Help me decide on a P&S digital camera

My current camera is a giant POS. Horrible JPEG compression even on highest settings, no customizable options, etc…

I’ll just be using it for trips/vacations, social gatherings, and the occasional “oh hey, that thing’s neat, let me get a picture of it!” type of photos.

I’ve done a little research, and from what I’ve read, an upper-level “advanced point&shoot” style camera, like a Canon PowerShot, seems like my best bet. A lot of professionals seem to like them for having good sensors, and a wide-array of user-selectable options, like exposure, ISO, and aperture. There’s even a third-party firmware you can load onto them to add more options.

But I’m at an impas…I really like a couple of different models. One is the SX230. It has a nice, big optical zoom, and not too expensive (that’s a link to a refurb version, but even a brand new one from Amazon is only $230.)

The other one catching my eye is the S95. This one takes better pictures, in theory (that’s really dependent on me,) but less of a zoom and a little bit more money.

Aside from a better aperture range, I don’t see right away what makes the S95 better. They have similar ISO and exposure options.

I’m leaning towards the SX230 because of the bigger zoom and lower price, so can someone tell me what makes the S95 worth the extra money?


I have an S95. It is great. I bought it specifically because I wanted the highest image quality I could get in a compact package. I sold my SLR because it was too bulky to carry around with me all the time, but I did not want to give up image quality and flexibility. It has been replaced by the S100, but I imagine you won’t find many discounts on that yet.

The bigger aperture is a big difference if you are taking pictures indoors, or in low-light situations. It will allow you to take many pictures without the flash, that you’d otherwise need the flash for (and the built-in flash usually results in terrible pictures from any camera). It also has a physically larger sensor, which generally results in improved image quality, less noise, etc.

The S95 has a RAW mode, which is much more flexible for editing than JPEG.

This is a great site for comparing different camera models:

This is very handy for comparing cameras:

As for the S95 over the SX230 specifically:
Wider aperture, larger sensor, shoots raw, in-camera HDR, boost ISO, smaller, thinner, lighter.
As for myself, I got a Canon ELPH 300 and I’m quite satisfied with it. I regret the lack of in-camera HDR and no RAW (for HDR) but it’s not that big a deal for me. I’d like shutter priority but I’ve found that the kids & pets setting gives me something that’s close enough to shutter priority for my purposes. It scores higher than both the S95 and the SX230.

On reading the first reply, I see we concur on many points.

Main difference is deciding between zoom and better low light capability.

I have the 220SX ie the model before the 230, and for the price its great, but in practise I find I dont really use the zoom capability - its too small a camera to hold steady easily, and an aperture of 5.9 means even with IS, it just isnt very usable in many situations.

Its flash is also pretty abysmal so really its an outdoor camera only. Id go the s95 myself, better lens and sensor is a nice combination.


The big zoom lenses are very versatile and useful outside, but inside they eat up light and hurt image quality. They also make the camera bigger, which may or may not be an issue. The S100 is a great camera, but it’s more of an enthusiast camera IMO. If you are just planning on using it as a P&S I think you can get similar results without spending so much.

Consider the Canon ELPH 110, a basic but effective P&S that has pretty reasonable low light performance at a reasonable price.

Will you use the camera indoors or outdoors more? Do you think you’ll ever zoom beyond the fairly small reach of the S95? If you’ll primarily shoot outdoors, the SX230 is a great versatile camera. I get a lot of use out of the built in GPS, it has no great weaknesses - it’s a pretty good all around camera. The S95 is better in low light and has better absolute picture quality but is more limited in its range. All small sensor cameras are fairly mediocre indoors - the SX230 isn’t especially bad in this regard - the lens is slow (gathers relatively little light) at a max of F3.1, but the sensor is fairly sensitive and the image stabilization is good, so that helps.

If you want to see the sort of output you can get with an SX230, look at my flickr - all but latest few images were done with it.

It’s true that the S95 does RAW natively, and that makes it easier if you want to squeeze the maximum possible image quality out of the picture, but you can shoot raw with the SX230 using the CHDK firmware hack. Adds lots of other features like an intervalometer, live histogram, etc. It’s definitely clunkier than the raw on the S95 though.

