Canon SD4000 vs. S90

Canon SD4000 or S90: Which to buy?

Written by Digicamhelp Editor

If you’re considering both the Canon SD4000 and S90, these insights about each camera may make your buying decision a bit easier.

There is no perfect digital camera; each has its own strengths and weaknesses. So buying one often involves compromises, choosing a camera with features you need most even though it doesn’t have every feature you desire.

Such is the case if you’re trying to decide between the Canon SD4000 and S90. Hopefully, my comments and insights about each camera will make your decision a bit easier.

The Canon PowerShot SD4000

It’s a long time since I’ve enjoyed a camera as much as the Canon SD4000. It feels great in my hands, has good ergonomics and is easy and intuitive to use. It easily fits into a shirt pocket or handbag.

I’m quite satisfied with the overall image quality and the lovely colors it produces. Images taken at the long end of the zoom could be sharper, but photo sharpness can adequately be addressed when editing (plus, like the S90, in-camera sharpening can be increased…or decreased…via the My Colors menu).

With the exception of Flash Compensation, the SD4000 has enough controls to satisfy most of my photo-taking needs. While I prefer using P-mode so I can tweak settings such Exposure Compensation and White Balance, Smart/Full Auto mode works quite well, a plus for those who simply want to point-and-shoot.

The SD4000 may not produce images quite as sharp as previous models but that’s part of the price one has to pay if you want High Definition video, which the S90 does not have. More importantly, none of my previous SD cameras did very well in low-light when shooting above ISO 200. The SD4000 simply bests them for higher ISO, low-light shots. They may lack finer detail but, when exposed correctly, they are usable and free from unsightly yellow blotches.

I’ve owned and used many SD cameras and the SD4000 meets my personal expectations for a sub-compact camera.

The Canon PowerShot S90

Though larger and boxier than the SD4000, the S90 is still a small-sized camera. Considering it’s size, the S90 exceeds my expectations in image quality. Photos are sharp with beautiful color.

But from the get-go, I hated using the S90. It has poor ergonomics without the addition of an accessory grip and the free-wheeling rear control dial drove me up the wall. Fortunately, there is a device that fixes the control dial problem too.

Once both fixes were installed, I was finally able to enjoy the S90. I could concentrate on taking photos rather than baby-sitting the camera.

The S90 has many more options and buttons to control settings than the SD4000. I appreciate the creative control these settings afford. For most casual photographers though, they are overkill. The S90 also has an intelligent, fully-automatic mode that does remarkably well.


Currently, the Canon S90 and SD4000 are about the same price. Keep in mind that if you opt for the S90, you could end up spending an additional $45.00 (including shipping) for a custom grip and control wheel device to improve its ergonomic flaws. If you can’t afford both of these accessories, consider getting the control wheel device.


  • Hello Gail,
    I want to thank you for bringing up the SD4000 in today’s dprev canon site. I was almost going to buy the S95 until I read your comments. I’m 82 and do not  want to play with the S95 but I wanted a low light camera for my trips to Europe. In the churches, museums and art galleries no flash and no tripods. Thanks again, William

  • btw, the Canon specifications state that the SD4000 “includes Eye-Fi connected functions. The camera features a dedicated Eye-Fi section in the User Interface, on-screen icons, and will disable the automatic power-down function when the Eye-Fi card transmits data – allowing users to transfer content easily and without interruption.” I’ve never used one of these cards; they get mixed reviews, but they may come in handy when you don’t have a computer. Check out some Amazon reviews.

  • TeeHee!! I was hoping I would fit in the camera bag! Thanks for the tip on the batteries,  manufacturers always inflate their “proprietary” price. He won’t be taking his MacBook with him, so I need to shop for a high-capacity card and research uploading pics to online storage sites as well. I need to buy tonight, so can’t wait for a further price drop. Thanks for all your advice, I don’t have that much time to slog through reviews for this purchase, and someone who can detail the differences objectively and from personal use is wonderful!!

  • The SD4000 dropped about $20 (US) about a week ago at Amazon. Maybe it will drop more in the next few weeks. The entire body of the black SD4000 is textured and it’s really nice. I have been very happy with batteries from SterlingTec (see this article).  Their batteries are very reliable and cost considerably less than buying a Canon battery. The SD4000 and s90 take the same battery.


    I’m a big fan of Lowepro carrying cases. I use the Rezo 30 for my s90. Your son should think about what else he wants to carry along with the camera to determine the best size. Take a look at their pouches here.


    Sounds like a very exciting trip. Does he need someone to carry his camera pouch?! 😉

  • Thanks Gail, I’ve been reading up on both cameras and feel that the the S90/95 is really for those who want to tweak settings. My son will never bother or want to. Just give him auto and “scenes” and he’ll do fine. Wish the SD4000 were a bit less pricey!
    Also, what are your opinions as to ruggedness? He is going backpacking through India and Thailand and is not that careful with gear. This camera appears to be the perfect fit for a P&S person who needs video and good low-light performance. Your comments that it was/is a joy to use make all the difference. THAT is the kind of camera I am looking for! Apparently the black has a textured grip while the colored versions don’t, so might be easier for a guy with medium-size hands to hold. Got any recommendations for the perfect carrying case and battery suggestions for travel overseas?

  • Jody, it’s too early to tell but, according to the Canon press release, they’ve fixed the control wheel problem on the newly announced s95. It now has HD video and several tweaks. If I were buying between the two, I’d get the s95 however as a s90 owner, I see no reason to upgrade now that I’ve applied the two fixes. The s95 still does not have a grip but the surface of the camera is textured. As metioned, the Canon has the edge on image quality; it has a larger sensor. The SD4000 is smaller though not a whole lot lighter.

    But I think the SD4000 does an admirable job in the image quality department and all but the most demanding photographers would be pleased with the image quality. You can zoom with the optical zoom with the 4000 and it has stereo sound (for whatever that’s worth in a small camera). I think both are great cameras.

    I have some sample images taken with both cameras in my pbase gallery. All were taken in P or Full Auto mode.

  • Good info here Gail, I am looking at both cameras and your points are well taken. Do you happen to know if Canon has fixed the design flaws on the S90? Thought I read something like that, but I am not sure. Can you give some feedback on the quality of the images if you are ONLY going to shoot in Auto/Smart Auto mode with the additional tweaks of the usual Canon “Scene” choices?
    Which do you think does a better job in that department? Also, leaving aside HD, is there any difference shooting video and the quality result?