DigitalCameraReview.com
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-S90 Digital Camera Review
by Ben Stafford -  9/7/2005

Introduction
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-S90 provides a solid point-and-shoot, 4 megapixel experience. While it doesn't include many manual settings or cutting edge features, the camera provides solid image quality, good indoor shot performance, and minimal shutter lag for under $300.

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In the Box
From Sony, you will receive the camera, two "AA" NH-AA-DA NiMH batteries, BC-CS2 battery charger and cord, A/V & USB multi-cable, wrist strap, software CD-ROM.

Features
The Sony Cyber-shot S90 is a 4 megapixel camera with a 3x optical zoom and 2x digital zoom. The camera has a nice 2.5 inch LCD and does include an optical viewfinder. The LCD does adjust its brightness depending on the ambient light. (If you walk into a dark room, the LCD image brightens).

The start up time is just ok. It is much faster than the time that it takes to turn off, but it doesn't have a "quick" start up time. Shutter lag is minimal after the camera is already focused (by depressing the shutter partway) so you won't miss those quickly passing moments. Auto focus is quick, even in dark areas (with the help of the focus assist light).

The Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar lens has a focal length of 39 -- 117 mm (35 mm equivalent). In normal shooting mode, the focus range starts at 19.75 inches and goes to infinity. In Macro mode, you can shoot at subjects as close as 3.8 inches.

For image capture modes, the S90 has an Auto mode, Manual mode, then several "scene modes": Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Soft Snap, Landscape, Beach, Snow, and Candle. The S90 doesn't have a shutter priority or aperture priority settings. You can also apply Sepia or Black & White effects.

Images can be captured at 2304x1728, 2304X1536, 2048x1536, 1280x960, and 640x480. There are also 2 JPEG compression settings: Fine and Standard.

The ISO sensitivity can be adjusted while in Manual shooting mode -- you can choose Auto, 80, 100, 200, or 400. Exposure compensation (EV compensation) can be set in Manual mode from -2 to +2 at 1/3 stop increments. The white balance can also be set in Manual mode: choose from Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, and Incandescent.

The built-in flash has a range up to 12.5 feet. The flash modes are Auto, Forced On, Forced Off, or Slow Synchro. I was very impressed with the strength of this flash. When I was testing, it was adequately illuminating the far wall of a dark room adjacent to the room that I was in (more than 20 feet away).

There are a couple "drive" options. You can shoot in Normal, Self Timer (10 sec), Burst, and Multi-Burst (you can capture 4 frames at 0.7 frames/second).

The S90 has 30 MB of internal memory, so if you're missing your Memory Stick (or Memory Stick Pro), you can rely on the internal memory to store about 30 images at full resolution with Standard compression.

The lengths of movies are limited only by storage capacity. If you shoot movies in MPEG VX Fine mode, you need to have Memory Stick PRO media. MPEG VX Standard (640 x 480 at 16fps) and Video Mail mode (160 x 112 at 8fps) don't require the PRO media.

The S90 uses 2 AA sized batteries, alkaline or rechargeable. Sony ships two NiMH rechargeable batteries and a charger with the camera. Battery life was very good, enough juice for a couple hundred shots.

The DISP button on the back of the camera lets you adjust the amount of information on the screen when you're taking or reviewing pictures. A nice feature is the live histogram when capturing images to let you know if a shot is under- or over-exposed.

Form & Design
The S90 is a pretty standard looking, no frills camera. The body is primarily plastic, so it's also not heavy. There is a hand grip for your right hand that makes it comfortable to hold.

Along the top of the camera is the power button, which is very small, and the shutter release button in the middle of the shooting mode dial.

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On the front of the camera, you can see the lens, viewfinder, flash assist light, and flash.

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To the upper right of the LCD is the rocker-type zoom control. In the lower right corner is the directional pad (4 directions and a button in the middle), the Menu button, the button that controls the LCD options and the Image Size/Delete button.

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The bottom of the camera has a tripod mount, the "multi-connector" interface and the door to access the battery and memory card.

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Image Quality
The image quality of the S90 surprised me. The camera handles low light well and the flash seems to be a lot more powerful than Sony claims. Indoor shots turned out well. The colors were accurate but maybe a tad too vibrant (see the macro flower shot below and the picture of John Deere tractors). In some shots, especially where the foreground and background were lit at different ends of the spectrum, the Sony had a little trouble with overexposure (see the grass in the sunny area of the chair picture).  Also, purple fringing in high contrast situations seemed a bit higher than average.


