Why I Still Use My Canon PowerShot S3 IS Camera

Considering how fast the digital camera world moves forward (in terms of technology), you might find it surprising that I – a huge technology geek – am still using my 2006-vintage Canon PowerShot S3 IS camera, even though it has been replaced by more than a few new models from Canon (at least 5 new models, by my count – and quite possibly more).

Now you might be wondering why I’m sticking with an older camera like this – but I assure you, there is a very good reason. And that reason is, basically, that Canon has not come out with a newer, “better” camera that is comparable to the venerable S3 in terms of features, price, performance, and accessories.

For example, the direct successor to the S3 is the S5, which is basically the same camera, but with 8 megapixels instead of 6, a newer image processor, and a hot shoe for attaching an auxiliary flash.

Sounds great, right? Well, yes and no. While at first glance the S5 seems like it is “better,” there is one other change that’s really annoying – the memory card slot on the S5 is on the bottom of the camera, inside the battery compartment, instead of on the side like in the S3. This means that you can’t switch memory cards easily while on a tripod, since the battery compartment is usually blocked by your tripod mount. And while this seems like a minor nit-pick, you also have to consider that the other new features of the S5 just aren’t quite compelling enough to justify buying an entirely new camera. (Remember: these cameras aren’t cheap, and they don’t have the same resale value that a full DSLR would have.)

There are more examples as well. Moving up the Canon “S” series of cameras we come to the SX10 and Sx20. Now, these are both very nice cameras, but again, they have some downsides that make it just not-quite-good-enough to justify spending a whole bunch of money on a new camera.

One aspect of the new cameras in the “S” series is that the lens speed (i.e.,largest aperture setting) has been slowly going down.  My S3 has a max aperture of  f/2.7 at the wide end, and f/3.5 at full zoom – but the SX10 and SX20 have max apertures of  f/2.8 at the wide end and f/5.7 at full zoom.

And things don’t get any better if you jump up to the next range of Canon cameras – the PowerShot G series. Oh, sure, the early G series cameras had decently fast lenses (f/2.0 at the wide end, which is impressive for what is technically still a “point and shoot” camera), but the later G series all got bumped up to f/2.8 at the wide end, which is… not as impressive.

(For those who are a little confused as to what I’m talking about with these crazy f-numbers and references to “fast” lenses, this article from Wikipedia offers a good explanation. Generally speaking, a smaller f-number means a larger aperture, which means more light can come into the camera in a given amount of time.)

And let’s not forget that I’ve invested a fair bit of change into accessories for my camera. I’ve got filters and wide-angle lens adapters, which I would prefer not to have to re-buy with a new camera. Now, while the S5 would take the same accessories, but the SX10 and SX20 would not. And as for the G series, well, some of them support my accessories (mostly the earlier models) but some do not.

And I’m still not done – because some of the models above have the nice swivel-screen that is so handy to have, but others don’t. And some have the same electronic viewfinder, but others have a rather simple see-through preview hole, which does not actually show you what your picture will look like (instead, you have to use the full-sized screen).

I also am rather particular in my camera using regular AA-size batteries, so that I can find replacements easily in the field if I need to. Also, I can carry extra spares easily and charge them all using standard battery chargers, instead of needing special manufacturer-specific chargers.

So, as you can see, while there are many newer cameras to choose from, none offers the same excellent mix of features and accessories as my venerable old S3:

  • Swivel screen
  • Side-accessible memory card slot (not in the battery compartment)
  • Uses standard AA batteries
  • Accessories via a 58 mm mount on an adapter tube
  • Viewfinder that shows a full view of what the sensor sees (it’s electronic, not optical, but it’s still handy)
  • Good optical zoom range (12x)
  • Decent lens speed (f/2.7 – f/3.5)

For sure, newer cameras offer some of the same features (along with other benefits from being newer & using better technology), but none of them offers the same blend of features. And none of the benefits of the new cameras is, as of yet, compelling enough to make me spend several hundred dollars on a new camera, when my old one does just fine, thank you, and has all these features that I like, and won’t require me to re-purchase all new accessories.

Maybe someday Canon will come out with a new camera that offers the same features as the PowerShot S3, but with upgraded technology (hint hint, Canon!), then maybe I’ll consider upgrading. But until that day comes, I’m sticking with my trusty little S3.

Photos licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 license. Photo credits: HendrixEesti, Yug and Rama. (Click on the photos themselves for further details.)

By Keith Survell

Geek, professional programmer, amateur photographer, crazy rabbit guy, only slightly obsessed with cute things.


  1. Randy says:

    Agreed! I have an S2 which is comparable to the S3. The screen is a little too small, and the silver color takes some getting used to, so I’d rather have an S3. The cameras with the card under the battery cover are a nuisance. Batteries scatter when the card is removed. I bought a used A650 thinking it would be the perfect camera, It’s compact and has a swivel screen, however the zoom lever does not have as much control as on the S2, and I sometimes miss the super zoom of the S2. So now I’m looking for a used S3 to purchase. Funny a better camera hasn’t been invented yet.

    1. Keithius says:

      The S3 and the S2 are almost identical, aside from a slightly bigger screen and 1 more megapixel. They can even use the same accessories!

      I’m looking forward to some of the new micro-four-thirds cameras (e.g., Olympus PEN) that are coming out; it seems like some of them might be able to finally compare with the utility of the S3 (with the added bonus of real interchangeable lenses). But we’ll see… they’re still a bit too expensive.

      1. Jamie says:

        Same problem! I’ve been busting my balls looking for a camera that has the same features as my old beloved S3 but up-to-date and with RAW capabilities. Anyone found anything yet? (written march 2011). Looked at the samsung ex1 today – it just didnt FEEL like I was holding a camera, just an electronic box. Then there was The Canon G12. Nice but that viewfinder……just not good enough. Jesus, with an lcd screen only, or as the main viewing function, it just feels like your not “there” when ur taking the shot. Virtual reality?
        Any help/ suggestions greatly appreciated!
        PS: Anyone tried the CHDK updat on the s3? Allows RAW among other things….

        1. Keithius says:

          I’ve tried CHDK, and it works, but I didn’t have much luck with the RAW files (Photoshop wouldn’t import them – although I may have been doing it wrong). In the end I gave up on it, as it was just slightly too much of a hassle for me, and I don’t care to use RAW (I’m a lazy post-processor, so I prefer to just get JPG’s out of my camera).

          So far no luck finding something comparable to the S3 but up-to-date… though some of the new Micro-four-thirds cameras are starting to look pretty good… still too expensive at the moment, though.

  2. tongsolution says:

    The Canon Powershot S2 Is is just great, especially the macro mode is fantastic. The Fotoapperat comes close to an SLR ziehmlich and is very handy. It can be pretty much set everything. You buy it you will not regret it

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