Canon S90 Reviews

First published on: Monday, 12 October 2009

Last update (Dec 11, 2009): David Pogue’s take on the Canon S90.

This post is a compilation of Canon PowerShot S90 professional and user reviews, owner opinions and experiences, tests, conclusions, ratings and feedback.

Canon S90

Full attribution is given by linking to the source and where available, the author’s homepage or photo gallery.

David Pogue’s take on the Canon S90 — David reviewed both the S90 and Panasonic GF1 in his article Big Sensors, Shrinking Cameras, and concludes:

This camera (the S90) takes better photos than any other pocket camera on the market.


These cameras proudly establish brand-new spots on the spectrum between little shirt-pocket cameras and great big S.L.R. cameras. None of them may offer Desirable Features 1 through 20, inclusive — no camera ever will. But if you’re willing to pay nearly double for better photos and less bulk, they come closer than any cameras have before.

An interesting poll on DPReview — An overwhelming majority of S90 owners say that they would buy the S90 again.

Full-resolution Canon S90 test images at DC Watch (Google’s English translation)

Canon S90 -- Full resolution test images at DC Watch

There’s a ton of full-sized images that come straight from the S90 in this article. The photos range from architecture to scenics to landscapes / cityscapes and macros / close-ups. There are even night photos taken at various ISO values (ISO80, ISO100, ISO200, ISO400, ISO800, ISO 1600, ISO 3200). High-ISO comparison shots of the same scene taken with the Panasonic LX3 are also provided.

ProtoPhoto has the perfect summary on the huge appeal that S90 presents to the photographic community:

If however, you are like me in that you are DSLR owner who doesn’t want to carry a bag at all, but wants a true shirt pocket alternative… then such a small camera that has RAW, IS, extensive manual controls, and a fast lens with a large (for a compact) sensor that is specifically designed for low light conditions… are there any alternatives? I don’t think so, not really.

This is why I am so interested in the S90 specifically, rather than some of the other enthusiast grade “compacts”.

If you’re still on the fence deciding whether to purchase the Canon G11 Canon S90, read the two-part forum post extravaganza by ebrandon (Part 1, Part 2), which details the differences and similarities between the Canon G11 vs Canon S90.

Canon G11 vs Canon S90, by ebrandon

Ken Rockwell points out an outstanding usability feature on the S90:

First compact camera with two click-stopped direct control rings, which is better than DSLRs! Few compacts have even one control ring, and DSLRs have maybe one.

This means you can make your settings directly and instantly, without the stupid press-and-spin nonsense of DSLRs. The S90 lets you set your camera instantly, just like cameras of the old days. You can program the rings as you want. I program the ring around the lens as exposure compensation, and the one on the back as ISO. In manual mode, you can set one for aperture and another for shutter speed — just like a real camera!

You can flick the big front control ring with one fingertip. This is worlds better than the dorky top-mounted thing on the G10 and G11.

HardwareZone previews the Canon PowerShot S90

HardwareZone previews the Canon PowerShot S90

Alvin Soon focuses on the handling aspects of the camera in this review, and has this to say about the control ring:

In real life, we found that using the control ring takes some getting used to. Unlike a DSLR which has some size and weight to keep it steady when adjusting the lens’ zoom or focus, the S90’s small size and light weight means that when you adjust the control ring, the camera tends to jiggle about.

Is the control ring useful practically? Yes, it’s a marvelous tool to get into and change settings like aperture immediately when you’re in aperture mode. You can also set the control ring to control other settings (one at a time though), like ISO, zoom and exposure, so you’ll always have a single, quick way to adjust those parameters on the fly.

At the same time, because the camera tends to move about while using the control ring, we found ourselves focusing, adjusting, and re-focusing again. So while the controls offer you as much power as a DSLR over settings like aperture and shutter speed, it doesn’t offer you the power as conveniently as a DSLR.