I had a similar thread, and we’ve just about decided on the Canon PowerShot G1X. It’s a bit pricey though, but there are some other suggestions in that thread too.

I just wanted to add that Canon Powershot is the name for pretty much all their compact digital cameras. They range from extremely basic P&S up to very advanced enthusiast’s cameras. The Powershot name isn’t the important part.

Again, the use cases you described don’t necessarily require an advanced camera. Are you planning on using the manual settings, processing RAW images, and setting up artistic shots? If not, I don’t think you’re getting much extra benefit by getting one of the advanced but expensive and complex models like the S100, the G12, or the G1 X.

Maybe not right away, but I like having the options to do that as I learn more about photography.

One thing I want to have the ability to do is adjust the depth of field so I can make more interesting pictures. One of the things I’ve hate about cheaper P&S cameras is that they all seem to have the largest DoF possible, so everything is “in focus,” but at the same time, it makes it so you can’t take those really “eye-popping” photos. Sure, a large DoF is fine for things like landscapes, but if I want to do some macro or simple portrait shots, I’d want a shallower one.

I know that I want have complete control of that as I would with an SLR, but models like the S-series at least have some control over that.

Depth of field is a physical property of the lens/sensor system, so no compact camera will do very well at this. Their sensors are somewhere around 1/20th or 1/30th as big as APS-C, which itself is quite a bit smaller than 35mm film. A wider aperture can help, generally, but you’re going to have a hard time getting enough apparent depth of field to be useful with it. The most effective way to get a blurred background on a compact camera is actually to use a longer focal length and a background that’s far behind the subject. Like a portrait taken at 150mm equivelant focal length against a forest far off in the background. Kind of awkward, but it can work.

As **SenorBeef **said, DoF is mostly based on sensor/lens size for these small cameras. If you want control over a meaningful DoF you’ll need a camera with a big sensor and a relatively short lens. The S100, G12, and G1 X are the only three in the Canon line that will give you that. They also have full manual controls.

Sensor size chart

The G1x uses close to an APS-C sized sensor, whereas the S100 and G12 both use 1/1.7" sensors (IIRC), so they aren’t in the same class at all. The SX230 has a 1/2.3", so smaller, the S100/G12 are much closer to it than to the G1x. I’m not sure why you recommend using a short lens for DOF, since the wider the angle, the less the DOF effects typically.

My understanding is that DOF isn’t actually a factor of the sensor size in this case, but of the focal length - but small sensors use small focal lengths. The SX230 has a 35mm equivelant range of 28mm-392mm, but the actual focal length on the lens is something like 5-75mm. But you get more foreground/background seperation in terms of focus with a longer lens, as I understand it. Ultra wide angle lenses like 10-20mm 35mm equivelant have a large depth of field, whereas a telephoto lens at 300mm gets significant background blur even at F8.

The best thing about the S95 is that it is extremely small, yet still gives you full manual control over shutter speed, aperture, etc., great image quality, and a quality lens. It literally fits in a shirt pocket.

The bigger cameras are definitely better in various ways, but they are bulkier, with lenses that don’t shut flush, various bumps and protrusions, extendable screens, etc. I take my S95 everywhere, whereas a larger camera I would only lug along if I had a specific reason.

As others have stated, though, while manual controls on a camera can help you achieve the desired DoF, DoF is really an optical characteristic of the system.

For the shallowest DoF, you want a large sensor, a long focal length, and a large aperture. Each of these essentially translates into a larger, more expensive camera. Classic “portrait” shots really require an SLR, or something close to it.

Macro stuff is easier, because you can come in close to the subject.

Here’s a photo I just took with my S95. Hope it helps.

I didn’t make myself very clear, I admit. My point was that in order to put a big zoom lens in a small camera, the sensor has to be small. My understanding is that with the current technology, the only way to get a decent DoF in a small package is to have a camera with a relatively short zoom lens and a relatively large sensor.

While the G12 and S100 have much smaller sensors than the G1 X, in everyday use they offer a much more useable DoF, image quality, and low light sensitivity than other P&S cameras in the Canon line. They are “enthusiast” cameras, in that image quality is much more important in the design.