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Operation and controls

Ostensibly a beefed-up point and shoot camera, the S90 follows the usual Sony pattern - friendly and easy to use, but a little fiddly if you want to access the more advanced functions. On the positive side the most important options; flash mode, macro, self-timer and image size; all get their own dedicated buttons, and the on-screen display is well designed. The zoom control is a little close to the edge of the camera to make single-handed shooting completely comfortable, but the positioning of the external controls is, in general, logical and well-designed for quick snapping. In truth most users of the S90 are going to be shooting in Program or one of the scene modes most of the time, which is fine, since it generally works perfectly well (more of which later), so the 'hiding' of more advanced options in menus is not likely to be a serious problem.

Rear of camera

All the camera's main photographic controls sit to the right of the LCD screen. Below the zoom buttons is the display button, used to toggle the various display modes and to turn the screen on and off. Next down is a circular group of buttons used to navigate the on-screen menus (the middle button is 'enter'). Each of the four arrow buttons also has an icon next to it, indicating its purpose when not inside the menu system (see above). To the left is a menu button (for activating the menus) and down at the bottom a dual purpose button: image size (in record mode) and delete (in playback mode).

Top of camera

The top of the S90 is home to the power (on/off) button and the main mode dial, in the center of which sits the shutter release.

Display and menus

Sony's basic menu system hasn't really changed in years - and with good reason; it works perfectly well. The on-screen display can get a bit crowded in record mode (Sony likes to give you as much information as possible), but you can reduce the information displayed if you prefer your previews clutter-free. The menus are simple and intuitive, though changing simple things like AE compensation takes several button pushes, which can be a little infuriating until you've completely mastered the interface. Fortunately you don't need to use the menus that often.

Pressing the display button cycles through three display modes; basic (showing only the focus brackets, flash mode, macro mode), advanced and advanced with histogram (as shown here). You can also turn off the LCD entirely and use the optical viewfinder. Half-press the shutter and the display changes to indicate the focus area(s) selected, and the exposure chosen.
In manual mode you get two apertures to choose from (F2.8 and F5.6 at the wide end, F5.2 and F10 at the tele end), and shutter speeds from 30 secs to 1/1000. The screen indicates how far over or under you are from the metered exposure. The record menu (not available in full auto mode). The left and right arrows scroll through the various menus, the up and down arrows select the menu options. Here you'll find options for everything from AE compensation to metering and drive mode, ISO setting, white balance and image parameters.
Changing modes with the main dial produces a nice - though pointless and very brief - rotating animation. Switching modes is, however, very fast. Image size gets its own button on the rear of the camera, though to change image quality (JPEG compression) you'll need to use the record menu.
The setup menu (activated by turning the mode dial to setup) contains camera-related settings (date, time, card formatting etc). It's also home to some photographic options (single/continuous autofocus, red-eye reduction on/off, AF illuminator on/off, digital zoom). You have three options in playback mode; no information, basic information (date, time, filename, resolution and battery status) or - as shown here - the whole hog, including exposure information and a histogram.
The left zoom button switches to a 3x3 thumbnail view, press it again and you get a 4x4 view (click for screenshot)... ...the right zoom button enlarges the image - up to 5x in 17 steps.
Playback menus are again ranged along the bottom of the screen, and offer the usual options (protecting, slideshows, printing) and a few less common; resizing, rotating and very basic movie editing. Finally the movie mode; you have the option of 640x480 (VGA) at 15 or 30 fps, or 160x112 at 8fps. Annoyingly not only can you not zoom when recording MPEGs, you can't even use the digital zoom. Oh well, can't have everything.
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