How easy would it be to put the S90 in your pocket compared to the Panasonic LX3? Tom Hoots says:

The LX3 is fully two inches thick at the lens cap. I’ve always carried it in my front left jeans pocket, but it’s just about the biggest thing you can barely fit in there.

The S90 is less than one-and-one-quarter of an inch thick — dropping three-quarters of an inch off of a camera’s thickness is HUGE when it comes to “pocketability.” Plus, the S90 is substantially smaller in its other dimensions. Plus, it is smooth, with rounded corners, and everything is “flush” — whereas the LX3 is a veritable porcupine with things poking out everywhere. The S90 is first and foremost a “pocket” camera — definitely, it’s a big part of what appeals to me about it so much.

The S90 is only a few millimeters larger than the SD880IS — seven millimeters thicker, maybe ten millimeters wider, and one millimeter taller. And people have been pocketing cameras in this size range for years — the S90 should be as pocketable as any SD-series camera.

“Zoom Resume” on the S90 — Tom Hoots explains this feature:

If you’re into Zoom Resume (camera starts up with lens at the focal length you last left it), you can assign the Zoom function to the control ring, and so long as you use that to adjust your zoom, the camera will indeed turn on and move the lens to the last zoom setting you chose.

This makes it very convenient to take multiple photos of the same scene (say, a still life or product photo) with the zoom at the last position you had it at before the camera goes into automatic power-off.

The same “resume” feature, unfortunately, isn’t available for manual focus.

Night photos with the G11 and S90

Night photos with the G11 and S90, by ebrandon

Ebrandon has shared two sets of images of night scenes taken with the Powershot G11 in two forum posts. The two posts also compares the G11 to the S90 with regards to low-light shooting.

In the first post, Ebrandon mentioned the following noteworthy points:

  1. … the S90 and G11 are both exceptionally good P&S cameras for night, indoor, low light, or artificial light shooting.

  2. First, the AF (autofocus) is very fast and very accurate in low light. You just forget about this as an issue and shoot away.

  3. Second, the IS (image stabilization) works exceptionally well on both cameras.

  4. Third, the auto white balance (AWB) on these camera is nothing short of miraculous. I have shot Canon 20D & 5D & Rebels, Nikon D3, Olympus E-3 & E-520 & E30 & E-P1, Panasonic LX3 & ZS3 & G1 and have never seen auto white balance performance like this.

  5. Next the evaluative metering was exceptionally good too. In this picture I pointed the camera right at the bright lights and did a half-shutter press. 99% of cameras would have underexposed the scene, giving you two lights against a black background. These Canons were smart enough to know that that’s not the picture I was trying to take. Time after the time, the evaluative metering got it right like this.

Ebrandon concludes:

As for usage, both cameras were easy to use in the dark. A lot easier than some DSLRs actually where you have to hunt for a little button that briefly lights up the window that shows your settings.

The S90 was easy to use because the two main controls — the ring around the lens and the back wheel — are easy to find in the dark, and the settings appear on the back screen very clearly as you change them.

The G11 was particularly clever. It has little amber “courtesy lights” always on beside the exposure compensation wheel and the ISO wheel which allow you to read your settings in the dark. Beautiful.

Both LCDs at minimum brightness were at comfortable level.

I want to emphasize that the S90 is a really good low-light point and shoot, maybe the second-best in the world. It’s just that the G11 is a tiny bit better.

In the second post, ebrandon posts some G11 vs S90 comparison pictures, and notes that the G11 has a slightly better color accuracy compared with the S90. He also shares a link to his Smugmug comparison gallery where full-resolution images from both cameras are properly labelled and can be downloaded.

Jim Boutilier’s first impressions of the S90:

On the plus side, its startup speed is incredibly fast for a compact. I’m moderately impressed with noise and clarity through 800 ISO. Tried a couple shots at higher and while they are quite usable I’m not sure I’d want to print them very large. Still ISO 800 in a very compact package is impressive and higher ISO values are actually usable (which it wasn’t on my G10). And I’ve been shooting jpg with no tuning yet.

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