Canon Powershot S200

Compact, ultralight camera produces excellent snapshot-size photos

WHAT'S HOT: The Powershot S200's most compelling features are its size and weight. It's very light--7.7 ounces with its battery--and very small, slipping into a shirt pocket easily. In fact it's even lighter than its predecessor, the S110. The new model's attractive stainless-steel case makes the camera feel substantial and well-made despite its light weight.

The camera's battery charger is exactly the same size and shape as the camera, and it doesn't require an external power cord--the electrical prongs unfold so you can plug the whole thing into an outlet.

You can capture movies that show very smooth movement; another mode helps you line up images for stitching into a panorama later on your PC.

WHAT'S NOT: Canon revised the menus and controls that it used on the Powershot S110, but they're still awkward on the Powershot S200. Most navigation tasks require you to use two fingers: Four tiny buttons arranged in a circle (up/down/left/right) let you navigate menus, but to choose a setting, you must push a Set button on the far left side of the back panel, under the LCD display. Many settings are represented exclusively by icons in the LCD--you'll see few text labels. And as with the S110, people who have large hands will have trouble holding the camera and working the zoom switch with one hand. The S200 ships with a paltry 8MB starter CompactFlash card; the card can hold only 6 seconds of movie footage at its highest quality setting.

WHAT ELSE: Since the S200 is the third iteration of Canon's Digital Elph series, we were hoping for higher resolution this time around. Kyocera's FineCam S4 weighs a tad less and has a slightly smaller case, yet it manages to squeeze in a 4-megapixel CCD. The S200 costs $250 less than the S4, however, and it's a snapshot camera, so we can understand the rationale for not boosting the resolution. Nearly everything on the camera is set automatically.

In our image tests, the S200 scored about the same as the S110. The 4-by-6 shots we took looked very attractive--we got accurate colors, with the proper distinction between orange and red, and a fairly sharp image, though a close examination revealed some image noise (color mottling) creeping in. An 8-by-10-inch test shot showed bright colors and excellent white balance, along with incipient fuzziness (betraying the relatively low resolution); a cropped and magnified portion of the image looked extremely blurry, with no readable text.

The S200's rechargeable lithium-ion battery held out for 180 shots, or 63 minutes. That's substantially below the average for all the cameras we've tested, though it beat the FineCam S4 by about 10 minutes and 30 shots. A replacement battery costs approximately $40--cheap for a rechargeable.

UPSHOT: The S200 remains the ideal portable camera--you'll never have to decide whether to take it with you. Its images won't print well at large dimensions, but it works very well for snapshot-size prints.

By Alan Stafford

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