White Balance

The S9000 has six white balance presets (daylight, cloudy, fluorescent 1, 2 and 3 and incandescent), plus auto and two custom (manual) measured WB settings. In everyday shooting we found the white balance to perform very well, with daylight pictures very slightly warm, but not so much that you really notice unless you measure the colors. Indoors the S9000 deals very well with fluorescent lighting, though it struggles with low level incandescent lighting (most households at night), producing very warm images with a visible orange cast. It's by no means the worst offender we've ever seen (step forward virtually every Canon compact), but you'll still want to switch to manual white balance when shooting indoors if you want to guarantee no color casts.

Outdoor - Auto WB
Red -0.0%, Blue 1.2%

Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red 0.6%, Blue -1.3%

Incandescent - Auto WB
Red 7.2%, Blue -9.7%

Flash Performance

No real complaints about flash exposures, which are very reliable and show only the tiniest color cast (producing warmer skin tones, which ain't no bad thing). We rarely saw any blown-out results, even when shooting from relatively short distances (under 1 meter), and the flash is positioned far enough away from the lens that red-eye is rare, even without use of the anti red-eye pre-flash. On a side note, focus was excellent in low light, thanks to the powerful AF illuminator, which allows the S9000 to focus in complete darkness at distances of up to about 2.0 meters with about a 90 per cent success rate.

Skin tone
Excellent color (slight warm tone) and exposure
Color chart
Excellent color and exposure

Macro Focus

The S9000 can focus down to around 0.5m at the wide end of the zoom, 2.0m at the long end. If you switch to 'high speed' focus mode you need to be aware that the minimum shooting distance (without using macro mode) stretches to around 2.0m at the wide end, and 4.0m at the long end). There are two macro modes; standard macro, which works at both ends of the zoom and gets you down to around 10cm (wide) / 90cm (tele) and lets you capture an area of between 8 and 9cm across. There's also a 'super macro' mode, which gets you down to around 1cm, but (like the similar mode on the Canon S2 IS) is of fairly limited value. The problem is that in super macro mode the magnification (which matters much more than the distance) isn't that great - most cameras manage to capture a similar area using their 'standard' macro modes, and you're so close to the subject it's difficult to avoid the whole thing being in shadow. Distortion in super macro mode is also very strong.

Wide macro -
91 x 68 mm coverage
38 px/mm (973 px/in)
Distortion: Average to high
Corner softness: High
Equiv. focal length: 28 mm

Tele macro -
79 x 59 mm coverage
28 px/mm (722 px/in)
Distortion: Low
Corner softness: Low
Equiv. focal length: 300 mm
Super macro -
38 x 28 mm coverage
91 px/mm (2302 px/in)
Distortion: High
Corner softness: Average
Equiv. focal length: 28 mm

Barrel and Pincushion Distortion

One of the inevitable consequences of producing zooms with a wide range in such a compact form is that some distortion is unavoidable, but the S9000's lens does a good job of keeping things under control. 1.0% barrel distortion is fairly low (and certainly won't mar everyday shots), and there is only the tiniest (0.1%) amount of measurable pincushion distortion at the long (300mm equiv.) end of the range. Most of the mid-zoom settings are also almost distortion-free.

Barrel distortion - 1.0% at Wide angle
Equiv. focal length: 28 mm
Pincushion distortion - 0.1% at Telephoto
Equiv. focal length: 300 mm

Specific image quality issues

Overall impressions of the S9000 are very positive indeed; the results are detailed (if a little soft), well exposed, have natural color (quite subtle compared to many consumer cameras) and focus is very reliable, though we did find it struggled a bit at the long end of the zoom, very occasionally taking a completely out-of-focus shot. We also found the usual problem of limited dynamic range (which isn't helped by the rather high contrast of the images), some images look a little soft - and show a little vignetting - in the corners at the wide end of the zoom, but overall there's more to like here than not.

Color fringing/corner softness

We did find some fairly serious purple fringing - especially at the wide end of the lens, and towards the edge of the frame. It doesn't appear in all shots, and unless you're printing very large (these are 9MP files after all) I doubt it'll trouble you too much. We also found some slight fall off in corner sharpness when shooting at the widest zoom setting and widest aperture, though this is only visible if you zoom in to 100% on-screen, and is unlikely to mar your everyday shots.

100% crop 28 mm equiv., F2.8

Highlight clipping

The rather high default contrast and fairly narrow dynamic range means exposures with the S9000 have to be spot-on, and even if they are (which to be fair to the camera is most of the time), bright, contrasty conditions cause fairly harsh highlight clipping. The situation is improved by shooting in CCD-RAW mode, but even then there's a limit to how much you can avoid this issue.

100% crop 87 mm equiv., F3.9