Canon S90 IS Review

by Enche Tjin on October 22, 2009

Canon S90 IS and my fingerprints

Canon S90 IS and my fingerprints

Canon S90 IS is one of Canon high-end / advanced Canon Powershot compact camera. Its unique characteristics are slim, low profile body with great noise control in high ISO plus 28-105mm f/2-f/4.9 bright zoom lens. The other advantage is the camera is very pocket able. It fits in your jeans’ pocket.

Image quality and ISO

Canon S90 IS has 1/1.7″ sensor size which is a bit smaller compare to its main competitor, Panasonic LX3 (1/1.63″). From my test, S90 IS image quality is very good across focal length but dynamic range (the difference between the brightest and darkest parts of an image)  is limited . This is also a problem most of digital camera out there, but S90 is slightly worse compared to competitors.

However, regarding noise control and handling, S90 IS is excellent. The new algorithm works very well to reduce or erase most (if not all) chroma-noises which degrade image quality significantly. Image shot at ISO 1600 is very usable for regular print and web.  For ISO comparison images, please visit my Canon S90 IS gallery.

Body handling

Side by side with arch rival LX3

Side by side with arch rival LX3

Canon S90 IS has a slim, low profile look, so it is very good for street photography. It does not attract attention like digital SLR camera.

For control, it has two main dials, both of them are round. One is located in the lens, and the back of the camera. The back dials also function as four way buttons. This design is similar to Samsung WB1000 design.

Front ring dial can be customized for several options: adjust aperture/shutter speed, ISO, exposure compensation, manual focus, white balance or zoom. The front dial is not like zoom barrel in the lens, it is not smooth, instead, it has several stops point. There will be a “click” sound to let you know if you hit the stop.

I usually use the lens dial to zoom. There are five stops in the dial: 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm and 105mm. All of them are popular focal lengths. I found this is much  better way to zoom rather than traditional way (pull a lever on the shutter). It is faster, less noise and accurate. It is great for learning how focal length affects perspective and distortion.

Canon S90 with lens extended

Canon S90 with lens extended

Mode dial is harder to change because they have put some resistant to it. It is to prevent accidental switch.

There is also a shortcut button which you can customized to many function such as AF servo, intelligent contrast, face detection and many more.

Canon S90 has 3″ 4:3 ratio LCD screen with 460k resolution. It is similar to Panasonic LX3, but better than typical compact camera. It is worse than Samsung WB1000 which has AMOLED screen (over 1 million resolution).

However, build quality is not up to par with leading advanced cameras such as Canon G11 and Panasonic LX3. It is made by plastic casing (correction: it made by metal) but  it feels plasticky. I have a sweaty hand and it registers my fingerprint! Also because of its flat design, there is no place to secure your grip. But overall ergonomic is not bad.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Ricky October 25, 2009 at 3:34 am

F.Y.I. The body is made out of metal! The top and bottom are made out of plastic. I guess it’s difficult to tell that it’s metal because it’s black, but you can see and feel the difference in material.

admin October 25, 2009 at 9:07 am

Hhi thanks, but it does not feels like metal for me, maybe very thin metal or something.

Pete October 29, 2009 at 12:29 pm

You say:
“Mode dial is harder to change because they have put some resistant to it. It is to prevent accidental switch.”
I’d be interested to know if this is a modification that canon has put to latest ones. I bought one the first day they were available in the UK, and the ring on the back is a dead loss! there’s no resistance at all, and almost every time it’s used, the ( in my case) EV setting gets changed by mistake! I wish mine had a dial that was harder to turn!!

admin October 29, 2009 at 12:35 pm

interesting, you should check it out on the store to see if there is any difference with your current one.

Lars October 29, 2009 at 6:20 pm

I thought admin meant by “mode tial” as the top changer, beetween auto, aperture, shutter etc. Not the one one the back of the camera, which is a weak point in my opinion. Have I misunderstood?

admin October 29, 2009 at 6:23 pm

oh yeah you’re correct! Thanks for clarifying. I agree that the back dial should be better, at least like Canon G series.

Pete October 30, 2009 at 7:13 am

Thanks Lars for clearing up that point, I think the back ring’s going to prove to be a real pain! I reckon a firmware upgrade to allow it to be disabled ( as it is on certain modes) would be a good option!

Richard Franiec November 12, 2009 at 1:36 pm

Nice review from user standpoint and that is what count the most.

Actually, there is a place for grip.
Check this out:
More info here:

Hope, this is O.K to post the links here.



admin November 12, 2009 at 8:35 pm

Thanks and yes, it is ok.

Richard Franiec November 13, 2009 at 9:31 am

Thank you much.
In case if you would like to review the grip, please, let me know.



admin November 13, 2009 at 10:51 am

I don’t have the camera anymore. Thanks for your offer. The grip looks good and i bet it improve the handling.

Erwin M January 9, 2010 at 4:27 am

I’ve download the sample image from your site and at ISO 1600 it’s amazing considering the small sensor S90 has. Useful and less of chrominance noise.

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