Main control is via a large mode dial on the top panel with no less than 11 settings, including auto, program, aperture or shutter priority and full manual exposure control, a custom exposure setting, the usual special programs of portrait, landscape, night scene and action, as well as panorama stitching mode and a scene mode setting with eight scene options including the unusual colour accent and colour swap modes.
The S3 has the usual Canon ‘F’ button, which brings up an on-screen menu with all of the most frequently used settings, including exposure compensation, white balance, a selection of special colour settings, auto-bracketing, flash power adjustment, metering mode, and quality settings for both still photography and movie mode. I quite like the ‘F’ button system, but with more and more features being crammed into it and a fairly small and relatively low-res screen to view them on, it can be a bit fiddly to use.
There are external buttons for several other features as well, including ISO setting and a shortcut button the can be programmed with a range of settings, the default being image quality. I’m not particularly keen on the operation of these buttons, because they cycle through a long list of options. Due to their position next to the thumb grip area it’s quite easy to hit one by accident and change the picture quality from maximum to minimum, or the ISO from auto to 80 without noticing, and even if you do notice you have to spend a few seconds scrolling through the list of settings to get back to where you started. With a camera this complex, I would have preferred to see something like the rotary dial control on the G7.
The S3’s movie mode is particularly good. It can shoot at the now obligatory 640 x 480 at 30fps standard, as well as 60fps at 320 x 240, useful for high-speed action especially with the ability to play it back in variable-speed slow motion. There is a separate start button for the movie mode, and pressing the shutter button during filming takes a still image without pausing the video recording. Also, and this is almost unique for a powered zoom camera, the zoom lens can be used while shooting video. The optical image stabilisation works in video mode, and sound is recorded in stereo via two microphones just above the lens.