Canon PowerShot S90 brief hands-on: Digital Photography Review

    Canon’s PowerShot S90 seems to represent exactly the kind of compact camera we like – a bright lens, good screen, and easy access to a host of manual controls. Then we spotted the control ring around the lens and thought it was worth publishing our first impressions. Click here to read our brief hands-on with Canon’s latest compact cameras.

    Canon S90 Summary Practice
    by Parinita Salian, August 2009

    Based on pre-production Canon S90

    A long time ago, in August 2005, Canon launched the last of its S-Series compact cameras for photographers. After four long years, the company restarted the lineup with the sleek and stylish S90. The revival of this seemingly extinct line prompted us to take a closer look at this long-overdue S80 successor. The S-series has undergone an aesthetic makeover with the emerging S90 complete with new design elements not seen in previous Canon compact cameras.

    The Panasonic LX3’s apparent success (or at least it’s nearly impossible to get one) shows it has entered the compact camera market packed with cutting-edge features in a compact body. Canon’s own G10 offers a similar feature set but in a body that looks significantly larger. So it’s hard not to see the S90 as Canon’s response to the LX3. This impression is enhanced by the S90’s impressively bright F2.0-4.9 28-105mm stabilized lens – it’s not as ambitious as Panasonic’s lens but it covers a much more useful range.

    As with the LX3, Canon has chosen to incorporate a relatively large sensor (1/1.7″, 0.43 cm²) designed with high sensitivity, rather than just taking into account the higher megapixel count, to get the most out of it. The 10-megapixel sensor is then combined with Canon’s latest Digic 4 processor to deliver what the company describes as a dual anti-noise system.

    When we picked up the S90, the first thing we noticed was the control ring integrated around the lens. It is used to adjust camera settings and can have many functions assigned to it. For instance, it can act as a zoom ring, with each click jumping between the traditionally popular equivalent focal lengths of 28, 35, 50, 85 and 105mm. Other functions can also be assigned to it by using it to adjust focus, shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation, white balance or ISO.

    We were particularly impressed with how the S90 combines photographer-friendly features with a simple, uncomplicated body design and smooth finish.

    Canon S90’s Key Features

    • Lens control ring
    • 10 million pixel sensor
    • RAW shooting
    • Fast f/2.0-4.9 maximum aperture range
    • The lens covers the classic 28-105mm range
    • Dual anti-interference system (high sensitivity sensor and Digic 4 noise reduction)
    • 3.0-inch PureColor II LCD Monitor
    • Optical Image Stabilization
    • Smarter scene detection
    • Low light mode
    • DIGIC 4 . image processor
    • HD output

    Side by side

    The image below should give a good impression of how the Canon S90 compares in size to the Panasonic LX3. It’s a bit smaller and more IXUS/SD-like than the LX3, its simple overall design makes it visually appealing in a subtle way.

    In handle

    It’s small, but not too small to actually hold and use it. There’s no room for a grip in the S90’s minimalist design concept, but it’s comfortable enough to rest your finger on the side and snap.

    Design elements and features

    Controlling the camera’s lens control ring with your left hand is like you’re controlling a very small DSLR, which is quite innovative and we think useful.

    The Ring Function button on the top of the camera allows you to specify a specific setting for the lens control ring.

    The Ring Function button will display a menu that allows the user to specify ISO, Exposure Compensation, Manual Focus, white balance, or Zoom settings. On the right, we show how to use the Zoom option – by rotating the Lens Control Ring, users can switch between 28, 35, 50, 85 and 105mm equivalent focal lengths.

    In addition to the Lens Control Ring, the S90 also has a shortcut key (S) on the rear that has a similar role, allowing a specific function to be assigned to it.

    Settings including Custom White Balance, Face Detection, and Timer can be assigned to the Shortcut button via the Set Shortcut option in the Settings menu.

    The S90 offers full manual control with P/A/S/M shooting modes aimed at the mainstream consumer market. Canon also offers an optional protective holster with extra cushioning for the lens that is once again appealing to keen photographers.

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