Canon s90

s90: Likes and dislikes

Written by Gail Bjork

The Canon PowerShot is a near-perfect, lightweight and compact digital camera. But like other digital cameras, it has both pros and cons.

The Canon s90 has winning combination of small size, larger sensor than most compact cameras and fast lens at the widest aperture. But like all digital cameras, the s90 has it’s pros and cons.

What I like about the s90

  • Small, lightweight size – unassuming design.
  • Outstanding image quality – pleasing colors, sharp images right out of the camera.
  • JPEG quality – Very good in-camera JPEG processing, much appreciated by those like me who don’t regularly shoot and process RAW images.
  • Excellent high ISO performance up to 800 for a compact digital camera; acceptable at ISO 1600 for smaller prints.
  • Fast maximum aperture of f/2; aperture range is f/2.o (W) – f/4.9 (T)
  • Large, bright LCD – 3″ color with wide viewing angle monitor (approximately 461,000 dots) – okay, so the size and resolution almost make up for the lack of a viewfinder….but not totally (see below)
  • Flash exposure compensation: +/- 2EV in 1/3 stop increments – it’s nice to be able to adjust the amount of light emitted from the tiny, but effective flash.
  • Dedicated play button – push the play button to review images. Press it again, or press the shutter halfway, to return to photo-taking mode.
  • My Menu settings – Select and sort your most frequently used menu settings. When you push the Menu button, it will open to a Star tab to access the five menus you’ve selected.

What I dislike about the s90

  • Camera buttons are small and can be difficult to read in poor light.
  • Low Light scene mode – does not allow user to select a focus mode, but I’d have to be desperate before using this mode anyway [Read why]
  • Lacks a viewfinder – would be helpful when the sun hits the LCD screen at certain angles, making it difficult to view things on the screen.
  • Control Dial – the control dial is too loose; it is automatically assigned a function based on the function assigned to the Control Ring. This can be problematic [Read why]
  • Pop-up flash – is motorized and pops up either automatically or when you switch to an ON flash mode. It can be annoying if you’re in the habit of resting a left finger on the top of the camera when taking shots.
  • Focus point – Can not change the location of the Focus point.
  • Continuous mode – burst mode is immediately accessible from the back of cameras such as SD890IS. On the s90, you have to scroll through the Function menu to select it.
  • No 3:4 aspect ratio
  • Battery life could be longer.
  • RANT about the s90 wrist strap: non adjustable, may shred – imho, Canon should be ashamed for including a non-adjustable wrist strap with the s90. Like wrist straps included with other Canon cameras (such as my SD700 & 890), there is no slider to hold the strap securely around your wrist. The camera can easily slip off the wrist. s90 wrist strap with washerIn addition, the wrist strap will begin shredding if it comes in contact with Velcro used in some camera bags and pouches.I contacted Canon and they basically said that’s what comes with the camera, live with it.“Regrettably, we do not have a different strap available for the S90 that we can send to you.  We only are able to send a replacement of the same strap you already have.”Bah humbug, Canon!The s90 is not cheap, the strap is. I recommend users replace it or tie a knot near the end. Photographer BSquared came up with a creative solution. For the cost of about a dollar, he uses a 1/4 x 1/2 x 1/16″ rubber washer to tighten the strap around his wrist. Nice going!

Visit Gail’s pbase gallery for sample photos taken with the Canon s90.

About the author

Gail Bjork

Gail Bjork, who is passionate about digital photography, is the owner and editor of Digicamhelp.Gail is the author of three illustrated ebooks about digital photography. A number of her photos and digital photography related articles appear at other websites.In 2006, a series of her photos, People in the Louvre, were exhibited at the Underground Photo Gallery
in Iisalmi Finland. Eight of her photos taken in the Florida scrub are on permanent exhibition at Parrish Medical Center in Titusville, Florida.Gail served twelve years as an elected member of The School Board of Palm Beach County, Florida, one of the largest school districts in the U.S. She has also been the editor of a small town newspaper and a free-lance writer. Gail and her husband owned and ran several small businesses.

29 Comments

  • It sucks that all the new Canon cameras have wrist straps that lack the slider thing to tighten them.
    Do they really save that much money by not including them like every other compact Canon I’ve bought over the past decade????
    🙁
     
     
     

  • PY, you can look at some of the other pages in my s90 blog, such as My s90 settings, Tips, Links, etc. Also do a Google search. The is an abundance of user info and something may catch your eye. Look for a s90 group on Flickr too. You’ll find other enthusiasts there too.

  • Thanks for your quick and good response, Gail.  I am just crossing the threshold of collaborating with other enthusiasts and am very grateful for guidance. 😉
    Is there a good guide of hints and tricks for th s90 around that you recommend?

  • PY, even though the S90 is a decent low light performer, it can struggle in low light as you’ve discovered. You may have to focus on an area with more contrast and recompose.

    One of the tricks I learned years ago is to shoot at the widest angle so you use a large aperture and let in more light. In other words, don’t zoom in when taking inside shots in low light. Here are some other helpful focusing tips.

