I’ve now had a few weeks to play with my new Canon S90, so I decided to write up some of my thoughts on it.
First of all, this isn’t intended to be a comprehensive review — you can find those at the imaging resource, photography blog, etc. I’m just going to mentoin a few things I was surprised by, even after reading all of the reviews.
When I first received the camera, the first thing I noticed was that it was significantly smaller than I expected. It’s about the same size as my old Fuji Finepix f31fd, and significantly smaller than Pamela’s Canon SX200. It fits comfortably in the front pockets of my khakis, and snugly (i.e. not comfortably) in my jeans. For some reason, I expected a high-end compact camera to be larger than the typical point-and-shoots I usually see people with.
One of the interesting things about the S90 is that it has a rotating ring around the lens that imitates the zoom/focus rings on an SLR lens. The ring is programable, such that it can be changed to adjust ISO, white balance, aperature, shutter speed, zoom, manual focus, etc. The idea is interesting, but the imitation is imprecise. For example, if you set the ring to adjust optical zoom, each discrete click of the ring changes the zoom distance some predefined amount, e.g. 28-35-50. Also, there’s a significant lag between the time you turn the ring and the time the lens motor actually kicks in to change the zoom distance.
I found the ring much more useful for controls that are inherently discrete and take effect immediately, e.g. ISO, and ended up leaving the ring at it default setting, which is to control something different depending on the camera mode. For example, in aperture priority mode, the ring controls aperture.
A complaint that I read in several reviews of the S90 is that the exposure compensation control ring on the back of the camera is too loose, which makes it too easy to accidentally change the exposure compensation. I found this problem on my own camera as well. However, it never became a major issue – I always check the camera settings before taking a picture, and it was natural for me to adjust the exposure compensation if it wasn’t what I wanted. In the end, this turned out to be a non-issue for me.
One of the S90’s major sellings points is its f/2 IS lens, and here it really delivers. I managed to capture a lot of low light pictures that my Fuji Finepix f31fd would have choked. Note, however, that the widest aperture is only available at wideangle — f/2 at 28mm, f/2.5 at 35mm, and f/3.2 at 50mm. Still, it was wonderful to be able to take available-light pictures with a compact camera.
The S90 is a wonderful camera, and handily replaces my old Fuji Finepix f31fd. When I went biking across the Golden Gate Bridge a few weeks ago, the S90 would have been perfect because a DSLR would have been too bulky (IMO) for walking and riding around town.
However, despite all of its manual controls, the S90 is not a DSLR replacement. This was most recently obvious at Pamela’s brother’s graduation last week, where my goal was to capture her brother walking across the stage, shaking hands with important-looking people with lots of medals. Here, I needed a wide aperature at both ~40mm (for the whole stage) and at ~70mm (for the closer shots) at a shutter speed fast enough to avoid motion blur. The S90 doesn’t cycle fast enough (it can take maybe one picture every two seconds), and it was also too slow at its telephoto end. However, it still made for a great video camera to complement the pictures from my DSLR. =)