Canon S120 vs Sony A5100
The Canon PowerShot S120 and the Sony Alpha A5100 are two digital cameras that were revealed to the public, respectively, in August 2013 and August 2014. The S120 is a fixed lens compact, while the A5100 is a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera. The cameras are based on a 1/1.7-inch (S120) and an APS-C (A5100) sensor. The Canon has a resolution of 12 megapixels, whereas the Sony provides 24 MP.
Below is an overview of the main specs of the two cameras as a starting point for the comparison.
Going beyond this snapshot of core features and characteristics, what are the differences between the Canon PowerShot S120 and the Sony Alpha A5100? Which one should you buy? Read on to find out how these two cameras compare with respect to their body size, their imaging sensors, their shooting features, their input-output connections, and their reception by expert reviewers.
The side-by-side display below illustrates the physical size and weight of the Canon S120 and the Sony A5100. The two cameras are presented according to their relative size. Three consecutive views from the front, the top, and the rear side are shown. All size dimensions are rounded to the nearest millimeter.
The A5100 can be obtained in two different colors (black, white), while the S120 is only available in black.
If the front view area (width x height) of the cameras is taken as an aggregate measure of their size, the Sony A5100 is notably larger (17 percent) than the Canon S120. In this context, it is worth noting that neither the S120 nor the A5100 are weather-sealed.
The above size and weight comparisons are to some extent incomplete and possibly misleading, as the S120 has a lens built in, whereas the A5100 is an interchangeable lens camera that requires a separate lens. Attaching the latter will add extra weight and bulk to the setup. You can compare the optics available for the A5100 and their specifications in the Sony E-Mount Lens Catalog.
Concerning battery life, the S120 gets 230 shots out of its NB-6LH battery, while the A5100 can take 400 images on a single charge of its NP-FW50 power pack. The power pack in the A5100 can be charged via the USB port, which can be very convenient when travelling.
The adjacent table lists the principal physical characteristics of the two cameras alongside a wider set of alternatives. If you would like to visualize and compare a different camera combination, you can navigate to the CAM-parator app and make your selection from a broad list of cameras there.
|1.||Canon S120||100 mm||59 mm||29 mm||217 g||230||n||Aug 2013||449||ebay.com|
|2.||Sony A5100||110 mm||63 mm||36 mm||283 g||400||n||Aug 2014||549||ebay.com|
|3.||Canon G9 X Mark II||98 mm||58 mm||31 mm||206 g||235||n||Jan 2017||529||amazon.com|
|4.||Canon G9 X||98 mm||58 mm||31 mm||209 g||220||n||Oct 2015||529||ebay.com|
|5.||Canon G1 X Mark II||116 mm||74 mm||66 mm||553 g||240||n||Feb 2014||799||ebay.com|
|6.||Canon G16||109 mm||76 mm||40 mm||356 g||360||n||Aug 2013||549||ebay.com|
|7.||Canon G1 X||117 mm||81 mm||65 mm||534 g||250||n||Jan 2012||799||ebay.com|
|8.||Canon G15||107 mm||76 mm||40 mm||352 g||350||n||Sep 2012||499||ebay.com|
|9.||Canon SX50||123 mm||87 mm||106 mm||595 g||315||n||Sep 2012||429||ebay.com|
|10.||Canon G12||112 mm||76 mm||48 mm||401 g||370||n||Sep 2010||499||ebay.com|
|11.||Panasonic LF1||103 mm||62 mm||28 mm||192 g||250||n||Apr 2013||499||ebay.com|
|12.||Panasonic LX7||111 mm||68 mm||46 mm||298 g||330||n||Jul 2012||499||ebay.com|
|13.||Sony RX100 IV||102 mm||58 mm||41 mm||298 g||280||n||Jun 2015||999||ebay.com|
|14.||Sony A5000||110 mm||63 mm||36 mm||269 g||420||n||Jan 2014||449||ebay.com|
|15.||Sony A6000||120 mm||67 mm||45 mm||344 g||360||n||Feb 2014||599||ebay.com|
|16.||Sony NEX-3N||110 mm||62 mm||35 mm||269 g||480||n||Feb 2013||499||ebay.com|
|17.||Sony RX100||102 mm||58 mm||36 mm||240 g||330||n||Jun 2012||649||ebay.com|
|Note: Measurements and pricing do not include easily detachable parts, such as add-on or interchangeable lenses or optional viewfinders.|
Any camera decision will obviously take relative prices into account. The manufacturer’s suggested retail prices give an idea on the placement of the camera in the maker’s lineup and the broader market. The S120 was launched at a lower price than the A5100, despite having a lens built in. Usually, retail prices stay at first close to the launch price, but after several months, discounts become available. Later in the product cycle and, in particular, when the replacement model is about to appear, further discounting and stock clearance sales often push the camera price considerably down. Then, after the new model is out, very good deals can frequently be found on the pre-owned market.
