Editors' Note: As of May 11, 2010, Canon has announced the release of the PowerShot SD4000 IS, a slightly pared-down version of the S90 reviewed here. The SD4000 IS features the same f2.0, wide-angle lens as the S90 as well as aperture- and shutter-speed-priority shooting modes. It also features HD movie capture, which cannot be found on the S90.
The Canon PowerShot S90 is designed for photography enthusiasts and it carries a hefty price tag to prove it. It also has some of the best controls you'll find on a compact camera for manual and semimanual shooting modes. Its lens and photo quality are top notch, too. Actually, about the only thing that's unimpressive with the S90 is its performance; those searching for digital SLR speed in a pocket camera probably won't be happy. But, aside from a few other minor criticisms, the S90 is a first-rate compact camera for advanced amateurs.
|Key specifications||Canon PowerShot S90|
|Dimensions (WHD)||3.9x2.3x1.2 inches|
|Weight (with battery and media)||7 ounces|
|Megapixels, image sensor size, type||10 megapixels, 1/1.7-inch CCD|
|LCD size, resolution/viewfinder||3-inch LCD, 461K dots/None|
|Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length)||3.8x, f2-4.9, 28-105mm (35mm equivalent)|
|File format (still/video)||JPEG, CR2 (raw)/H.264 (.MOV)|
|Highest resolution size (still/video)||3,648x2,736 pixels / 640x480 at 30fps|
|Image stabilization type||Optical and digital|
|Battery type, rated life||Lithium ion rechargeable, 220 shots|
|Storage media||SD, SDHC, MMC, MMCplus, HC MMCplus|
The S90 looks fairly innocuous; it's a textbook Canon box-and-circle design. The body is completely flat for a minimalist appearance, but it gives you nothing to grip. The black metal casing doesn't make it any easier to hold onto either. The S90's finer design points revolve around the excellent wide-angle f2-4.9 lens and its manual and semimanual shooting controls.
Around the lens is a new Control Ring that can be assigned to handle changes to aperture, shutter speed, focus, zoom, white balance, exposure compensation, or ISO. (A button on top lets you speedily change what it controls.) The ring rotates with firm, pleasing clicks so it's easy to select settings accurately and it makes using the camera quite fun. The opposite can be said about the Control Dial around the directional pad on back. This dial works in tandem with the Control Ring to change settings quickly. For most of the shooting modes, it defaults to exposure compensation; however, in Scene mode, it changes the scene type you're using. However, it moves much too freely and can result in accidental changes. Otherwise, the combination of the two rings is great and makes for swifter changes than you'll get on other compact cameras.
On top of the body is a small flash that automatically pops up and retracts when turned on and off. The S90 is also compatible with Canon's add-on HF-DC1 flash unit. There are mini-HDMI and USB/AV outputs under covers on the right camera's right side. And, well, the rest of the design is similar to the majority of Canon's PowerShot lineup. The buttons are nearly flush with the body and everything's packed close together, which might upset some users.
|General shooting options||Canon PowerShot S90|
|ISO sensitivity (full resolution)||Auto, 80, 100, 125, 160, 200, 250, 320, 400, 500, 640, 800, 1,000, 1,250, 1,600, 2,000, 2,500, 3,200|
|White balance||Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Flash, Underwater, Custom|
|Recording modes||Auto, Program, Aperture priority, Shutter priority, Manual, Scene, Movie, Low Light|
|Focus modes||Face AF, Normal AF, Manual, Macro AF|
|Metering modes||Evaluative, Center-weighted average, Spot|
|Color effects||Vivid, Vivid Blue, Vivid Green, Vivid Red, Neutral, Sepia, Black & White, Positive Film, Lighter Skin Tone, Darker Skin Tone, Custom|
|Burst mode shot limit (full resolution)||Unlimited continuous|
There are no less than 25 shooting modes available on the S90. The bulk of these are specialty scene modes; 17 in all and none of them are out of the ordinary for PowerShot models. There is also an Auto mode that is pretty much Canon's reliable scene-recognizing Smart Auto feature. There is a Low Light mode that drops the resolution to 1,824x1,368 pixels (2.5 megapixels), but allows for a sensitivity of ISO 12,800. A VGA-quality movie mode is on the dial as well, so HD fans are out of luck. Plus, you can't use the optical zoom while recording, not that there's a lot there to use.
The remaining shooting modes put more and more settings under your control: Program AE, Shutter priority, Aperture priority, Manual, and Custom. The last mode lets you assign a frequently used set of shooting options and settings to the C position on the mode dial. To go with it, you can register up to five commonly used menu items to a My Menu tab in the main-menu system.
Other advanced options include exposure bracketing and focus bracketing that will take one photo at a manual focus position and then one each at preset positions nearer and farther; manual white balance correction; and raw or raw plus JPEG capture. There are 45 shutter speeds from 15 seconds to 1/1,600 of a second and 14 aperture values--f2 through f8. You also get a selectable range of 17 ISOs between ISO 80 and ISO 3,200. The amount of tweaking available is great for a compact camera and the control layout makes it reasonably fast and painless.