Canon s90 – First impressions

Canon Powershop s90The Canon s90 is an advanced, lightweight compact digital camera with optical image stabilization. It has a 1/1.7″ CCD sensor, larger than most other cameras in its class. Because of the sensor size, combined with its fast lens ( f/2.0) at  wide angle, the camera does very well in low light. No, it’s not DSLR quality but high ISO images are better than those produced by many compacts.

The s90 has features and menus I’m familiar with, similar in a number of ways to the Canon SD series cameras. Despite all the similarity, things are different and I  find myself often referring the manual.

When I first held the Canon s90, it was awkward. Though lightweight and relatively small, the camera felt boxy compared to my more ergonomic ultra compact cameras. Yet after about an hour of handling, I began to feel at home with it.

Well, not exactly!

First day out with the s90

The second day of ownership was my first serious day out with the s90. In all honestly, I had plenty of photo foibles.

Don’t misunderstand, I got some great shots. But for some reason, the camera triggered at times without me realizing it so I have a couple of photos of grass and knees. While the high resolution LCD glass is quite good, you still can’t see it when the sun hits it at certain angles. It is, however, more visible than any other LCD I’ve used.

All to often, the sensitivity setting would slip to ISO 3200 without realizing it, even in bright sun. I finally discovered this was due to the free-wheeling control dial.

Is there something wrong with my Canon s90? No, I don’t think so.  But the buttons and control dial are small and they do take some getting used to.

So it’s back to the manual to learn more about the features. And it’s back in the field to take plenty more test shots and getting a better handle on holding and using the camera.

Bottom line: the Canon s90 is a keeper

Despite my initial foibles with the s90, I’m quite happy with it. It’s unpretentious design and layout belies the advanced capabilities of this little gem.

The s90 produces images that are tack sharp. It exposes well and produces beautiful colors and skin tones. The high ISO performance, compared to other compact digital cameras I’ve owned, is impressive.

I’ve been waiting a long time for a carry-at-all-times camera like this. It was worth the wait.

Sample photos taken with the s90

Visit Gail’s pbase gallery for more sample photos taken with the Canon s90.

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48 Responses

  1. Gail Bjork says:

    Jessica, my guess is that there is nothing wrong with the camera, it’s just a matter of practicing photographing a moving child. You’ll need some patience too. :)

    A compact camera isn’t ideal for photographing moving subjects, but if you practice and follow the tips as suggested, you should have success.

    The S90 has a Kids and Pets scene mode, which chooses a faster shutter speed.

    Also, consider using P mode (Program Mode) instead of full-auto mode when photographing a moving child. It’s a fully automatic mode but lets you adjust a few settings. For example, you will have greater focus accuracy if you set the camera to Single Area focus, so you can control where to focus rather than leave it up to the camera. You can also raise the ISO to increase the shutter speed.

    Here are the settings I use and recommend:

  2. Jessica says:

    I just bought the canon powershot s90 and all my pics are blurry….I am just a mom of 2 that wants to take pics of my kiddos. I want to use the automode and thats it:) I’m sooo frustrated, i’ve read the manual soo many times. Could there be something wrong with the camera or can I just not work it????

  3. Gail Bjork says:

    Lama, A DSLR will best meet your needs for both speed (shot to shot time) and overall performance including capturing better low light photos at high ISO than most compact cameras. Even today’s entry level DSLRs do well; the key is getting a quality lens, or lenses, that meet your needs.

    As to DSLRs for video, two highly rated DSLRs for video include the Nikon D7000 and Canon 60D. They both record in 1920×1080 Full HD but the 60D offers 30 frames per second compared to the D7000’s 24fps. The more modestly priced Canon Rebel T3i (600D) is a good choice. It offers 1080p Full HD vide at 30fps, and 60fps shooting at 720p.

    Other cameras to consider are the Canon 550D, Nikon D300s and the new Nikon D800.

    Narrow your choices down to 2-3 models and then do research on each about such things as how video recording works in live view, what is the maximum video length that can be recorded, if the camera has an External Mic Jack. if you have any manual control during recording, etc.

    Then when you get to Singapore, handle the cameras, check out things like shot-to-shot time and auto focus accuracy, and if the camera feels ergonomically comfortable in you hands.

    Good luck and have a lovely trip.

  4. Lama says:

    Hi Gail, Thanks for putting effort in answering all our questions. I read through everything related to photographing children. Well my girl is 18 months old and we have 4 cameras and I’m not pleased with any of them. I want something that is good in taking pictures inside and outside but most importantly I don’t need to wait between shots, because the moment vanishes. At the same time I want it to take good video quality. In other words, what is the best and latest camera that is perfect for extremely fast kids.? But at the same time not for professionals and not expensive. I’m going next week to Singapore so I’m sure whatever u suggest can be found there. Please help.