The size of the sensor inside a digital camera is one of the key determinants of image quality. All other things equal, a large sensor will have larger individual pixel-units that offer better low-light sensitivity, wider dynamic range, and richer color-depth than smaller pixels in a sensor of the same technological generation. Moreover, a large sensor camera will give the photographer more control over depth-of-field in the image and, thus, the ability to better isolate a subject from the background. On the downside, larger sensors tend to be more expensive and lead to bigger and heavier cameras and lenses.
Of the two cameras under consideration, the Canon S120 features a 1/1.7-inch sensor and the Sony A5100 an APS-C sensor. The sensor area in the A5100 is 753 percent bigger. As a result of these sensor size differences, the cameras have a format factor of, respectively, 4.5 and 1.5. The sensor in the S120 has a native 4:3 aspect ratio, while the one in the A5100 offers a 3:2 aspect.
With 24MP, the A5100 offers a higher resolution than the S120 (12MP), but the A5100 nevertheless has larger individual pixels (pixel pitch of 3.91μm versus 1.89μm for the S120) due to its larger sensor. Moreover, the A5100 is a somewhat more recent model (by 11 months) than the S120, and its sensor might have benefitted from technological advances during this time that further enhance the light gathering capacity of its pixel-units.
The resolution advantage of the Sony A5100 implies greater flexibility for cropping images or the possibility to print larger pictures. The maximum print size of the A5100 for good quality output (200 dots per inch) amounts to 30 x 20 inches or 76.2 x 50.8 cm, for very good quality (250 dpi) 24 x 16 inches or 61 x 40.6 cm, and for excellent quality (300 dpi) 20 x 13.3 inches or 50.8 x 33.9 cm. The corresponding values for the Canon S120 are 20 x 15 inches or 50.8 x 38.1 cm for good quality, 16 x 12 inches or 40.6 x 30.5 cm for very good quality, and 13.3 x 10 inches or 33.9 x 25.4 cm for excellent quality prints.
The A5100 has on-sensor phase detect pixels, which results in fast and reliable autofocus acquisition even during live view operation.
The Canon PowerShot S120 has a native sensitivity range from ISO 80 to ISO 12800. The corresponding ISO settings for the Sony Alpha A5100 are ISO 100 to ISO 25600 (no boost).
In terms of underlying technology, the S120 is build around a BSI-CMOS sensor, while the A5100 uses a CMOS imager. Both cameras use a Bayer filter for capturing RGB colors on a square grid of photosensors. This arrangement is found in most digital cameras.
For many cameras, data on sensor performance has been reported by DXO Mark. This service is based on lab testing and assigns an overall score to each camera sensor, as well as ratings for dynamic range ("DXO Landscape"), color depth ("DXO Portrait"), and low-light sensitivity ("DXO Sports"). Of the two cameras under consideration, the A5100 offers substantially better image quality than the S120 (overall score 24 points higher). The advantage is based on 2.5 bits higher color depth, 0.8 EV in additional dynamic range, and 2.5 stops in additional low light sensitivity. The adjacent table reports on the physical sensor characteristics and the outcomes of the DXO sensor quality tests for a sample of comparator-cameras.
