The Canon's PowerShot S90 appears to represent exactly the sort of compact we like - a bright lens, good screen and easy access to a selection of manual controls. Then we discovered the control ring around the lens and thought it worth publishing our first impressions. Click here to have a read of our brief hands-on with Canon's latest photographers' compact.

Canon S90 Brief hands-on
by Parinita Salian, August 2009

Based on a pre-production Canon S90

It was way back in August 2005 that Canon launched the last in the line of its S-Series compact photographers' cameras. After four long years, the company has rebooted the range with the sleek and stylish looking S90. This reinvigoration of a seemingly extinct line prompted us to take a closer look into this long overdue successor of the S80. The S-series has gone under the knife for a cosmetic makeover with the S90 emerging complete with new design elements not seen in previous Canon compacts.

The apparent success of the Panasonic LX3 (or, at least, the near-impossibility of getting hold of one) suggests it tapped into a market for compacts packed with advanced features in a compact body. Canon's own G10 offered a similar feature set but in a significantly chunkier looking body. So it's hard not to see the S90 as Canon's response to the LX3. This impression is enhanced by the S90's impressively bright F2.0-4.9 28-105mm stabilized lens - it's not as ambitious at the Panasonic's lens but it covers a much more useful range.

As with the LX3, Canon has chosen to incorporate a relatively large (1/1.7", 0.43 cm²) 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.

When we picked up the S90 the first thing we noticed was the control ring built around the lens. It is used to adjust camera settings and can have multiple functions assigned to it. For instance it can act as a zoom ring, with each click jumping between the traditionally popular 28, 35, 50, 85 and 105mm equivalent focal lengths. Other functions can also be assigned to it using it to adjust either the focus, shutter-speed, aperture, exposure compensation, white balance or ISO.

We were particularly impressed with the way the S90 combines photographer-friendly features with its simple and uncomplicated body design and smooth finish.

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.

In the hand

It's small, but not too small to actually hold and use it. There is no space for a grip in the minimalist design concept of the S90, but it is comfortable enough to rest your fingers on the side and shoot.

Design elements and Features

Operating the camera's lens control ring with your left hand is as though you are operating a very tiny DSLR which is pretty innovative and, we think, useful.

The Ring Function button on top of the camera lets you assign a particular setting to the lens control ring.

The Ring Function button brings up a menu letting users assign ISO, Exposure compensation, Manual focus, white balance or Zoom settings. On the right, we show the use of the Zoom option - by rotating the Lens Control Ring, users can toggle between 28, 35, 50, 85 and 105mm equivalent focal lengths.

In addition to the Lens Control Ring, the S90 features a shortcut (S) key on its rear that has a similar role, allowing the assignment of a specific function to it.

Settings including Custom White Balance, Face Detection and Self-Timer can be assigned to the Shortcut button via the Set Shortcut option in the Settings menu.

The S90 offers full manual control with the P/A/S/M shooting modes targeting the prosumer market. Canon also offers an optional protective leather case with extra padding for the lens again appealing to the keen photographer.