I recently purchased a Canon S100 compact camera to carry with me on birding outings. My usually birding rig is a Canon SLR (50D, 7DÖ) and a 500mm f/4L IS USM and 1.4x teleconverter. Since this setup is rather large and heavy I have been trying to find a good solution to photograph non-bird subjects such as landscapes/scenery/habitats, people, buildings and whatever else I encounter that a 500mm lens isnít good for capturing.
I started off by purchasing an EF-s 10-22mm lens for this but I found that while I really liked the wide angle capabilities of this lens I really wanted more focal length than this lens offered so eventually purchased an EF-s 15-85mm IS lens. This lens was still wide enough to do most of the photography I wanted to do and offered me the extra focal length that I wanted. Both of these lenses are in my opinion excellent. However, after using them for a few years I found that I am still missing tons of photos that I would have liked to have taken because either of these lenses is still more than I want to carry around when I am out birding.
After searching the various options I eventually purchased a used Canon S90 compact. I liked the idea that it could be used manually, it had reasonably good image quality, and most of all that it was small enough to fit in my pocket so I could carry it with me everywhere.
What I wasnít so thrilled about with the S90 was that operation was a bit sluggish (compared to the SLR I was used to), the lens could only go as wide as a 28mm field of view and that the image quality wasnít quite up to what I really wanted. I know that it isnít reasonable to expect SLR image quality in a small compact camera but I am trying to find a compromise I am happy with and the S90 wasnít quite there.
One issue that I wasnít expecting with the S90 was that as I carried the camera around in my pocket the rear LCD screen got quite scratched up and more importantly lots of dust accumulated inside of the camera. The dust eventually started affecting the image quality and I was never able to completely clean it out despite taking the camera apart and cleaning the sensor and as much of the inside of the lens as I could reasonably get to.
When the Canon S100 was announced I was excited to see that the focal length range had been expended to 24mm equivalent at the wide end and GPS had been added. Before I purchased the S100 I had been carrying around a GPS logger in my pocket and the GPS feature on the S100 might be able to eliminate one more thing that I had to carry around with me and charge each night.
I waited a while to see what the reviews were like and was very disappointed by early reports of decreased image quality (compared to the S90/S95) and issues with the lens. Despite the initial reports my curiosity got the best of me and I ordered the S100. It arrived just in time to take on a birding trip to California, which I just concluded. So the following are my reactions of 10 days of using the S100 in the field and post processing my images.
At the start of the trip I turned on the GPS function but kept the GPS logger function turned off. Each time I took the camera out to take a photo it took a long time for the camera to lock onto the GPS signal. Even when standing outside in plain view of a clear blue sky it would sometimes take more than 10 minutes. I read the manual to try to figure out if I was doing something wrong and tried the measures listed there but none seemed to help. It wasnít long before I figured out that to really get any practical use out of the GPS function the logger function must be on. The advantage was that the camera will almost instantly lock onto the signal recording GPS data in the photos but leaving the GPS function on all day long seriously drains the battery. I am still not sure if the GPS function on the S100 will replace my GPS logger or not but I think that it might.
A pleasant surprise that I noticed as soon as I started using the new camera is that operation feels substantially faster than it did with the S90. Focus seems more reliable and pretty much all of the functions on the camera feel more responsive. I am very pleased with the overall functionality of the S100.
To avoid the dust and LCD damage that I had with the S90 I am carrying the S100 in a thin pouch that seems to be doing a good job protecting the screen and keeping dust away.
The auto-focus on the S100 does seem to be a substantial improvement over the S90. With the S90 I would often have trouble getting the focus to lock when doing wide-angle landscape shots. With the S100 this rarely happens but it still does happen from time to time.
On the image quality front I am not really sure what to think yet. The weather conditions werenít great for landscape photography for much of my trip but I think the image quality does seem to be pretty close to that of the old S90. In other words not bad but not great either. I think it will be acceptable for my needs (mostly web viewing and small prints no larger than 8x10).
There does seem to be a lot of distortion at the widest setting which is a little bothersome. So far I have been shooting JPEG because I havenít been able to get RAW Therapee to work with the S100 RAW files yet. I do know that I was much happier with the S90 when I shot RAW and developed the files in RAW Therapee so I am holding off on final judgment when it comes to image quality.
Overall I would say that I am rather happy with the S100 and I think it will be a nice fit for me and others in my situation.