|3.||Canon G9 X Mark II||1-inch||20.0||5472||3648||1080/60p||21.9||12.5||522||65|
|4.||Canon G9 X||1-inch||20.0||5472||3648||1080/60p||21.5||12.3||495||63|
|5.||Canon G1 X Mark II||1.5-inch||13.0||4160||3120||1080/30p||21.5||10.8||581||58|
|7.||Canon G1 X||1.5-inch||14.2||4352||3264||1080/24p||21.7||10.8||644||60|
|13.||Sony RX100 IV||1-inch||20.0||5472||3648||4K/30p||22.8||12.6||591||70|
Many modern cameras are not only capable of taking still images, but can also record movies. Both cameras under consideration are equipped with sensors that have a sufficiently high read-out speed for moving images, and both provide the same movie specifications (1080/60p).
Apart from body and sensor, cameras can and do differ across a variety of features. The S120 and the A5100 are similar in the sense that neither of the two has a viewfinder. The images are, thus, framed using live view on the rear LCD. The table below summarizes some of the other core capabilities of the Canon S120 and Sony A5100 in connection with corresponding information for a sample of similar cameras.
|1.||Canon S120||none||n||3.0 / 922||fixed||Y||1/2000s||12.1/s||Y||Y|
|2.||Sony A5100||none||n||3.0 / 922||tilting||Y||1/4000s||6.0/s||Y||n|
|3.||Canon G9 X Mark II||none||n||3.0 / 1040||fixed||Y||1/2000s||8.2/s||Y||Y|
|4.||Canon G9 X||none||n||3.0 / 1040||fixed||Y||1/2000s||6.0/s||Y||Y|
|5.||Canon G1 X Mark II||optional||n||3.0 / 1040||tilting||Y||1/4000s||5.2/s||Y||Y|
|6.||Canon G16||optical||n||3.0 / 922||fixed||n||1/4000s||2.2/s||Y||Y|
|7.||Canon G1 X||optical||n||3.0 / 922||swivel||n||1/4000s||1.9/s||Y||Y|
|8.||Canon G15||optical||n||3.0 / 922||fixed||n||1/4000s||2.1/s||Y||Y|
|9.||Canon SX50||202||n||3.0 / 461||swivel||n||1/2000s||2.2/s||Y||Y|
|10.||Canon G12||optical||n||2.8 / 461||swivel||n||1/4000s||1.1/s||Y||Y|
|11.||Panasonic LF1||200||n||3.0 / 920||fixed||n||1/4000s||10.0/s||Y||Y|
|12.||Panasonic LX7||optional||n||3.0 / 920||fixed||n||1/4000s||11.0/s||Y||Y|
|13.||Sony RX100 IV||2359||n||3.0 / 1228||tilting||n||1/2000s||16.0/s||Y||Y|
|14.||Sony A5000||none||n||3.0 / 461||tilting||n||1/4000s||3.5/s||Y||n|
|15.||Sony A6000||1440||n||3.0 / 922||tilting||n||1/4000s||11.0/s||Y||n|
|16.||Sony NEX-3N||optional||n||3.0 / 460||tilting||n||1/4000s||4.0/s||Y||n|
|17.||Sony RX100||none||n||3.0 / 1229||fixed||n||1/2000s||10.0/s||Y||Y|
|Notes: *) Information refers to the mechanical shutter, unless the camera only has an electronic one.|
The Canon S120 has an intervalometer built-in. This enables the photographer to capture time lapse sequences, such as flower blooming, a sunset or moon rise, without purchasing an external camera trigger and related software.
The S120 writes its imaging data to SDXC cards, while the A5100 uses SDXC or Memory Stick PRO Duo cards. Both cameras can use UHS-I cards, which provide for Ultra High Speed data transfer of up to 104 MB/s.
For some imaging applications, the extent to which a camera can communicate with its environment can be an important aspect in the camera decision process. The table below provides an overview of the connectivity of the Canon PowerShot S120 and Sony Alpha A5100 and, in particular, the interfaces the cameras (and selected comparators) provide for accessory control and data transfer.
