Four years since the last S-series model, Canon revives the line with the PowerShot S90

Product Overview

Overall rating:

90%

Canon PowerShot S90

Overall score:90%
Features:90%
Value:90%
Performance:95%
Design:80%
Image Quality:95%

Pros:

  • Compact proportions, fast lens, lens control ring, Raw mode, good quality LCD screen, overall image quality, fast start-up

Cons:

  • Operation hampered by a few design issues, flash sometimes raised when not needed, some WB inaccuracies, mode dial stiff and slightly inaccessible

Product:

Canon PowerShot S90 Review

Manufacturer:

Price as reviewed:

£380.00

Best Price from Reevoo

Loading

Latest Deal From eBay

Loading

Canon PowerShot S90 review

Introduction

It’s been four years since Canon‘s last S-series compact, the S80, which left many to conclude that Canon had abandoned the line in favour of its successful G-series. So when Canon announced that it was to revive the line with the launch of the S90, it caught the attention of many.

In line with how technology has moved on, some of the improvements over its predecessor are fairly standard and to be expected, though some are genuinely interesting and potentially quite useful. The S-series was, after all, once viewed as a competent alternative to the G-series – so does the S90 reaffirm that notion?

Canon PowerShot S90 review – Features

The camera captures images on a 1/1.7in CCD sensor, at a maximum 10MP resolution in both Raw and JPEG formats. Canon’s DIGIC IV processor is the tech now responsible for processing images, and has been revised to include a Dual-Anti Noise system for the benefit of images shot at higher ISO sensitivities. This is perhaps just as well, as after the camera’s nominal sensitivity range of ISO 80-3200, the Low Light mode can shoot at up to ISO 12,800, at a reduced resolution of 2.5MP.

The camera’s 28-105mm lens features a bright f/2.0 aperture at its widest setting, and has been optically stabilised to reduce image blur. Turning the camera round reveals a 3in LCD screen, with a 461,000-dot resolution, though there’s no viewfinder, nor the provision to mount one given the lack of a hotshoe.

Those used to having a little more control over their shooting will be pleased to know that the full range of PASM exposure controls are included on the S90. This is in addition to a collection of scene presets, and a Custom mode that is similar to that found on many of Canon’s recent DSLRs.

In order to help images retain a maximum level of detail in both highlights and shadows, Canon has included its i-Contrast technology as well as the now-standard Face Detection technology for the benefit of portraits. There’s also a mini HDMI output neatly tucked away on one side of the camera, though sadly this hasn’t been joined by HD video recording, which is only possible at VGA resolution.

Canon Powershot S90 sample image

View more Canon Powershot S90 sample images

More info:

Canon PowerShot S90 – Design

Canon PowerShot S90 – Performance

Canon PowerShot S90 – Image Quality

Canon PowerShot S90 – Verdict

Canon PowerShot S90 – Specifications

Design

The last few S-series models have adhered to a similar design, however the S90 strays from the herd somewhat. Gone is the sliding lens cover, replaced by a more simple streamlined design similar to Sigma’s DP range, with a reassuring build quality.

The ring around the lens, which on other compacts is sometimes used for mounting conversion lenses, may be rotated to adjust a number of functions, including the zoom, focus, sensitivity and white balance. Although quite simple in concept, this is perhaps one of the most ingenious uses of space on any recent compact.

The button for switching between the S90’s different customisations, however, is placed where we’d logically expect to find the power button. Granted, the power button is right next to it, but it’s much smaller and, considering the frequency with which it is used, it isn’t entirely comfortable to reach with your shooting hand. It’s also a little annoying that the mode dial is both small and a little stiff, and the raised area behind it on the back allows for little purchase with the thumb when used.

Should you wish, you can assign a custom function to the ‘S’ button for quick access, while rotating the menu pad during shooting allows you to adjust a particular setting such as exposure compensation or shutter speed in fine increments. Although I found this way of working effortless, I also found that the dial’s looseness meant that I would often unwittingly adjust this – shifting the exposure up or down by a 1/3EV stop or so, for example – only noticing after I had taken a few images.

Canon Powershot S90 sample image

View more Canon Powershot S90 sample images

Performance

Canon PowerShot S90 review – Performance

Start-up takes less than a second, while powering down takes just a fraction longer. Given the zoom’s relatively short range, its motion from the wide to the telephoto end is actioned a little slowly to allow for fine-tuning, though the control ring around the lens allows you to move incrementally through five preset standard focal lengths, should you wish. I found the control ring particularly useful for adjusting manual focus, as it mirrors how it is typically done on a DSLR.