  • I love my S90.   I shot for years and years with a powershot sd1100 and thought I was ‘good’  Boy did I have a lot to learn.   8×10 prints are pretty unforgiving!
    I will echo the comments about the strap.  I have a case with Velcro and my strap looks like a dog’s chew toy.
    I have been able to get this camera to perform will with one frustrating exception.  In lower (But not low) light situations the camera often misses focus completely, seeming to focus as close as possible to camera.  I often have to take three or four shots to get one that is in focus.  I have tried holding the camera steadier, using different modes, flash, et cetera.   I’ve also tried though maybe not doing right: pressing shutter halfway and pausing then shooting.
    This expensive camera should be getting its focus right most of the time on auto settings (w flash) right?
    Any insight appreciated
     

  • Tommy, if you’re an experienced digital camera user, you may very well have a camera problem. I’m experiencing none that you mention. It’s difficult to comment without seeing the images and EXIF data, but check you settings against the ones I recommend in the blog. Many photographers, after they reduce an image in size, adjust brightness and contrast and apply a small amount of sharpening. Have you given these a try?

  • Something is wrong whit mine , having looked at other photos taken at iso 1600 that look better than my photos at iso 400 i have really understood that something is wrong whit mine . Sadly the place where i bought it refuses to take it back .  My images are very blurry as well and often faulty exposed as well . No i don`t like this camera at all , so many drawbacks and very little going for it , at least mine . No i think Panasonics cameras are much better

  • Tommy, my experience with the taking photos at higher ISO numbers is not the same as yours. I have some sample s90 photos in my pbase galleries, which you can use as a comparison to help determine if there is a problem with your camera. The s90 autofocus can be slow, particularly in low light. If a slow shutter speed was selected by the camera, images will be blurry. I have been disappointed with the ergonomics of the s90, but not the image quality.

    If you use the search feature at Digicamhelp, you can find information about taking photos in low light. Also, check my s90 settings suggestions. If you have an online photo gallery and either post or email me the link, I’ll be happy to give you some suggestions. Or email me one or two sample images with the exif data. Here are a few tips about focusing in low light.

  • So much noise even at ISO 400 the photos are unusable , blurry photos , very slow autofocus . A big let down and i really wished  i bought another camera . Or at least a S90 that hasen`t been on the floor in the shop which mine probably has . Never buy anything from Mediamarkt in Lund Sweden

  • Thanks, Jeff, for sharing your insights about the LX3 and s90. The information should prove very helpful for those deciding between these two very fine cameras.

  • I have used a Lumix LX3 for a year and half and sold it to get the S90. I
    have not had the S90 that long yet but my initial observations are positive.
    The S90 takes slightly better photos than the LX3, colors are more pleasing
    and less noise. I really like the the control ring around the lens and find
    that this is easier to manipulate than the little joy stick to change
    aperture and f-stop on the LX3. The LX3 certainly feels like a more solid
    camera and is easier to hold than the S90, but then it is bigger. The sepcs
    Panasonic lists for the LX3 regarding size are truly misleading as they do
    not include protrusions, which in terms of the lens and lens cap adds
    significantly more bulk to the LX3. The LX3 is pocketable, albeit in a
    large pocket, but the S90 is truly pocketable, which is one of the main
    reasons I got the S90, along with greater zoom range and better photos. The
    LX3 does have HD video, but I rarely use video. So far my impressions of
    the s90 are very good. Perhaps I hold the camera differently then others
    but I have yet to have any issue with the rear control dial changing
    inadvertently.

  • Thanks, Jeff, for your comments. Many people struggle about which of these fine cameras to buy: the LX3 or the s90. Your insights can help them decide. Enjoy your s90!

  • I have used a Lumix LX3 for a year and half and sold it to get the S90.  I have not had the S90 that long yet but my initial observations are positive.  The S90 takes slightly better photos than the LX3, colors are more pleasing and less noise.  I really like the the control ring around the lens and find that this is easier to manipulate than the little joy stick to change aperture and f-stop on the LX3.  The LX3 certainly feels like a more solid camera and is easier to hold than the S90, but then it is bigger.  The specs Panasonic lists for the LX3 regarding size are truly misleading as they do not include protrusions, which in terms of the lens and lens cap adds significantly more bulk to the LX3.  The LX3 is pocketable, albeit in a large pocket, but the S90 is truly pocketable, which is one of the main reasons I got the S90, along with greater zoom range and better photos.  The LX3 does have HD video, but I rarely use video.   So far my impressions of the s90 are very good.  Perhaps I hold the camera differently then others but I have yet to have any issue with the rear control dial changing inadvertently.

  • The G11 is certainly a fine camera but, as you mentioned, a pocket-camera it is not. For me the loose read dial of th s90 is a pain but the grip does help. I hope Canon fixes the dial in future versions. But who knows when a new model will be out, so if you can learn to live with the control dial, the s90 is a very fine camera. I’ve been looking for a replacement but, to be quite honest, I’ve found nothing that beats it’s combination of small size, image quality and high ISO performance.

