The back of the camera is dominated by a huge 2.5in LCD monitor, which despite the size of the camera doesn’t leave a lot of room for the rest of the controls. Canon has got around this with a couple of clever design features. Rather than the traditional four-way D-pad, the S80 has a ring which not only moves in four directions, it also rotates, serving as a data input wheel for adjusting settings and navigating the menu. It’s unusual, but it does work extremely well.
The main mode dial is mounted out of the way on the side of the camera body, but is labelled on both the side and the edge, and is easy to turn with your right thumb. Other frequently used functions such as flash mode, display mode, macro mode, manual focus, ISO setting and exposure compensation are controlled via individual buttons arranged around the navigation ring or as secondary functions of the ring itself, and are quick and easy to operate. My only quibble with the control layout is the position of the zoom control. It is positioned right under your thumb, which is convenient, but it is also very sensitive and it’s all too easy to accidentally change the zoom setting while just gripping the camera. Canon designers usually opt for a rotating ring around the shutter button, and I wish they’d done so with this camera.
Other than that minor glitch, the overall handling is excellent, and the camera is a genuine pleasure to use, although the viewfinder is very small and only covers about 75 per cent of the frame size. However since the LCD monitor is non-reflective and bright enough to use in direct sunlight, this really isn’t a problem.
On the front of the camera, the sliding lens cover doubles as the main power switch. Open it up and the camera is ready to take pictures in under a second, which is extremely quick. The nine-point autofocus system is also amazingly fast, locking on in under a second even in low light, thanks to the built-in AF illuminator. In daylight it is even quicker, and never seems to miss its target. It is certainly one of the best AF systems I’ve come across.