The arrival of the 'affordable' digital SLR saw most manufacturers slowly withdrawing from the high end compact camera market, but recently models like the Canon G9/G10/G11 and Panasonic's LX3 have shown that there is still demand for pocketable cameras with real photographic controls. And it is the Panasonic LX3 that Canon has in its sights with the latest in what was, for a long time, presumed to be a dead line of cameras that goes back to almost a decade.

The S90 may not look much like the S80, S70 and all its earlier predecessors, but it has been conceived in much the same spirit; a smaller, more stylish alternative to the G series, offering key enthusiast features (such as raw capture and manual controls) in a compact body.

It was way back in August 2005 that Canon launched the last in the line of its S-Series compact photographers' cameras, the S80. And though you can see traces of the S60/S70/S80's DNA in the S90 it is a very different beast to those cameras; the S90 is smaller, sleeker - and in many ways more sophisticated, but it's lost the optical viewfinder and the lack of anything to really get hold of will undoubtedly impact on handling.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the new design is the new Control Ring built around the lens, which can be set to control exposure (i.e. aperture or shutter speed), AE compensation, step zoom, manual focus and a selection of other functions. Finding a way of offering usable manual controls has proved surprisingly difficult for the normally ingenious designers of ultra compact cameras (although we've suggested a traditional 'aperture ring' like this on many occasions); this seemingly simple addition has a transformative effect on the utility of the S90's extensive manual controls.

As with the Panasonic LX3, Canon has chosen to incorporate a relatively large (1/1.7", 0.43 cm²) CCD sensor which has been designed with high sensitivity, rather than just higher megapixel count in mind, to make the most of the bright lens. This 10 megapixel sensor is then mated with Canon's latest Digic 4 processor to offer what the company describes as a dual anti-noise system.

Canon S90 Key Features

  • Lens Control Ring
  • 10 million pixels sensor
  • RAW shooting
  • Fast f/2.0-4.9 maximum aperture range
  • Lens covering the classic 28-105mm range
  • Dual Anti-Noise System (high sensitivity sensor and Digic 4 noise reduction)
  • 3.0 inch PureColor II LCD
  • 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 size-wise with Panasonic LX3. It's a touch smaller and more IXUS/SD-like than the LX3, its simplistic overall design making it visually appealing in an understated way.

The S90 is noticeably smaller (and crucially, a lot slimmer) than the Panasonic LX3 - and a lot lighter too.

Canon S90 specifications

Recommended price

• $429
• €469
• £449


• 1/1.7" Type CCD
• 10 million effective pixels

Image sizes • 3648 x 2736
• 3648 x 2048
• 2816 x 2112
• 2272 x 1704
• 1600 x 1200
• 640 x 480
• 320 x 240
Movie clips • 640 x 480 @ 30fps
• 320 x 240 @ 30fps
Maximum clip length Up to 4GB or 1 hour
File formats • Still: JPEG (Exif v2.2), RAW
• Movie: MOV [H.264 + Linear PCM (monaural)]
Lens • 28-105mm (35mm equiv)
• f = 6.0 - 22.5 mm
• 3.8x optical zoom
• F2.0-4.9
• Construction: 11 elements in 9 groups 7 elements in 6 groups (2 double-sided aspherical elements including 1 UA element)
Image stabilization Yes (Lens-Shift)
Digital zoom up to 4x
Focus • Auto focus :TTL
- 9-point AiAF
- 1-point AF (center or Face Select and Track)
• Manual focus
AF modes

• Single
• Continuous
• Servo AF/AE

AF lock Yes (on/off selectable)
AF assist lamp Yes
Focus distance Closest focus distance 5 cm
Metering • Evaluative (linked to Face Detection AF frame)
• Center-weighted average
• Spot (center)
ISO sensitivity • Auto
• ISO 80
• ISO 100
• ISO 125
• ISO 160
• ISO 200
• ISO 250
• ISO 320
• ISO 400
• ISO 500
• ISO 640
• ISO 800
• ISO 1000
• ISO 1250
• ISO 1600
• ISO 2000
• ISO 2500
• ISO 3200
AE lock Yes
Exposure compensation +/- 2EV in 1/3 stop increments
Shutter speed • Auto (1 - 1/1600 sec)
• 15-1/1600 sec

• Auto
• Program AE
• Shutter Priority AE
• Aperture Priority AE
• Manual
• Custom
• Scene
• Low Light
• Movie

Scene modes

• Portrait
• Landscape
• Night Scene
• Night Snapshot
• Kids & Pets
• Indoor
• Sunset
• Foliage
• Snow
• Beach
• Fireworks
• Aquarium
• Underwater
• Color Accent
• Color Swap
• Nostalgic
• Stitch Assist

White balance

• Auto (including Face Detection WB)
• Daylight
• Cloudy
• Tungsten
• Fluorescent
• Fluorescent H
• Flash
• Custom
• Underwater
• White Balance Correction

Self timer • 0-30 sec (1-10 frames)
• Face Self Timer
Continuous shooting • Approx. 0.9 shots/sec.
• AF: Approx. 0.6 shots/sec.
• LV: Approx. 0.8 shots/sec. (until memory card becomes full)
Image parameters My Colors (My Colors Off, Vivid, Neutral, Sepia, Black & White, Positive Film, Lighter Skin Tone, Darker Skin Tone, Vivid Blue, Vivid Green, Vivid Red, Custom Color)
Flash • Auto, Flash On, Flash Off, Slow Sync, Red-eye reduction
• Slow Sync Speed : Fastest speed 1/500 sec
• +/- 2EV in 1/3 stop increments
• Face Detection FE compensation
• Safety FE
• Flash exposure lock
• Manual Power Adjustment
• Second Curtain Sync
• Range (Auto ISO):50cm - 6.5m (wide) / 2.5m (tele)
External Flash Canon High Power Flash HF-DC1
LCD monitor • 3.0 inch PureColor LCD II (TFT)
• 461,000 pixels
• 100% coverage
• Adjustable
Connectivity • USB 2.0 Hi-Speed
• HDMI mini connector
• AV out (PAL / NTSC switchable)
Print compliance PictBridge
Storage SD, SDHC, MMC, MMCplus, HC MMCplus
Power Rechargeable Li-ion Battery NB-6L
Weight (no batt) 175 g
Dimensions 100 x 58 x 31 mm

If you're new to digital photography you may wish to read the Digital Photography Glossary before diving into this article (it may help you understand some of the terms used).

Conclusion / Recommendation / Ratings are based on the opinion of the reviewer, you should read the ENTIRE review before coming to your own conclusions.

We recommend to make the most of this review you should be able to see the difference (at least) between X, Y, and Z and ideally A, B, and C.

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