Canon PowerShot S90 Review
Conclusion - Pros
- Excellent image quality, particularly at lower ISO settings
- Well optimized JPEGs
- Extensive photographic feature set
- New Function Ring transforms use of manual controls on a small camera
- Usable, fast raw mode with excellent DPP software supplied
- Highly customizable
- Fast, sharp zoom with useful 28-105mm range and F2.0 aperture (though only at the wide end)
- Reliable metering, focus and white balance
- Fast face detection / tracking
- Very compact, well built
- Nice screen
- Decent battery life
- Usable results up to ISO 800 (though shooting raw is advised at higher settings)
Conclusion - Cons
- Highlight clipping and channel clipping in bright, contrasty conditions
- Rear dial rotates too freely and cannot be disabled, so accidental settings changes too common
- No noise reduction options, JPEG NR too strong at higher ISO settings
- Video limited to VGA resolution
- Lack of grip and smooth, featureless body don't help handling one bit (although third party solutions are available)
- Focus in low light and at long end of zoom could be faster
- Flash underpowered, flash performance overall not that impressive
- Full auto modes not that impressive - take control for the best results
- Relatively small maximum aperture at long end of zoom
There's been something of a 'serious compact camera' renaissance in the last couple of years, led by Panasonic with the LX series and Canon with the G9/10/11. That said, the choices for the enthusiast wanting full photographic control in a pocketable package are still very limited (even the LX3 is big for a compact), meaning the S90 was given a warm welcome when first announced last fall.
On paper it's a compelling package, with comprehensive photographic features, a fast, useful zoom and as much in the way of external control as you could possibly fit onto such a small body. For the SLR user wanting something that offered the 'carry anywhere' convenience - but not the compromise - of an ultra compact DSC the S90 promises to be the perfect second camera.
And for the most part it delivers on that promise; the image quality is surprisingly good, the user interface well thought out and the design truly pocket-friendly. The handling takes some getting used to, which I guess is inevitable given how much Canon has tried to cram into a camera the size of an Ixus/Elph. But once you're familiar with the controls and the various operational foibles it offers a surprisingly fast and fluid shooting experience for the enthusiast photographer with a desire for total photographic control.
To paraphrase the famous advertising headline, no one was ever fired for buying a Canon compact; whatever you feel about the company it's hard to deny that it produces cameras that deliver reliable, consistent results in a wide variety of shooting situations. And whilst the S90 is inevitably limited by its tiny sensor (the great leveler that ensures most compacts produce broadly similar results) it is definitely one of the better models on the market today, with excellent metering, color, focus and white balance. Yes, you still get clipped highlights in bright conditions, smeared low contrast detail in dull conditions and noise at anything over base ISO, but with careful use of the controls the results - at normal viewing magnifications, are pretty impressive.
The Sony 10MP high sensitivity sensor at the heart of the S90 (and several competitor models) - hailed as the answer to compact camera low light performance - is good, but it's no 'great leap forward', and offers maybe a stop or so of advantage over current generation higher resolution sensors, meaning ISO 800 is acceptable, ISO 1600 usable at a push. Far more useful for a lot of lower light shooting situations is the F2.0 maximum aperture at the wide end of the zoom, which produces superb results with enough depth of field to be perfect for dimly lit interiors and dawn landscapes - without needing to stray too far up the ISO range.
The JPEG output at base ISO is superb; easily as good as the G11 or LX3. At higher ISO settings it's good for its class, but the (unavoidable) noise reduction is too strong for our liking, and in the middle ISO settings we'd recommend advanced users shoot raw and process to their own taste (and you do get a decent raw converter in the box, unlike many compacts).
I admit I didn't like the S90 when I first got it; the handling is seriously compromised by the size and lack of grip (this camera really needs a grip, something Canon has left to third party suppliers to offer) and the controls take a lot of getting used to. But spend some time customizing the settings and familiarizing yourself with the various knobs and dials and you'll be rewarded with a pocket camera that offers some of the most comprehensive - and usable - photographic control on the market.
The new function dial transforms the use of manual controls on a compact camera and (once you've set it up right and learned what it does in each mode) it goes a long way to overcoming the most common problem when sophisticated controls are squeezed into a tiny body - that they're too fiddly to actually use. I wish I could say the same about the freely-rotating rear dial, which is great when you're using it and a total pain when you're not: a serious blunder in an otherwise incredibly well designed user interface. It's just too easy to accidentally move, and it can't be turned off, so you'll find yourself accidentally changing important settings (such as AE compensation or ISO) just by handling the camera when it's turned on.
I did, eventually, manage to get to grips with using the S90 without moving the rear dial accidentally most of the time, but it really needs to be stiffer; at the moment it feels safer to leave the camera in full auto mode (which does disable the rear dial) for most casual shooting, somewhat negating the point of all those controls.
The S90 isn't the fastest kid on the block but it's not really that kind of camera. We found the autofocus a little sluggish at the long end of the zoom, particularly in low light, but it is at least reliable (as is the face detection - complete with 'blink warning'). For static landscapes and interiors you'll never notice the focus speed (or lack of), but if you've got a hyperactive toddler the S90 will, like many compacts, struggle to keep up with the action. I loved using it for landscapes, but the focus and slightly flaky flash exposures would stop it being my number one choice for social snaps.
The Final Word
Photographers looking for a serious, pocket-friendly, compact camera haven't had a lot to choose from, and the S90 offers the first real competition to Panasonic's LX3, the success of which almost certainly led Canon to revive the long-running and much missed 'S' series. I may not have liked it when I first used it, but I soon found myself picking it up every time I went out the door.
