Canon PowerShot S95 Review

The Canon PowerShot S95 is a 10MP point and shoot camera that is essentially a slight refresh to its predecessor, the PowerShot S90.  With the ability to capture RAW image files and a bright f/2.0 lens, the S95 is a great pocket camera for the DSLR shooters out there.

To learn more about the serious little compact camera, read on.

Canon PowerShot S95 Key Features

  • 10MP CCD Sensor
  • 3.8x Optical Zoom Lens (28-105mm equivalent)
  • ISO 80-3200
  • 720p HD Video Capture
  • Image Stabilization
  • RAW+JPEG Image Capture
  • 3-inch LCD
  • f/2 Max Aperture Lens
  • SDXC Card Compatible

Canon PowerShot S95 Handling, Ergonomics and Control

At first glance, the Canon S95 is deceivingly ordinary.  Still yet, there is a classiness to the design that urges you to look a little deeper.  When you pick up the camera, you then realize that it is more substantial than many of the cheap plastic compacts out there.  The solid build quality is the first sign that S95 is a serious shooter.

While the black casing feels strong, there is, unfortunately, little to grab for a secure grip.  The rounded edges, especially on the right-hand side, are not helpful from a functional standpoint.  I would have preferred a slightly raised grip on the right side (like found on the Canon G12).

Another thing that caught me off guard when I first started using the S95’s predecessor (the S90) was the pop-up flash.  By using a pop-up design, Canon was able to distance the flash further from the lens – presumably to aid in red-eye reduction.  Additionally, the design maintains a clean appearance without  a flash bulb marring the front of the camera.  However, the location of the pop-up flash is exactly where users tend to grip point and shoot cameras.  So, when the flash is set to “Auto” it can result in a surprise the first few times you use it – or at least it did for me.

This pop-up surprise, along with the smooth design and grip, prompted a few drops in my early goings with the camera.  Fortunately, all were “safe” drops and not at any significant distance or onto hard floors.  The S95’s flash is the same as the S90, which could be a surprise for the first time users out there.

Aside from few quirks with the grip of the camera (your mileage may vary), the overall design and controls are well done.  There are a couple of standout features that really set the S95′s controls apart from other point and shoot cameras.

First up, the front Control Ring around the lens serves to operate a number of camera controls and, to some extent, is customizable as to what functions it performs. The Control Ring can change the aperture, shutter speed, focus, zoom, white balance, exposure compensation or ISO speed. It’s a real pleasure to use and a nice, subtle touch on the S95.

Next, there’s another ring on the back of the camera, which is use for quick setting changes and scrolling through images.  It’s a breeze to use, just like the similar dial on the Canon G12.

Canon did the S95 proper justice by upgrading to 720p video from the S90’s low-res VGA video.  Just flip the mode dial to video, press the shutter button and you’re shooting HD video.  The S95 uses H.264 compression in a .mov file.  The frame rate is 23.976 fps in standard, color accent and color swap video capture modes.  A miniature effect timelapse mode is also available where the camera will capture at a slower rate and playback at full speed at 29.97 fps.

Shooting with the Canon PowerShot S95

Note that many of these comments are duplicitous of the S90 review due to the fact that the functions and performance in most shooting aspects were close to identical.

Using the S95 was just as enjoyable as the S90, which I loved.  I own a Canon G12, so the menu and controls may be a little more intuitive to me off the bat, but I still think the S95 is a camera that anyone can pick up and start shooting with – even if you don’t read the manual.

If anything, I would like to have a little wider angle lens at times. The 28mm-equivalent is good enough most of the time; however, other high-end compact cameras commonly sport a 24mm-equivalent lens, and it’s amazing how much of a difference that extra 4mm can make.

I was happy with how well the S95 handles indoor flash photography, which is, to me, the ultimate test of a compact camera. The S95 does a solid job of coping with ambient light and providing some context for your flash images.

Red-eye does not appear to be a serious problem with the S95. I detected few photos requiring post processing for red-eye removal out of the many flash images that I captured. Perhaps there is something to that pop-up flash after all?

Shutter response is what I consider to be fast for a point and shoot camera. I encountered no problems with missed shots due to delayed shutter actuation with the S95.

The zoom is not what I would call fast; however, it is competent. Given that it only has a 3.8x magnification though, I expected it to be a bit faster.

Auto white balance is about par for the course with decent results in most lighting conditions with the exception of tungsten light, which produces a slight yellow tint.

Image stabilization works well in the Canon S95 and helps you use lower than normal shutter speeds, which in turn allows you to capture low light images that might not otherwise be possible.

Shooting with the S95 is a joy for someone who normally uses a DSLR.  The big reason being that you always have the camera with you.  The other is image quality.

Canon PowerShot S95 Image Quality

ISO 80 – f/4 – 1/160s

As with its big brother, the G12, the Canon S95 delivers pretty good image quality thanks to its 10MP sensor and the ability to capture images in RAW format. The resolution isn’t going to be as high as other typical point and shoot cameras that offer 14+ megapixels; however, the overall quality of images will generally outshine what you get from the run-of-the-mill point and shooter.

