Usually I’d spend a lot of time running down features and talking about performance before giving you the bottom line on Canon’s new pocketable camera. But I just can’t be coy about this one.
The S90 is the best compact camera I’ve ever used.
Oh, you’d like to hear more? Certainly.
Canon set out to pack the tiny S90 with the same features pros and advanced amateur shooters look for. And they’ve succeeded in nearly every aspect. The laundry list of cool tech includes a 9.5mm (diagonal) sensor, the latest DIGIC 4 processor (which is lightning fast), optical image stabilizer, face detection, the ability to shoot RAW images and HDMI output. All that is crammed into a body that can slip into the front pocket of your jeans.
But two features really make this camera stand above the pack.
The first, and most important is the cam’s glass. It’s got a 28-105mm equivalent lens, so there’s nice wide angle at the short end, perfect for large group shots and landscapes.
But even better is the speed of the lens — it goes down to f2.
This is huge. Seriously. A small camera with a fast lens completely changes the game, because it lets you avoid the thing that’s been ruining the pictures you’re taking inside: the flash. Because the S90 can grab so much light, we were able to shoot at reasonable shutter speeds inside without the flash, taking photos of kids that stopped their incessant action without the washed-out, frozen-in-time look that a flash always seems to impart.
The second innovation here is the control ring that surrounds the lens — much like a focus ring on a DSLR. What’s cool is that you can set the ring to control any function you want to tweak easily. For instance, I set it to control exposure compensation, but it can also control ISO, white balance, shutter speed, focus, aperture or zoom. Combine that with another quick adjust dial on the back of the cam, and you have instant mastery over most of your settings, even more easily than some DSLRs.
Performance in our shooting was very, very good. Shutter lag was basically non-existent, and images were sharp and nicely balanced in all situations. Low-light shots were especially good, with ISOs up to 3200 yielding usable images.
We’ve been fans of Canon’s Powershot SD line for a long time, and they’re still smaller than the S90. But for serious shutterbugs who have found themselves frustrated by the capabilities of a compact camera, the S90 is the answer to their prayers.