Mic / Speaker
|1.||Canon S120||-||stereo / mono||-||-||mini||2.0||Y||-||-|
|2.||Sony A5100||-||stereo / mono||-||-||micro||2.0||Y||Y||-|
|3.||Canon G9 X Mark II||-||stereo / mono||-||-||micro||2.0||Y||Y||Y|
|4.||Canon G9 X||-||stereo / mono||-||-||micro||2.0||Y||Y||-|
|5.||Canon G1 X Mark II||Y||stereo / mono||-||-||mini||2.0||Y||Y||-|
|6.||Canon G16||Y||stereo / mono||-||-||mini||2.0||Y||-||-|
|7.||Canon G1 X||Y||stereo / mono||-||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
|8.||Canon G15||Y||stereo / mono||-||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
|9.||Canon SX50||Y||stereo / mono||-||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
|10.||Canon G12||Y||stereo / mono||-||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
|11.||Panasonic LF1||-||stereo / mono||-||-||mini||2.0||Y||Y||-|
|12.||Panasonic LX7||Y||stereo / mono||-||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
|13.||Sony RX100 IV||-||stereo / mono||-||-||micro||2.0||Y||Y||-|
|14.||Sony A5000||-||stereo / mono||-||-||micro||2.0||Y||Y||-|
|15.||Sony A6000||Y||stereo / mono||-||-||micro||2.0||Y||Y||-|
|16.||Sony NEX-3N||-||stereo / mono||-||-||micro||2.0||-||-||-|
|17.||Sony RX100||-||stereo / mono||-||-||micro||2.0||-||-||-|
Both the S120 and the A5100 have been discontinued, but can regularly be found used on ebay. Neither of the two has a direct successor, so they represent the end of the respective camera lines from Canon and Sony. Further information on the features and operation of the S120 and A5100 can be found, respectively, in the Canon S120 Manual (free pdf) or the online Sony A5100 Manual.
So what conclusions can be drawn? Which of the two cameras – the Canon S120 or the Sony A5100 – has the upper hand? Is one clearly better than the other? Below is a summary of the relative strengths of each of the two contestants.
Advantages of the Canon PowerShot S120:
- Faster burst: Shoots at higher frequency (12.1 vs 6 flaps/sec) to capture the decisive moment.
- Easier time-lapse photography: Has an intervalometer built-in for low frequency shooting.
- Ready to shoot: Has a lens built-in, whereas the A5100 requires a separate lens.
- More compact: Is smaller (100x59mm vs 110x63mm) and thus needs less room in the bag.
- Less heavy: Is lighter even though it comes with a built-in lens (unlike the A5100).
- Sharper images: Has hand-shake reducing image stabilization built-in.
- More affordable: Was introduced at a lower price, despite coming with a built-in lens.
- More heavily discounted: Has been on the market for longer (launched in August 2013).
Reasons to prefer the Sony Alpha A5100:
- More detail: Has more megapixels (24 vs 12MP), which boosts linear resolution by 44%.
- Better image quality: Scores substantially higher (24 points) in the DXO overall evaluation.
- Richer colors: Generates noticeably more natural colors (2.5 bits more color depth).
- More dynamic range: Captures a broader range of light and dark details (0.8 EV of extra DR).
- Better low-light sensitivity: Can shoot in dim conditions (2.5 stops ISO advantage).
- Better live-view autofocus: Features on-sensor phase-detection for more confident autofocus.
- More flexible LCD: Has a tilting screen for odd-angle shots in landscape orientation.
- More selfie-friendly: Has an articulated screen that can be turned to be front-facing.
- Faster shutter: Has higher mechanical shutter speed (1/4000s vs 1/2000s) to freeze action.
- More flexible: Takes interchangeable lenses and can thus be used with specialty optics.
- Longer lasting: Gets more shots (400 versus 230) out of a single battery charge.
- Easier travel charging: Can be conveniently charged via its USB port.
- Easier device pairing: Supports NFC for fast wireless image transfer over short distances.
- More modern: Was introduced somewhat (11 months) more recently.
