January 21, 2014

Long Exposures with the Canon PowerShot S120

One of the cameras that I have access to is the PowerShot S120, the latest addition of the popular series from Canon.  Prior to a couple of weeks ago, I hadn't spent a lot of time with this camera, opting instead to shoot with my DSLRs.  Well, when I was in Vegas for CES, a few of the guys from my team and I headed out to Valley of Fire to shoot some stars and do a little light painting.  On our way out, we got to talking about the S120 and some of the unknown capabilities that it has.  One of those is a Scene mode that allows you to shoot star trails.  This is a pretty tricky setting, you chose the duration you want to capture in 10 minute increments from 10 minutes, up to 90.  The camera then takes a series of 30 second exposures and then stitches them together in camera to give you a final star trail image.

None of us had tried this feature, so we figured that we had a great opportunity to give it a shot.  When we got to our spot, I used my Fat Gecko Vise Mount to hang my camera from a sign, picked my settings, started the exposure, and walked away.  Two of my guys did the same with their S120s.  We headed down the trail and did some painting for a couple of hours before returning to the car and our cameras.  We had no expectation of what kind of results we'd end up with.  We figured the batteries would have died.  Boy, were we surprised at the results.

This is the first result of trying out the Star Trails mode.  For this exposure, I chose 60 minutes and the camera set the 30 Second exposures at f/1.8 and ISO 400.  This is a total of 120 images, stitched together in camera.  I did some minor tweaks to contrast and shadows in post.

For this image, I chose 30 minutes for a total of 60 stacked images.  There was a lot more ambient light in this location, so the camera settings (again, decided by the camera) were f/1.8 at ISO 250.  In post, I tweaked the contrast and actually darkened the foreground a bit.

After the first couple of star trail images, I clamped my Fat Gecko mount to the leg of my tripod and shot with the S120, while shooting with my 5D Mk III.  You'll notice that several of these images are very similar to images from my last few posts as they were shot simultaneously.
This was my first attempt using manual exposure setting in the S120.  The maximum shutter length available is 250 seconds and that is what I used here at an f/8 aperture and ISO 80.  In post, I tweaked the contrast, brought the highlights down in the orbs, and opened the shadows a bit.

For this image, I tried something a bit different.  I figured we'd need longer than 250 seconds to draw all of the orbs, so instead of using manual, I went back to the star trails mode.  The camera chose f/3.5 at ISO 160.  I set capture time at 10 minutes, but stopped it before the ten minutes was up.  Unfortunately, I don't know how long it ran so I don't know how many images were stacked to make the final image.

This image was captured using the same technique and settings as the previous image.  Again, I stopped the capture before the 10 minutes was up so I don't know how many total images were used.

Again, same technique and settings as the previous two images.

This last image was captured using the manual mode in the camera.  This is a 100 second exposure at f/7.1 and ISO 80.  As a side note, at anything longer than 1/30 sec exposure, you are not able to adjust the ISO settings.

As you can see, the results were remarkable for a point and shoot camera.  Straight out of camera, the images are pretty solid.  With a little tweaking in post, they are fantastic.  If you are wondering how the images hold up in print, well, we wondered the same thing.  It just so happened that we had access to a couple of large format printers at the Canon booth at CES.  So, I asked the printer guys to run a print to see how it would do.  They ran it on the big printer, 42 inches wide.  One again, I had no expectations about the results, and once again, I was fascinated by the results.  The print looked amazing.

This camera has now earned a regular spot in my bag.  You'll definitely be seeing more images in the future.


  1. Awesome pictures Jeff, I cannot wait to try out the Star Trail mode and all the other settings on the Camera, gonna take me a while to suss out all the different settings, but I'm sure I'll get it.

  2. Thanks, David! It is a fun feature on a great little camera. While you at it, play with the star trails mode during the day. It creates some really interesting effects.


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