S90 vs G11 at night with pics

Started Oct 11, 2009 | Discussions
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.

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OP ebrandon Regular Member • Posts: 459
Re: S90 vs G11 at night with pics

Here are more samples, labeled so you can compare the cameras.

As always, the full gallery contains the original size pictures along with exif data.


In the parking garage






G11 -- this is an accurate rendition of the colors

S90 - the colors are a little off

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OP ebrandon Regular Member • Posts: 459
Re: S90 vs G11 at night with pics



G11 @ 200 ISO. The foggy night sky over San Francisco lit up from below by the city lights often looks mottled and noisy in pictures. To help you evaluate the noise in the sky more accurately, I'm posting ISO 200 and ISO 400 pics of the same scene.

G11 - @ 400 ISO


G11 -- this picture is 0.8 seconds, handheld, at 140mm zoom! Look how sharp something stationary like the red car is. Now that's what I call image stabilization. To be fair, my elbows were braced on a balcony ledge.


S90 @ ISO 200

S90 @ ISO 400


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OP ebrandon Regular Member • Posts: 459
Re: S90 vs G11 at night with pics










G11 -- by the way, with a half-shutter-press pre-focus the shutter responsiveness is very fast. Otherwise there's no way to get a picture like this of people walking in front of you.

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SDRebel Senior Member • Posts: 1,489
Thanks. RAW?

Your samples are interesting. Thanks for posting them.

Did you shoot the S90 in RAW? Did it help the colors?

the mighty boosh Contributing Member • Posts: 711
Very impressive

Nice work

Looks like these are going to be very popular cameras.
I think Canon should be very grateful to you!

I'm sure we all are

CampRen Regular Member • Posts: 134
a big Thanks to you!

Both cameras seem very effective based on your pics. Can you please tell me whether you found the G11 swivel LCD a nice bonus factor for you taking your shots?
Or, was the S90 just as user friendly for you?
Also, is the f2.8 enough with the G11 in your opinion?

swnw Senior Member • Posts: 1,529
Re: S90 vs G11 at night with pics

Ufffff ..... another great job. It's not easy to achieve the end of your story. And conclusion is simple - there's no better choice like buy both cameras. But not to me I will chose one of them.

Presented pics are really very good, both cameras did very well. Color in this light are great. Thanks a lot for the time you put in this review.
And so far the winner is .... G11! To me of course :).
Best regards, swnw.

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Altruisto Contributing Member • Posts: 919
Re: S90 vs G11 at night with pics

Thank you for these. I really prefer G11 output. Colour rendition is different, and I really see more details on the G11 shots. It's a shame Canon compromised the lens on S90. I'll keep my LX3, even if it's a little noisier at 400/800 ISO, as it keeps more fine details. Eventhough, at these settings, S90/G11 have surprisingly little chroma noise. Fuji EXR technology is good too for low light, but nothing close to the 800 ISO performance in very dark environment I see here, Fuji leaves some yellow and purple blotches in the shadows. Thank you for posting and enjoy.......your G11!
Photography has to remain a pleasure, keep PP minimal!
owning a Nikon D90, Canon S5IS, Panasonic LX3 and TZ4 and Fuji F70exr

OP ebrandon Regular Member • Posts: 459
Re: Thanks. RAW?

SDRebel asks:

Did you shoot the S90 in RAW? Did it help the colors?

I know a lot of people are interested in the comparing JPG vs. RAW in slightly higher ISO shots to see how much detailed gets smeared out by the in-camera NR, and to see if they can do a better job in post-processing.

So I've posted the full-of-detail & noisy sky ISO 400 image from the G11. It's called IMG_0196.

I look forward to your findings.

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MeHaMa New Member • Posts: 22
Which one would you choose right now if you had to ?

I'll probably get whatever you choose just to make my decision easier - no pressure!

dailywhitt Forum Member • Posts: 53
Re: S90 vs G11 at night with pics

Wow! As a G10 owner, I've heard several people complaining about the "feel" of the G11 among other things. This is one of the best, and most positive reviews I've read about the G11! I can't imagine a Rebel, or micro four thirds doing much better in low light - great news! Thank you for your contribution to this forum.

I had some of the same questions as CampRen, about the G11 LCD, and about the 2.8 verses the 2.0 of the S90. Thanks again for your post!

joan55 Senior Member • Posts: 1,069
THANK YOU! Have you printed any of your pictures yet?


I have read all of your posts and looked at all of your S90 and G11 galleries. Thanks very much for sharing your experience with these 2 new cameras, very helpful!

Have you done any printing yet? How large do you think the ISO 400 and 800 shots can be printed?

-- hide signature --

Kind regards,

theranman Veteran Member • Posts: 4,228
Re: THANK YOU! Have you printed any of your pictures yet?

ebrandon, do you consider the white balance difference between the two cameras to be "significant"? Would you say that the smaller S90 gets within 90% of the white balance capability of the G11? It's really nice to read that they both do well in auto white balance.

rocsen Contributing Member • Posts: 774
Re: S90 vs G11 at night with pics

Amazing! Thank you!

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Scales USA Veteran Member • Posts: 3,121
Re: S90 vs G11 at night with pics

So... How does the S90 do in bright sunlight? Can you see the LCD, or do you just point it and hope you got something in the capture.

The fact that the G11 has a viewfinder is the deciding factor to me.

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leighton w
leighton w Senior Member • Posts: 2,061
Darn you!

Just when I thought I'd made my mind up about a different camera, you had to post these!

Great review! Looks like the G11 is in the lead now on my "next camera list".

dskater411 Junior Member • Posts: 32
Re: S90 vs G11 at night with pics

Great work, my new favorite comparison thread.
Learned a couple of things here

1. You know what you are doing, while some others posting samples dont.

2. In a couple photos, G11 shows more detail (parking structure ground, statue) and reproduce more natural colors (red water pipes etc). S90 colors are a bit bold assuming you chose same settings on each camera.

3. In most of the photos its pretty hard to distinguish much of a difference and both look great.

4. I think it comes down to camera build, do you want a tiny camera with a neat ring, or a viewfinder, articulating LED, and larger lense which probably accounts for slightly sharper images for the G11 in some situations.

I think the G11 is for me, i personally like a slightly larger more solid camera in my hands and it will fit just fine in my pocket.

warpedwoof Regular Member • Posts: 357
Re: Thanks. RAW?

Thanks again for your great efforts. I downloaded both the jpg and raw files of your scene across the square. I played with Lightroom 2.5, Nik Define 2 and Topaz Denoise 3 on the cr2 file. As usual, there's no question that a little work will make the image very suitable for printing at the original size and quite a bit larger with the right preparation and a photo printer. Raw definitely improves on the in-camera, jpg adjustment settings in the G11 as they were set in this example.

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Luciano Morpurgo Contributing Member • Posts: 710
About detail and sharpness

Altruisto wrote:

Thank you for these. I really prefer G11 output. Colour rendition is different, and I really see more details on the G11 shots.

Hard to say but I think the OP made good points about why the s90 pics tend to be less sharp (more prone to motion blur basically) you can see it clearly in the statue's head. Again the difference in sharpness and detail is visible in the panorama photo of the square, but the s90 shot at f2.0 while the g11 at f2.8.

But for example if you compare the two close ups on the big column in the same square, the roles are inverted, for some reason the s90 has the edge in the detail (look at the magazines exposed behind the column)

Having seen some exceptional results in terms of sharpness and detail of s90 Raws in another thread, I'm still confident that the difference between the two cameras is more in terms of CA and distortion rather than detail.

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