  • I’ve been agonizing between the S90 and G11 all week. What it comes down to for me: The G11 is so much more controllable (separate dials instead of dealing with menus!) and has more useful features, but it doesn’t fit into pants pockets. The S90 is quite compact, and I could put up with some of its inadequacies against the G11, but for the loose rear dial! That thing is a deal breaker for me. But maybe I’ll buy the extra grip and shove tape into the wheel to keep it from spinning.

  • LOL, edwin. I wish choosing a digital camera were that easy. To me, the real choice is between portability and longer zoom lens. If it must fit into your wife’s evening bag, the choice is even easier. 😛

  • Hi Gail, you didn’t make it any easier for me! haha. I was hoping you will help me make the decision. I’m actually inclined to go with the S90, as I want a portable but powerful camera to take with me everywhere, including trips. I think I can be careful about the rear dial, while my wife shoots mostly in Auto, so the loose dial should not trouble her. I once logged my 20D with the 24-70mm L lens on a trip to Japan with the external flash and my neck and shoulder was aching by the end of day 1. I’ve given a lot of thought to the G11’s longer lens too, my only concern is that my wife thinks its much too big for her evening bag 🙂

  • Hi Edwin, Either is a fine camera. If you’re looking for small camera with excellent image quality that does well in low light, the s90 is a fine choice (as long as you understand and can live with its limitations). It has the same sensor as the G11, so you can expect the same image quality from it. The rotating LCD isn’t the most important G11 feature to me…it’s the longer zoom lens. If fitting a camera in your pocket isn’t a top priority, the G11 would be a better choice because of the zoom range, more features and, yes, the rotating LCD. You can also mount an external flash on the G11, which you can’t with the s90. It’s a tough choice, but you can’t go wrong with either. Think of the features you use most and choose the one that best fits your needs. Good luck.

  • hi gail, your likes and dislikes of the S90 are very informative. i am deciding between the S90 and the G11, and so far, leaning towards the S90. but now i’m having 2nd thoughts about it, due to your article. pls help me out here and let me know your thoughts. the most important difference of the S90 for me are the fast (altho less zoom) lens. the G11’s rotating LCD is nice, but i might be able to live without that. I’m buyng a camera as a backup to my 6 year old DSLR (Canon 20D).

  • Pa, I said I’d have to be desperate because the image quality can become very deteriorated and smeared at extreme high ISO numbers. Visit the s90 High ISO section, which has crops of images taken at ISO 5000 and 8000 and where I discuss Low Light Scene mode in more detail.

  • HI,
    You said-“Low Light scene mode – does not allow user to select a focus mode, but I’d have to be desperate before using this mode anyway”.
    Why would you have to be desperate before using this mode? Is it because you’d  select the settings yourself to get the best low light shot?
    Just wondering as I just bought one….
    cheers,
    Pa.

  • I got a gray frame.
    I did not take shots when I noticed the difference in color.  What I did was press the function button 2x, and that solved the problem. 
    I’ll reset my cam as you suggested.  Thanks for all the help.  Merry Christmas!

  • Was the AutoFocus frame blue or gray? If blue, that means you’re probably photographing a person and their face is detected when you press the shutter button halfway. The camera automatically selectd Servo AF so focus and exposure are maintained. If you can’t take the shot, perhaps focus and exposure have not been locked. See page 87 in the manual.

    About the violet appearing blue, I’m not sure about that. Are the pictures themselves okay, or is the off color in them too when viewed on your computer monitor? Try shooting in P Mode to see if you have the same problem?.

    No, I wouldn’t let it go. I’d reset the camera, see if these things happen again and, if so, I’d call Canon tech support. I’ve had very positive experiences with them on the phone.

  • Thanks Gail.  Other things I experienced:
    1.       When pressing the shutter button halfway, I got a gray focus frame, and when I pressed it fully, I can’t take the shot.   Nothing happens.
    2.       In auto mode, after an hour of shooting, suddenly, violet appears as blue.
    I’m trying to reproduce these weird problems, but I can’t.  Should I just let it go?  Or are these serious bugs?

  • I notice that when I press the shutter halfway, the brightness changes, it’s getting darker.. Is this a problem? Thanks!

  • One other thing…the control ring.  The one I played with at the store had a VERY loose control dial, but the camera I actually bought has a MUCH tighter control dial.  I don’t know if this is a fix or just that the camera in the store had the dial spun umpteen jillion times.  Either way, I don’t think I’ll be spinning it enough to loosen it up.

  • I beat myself up for a week over whether to get this or not, but I’m glad I did.  Despite it’s few annoyances, it’s an unbelievable prosumer compact that does nearly everything a basic DSLR can do…and it fits in my pocket.

    I don’t find the buttons any smaller than on any other small cameral…in fact they’re larger than most of Canon’s SD line (I made a point to compare them).

    Pop-up flash: agree, but just trained myself to keep left fingers away from it…didn’t take long.

    Burst mode: can’t comment as I doubt I’ll have to use it with this camera…it’s intended for vacations, dinner parties, places where I can “UN”obtrusively take good shots without a huge DSLR terrifying my subjects.

    All your other points (good and bad) I agree with.  But still, once this thing was in my hands I knew the search for the almost perfect PnS with some flexibility was over.  The LX3 has a great zoom…but its glass is nowhere near that of the S90 for low-light shots.