Canon PowerShot S95

The PowerShot S95 a small, most pocket-friendly camera that doesn't sacrifice performance to achieve its dimensions. The S95 ($400 as of January 3, 2011) is a minor upgrade to last year's highly rated (it adds 720p high-definition video capture at 24 frames per second and an HDR scene mode to the S90's array of offerings), and in many respects it's a tiny, pocketable version of the . It offers most of that camera's fun shooting modes, and its image and video quality are impressive for its size. It's also noteworthy among the five models we tested for being the most accessible to casual shooters.

The S95's most unusual feature is its control click-ring, which surrounds the camera's 3.8X optical zoom lens (28mm to 105mm) and leaves the rest of the body largely uncluttered by buttons. You can use the control ring to adjust anything from manual focus controls to aperture and shutter settings, by choosing your preferred control via a top-mounted Ring Function button. The control-ring navigation ensures that one of your hands is almost always bracing the camera by the lens, and that's a good thing: The S95 doesn't have a raised hand grip--a design decision that helps keep it compact but also makes it a bit hard to handle.

In PCWorld Labs' subjective tests of for still and video quality, the PowerShot S95 bested some of the bulkier cameras we tested. It earned high marks for color accuracy, exposure quality, and video quality, posting an overall imaging score of Very Good. Sharpness was a bit of a weak spot, and battery life was merely fair: The S95 shot just 200 images per charge of its battery.

What makes the S95 so similar to the G12 is its mix of manual controls and fun-to-use features. Color Accent, Color Swap, Miniature mode, HDR mode, and Fisheye scene mode broaden your creative horizons without requiring you to perform post-production work or image editing. Exposure bracketing, focus bracketing, aperture priority, shutter priority, and full manual modes are also in the mix for photographers who prefer traditional controls.

The PowerShot S95 even outdoes the G12 in one respect, boasting a maximum F2.0 aperture that helps make this camera a great performer in low-light situations. The camera gives you a few ways to capture low-light shots beyond employing the camera's pop-up flash: ISO settings that range up to 3200 and show a remarkable lack of noise up to about ISO 500, a dedicated low-light scene mode, manual control over the aperture size (F2.0 to F8.0), and manual control over shutter speed (15 seconds to 0.00025 second).

The S95's lack of physical buttons means that you have to perform a bit more menu-diving to access manual controls than with the other cameras in this roundup, but the control ring compensates by making many of the manual settings more immediately accessible. Burst mode is a shortcoming, supporting a maximum rate of 1.9 shots per second without autofocus turned on and only 0.7 shots per second with autofocus active. But those tradeoffs are minor in return for the impressive performance you get in other respects from this pocketable package.