Canon S90 Review

Texas Capitol Dome (Angled)

It wasn't long that I was into photography before I realized I needed to have a camera with me all the time. I tried to have my camera with me everyday, but it just isn't practical to always have my DSLR with me. So, I searched for a good compact camera that would give me decent shots without the bulk. After agonizing research that involved reading countless reviews and looking at zillions of sample shots, I decided on the Canon Powershot S90. It had the main features I wanted: f2.0 aperture, good low light capabilities, auto exposure bracketing (AEB), and raw file support. Oh, and be small enough to slip into my pocket or backpack, of course.

I bought this little camera back in December, a little over 3 months ago now, so I've had some time to get familiar with it. To cut to the chase, I like it! At just under $400 street price, it's not a cheap point-n-shoot and it's still far from DSLR quality. While it won't replace my Canon 30D, the images out of S90 have surpassed my expectations and it is well worth the price.

I'm not going to post pictures of the camera, as there are plenty of shots of it online. There are also plenty of sample images, so I'm showing you the one that has impressed me the most so far. I love HDR and high contrast colorful images. A lot of what I do is processed as HDR, which is why raw file capture was important to me. However, this image that I took with the S90 is NOT an HDR processed image! This particular shot shows off the inherent dynamic range of S90. When I first took this shot and looked at the LCD, I figured I would be cropping out the top due to the darkness. When I got the image home, I was surprised that there was detail there! This image has been enhanced with some noise reduction through Noiseware and some color saturation and detail tweaking with Topaz Adjust. Basically, I just highlighted what the sensor caught. I'm not sure my 30D could have captured any better.  The image quality is great overall. What else is there to like?

- F2.0 aperture. Great for getting as much light in as possible to keep ISO down and have a lot of control over depth of field.

- Low light capability. I don't hesitate to shoot at ISO 800. You'll get some noise, but it is easy to handle with popular noise reduction applications. The camera can go higher, but it's too noisy for my tastes beyond 800.

- Size. Easily pocketable.

- Ring control. I love this feature! Its function is programmable and mine usually controls aperture.

- Shortcut button. Another programmable feature is a button on the back, which I keep set to take me to the ISO setting.

- Back control wheel. This is a love/hate thing. I love that it lets me control my EV setting, just like my DSLR. I'll talk about the hate part in a minute.

- Nice large LCD. Very bright and color seems accurate.

- Real time histogram. You can bring it up on the display as you compose your shot. I wish my old 30D did that.

- Raw file support. A necessity for HDR, IMO. It can capture RAW+JPEG, which is a nice feature that only costs you some space on your card. It may help save a shot that was a little off on the exposure.

What's not to like?

- Body is too smooth. It's hard to get a good grip because the front is so smooth. Not a good combination with sweaty hands!

- Macro focusing is sketchy. It struggles to focus in macro mode sometimes. The good news is that you can manually focus.

- CA. The CA can be pretty bad wide open. Probably not going to find much better in a compact. Just have to deal with it in the software.

- Barrel distortion. Bad at the widest zoom, but easily correct by software. Auto-corrected by the camera in JPGs, so really only an issue in raw processing. DPP or the most recent Lightroom update will handle it.

- Battery life. I'm only getting a little over 100 shots typically. I rarely use the flash. Maybe I keep the LCD on too long.

- Back control wheel. Way too sensitive! You have to be careful not to accidentally change your exposure. Check it before every shot! Canon should have added a lock or at least made it a little stiffer.

All things considered, this is a great "everyday" camera. As small as it is, there is no excuse not to carry it with you and if you do your part, it can deliver some high quality images.

Check out more images taken with this camera in my flickr S90 set.