If the count of relative strengths (bullet points above) is taken as a measure, the A5100 is the clear winner of the contest (14 : 8 points). However, the relevance of individual strengths will vary across photographers, so that you might want to apply your own weighing scheme to the summary points when reflecting and deciding on a new camera. A professional wedding photographer will view the differences between cameras in a way that diverges from the perspective of a travel photog, and a person interested in cityscapes has distinct needs from a macro shooter. Hence, the decision which camera is best and worth buying is often a very personal one.
How about other alternatives? Do the specifications of the Canon S120 and the Sony A5100 place the cameras among the top in their class? Find out in the latest Best Travel-Zoom Camera and Best Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera listings whether the two cameras rank among the cream of the crop.
In any case, while the specs-based evaluation of cameras can be instructive in revealing their potential as photographic tools, it remains incomplete and does no justice, for example, to the way the S120 or the A5100 perform in practice. At times, user reviews, such as those published at amazon, address these issues in a useful manner, but such feedback is on many occasions incomplete, inconsistent, and unreliable.
This is where reviews by experts come in. The table below provides a synthesis of the camera assessments of some of the best known photo-gear review sites (amateurphotographer [AP], cameralabs [CL], digitalcameraworld [DCW], dpreview [DPR], ephotozine [EPZ], photographyblog [PB]). As can be seen, the professional reviewers agree in many cases on the quality of different cameras, but sometimes their assessments diverge, reinforcing the earlier point that a camera decision is often a very personal choice.
|1.||Canon S120||..||+ +||..||..||4.5/5||4.5/5||Aug 2013||449||ebay.com|
|2.||Sony A5100||4.5/5||+||..||..||4.5/5||5/5||Aug 2014||549||ebay.com|
|3.||Canon G9 X Mark II||4/5||..||4/5||75/100||4.5/5||4.5/5||Jan 2017||529||amazon.com|
|4.||Canon G9 X||3.5/5||+ +||..||..||4.5/5||4.5/5||Oct 2015||529||ebay.com|
|5.||Canon G1 X Mark II||3/5||+||..||77/100||4/5||4.5/5||Feb 2014||799||ebay.com|
|6.||Canon G16||4/5||+||..||..||4.5/5||4.5/5||Aug 2013||549||ebay.com|
|7.||Canon G1 X||5/5||+||..||76/100||4/5||4.5/5||Jan 2012||799||ebay.com|
|8.||Canon G15||4/5||+||..||76/100||4.5/5||4.5/5||Sep 2012||499||ebay.com|
|9.||Canon SX50||3/5||+ +||..||72/100||4.5/5||4.5/5||Sep 2012||429||ebay.com|
|10.||Canon G12||4/5||+||..||73/100||4.5/5||4.5/5||Sep 2010||499||ebay.com|
|11.||Panasonic LF1||3/5||+||..||..||4/5||4.5/5||Apr 2013||499||ebay.com|
|12.||Panasonic LX7||3/5||+ +||..||75/100||4/5||4.5/5||Jul 2012||499||ebay.com|
|13.||Sony RX100 IV||4.5/5||+ +||..||85/100||4/5||4.5/5||Jun 2015||999||ebay.com|
|14.||Sony A5000||3/5||+||..||..||4.5/5||4.5/5||Jan 2014||449||ebay.com|
|15.||Sony A6000||5/5||+||4.5/5||80/100||4.5/5||5/5||Feb 2014||599||ebay.com|
|16.||Sony NEX-3N||3/5||..||..||..||4.5/5||4.5/5||Feb 2013||499||ebay.com|
|17.||Sony RX100||5/5||+ +||..||78/100||4/5||5/5||Jun 2012||649||ebay.com|
|Notes: (+ +) highly recommended; (+) recommended; (o) reviewed; (..) not available.|
The review scores listed above should be treated with care, though. The ratings are only valid when referring to cameras in the same category and of the same age. Hence, a score should always be seen in the context of the camera's market launch date and its price, and comparisons of ratings among very different cameras or across long time periods have little meaning. Also, please note that some of the review sites have changed their methodology and reporting over time.
