Canon SD4000 vs. S90

SD4000 vs. S90 image quality

Written by Gail Bjork

The Canon S90 has the edge on overall image quality but the SD4000 also produces satisfying photos in a variety of lighting conditions.

The S90 has a larger CCD sensor than found in most compact cameras. Combined with its fast f2.0 lens at wide angle, it does remarkably well in low light for a small camera.

The SD4000 has a smaller, backside-illuminated CMOS sensor. It also has a f2.0 lens and provides respectable low light shots. The CMOS sensor also allows faster continuous shooting speeds than available on the the S90.

Overall image quality

The S90 has a edge on overall image quality and sharpness.  Like the S90, SD4000 images will benefit from using minus Exposure Compensation when photographing in bright light with high contrast. Neither camera has the dynamic range of a DSLR.

Images from the S90 are generally sharper than the SD4000, particularly at the longer end of the zoom. If you want to increase in-camera sharpening you’ll have to use P or another mode to access the Custom My Colors menu since it is not accessible in full auto mode. When using single area focus, images generally come out sharper than if you use a multi-point focus mode.

Image noise

The S90 does a better job at controlling noise at higher ISO numbers. For the SD4000, minimal noise is present even at the lowest ISO number (125). Neither camera does well at higher ISO numbers than cameras with large sensors such as DSLRs and Micro-Four Thirds.

However, except when shooting at ISO 1600 and above with the SD4000, noise isn’t generally a major visual problem after an image is reduced in size and sharpened.

Video quality

The video quality of the SD4000 is much better than the s90. It has HD video, which the s90 does not. You can also zoom with the optical zoom as you shoot with the 4000. If you want to zoom while taking video with the s90, you’ll have to move yourself closer or further away from the subject. You can also use the digital zoom while taking movies, but image quality may be degraded.

NOTE: See some SD4000 test shots in my pBase galleries. My S90 photos are here.

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.

6 Comments

  • Ivan, In my experience, the Auto modes of both cameras are equal. However, the s90 will do slightly better in low light in auto, or any other mode, because of the larger sensor. Also, the s90 has a lot of extra features for photo enthusiasts and professional photographers. They are available to you if your interest in photography grows in the future.

    If you haven’t already read it, this article may help you decide between the two cameras.

    The Lensmate device can be shipped internationally.

  • Thank you very much, Gail. Though I find a little contradiction in you reply. At first you say  If there is not a big price difference between the s90 and sd4000, I wouldn’t hesitate recommending the s90. But in the end you say They both have strong and weak points, like any digital camera. The sd90 has a larger sensor, so it will do better in low light. But, honesty, you can’t go wrong with either camera. That I can only interpret that they are almost equal cameras at auto. Hm, I wonder, if s90 did not have manual mode, would it be

    of any interest to anybody? Re: control wheel device. Regretfully, I can’t use any advantages that people have in the west. It’s not possible to buy anything that is sold there. I live in the Ukraine.
    Thanks anyway. Kind regards. Your blog is very good.

  • Ivan, I ending up giving a family member my Canon s90 because they take more low light photos than I do, and fell in love with the camera. They shoot Full Auto only, which is an intelligent auto mode. I personally think the s90 works very well in auto mode. If there is not a big price difference between the s90 and sd4000, I wouldn’t hesitate recommending the s90. As you may know, there are problems with the rear control dial, so if you get the s90, consider investing is this inexpensive control wheel device.

    As articles in my blog point out, both the SD4000 and S90 are great cameras. They both have strong and weak points, like any digital camera. The sd90 has a larger sensor, so it will do better in low light. But, honesty, you can’t go wrong with either camera.

  • I choose between sd4000 and s90. I will shoo it auto. Everybody says there is no sense to buy s90 to use it in auto. But the price here is about the same 280 usd against 337 usd. And I want the better images. So, is it still make sense to buy s90 to shoot in full auto in order to get better images?
    Please kindly advise

  • That is correct. However, because of the small sized sensors in these cameras, the blur will be not as dramatic as when using a DSLR. Here is more information about background blur, also known as Bokeh.