Bearing in mind that physically the Canon S95 is more or less the same as the PowerShot S90 (it's a touch smaller than the S90 and now uses the same coating as found on the Canon 7D semi-pro DSLR in a bid to improve grip), first impressions of the camera are good.
The sleek body and metal finish lend it air of class, while its miniature size belies its impressive stats. The little brother of the Canon G12, this is probably one of the only high-end compacts on the market that is truly pocketable. As well as adding to the sleek design, it's nice not to have a fiddly lenscap to keep track of such as on the likes of the Panasonic LX5.
Photographers familiar with Canon's IXUS range will be at home with the buttons and layout on the back of the camera, while the scroll wheel and mode dial are more reminiscent of their DSLR range. The buttons are fairly well laid out and easy to use on the back of the camera, however the closeness of the 'ring function' and 'on/off' button on top of the camera was sometimes frustrating.
The mode dial itself is a little stiff, but some may like this as it means it won't slip out of your favoured mode as it glides in and out of a pocket. Although it's obviously streamlined, the shutter button could do with being a little bit more beefy and less delicate, as it is it seems to get a little lost on the top of the camera and isn't very satisfying to push.
The Canon S95 brings over the ring function from the PowerShot S90, a turnable ring around the base of the lens which you can use to change a variety of functions including aperture, ISO, exposure, white balance and zoom. In practice, I found it most useful to use this for ISO as there is, annoyingly, no dedicated ISO button elsewhere on the camera (although you can set the shortcut button to this if you wish).
It's odd that there's no dedicated movie record button either, as the Canon S95 boasts 720p HD video recording. Not only does this mean that you can't film in creative modes (with the exception of miniature mode), but it's a little fiddly having to flick the mode dial around when you're in a hurry.
The flash is a little clunky, and relies on electronic operation by pressing a button on the scroll wheel, which again can slow things down if you want illumination in a hurry, it also feels a little cheap compared to the rest of the body.
The 3in PureColour II G LCD screen is large and bright, and performed well when we used it on a sunny day. You can bring up a histogram for on-the-fly levels checking as you shoot, albeit meaning you have to put up with grid guides too.
One of the key concerns with any compact is start-up and write times. In other words, how quickly can you go from switched off to picture taking. With the camera set in AV mode, it took around a second to boot up, with another couple to focus and take. Not exactly lightning speed, but it should do for most situations.
Write time when set on RAW+L is pretty quick, and if you wanted to speed it even further you could always switch off the preview.