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Canon PowerShot S90 - Canon PowerShot S90

By Cliff Smith



  • Recommended by TR
Canon PowerShot S90


Our Score:


For a £400 premium camera the S90's overall performance is surprisingly unimpressive. It starts up quickly enough in about one and a half seconds, but in single shot mode the shot-to-shot time is approximately 2.3 seconds, which is pretty average and significantly slower than the LX3's 1.7 seconds. In standard continuous shooting mode with AF only on the first shot it can manage one frame a second, or one frame every 1.5 seconds in AF continuous mode.

Canon's autofocus systems have always been among the best available, and the S90's system appears to be the same as Canon's other recent compacts such as the IXUS 110 IS or the 990 IS. It is fast and accurate in all lighting conditions, and thanks to a very bright AF assist lamp it can focus in darkness at a range of several metres.

{Note: This is a correction based on updated information} The S90 features Canon's acclaimed optical image stabilisation system, which has repeatedly proven itself to be one of the most effective on the market.The S90 is capable of capturing sharp hand-held shots at shutter speeds as low as 1/10th of a second, even when zoomed in.

For a premium camera aimed at enthusiasts, image quality is of course crucial, and the S90 delivers. Dynamic range is excellent in JPEG mode thanks to the i-Contrast auto level control, and shooting in Raw mode allows about a stop of exposure latitude, pulling back some highlight detail. The lens produces superb corner-to-corner sharpness, with plenty of contrast and pin-sharp detail, with minimal wide-angle distortion. Exposure metering is spot-on under a wide range of lighting conditions, and colour rendition is pleasingly natural in the default setting.

Image noise control has long been a Canon strong point, and the S90 produces excellent results with smooth colour gradients at 800 ISO, although 1600 and 3200 ISO do lose some detail. As is usually the case with Canon's excellent noise reduction system, even where there is noise it has a pleasant granular texture reminiscent of high-speed film grain.


The Canon PowerShot S90 is a superb high-spec compact camera with the emphasis on image quality and controllable versatility. The range of features, build quality and results are excellent, although the fiddly controls and slightly sluggish performance are minor disadvantages. The only real problem is the extremely high price compared to rival models.


November 19, 2009, 9:54 pm

Just one thing I want to mention before the comments fill up is the lack of any grip on this camera. I tried it out and it was as slippery as a bar of wet soap! Canon should take a leaf out of Ricoh's book here and put some rubber around it!


November 20, 2009, 1:05 am

This is priced way too close the Lumix G1. There is no reason for it to be so expensive. No compact camera should be more than £200-250 these days.


November 20, 2009, 5:26 am

I know I shouldn't get hung up on ratings, but how on earth does a near £400 P&S camera made completely of plastic, with a "slightly confusing" and awkward" control bezel, an "awful" rear dial, and not having any kind of viewfinder (not even an optional one) get 9/10 for build quality, and a perfect 10 for features?!


November 20, 2009, 8:48 am

This looks like the best small compact available today, though for the price it does seem strange that they didn't add HD video, for example. I also with the lens would be more like f/2.0-f/3.8, because as they are they only have an advantage at the widest angle (I think at 60mm. equiv. it's already f/3.5 max, similar to other compacts).

Ah, and I've seen the lens produce a very big barrel distortion at wide angle. It is the software that corrects it.


November 20, 2009, 12:41 pm

@Noodles It says on page one that it the S90 has a metal body.

I've been nursing my S70 for ages because there wasn't a decent Canon replacement. Now I guess I can relax a bit as this looks ideal and a nice step up spec wise.

Cliff Smith

November 20, 2009, 4:06 pm

Noodles - Sorry if I wasn't completely clear on this point, but the body is mostly metal, it's just the top and bottom panels that are plastic, and they're still quite strong and well fitted.


November 20, 2009, 4:58 pm

@Cliff: If you were to buy one today for yourself, what would you pick - the S90 or the LX3?

Spec-wise, the LX3 has the edge with the ultra-wide 24mm lens, on-the-fly AR change (including real 16:9) and 720p video, plus the outstanding build quality. The shorter zoom doesn't really bother me. Distortion is present on both cameras, but it can be fixed in post-processing, so no big deal. Based on your samples, I would say that image quality at base ISO (up to ISO 400) is better on the Panasonic, but the Canon seems to have the edge at ISO 800-3200.

