Canon PowerShot S3 IS

Canon PowerShot S3 IS
  • Canon PowerShot S3 IS
  • Canon PowerShot S3 IS
  • Canon PowerShot S3 IS
  • Expert Rating

    4.50 / 5


  • Brilliant pictures, Big Zoom, Advanced Functionality


  • Burst mode could be better

Bottom Line

An absolutely brilliant ultra zoom model that combines a 12X zoom lens with exceptional picture quality and all the usual functionality.

Would you buy this?

Canon's latest ultra-zoom model, the Powershot S3 IS, offers just about everything you could want in an advanced camera. The image quality is superb, the zoom is huge and the features are robust enough to keep most budding photographers happy. It does have a few minor flaws, but overall there are few cameras as complete as this one on the market today.

Image Quality

A successor to Canon's S2 IS, the S3's performance in our Imatest testing was nothing short of stunning. It achieved a record score in one of the three categories and achieved strong results in the others. If you want high quality pictures and a big zoom, this is most definitely the camera for you.

The most impressive result came in our Colourchecker test with the S3 scoring a ridiculously low 5.64. No camera has broken the 6 barrier before this one, so it really is in a league of its own. As usual, the biggest margins of error came in the red spectrum, but even those were minimal. As you can see in our charts all the other colours, from greens and yellows right through to the grayscale shades, were virtually flawless. Our test shots reflected this, with brilliantly deep, rich hues that really brought the shots to life.

Canon complemented this with an extremely strong score of 1443 in our sharpness test. The Olympus MJU 700 previously held the record for a compact model with 1429, but we have a new winner in the S3. Its shots were razor sharp, with no hints of colour fringing and minimal blurring.

What little blurring there was stemmed from chromatic aberration, which Imatest gave a score of .083%. While a few cameras have achieved lower than this, it is common for point and shoots to achieve results over .1% so this is a fairly strong result. It still has some impact on the quality of the images, but it isn't strong enough to really make a big difference, and the score is still well below the average.

The image noise test was the only area where the camera didn't blow us away, but even there it was still extremely good. Achieving a result of .64% at its lowest ISO setting, it didn't quite outdo some other camera's we've looked at recently, which scored .55% or lower, but the difference is fairly negligible and we couldn't see any evidence of noise in our shots. It did however scale rather poorly, with ISO 800 receiving a huge score of 2.46%. At this level we would say the shots aren't really useable. This is the one weakness this camera exhibited.

Performance and Features

To further assist in take great pictures, Canon has included image stabilisation (represented by the 'IS' in the product's name). At lower zoom levels it is less of a factor, but on an ultra zoom at full lens extension, even the tiniest movement of the hand can have a big impact on your shots. The image stabilisation helps counteract this, and our testing indicated it was quite effective when shooting distant targets.

The S3 comes with most of the bells and whistles you'd expect from an advanced model with full manual modes, although it doesn't take the settings to the extreme levels of some of its competitors. The ISO level extends to 800 and shutter speed stretches from 15 seconds to 1/1600th of a second, with no bulb mode available. The burst mode was decent but not exceptional, operating at two frames per second. Rounding out the features are the manual focus and white balance options as well as 14 scene modes.

The 12X zoom lens is also an excellent feature. It autofocuses quite quickly and makes very little noise.


The most notable design element of the S3 is its adjustable LCD. Protected from view when closed, it can be flipped open, angled up and down or re-oriented to face outwards. This not only allows you to shield it from damage but also take angled shots that would be otherwise impossible with a regular screen. The LCD is a little small for our liking, but we're willing to make the trade for the flexibility offered by an angled screen.

LCD aside, the S3 closely resembles the S2. Most companies struggle to produce aesthetically pleasing advanced models, but Canon's charcoal model both looks attractive and is comfortable to hold. With a jutting, rubberised right hand grip and a curved design it sits nicely in the hand and isn't overly heavy for an advanced model.

As a fully advanced model, the S3 sports quite a few buttons, but there are no real surprises here. A standard directional pad, function wheel and set of face buttons give you all the control you need. Everything is within easy reach, and the menu system is sub-divided in the usual Canon way, which is functional and intuitive.

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