General performance is also excellent. The camera starts up in about 1.5 seconds, which is very impressive for a super-zoom camera. As with most Canon cameras focusing is extremely quick and accurate, and works just as well in low light thanks to a built-in AF illuminator. However it is in continuous shooting speed that the camera really excels. At maximum image quality it can motor along at 2.3 frames per second, and keep it up until the memory card is full.
Maximum quality JPEG files are around 3MB each, about average for a 6MP camera, and a freshly formatted 1GB SD card is enough for approximately 361 shots, or seven minutes 49 seconds of video shooting. It’s worth noting however that the S3 does not support the new SDHC memory card format. Because it is powered by AA batteries, duration will vary depending on the type used, but on the whole battery life seems to be excellent.
Image quality is also superb. Despite only having a tiny 1/2.5in sensor, pictures are impressively sharp and detailed, far more than I would expect from a 6MP camera. In fact I’ve seen 8MP models that can’t match the S3 for fine detail, and this is undoubtedly due to the excellent lens. It is pin-sharp from edge to edge at all focal lengths, produces minimal wide-angle barrel distortion, and its fast maximum aperture ensures good shutter speeds at long focal lengths. Combined with the fast AF it provides pin-sharp shots even of distant moving subjects.
The acclaimed Digic II image processor again proves its worth with perfect colour reproduction and excellent dynamic range, although it does seem to like blowing out highlights in high contrast situations. The only major criticism I can find is a steadily increasing level of image noise from 200 ISO up to the maximum of 800, although 400 ISO images are still printable. All in all a superb performance from one of the best super-zoom cameras on the market.
The Canon PowerShot S3 IS is arguably the best value super-zoom camera currently available. It combines great handling, ultra-fast performance and real photographic versatility with superior image quality and one of the best zoom lenses I’ve seen on a compact. It may look like a bag of spanners, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder.