Canon S90 challenges Panasonic LX3 in low light compact camera

by Enche Tjin on August 23, 2009

Canon introduces Canon Powershot S90, an advanced compact camera designed for enthusiasts. It has manual control and ability to shoot in RAW mode. At a glance, this camera design look like Leica D-LUX 4 or Panasonic LX3. After a closer look at the specification, no doubt in my mind that this camera is designed to compete with them.

canon-s90What is similar between Canon S90 and LX3 / Leica D LUX4

  • 10 megapixel sensor
  • 3″ LCD screen 460k resolution
  • f/2 maximum aperture at wide end
  • Image Stabilized zoom lens

What is the differences?

  • Canon S90 does not have hot shoe for external flash and viewfinder
  • Canon S90 has a wider focal length (28-105mm vs 24-60mm)
  • Canon S90’s image is relatively clean at ISO 800 or 1 stop better than regular compact camera.

Overall, Canon S90 is a better camera compared to Panasonic LX3 especially in term of image quality and lens. The only problem with this camera is it does not have hot shoe for external flash.

[Read: Grand battle of the the best compact camera title]

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael September 2, 2009 at 2:41 am

I’m not exactly sure how, based on the information above, you concluded that the S90 is a better camera than the LX3. You say image quality. So you got your hands on an S90 before anyone else and have tried it out to see what the image quality actually is? Here are some other differences you failed to mention:

a wider f/stop on the LX3 at 60mm (2.8) than the S90 at the same distance (3.5)
higher burst rate on LX3 (2.5/sec) vs S90 (1.9/sec)
HD movie capability on LX3; none on S90
Internal memory on LX3 (about 50 megs); none on S90
DC input on LX3; none on S90 (which means you can download heavy files without having to charge battery up on LX3)
two custom settings on LX3, only 1 on S90
high sensitivity mode on LX3; none on S90
choice of three aspect rations on LX3; only one on S90
hand-grips on front and back for LX3; no grips on S90

That said, the S90 is cheaper, smaller, has better manual controls, and a retracting lens cover. As for image quality: I’m willing to bet that no one on the planet could tell the difference between two identical shots taken in good light. As surprising as this may sound to you, the deal-breaker for me is the f/4.9 aperture at the long end. Give me a good low-light camera with a shorter zoom over a light-hog long-lens any day. Of course, I do wish the LX3 was able to fit into your pocket as easily as the S90 will. Alas… you can’t have it all.

admin September 2, 2009 at 3:51 am

Thanks for your evaluation. When I say image quality, i mean image quality in low and high ISO.

Michael September 2, 2009 at 4:46 pm

But even there, aren’t you just a little curious to try them both out for yourself, to see just how they compare? The S90 may be a slightly bigger CCD sensor, but the LX3 has 10% more pixels. And hey, 24mm in the LX3 vs. 28mm for the S90 also means a wider angle of shot for landscapes, which isn’t a minor detail. But–and this is a big BUT–the ease of manual control on the S90 is a very appealing feature, particularly for those of us who don’t like cameras to do the thinking for us. I’m waiting to see which one to get… am still somewhere in the middle between both.

admin September 2, 2009 at 5:16 pm

my question to you is, do you need hot shoe for flash / creative lighting? that is one the main advantage of LX3 over S90.

24mm in very nice, but for landscape / architecture, the distortion is pretty high (compared to 24mm in DSLR. but yes it is arguable better than 28mm but you also lose a lot of tele-end. Sometimes, when you can’t move closer or do some flattery portrait (85-105mm) you just can’t get it from LX3.

Allan September 6, 2009 at 7:12 am

You can’t tell the difference of image quality until you have both S90 and LX 3 on hand, as S90 is not available yet.

And you made one mistake: actually Canon S90 has a smaller sensor size (1/1.7″) than that of Panasonic LX 3’s (1/1.63″).

Daniel W September 7, 2009 at 10:47 pm

Wow, obviously a Canon fanboy claiming that the IQ is better without even testing it out.

Remember, the LX3 has a larger sensor.

Sammy October 31, 2009 at 10:38 pm

Tests are finally out. S90 outperforms LX3 at high ISO by 1 or 2 stops

WKSOH November 16, 2009 at 9:49 pm

I tried the S90 yesterday against my G10. The S90 can do a lot of things the G10 can plus better low ISO performance as well as telemacro for insect photograhy (without the use of macro lenses). It’s so much lighter and smaller than G10. I also played with the LX3. I desire the S90 due to the size, the superior low ISO performance and built in lens cap.

WKSOH November 16, 2009 at 9:51 pm

Oops sorry I meant “high” ISO performance

Gintaras December 5, 2009 at 7:29 am

excuse me gentlemen I do not understand why are you so sure about LX3?
do you agree that Lecia D-Lux 4 might be a better reincarnation of Panasonic LX3?

if so then I have breaking news for you, Lecia sucks except for lens quality/resolution. I took quite a few photos with and it never liked what I saw, its low light capabilities were overrated IMO. and since I had hands on both Canon various compacts and this Leica I can tell my SD 700 Canon takes better photos than this Leica.

so I can suspect but not sure that S90 might outdo LX3 easily in low light IF you put camera into manual instead of Auto. In Auto I saw no camera that could do good low light, not even DSLR.

with brdgs

Gintaras December 5, 2009 at 7:34 am

have a look at this low light photo taken with my older Ixus 400:

yes, you take this in semi-manual mode by holding camera steady for some seconds, but this is the way a good low light image to be taken. if you look for fast low light then DSLR is the only answer. and you never use Auto mode for lowlight IMO.

WKSOH December 21, 2009 at 5:31 am

Wow Gintaras, that’s a really nice shot.

BTW,.. I bought the S90 at last, ran a comparison against my G10.
The camera is indeed very good, it resolves color better than my G10. G10 is sharper if you crank 15MP in good light – but the files are larger. The front control ring speed up things quite a bit, esp when I’m using macro or portrait. For the indoor shots, the S90 lens is faster and less motion blur.
I had the chance to purchase the LX3 as I love the idea of F2.8 at the longest end… oh well…..I was sold on the size and build-in lens cap of S90. After using the S90, I understood how the LX3 was kicking ass for the whole of last year.

admin December 21, 2009 at 6:41 am

Yeah LX3 is virtually uncontested before S90 hit the market. So did you get LX3 too?

WKSOH January 29, 2010 at 12:38 am

Hi admin, it’s unfortunate I had 2 chances to get the LX3 but failed to do so. I was in San Diego dec 2008 looking for LX3 but saw the G10 instead – It looks very modern to me albeit the size – and I took it. After getting the G10, I kept reading rave reviews about LX3 and kind of regret my decision. Now comes 2010 Jan, my wife wanted a camera and we went shopping. I was hoping she would pick the LX3 then I can finally do a comparison, but she went for the S90 – due to the design and size in particular. Oh no – we became “Canon Fanboys”. LX3 design is kind of too retro for me perhaps – that was the reason I gave it a miss in 2008 and now 2010 my wife too… My status will change soon as I’m eyeing the GF1 next.. :)

Enche Tjin January 29, 2010 at 12:47 am

hahaa. LX4 might out this year. Stay tuned.

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