The camera also offers a surprising level of control with other functions. The self-timer, for instance, may be adjusted in increments of a second, and may be programmed to take anything from one to 10 consecutive exposures. It’s also possible to delete Raw and JPEGs independently from each other, which is still not possible on many DSLRs.

The menu system follows the somewhat tried and tested formula of previous models, with the L-shaped design facilitating speedy operation. I only found myself slowed down when selecting simultaneous Raw and JPEG recording, as this requires a trawl through the main menu, rather than being selectable from the same sub-menu as all the other image quality settings.

The maximum wide aperture of the lens allows the camera to be used in low-light conditions, together with the relatively large sensor meaning it has the further benefit of slightly greater depth of field control than many other compacts. Together with the high-resolution LCD screen, it is easy to assess depth of field when composing an image, which should no doubt please macro photographers looking for a small camera.

The AF assist light is powerful enough to illuminate a fair distance when shooting in low light, and because of this there’s little difference in focusing speed to images shot when it is not necessary. However, I did find that the camera had a strong tendency to mis-focus when shooting at night, even when the scene displayed relatively good contrast. At first I assumed this was due to me having accidentally selected the macro function, but upon examining the shooting details I found that this wasn’t the case.

Canon Powershot S90 sample image

View more Canon Powershot S90 sample images

Image Quality

Canon PowerShot S90 review – Image Quality

Image quality, on the whole, is excellent, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the results the S90 is capable of producing. At lower sensitivities in good light, images are very clean, detailed and relatively sharp – comparable, in some cases, to the quality of an entry-level DSLR. Shadow areas do exhibit a little texture, though, and although the highest sensitivities exhibit much noise, noise control overall is excellent.

Chromatic aberrations, including slight purple fringing, are visible but controlled, and though there is a slight drop off in sharpness towards the corners and edges of the frame, overall sharpness is impressively maintained. White balance is generally fine, though I found certain scenes lit with tungsten light to be a little too warm.

On occasion it produced noticeably cold images outdoors, even in warm, autumnal sunlight. It did, however, balance images shot under a mixture of daylight and tungsten, with surprisingly accurate results.

My only other reservation is with control over distortions; while the lack of barrelling is satisfactory in JPEGs, examining the camera’s corresponding Raw files shows just how much of this can be attributed to in-camera processing, rather than the design of the lens itself.

Canon Powershot S90 sample image

 

At lower ISO settings and in good light, images display plenty of detail and sharpness

View more Canon Powershot S90 sample images

Verdict

Ultimately, the appeal of this camera is that it is the smallest on the market to feature Raw capture, and a less pricey alternative to the G11 – which has an identical sensor. The expanded ISO range, fast lens and high-resolution LCD screen only add to its appeal, and though it’s not perfect – and at times frustrating to use – it is capable of superb image quality. Had it been any dearer it would have found itself in the uncomfortable position of competing with other high-end compacts or even Micro Four Thirds system cameras. The fact that it isn’t means it can occupy a more comfortable territory further down, and thus having a broader appeal. I have no doubt that the S90 will be a popular compact camera – for the simple reason that it deserves to be.

Verdict

Ultimately, the appeal of this camera is that it is the smallest on the market to feature Raw capture, and a less pricey alternative to the G11 – which has an identical sensor. The expanded ISO range, fast lens and high-resolution LCD screen only add to its appeal, and though it’s not perfect – and at times frustrating to use – it is capable of superb image quality. Had it been any dearer it would have found itself in the uncomfortable position of competing with other high-end compacts or even Micro Four Thirds system cameras. The fact that it isn’t means it can occupy a more comfortable territory further down, and thus having a broader appeal. I have no doubt that the S90 will be a popular compact camera – for the simple reason that it deserves to be.

Full Specification

Dimensions:
100.0 x 58.4 x 30.9mm

Weight:
175g

Power:
Li-ion
Connectivity:
USB 2.0 Hi-speed, mini HDMI

Flash Modes:
Auto, on, off, slow sync
Memory Card:
SD/SDHC

Metering System:
Evaluative, center-weighted, spot
ISO Range:
ISO 80-3200 (Ext to 12,800 at 2.5MP)

White Balance:
Auto, 7 presets, custom
Exposure Modes:
Auto*, PASM, Custom, Low Light, 17 Scene)

Shutter Speeds:
15 – 1/1600sec
File Formats:
JPEG, RAW, RAW+JPEG, MOV

LCD:
3in, 461k dots
Lens:
28-105mm f/2.0-4.9, IS

Sensor:
10MP, 1/1.7in CCD

  1. 1. Canon PowerShot S90 review
  2. 2. Design
  3. 3. Performance
  4. 4. Image Quality
  5. 5. Verdict
Page 1 of 5 - Show Full List