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Canon S90: First Impressions

Posted by Matt on November 1st, 2009 filed in Camera Buying Guide, Camera Reviews, Classic Cameras, Digital Photography Hints & Tips

Last weekend I was lucky enough to be over in New York for a few days so as usual I headed to the ever wonderful B & H on 32nd/9th to check out the latest cameras. It transpired that the PhotoPlus exhibition was on round the corner, which meant the store was busy even by their standards as many smiley faced photographers wandered round what is, for most of us, some kind of photo heaven!

Canon S90

My goal on this visit was simple.. either bite the bullet and get the wonderful Canon 5D Mk II, Canon’s full frame SLR camera that has been getting rave reviews and has been incredibly hard to get until now, or to find a replacement for my beloved Canon G7 – ideally a pocket camera something more akin to the Yashica T4 Super (a great little point and shoot film camera). After some drooling at the Canon demo stand over the 5D Mk II, a glance at the Canon G11
and a brief fight to get a look at the new Canon 7D
– a very random release indeed that seems to be focussed on HD video more than photography – I plumped for getting a new point and shoot.

After a surprisingly unhelpful exchange with one of the Canon reps as to what would be a good small, controllable pocket camera akin to the Yashica T4 I found myself at the Panasonic stand checking out some of their Zeiss lens pocket wonders. It felt like a betrayal of my fondness for Canon cameras, but as a photographer I want the best tool for the job I have in mind so it’s good to check around. As I played with some Panasonic cameras that had great Carl Zeiss lenses (a la the Yashica T4 Super) and some very clever focussing tricks – you touch the screen to define what you want to stay in focus and it follows it around, creepy but cool – I was starting to come around. Yes, the UI and controls were different, but were they really so bad? I mean, they have a fondness for arrow directional buttons over other controls and the camera feels a bit off in my hand, but is that just because they’re different?

My mind almost made up to get a Panasonic (with reservations) a fellow camera browser overheard my questions to the camera expert and said ‘Why don’t you check out the Canon S90?’ to which I replied ‘Because it’s not out yet’ and he said ‘Yes it is, it’s over on the Canon stand’. Quick as a flash I was back at the Canon stand, to find there was indeed a slim, slightly matte, beautiful little black camera hidden away to one side – the new Canon S90. I picked it up, felt the perfect weight, saw how quickly it started up and played with the two wonderful control dials positioned right to hand around the camera lens and under your thumb next to the large, bright screen. “Do you have any in stock?”, I asked the shop assistant – expecting the usual negative response I hear for ages after Canon releases a world beating camera… “Yes we do”, “I’ll take it!”, said I. At which point the usual B and H antics really started as I then had to queue to buy the camera from someone else.

Eventually, the S90 was in my hand. A few hours later it was charged and ready to go. Then the whole rest of the weekend I barely used my Canon 20D – my usual camera for wandering around the stunning visual sights of New York – instead favouring the S90 to see how it behaves, and it behaved extremely well. First impressions – light in the hand, quick to start, RAW is supported in all manual modes, fast (f2.0) lens, excellent low light response, easy to adjust exposure for with your thumb and it slips easily into your pocket, something the G7 could only do with some squeezing and a fear that I’d accidentally press the ‘on’ button and the lens would open in my pocket. Not only that there is a dedicated low light option on the options dial – perfect.

If it’s not clear already – I love the Canon S90. I truly believe that this will become the pocket camera for most semi-pros and pros who need something that satisfies their desire for proper control. This is the digital version of the Yashica T4 Super that I wanted, with added features I didn’t even know I needed but now, already, can’t imagine doing without. The two dials allow for rapid adjustments to get exactly the photo you want – at present I’m favouring staying in Aperture Priority (A) mode with the standard dial settings – use the lens dial to choose the aperture you want and the thumb dial to adjust exposure. I’ve also set the programmable shortcut key to give me exposure lock, as a halfpress of the shutter button does not hold exposure information when you re-frame the picture, and I like to ‘pick’ exposures up from somewhere in the frame. The only downside is a lack of significant zoom – optical or digital. This flexibility and control is unparalleled in my mind and it sets a new standard to beat in semi-pro point and shoots.

Want to buy this camera? Then click on one of the links below to find out the latest prices:

  • Canon S90 at (US)
  • Canon S90 at (UK)
    • Quick Warning Note: As a new camera packages such as Lightroom and Aperture do not have out of the box support for the specific flavour of RAW that the Canon S90 provides! This is what happens when you end up at the early adopter part of the curve. Thankfully there is an early version of S90 support in the latest Adobe Lightroom release (2.5) and in the meantime the Canon software provided (Digital Photo Professional – DPP) creates stunning, pin sharp images from the RAW source.

      Update (2009-11-29): Adobe has now introduced a release candidate version of Lightroom 2.6 that includes support for the Canon S90.

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