Canon s90

My Canon s90 settings

Written by Digicamhelp Editor

The first thing I do when getting a new digital camera is change many of the factory default settings. Here are my settings for the Canon s90.

s90 settings buttons & wheelThe first thing I do when I get a new digital camera is change many of the factory default settings. After years of using digital cameras, I’ve found some settings are more effective than the ones the manufacturer preselects for us. However, I do adjust settings such as White Balance, Exposure Compensation and  ISO whenever needed according to the scene and lighting.

Generally, though, I keep my s90 set as follows:

  • Shooting mode: P or Aperture priority mode
  • Focus – Single Point
  • Auto Focus frame — Center, normal size
  • Metering — Evaluative
  • Image Stabilization: Shoot Only
  • Sensitivity – Auto ISO
  • Exposure Compensation: -1/3 to – 2/3 for outside photos
  • Control ring – assigned to ISO [Learn why]
  • Shortcut button – AE Lock (Auto Exposure Lock is one of 12 functions that can be assigned to the shortcut button via the Set Shortcut button menu)
  • iContrast – OFF (iContrast can be effective, however you can apply it when reviewing images. The original image will remain untouched and a new image is created with iContrast applied).
  • Custom colors — increase saturation, decrease red (both by one tick)
  • Flash – OFF – otherwise the flash remains up and it can be annoying when taking shots
  • Auto focus assist lamp — ON
  • Red-eye mode — OFF
  • White balance — AUTO
  • Digital Zoom — OFF
  • LCD Review – OFF

Note: if a function isn’t listed above, it’s kept at the factory default.

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


  • Neil, in response to your email: you can change aperture and speed when using P Mode. I set the Shortcut button to AE Lock. When pressed, I can change the aperture and shutter speed combination. This is known as Program Shift. Check page 92 of the manual. AE Lock changes to Flash Exposure Lock (FE Lock) when the flash is enabled. This is also a very handy feature.

  • Neil, I find Exposure Compenstion one of the most useful camera settings and use it a lot. For quick access to EC, I assign it to the front control ring on both my S90 and S100. Check page 98 in the S90 manual for instructions on how to assign EC to the front control ring. I prefer this method to using the dial (page 70 in the manual).

  • Hi Gail

    I have been using my S90 in program mode as you suggest. One question it has given rise to is what do you do if you need exposure compensation? Maybe I’m missing something. Regards, Neil

  • Thank you Gail. I will try that out. What I presently do is select ISO (via the control ring) then by pressing the top of the control dial I can select either aperture or shutter speed and adjust by rotating the control dial. I am not sure it is any quicker, it is just what came naturally.

  • Neil, with advanced compact cameras like the S90, I’ve always used Program mode rather than Manual mode. Program mode let’s me adjust the same settings you mention. Shutter speed and aperture can be changed using AE Lock and Program Shift. After locking exposure, a screen appears of the LCD and by rotating the dial, the shutter speed and aperture value combination is changed (See page 92 in the S90 manual). It’s easy, fast and effective.

  • Hi Gail

    Why not leave the camera on manual? When I shoot I usually find myself balancing three things: the highest shutter speed possible; the lowest iso; and whatever aperture gives me, either, the optimal lens performance or most suitable depth of field for the subject.

    I hope the question makes sense.



  • Thank you Jim for the information. We have an article about his grip for the s90 here. Richard also makes one for the s95. I use the grip on my s90 and it significantly improved the ergonomics. For anyone having problems with the rear control dial, check out the Lensmate device. Happy Holiday to you too!

  • If anyone is interested in an after-market grip specifically designed for the S90/95, Richard Franiec has designed an outstanding one that is available either on his site or at  I highly recommend this accessory, the one issue that I had with the S90/95 is the handling ergonomics, this grip REALLY makes a difference.
    Happy Holidays to All!

  • Hi Gail,
    is it correct that the minimum shutter speed for s90/s95 when using flash is 1/60.
    If that is not right, how do we adjust min shutter speed for flash mode?
    Thanks and merry Christmas!!!

  • Sanaa, do a search at our site for the terms you don’t understand, such as aperture, shutter speed. The articles should give you a good understanding of each function. The articles are non-technical and should be easy to understand. One way you can manually lock focus is by setting up your shortcut button to Auto Focus Lock, See page 153 in the manual.  Things can be overwhelming, but go slow and concentrate learning one thing at a time. Here are some suggestions for getting the most out of your camera manual. btw, I primarily use PMode on the s90. I keep ISO set to Auto, and the setting I change most (when outside in good light) is Exposure Compensation.