I really want to buy one of these cameras as a Christmas gift (for myself :D) and at the moment I would go for the LX3. Please advise.


November 20, 2009, 6:40 pm

Teaches me not to skim read the first page to get to the juicy bits!

I still think it's a ridiculously overpriced style over substance camera, with terrible handling, and one that looks more obsolete by the day, with the hugely successful Micro 4/3rds and APS-C compacts swallowing up it's market share...


November 20, 2009, 8:15 pm

@Mircea: I'm also thinking about one of these two cameras. You summed up the pros and cons really good, but I look at it this way: At ISO 100-400 the LX3 might have a small advantage, but this is very small, hardly noticeable. Besides, at ISO 100-400 many cameras can have a similar IQ to these ones. What should set these cameras apart from the rest is high ISO / low light performance, and there I've seen the Canon having a very big advantage. The 24mm wide angle is great, but 28mm is not too much worse. 720p is nice too, but using MJPEG codec (vs. H.264). The LX3's lens is a bit faster at 45-60mm, which is good too, but being limited to 60mm is a noticeable disadvantage (vs. 105mm).

So the two advantages of the Canon (high ISO performance and 105mm zoom) do seem more practical to me than the advantages of the LX3 (which are all small compared to the Canon).

Anyway, I think both cameras are a great buy.

Cliff Smith

November 26, 2009, 3:46 am

Please note that I've made a correction to the review. The S90 does in fact have optical image stabilisation, not sensor shift as I had been led to believe. Apologies for the confusion.


December 21, 2009, 5:14 pm

£400 is pushing it -- does it really cost more than the G11 in the UK? I bought the S90 in Hong Kong for £255, which seems like a reasonable price. Over there, the G1 was still priced significantly higher, and the GF1 etc. obviously much higher still...


December 24, 2009, 10:20 pm

Canon have been making cameras for a very long time so why is it that on every model there is something that they include or leave out that needs to be addressed e.g. the control wheel on this model is too easy to accidentally tun or on my 10D it doesn't display the ISO setting until you press a button. They usually address the issue in the next model they release but why can't they get it right first time? Often there film bodies had the feature which they are only now introducing in there latest bodies so they should have learnt from experience by now.

The Panasonic Lumix LX3 is long due for replacement as I think it is nearly 2 years since it was released. Will be interesting to see what an LX4 turns out to be as Panasonic seem to be the most interesting manufacturer at the moment.


December 31, 2009, 8:24 am

I have owneed the LX3 for over a year now. The LX3 never ceases to amaze and take my breath away. I cannot praise it enough! I have yesterdat tested out the S90 and have been so impressed by it, I am purchasing it this afternoon for my wife. Verdict from what I have seen so far: The S90 is good, a damn fine camera. It will knock your socks off, but the LX3 still wins on the IQ front (marginally) IMO. And IQ is the bottom line. The LX3 has superb image processing which tweaks almost every shot to almost perfection almost every time. A very dependable camera. I hope to publish some comparisons in the near future.


February 10, 2010, 1:31 pm

Hi Cliff. I like a great number of people am making a decision between the lx3 and the s90. The lx3 sounds legendary but I think if it doesn't fit into your jeans pocket then its not really compact. This is what's holding me back... and that no highstreet shop has one I can view. The s90 however is compact and has been getting great reviews (90%+). This review is confusing as it starts out badly, pointing large holes in the camera and then the overview paints the picture it is a good camera.


August 29, 2010, 4:34 am

An absolute beauty! Photo quality 10/10, incredible for such a compact camera. Only downside is the smooth surface. It really is like a bar of soap, and if I hadn't used the wrist strap it would have hit the pavement on the first day. Unfortunately had to return to seller as I couldn't run the risk dropping it.


December 18, 2010, 5:24 am

I just bought one of these as a refurb unit from the ebay Canon outlet for £150. So far I think it's a brilliant camera and a bargain at that price. I wanted a pocketable camera so I didn't have to lug my large DSLR's about but wanted good manual control and good control of noise this camera seems to deliver exactly that, I thought about the G11 but the S90 was much more pocketable which is what I wanted.

As to the lack of grip I believe it is possible to buy an aftermarket thumb grip for it, I read about it in one of the reviews. I may look at sticking some sort of grip on the surface myself.

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