- Compact size
- Fast lens
- Very good images
- Slighty expensive
- No HD movie mode
- Shorter zoom range
The Canon PowerShot S90 is the latest of the “S” series point and shoot cameras that Canon created in 1999 when they released the PowerShot S10. The S10 had more features, better construction and better image quality than Canon’s other small digital cameras. The “S” series continued for several years, gathering a reputation for sophistication, through the S80 in 2005. Then Canon stopped releasing them; it appeared that the “S” series was at an end. However, over the past year there were rumors that Canon was bringing back the “S” with an innovative small camera optimized for low light performance. The result was the PowerShot S90.
As it turns out, the S90 is good in low light, for a non-DSLR camera, and packs in plenty of other interesting innovations. It has the same 10 megapixel 1/1.7 inch sensor as the PowerShot G11, which DCR’s reviewer, Jim Keenan, recently stated produced the best image quality of any compact digital camera he’d ever reviewed. Hopefully this is an additional sign that camera manufacturers have decided that it’s time to end the megapixel race, at least as far as Point and Shoot cameras are concerned.
The PowerShot S90 is also equipped with a very fast f/2.0 lens – fast than the f/2.8 maximum aperture of most high quality Point and Shoot cameras, including the G11. Theoretically, this means the S90 can shoot at lower ISOs in dim conditions. It has Canon’s latest DIGIC IV processor. It also has an interesting control ring around its 3.8x zoom lens, can shoot in RAW, and has manual exposure controls including aperture and shutter priority. While the S90 is fairly expensive for a Point and Shoot camera, it’s priced less than the G11. Let’s take a closer look at this interesting and innovative little camera.
BUILD AND DESIGN
The Canon PowerShot S90 is a fairly small camera with a smooth finish that makes it easy to slide in and out of a pocket or a purse. It has a combination metal/plastic exterior that feels pretty solid. It measures 3.9×2.3×1.2 inches and it weighs 6.17 ounces – not an ultracompact, but comfortable to carry.
The bottom of the camera contains a metal tripod mount and a sliding plastic door to the memory card/battery compartment. Separate compartments for the HDMI and A/V ports are located on one side and covered by sturdy plastic latches. I get the impression the S90 would survive a few drops (though you really don’t want to drop a fine, expensive camera like this now, do you?). The camera comes in black only.
Ergonomics and Controls
The S90 is fairly heavy for its size. While its 1.2 inch width and thumb rest at the rear makes it possible to get a good grip, its surface is slippery, so it’s not a camera you’d want to shoot with one hand.
At first glance the S90 looks very simple. Its front is smooth and uncluttered, without a visible flash. Around the lens is a control ring that users can assign one of many different shooting functions. Next to the lens is the auto focus assist lamp and a pinhole for the microphone. The top of the camera contains a pop-up flash, which, when set to auto, will pop up when the camera’s processor believes it to be required. The flash can also be set to always off or always on. The top also contains the on/off button, the shutter button with wraparound zoom control, a circular selector dial and a button called “ring function” which enables you to assign functions to the lens control ring.
The rear of the S90 is largely taken up by its 3.0 inch LCD. To the right of the screen is a four-way circular control panel that also has a control ring around it. Pressing up accesses exposure compensation, right the flash controls, down the self-timer and delete (in photo review mode) and left the camera’s macro mode. The function/set button in the center of the panel accepts menu selections and brings up the function shortcut menu. Around the panel there are buttons for displaying information on the LCD, activating the menu, printing images and reviewing photos and movies. The rear of the camera also contains the speaker and thumb rest.
Canon provides a comprehensive 179 page user guide. While I don’t mind looking at a user guide on the computer, it’s comforting to have a paper copy with you while out taking pictures, especially when you’re just getting to know your camera.
Menus and Modes
The S90 uses Canon’s two menu system – a main menu accessed by the menu button and a shortcut menu accessed by the function/set button. The main menu contains of three columns – one for shooting settings, one for camera settings, and one for any individual menu settings you choose to register. The function shortcut menu contains numerous options. You can opt to have the menu choices accompanied by a brief explanation.
The top circular selector dial interacts with the menu system, with different menu options becoming available depending on the mode selected by the dial. Here are the shooting modes available to users of the PowerShot S90:
- Auto: The camera chooses from 22 variables including scene modes, “i Contrast” (contrast compensation), servo AF (which keeps focus adjusted on moving objects), face detection and continuous optical image stabilization.
- Program: Once you are in program mode, pressing the function/set button will allow you to access a menu containing many shooting functions such as light metering, white balance, ISO, drive modes (such as continuous shooting), image recording size (including RAW mode), exposure and focus bracketing and Canon’s “my colors” mode, which lets you make numerous adjustments to the color.
- Tv (Shutter Priority): This allows the user to set the shutter speed (from 15 seconds to 1/1600 second) while the camera selects what it considers to be the appropriate aperture value. When in this mode the shutter speed is adjusted by the lens control ring.
- Av (Aperture Priority): This allows the user to set the aperture value (from f/2.0 to f/8.0) while the camera selects what it considers to be the appropriate shutter speed. In this mode, the aperture value is adjusted by the lens control ring.
- M (Manual): This allows the user control over all the camera’s functions including shutter speed and aperture value.
- C (Custom): This allows use of your registered menu settings.
- Movie: When in this mode, you can choose to record at 640×480 and 320×200, both at 30 frames per second. You can incorporate color accent and color swap features into your movies as well. Maximum movie length is an hour with a maximum recording size of 4GB. Canon recommends a class 4 SDHC memory card.
- Scene: This allows 18 scene modes, including stitch assist for making panoramas, “color accent,” “color swap,” and “nostalgia” in which colors are faded.
- Low Light: Canon recommends using this for candlelit or similarly lit scenes, with the camera automatically setting a low shutter speed and high ISO, up to 12,800 (lowering the resolution to 1824×1368 pixels, about 3 megapixels).
The S90 has a 3.0 inch LCD with very high resolution (461,000 dots) that can be adjusted to five brightness levels. The screen is bright, colorful, sharp, and fluid. In case you couldn’t tell – I really enjoyed using it. The S90 does not provide a viewfinder.