It is, above all else, a great walkaround camera, capable of results (particularly at lower ISO settings) that most serious photographers would be more than happy with. The control system encourages photographic experimentation (unlike so many compacts, which simply make it too painful to work manually), but the automatic systems are also reliable - and intelligent - enough to give you great results if you prefer to just 'point and shoot'. The tiny body might not make for particularly good handling, but it's small enough to carry anywhere and the image quality it produces rarely disappoints.
Canon PowerShot S90
Category: Premium Enthusiast Compact Camera
Ergonomics & handling
Exposure and focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Movie / video mode
The S90 offers an appealing combination of compact styling, photographic functionality and powerful control. Crucially it also offers some of the best image quality we've seen in such a small camera for a long time, sensor limitations aside. It's got a great lens and great features and is only let down slightly by the inevitable handling issues that come with such a small camera.
Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category.
Click here to learn about the changes to our scoring system and what these numbers mean.
|_ERN9064 by ernesto juarez|
from Shoot yourself ! (with your camera)
|walkersons fields by George Veltchev|
from -Waiting for Autumn- (in Full Colours Only)
There's no mistaking the Nikon Coolpix P1000 – with a 24-3000mm equivalent zoom, it really is in a class of its own. It's a conspicuous-looking superzoom with one main job: getting you really close to far away subjects. We've put together a gallery showing the kind of results you can expect from it.
A new report from The Verge claims Instagram is currently testing a feature that allows users to re-share posts to their own account feeds.
GoPro has announced its HERO7 camera lineup. The updated action cameras feature new HyperSmooth and TimeWarp modes, as well as improved video and photo specs.
The latest Samsung midrange smartphone offers a super-wide-angle lens in its triple-camera setup.
The Sony 24mm F1.4 is the latest lens to join the company's premium G Master lineup. We've been shooting with one for a couple of days - here's what you need to know.
Apple released iOS 12 a few days ago and some iPhone X users are less than happy with how the new operating system has made their phones look.
Camera bag manufacturer Lowepro has introduced mark II backpacks for its ProTactic AW range with models that are said to feature an improved handling experience as well as a collection of accessories that can be attached to the outside.
Canon has announced its latest superzoom camera, the PowerShot SX70 HS. Compared to the SX60 that came before it, the SX70 has the same lens but offers a higher resolution EVF, 4K video capture and support for Canon's new CR3 Raw format.
Cosina has announced its eighth lens designed specifically for Sony's E-mount system. The Voigtlander 21mm F3.5 lens is due out October 2018.
Sony has taken the wraps off of its new 24mm F1.4 GM full-frame lens, which the company claims is the lightest in its class. Despite its fast aperture, the 24mm F1.4 is remarkably light, weighing just 445 grams (15.7 ounces). The lens will set you back $1400 when it ships next month.
In this episode of DPReview TV we take a look at Sony's brand new 24mm F1.4 GM lens, a desirable focal length for many photographers. How does it perform? Chris and Jordan give us their first impressions.
We've had a little time to shoot with Sony's new wide/fast prime, both close to home and on the water in San Francisco. Check out our initial sample images.
Fujifilm released a firmware upgrade for its X-T3 mirrorless camera that addresses issues with distortion compensation and the mechanical lock on SD cards.
The app's algorithms have been trained using using 200 million cropping data points from real photographers.
Thanks to a software update, the Loupedeck+ editing console can now be used for video editing.
British photographic engineer MTF Services is claiming the world’s first third-party lens adapters for the new Nikon Z system with a collection of four units designed to allow cinema lenses to be mounted on the mirrorless full frame bodies.
Think Tank Photo has updated its line of heavy-duty rain covers and introduced a new, compact version for emergency situations.
The X-T3 is our first opportunity to analyze what's likely to be Fujifilm's next generation image sensor. Take a look at how it performs next to the competition in our studio test scene.
Canon's new normal is seriously sharp wide open. After shooting with it for a few days, we've prepared a gallery of real-world sample images.
Nikon will cease offering Brazil-based customer service and technical support, though the company stresses that it will still offer technical assistance and warranty repairs for valid warranties.
Two years ago, CatLABS of JP announced a plan to save Packfilm from the dead. Now, it's announced it's giving up its efforts to better focus its resources elsewhere.
The GoPro Fusion is designed to make it easy to capture 360-degree video and stills. We took it out recently on a typically hot Seattle summer day to see what it can do.
We've got our hands on a full-production Nikon Z7 camera and have updated our gallery with additional samples.
A new Kickstarter campaign seeks funding for Chroma Chrono, a programmable RGB camera flash that emits multiple colors during long exposures.
Think Tank Photo has launched a new lineup of six dual-access, water-resistant protective lens cases it calls Lens Case Duo.
Canon and Nikon finally entered the full-frame mirrorless market this summer with the brand-new RF and Z mounts. Now that we've had some time with the cameras, we wanted to revisit our earlier predictions and take stock.
The devices' camera specs look pretty much identical to last year's iPhone X but under the hood a number of important improvements have been made.
Blackmagic Design has announced the public beta of its new Blackmagic RAW video codec. The company says the new format combines the benefits of shooting Raw video with the ease of use and smaller file sizes usually associated with non-Raw video files.
Serif, the company behind the Affinity suite, has announced the latest update for its mobile Photoshop competitor Affinity Photo for iPad.
The Atomos Ninja V external video recorder and monitor will be ready to ship at the end of this month. The 5.2in Ninja V is designed to provide a smaller option, while still offering many of the features of the larger 7-inch models.