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.