  5. Ariel says:

    Hi Gail, this is an amazing and very helpful site.Congrats.
    I have the same needs as Ivalina & co. and Im trying to decide between the G12, the Nikon D3100 or (if these 2 does not fit my needs) another more expensive dSLR like the T Canon family.
    What we (my wife and I) want?. Nice pictures of our kids (4 the older, 11 months the twins), with no blur (either from the kids continuous movement or eventually the tremor of my wife hands) and very good image quality in spite of taking the majority of them inside of our house)
    One more need: my wife does not like/want to adjust the shooting parameters.
    Note: since we have a nice Panasonic HD camcorder, HD  video recording is not a must.

    Budget: no more than USD 650.
    Questions:
    - does the G12 meets our needs or we need to upgrade to a dSLR?
    - can I preset the parameters in the G12 (shutter speed etc) and save it to simplify my wife’s life or it’s something you need to set every time you turn on the camera?.
    - does the Nikon worth the extra USD 150?
    - should I buy an external flash?
    - Considering our needs, is there any other camera that you’d recommend? (even if it means an extra spend)
    TIA

  6. Gail Bjork says:

    Emergent Pixie, first, when shooting macro, always set the camera at the widest angle. You may also want to try manual mode, so you can adjust the aperture to control depth of field. Check out this article on macro photography for additional pointers.

  7. I have had my S90 for a week now. I am still discovering the things it does. The fact that it shoots in an idiot mode as well as fully manual is superb. The automatic bracketing mode is wonderful if you are into compositing images. I think my main complaint about it would be is that the macro mode is nowhere near as tight as my old IXUS, but perhaps I was spoiled. The images are pin sharp. And it goes everywhere with my when I don’t want to lug my SLR around.
    Does anyone know of any ways to soup up the macro?

  8. Gail Bjork says:

    Ivalina, Thanks so much for sharing your experience with the Canon SD4000. Not everyone likes the same camera. I personally found the sd4000 extremely easy to use and had excellent image quality for a compact camera. Except for Exposure Compensation or White Balance, I rarely changed settings. I used P Mode. However, the SD4000 has an effective Smart Auto mode, which automatically senses the scene and and selects the appropriate exposure settings.

     

    When you say that it zooms at all  the time while recording, I think you may be referencing changes to exposure, which happens when there are changes in the lighting; and changes in focus if the subject moves around a lot.

     

    The s90 is a fine camera with excellent image quality, though you rightly point out some of it’s ergonomic flaws. I’ve compared these to cameras in this article.

     

    Should anyone care to take a look, I have several SD4000 photos in my pbase galleries.

  9. Ivalina says:

    To Priscilla and Lynne:
    Just to let you know my experience so far. I bought the SD4000 in the summer and after 2 months of use i had to return it. The reason – horrible pictures and video. Apparently , nothing wrong with the camera but I was told that you have to be a bit more professional to get the best out of the camera. It does have a lot of potentials but it is not just point and shoot. You would have to fiddle with the options to adjust them for the right situation. The colours looked so unnatural and as a result the pictures looked artificial. The video is even worse – it zooms at all  the time while recording and that makes watching the video very annoying. The only good thing about the camera was the looks.
    Since then I bought Canon Powershot S95 and I have to tell you that I am really pleased with the choice. Extremely easy to operate. Amazing  pictures and the different options are easy to reach and simple to use. There is an option for kids where the speed is the priority and it does decent job. The rest as they already advised is shoot ,shoot ,shoot and you would get one great picture out of thousands. The only downside is the design- not stylish and most of all not comfortable to hold and while taking pictures your index  finger always ends up on top of the pop out  flash. If you can compromise with the above  then do not think twice. It is your camera and you would love it.

  10. Gail Bjork says:

    Lynne, first, thank you for the kind words!

    The SD4500 has a longer zoom; the SD4000 has a shorter zoom but is wider at wide angle and has a faster lens. The Sony has some impressive features but, like the SD4500, has a much slower lens at wide angle (F3.5).

    The SD4000 has a Continuous Drive at 3.7 fps; the Sony at 10 fps. The Sony has an impressive frames per second speed but I am not convinced it is of much benefit inside in low light. At least that’s been my experience with the Sony NEX, which I bought last week.

    All three that you mention are fine cameras and you have to decide which has the features you’ll use most. But if you’re talking mostly inside shots of moving children, I’d go for the faster lens (f2.0). Of the three, that’s the SD4000.

  11. Priscilla says:

    Thanks alot for your reccomendation. I checked out the Sony NEX and I love all the specs. Unfortunately I will be waiting till summer to upgrade to that level of camera. Until now, I will be staying with SD4000. I realize faster performance is more valuable than zooming in movie mode. Thanks for everything. You saved me from more sleepless nights.

