Canon S120 Review — Now Shooting

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The Canon S120 is here, and it seems Canon was listening to us when they made it. A followup to the Canon S110 which we reviewed in March of last year, the PowerShot S120 looks to answer at least half of our main concerns about the earlier model.

The 12.1-megapixel Canon S120 retains a pocket-friendly body very similar to that of its predecessor. As with that model, it’s aimed at enthusiasts who want a larger sensor than the typical compact, but who don’t need all the bells and whistles of a G-series camera. Changes include a new image sensor, brighter lens, faster DIGIC 6 image processor, higher-res LCD, refined Wi-Fi feature set, new battery pack, and slightly better battery life. The PowerShot S120 also has a brand new body with a dual-textured front panel, and a slightly smaller rear thumb grip.

Canon S120 review -- Front quarter view

Size and weight of the Canon S120 are increased only slightly over those of the S110. Although the rear-panel control layout is unchanged, the buttons are a bit more tightly packed in, though. The reason: a larger bezel around the LCD, which also now protrudes somewhat from the rear deck, where the S110 was smooth. That’s likely the main reason for a modest increase in depth. Two other physical changes of note: the stereo microphone and monaural speaker have both moved to the top deck, and the popup flash now has a manual release on the left side of the camera body.

Canon S120 review -- Top view

Probably the key change is the new DIGIC 6 image processor. In concert with the new backside-illuminated CMOS image sensor — which has the same size and effective resolution as in the earlier camera — the Canon S120 is now capable of shooting with focus and exposure locked for five frames at a manufacturer-specified rate of 12.1 frames per second, before slowing to 9.4 fps (in the lab, the S120 managed 11.8 fps before it slowed to 9.2). Enable autofocus, and you’ll still manage 5.5 fps, a huge improvement from the sedate 1.8 fps we measured for the S110.

And DIGIC 6 doesn’t just improve burst-shooting performance. Canon also predicts better noise performance, and a 50% increase in autofocus speed, another area in which the earlier S110 lagged the competition. Throw in a new 60 fps Full HD (1920 x 1080) movie mode where the S110 topped out at 24 fps, and the switch to DIGIC 6 looks to be huge news. (If you preferred the film-like feel of 24p video, you may mourn its loss, but there is at least still a 30p mode.)

Canon S120 review --  right side view

Canon has also updated the PowerShot S120’s 5x optical zoom lens. Although the actual and equivalent focal length range are unchanged — you’ll find everything from a generous 24mm wide angle to a modest 120mm telephoto, in 35mm-equivalents — the Canon S120’s lens is now brighter across the whole range. It’s not a night and day difference, but you should find the new f/1.8 to f/5.7 optic makes it easier to shoot in low light than did the old f/2.0 to f/5.9 lens. It’ll also be somewhat easier to isolate your subject from the background with depth-of-field blur, although this isn’t really a strong point of any small-sensor compact.

Canon S120 review --  left side view

Like its predecessor, the Canon PowerShot S120 has a 3.0-inch LCD with a capacitive touch screen. (That’s the same type used in most smartphones, and is far more sensitive than the resistive types used on some older or less expensive cameras.) However, the monitor’s dot count has doubled from 461k dots to 922k dots. That equates to approximately 640 x 480 pixels, with each pixel made up of separate red, green, and blue dots. The increase should make viewing images on the S120 a much more pleasant experience, which is good news, given that it lacks an optical viewfinder.

Canon S120 review -- Rear view

Another area which we singled out for improvement in the S110 — and in which Canon has responded — is Wi-Fi. The Canon S120 retains the wireless networking connectivity of its predecessor, but initial setup of the Wi-Fi connection has been made easier, and there’s no longer any requirement to install software on your computer. Canon’s CameraWindow app for iOS and Android devices also now supports landscape orientation, as well as Android tablets. You’ll still need to use the Canon iMAGE GATEWAY service to get your images and movies onto social networking sites, but the process should be more streamlined than it was in the past. You can also print directly via Wi-Fi to Canon’s PIXMA MG7120 or MG5220 Wireless Photo All-in-One printers.

Canon S120 review -- Front right quarter view with flash

Canon has added several new shooting modes to the PowerShot S120. The Star mode offers Star Nightscape, Star Trails, and Star Time-lapse Movie options, which do pretty-much what you’d think: the first exposes for sharply-defined stars behind a landscape, the second blurs them into star trails, and the third creates a video showing star motion across the sky.

A Background Defocus mode aims to supplement the lens’ depth-of-field blur for better subject isolation. There’s also a handheld High Dynamic Range mode which takes multiple shots and boosts dynamic range, and a Smart Auto mode that recognizes — and configures the camera for — 58 different scene types. And of course, there’s a popup flash for when you need to throw a little more light onto your subject.

Canon S120 review -- battery and SD card view

We also had concerns about battery life of the PowerShot S110, and the new Canon S120 brings an improvement in this area too, albeit a fairly modest one. Where the earlier camera could manage 200 shots on a charge, Canon claims 230 shots from the S120. Enable ECO Mode, and you should be able to stretch this to a more reasonable 300 shots. There is, however, a new NB-6LH battery pack — so if you’re upgrading from the S110 you won’t be able to use your existing batteries.

Canon S120 review -- connections view

The Canon PowerShot 120 stores images on Secure Digital cards, including the higher-capacity SDHC and SDXC types, as well as the higher-speed UHS-I types. Connectivity includes standard-def composite and high-def Mini (Type C) HDMI video outputs, plus a USB 2.0 data port which also doubles as a standard-def composite A/V output.

Basic Specifications
Full model name: Canon PowerShot S120
Resolution: 12.10 Megapixels
Sensor size: 1/1.7 inch
(7.6mm x 5.7mm)
Kit Lens: 5.00x zoom
(24-120mm eq.)
Viewfinder: No / OLED
Native ISO: 80 – 12,800
Extended ISO: 80 – 12,800
Shutter: 250 – 1/2500
Max Aperture: 1.8
Dimensions: 3.9 x 2.3 x 1.1 in.
(100 x 59 x 29 mm)
Weight: 7.7 oz (217 g)
includes batteries
MSRP: $450
Availability: 10/2013
Manufacturer: Canon
Full specs: Canon S120 specifications

Available from October 2013, the Canon S120 is priced at US$450 and comes only in black.




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