Canon s90

s90 hints, tips, issues & links

Written by Gail Bjork

Useful hints, tips, issues and links to information about the Canon s90 digital camera.

s90 lensUseful hints, tips, issues and links to information about the Canon s90 digital camera.

Hints and tips for using the s90

Histogram– the histogram can be displayed in Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority and Manual modes. However, it is not on by default. Enable it via the Custom Display menu. Fortunately, when the histogram is displayed in these modes, it doesn’t take up a lot of the LCD real estate.

Shutter speed – the s90 sometimes selects surprisingly low shutter speeds in P Mode when the camera is set to ISO. If you’re a P Mode user, raise the ISO or zoom out to increase shutter speed.

s90 control dialWatch those settings!! – the Control dial on the back of the s90 moves easily. If you touch it while taking photos, important settings may change without you realizing it. This happened when I was shooting in bright sunlight and, unbeknown to me, the camera switched to ISO 3200. Not good! With more practice and keeping an eye on settings on the LCD, I’m hoping to get a handle on this!

Fast lens not always so fast – F-stop quickly increases when zooming; to take full advantage of the fast lens, shoot at wide angle. You can crop when editing.

Shooting RAW – To shoot RAW files, you must to select it the option via the Function menu. If you want to shoot RAW + JPEG simultaneously, you must select the combo from the Menu area. When shooting RAW+JPEG, and the shot to shot time is longer than shooting JPEG only.


Barrel distortion was automatically corrected (right image) with Digital Photo Pro.

Barrel distortion was automatically corrected (right image) with Digital Photo Pro.

Wide angle barrel distortion – If you shoot RAW at the widest camera angle, you will see a large amount of barrel distortion when photographing subjects with straight edges near the side of the frame. The camera does no RAW processing in the camera.

Lens distortion can be corrected via the Lens Aberration Correction control panel using the Digital Photo Pro software that came on the CD. Other photo processing programs may correct lens distortion too. Good news for JPEG only users, JPEG files do not show a large degree of the distortion as the files are processed in-camera.

Lens “sweet spot” at wide angle – The sweet spot of the lens at 28mm is between f2.5 and f4.5. Corner softness is minimal at these settings and at some f-stops in this range, images are very sharp.

White balance – In my experience, the s90 white balance is quite accurate, maybe too accurate at times. When using Automatic White Balance, it may not adjust correctly after previewing images on the LCD if the camera is pointed at something other than the next subject. The solution is to frame the new subject, click the shutter button halfway to reset the white balance, and then press the shutter button half-way again to lock focus and exposure prior to taking the shot.

LCD brightness– To view the LCD at maximum brightness, depress the DISP button for a second. To return the LCD to the same level of brightness set via the Menu, hold the DISP button down again for another second.

Deleting image files from a memory card – Unlike many current digital cameras, the s90 gives you the option to delete just RAW files, delete just JPEG files, or delete both RAW + JPEG.

Digital zoom

Use the digital zoom with caution

Digital Zoom – The choices are 1.4x, 2.3x and Standard, which goes to 15x. In a pinch and in decent light, 1.4x and 2.4x are okay. There is degredation of image quality but images are passable  if you reduce them in size or make small prints. Personally, I keep the digital zoom to OFF. View sample image (large file).

Low light mode – up to ISO 12800. Resolution automatically drops in this mode and there is a significant loss of image quality. Use as a last resort.

Memory card – the s90 takes up to a 16 GB card. I use Sandisk Extreme III.

Filter adapter – if you buy a third party filter adapter, it may block the flash at wide to mid angles, causing shadows in one or more corners. This happens whether or not a filter is attached.

Issues on some s90 cameras that may need repair

Clicking sound from loose cover – Some report a loose cover that makes a clicking sound when the area is pressed down (top left side of the camera where it says “PowerShot S90 Image Stablizer”). This does not concern some owners; others exchange or return the camera. My s90 does NOT have the problem. If it did, I’d exchange it. However, I’d keep the camera until the store got me a problem-free replacement. I’d test the new one before I left the store since sometimes defects like this come in lots.

Optically decentered – don’tch love the word?! A few owners say that their s90 is decentered: One side of an image is blurred much more than the other side. The problem is rare and not unique to the s90. Some admit that most users won’t even notice the problem. So, if the problem isn’t readily evident, why go looking for it?!

Canon information and support

A collection of resources regarding Canon s90/95 Tips & Accessories.

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.


  • ah, are these sounds new or have you had them from when you first bought the S90? Have you changed any settings lately? If you have your camera set to continuous IS, or another tracking feature, that may be the cause of the sound so try turning it off. My S90 has a low sound but you can really only hear it if you hold the camera close to your ear.

