Canon PowerShot S230 Digital ELPH Camera

05 Jul
Camera QuickLook
Review Date
User Level
Novice to Advanced
Product Uses
Family / Travel / Special Events
Digicam Design
Automatic Exposure Control
Picture Quality
Good, 3.2-megapixel CCD
Print Sizes
4×6, 5×7, 8×10 inches
Suggested Retail Price



Canon’s Digital ELPH cameras have consistently been characterized by small size, solid build quality, and a generous range of features. Until now though, they’ve been limited to a resolution of two-megapixels, a level that’s sufficient to make good-looking 8×10 prints, but that’s now increasingly behind the times. With the S230, Canon adds a 3.2-megapixel CCD to the ELPH line, as well as an improved nine-area AiAF autofocus system. While the improvements are more evolutionary than revolutionary, the increase in resolution alone will likely be enough to make the PowerShot S230 a runaway best-seller. All in all, the S230 is very much an ELPH, with all the sterling qualities that name implies, but now with half again as much resolution as its predecessors. Read on for all the details!



Camera Overview
Made from virtually the same mold as the Canon ELPH PowerShot S200, the PowerShot S230 features the distinctive ELPH styling and small dimensions that have characterized that line. The ELPH cameras’ small size continues to please consumers, as does their consistently good image quality and overall performance. Like the rest of the ELPHs, the S230 can go anywhere, even underwater with the optional accessory housing. The S230’s rugged, all-metal body can withstand heavy usage, and its flat front when the lens is retracted makes the camera very pocket friendly. Equipped with a 3.2-megapixel (effective) CCD, the S230 captures good-quality images, with enough resolution to make sharp 8×10 prints. Combine this with a sharp, 2x zoom lens, straightforward user interface, and plentiful exposure options, and the S230 should appeal to a wide audience.

The S230 has a 2x, 5.4-10.8mm glass zoom lens, equivalent to a 35-70mm zoom on a 35mm camera. Aperture is automatically controlled, but the maximum setting ranges from f/2.8 at full wide angle to f/4 at full telephoto. A maximum 3.2x digital zoom option increases the S230’s zoom capabilities to 6.4x, but keep in mind that digital zoom decreases the image quality in direct proportion to the magnification, as it simply crops out and enlarges the center pixels of the CCD image. Focus ranges from 1.5 feet (47 centimeters) to infinity in normal AF mode, and from 3.9 inches to 1.5 feet (10 to 47 centimeters) in Macro mode. An Infinity fixed-focus mode is also available. The S230 uses a sophisticated, nine-point AiAF (Artificial Intelligence Autofocus) system to determine focus. This autofocus system uses a broad active area in the center of the image with no fewer than nine AF points to determine the focusing distance. In my testing, I found the AiAF system to be very precise, especially with the slightly off-center subjects that can cause problems for cameras with center-only autofocus systems. The S230 also has a built-in AF assist light, which greatly aids the focusing system in dim lighting conditions. For composing images, the S230 has a real-image optical viewfinder, as well as a 1.5-inch color LCD monitor. The LCD reports a fair amount of camera information, but excludes details such as aperture and shutter speed. In Playback mode, a histogram display reports the tonal distribution of a captured image, useful in determining over and underexposure. (A histogram option is very unusual on consumer-oriented cameras like the S230.) Viewfinder framing was nearly 100 percent accurate with the LCD monitor, though just slightly loose (meaning the LCD display showed slightly more than what made it into the final image), but the optical viewfinder proved rather tight, with about 83 percent frame accuracy.

Like the rest of the ELPH line, exposure control is largely automatic. The S230 does provide some manual adjustments though, as well as a couple of exposure modes. A Mode switch in the top right corner of the rear panel selects the main operating mode, offering Record, Movie, and Playback modes. Within Record mode, you can choose between Auto, Manual, and two Stitch-Assist modes (selectable by holding down the Set button). Shutter speeds range from 1/1,500 to 15 seconds, with the one- to 15-second end of the range available only in Long Shutter mode. Long Shutter mode automatically engages a Noise Reduction system, producing surprisingly “clean” images even in very dim lighting conditions. There’s also an autofocus illuminator lamp on the front of the camera, enabled by a menu selection, that helps the camera focus in low light situations. (Excellent low light capability like this is also quite rare in mostly-automatic cameras like the S230.) In straight Auto mode, the S230 functions as a pure point & shoot, with the camera controlling everything about the exposure apart from file size, flash mode, etc. Manual mode provides more hands-on control, with White Balance, Exposure Compensation, ISO, and a range of creative effects available. Even in Manual mode, camera operation is straightforward and simple, as you just point and shoot most of the time. Halfway pressing the Shutter button sets focus and exposure, and the small LEDs next to the optical viewfinder let you know when the camera is ready to take the picture.

