Body elements

Under the slide-out / flip open door on the base you'll find the combined battery and card compartment. The S90 uses the same slimline NB-6L (3.7V, 1000mAh) battery as several high end IXUS/ELPH models. Being so small means that the S90 will only give you 220 shots (CIPA standard testing), though we got over 300 when not using flash, which isn't terrible.
A camera at this level should have a decent screen, and the S90 doesn't disappoint. At around 460k pixels it's not the highest resolution LCD you'll find on a compact, but it's a lot better than the 230k pixel examples you'll find on many. The menus and images are bright, sharp and contrasty - even when viewed from extreme angles. In bright sunshine it does better than most but is still hard to see in direct sunlight. It's worth noting that you can't see anything on the screen at all in vertical orientation when wearing polarized sunglasses, which is annoying.

This small (18mm / 0.7" across) control cluster packs an awful lot into a tiny space. Around the edge is a freely rotating control dial (a little too freely rotating for our liking), direct buttons for flash mode, self-timer, focus mode and AE compensation (these four also act as arrow keys when navigating menus). In the middle is the familiar Canon FUNC/SET button.

We'll cover the other body buttons later in the Operation & Controls section.

The SXX series cameras were amongst the first to offer a true (28mm equiv) wide angle zoom, something now commonplace enough at this level to warrant only a passing mention. More impressive is that this little 3.8x (28-105mm equiv) zoom offers a fast maximum aperture of F2.0-4.9. That's a stop faster than most competitors at the wide end, but quite average at tele. The lens collapses fully into the body when powered down.
Another area where Canon has put some though into the S90's design is the motorized pop-up flash.This rises quickly and smoothly using a tiny motor rather than the more usual spring and catch system . It adds - literally - nothing to the usability of the camera, but it is an incredibly satisfying thing to behold and is one of the many small details that together give the S90 the feel of a premium product. The flash itself is, inevitably, pretty feeble, able to reach 6.5m (21ft) at the wide end (dropping to 2.5m / 8.2' at the long end).

The S90 is one of the few very compact cameras to sport a proper mode dial, which helps to reinforce the impression that this is a 'real' camera.

To the left of the mode dial is the main shutter release, which sits in the middle of a small zoom rocker switch. Notwithstanding my earlier comments about the handling, the shutter and zoom are actually very well placed and surprisingly comfortable to use.

The right hand end of the camera (viewed from the rear) houses the S90's ports, which sit under a couple of rather flimsy plastic covers. Here you'll find an HMDI connector (included mainly as a cruel reminder that the S90 doesn't even try to capture HD movies) and a combined USB / AV port.