In Canon’s compact camera range, two models vie for top billing. One is the 10-megapixel PowerShot G7 that I reviewed just over a month ago, and the other one is this, the PowerShot S3 IS. While the G7 might have the advantage in resolution over the 6-megapixel S3, the latter features an impressive f/2.7 – f/3.5, 12x zoom lens (36 - 432mm equiv.) with Canon’s acclaimed optical image stabilisation system and ultrasonic focusing motor, as well as a wide range of other features that make it one of the most versatile cameras on the market.
Despite the fact that the S3 IS has been around for a while, it is still one of the most popular super-zoom cameras around. It currently sells for just under £250, which compares reasonably well with other similarly-specified models, such as the Fuji S9600 (£270), Kodak P712 (£255) and Olympus SP-500 UZ (£230) and Panasonic DMC-FZ7 (£185)
It has to be said, it’s a curious looking beastie. Although it has a generally SLR-like shape with a large high-level viewfinder and a chunky sculpted handgrip, it is covered in odd lumps and bulges, with controls scattered across its surface like acne on a teenager. I’ve heard some people describe it as ugly, and I can see their point, but I quite like the way it looks so I’m going to go with ‘functional’.
The body is made of the same tough plastic that clothes most of Canon’s A-series cameras, and is finished in a dark and slightly metallic grey that I would probably describe as slate. It feels very sturdy and well made, and the controls are easy to operate and well mounted. Measuring 113 × 78 × 76mm the S3 is quite a large camera compared to most compacts, and at 410g it is also quite weighty, but thanks to the generously sized handgrip, the sensible position of the controls and the space left on the back for your thumb, it is very comfortable to hold and never feels heavy. Overall balance is helped by the presence of four AA batteries inside the handgrip.
Whatever you think of its appearance, there’s no denying that it’s loaded to the gunwales with features. As well as its super-powerful but amazingly compact lens, it has a very useful 2in flip & twist LCD monitor, which with only 115,000 pixels isn’t terribly sharp, but does at least have an excellent anti-glare coating.