Best Buy
  • Price: 279

  • Company: Canon

  • Pros: Big zoom, great optical image stabilization, and an extensive set of features.

  • Cons: You'll need to buy some rechargeable batteries.

  • Our Rating: We rate this 9 out of 10 We rate this 9 out of 10

There’s a high demand for big-zoom, image-stabilized cameras, and manufacturers are rolling them out like there’s no tomorrow. We reviewed Panasonic’s Lumix FZ5 and Sony’s CyberShot H1 a few months ago, and now Canon has released the PowerShot S2 IS.

The S2 IS is the successor to 2004’s S1 IS – a 10x zoom, 3.2mp unit. The S2 upgrades both those main specs, and the camera now has a resolution of 5mp, with a new f2.7-3.5, 12x zoom that’s both quite long and wide, with a 35mm-equivalent range of 36-432mm.

Like its competitors, the S2 deals with any camera shake when at full magnification by including image stabilization (IS). The camera corrects image shake with Canon’s tried and tested optical stabilization technology.

But the S2 isn’t content to beef up just a few key features. It has incremental improvements across its feature set. Like most of Canon’s new cameras, it uses the DIGIC II processor, which results in a fast start-up time and quick image processing. The ultrasonic motor in the lens improves focusing performance, while the lens itself has a special super-macro mode that will focus from less than 1cm for high-detail shots.

The image stabilization system has been enhanced with two extra modes. Previously, IS was always on. But the new shoot-only mode leaves IS off until you actually press the shutter. This means that your image preview isn’t stabilized, but it seems to give a slightly better result. The other mode, panning, corrects only for vertical shake. Whatever mode you employ, IS works well, letting you use the big zoom at slower shutter speeds or take images indoors at shutter speeds that would certainly blur without IS.

Performance bump
While the design of the S2 is broadly similar to the S1, it is slightly larger and heavier. At 405g without batteries, it’s a weighty little camera for its size but as a result it feels solid and dependable. It also features an SD card slot instead of CompactFlash and a marginally larger, twist-and-tilt LCD (1.8-inches versus 1.5-inches on the S1). The USB connection is now USB 2.0. The S2 IS bumps up the shooting performance due to the DIGIC II processor – you now get continuous shooting at 2.4fps.

Maximum shutter speed is raised to 1/3,200 from 1/2,000, and a bunch of new scene modes have been added, as has an auto-focus illumination lamp to aid focusing in low-light conditions. In general the auto focus on the S2 IS was both fast and accurate, although it did have some difficulty focusing in low light when the zoom was at its maximum.

There are other weak spots. While its ISO range is from 50 to 400, the sensor is fairly noisy at ISO400. And while the camera takes four standard AA-sized batteries, you don’t get a set of rechargeables in the box.

The S2’s image quality is on a par with that of the Sony H1 and Panasonic FZ5 – while it’s not up to the quality you get with a digital SLR, you’re unlikely to be disappointed. In fact, overall the S2 is a very solid product and a more significant upgrade to the range than is first apparent. If you want a carry-around camera capable of handling a wide range of tasks, including good-quality video, it’s well worth a look.
Bruce Buckman