The S230 uses an Evaluative metering system, which means that the camera divides the image area into multiple zones and considers contrast and brightness variations between the zones to determine the best overall exposure. A Spot metering option ties the exposure to the very center of the frame, and is useful for off-center or high contrast subjects, since you can pinpoint the exact area of the frame to base the exposure on. (This is very handy for dealing with backlit subjects.) Exposure Compensation increases or decreases the overall exposure from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments, in all modes except Automatic, simply by pressing the Exposure Compensation / White Balance button on the back panel. The same button activates the White Balance settings menu, which offers Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, and Custom (manual) settings. (The Custom white balance option lets you handle unusual lighting by using a white card to tell the camera what “color” white is. This is a powerful feature usually associated with higher-end digicams, a pleasant surprise to find on the S230.) A third press of the same button displays the Photo Effect menu, which adjusts image sharpening, color, and saturation.

In Auto mode, the camera automatically adjusts the ISO (light sensitivity) rating across a range from ISO 50 to 150, but in Manual mode, the available ISO range expands, including 50, 100, 200, and 400 ISO equivalents. The S230’s built-in flash operates in Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced On, Suppressed, and Slow-Synchro modes, and the exposure-lock function works the same for both flash and non-flash shooting. Like most digicams, the S230 will lock exposure and focus when you half-press and hold the shutter button, but (as with most cameras) that mode locks only non-flash exposure, and the lock only holds while you keep the shutter button halfway depressed. You can lock the S230’s exposure more permanently by half-pressing and holding down the shutter button, and then pressing spot-metering (up-arrow) button on the camera’s back panel while you’re still holding down the shutter button. If a flash exposure is called for, the flash will fire, and the legend “FEL” (flash exposure lock) will appear in the corner of the LCD display. If the flash isn’t required, the camera will simply trip its shutter and then display the legend “AEL” (auto exposure lock) on the LCD. The exposure will remain locked until the shutter button is finally fully pressed, the flash mode is changed, or the spot-metering (up-arrow) button is pressed again. As with many other features on the S230, a flexible exposure lock option like this is seldom found on compact cameras. The mode of actuation is a little awkward, since it requires two hands and the controls are inconveniently positioned. (It would have been much more convenient if the “Set” button was used instead of the up-arrow control.) Still, it’s a great feature to see included on a subcompact camera model.

A two- or 10-second self-timer option counts down by flashing a small LED on the front of the camera before firing the shutter, giving you time to duck around the camera and get into the shot. (The two-second option is great for times when you’ve propped the camera on a table, rock, or other rickety support to snap a photo in dim lighting conditions, and don’t want the pressure of your finger on the Shutter button to jostle it.) Stitch-Assist mode is the S230’s panoramic shooting mode, which lets you shoot as many as 26 consecutive images, keeping the exposure and white balance the same for all of them, and providing a convenient image overlay to help you line the shots up with each other. The series of images can then be “stitched” together into one large panoramic photo with Canon’s included software. Two Stitch-Assist modes are available, one going from right to left and the other in reverse. The S230 also has a Movie record mode, which records moving images with sound for as long as three minutes per clip, depending on the resolution setting and amount of memory card space. (Movies are recorded at either 640 x 480, 320 x 240, or 160 x 120 pixels.) Finally, a Continuous Shooting mode captures a series of images in rapid succession, much like a motor drive on a traditional camera. Shooting speeds in Continuous mode average about 2 frames per second, although the interval between the first two shots in the series is somewhat longer, roughly 0.75 seconds, vs the 0.5 seconds of subsequent frames. The number of shots you can take before the camera has to pause to copy the photos to the memory card likewise varies with resolution, ranging from 17 shots (!) in large/fine mode to 65 in small/basic. (Of course, you’re always restricted by the available space on your memory card: You won’t get 17 large/fine shots in a sequence if your card only has room for three.)

The S230 stores its images on CompactFlash Type I memory cards. A 16MB card accompanies the camera, but I really recommend picking up a larger capacity card, so you can take all the shots you want without worrying about memory space. Memory cards are dirt cheap these days (I’m writing this in early November, 2002), with 64MB cards selling for only $20-30 in some outlets. Buy a nice big memory card, and it’ll be money well spent.

The S230 uses a rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack for power, one of which accompanies the camera, along with the necessary battery charger. I couldn’t conduct my normal power tests on the S230, because Canon didn’t give me the necessary power adapter cable with the camera. – Casual testing showed a worst-case battery life of well over 90 minutes, a good level for a compact camera. Because you can’t use AA-type batteries as spares for the S230, I’d strongly advise picking up an extra battery pack and keeping it freshly charged. (Several third parties now sell battery packs matching the one in the S230, so they should be readily available in the market.) The optional AC adapter is useful for preserving battery power when reviewing and downloading images, connecting via a “dummy” battery that inserts into the camera’s battery compartment. A USB cable and interface software are also packaged with the camera, for downloading images to a computer and performing minor organization and image adjustments. Finally, an A/V cable connects the S230 to a television set, for reviewing or composing images. The S230 is DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatible, with detailed print settings in the Playback menu. Canon offers a selection of direct-connect printers as well, simplifying printing even more by letting you print directly from the camera. (For more information on these, read my review of the Canon CP-100 dye-sublimation photo printer. Some recent Canon inkjet printers also support direct-connect printing.)

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Posted by on July 5, 2011 in Uncategorized


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