  • When I turn my camera on, or after I snap a picture I hear a low, slow gurgling sound. It kinda like when you have a failing hard drive that is trying to read data. These are flash media so not the case. Ive tried 2 different cards with the same problem. Any thoughts>

  • Ani, cloudy weather can be your friend. It will help prevent harsh shadows because it can be similar to diffused light. What is needs to be, though, is bright light diffused by clouds. Set up a little table outside and give it a try. All my “tools” were things I found around the home. However, if the lighting is really that bad, get a small “studio-in-a-box” (such as shown in the Amazon ad on this page) or something similar. They come in all prices and sizes. Do a

    Do a search for “lighting to photograph jewelry” and you’ll get plenty of ideas including how to make some home-made light boxes.

  • hi gail

    thank you for your reply! those are exactly the types of images I want to capture, very close up shots. Unfortunately I live in an older home with VERY little natural light sources and tons of cloudy weather haha…! so it is hard to use a natural source of light. I find I get very shadowy images that are bright and vibrant as I would with flash. I’m going to try the wider angle, as per your suggestion, I’ll let you know how it works out 🙂

    thank YOU!

  • ani, here are some tips that I believe you will find helpful. I use the techniques for photographing jewelry. some of which are posted at this blog:

    I do not recommend using the built-in flash as it can cause unsightly white spots and shadows. Use diffused light from an outside window or door (or sometimes I set up outside under the porch). If you want to use artificial light, do get a small lightbox with lighting. Also, you can not take good macro-type shots zooming in. Shoot at wide angle and move the camera closer to the subject. Try macro mode at wide angle too. Using the digital zoom can cause images to appear coarse.

  • Hi Gail

    I’ve been using many of your posts on the s90, they are very helpful.

    Do you have any good tips for taking photos of smaller makeup products like lipstick, blush etc…indoors, low light, with flash, possibly using a light box/tent?

    for some reason the camera refuses to focus well when I zoom in. Using digital zoom I get better results but still same issues.

    If you have and recs for proper settings I’d be ever so grateful as the issue is driving me nuts 🙂

  • You must have something else enabled that is preventing access to the Digital Zoom tab. Check your camera menu settings and if you can’t find the one that is the cause, consider resetting your camera.

  • I tried to set it to Standard but I’m unable to choose the Digital Zoom tab,  it scrolls over it, not enabling me to change it. Why is this so?

  • Casey, you probably changed the menu setting. Press the menu button, then in the Camera tab, scroll to Digital Zoom. It needs to be set to Standard to get the maximum digital zoom range. Saying that, use the digital zoom very cautiously because it will degrade image quality. When the zoom numbers appear blue, images will be coarse. Canon recommends lowering the recording pixel setting when shooting with the digital zoom. (pg 55-56 in the manual)

  • May I ask why my canon S95 does not zoom up to 15x? It used to be able to in the beginning, but now it only zooms to a max of 3.8x and stops there.

  • Hi Gail,
    I took another look at the problem with that problematic free spinning S90 Control Dial.

    After removing the cap to the Control Dial I carefully inserted a Reinforcement Label, Avery #05729.  They are the small circular labels that you use for repairing torn holes to papers used in ring binders. They are vinyl and will not wear out so easily. It’s thickness is just enough to prevent wild spins. Also being vinyl it has a lubricating quality.

    The fit was  perfect.  One did the job.  Poof, problem solved.
    Keep in touch,

  • Photos generally tend to be sharper when using the middle range of aperture sizes. That’s true for most any lens, including DSLR lenses. That doesn’t mean photo quality will be bad when using upper and lower aperture numbers. So much depends on the scene you’re shooting, your distance from the subject and the lighting conditions. I wouldn’t worry about an f8 aperture unless you’re specifically shooting something where you want shallow depth of field. Higher f-stops are useful when light is extremely bright or you want maximum depth of field.

    A slow shutter speed should not cause blowouts; poor exposure will. If you anticipate blown highlights, use minus exposure compensation.

    When hand holding a camera, using the fastest shutter speed possible helps prevent blurred images.

    Here is some related information that you may find useful:


    Shutter speed chart

    Effects of shutter speed

  • You stated the lens “sweet spot” is f2.5 to f4.5, so what use does f8.0 serve?   If I use f8.0 on a bright sunny day (theoretically an ideal condition), then the shutter speed slows down.  A slower shutter speed = more reflected light, more blowouts?  I know the higher the f-stop, the deeper the DOF, but my s95 usually selects f4 – f5 for even the longest range landscape shots.  Could you explain under what conditions f8.0 excels?  I would think the combination of largest aperture/shortest shutter time would be best, so long as the size of the aperture maximizes what is in focus.  On the s95 (and apparently the s90), that spot is f4.5 for most landscape shots in bright light.

  • There’s a $15 Sony zipper case that fits the S90 perfectly: Sony LCSCSQ/B for Sony T, W and N series digital cameras.  Available at Amazon and Target.