High end pocket compact marks return of S series

Canon has revived its acclaimed S series of enthusiast-oriented digital compacts with the introduction of the Powershot S90. The S90 could best be described as a scaled down Powershot G11, featuring the same sensor and much of the functionality but in a more pocket-friendly form. 

A major focus of the S90 is low-light photography. Its 10 megapixel CCD sensor and enhanced DIGIC 4 processor have been optimised for use in low light, it boasts a bright f/2.0 wideangle lens, a Dual Anti-Noise system for high quality images up to ISO3200 and a dedicated low-light mode which can shoot at up to ISO 12800 at 2.4 frames per second at a reduced 2.5 megapixel resolution.

An important innovation on the S90 is the addition of a new lens Control Ring, a click-stop ring around the base of the lens which enables photographers to control one of a number of user-selectable image parameters. In aperture priority and manual exposure modes the ring handles just like the traditional aperture ring on lenses of old, with a visual indication of the settings displayed in a scrolling window on the rear LCD screen.  The ring can also be set to control the shutter speed, white balance, ISO, Exposure Compensation, zooming and manual focusing.  A second input dial on the back controls the shutter speed in manual mode as well as numerous other parameters, and enables users to quickly scroll through images in playback mode.

The Canon S90 boasts a bright 3inch high resolution (461k dots) LCD display featuring Canon’s premium PureColor II technology, but no optical viewfinder. The 3.9x optical zoom starts at a useful 28mm wideangle, with a maximum aperture of f/2.0–f/4.9, and is coupled to a 4 stop optical Image Stabiliser to minimise camera shake. With such a high specification feature set enthusiasts will be pleased to learn that the S90 also offers Raw format shooting, with support for Canon’s Digital Photo Professional (DPP) software.

The Canon Powershot S90 will be available from October at a UK RRP of £449.


Canon PowerShot S90 3 | News | What Digital Camera

Canon PowerShot S90 1 | News | What Digital Camera



Key features

• 10.0 megapixel CCD sensor and DIGIC 4 processor
• 28-110mm (equivalent) optical zoom with f/2.0-4.9 max aperture
• 4 stop optical image stabilisation
• Dual Anti-Noise System for full resolution images at up to ISO 3200
• Low Light mode for 2.5MP images at up to 12800 at 2.4 fps
• iContrast Intelligent Contrast-Correction to retain shadow/highlight detail
• 3 inch 461k dot high resolution PureColor II LCD screen
• Full range of exposure modes inc P,A,S,M and 22 scene modes
• Smart Auto mode with Scene Detection Technology
• Raw capture with DPP support
• Lens control ring for fast input of common image parameters
• Servo AF mode for focusing on fast-moving subjects
• New Nostalgic Mode adds a range of aged effects to photos
• HDMI port for high-res viewing of images on a compatible TV

Our first impressions

The Powershot S90 is the first S series since the S80 was discontinued in 2006 and is Canon’s attempt to offer high end compact buyers a smaller alternative to the G series, in order to counter the threat posed by Panasonic’s excellent Lumix LX3. In fact the S90 is not dissimilar to the LX3 in size and styling, but does offer on paper a couple of distinct advantages.
Firstly, the lens control ring is a triumph. Any reader who has ever used a traditional SLR with an old fashioned aperture ring will know what an excellent input method this is: quick, intuitive and strangely satisfying. The S90’s ring offers a very similar experience but with the additional advantage of being able to control a variety of parameters, including the focusing.
Secondly, Canon’s attempt to address the issue of low light photography is laudable, since a high percentage of photos are taken indoors or in otherwise dim lighting. It remains to be seen how effective the S90 is in this area.
Overall the S90 looks likely to be a formidable camera and a welcome return for the superb S series. (Why Canon ever discontinued this series in the first place is a mystery to us.) We look forward to reviewing a full production sample in due course.

Watch our preview video of the Canon Powershot S90

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  • Robert

    Dear Nigel, Many thanks for your candour and honesty. I have previously enjoyed many issues of both AP and WDC and shall continue to subscribe. What most excites me about the S90 is the possibility of using it like a traditional film camera, with the rotating ring around the lens set up to adjust apertures, with the other for shutter speeds. I’ve decided to keep my G10 as it’s so brilliant for landscapes at iso 80, and to p/x my ixus960 IS for an S90. I upgraded my G7 for a G9, and then again to a G10, however to go from a G10 to a G11 imho represents a downgrade in image quality at iso 80 despite Canon’s claim of increased exposure latitude. A comparison test will tell, perhaps in a future issue? Very Best Wishes, Robert,

  • Nigel@WDC

    Robert, to clarify, this video was shot before we knew of the existence of the G11. When we talk about the S90 having the same size sensor as the G10 we mean the same physical dimensions (which it is) not the number of pixels (which it isn’t). It is already made very clear that this is a new, 10MP sensor at the beginning of the video. Fewer pixels on the same size sensor implies larger/less dense pixels, as you’d expect from a camera designed for low noise. We perhaps should have been clearer in our use of terminology here.

  • Robert

    Since the G10 has a sensor that is 15MP (4,416 x 3,312 pixels native ),
    and the S90 has a sensor that is 10 MP it’s a nobrainer to see that they do not both feature the same sensor. The S90 is not a scaled down G10, it’s a scaled down G11 with a one F stop faster lens ( F2 as opposed to F2.8 ). As an AP and What Camera subscriber rarely on this site I can scarcely believe you’ve published such rubbish; ( no I do not believe it was a typo ) and I would refer anyone reading the above to Ken Rockwell’s review of the S90, or to Canon UK for a more professional appraisal. If this is not published I shall cancel my sub to both magazines.

  • Nigel@WDC


    These videos are not scripted, they’re doe on the fly, often in one take. Please make allowances for slips of the tongue. We all know what he means.

  • Marijan Tokic

    Please, don’t make any more preview videos of cameras showing two guys standing and talking. Instead, show us the camera and what it does.
    Thank you.

  • Michael

    Is it me, or does his Canon Rep have no actual experience, beyond his bullet-list? He said “Ten million mega-pixels.”