  12. Lynne says:

    Hello Gail (the camera wiz). Is the SD4500 much different in speed than it’s sibling? I am a simple shooter (just focus on taking pictures of the little ones), and I was deciding between Canon SD4000, SD4500 or the Sony HX5V. All the websites that I compare these three, they seem to all run neck to neck.  My focus is like Priscillas and Ivalinas, taking fast, clear photos of busy children (mostly indoors).

  13. Gail Bjork says:

    Priscilla, you are correct that the SD4000 does not zoom in video mode. It’s sibling, the SD4500 does. It doesn’t have as fast a lens and is not as wide at the widest angle as the SD4000.  But it does have a 10X zoom, which should be great for capturing action shots in good light (though not on par with a DSLR),

    Since you were considering a DSLR, have you take a look at any of the Micro Four Thirds, mirrorless cameras like the Sony NEX? I bought one before Christmas. The image quality is excellent as is the high ISO performance. It has the same size sensor as a DSLR, but is half the weight and dimensions. It takes interchangeable lenses. The LEX does have some down sides such as no viewfinder and some settings are buried deep in menus because it’s primarily menu driven. It has very few buttons to access settings.

    However, it has quite a high speed shooting mode  and a lot of other nice features. It is a very simple camera, which may be more suited to Point and Shooters than folks who like to tweak camera settings a lot.

  14. Priscilla says:

    I have recently read over all comments posted under Ivalina July 30 posting and I have found there to be more cameras that have came out since then. I also have a 9 month old child that I LOVE taking photos of, yet the same problem arises is the speed of my daughter and the photo comes out blurry. I recently purchased a Nikon 80 and I will be taking it back to exchange for another camera later this week. The camera takes clear quality photos as long as my child is sleep. The function from movie to camera also took too long and I would miss the shot because the touchscreen had to “think” too hard.
    I have considered moving to the one you recommended to Ivalina, Cannon SD4000IS yet I noticed when in movie mode the optical zoom is not available. I was wondering would the Nikon L110 or S8100 be good alternatives ? My desire is to get continuous shots and zoom while in movie mode. Having a touchscreen wouldn’t be so bad either. My previous camera was a Sony DSC-N2 that I absolutely adored, but I haven’t been able to find a product that is comparable. Thanks ahead for your time.

  15. Matt says:

    Thanks.  I think we’re gonna go with the D3100, seems to be too great at that price point and a good learning tool to boot.    We already have a “go everywhere” camera that is reasonably good, but we really need something that will shine at the school plays and track meets.

  16. Gail Bjork says:

    Matt, don’t expect DSLR handling for action shots from the s95; the camera is slow (but somewhat faster than the s90). I take lots of photos of children and sometimes it can be hit and miss, so I always take lots of photos at any given time and hope to get at least one good shot. Most of the time it works out, but not always.

    Neither is the high ISO performance on par with a DSLR, however, it does extremely well compared to other compact cameras with smaller sensors. I’ve been so pleased with the higher ISO quality of my s90 (up to 800; and for some shots ISO 1600 is suitable). The s95 should be on par.

    Also, the s90/95 will not give you blurred backgrounds like a DSLR, but shooting at or near the 2.0 aperture should provide some blurred background. Here are other helpful suggestions to increase background blur when shooting with a compact.

    You can expect overall image quality to be excellent from the s95. Just understand its limitations and that will not perform like a DSLR. Then again, you can’t always conveniently carry a DSLR where ever you go. ;)

  17. Matt says:

    Glad I found this post, I had been considering purchasing a DSLR (Nikon D3100) for Christmas to handle the indoor and action shots that our 3 and 6 year old boys are good at having us miss with our Casio compact.   We are also impressed with the blurred background shots our friends with DSLRs can get.   I read a review of the S95 on the New York Times yesterday and became intrigued.  

    So you say this (assuming it’s not far off of the S90) won’t capture the low light shots as well, or the blurred background shots as well … how far off do you think it will be?    The idea of having a compact that can do these things almost as well as  a larger camera is intriguing to me, but we don’t want to sacrifice too much quality.

  18. Gail Bjork says:

    Comment: I would like my camera to take good close up pictures so that I can capture my daughters’ face expression

    Reply: The trick is to take a lot of photos, keep the good ones, toss the poor ones. If, for example, I want to take a close-up of a child, I may take five to ten similar shots. Here are some tips about taking photos of children.

    Comment: Most of this pic I guess would be taken indoors and I would be grateful if you could explain some good technics on how to do it successfully.