Other camera comparisons
Did this review help to inform your camera decision process? In case you would like to check on the differences and similarities of other camera models, just use the search menu below. As an alternative, you can also directly jump to any one of the listed comparisons that were previously generated by the CAM-parator tool.
- Canon 600D vs Sony A5100
- Canon 6D Mark II vs Canon S120
- Canon R6 vs Sony A5100
- Canon S120 vs Canon SX420
- Canon S120 vs Panasonic FZ1000
- Canon S120 vs Panasonic G95
- Canon S120 vs Sony A6600
- Canon S120 vs Sony WX800
- Canon T5i vs Sony A5100
- Kodak AZ901 vs Sony A5100
- Sony A5100 vs Sony A7 II
- Sony A5100 vs Sony RX10 III
Specifications: Canon S120 vs Sony A5100
Below is a side-by-side comparison of the specs of the two cameras to facilitate a quick review of their differences and common features.
|Camera Model||Canon S120||Sony A5100|
|Camera Type||Fixed lens compact camera||Mirrorless system camera|
|Camera Lens||24-120mm f/1.8-5.7||Sony E mount lenses|
|Launch Date||August 2013||August 2014|
|Launch Price||USD 449||USD 549|
|Sensor Specs||Canon S120||Sony A5100|
|Sensor Format||1/1.7" Sensor||APS-C Sensor|
|Sensor Size||7.6 x 5.7 mm||23.5 x 15.6 mm|
|Sensor Area||43.32 mm2||366.6 mm2|
|Sensor Diagonal||9.5 mm||28.2 mm|
|Sensor Resolution||12 Megapixels||24 Megapixels|
|Image Resolution||4000 x 3000 pixels||6000 x 4000 pixels|
|Pixel Pitch||1.89 μm||3.91 μm|
|Pixel Density||27.70 MP/cm2||6.55 MP/cm2|
|Moiré control||Anti-Alias filter||Anti-Alias filter|
|Movie Capability||1080/60p Video||1080/60p Video|
|ISO Setting||80 - 12,800 ISO||100 - 25,600 ISO|
|Image Processor||Digic 6||BIONZ X|
|DXO Sensor Quality (score)||56||80|
|DXO Color Depth (bits)||21.3||23.8|
|DXO Dynamic Range (EV)||11.9||12.7|
|DXO Low Light (ISO)||246||1347|
|Screen Specs||Canon S120||Sony A5100|
|Viewfinder Type||no viewfinder||no viewfinder|
|LCD Framing||Live View||Live View|
|Rear LCD Size||3.0inch||3.0inch|
|LCD Resolution||922k dots||922k dots|
|LCD Attachment||Fixed screen||Tilting screen|
|Shooting Specs||Canon S120||Sony A5100|
|Focus System||Contrast-detect AF||On-Sensor Phase-detect|
|Manual Focusing Aid||Focus Peaking||Focus Peaking|
|Max Shutter Speed (mechanical)||1/2000s||1/4000s|
|Continuous Shooting||12.1 shutter flaps/s||6 shutter flaps/s|
|Time-Lapse Photography||Intervalometer built-in||no Intervalometer|
|Fill Flash||Built-in Flash||Built-in Flash|
|Storage Medium||SDXC cards||MS or SDXC cards|
|Single or Dual Card Slots||Single card slot||Single card slot|
|UHS card support||UHS-I||UHS-I|
|Connectivity Specs||Canon S120||Sony A5100|
|External Flash||no Hotshoe||no Hotshoe|
|USB Connector||USB 2.0||USB 2.0|
|HDMI Port||mini HDMI||micro HDMI|
|Wifi Support||Wifi built-in||Wifi built-in|
|Near-Field Communication||no NFC||NFC built-in|
|Body Specs||Canon S120||Sony A5100|
|Battery Life (CIPA)||230 shots per charge||400 shots per charge|
|In-Camera Charging||no USB charging||USB charging|
100 x 59 x 29 mm
(3.9 x 2.3 x 1.1 in)
110 x 63 x 36 mm
(4.3 x 2.5 x 1.4 in)
|Camera Weight||217 g (7.7 oz)||283 g (10.0 oz)|
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