S90 vs G11 at night with pics

Started Oct 11, 2009 | Discussions thread
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ebrandon Regular Member • Posts: 459
S90 vs G11 at night with pics

Last night was Saturday night, so my wife & I went out on the town and took the S90 and G11 with us to see what they can do at night.

There's a lot more to how a camera performs at night or indoors than just how noisy the sensor is at high ISOs. For example:

  • How good is the IS?

  • How good is the auto white balance in artificial light, or mixed light sources?

  • How well does the camera's evaluative metering work in typical night situations when there are very bright light sources and very dark areas in the same scene?

  • Does the lens turn point sources of light into starbursts, or stretched blobs?

  • Does the lens have internal reflections that become apparent in pictures with point sources of light in them?

  • How fast and how accurately does the camera focus in low light?

  • Does the camera's shape, size, and weight lend itself to holding the camera steady for long-exposure shots?

  • Does the camera's shutter button allow you press it without jiggling the camera and ruining a long-exposure shot?

  • How easy is it to find and use the controls in the dark?

and so on.

Our experience was that the S90 and G11 are both exceptionally good P&S cameras for night, indoor, low light, or artificial light shooting.

First, the AF is very fast and very accurate in low light. You just forget about this as an issue and shoot away.

Second the IS works exceptionally well on both cameras. High ISO performance is never going to be totally amazing on any P&S, so how great is it to be able to shoot this at ISO 200, at 1/3 second, handheld, and have it come out so sharp?

Third the auto white balance on these camera is nothing short of miraculous. I have shot Canon 20D & 5D & Rebels, Nikon D3, Olympus E3 & 520 & E30 & EP1, Panasonic LX3 & ZS3 & G1 and have never seen auto white balance performance like this.

This was shot in a parking garage with the worse possible light -- horrible mixed artificial light sources, and the colors are exactly as we saw them with our eyes.

Or look at this picture of a white statue in mixed street light, lights on the statue, and light spilling through the window from indoors. No need for custom white balance as the automatic white balance takes care of it.

Next the evaluative metering was exceptionally good too. In this picture I pointed the camera right at the bright lights and did a half-shutter press. 99% of cameras would have underexposed the scene, giving you two lights against a black background. These Canons were smart enough to know that that's not the picure I was trying to take. Time after the time, the evaluative metering got it right like this.

Did the cameras perform exactly the same? No. While all the comments above apply to both cameras equally we got a higher percentage of "keepers" with the G11 than the S90. This was mostly due to more blurred picures with the S90 which I attribute to three possible factors:

  1. The S90 IS may be very slightly less effective than the G11 IS. Maybe.

  2. The S90's smaller lighter body is slightly harder to hold steady and moves a little more when you press the shutter button

  3. The S90's lens is a little slower when zoomed out

Additionally, the S90's auto white balance yielded slightly less accurate colors in a couple of shots, although that could be user-generated differences.

On the plus side for the S90, it has a "Nostalgic" scene mode which can take either straight black & white pictures, or somewhat gimicky but really cool high-contrast grainy black & white pictures. The G11 lacks this mode.
Here are two "Nostalgic" scene mode images.

As for useage, both cameras were easy to use in the dark. A lot easier than some DSLRs actually where you have to hunt for a little button that briefly lights up the window that shows your settings.

The S90 was easy to use because the two main controls -- the ring around the lens and the back wheel -- are easy to find in the dark, and the settings appear on the back screen very clearly as you change them.

The G11 was particularly clever. It has little amber "courtesy lights" always on beside the exposure compensation wheel and the ISO wheel which allow you to read your settings in the dark. Beautiful.
Both LCDs at minimum brightness were at comfortable level.

I want to emphasize that the S90 is a really good low-light point and shoot, maybe the second-best in the world. It's just that the G11 is a tiny bit better.

 ebrandon's gear list:ebrandon's gear list
Fujifilm FinePix X100 Ricoh GR Sony Alpha DSLR-A900 Nikon D600 Canon EOS 6D +2 more
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