So, Just How Compact is The Canon Powershot S60?
The S60 is significantly larger than Canon's Digital Elph. It still fits entirely within most shirt pockets. Its magnesium alloy body has been trimmed in size and weight from the S50, the S60's predecessor. (Weight without battery is 230 g, size is 4.4 x 2.2 x 1.5 inches.) The charger for the Lithium-Ion battery is more compact than the charger for the Digital Elph, despite the fact that the battery is larger and lasts much longer (720 mAh at 7.4 V for you number people). The charger features a fold-in power plug that makes the unit easily transportable and will work on Europe's higher (220) voltages with a simple converter plug.
I found the form factor of the S60 easy to grip. The controls for the zoom lens are thumb operated and allow for easy, smooth zooming.
The Canon S60's wide angle zoom - why you need it
I would estimate that at least 60 of my travel pictures utilize a wide angle lens of 28mm (35mm equivalent). Until now, you couldn't find a compact camera with a zoom lens that went much wider than 35mm. But Canon went a step further; they didn't chop off the telephoto to give us a 3x zoom with a 28mm equivalent wide angle lens. Canon's 3.6x zoom covers a full 28-100 mm zoom - impressive in a pocketable camera.
What are the drawbacks of putting such a long zoom range in a compact camera? Well, the telephoto has a maximum aperture of 5.3, making it a very slow telephoto. The wide angle max aperture is a more normal 2.8.
On the wide angle side, much has been made of the barrel distortion of the S60. Barrel distortion shows up when straight lines at the edge of a frame seem to bow out. Many people denounce this characteristic of the S60 with a vengeance usually reserved for ax murderers and child molesters. But is it that bad? Comparisons between the Canon S60 and my larger Minolta Dimage 7i don't show much difference; the S60 is in the same range as most digital cameras. Take care when photographing vertical and horizontal objects close up--barrel distortion gets worse as you move in. On distance shots you'll never notice it.
My Impression of the Canon Powershot S60
Most people don't read manuals. So for the first weekend's shooting I didn't either. I was able to operate the camera quite easily and make most of the adjustments I wanted. Canon has provided its usual "Func" control to give you access to most of the camera's urgently needed controls without accessing the menu. I didn't know that at first, so setting the resolution by going repeatedly through the menus was futile because it wasn't there. Sometimes you really should read the manual.
Compact cameras never feel as good in the hand as larger SLRs. But Canon has taken care to contour the camera body in such a way that gripping the S60 feels quite secure--the body is not as boxy as it looks.
The controls are much improved over the S50. The viewer automatically rotates pictures taken in portrait mode so you can see them in their natural aspect ratio.
The S60 seemed quite snappy on boot-up, a good thing if you see a picture forming that's not going to be there long.
There are plenty of advanced features built into the S60, including the ability to record in RAW mode. This is important if you want maximum quality at the minimum filesize for large pictures.
The Bottom Line - Is the Canon Powershot S60 a great compact travel camera?
The S60 is a 5 megapixel camera, which means you'll get great 11x14 photographs. I've blown a 5 mp file into 16x20 and the result was quite impressive. I've also shot a textbook cover with a 5 megapixel camera, so it's enough resolution for even high resolution printing purposes.
I'm not adverse to carrying large cameras when I travel, but the S60 will allow me to carry a camera all the time. It'll be there at dinner and other times when I'm afraid I might leave my camera bag behind because photography isn't the top thing on my mind. List price of the Canon Powershot S60 is $499. You can often find it discounted online. Just hit the Compare Prices button and you'll see market competition at work.