been designed to help those wanting to shoot night time photographs. Canon says that it is so confident of the camera’s low light capability that it wants to actively encourage photographers to use the cameras in the dark.

Star Mode is a fully automatic mode which deploys the best settings for capturing the night sky. It also has the ability to capture star trails and time-lapse movies within the camera itself, without the need for post-production work.

Canon PowerShot S120 review

Background Defocus has also been added. This takes two images, one in focus and one out of focus, and combines the results from the two automatically to produce a DSLR-type shallow depth of field effect. HDR mode has been improved with new digital filters.

Manual focus peaking has been introduced on these new models for the first time in a Canon stills camera. We’ve seen this before on Canon video cameras and from other stills cameras manufacturers.

Full HD video recording is available at 60fps for smooth movie capture, too.

Canon PowerShot S120 review

Whether the Canon S120 is more appealing than the Canon G16 will no doubt be down to personal taste on handling. Because the two have very similar specifications, the Canon S120 is worth considering if you’re looking for something a little smaller but with fewer direct controls on the body.

The Canon S120 is also cheaper than the Canon G16, with a full price of £449.99 (around US$705/AU$780).

Build quality and handling

As previously mentioned, the Canon S120’s build and design is almost identical to the Canon S110’s, although the top plate now features a shinier material, giving it an even more premium feel.

The Canon S120 feels reassuringly weighty despite its small size, with the sleek black exterior giving it a classy air.

Canon PowerShot S120 review

On top of the camera is a mode dial for quickly switching between the different exposure modes available, including fully automatic, scene, digital filters, semi-automatic (shutter priority and aperture priority) and fully manual. Unlike on the Canon G16, there’s no dial up top for changing exposure compensation.

The well-liked control ring reappears here on the Canon S120. This is such a popular feature of the camera that we’ve since seen very similar controls appearing on other cameras in the premium compact camera territory. The ring can be customised to control different settings, depending on what you prefer to use most often. Traditionalists may like to set it to control aperture.

On the back of the camera the layout remains the same as its predecessor, with a fairly typical array of buttons, including a dial for navigating through the menu and changing key settings. Exposure compensation needs to be controlled from the back of the camera, so unlike the Canon G16, there’s no dedicated ISO button.

Canon PowerShot S120 review

Anybody used to making their way through Canon’s menu system will be at home here, it’s a fairly straightforward affair. Pressing the central Function button brings up a sort of quick menu for adjusting the most commonly used settings, while the main menu is largely reserved for altering things such as the date and time.

Performance

The S range of Canon’s premium compact cameras have always been popular and a joy to use, producing excellent images, so we can be reasonably assured that the latest version will also deliver well – we’ll of course be keen to ascertain that for sure once a final production sample arrives for testing for our full review.

Improvements to the Canon S120’s specification, including the new backlit sensor and Digic 6 processor, should add up to some impressive results, and we’ll be looking for excellent low light performance. It will be interesting to see if the Canon S120 is able to compete with the fantastic Sony RX100 II, especially considering that the Sony has a much larger (one-inch) sensor.

Canon PowerShot S120 review

With the promise of a 50% increase in AF speed, we’ll also be looking to see how well the camera copes in different lighting conditions. We found that the Canon S110 had a snappy autofocus, so it’ll be interesting to see what a difference the Digic 6 system makes.

We’re pleased to see the touchscreen staying for the S series. In our brief time with a pre-production version of the camera we were very impressed with the responsiveness of the screen, making setting the autofocus point particularly quick and easy.

Initial verdict

Canon has a lot more competition in the premium compact camera department than it previously might have done, so it seems to be pulling out all the stops to make its latest updates appealing to consumers.

We’ve been long time fans of the S range, and it looks like the improvements made could make it a high performer – that’s the theory at least. It will be quite a feat to match the performance of the Sony RX100 Mk II, the camera by which we’re measuring most premium compacts against at the moment. Here’s hoping it gives a good contest.

Look out for a full review of the Canon S120 soon.

First reviewed 22 August 2013

For the original version including any supplementary images or video, visit http://www.techradar.com/us/reviews/cameras-and-camcorders/cameras/compact-cameras/canon-s120-1174630/review?src=rss&attr=all

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