Noise handling is above-average for point and shoot cameras; however, I found ISO 800 and above images quite noisy. If you stick to small prints, Facebook and other web usage, you will be fine with the S95 throughout the ISO range.

Below are a handful of sample images captured with the Canon S95.  I processed these as RAW files in Adobe Lightroom 3.  Note that I took the liberty to edit these photos according to my own personal tastes. Additionally, I’ve included an ISO range comparison for the S95′s JPEG and RAW file processing results below.

Feel free to download any of these sample images for your personal inspection (not for republication).  You can get the original files by right-clicking on any of the images and choosing “Save link as…”

ISO 800 – f/4 – 1/60s

ISO 500 – f/4.9 – 1/125s

ISO 80 – f/4.5 – 1/1000s

ISO 80 – f/4 – 1/1000s

ISO 80 – f/4 – 1/1000s

ISO 80 – f/4 – 1/800s

ISO 80 – f/4 – 1/160s

ISO 80 – f/4 – 1/160s

ISO 80 – f/4.5 – 1/640s

ISO 80 – f/4 – 1/200s

ISO 80 – f/4.9 – 1/160s

ISO 100 – f/4.5 – 1/100s

ISO 320 – f/4.9 – 1/125s

ISO 400 – f/4.9 – 1/320s

ISO 800 – f/2 – 1/30s

ISO 400 – f/4.5 – 1/100s

ISO 80 – f/4 – 1/800s

In the following ISO range comparison, I captured a scene under tungsten lamps with custom white balance set in-camera.  These images were shot in CR2 + JPEG with default settings applied to the JPEG images.  RAW files were zeroed and exported from Lightroom 3 as JPEGs at the 100 quality setting.  A second batch of the same RAW images received noise reduction settings of +50 for both luma and chroma noise, and then exported as 100 quality JPEGs from Lightroom 3.

For the sake of reference, here’s what the entire image looks like.

Below, you can see some 100% crops from the above scene at various ISO settings.

If you want to go above 8×10 prints with the S95, you’ll want to stick with ISO 400 and lower. The chroma noise is just a little too rough at ISO 800 for larger prints. If you are dedicated, you can squeeze a little more out of the S95 high ISO images by cranking up noise reduction at the expense of a little added softness.

If you are familiar with RAW format, you will appreciate the flexibility of the Canon S95 when editing files in programs like Adobe Lightroom and Apple Aperture.  If you aren’t familiar with editing RAW files and decide to pick up the Canon S95, you will be doing yourself an injustice if you don’t learn the power of working with this format. With RAW files, you essentially get a digital negative with a wide range of exposure and editing possibilities.

Canon PowerShot S95 Accessories

Canon NB-6L Battery – The Canon S95 comes with one of these rechargeable lithium-ion batteries; however, if you’re going to be away from power for an extended period, you can pick up spares.

Memory cards –   The S95 can’t take advantage of that fastest transfer speeds from the top-end SD cards.  As a result, affordable cards from reputable brands will work just fine.  However, you should purchase at least a Class 4 SD card in order to ensure proper 720p HD video capture.  The SanDisk Ultra-series would work great with the S95.  The S95 is compatible with all SD, SDHC and SDXC cards.  You can learn more about different types and ratings of SD cards in my Demystifying SD Cards article.

Canon WP-DC38 underwater housing – If you’re into SCUBA or snorkeling, this is a pretty cool little underwater case from Canon that’s rated up to 130′.


The Canon PowerShot S95 continues with its predecessor’s role as a photographer’s compact camera.  It improves on the S90 with the addition of features like HD video capture and a dedicated HDR mode.

While the S95 will not deliver DSLR-quality images, it stands apart from the most of the point and shoot camera pack with solid image quality and exceptional control over exposure.  I can highly recommend the S95 as camera for those who want to get more out of their cameras, but maintain a compact go-everywhere size.

The Canon PowerShot S95 is available from Photography Bay’s trusted retail partner, B&H Photo, at the following link:

Canon PowerShot S95 at B&H Photo

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  1. says

    I have the original S90 and love the camera but, as you point out correctly, the unit is slippery little devil and needs a firm grip to prevent sadness. When you factor in the pop-up flash issue it not looking good.

    What I did to get the most out of this amazinf camera is to use on of those super-cheap mini tripods. You can get them for 99p at the PoundLand or PoundStore shops here. Screw it in to the base of the camera and you have a super handle for (and) point and shoot camera. Using it helps with general stability, using the pop-up flash and, when you are in video mode, makes panning smoothly an absolute breeze.

    Hope this helps.

  2. says

    The pictures that you show on this report looked terrific. I only found two videos on youtube from this camera. They were ok but not great. That does not mean the unit does not shoot good video because youtube to me is just a yardstick as to how a camera might shoot a video. The second thing on youtube that is more accurate is the quality of the stereo sound. Unfortunately I am typing this at an hour that I cannot review the audio quality but I remember I had burnt the two files I had onto a dvd-r. It the unit had great stereo sound, I would have remembered that.