Canon Powershot S90 Review
Performance - How well does it take pictures?
Image quality is arguably the most important aspect of a digital camera as even the best ergonomics cannot compensate for low quality images. After reading page one of this review, it is clear than the Canon Powershot S90 excels at handling and ergonomics for a relatively small camera. As far as image quality goes the, this digital camera performs quite well too.
Image colors in the default mode are quite natural with a slight tinge of warmth. In Neutral color mode though, colors are quite desaturated compared to reality. There are a number of other and custom color mode but the default setting give the most natural results.
White-balance was is essential for color-reproduction in JPEG images is good but not perfect. AWB is really better than average but sometimes leaves a slight cast under artificial lighting. Custom white-balance is also good but still leaves a bit of yellow.
Exposure was probably the weakest point in terms of image quality which seems like a recurring themes from other recent reviews of Canon cameras. The metering system is tuned for rendering a bright central subject and therefore easily burns highlights and bright backgrounds such as the sky. To see this, check out the sample image gallery where the amount of EC is noted below each thumbnail. This is more than usual. Also note that some images were taken with the AE-L and then recomposed to obtain a correct exposure.
The stabilized 3.8X wide-angle lens performs very well. It lets through plenty of details with only slight softening on the extreme edges of the frames and a bit more at the corners. Barrel distortion is noticeable near wide-angle but it is certainly better than most ultra-compact wide-angle lenses. There is barely any distortion near the telephoto end of the zoom. Vignetting is not visible either unless there is a very smooth background.
The lens is equipped with Canon's IS technology which tries to compensates for the involuntary movements at slow shutter-speeds. This IS system in the S90 seems extremely effective, giving over 3 stops improvements compared to typical hand-holding. Because the IS is so good, the shake warning nearly also appears too early.
Focus ability is a little weak with just a bit more misses than average for such a camera. The camera indicates missed focus quite clearly though. Macro performance is also just average with a minimum distance of 5cm at wide-angle and 30cm at telephoto.
Image noise is much better than average for a fixed-lens camera. Although it does start as early as ISO 100, noise increases very slowly at each ISO and Canon has managed to apply noise-reduction gently enough as to reduce noise while retaining a good amount of details. ISO 80 to 400 are usable without restrictions while 800 and 1600 limit images sizes somewhat, mostly due to noise-reduction becoming quite aggressive. ISO 3200 is an emergency only setting, suitable for the smallest print sizes.
Performance is an important aspect of a digital camera but how important it is depends on the subjects being photographed. A faster camera is needed for faster subjects usually.
The Powershot S90 turns in a reasonable but far from class-leading performance. Powering it on or off takes about 2s which is good for an ultra-compact. Zooming the lens is slow, taking 3s to go from wide to telephoto. Focusing is also a little slow with an average time-to-lock of 1s.
The all-important shot-to-shoot speeds and shutter-lag is just a little slower than average with abut 3s between shots and a noticeable shutter-lag. This is truly what limits the S90's usability for anything that moves, from a quick toddler to fast action.
Image review is either slow or average, depending if one uses the arrows or the rear dial. Using the dial produces an animation while cycling between images which slows things down for single-stepping between images. Once an image is chosen , zooming and scrolling is pretty quick.
The Canon S90 is a shooting-priority camera. It takes about 1s to resume shooting from playback mode. To go from Record to Playback mode it takes about 1.5s. The remaining buttons and dials though are extremely responsive.
The Canon Powershot S90 is an excellent model which is a pleasure to use. Its extensive functionality is really well complemented by an efficient interface with direct control over most important settings.
This digital camera turns in a really good performance in terms of image quality with less noise than most, very little distortion for a small wide-angle lens, good color rendition, better than average automatic white-balance and a good retention of details. The only troublesome spot is a metering system which tends to over-expose. Speed of operation is a little weak with some average and some below average performance.
The bottom line is that the Canon Powershot S90 can be highly recommended as one of the best cameras in its class. This means it is great for outdoor and general snapshots but falls short for action photography, like so many other small cameras.
In terms of a final decision, the top ultra-compacts are the Fuji Finepix F200 EXR for its superior image quality and the Canon Powershot S90 for its efficient interface and very respectable output.
Canon S90 Highlights
Sensor-Size: 8 x 6mm
Actual size when viewed at 100 DPI
|10 Megapixels Fixed Lens||ISO 80-3200|
|3.8X Wide Optical Zoom||Shutter 1/1600-15s|
|Built-in Stabilization||Full manual controls, including Manual Focus|
|0.9 FPS Drive, Unlimited Images||Custom white-balance with 2 axis fine-tuning|
|640x480 @ 30 FPS Video Recording||Spot-Metering|
|3" LCD 460K Pixels||Lithium-Ion Battery|
|Secure Digital High Capacity|
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