Canon S90 Review: Will Go With Me Everywhere

Canon S90 Review: Will Go With Me Everywhere

My first real camera was a Canon S50. I loved it. Canon let the pro compact S line die a few years later. It’s back with the S90, though the only thing that’s the same is that it’s still awesome.

Sex and Brains

It’s got the same spacious image sensor as the G11—1/1.7-inch as opposed to 1/2.5-inch like most point-and-shoots. But instead of being built into a Panzer tank, it’s in the body of a hot German model. It’s an actual point-and-shoot: It fits in the pocket of your skinny jeans, but delivers, for the most part, the same wow image quality.

I wish it was slightly more square with sharper angles for an even more classic aesthetic, but it’s still pretty classy looking. The texture, which makes for half of the appeal, makes it a little slippery. The control ring around the lens is like the perfect scarf that ties it altogether. And despite being a bantam-weight shooter, it feels more solid than most cameras its size.

Lord of the Ring

What makes the camera really work is that control ring wrapped around the lens. By default, when you turn it, it adjusts the main setting for each mode — aperture in aperture priority, shutter speed in shutter priority, you get the idea. Using the ring function button on top of the camera, you can set the ring to adjust almost whatever parameter you want though, like white balance, ISO, exposure, even specific zoom intervals.

Truthfully, using the dial never feels completely seamless, because of way you’re forced to hold the camera. As a result of its pint size, there’s no completely natural hand or finger posture for spinning the ring. But, the control it manages to put at your fingertips is remarkable: In manual mode, I had aperture mapped to the main ring, exposure set to the control ring on the back (which, like the G11, is a little too small to have a settings d-pad stuffed in the centre of it) and ISO speed mapped to the shortcut button. The only real issue with that setup is that the ISO setting interface lags behind your input occasionally, so you sometimes overshoot the ISO speed you wanted.

Just a Little More Hardware Talk

There’s no viewfinder, so you’re stuck using the screen exclusively. The LCD is a little bigger than the G11’s, at three inches, though it uses the same number of pixels and obviously doesn’t swivel out. It too is easily viewable in sunlight, though I found a more of a difference, exposure-wise, between what I thought I shot according to the display and what I later saw on my computer, than I noticed with the G11. Also, there’s no flash hot shoe, like you get with the G11.

The battery’s small, obviously, so your picture taking is capped at a little over 200 shots, according to Canon. My days of shooting didn’t contradict that, for better or for worse—I’d get to half battery after around 100 shots and a couple video clips.

Finally the Photos (and Video)

Since it’s the same 10-megapixel image sensor as the G11, yes, you do get just about the same fantastic image quality, solid low-light performance (noise doesn’t start really kicking in til ISO 800, and even that’s totally usable for most stuff) and ability to shoot in RAW. The main difference is in the lens. The S90 has a faster lens that’ll shoot at F/2 wide open, meaning you rely less on that high ISO—up to 3200—to compensate for the lack of light. The oh-so-small price for this incredibly fast lens is that you lose a bit of zoom, since it goes out to 105mm, vs. the G11’s 140mm, but who cares? I can’t reiterate how big of a deal a lens like this is on this kind of point-and-shoot. That said, I seemed to get photos that were a touch less sharp than what I got on the G11.

Here’s a gallery of some stuff I shot, which you can compare to G11 sample photos and ISO tests (spoiler, they look great):


The video’s still 640×480, and still quite good too:

Buy If You Need a Tiny-But-Great Camera

I know, it’s $US430 — way more than most point-and-shoots cost in this day and age. But the amount of picture power this literally slips into your pocket is almost unbelievable: Outstanding low-light performance for a camera this size; a speedy lens; full control rings, plural; and yep, RAW. It’s the soul of what makes the $US500 behemoth G11 great, packaged in a true point-and-shoot. You lose some power and some pro tools, like the swivel screen, a (shitty) viewfinder, faster burst shooting, hot shoe, some zoom and a custom mode or two, but you’re also shedding a ton of bulk, meaning you’ll actually take it everywhere. And the best camera’s always the one you have with you—for me, that’s this camera, which just happens to be an excellent one all by itself.