    Reply: Take a look at these articles:
    Using outside light inside

    Digital camera flash tips

    Digital camera built-in flash

    Comment: Explain if there is a an option on how to bring up the object more clear by making the background not that visible without using photoshop.

    Reply: With cameras that have a wide aperture, such as the SD4000 or s90, you can blur the background, although not a good as with a DSLR. The aperture is used to control depth-of-field. Or use the Portrait Scene mode.

    Comment: If S90 is not that quick in taking images of moving objects what do you do when using it to take pictures of kids playing? Would I be able to deal with that as well or is it better to use the auto on Sd4000?

    Comment: As mentioned, take a lot of photos. Cameras like the s90 and sd4000 have face recognition, that I’ve found works rather effectively in decent light. You can even register a face. So as the individual moves around, the camera will follow the movement and focus on and expose for the face.

    Question: I’ve read somewhere that the pictures would be in the same format and if you want to print them out you would have to crop them and that would compromise the quality of the pic.

    Reply: The most important tool in my editing process is the Crop Tool. I crop 99% of my photos to improve composition. With a 10MP camera, picture quality should not be compromised, except if you make a huge crop that is rarely, if ever, needed. Please see the article: Why to crop a photo.

  19. Ivalina says:

    I can’t thank you enough Gail for your prompt and informative reply. I have spend days & nights looking into cameras, reading reviews , watching videos and staring at sample pictures just to get more and more confused. You came just in time to save my sanity and resolve my problem. Before I go and order my camera I’d like to clarify few more points and then decide.
    I have listed the Canon SD 4000IS but with the name it has in UK Canon IXUS 300HD. I have to admit that I like more the look and size of  the SD4000/300HD and it certainly looks less intimidating to use and more like a point-and -shoot camera.
    Ideally, I would like my camera to take good close up pictures so that I can capture my daughters’ face expression (like some of the amazing pictures that you have of the little girl in your samples). Most of this pic I guess would be taken indoors and I would be grateful if you could explain some good technics on how to do it successfully. Also, can you explain if there is a an option on how to bring up the object more clear by making the background not that visible without using photoshop.
    If S90 is not that quick in taking images of moving objects what do you do when using it to take pictures of kids playing?Would I be able to deal with that as well or is it better to use the auto on Sd4000?
    And finally, because of the widescreen of SD4000 I’ve read somewhere that the pictures would be in the same format and if you want to print them out you would have to crop them and that would compromise the quality of the pic.
    Once again , thanks a lot for your reply. Looking forward to read the answers here.

  20. Gail Bjork says:

    Please note that some of today’s compact digital cameras that do better in low light have about 10 mexapixels. Don’t think that because a compact has a high megapixel count that it will produce better images.

    Most manufacturers know that uninformed consumers equate more megapixels with a better camera. This, in the opinion of many, has become somewhat of an advertising gimmick.  Don’t get tricked by it.

    Other factors come into play, such as the sensor quality and size, the quality of the lens, etc.

  21. Gail Bjork says:

    Ivalina, Glad you found the information useful.

    They are all fine cameras but if you plan to take a lot of inside photos, you’ll need a camera that does well in low light (The vast majority of compacts do well in good, outside light).

    The s90 performs exceptionally well in a variety of lighting conditions, including low light. However, it is far from a speedy camera. A fast and responsive camera is often desirable when photographing a fast-moving child.

    You didn’t list the Canon SD4000IS in your choices, but you may want to take a look. It does well in low light (though not as well as the s90) and has a fast f/2.0 lens at the widest angle. The SD4000 shoots continuously at 3.7 fps, faster than any of the models you mention (the next fastest is the TZ10 at 2.3 fps).

    The TZ10 is the only superzoom that you mention. If you take a lot of outside photos, you may like to have a 12X zoom. But it will not do as well in low light as the two others. Unfortunately, buying a digital camera always involves some compromises. So make your purchase based on how you will use it most of the time.

  22. Ivalina says:

    Hi Gail,
    Thanks a lot for the useful information. Can you please help me in deciding which camera would suit best my needs. I have a 19 months old daughter that doesn’t stop running, dancing and entertaining herself and us. To capture this precious moments I need to have a speedy camera and in your comments above you’ve mentioned that Canon S90 is not one of them. I am a novice in photography hoping to learn more eventually but not the hard way if possible. I value the image quality in camera and would love to own one that would produce such images with less help from me. Do you think that I can do that with Canon S90? What do you think about Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ10, Canon SX210 IS or Canon IXUS 300 HD? Thank you
     

  23. Gail Bjork says:

    If you can wait, you may want to take a look at the recently announced Fujifilm FinePix F80EXR and F300EXR, which have a super CCD and much longer zooms than the s90. Their haven’t been any reviews yet, but they should do well in low light because of the sensor.