Canon PowerShot S90

Intro

The Canon PowerShot S90 is a powerful compact designed for enthusiasts who want a small camera without compromising on sophistication and manual controls. Numerically it may follow Canon’s much earlier S-series, but with the previous S80 employing a significantly different look, not to mention being over four years old, it’s fair to say the S90 wipes the slate clean and starts afresh.

Announced in 2009, the new S90 sits alongside the PowerShot G11 at the top of Canon’s compact range and while both models share the same 10 Megapixel sensor and roughly similar pricing, the S90 is a considerably different proposition.

Most obviously, the PowerShot S90 is a considerably smaller and lighter camera, which will suit anyone who finds the G11 a bit on the chunky side. The S90’s 3.8x optical zoom may not quite match the reach of the G11’s 5x lens, but both start at the same useful 28mm equivalent wide angle, and the 105mm maximum is still sufficient for tight portraits or getting close to distant details. Making up for the slight loss in telephoto reach though is a brighter focal ratio at the wide-end: f2.0 compared to f2.8 on the G11, allowing the S90 to gather twice as much light and operate more comfortably in dim conditions.


 

Given the smaller dimensions, it’s not surprising to find the G11’s articulated screen and optical viewfinder are absent here, but Canon’s not skimped on the S90’s LCD panel. It shares the same 460k resolution as the G11’s screen for very detailed images during composition and playback, and it’s actually a little larger at 3in.

The PowerShot S90 shares the same degree of manual control as the G11, including full PASM modes in addition to Auto and the Low Light option which allows both cameras to operate at sensitivities up to 12,800 ISO at a reduced resolution of 2.5 Megapixels. The S90 also features a neat new control dial around the barrel of the lens housing which can be configured to adjust the focus, zoom or sensitivity, along with a raft of other options. Coupled with the thumb wheel on the rear, it makes the camera very quick and easy to control.

Completing the specifications are support for RAW files, Scene Detection in Auto and an HDMI port, although like the G11, there’s sadly no HD movies, nor the possibility of even optically zooming while filming.

Lack of HD movies aside though, the PowerShot S90 remains a very interesting new camera that in many respects is arguably more compelling than the G11. It may not have a flash hotshoe, articulated screen or quite as long a zoom, but by essentially squeezing the same image quality into a considerably more portable package with a great screen, neat controls and a brighter f2.0 lens, the PowerShot S90 has justifiably become one of the most talked-about models in Canon’s current range.

In our full review we’ll compare it closely against the PowerShot G11, along with an entry-level DSLR to see how the quality compares at a similar price-point. We’ll also see how it measures-up against Panasonic’s Lumix LX3, a model which may predate it by more than a year, but one which has provided considerable inspiration. So will the S90 become the new choice of enthusiasts in Canon’s range? Read on to find out!

Testing notes

We tested a final production PowerShot S90. Following our convention of using default factory and best quality JPEG settings to test cameras unless otherwise stated, the PowerShot S90 was set Large Fine quality, Auto White Balance, Evaluative Metering and with ‘My Colours’ switched off (the default setting for contrast, saturation and sharpening). Due to a number of operational similarities, some sections of our earlier G11 review have been used here.

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