One of the surprise success stories of last year was the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3, a premium compact camera featuring a 1/1.63-inch 10.1-megapixel sensor, a 3.0-inch 460k monitor, and an extremely high quality f/2.0 - f/2.8 wide-zoom lens. Costing a substantial £300 at launch it looked destined for the niche market of photography enthusiasts, but its combination of elegant retro styling, pocket-sized dimensions, high performance and superb image quality proved to be a winning combination, and it sold so well that UK stocks of the black version almost sold out.
The popularity of such a seemingly exclusive camera must have come as a bit of a revelation to rival Canon, who had previously been the undisputed king of advanced compacts with its long-running and highly successful PowerShot G series. The LX3 put a dent in the sales of the PowerShot G10, so it comes as no big surprise that Canon's new Autumn line-up includes not just the impressive new PowerShot G11, but also today's review camera, the PowerShot S90. It's a welcome return for Canon's long-dormant S-series of advanced compacts. The S90's most recent predecessor was the PowerShot S80 launched in 2005.
Although I'm sure that Canon would deny any connection, the similarities to the LX3 are hard to ignore. The S90 features a 1/1.7-inch 10.0-megapixel CCD (the same as the G11), a 3.0-inch 460k monitor, and a wide-zoom lens with a maximum aperture of f/2.0. It too has full manual exposure controls, an all-metal body and a very similar pop-up flash. It even has one of its controls on the lens bezel.
There are a number of significant differences however. For a start the S90 is considerably smaller and lighter than the LX3, measuring 100 x 58.4 x 30.9 mm and tipping the scales at approximately 200g including battery and memory card. The S90's lens is also quite different, with Canon opting for a 3.8x zoom equivalent to 28-105mm, whereas the LX3 has an extra-wide 2.5x zoom equivalent to 24-60mm. Both cameras have a maximum aperture of f/2.0 at wide angle, but for the S90 this drops to f/4.9 at the telephoto end, compared to the LX3's much faster f/2.8. The biggest difference however is the price. The S90 is currently selling for a whopping £400, making it one of the most expensive compact cameras on the market.