  • Thanks a lot Gail ! the articles were very helpful..will try experimenting. Honestly,I dont understand much about how to adjust focus, aperture,shutter speed etc..all those all  seems very confusing right now.

  • Sanaa, it will take time and practice learning to get the most out of any camera, including the s90. When taking photos at night, make sure you’re shooting at the widest angle (don’t zoom in) as the aperture is the widest and lets in more light. Also check the shutter speed and raise the ISO if necessary to increase it. If the shutter speed is too slow, you’ll get camera shake. Many people have difficulty taking photos free from camera shake when hand-holding a camera at shutter speeds 1/30th a second or below. Make sure to press the shutter button correctly in two steps so focus is locked. See page 23 in the manual. For some night photos, you may have to use the flash. Make sure image stabilization is turned on.

    It is difficult to take pictures “fast” with the s90. It is not a speedy camera so you have to work within it’s limitations. Experiment using continuous mode and make sure you prefocus.

    Related reading:

    Night time photography

    Night time photography tips

    Street photography

  • Hi, I just purchased the S90 and Im so lost..I hardly know how to use it to the best of its capacity. i just shoot on program mode and play around with the ISO and exposure. I had two questions actually, firstly most of the times when I want to click a picture of someone at night, it keeps coming blur which frustrates the people posing for me and they term me as a bad photographer 🙁  Please help. Secondly i love taking interesting and natural pictures of people on the streets which tell a story. But they need to be taken very fast. Please can u recommend some fixed settings on this camera for me to shoot so that I get the best picture possible. Thanks a lot in advance

  • Gail, Sorry about the post above. After i put the card in computer sound volume is loud and good.
    Thanks again for all your help.

  • Gail… woo-hoo. I think i got it now about how to get the blur background. Thanks to you
    for the links you provided.

    I have now been shooting short videos and the quality is very good. But the sound is
    so low i can hardly hear it. I went to the camera settings and choose level five but
    still low. Any suggestions.
    Again thanks.

  • Gail.. Thanks for this.
    Man you are good. I know i will never master this. lol
    But will work on it.

  • Mark, you can try a combination of things to get a blurred background with the s90.  Don’t expect DSLR type blur (shallow depth of field) with a compact camera, however the s90/95 does better than many others.
    The main thing is that you have to open up the aperture. Here are some sample depth of field test shots which I made with the s90 changing the aperture.

    And here are some taken in macro mode. When taking macro photos, it’s best to shoot as close to the widest angle possible.

    In addition to changing the aperture size, you can decrease depth of field by zooming in in non-macro mode and getting closer to the subject.

  • Mark, based on the information that you want to carry the tripod in a messenger bag and that it will be used for a very lightweight digital camera, consider the Tamrac ZipShot Instant Tripod. It’s ultra-compact and ultra-light (11 oz.; measures 15″ when folded).

    If it’s a bit too lightweight, something like the Slik Compact-XL Compact Travel Tripod may be a better choice (15.35 inches folded; 1.45 pounds; maximum height 43.7 inches).

  • Can anyone suggest a light weight full sized tripod i could carry in messenger bag for the s90.

  • Thanks for the advice on the “up” button. I just bought an S90 and couldn’t understand the table on Pag 99. How was it possible to assign two functions to the real dial? ANSWER! the up button!
    I now have a very acceptable set of controls when shooting aperture priority as follows:
    Front ring: focal length (very old school and probably has better uses but I love it)
    Rear dial: Aperture or Exposure comp (switching using up button!)
    Shortcut: ISO (though tempted by AE lock as this is currently a bit fiddly with half pressing the shutter and the up button at the same time)
    I’m sure these will change after a couple more outings….

    For some examples of how it performs in street photography, check out my photos here. Flickr shows all the shutter speed settings ISO etc so you can confirm for yourself how great this camera is! As a recommendation from some other website I also rolled up some bits paper and put electric tape over them and stuck them to the front left to get a way better grip when in one hand, essential for shooting in the street!

  • Thanks to the author of this site for two very clear explanations to our questions.

    My initial concern was the same as MIKE with a thought that the UP BUTTON in my camera was not working as it was supposed to. My scare was due to the INFO on page 43,  item number 9 where it says that the +/- (or UP BUTTON) is for Exposure with a reference to page 70.

    Now everything is clear.  It is not for Exposure as suggested by the manual.  And I thank you for giving me peace of mind.