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Yes, that's a 550 pound squash on the left! [larger] [fullsize]

Noise levels were good at ISO 80 and 100. At ISO 200, it starts to become apparent, but not bad. At ISO 400 noise levels were pretty high.

Full Specifications
Recording Media: 32MB internal flash memory1, Memory Stick Media, Memory Stick PRO Media
Lens Construction: 5 Elements in 7 Groups, 2 Aspheric Elements
Zoom: 3X Optical Zoom
Smart Zoom Feature: 0 -- 10X (at VGA Resolution)
Digital Zoom: Precision, 0 -- 2.0X Range, 6X Total
Filter Diameter: 30mm, by required VAD-PEB adaptor
Focal Length: 6 -- 18mm
35mm Equivalent: 39 -- 117mm
Auto Focus: 5 Area Multi-Point AF, Center AF, 5-Step Manual
Minimum Focus Distance: 19 3/4" (50cm) Telephoto
Macro Mode: 3 7/8" (10cm)
Shutter Speed: 1/8 -- 1/1000 sec. (Auto); 2 -- 1/1000 sec (Program Auto); 30 -- 1/1000sec (Manual)
Aperture Range: f2.8 -- f5.6 (W), f5.2 -- f10 (T)
Exposure Compensation: +/- 2.0 EV, 1/3 EV Steps
Color LCD: 2.5" 115K Pixel TFT LCD Screen2
Flash Modes: Auto/Forced On/Forced Off/Slow Synchro
Red-Eye Reduction: On/Off
Flash Effective Range: 1.6 -- 12.5 ft. (0.5 -- 3.8m)
White Balance: Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Incandescent
Burst Mode: 4 Shot 4MP (JPEG fine), 30 Shot VGA (JPEG std.), 0.7fps
Picture Effects: Sepia, Black & White
ISO: Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400
Scene Modes: Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Soft Snap, Landscape, Beach, Snow, Candle
Self-Timer: Yes, 10 Seconds
Audio/Video Output: Yes, Multi-pin connector, NTSC/PAL Selectable
Still Image Modes: Normal (JPEG Fine/Standard), Burst, Multi-Burst
MPEG Movie Modes: MPEG VX Fine with Audio (640 x 480 at 30fps), (MPEG VX Fine requires Memory Stick PRO media) MPEG VX Standard with Audio (640 x 480 at 16fps), Video Mail (160 x 112 at 8fps) with Audio
Microphone/Speaker: Yes/Yes
USB Terminal: Yes, Multi-pin connector; Supports USB 2.03
Memory Stick PRO Media Compatibility: Tested to support up to 2 GB media capacity4; does not support Access Control security function
Compatible Battery: "AA" NiMH, "AA" Alkaline, "AA" Nickel-Metal Manganese
Supplied Software: Picture Package for Sony v1.6 (Windows), Pixela ImageMixer VCD2 (Macintosh), USB Driver, Cyber-shot Life tutorial (Windows)
OS Compatibility: Microsoft Windows 98/98SE/Me/ 2000/XP Home/XP Pro; Macintosh OS 9.1/9.2/OS X (10.0 - 10.3)
Supplied Accessories: "AA" NH-AA-DA NiMH Battery x 2, BC-CS2 Battery Charger and Cord, A/V & USB Multi-cable, Wrist Strap, Software CD-ROM
Dimensions: 4 3/4" x 2 1/2" x 1 5/8" (96.6 x 64.4 x 40.1mm)
Weight: 7.1 oz (202g) Body; 8.9 oz. (253g) Body w/Batteries, Media, Wrist Strap

Conclusion
The S90 is a solid 4 megapixel camera with a nice 2.5 inch LCD. The camera won't win any cutting edge design awards, but it takes good pictures. Users who shoot a lot indoors will be pleased, especially in the sub-$300 price range. Although the camera is a bit slow to turn on and off, the shutter lag is minimal, so capturing a child splashing in water will be a cinch.

Pros
Low shutter lag
Excellent LCD screen
Good image quality
Powerful flash
Quick access to shooting modes (using the mode dial)

Cons
Color saturation may be too much for some
Not many manual options (may be a "con" for some)
So-so looks
Slow power up and power down
Exposure problems in difficult lighting