  • When in manual mode, the up button switches between the front control wheel and the read control dial. Click up once and the green symbol goes to shutter speed, so you can manually set the shutter speed. Click again, and the green symbol goes to the aperture, so you can change the aperture size…both by spinning the rear wheel. When in Manual mode, the front control ring the iso. See page 97 in the manual for further details.

    You can assign various functions to the control wheel and ring by pressing the function selector button on the top of the camera.(pg 98 & 99). To learn all the various functions and assignments, there is just no getting around referring to the manual.

  • Follow up to Yonn’s question: I just go the S90 and when in manual mode, the control wheel (the wheel on the back) has the +/- symbol assigned to the up button.  As far as I can tell, this doesn’t do anything unlike the left button (switches to macro), the down button (timer settings), and the right button (flash).  I have also used the up +/- button in the other settings as well and it doesn’t seem to do anything on my camera unless I’m in a menu.  I know exposure is adjusted in other ways based on the mode you are in but want to make sure my button is not broken.  What is its function while in a shooting mode? 

  • Yonn, the up button doesn’t control Exposure Compensation. Depending on what exposure mode you’re using, EV is controlled by the front Control ring or rear Control dial. Check page 99 of the manual to learn what functions are controlled by the control ring, which also affects the functions assigned to the control dial. The directional buttons change functions depending on if you’re in record or playback mode. I highly recommend you take a look at the manual with the camera at your side. There are just so many functions assigned to various buttons and dials that it’s impossible to explain them without knowing what mode you’re in.

  • Follow up my previous email. I though that button (the UP-BUTTON) is to adjust EV.  But I could not do that with that function since the camera allows us to use different modes (not the -/+ button) to make an adjustment.

  • Would anybody from this forum is kind enough to explain to me the use of the UP-BUTTON (-/+) button) of Canon S90 in shooting mode? Many thanks.

  • Love this site! I’ll be back with questions, after I try applying all the info here already to my understanding of the camera!

  • I’m unaware of any companies that made custom sized glass screen protectors. The camera is fairly new so perhaps GGS will make some for the s90. A possible alternative is acrylic. da Products makes clear, hard, scratch-resistant screen protectors in custom sizes.

  • Do you know where I can get a glass lcd screen protector, I have used GGS and they are very good but can’t find anyone with S90 size?

  • I’m a new S90 owner.   This site is very helpful, thanks for providing it.   Is there an alternate way to select between the various “SCN” modes, besides cycling through them one at a time with the small ring?      It seems like there should be a more direct way to do this.    Thanks, Steve

  • I have used black nonslip tape ( bought from marine store ) on front of camera where my finger grips and small bits  at back on top right corner. There is a big  increase in stability and the camera feels safer. Also my thumb is now above the rear  control dial so no risk of altering iso.

  • Unfortunately, there is no way that I know of to have the icons not display. You may be able to remove a couple of them in the Custom Display menu. Menu button > Custom Display.

  • Does anyone know how to get a clean display without icons when shooting? I can’t get rid of the icons for the ring functions.

  • Cyril, check page 104 in the s90 manual for how to set up Custom (C) mode. You can also register commonly used shooting menus (manual page 154; My Menu settings).

  • I set the front wheel to focal length, the back wheel to aperture (I use mostly Av), and the shortcut button to ISO.

    It’s great that this little camera allows so much flexibility in its controls!

    I haven’t found out how to activate the custom displays, but maybe I should spend a bit more time with the manual. 😉

  • DUH Mode?! LOL, Ernie. Without knowing all your settings, my guess is that ISO is too low and/or you’re zoomed in. One of the things I notice about the s90 is that it selects slow shutter speeds, rather than raise the ISO. I highly recommend you use P Mode. It’s fully automatic, but you can change some important settings IF you want. So when you get the camera shake symbol, use a wider angle, up the ISO or use the flash. You can also use a camera support, such as a tripod.

  • Newbie to the S90. You have made it easier to get up and running with your program (P) Mode advice.  Problem I’m having is in the AUTO mode. I keep getting a flashing camera symbol showing camera shake in the lower left hand corner.  Is this a problem with the camera, or am I in a (DUH!) Mode.

  • Yes you can, in Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority and Manual modes. However, it is not on by default. You can enable it via the Custom Display menu. Fortunately, when the histogram is displayed, it doesn’t take up a lot of the screen real estate. You can also view the histogram in Playback mode.

  • I wonder if you can set the S90 to display a live histogram as on the G10 , I find this very useful as a guide for exposure compensation.